Heisman Trophy finalists brace for historic handoff

Field Level Media

December 08, 2023 at 8:57 pm.

Jayden Daniels played three seasons at Arizona State and nobody anywhere was viewing him as a potential Heisman Trophy finalist.

But he transferred to LSU following the 2021 season and a sudden transformation took place. The highly athletic Daniels became a dual-threat force. The exclamation point was Daniels’ huge 2023 performance, which pushed him into the favorite’s role to win the Heisman.

The Heisman Trophy winner will be revealed for the 89th time Saturday night in New York and Daniels is one of three transfer quarterbacks who are among the four finalists.

Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon’s Bo Nix are the other two quarterbacks in the running. Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is the other finalist.

Penix began his career at Indiana before playing two seasons with the Huskies. Nix played for Auburn before moving on to Oregon for two seasons.

The transfer path worked well for 2022 winner Caleb Williams of Southern California — he departed Oklahoma — and is definitely in play again this season.

Daniels threw 10 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in his third and final season at Arizona State but indicated he is thankful for his route to the Heisman stage.

“Everything I’ve been through, it’s a surreal moment as it winds down and comes to an end,” Daniels said during Heisman media festivities on Friday. “Seeing how much I’ve grown in those years, everything I overcame in my life. … It’s what helped me get to this point.”

At LSU, Daniels is enjoying a monster 2023 season. He leads the nation in total offense (4,946) and accounted for 50 touchdowns. He has passed for 3,812 yards, 40 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 1,134 yards and 10 scores.

His signature game was in a 52-35 win over Florida on Nov. 11 when he accounted for 606 yards (372 passing, 234 rushing) and became the first player in FBS history to pass for 350 and rush for 200 in the same game.

Daniels is looking to become the third Tigers’ player to win the Heisman, following running back Billy Cannon in 1959 and quarterback Joe Burrow in 2019.

Penix leads the nation with 4,218 passing yards to go with 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He guided the Huskies to 13 straight wins and a spot in the College Football Playoff field.

“That Pac-12 championship is big-time and something I’ve been chasing since I got to University of Washington,” Penix said Friday. “For us to be able to achieve that is definitely something special.”

Penix was the leading candidate early in the season when he threw 16 scoring passes over the first four games. But he cooled off with 17 over the next nine.

Penix is aiming to become Washington’s first Heisman winner.

Nix has completed a stellar 77.2 percent of his passes, just off the NCAA record of 77.4 set by Alabama’s Mac Jones in 2020.

He also has 40 touchdown passes — tied with Daniels for the FBS lead — and 4,145 yards against just three interceptions. He has tacked on six rushing touchdowns.

“It’s been crazy. It’s been the trip of a lifetime,” Nix said Friday. “At the end of the day, I just want to enjoy every part of it. Regardless of what happens at the end, this has been a dream of mine for a long time.”

Marcus Mariota (2014) is Oregon’s lone Heisman winner.

Harrison would become the second receiver in four seasons to win the Heisman, following a drought of more than three decades for the position after Notre Dame’s Tim Brown won in 1987 until Alabama’s DeVonta Smith was the 2020 winner.

The son of legendary NFL receiver Marvin Harrison had eight 100-yard outings for Ohio State this season while catching 67 passes for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Harrison said he may bypass the NFL draft and return to the Buckeyes next season. Ohio State has uncertainty at quarterback but Harrison isn’t concerned.

“It don’t matter who the quarterback is,” Harrison said Friday. “As one of the best receivers in the country, the best receiver, I look at myself as someone who can make it work with anybody.”

If Harrison wins the award, he’d be the first Ohio State winner since quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. Seven Buckeyes have won the honor.