Let’s go to school and talk Heisman. It remains a crowded field chasing college’s top individual honor as we approach Week 11 of the 2023 campaign.
We will get to the favorites this season in a moment, but first some background on the most prestigious individual honor in college football.
As unfair as it may be, the Heisman Trophy is most often awarded to the quarterback of one of the top-ranked teams in America. Only twice since 2010 has the Heisman been awarded to a non-quarterback (WR DeVonta Smith in 2020 and RB Derrick Henry in 2015).
USC’s Caleb Williams claimed the award last season and opened as the favorite this season. The Trojans’ signal-caller has put together another stat-packed season in 2023, but the presumptive top pick in the upcoming NFL Draft was ordinary at South Bend in a loss to Notre Dame and was outdueled this past weekend at home against Michael Penix, Jr.
Frankly, repeating was never realistic. Just look back at the case of Lamar Jackson of Louisville. The winner in 2016, Jackson was even better statistically in 2017. However, the team was a pedestrian 8-5. In today’s world that is not going to get you to the podium in the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.
There are still five candidates who realistically have a path to the award and their odds reflect it. The odds for each of the five currently sit at +800 or better. Of the five, only LSU’s Jayden Daniels plays for a school with more than one loss. It is a credit to his play and stats that he remains among the favorites.
It is interesting to look at each of the five and how the odds have adjusted week to week over the course of the campaign.
Jordan Travis of Florida State began the season behind only Caleb Williams. Travis’ odds opened at +1200 and now sit at +800. The lack of serious movement is due to preseason hype coupled with an opening weekend win vs. LSU followed by a ho-hum schedule in the ACC. Travis has been consistently special but is without a late season opportunity to have his Heisman moment.
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J.J. McCarthy of Michigan is late to the party. Not many believed his game would take the giant step it has this season. The junior opened a bit down the odds board at +2500. His odds dropped to +3500 in Week 5 but has come on strong of late. McCarthy was in fact the favorite in Week 9 (+240) before cooling a bit the last two weeks. The Wolverines’ quarterback currently sits at +600 to win the Heisman with a date at home against Ohio State looming as an opportunity to perhaps claim collegiate immortality.
We mentioned Jayden Daniels earlier. The LSU quarterback opened the season amongst the leaders for the award with odds of +1600. The early loss to Florida State sent he and the Tigers scuffling for a few weeks during which time his odds went south to a low of +4000 in Week 3. His numbers, though, have forced voters and bettors to take notice. As a result, his current odds (+300) are the lowest he’s enjoyed to date even with LSU suffering a loss at Alabama this past weekend. All that said, Daniels has no further opportunities to shine in front of a national audience before votes must be cast.
Bo Nix (+200) is an interesting candidate. The transfer from Auburn has truly found a home at Oregon. The senior opened his campaign at +1600 but has seen his odds dance all over the board. His odds sat at +2200 in Week 4, dropped to +600 by Week 7, jumped to +3000 the following week (loss at Washington) before settling this week at a season-best +200. Seemingly destined for a rematch with Washington in the Pac 12 title game, Bo Nix will have the stage to prove his case as deserving of the honor.
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The journey of Michael Penix, Jr. is not unlike that of his conference foe from Oregon. Like Nix, Penix transferred to the Pac 12. The one-time Indiana Hoosier began the season alongside Nix in terms of Heisman odds at +1600. He quickly vaulted to true contender status. In fact, he was listed by BetMGM as a co-favorite with Caleb Williams at +350 by Week 5. After the win against Nix and the Oregon Ducks a couple weeks later, he was the clear favorite according to the books at -145. The senior’s odds now sit atop the board at +150. He has enjoyed immense success this season and like his counterpart at Oregon, will have a final opportunity to impress voters in the Pac 12 championship…assuming he and Nix navigate their way through the rest of what has been a daunting Pac 12 slate this season.
Smart money says the trio with the most direct path to New York City and the Heisman presentation are Penix, Nix, and McCarthy. Their respective schedules each hold at least one massive tilt – McCarthy and the Wolverines host Ohio State in The Big Game and the other two quarterbacks could well meet for a second time this season in the Pac 12 Championship.
Whomever best manages their moment in that final spotlight more than likely will be initiated into one of the most elite clubs in all of sports.
Follow the odds along with NBC Sports the rest of the way…and if you have a ticket, enjoy the sweat.
*all odds provided by BetMGM