Jayden Daniels is featured in our past heisman trophy winners series

Heisman Trophy Winners: Jayden Daniels

In May of 2023, bettors could choose from close to 100 players when making a Heisman Trophy winner wager, despite the fact that the odds made it seem like a foregone conclusion that Caleb Williams was gonna go all Archie Griffin back-to-back on us. 

The USC quarterback got to camp at +500, while fellow QBs Bo Nix of Oregon, Michael Penix, Jr. of Washington and eventual winner Jayden Daniels of LSU were all +1600. 

So, how did Williams go from shoo-in to not even being a Heisman finalist?  It might have been the Trojans 7-5 regular season record and a spot in the Holiday Bowl, or it might have been in part because ‘Caleb Williams red flags’ became such a popular search.

Caleb Williams Red Flags

Painting F*** UTAH on his fingernails. Declining to shake hands after a loss. Becoming overly emotional (to put it mildly) after another loss. Blowing off a postgame press conference after yet another loss. The persistent rumor that he’d be expecting an ownership stake in whatever NFL team drafted him (not permitted, and ridiculous). 

One of the criteria a Heisman voter is to consider is integrity, the definition of which is open to interpretation, but usually considered to refer to character. 

Not getting many points under that column heading, Williams was +25,000 by the time the season ended.

Transfer QB Of The Year Award

The Heisman has long been a de facto quarterback of the year award, with occasional exceptions. What’s more recent is that the trophy now usually goes to the transfer quarterback of the year, Daniels being the fifth such case in the last seven years. 

Coming out of high school in San Bernardino, California, Daniels was a four-star recruit and ranked number two in the nation among dual-threat quarterbacks. 

After graduating early from high school, he arrived Arizona State in January 2019, beat out the incumbent in training camp and became the Sun Devils’ first starting true freshman quarterback. 

That fall, Daniels was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week after a win over No. 6 Oregon and was an honorable mention for the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. 

Things weren’t quite as rosy in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season in which ASU went 2-2, though Daniels did post a quarterback rating of 296.8 in a 70–7 thrashing of rival Arizona. 

Then, before the start of the 2021 season, the NCAA announced that Arizona State was under investigation for recruiting violations, which included the allegation that Daniels’ mother had been involved in the improper purchase of plane tickets for recruits. 

The QB played another season for the Sun Devils, but then it was goodbye to the barbecue of Rudy’s in Tempe, hello to the boudin of Ronnie’s in Baton Rouge. 

Daniels Headed To The Swamp

The departure of Daniels is just the latest blow for the Sun Devils and coach Herm Edwards, who are still reeling from the fall out of an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations that is still ongoing, reported the Arizona Republic at the time. Five coaches have departed, including offensive coordinator Zak Hill. 

During his first season as a Tiger, Daniels was a key in LSU’s nine wins and an appearance in the SEC championship game, throwing for 2,774 yards and rushing for 818. 

All of which set the stage for his Heisman campaign. 

Which, as it turned out, started out pretty rocky. 

“…Tigers embarrassed in Seminoles rout,” read one headline. 

Behind a second-half comeback, the Seminoles dominated the LSU Tigers in every facet on the way to a 38-17 victory to open the 2023 season, said the Tallahassee Democrat. 

So, that happened. 

Daniels' Run To The Trophy

Now, Daniels was +4000 for the Heisman, while Penix, Jr. was +850 and Williams +450. 

The road back to relevance, for both quarterback and team, started with a dismantling of Grambling, followed by conference wins over Mississippi State and Arkansas. Then a defensive debacle in a 55-49 loss to Ole Miss, which extinguished the Tigers’ hopes of their big trophy, while at the same time putting new life in Daniels’ quest for his. Hard to blame the quarterback for a loss in which he accounted for 513 yards of offence and five touchdowns. 

Daniels was still fourth for the Heisman in the eyes of oddsmakers, but had improved to +1800. 

A month later, in about as dominating a performance as you’ll see in big-time college football, Daniels threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 234 yards and two more TDs in a thrashing of Florida, making him the first player in FBS history to record at least 350 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in the same game. 

By Week 9 of the season, the Heisman was still a three-man race, but Caleb Williams was no longer one of those men. The one-time runaway leader had blown up to +10,000, while Daniels was +325, Penix Jr. +300 and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy coming on strong and (briefly) becoming the leader at +240. 

How briefly? 

Then, this past weekend, Michigan finally played a worthy opponent, traveling to Penn State — a day after coach Jim Harbaugh was hit with a three-game suspension by the Big Ten. The Wolverines won 24-15 but hardly threw the ball at all, including zero passes in the second half, wrote Fox

So, McCarthy had very un-Heisman-like stats in the biggest game thus far, completing 7-of-8 for 60 yards. Subsequently, he dropped from an in-contention +800 to a miles-away +7500 in some Heisman odds market. 

The incredible stats Daniels put up in wins over Florida, Georgia State and Texas A&M to end the regular season made him -1400 the week of the Heisman announcement, with Penix, Jr. +1000 and Nix +1200. 

Daniels Edges Out Penix Jr.

Daniels received 503 first-place votes and 2,029 total points, ahead of Penix Jr. (292 first place, 1,701 total) and Nix (51 first place, 885 total) 

It was the closest margin of victory since Kyler Murray’s win over Tua Tagovailoa in 2018. 

Daniels is the first player since 2016 to win the Heisman as part of a team that did not play for a conference title.  

"I want to thank all my teammates, from Arizona State to LSU," Daniels said. "You're my brothers. You work so hard every day, inspiring me to be my best." 

Daniels led all FBS players in QBR, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns, but perhaps most remarkably, was 26th in the nation in rushing yards per game and fourth in yards per attempt, while he was playing quarterback. 

He became the third LSU player to win the Heisman, after Billy Cannon in 1959 and Joe Burrow in 2019.

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