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Monday, March 4, 2024

Heisman watch: Michael Penix Jr. is the deserved favorite, but he’s far from a lock

Heisman watch: Michael Penix Jr. is the deserved favorite, but he’s far from a lock

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. is the deserving Heisman Trophy favorite after the Huskies’ big win over Oregon on Saturday. Penix threw four touchdowns to bring his season total to 20 through the first six games of the season.

Penix has been absurdly efficient in 2023 despite Washington’s offense including a lot of deep passes. He’s completing 72% of his passes and is averaging nearly 11 yards an attempt. Only Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders — in an offense that is much more one-dimensional than Washington’s — has thrown for more yards this season.

But Penix may not be as big of a favorite for the Heisman as the betting odds suggest. Penix’s odds to win the Heisman dropped to -145 at BetMGM on Sunday after Washington’s victory. That’s really, really low. Especially at the halfway point of the season. Voters tend to remember games in the second half more than they do from September. And there are a few players who are in position to make a Heisman charge over the next six weeks, especially if Washington’s schedule gets much tougher.

After starting the season with five games against unranked opponents, Saturday’s game was the first of four Washington games against teams currently in the Top 25. While the rest of October includes games against Pac-12 bottom-feeders Arizona State and Stanford, Washington has No. 18 USC, No. 14 Utah, No. 12 Oregon State and a recently ranked Washington State team over its final four games. That’s an extremely tough schedule. And even a 2-2 record for the Huskies in those four games could open the Heisman door for someone else.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. is a better than even-money favorite to win the Heisman after the first seven weeks of the season. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) (Steph Chambers via Getty Images)

Here’s a look at the players we think are in a good position to have their Heisman odds drop significantly over the rest of the season.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said recently that he believes McCarthy can be the best quarterback in school history. That’s a big statement. But McCarthy is having a phenomenal season so far.

The Wolverines have been dominating inferior opposition through the first half of the season. UNLV may be the best team Michigan has faced so far. Yeah, the Rebels are 5-1, but it’s still an indictment of the strength of the teams Michigan has played.

That weak schedule and Michigan’s incredible defense through the first seven games has overshadowed just how good McCarthy has been this season outside of a bizarre game against Bowling Green. McCarthy threw three picks in that game and hasn’t thrown an interception in any other game. For the season, McCarthy has competed 78% of his passes for 1,512 yards and 14 TDs while also rushing for three scores.

McCarthy isn’t throwing nearly as much as Penix or other quarterbacks; he has 63 fewer attempts in one more game than the Washington QB. But McCarthy is positioned to become a serious Heisman contender with great games over the final three weeks of the season. Michigan has No. 7 Penn State and No. 3 Ohio State sandwiched around a game at Maryland to end the season. If the Wolverines finish the season undefeated and McCarthy has great games against the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes, he’s going to get a lot of Heisman love.

Daniels may be the most important player in college football. If it wasn’t for him, there’s no telling just how bad LSU would be. His toughness and explosiveness was on full display against Missouri as he single-handedly powered the Tigers to a win in the second half.

Daniels has the highest pass efficiency rating in the country (197.7) and is also averaging the most yards per attempt (11.0) of any QB in college football. He’s second in the country in passing TDs (22) and has also rushed for 515 yards and four touchdowns.

Daniels has taken a big leap as a passer in 2023; his completion percentage is nearly five points better, he’s on pace to throw for nearly 4,000 yards in the regular season and he’s already thrown five more TDs than he did a season ago. All while averaging 1.2 yards more per carry and being on pace to eclipse his rushing total from a season ago.

If LSU beats Alabama on Nov. 4 and Daniels has a massive game as the Tigers position themselves for another SEC West title, his odds are going dip precipitously.

USC QB Caleb Williams (+3500)

This is absolutely a buy-low time on Williams. Yes, his game against Notre Dame was horrific. He played probably the worst game of his college career as the Trojans lost 48-20. It was the first three-interception game of Williams’ career and just the second time in 32 appearances that he’d thrown more than one interception.

But Williams has plenty of opportunities to jump back into the thick of the Heisman race and the first one comes this weekend against Utah. The Utes’ defense has been one of the best defenses in the country in 2023 and a win over Utah after two losses last season could be seen as a form of redemption in the eyes of some voters.

USC also has games remaining against No. 5 Washington and No. 9 Oregon in November and a season-ending matchup against No. 25 UCLA. Yes, the Trojans showed us all they are an extremely flawed team in South Bend. But like Daniels and LSU, Williams is capable of providing enough magic to keep USC in the mix of it. If the Trojans get a home win over the Huskies and outplays Penix on Nov. 4, the Heisman tide could turn.

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