LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels is a Heisman winner.
The senior quarterback won the award over Oregon QB Bo Nix, Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. after a phenomenal dual-threat season. Daniels was one of the nation’s leading passers in nearly all the major metrics and also one of only two quarterbacks to rush for over 1,000 yards during 2023.
Daniels finished with 503 first-place votes while Penix finished with 292 first-place votes. The total margin between the two quarterbacks, 2,029 points to 1,701 points, was the closest Heisman voting has finished since 2018.
In the closest Heisman vote since 2018, the final results 👀
Name/1st place votes:
1. Jayden Daniels, 503
2. Michael Penix Jr., 292
3. Bo Nix, 51
4. Marvin Harrison Jr., 20
5. Jordan Travis, 8 pic.twitter.com/MZGeZkB8uP
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) December 10, 2023
After beginning his speech by acknowledging the other three finalists in attendance, Daniels said, "the competition is never over. I look forward to seeing you guys on Sundays."
Daniels finished the regular season 236-of-327 passing for 3,812 yards and 40 TDs. He threw just four interceptions and completed over 70% of his passes. Just six players — including Nix at 77.2% — completed a higher percentage of their passes.
But Daniels had everyone easily beat in yards per attempt. He was by far the nation’s leader in that category as the LSU offense averaged 11.7 yards every time he threw the football. Alabama QB Jalen Milroe, the player in second in yards per attempt, averaged 1.3 yards fewer per throw.
Daniels also tied for the lead in passing touchdowns with Nix despite playing one fewer game. Nix played in 13 games in 2023 as Oregon went to the Pac-12 title game. But Penix and the Huskies beat the Ducks to get to the College Football Playoff. It was a game that likely sealed Daniels’ status as the Heisman winner as Nix fell below the all-time single-season record for completion percentage (Mac Jones’ 77.4% in 2020).
In addition to being a threat with LSU receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas to break a big play from nearly anywhere on the field through the air, he was also a big play waiting to happen on the ground.
Daniels rushed 135 times for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns over 12 games. He averaged the most yards per carry of any qualified player in college football at 8.4 and was over a full yard ahead of Tennessee RB Jaylen Wright in second place.
It’s a remarkable rushing total and rushing average for a quarterback who dropped back to pass as much as Daniels did. College football statistics count sacks against a quarterback’s rushing totals and Daniels was sacked 22 times. Penix, for example, has rushed for minus-18 yards this season.
Daniels had five games with at least one run longer than 40 yards and his signature performance came in a 52-35 win over Florida on Nov. 11. Daniels was 17-of-26 passing for 372 yards and three touchdowns through the air while rushing 12 times for 234 yards and two scores. Daniels broke touchdown runs of 85 yards and 51 yards during that game and then threw three touchdowns in the final 18 minutes as the Tigers pulled away from the Gators.
It was the first time in top-level college football history that a player had thrown for over 350 yards and rushed for over 200 yards in the same game.
He also powered the Tigers’ comeback win at No. 9 Missouri on Oct. 7. After briefly leaving the game early in the fourth quarter following a crushing hit at the goal line, Daniels returned to engineer two go-ahead touchdown drives on LSU’s next two possessions.
He broke a 35-yard TD run on third down to give the Tigers a 35-32 lead over Mizzou with less than eight minutes to go, and then accounted for all 75 yards on LSU’s next drive as the Tigers went up for good with less than three minutes to go.
That drive also included a monster third-down run. Daniel broke a 31-yard run on third down to get to the Missouri 29 yard-line and a play later hit Nabers for a 29-yard score that put LSU up 42-39.
A three-loss Heisman winner
Players on teams with more than two losses don’t win the Heisman very often. Especially in recent seasons. But Daniels won despite LSU's 9-3 record. Last year, USC was 11-2 when Caleb Williams lifted the award. The year before that, Alabama was 12-1 when Bryce Young won and undefeated when DeVonta Smith won in 2020.
Williams, in fact, became just the second player to win the Heisman in the playoff era as part of a team that wasn’t in the four-team playoff. As Daniels joins that group, he’s the first player since Lamar Jackson in 2016 to be a part of a team that had three losses before the Heisman ceremony.
Like Daniels, Jackson was a dynamic passer and rusher and his season-long performance was too good to ignore. Jackson threw for over 3,500 yards and rushed for nearly 1,600 that season as he accounted for 51 touchdowns.
Overall, Daniels is just the 15th player on a team with three or more losses to win the Heisman and the fourth in the 2000s along with Jackson, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III in 2011 and Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007.
A Heisman transfer trend
Daniels is also the fifth player in the past seven seasons to win the Heisman at his second school, a sign of the normalization of player transfers. Nix and Penix are also transfers in their second seasons at their new schools. Nix transferred to Oregon from Auburn while Penix transferred to Washington from Indiana.
Williams won in his first season at USC after transferring from Oklahoma, while LSU QB Joe Burrow won in his first season at LSU in 2019 after joining the Tigers from Ohio State. Before Burrow, Kyler Murray won in his second season at Oklahoma after transferring from Texas A&M, and Baker Mayfield was in his third season at Oklahoma after he started his college career at Texas Tech.
Daniels came to LSU before the 2022 season after the school hired Brian Kelly from Notre Dame. Daniels spent the first three seasons of his career at Arizona State and appeared in all but one game for the Sun Devils in that span.
He transferred from Arizona State after he threw for 2,381 yards and rushed for 710 yards in 2021 but accounted for only 16 total touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
He immediately became a star and improved on those numbers at LSU in 2022 as the Tigers won the SEC West. Daniels completed 69% of his passes in 2021 and threw for 2,913 yards while rushing for 885. He entered the season as one of the favorites to win the Heisman, based on his leap from 2021 to 2022, but hardly anyone could have predicted the eye-popping statistics he accumulated.