Checking In On The Early Heisman Buzz

We are still a week away from fall football, but two weeks into the 2023 college football season and we can practically hear the crunch of leaves and taste notes of pumpkin spiced lattes.

As we approach our last weekend of summer, time to put our ear to the ground and take a listen to the early Heisman race chatter emanating from around the college football media landscape.

It feels appropriate to start with our 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who has rocketed out of the gate by leading USC to three straight wins (The Trojans were among the handful of teams which played in Week Zero on Aug. 23).

Williams leads the country in passer rating (240.50) and yards per attempt (12.5) and is fourth in completion percentage (78.6). He has thrown for 878 yards on 55-of-70 passing with 12 touchdowns despite sitting for more than four of 12 quarters in blowout games. He has also rushed for 61 yards and one score.

In a world where virtually everything is stamped now by oddsmakers, Williams is the current fave in that realm. 

Said The Athletic’s Antonio Morales in this recent Heisman race breakdown: “Williams hasn’t done anything to lose his spot as the Heisman front-runner. He’s making the memorable, highlight-reel plays every week. And the numbers are impressive. Williams has thrown for 878 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 78.6 percent of his passes. Williams hasn’t been in the spotlight because two of his games have been on the Pac-12 Network and USC hasn’t played any high-profile teams but he’ll have plenty of prime-time opportunities over the rest of the season.”

In a fair bit of irony, the Pac-12, in its last season before 10 teams are set to depart, is loaded with impressive candidates while boasting eight teams in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

In fact, longtime conferenced scribe Jon Winner of the San Jose Mercury News has Colorado two-way star Travis Hunter atop the Pac-12’s Heisman favorites. Hunter, the wideout-cornerback combo, has 14 receptions, seven tackles and one interception in the Buffs’ first two wins this season.

Hunter is sharing Colorado’s early Heisman shine with quarterback teammate Shedeur Sanders, the son of new CU head coach Deion Sanders.

In orchestrating wins at TCU and over Nebraska at home, Sanders has thrown for a gaudy 903 yards while completing 77.5% of his 89 passes, throwing six TDs without an interception. 

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. — eighth in balloting in 2022 — is off to a blistering start as well, averaging 429.5 yards per game in the Huskies’ two wins, an average that trails only Sanders.

Fansided’s early Heisman power rankings shows Williams first, Sanders second, Penix Jr. third, Hunter fourth and Oregon QB Bo Nix sixth. That’s five out of six in the Pac-12, remarkable.

Breaking it up in this particular list is Texas signal caller Quinn Ewers, who threw his ten-gallon hat into the ring by leading No. 11 Texas to a 34-24 win at No. 3 Alabama. He passed for 349 yards and three touchdowns. Athlon Sports called it a potential Heisman moment.

Michigan is sporting a pair of potential Heisman hopefuls in running back Blake Corum and quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Corum, of course, was seventh in Heisman voting last year and had he not suffered a late season-ending injury, would have been much higher. 

Corum — featured on this week’s Heisman Trophy Podcast — has already rushed for four TDs in two games to go with 153 yards rushing on just 25 carries. Meanwhile, McCarthy has barely missed a pass, completing 87.3 % of his 55 attempts for 558 yards and five scores.

New Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman, in his first year with the Irish after five seasons at Wake Forest, has his new school 3-0. With numbers that have him among the NCAA’s most prolific career passers, Hartman’s name has been mentioned in the Heisman conversation for the last few years and this year could be the one he breaks through. 

His 222.5 passer rating trails only Williams nationally and he’s completed 75.0% of his 64 passes to go with 731 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception.

Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis led the Seminoles in a season-opening win over LSU and didn’t need much work to guide FSU to Game 2 win over Southern Miss. He has passed for 517 yards and six TDs and run for another score.

Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr., Oklahoma QB Dillon Gabriel, North Carolina QB Drake Maye and so many others will make moves in the weeks to come as green leaves finally start to turn.

Can’t wait!