Congratulations to Jayden Daniels on his Heisman win. He, and the abysmal LSU defense, were the reasons why the Bayou Bengals were so much fun to watch this season. As was the case in 2022-23, the winner of college football’s most prestigious award was accompanied by poor coaching, bad defense, or both.
Daniels accounted for 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards this season, but went 9-3 because Brian Kelly is allergic to balanced football teams. The same goes for Lincoln Riley, whose Caleb Williams led-Trojans finished 11-3 a year ago despite the future No. 1 overall pick amassing 52 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards in his sophomore campaign.
We’ve seen a similar blueprint playout before when Lamar Jackson actually surpassed the 5,000-yard mark (along with they 50-TD threshold)‚ and took home the hardware for a Louisville team that finished 9-4. The thing is I don’t disagree with Daniels, Williams, or Jackson winning in those particular years, and to be honest, I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t recognize the formula sooner. Not only would early detection have given me the confidence to pre-write this piece, but also to place a rare wager (at least for me).
Obviously, in hindsight, Heisman winners are easy to spot, but the next time a Power-Five (or Four) QB hits 50 TDs, and is in the ballpark of 5,000 total yards, put me down for $20. The other factor that worked in Daniels’ favor was the vanilla nature of this season.
As a whole, there weren’t a lot of stellar upsets this year — hence the chalk-filled CFP bracket — but LSU-Ole Miss was drunk even by Louisiana standards, and was as close to a Heisman moment* as I can pinpoint. Daniels did his best Robert Griffin III impression on the way to 513 yards of total offense and five touchdowns.
While LSU lost, 55-49, the final heave hit Tiger fingertips, and established a theme for the season. The Tigers’ schedule and defense were serviceable enough to keep Daniels within striking distance, and he delivered even in defeat.
He surpassed 400 yards against Florida State, and tallied 163 on the ground against Alabama, outgaining Jordan Travis and Jalen Milroe in total yardage, respectively. Daniels not only turned himself into a first-round lock, but also receiver Malik Nabers, and maybe Brian Thomas Jr., too. Both pass catchers put up stats on par or better than Heisman finalist Marvin Harrison Jr., and Daniels’ maturation as a passer is a big reason why the two LSU receivers combined for 31 TD grabs.
This year’s class of QBs is difficult to judge because I don’t know if Michael Penix and Bo Nix are good, or if they were too great of athletes to be in college this long and not figure out the position. Daniels is in the same boat, which might be why scouts aren’t sold on him as the de facto second-best prospect in the draft.
To me, it feels like each of those QBs finally delivered on the potential fans and coaches have seen in them since high school. Whether they succeed at the next level I don’t know, but they’re as prepared as they’re going to get. None are Anthony Richardson-type projects, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Penix, Nix or Daniels turn into a franchise player rather quickly.
All I know is if the team I root for went with Drake Maye over 2023 Heisman winner Jayden Daniels, I’d whip whatever’s in my hand — phone, remote, beer — across the room.
*Daniels struck the Heisman pose during a 600-yard, five-score outing against Florida, but that game was a blowout, and the Gators didn’t make a bowl game.