As it usually does, the Heisman Trophy race crystallized late. As it usually does, it centered around quarterbacks.
Surprised? Just take once glance at the transfer portal. If you have a quarterback, you have a chance. If you have a Heisman vote, you have an annual default setting (voting for quarterbacks).
The three quarterbacks invited to New York transformed programs and the position. Not surprisingly, all three were transfers. Two are from the Pac-12, the league that arguably was the best during the regular season. That's a year after one of the two transfers among 2022 finalists (Caleb Williams, USC) won the Heisman.
All three had to travel cross country, win over new locker rooms and set records on their way to New York. In the end, a transformative kid from California by way of Arizona State came to the SEC, got bigger and made the entire sport better.
The only outlier is Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who posted his second straight season of 1,200+ yards and 14 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Harrison does not make my ballot, which will be the only one you see this week.
Voters are prohibited from revealing them until the ceremony concludes. In the interest of transparency, I relinquished my ballot a few years ago. As such, here's who would be on my ballot if I still had one to submit.
1. Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU
Like everything else about his game, Daniels got here unexpectedly. When Oregon's Bo Nix lost with the rest of the Ducks on Friday, that opened the door to an unusual Heisman winner. If it happens, Daniels will have won the sport's top honor while laying on the couch. His actual activity during the Pac-12 Championship Game yet to be revealed, Daniels' season had been over for a week Saturday when he (supposedly) clinched the Heisman.
A campaign that rivaled the great Joe Burrow included 50 total touchdowns (40 passing, tied with Nix for the national lead). Last month, he became the first player in history to throw for 12,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in the same season. His 1,134 yards rushing this season were more than nine teams. Five times this year, he threw for at least four touchdowns in a game. The Arizona State transfer leads the country in yards per pass (11.7) and passer rating (208). Add it all up, and it's one of the best seasons in history. Daniels would be the fourth player since 2007 to win the Heisman despite leading a three-loss team. He would also be the fifth SEC player to win it in over the last six seasons.
2. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington
Penix changed Washington football and the Pac-12 just in time for the conference's swan song. When coach Kalen DeBoer arrived from Tampa, Florida, two years ago, he brought Penix with him as a transfer. Paired with innovative offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, Penix realized his potential. At Indiana, he was a one-man team asked to make plays by himself. At Washington, he was surrounded by elite talent.
The left-hander transformed a program wounded by the Jimmy Lake scandal. Huskies football became fun again with Penix's rocket left arm carving up defenses. Washington needed it. It enters the College Football Playoff with what would be the worst total defense (No. 93) to win a championship in the BCS era (since 1998). Folks forget Washington was once the dominant program in the old Pac-10. Now, it is again with a guns-blazing offense. Penix enters the playoff leading the country in passing yards. In two seasons, he has thrown for almost 9,000 yards with the Huskies.
3. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon
Whatever heights Nix reaches, his honors deserve to be shared -- and not just in the sense of taking his offensive line out for steaks. Nix is one of the best transfers of the portal age. In a five-year career, he has played at two schools (Auburn, Oregon) for for three head coaches and four offensive coordinators. It's one thing to endure that; it's another to thrive through it.
Nix found his game and his future at Oregon. He became the (last) Pac-12 Player of the Year this season. Nix heads to New York tied for the national lead in touchdown passes (40) and nearing an all-time record for accuracy (77.2%). Twice he went for six total touchdowns. In a rout of Arizona State, Nix was mercifully removed from the field shortly after halftime having thrown for six scores. At Auburn, he couldn't realize his potential. At Oregon, Nix became of the most dangerous weapons in the sport and helped keep the Ducks at an elite level. He might have been the frontrunner for the Heisman before Oregon lost to Washington for a second straight time in the Pac-12 Championship Game.