2023 PFF College Football Midseason Awards: Michael Penix Jr. takes home the Heisman Trophy

2T1XAWT Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. looks on during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oregon, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Seattle. Washington won 36-33. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

• Michael Penix Jr. takes home the Heisman Trophy: The Washington quarterback is the runaway favorite to win the award at the midway point of the college football season.

• Laiatu Latu is the defensive player of the year: The UCLA edge defender is the winner of four awards, as his 93.7 grade leads all FBS players this season.

• Brent Venables is the coach of the year: In a close race, Oklahoma’s head coach takes home this honor with the Sooners in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt after finishing 6-7 in 2022.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes


College football is unique to the NFL in a number of ways. One of them is that there are significantly more awards handed out at the end of the college season than there are at the professional level.

After going over our midseason All-American team, here’s how we view the races for 23 of college football’s biggest awards at the midway point of the 2023 season.


Heisman Trophy/Maxwell Award (Best Player)

Winner: 

  • QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington Huskies

Finalists: 

  • QB Jayden Daniels, LSU Tigers
  • QB Carson Beck, Georgia Bulldogs
  • QB J.J. McCarthy, Michigan Wolverines

After taking down No. 8 Oregon in Week 7, Penix is on track to be Washington’s first Heisman Trophy winner in the award’s 88-year history. A Husky has never even placed inside the top three for the honor. Penix leads all FBS quarterbacks in overall grade (93.3) and passing grade (92.9) while ranking second in passing yards. 


Chuck Bednarik Award/Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Best Defensive Player)

Winner: 

  • EDGE Laiatu Latu, UCLA Bruins

Finalists: 

  • EDGE Dallas Turner, Alabama Crimson Tide
  • EDGE James Pearce Jr., Tennessee Volunteers

Latu has the best comeback story in college football. While at Washington, he missed the 2020 and 2021 seasons after being forced to medically retire with a neck injury. He then transferred to UCLA and posted a 91.0 pass-rushing grade, ranking fourth among Power Five edge defenders.

Latu leads college football with a 93.7 overall grade this season. His 25% pressure rate is second among FBS edge defenders, while his three forced fumbles are tied for the second most among all defensive players. To top it all off, Latu has an interception, as well.


Davey O’Brien Award (Best Quarterback)

Winner: 

  • QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington Huskies

Finalists: 

  • QB Jayden Daniels, LSU Tigers
  • QB Carson Beck, Georgia Bulldogs

Doak Walker Award (Best Running Back)

Winner: 

  • RB Audric Estime, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Finalists: 

  • RB Ray Davis, Kentucky Wildcats
  • RB Jonathon Brooks, Texas Longhorns

Estime has been a workhorse for the Fighting Irish this season. His 787 rushing yards and 532 rushing yards after contact lead all Power Five backs. The junior’s 90.0 overall grade is tied for second at the position.


Biletnikoff Award (Best Receiver)

Winner: 

  • WR Malik Nabers, LSU Tigers

Finalists: 

  • WR Luther Burden III, Missouri Tigers
  • WR Rome Odunze, Washington Huskies

Of all the honors on this list, the Biletnikoff Award is proving to be the closest race. It would’ve likely gone to Burden if we awarded it just last week. Nabers gets the nod for now, though, as his 91.6 grade and 860 receiving yards lead the nation at the position. The junior has also proven to be one of the best deep threats in the country, leading the Power Five in receiving grade on 20-plus-yard throws (95.4).


John Mackey Award (Best Tight End)

Winner: 

  • TE Brock Bowers, Georgia Bulldogs

Finalists: 

  • TE Cade Stover, Ohio State Buckeyes
  • TE Mitchell Evans, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Unlike the Biletnikoff Award, the John Mackey Award is one of the easiest calls to make at this point. Bowers leads all FBS tight ends in receptions, receiving yards, yards after the catch, receiving yards after contact, receiving first downs plus touchdowns, forced missed tackles after the catch and yards per route run. It remains to be seen if the junior built up enough of a lead to hold on to this award, though. ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported that Bowers will miss four to six weeks following surgery on his ankle.


Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman)

Winner: 

  • OT Joe Alt, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Finalists: 

  • OT Taliese Fuaga, Oregon State Beavers
  • DI Howard Cross III, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Alt arguably deserved the Outland Trophy last season after leading all FBS offensive tackles with a 91.4 grade. The junior gets the nod this year, as he’s the only FBS tackle to place inside the top 10 for both pass-blocking grade (third) and run-blocking grade (tied for ninth). No other tackle places even in the top 15 for both. 


Rotary Lombardi Award (Best Lineman)

Winner: 

  • EDGE Laiatu Latu, UCLA Bruins

Finalists: 

  • OT Joe Alt, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
  • OT Taliese Fuaga, Oregon State Beavers

Rimington Award (Best Center)

Winner: 

  • C Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon Ducks

Finalists: 

  • C Sedrick Van Pran, Georgia Bulldogs
  • C Matt Lee, Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Powers-Johnson leads all centers in college football with a 90.0 pass-blocking grade this season. He hasn’t allowed a sack and has surrendered just one pressure on 230 pass-blocking snaps. The junior also ranks eighth among FBS centers with a 77.1 run-blocking grade. 


Ted Hendricks Award (Best Defensive End)

Winner: 

  • EDGE Laiatu Latu, UCLA Bruins

Finalists: 

  • EDGE James Pearce Jr., Tennessee Volunteers
  • EDGE Dallas Turner, Alabama Crimson Tide

Butkus Award (Best Linebacker)

Winner: 

  • LB Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M Aggies

Finalists: 

  • LB Cedric Gray, North Carolina Tar Heels
  • LB Payton Wilson, NC State Wolfpack

Cooper’s 87.5 grade this season is tied for first among all linebackers in college football. He leads all FBS linebackers with seven sacks, while his 11 tackles for loss or no gain are tied for the most among Power Five linebackers.


Jim Thorpe Award (Best Defensive Back)

Winner: 

  • S Malaki Starks, Georgia Bulldogs

Finalists: 

  • CB Kamal Hadden, Tennessee Volunteers
  • CB Sebastian Castro, Iowa Hawkeyes

Starks as a true freshman earned a respectable 67.1 grade while leading the defense with 847 snaps. He’s taken the leap to becoming the best safety in the country as a sophomore. His 90.2 grade leads all FBS safeties, and he also boasts the fifth-best coverage grade and the eighth-best run-defense grade. No other safety ranks in the top 15 for both.


Paul Hornung Award (Most Versatile Player)

Winner: 

  • CB/WR Travis Hunter, Colorado Buffaloes

Finalists: 

  • CB Cooper DeJean, Iowa Hawkeyes
  • WR Ainias Smith, Texas A&M Aggies

Even after missing three games with a lacerated liver, Hunter is still the shoo-in for this award based on the simple fact that he starts on both sides of the ball. He has already played 542 snaps in just four games — more than any receiver or cornerback in the country this season.

Hunter has 29 catches without a drop this season and is allowing just a 48.4% completion rate at cornerback.


Lou Groza Award (Best Placekicker)

Winner: 

  • K Will Reichard, Alabama Crimson Tide

Finalists: 

  • K Graham Nicholson, Miami (OH) RedHawks
  • K Trey Smack, Florida Gators

Reichard’s 90.8 field goal/extra-point grade this season leads all kickers in college football. He’s a perfect 13-of-13 on his field goal attempts and has also converted all 21 of his extra-point attempts. Six of those field goals came from 40-plus yards out, as well. 


Ray Guy Award (Best Punter)

Winner: 

  • P James Burnip, Alabama Crimson Tide

Finalists: 

  • P Matthew Hayball, Vanderbilt Commodores
  • P Tory Taylor, Iowa Hawkeyes

Alabama's special teams unit features the highest-graded kicker and punter in the country this season. Burnip has a booming leg, as his average hang time of 4.43 seconds leads the nation and his 48.9 yards per attempt ranks third. 


Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers Award (Best Return Specialist)

Winner: 

  • WR Zachariah Branch, USC Trojans

Finalists: 

  • WR Matthew Golden, Houston Cougars
  • WR Brashard Smith, Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Branch is the only player in college football who has both a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown this season. Even more impressive is that he holds that distinction despite missing two games due to injury. Branch is averaging a whopping 21.7 yards per punt return, which leads the Power Five.


Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award (Best Freshman)

Winner: 

  • S Caleb Downs, Alabama Crimson Tide

Finalists: 

  • EDGE Rueben Bain Jr., Miami (FL) Hurricanes
  • S Peyton Bowen, Oklahoma Sooners

Not only is Downs the younger brother of Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs, but he was also the highest-rated safety recruit since Derwin James in 2015. He’s lived up to that hype this season, as his 84.4 grade leads all freshmen in college football and ranks ninth among FBS safeties.


Burlsworth Trophy (Best player who started their career as a walk-on)

Winner: 

  • LB Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington Huskies

Finalists: 

  • OG Joe Fusile, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
  • RB Cody Schrader, Missouri Tigers

After beginning his career as a walk-on, Ulofoshio was named an honorable-mention All-American in 2020. He then missed 14 of Washington’s 25 games over the following two seasons due to various injuries.

Ulofoshio’s 83.7 grade this season ranks third among Power Five linebackers, and he’s the only linebacker in the country with 80.0-plus grades both as a pass-rusher and in coverage.


Joe Moore Award (Best Offensive Line)

Winner: 

  • Oregon State Beavers

Finalists: 

  • Georgia Bulldogs
  • Missouri Tigers

Oregon State’s offensive line has earned an 85.1 grade this season, more than three points higher than the next-closest Power Five team. That’s mainly because their 91.8 run-blocking grade is more than five points better than the next-best Power Five school. Taliese Fuaga is the star of the unit, with his 89.9 grade leading all offensive tackles in college football.


Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award (Best Coach)

Winner: 

  • HC Brent Venables, Oklahoma Sooners

Finalists: 

  • HC Mike Norvell, Florida State Seminoles
  • HC Kalen DeBoer, Washington Huskies

In Venables’ first season as a head coach, Oklahoma endured its first losing season in the 21st century. Now, his Sooners are 6-0 and have every opportunity to make the College Football Playoff. 

Oklahoma is one of four FBS schools to place inside the top 15 in expected points added per play on offense and EPA allowed per play on defense this season.


Frank Broyles Award (Best Assistant Coach)

Winner: 

  • OC Kirby Moore, Missouri Tigers

Finalists: 

  • OC Will Stein, Oregon Ducks
  • OC Mike Denbrock, LSU Tigers
  • OC Jeff Lebby, Oklahoma Sooners
  • DC D’Anton Lynn, UCLA Bruins

The Tigers’ offense has turned things completely around in Moore’s first year as offensive coordinator. Mizzou ranks 10th in the country in offensive grade after finishing 81st a season ago, and the offense also ranks 26th in EPA per play.

Missouri Offensive Ranks | 2023 Compared to 2022 Among FBS Teams
Season Offensive Grade EPA per play
2023 10th 26th
2022 81st 95th

Nearly every part of this offense has taken a gigantic step forward. The offensive line is the sixth-highest-graded unit in college football after placing 72nd in 2022. Luther Burden III has turned into a premier receiver as a true sophomore. However, nobody has benefited from Moore’s arrival more than quarterback Brady Cook. His 66.7 passing grade last season ranked 93rd among all signal-callers. This season, he sits at 25th with an 80.2 mark.

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