2023 PFF College Football Award Predictions: Jordan Travis takes home the Heisman Trophy

2MAECD7 Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis (13) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Boston College on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

• Jordan Travis wins the Heisman Trophy: The sixth-year senior becomes Florida State’s fourth Heisman Trophy winner and first since Jameis Winston in 2013.

• Jared Verse is the top defender: Travis’ teammate takes home the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player.

• Travis Hunter is the most versatile player: The former top recruit is expected to start for Colorado at both cornerback and wide receiver, making him an easy choice for the Paul Hornung Award.

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes


The 2023 college football season kicks off in less than two weeks, so it’s time to start making some predictions.

Before looking at teams, we’ll start at the individual level. Here is who I believe will win 23 of the college football's top awards, along with some finalists for each.



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Heisman Trophy/Maxwell Award (Best Player)

Winner:
  • QB Jordan Travis, Florida State Seminoles
Finalists:
  • QB Caleb Williams, USC Trojans
  • RB Blake Corum, Michigan Wolverines
  • QB Quinn Ewers, Texas Longhorns

Only last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Caleb Williams, graded higher than Travis (91.7) in 2022 among Power Five quarterbacks. Travis was also the only signal-caller in the country who placed in the top 15 in both big-time throw rate (10th) and turnover-worthy play rate (12th) in 2022.

While the Heisman Trophy is largely based on stats, it’s also driven by narrative. There likely won’t be a better story in college football than Florida State this season. The Seminoles endured four straight losing campaigns from 2018 to 2021, and before that, the program hadn’t had a sub-.500 year since 1976.

With one of the most loaded rosters in college football returning, I’m predicting Travis to lead Florida State back to the College Football Playoff.


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

Winner:
  • EDGE Jared Verse, Florida State Seminoles
Finalists:
  • DI Jer’Zhan Newton. Illinois Fighting Illini
  • CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama Crimson Tide

Travis won’t be the only Seminole going home with some hardware. Verse is one of the biggest surprise returners in college football, as he likely would’ve been a top-20 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft had he declared.

That’s because he ranked second among Power Five edge defenders last year with a 22.4% pass-rush win rate while his 10 tackles for loss or no gain were tied for sixth. Most impressively, that was his first season at the FBS level after transferring in from Albany.


Davey O’Brien Award (Best Quarterback)

Winner:
  • QB Jordan Travis, Florida State Seminoles
Finalists:
  • QB Caleb Williams, USC Trojans
  • QB Quinn Ewers, Texas Longhorns

Doak Walker Award (Best Running Back)

Winner:
  • RB Blake Corum, Michigan Wolverines
Finalists:
  • RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss Rebels
  • RB Raheim Sanders, Arkansas Razorbacks

Corum’s 96.2 grade in 2022 led all players in college football and was the highest-graded season PFF has ever seen from a Power Five player.

Highest-graded seasons by a Power Five player in PFF College era (since 2014)
Name School Position Season Grade
Blake Corum Michigan RB 2022 96.2
Kyle Pitts Florida TE 2020 96.0
Chase Young Ohio State EDGE 2019 96.0
Quinnen Williams Alabama DI 2018 96.0

The three players below him were selected in the top five of their respective drafts, while Corum made the surprising decision to return for his senior season. His 96 combined rushing first downs and touchdowns were the second most in the country — behind only Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim, who received 72 more carries.

Corum is easily the best running back in college football. The only downside to picking him is the fact that Michigan has another top-10 back in Donovan Edwards, who the Wolverines may use more in order to preserve Corum’s health.


Fred Biletnikoff Award (Best Receiver)

Winner:
  • WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State Buckeyes
Finalists:
  • WR Emeka Egbuka, Ohio State Buckeyes
  • WR Rome Odunze, Washington Huskies

Harrison should’ve won the Biletnikoff Award last season. He was both the highest-graded (90.2) and most valuable receiver in the country, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. Against single coverage, Harrison’s 878 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns were the most among FBS receivers.

Like Corum, Harrison’s lone concern for winning this award could be his teammate. Egbuka is the second-best receiver in the country and can benefit from Harrison getting routinely double-teamed.


John Mackey Award (Best Tight End)

Winner:
  • TE Brock Bowers, Georgia Bulldogs
Finalists:
  • TE Ja’Tavion Sanders, Texas Longhorns
  • TE Bryson Nesbit, North Carolina Tar Heels

No tight end has ever won the John Mackey Award twice. Then again, no tight end has been as dominant as Bowers through their first two college seasons.

He was the most valuable tight end in college football during both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. He has dominated every receiving category for tight ends in that span while still earning the eighth-best run-blocking grade at the position in the Power Five (76.8).

Brock Bowers’ receiving stats since 2021 vs. all other tight ends
Statistic Brock Bowers Next-closest FBS tight end
Receiving yards 1,824 1,649
Receiving touchdowns 20 16
Yards after the catch 1,001 673
Receiving yards after contact 440 382

Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman)

Winner:
  • OT Joe Alt, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Finalists:
  • DI Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois Fighting Illini
  • OT Olu Fashanu, Penn State Nittany Lions

Alt was the best tackle in the country last year and is one of the best players in college football this season.

As a sophomore, he led all tackles in the country with a 91.4 grade and a 91.0 run-blocking grade. He also tied for fifth among FBS tackles with a 99.0 pass-block efficiency score.


Rotary Lombardi Award (Best Lineman)

Winner:
  • OT Joe Alt, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Finalists:
  • DI Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois Fighting Illini
  • OT Olu Fashanu, Penn State Nittany Lions

Dave Rimington Trophy (Best Center)

Winner:
  • C Beaux Limmer, Arkansas Razorbacks
Finalists:
  • C Justin Dedich, USC Trojans
  • C Drake Nugent, Michigan Wolverines

Limmer moves to center this year after spending the previous two seasons at right guard. He was one of only three Power Five guards who earned 80.0-plus pass- and run-blocking grades in 2022. Over the past two seasons, Limmer ranks second among returning interior offensive linemen in PFF’s wins above average metric.


Ted Hendricks Award (Best Defensive End)

Winner:
  • EDGE Jared Verse, Florida State Seminoles
Finalists:
  • EDGE Bralen Trice, Washington Huskies
  • EDGE Chop Robinson, Penn State Nittany Lions

Butkus Award (Best Linebacker)

Winner:
  • LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson Tigers
Finalists:
  • LB Harold Perkins, LSU Tigers
  • LB Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State Buckeyes

Like Marvin Harrison Jr., Trotter has a former All-Pro father by the same name. Also like MHJ, Trotter is living up to his father’s namesake and then some.

The younger Trotter was the only Power Five linebacker last year who earned 80.0-plus grades both in coverage and as a pass rusher. His 42.9 passer rating allowed ranked second in that same group.


Jim Thorpe Award (Best Defensive Back)

Winner:
  • CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama Crimson Tide
Finalists:
  • CB Kalen King, Penn State Nittany Lions
  • CB Will Johnson, Michigan Wolverines

McKinstry doesn’t just have the best nickname in college football; he has the best coverage skills, as well. The sophomore forced 18 incompletions last year, tied for second among all cornerbacks in the country. For his efforts, he was a first-team All-American for PFF in 2022.


Paul Hornung Award (Most Versatile Player)

Winner:
  • CB/WR Travis Hunter, Colorado Buffaloes
Finalists:
  • CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama Crimson Tide
  • CB Cooper DeJean, Iowa Hawkeyes

Hunter was one of the biggest prizes in the transfer portal this offseason, eventually following head coach Deion Sanders from Jackson State to Colorado.

The former No. 2 overall recruit in the 2022 class was named to PFF’s preseason All-Pac 12 first-team as a cornerback. He’s also projected to be one of the Buffaloes’ starting receivers this year. As a true freshman last year, Hunter caught 17 of his 22 targets for 187 yards and four touchdowns while also recording two interceptions and eight forced incompletions on defense. He will practically never come off the field for Colorado, bringing the talent to excel on both sides of the ball.


Lou Groza Award (Best Placekicker)

Winner:
  • K Joshua Karty, Stanford Cardinal
Finalists:
  • K Dominic Zvada, Arkansas State Red Wolves
  • K John Hoyland, Wyoming Cowboys

Karty ranked second in college football last year with a 93.4 kicking grade, nailing all 18 of his field goal attempts. The next-closest perfect kicker attempted only 11 field goals.


Ray Guy Award (Best Punter)

Winner:
  • P Tory Taylor, Iowa Hawkeyes
Finalists:
  • P Nik Constantinou, Texas A&M Aggies
  • P Jack Browning, San Diego State Aztecs

Iowa’s offense was the Power Five’s least efficient in terms of expected added points per play. Because of that, Tory Taylor received a lot of work. The junior’s 83 punts were the most in the country. Forty-two of them landed inside the 20-yard line, the most in the FBS.


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

Winner:
  • CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama Crimson Tide
Finalists:
  • WR Lideatrick Griffin, Mississippi State Bulldogs
  • WR Lawrence Keys III, Tulane Green Wave

McKinstry doubles as an elite special teamer, leading the Power Five with 332 punt return yards last season.


Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award (Best Freshman)

Winner:
  • QB Dante Moore, UCLA Bruins
Finalists:
  • S Caleb Downs, Alabama Crimson Tide
  • CB Cormani McClain, Colorado Buffaloes

Moore was the No. 3 overall recruit in the 2023 class, trailing only Texas’ Arch Manning among the top incoming quarterbacks. While Manning likely won’t start this year, as he’s behind Quinn Ewers, Moore has a chance to start Day 1 for the Bruins.

He’s currently battling Kent State transfer Collin Schlee and redshirt junior Ethan Garbers for the starting job. Even if the true freshman doesn’t win the job now, head coach Chip Kelly will likely give him a shot at some point during the season.


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

Winner:
  • WR Dorian Singer, USC Trojans
Finalists:
  • TE Caden Prieskorn, Ole Miss Rebels
  • RB Treshaun Ward, Kansas State Wildcats

Singer didn’t receive any FBS recruiting offers and had nowhere to go late in his senior year. Arizona allowed him to walk on to the team, which paid off for the Wildcats and then some.

He tallied 29 catches that went for 15-plus yards in 2022, trailing only Marvin Harrison Jr. among returning Power Five receivers. The sophomore’s 1,105 receiving yards ranked second in the Pac-12 to Rome Odunze. After torching the Trojans to the tune of 141 yards and three touchdowns last year, Singer will now be Caleb Williams’ top target this season after transferring to USC.


Joe Moore Award (Best Offensive Line)

Winner:
  • Michigan Wolverines
Finalists:
  • Georgia Bulldogs
  • Oregon State Beavers

Last season, Michigan became the first school to win two consecutive Joe Moore Awards, given to the nation’s best offensive line. The Wolverines should be the favorites to three-peat in 2023.

Zak Zinter is back at right guard and is my No. 3 interior offensive lineman in the country. The senior was the second-most-valuable Power Five guard last season, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. Drake Nugent transfers in from Stanford and is one of the best centers in the nation. His 84.1 run-blocking grade last year ranked third among FBS centers.

Michigan also returns another two starters in left guard Trevor Keegan and right tackle Karsen Barnhart. Meanwhile, Arizona State transfer LaDarius Henderson is the favorite to take over at left tackle for the departed Ryan Hayes. Over the past two seasons, Henderson’s 2.0% pressure rate allowed ranked fifth among Pac-12 guards.

As for depth, the Wolverines brought in Stanford tackle Myles Hinton, who placed fourth among Power Five tackles in 2022 with a 1.8% pressure rate allowed. Trente Jones also returns and ranked sixth among Big Ten tackles last season with a 78.1 grade.


Home Depot Award (Best Coach)

Winner:
  • HC Mike Norvell, Florida State Seminoles
Finalists:
  • HC Steve Sarkisian, Texas Longhorns
  • HC Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs

Florida State is poised to take the leap into the College Football Playoff this year after posting losing records in four of the past five seasons.

On his team, Norvell has my pick to win the Heisman (Jordan Travis), my pick to be college football’s best defender (Jared Verse), the top running back in the 2024 NFL Draft (Trey Benson), a top-five receiving corps, a top-10 offensive line, a top-five defensive line and a top-10 secondary.

If the Seminoles can live up to the hype and reestablish themselves as a legitimate national championship contender, Norvell should run away with this honor.


Frank Broyles Award (Best Assistant Coach)

Winner:
  • DC Phil Parker, Iowa Hawkeyes
Finalists:
  • OC Garrett Riley, Clemson Tigers
  • OC Ryan Grubb, Washington Huskies

Parker has been a semifinalist for the Broyles Award in each of the past three seasons. This year, he’ll prove why he’s the best assistant in the country.

Iowa’s offense was the worst in the Power Five and the second worst nationally in terms of expected points added per play. Among the 12 bottom-ranked offenses in that department, the Hawkeyes were the only team to make a bowl game — and pretty comfortably.

That doesn’t happen without an elite defense, something Parker has been producing regularly. Iowa led the nation in defensive grade (94.3) and paced the Power Five in EPA per play (-0.267). Parker’s defenses have finished in the top 15 in the FBS in EPA per play in each of the past five years and have two top-five finishes in that span. With an elite secondary returning along with key pieces in the front seven, it’s a good bet the Hawkeyes rank highly again.

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