College News & Analysis

Built for the big moments: Jayden Daniels has major plans for his final season of college football

  • LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels sits down for an exclusive interview with PFF.
  • One of the best returning quarterbacks in the country: Daniels ranked sixth in PFF’s top-10 returning quarterbacks list.
  • “I want a championship before my time in college is done”: The fifth-year senior is focused on bringing home LSU’s fifth national championship.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Some players wither in big moments while others rise to the occasion and want the ball in their hands. 

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels falls into the latter category. A perfect example of this was this past season, when he and the Tigers were in overtime against No. 6 Alabama — led by eventual first-overall pick Bryce Young.

Young and the Crimson Tide got the ball first in the extra period and scored a touchdown, forcing LSU to match them. Luckily for the Tigers, Daniels had a plan.

“I remember telling the QB assistant, Dean [Petzing], ‘If we call a read-option, I’m going to score’,” Daniels said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “So basically, I called my own number in that situation.” 

Sure enough, LSU called a read-option on the first play and Daniels zig-zagged his way through Alabama for a 25-yard touchdown run. 

Normally, what’d follow would be an extra-point attempt to send the game into a second overtime. Instead, LSU decided to go for an all-or-nothing two-point conversion, a bold decision but one that Daniels and head coach Brian Kelly were fully behind.

“Coach Kelly and I were on the same page,” Daniels said. “I wanted to go for two. He wanted to go for two. It wasn’t hard to convince him at all. Coach Kelly’s got guts. That’s my coach, I’m right there with him. I’m happy he went for it and I bet all of Louisiana is happy too.”

On the two-point try, Daniels rolled to his right and found freshman tight end Mason Taylor for the game-winner, causing absolute pandemonium to ensue in Baton Rouge.

The opportunity for those kinds of moments was precisely the reason Daniels chose LSU when he decided to transfer from Arizona State in February of 2022. 

“I entered the transfer portal because I felt like I had to take the next step in my career,” Daniels said. “I obviously wanted to reach the next level. I chose LSU for the opportunity to play on the biggest stage of college football in the SEC West. You’re playing against Alabama, Ole Miss. That’s setting you up to be successful at the next level.”

Despite being one of the most recognizable brands in college football, LSU wasn’t exactly in a good spot when Daniels chose it as his next home. After winning the national championship in 2019, the Tigers went 11-12 the following two seasons, leading to a messy divorce from head coach Ed Orgeron. 

Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly was brought in to clean up the mess, but both he and Daniels weren’t planning on a multi-season fix.

“Coach Kelly’s thing was that this isn’t a rebuild,” Daniels said. “We have a process. It’s a standard we have to meet each and every day. Obviously, his resume speaks for itself. When I got here, I just saw the talent that we had. Once we really just bought in, the sky was the limit for us.”

LSU went 10-4 in its first season with Kelly and Daniels leading the program, including an SEC West division title over Alabama and Ole Miss. Daniels had a special year himself, finishing with a career-high 88.6 PFF grade. The senior was the only quarterback in the country with over 1,000 rushing yards and also led the FBS with a 0.6% turnover-worthy play rate. 

Many players who had a year like Daniels would strike while the iron’s hot and enter the NFL draft. However, he wasn’t satisfied with the ending to his collegiate career. 

“I had the opportunity to declare for the draft,” Daniels said. “For me, I just felt like I had some unfinished business. I just saw what we can be this upcoming year. Being able to go out there, win a national championship. That’s the biggest thing for me. I want to win the championship before my time in college is done. Now we’re here in Year 2, Coach Kelly gives all of the reins to me to go out there and be a leader every day. He told me that this is my team. In order to win a national championship, it has to be a player-led team. I feel like we have that.” 

A national championship isn’t the only trophy Daniels has his sights set on. As of right now, the fifth-year senior is tied for the eighth-best odds (+2000) to bring home the Heisman Trophy, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind,” Daniels said. “Growing up, I always wanted to win the Heisman. My dad and I always talked about it. Being able to accomplish that goal would be an honor for me.”

While a national championship and a Heisman Trophy seem like a tall task for any signal-caller, it’s been done before. In fact, LSU had another transfer quarterback accomplish both of those feats four years ago in Joe Burrow

“I was able to chop it up with Joe Burrow at our spring game,” Daniels said. “It’s cool to see another quarterback transfer in here, win the national championship and be the No. 1 overall pick. It’s cool to be able to pick his brain.”

This upcoming year will be Daniels’ fifth and final season as a starter in the Power Five, and he’s looking to enjoy every moment.

“This’ll be my last year of college football and the NFL is next,” Daniels said. “I’m just focused on this last season and take it day by day.”

When asked if he’s particularly excited about any game in his final season, he simply replied…

“The first one.”

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