• Could we see a non-QB rise up? Among the non-quarterback dark horse Heisman candidates, Clemson running back Will Shipley is at the top of the list.
• Drew Allar's high ceiling at the helm of Penn State's offense: He recorded three big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays on 60 attempts on his way to a 71.8 grade in 2022 as a backup.
• Joe Milton III takes over for Hendon Hooker at Tennessee: The sixth-year senior isn't necessarily a dark horse, but he's not a favorite either.
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Seemingly every other year a player defies all odds by winning the Heisman Trophy after beginning the college football season as an afterthought. Whether it be Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Johnny Manziel or even DeVonta Smith, dark horses can become Heisman favorites in a matter of weeks.
Here is one dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate from each Power Five conference ahead of the 2023 season.
ACC: RB Will Shipley, Clemson Tigers
The only non-quarterback on this list, Shipley is by far Clemson's best offensive weapon and is going to be featured even more in the offense in 2023. His team is arguably the best in the ACC and should be in playoff contention come December.
The Tigers hired Garrett Riley from TCU to be their new offensive coordinator, and Shipley is poised to benefit most from the change, as he’s likely to see more touches. Last year, he finished with a 78.5 PFF grade behind nearly 1,200 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, plus 37 receptions for 237 yards. An improved offensive line will also help Shipley's production
A season of 2,000 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns is not out of reach for Shipley. That would give him a strong Heisman case, especially if Clemson wins the ACC and makes the College Football Playoff.
Big 12: QB Chandler Morris, TCU Horned Frogs
This would all depend on if TCU takes a step back. If the Horned Frogs can prove last season was not a fluke and that their program is built to last, then Chandler Morris will be at the forefront of another excellent season. He actually won the starting quarterback job over Max Duggan last year before suffering an injury in their first game, a season in which Duggan went on to finish second in the Heisman race.
Morris was thriving for TCU back in 2021, throwing for nearly 700 yards on only 76 attempts and averaging an exceptional 9.2 yards per pass. If he does turn out to be better than Duggan, he might take this TCU offense to new heights.
The Horned Frogs are certainly going to have to reload at their skill positions to help Morris, particularly after losing wide receiver Quentin Johnston (76.2 PFF grade in 2022) and running back Kendre Miller (85.3) to the NFL. But let’s say they run it back and win the Big 12 by a landslide. If that’s the case, it wouldn't be unrealistic for Morris to be the second straight TCU quarterback at the Heisman ceremony.
Big Ten: QB Drew Allar, Penn State Nittany Lions
Head coach James Franklin is finally passing the torch from Sean Clifford to Drew Allar, who was one of the top high school quarterback recruits in recent memory.
Allar is a 6-foot-5, pro-style quarterback with a very strong arm. He looked great in minimal play time a season ago, showing tremendous pocket presence and poise. He recorded three big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays on 60 attempts on his way to a 71.8 grade. The biggest obstacles for Allar this season will be Michigan and Ohio State, as is often the case in the Big Ten. Penn State needs to win one, if not both, of those games for the team to both stay in College Football Playoff contention and for Allar to even be considered in the Heisman race. If he is as good as advertised, there’s a great chance that Penn State is a dominant team in 2023.
Pac-12: QB Cam Rising, Utah Utes
The Pac-12 is full of top-tier quarterback talent and features the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but Cam Rising is the pick here. He is currently the biggest sleeper pick as he recovers from a torn ACL. Reports say he’s supposedly ahead of schedule and could return in time for Utah's first game. That will likely have to be the case in order for Rising to be in the Heisman race and for the Utes to be in playoff contention. They start out with two tough games against Florida and Baylor, and they’ll certainly need their veteran quarterback in those contests.
Rising's 84.7 PFF grade in 2021 tied for second in the Pac-12 among quarterbacks, and his 79.1 mark in 2022 ranked fourth, behind a slew of the conference's top signal-callers.
If Rising does come out of the gate healthy and firing on all cylinders, he will give the Utes an excellent shot to reach the College Football Playoff and win the Pac-12 for a third straight year.
SEC: QB Joe Milton III, Tennessee Volunteers
Milton isn't much of a dark horse, but he’s certainly not a favorite. He will be taking over for Hendon Hooker in an exciting offense that is primed to put points on the board. This will be Milton’s sixth year in college, and he possibly has the strongest arm in college football.
In minimal play time last season, Milton threw for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging an astonishing 11.8 yards per pass. This led to an 86.1 PFF grade on 91 dropbacks. If this is any indication of what we’re going to see out of Milton this upcoming year, we’re in for a real treat. Josh Heupel has officially brought Tennessee back into the national spotlight. The Volunteers could make a playoff run, but it will take a Heisman-esque season out of Milton to accomplish that.