College News & Analysis

Top 10 way-too-early Heisman candidates for the 2023 college football season

New York, NY, USA; Heisman Trophy finalists (left to right) Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett and TCU quarterback Max Duggan and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams touch the trophy during a press conference in the Astor Ballroom at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York, NY, before the 2022 Heisman Trophy award ceremony. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

• Can Caleb Williams go back-to-back?: After winning the Heisman Trophy this year, the USC quarterback looks to become only the second player ever to do so twice.

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye: The redshirt freshman was arguably the best quarterback this season and should be one of the top Heisman candidates in 2023.

Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins

It’s never too early to look ahead.

With USC’s Caleb Williams taking home the Heisman Trophy, let's examine the top candidates to take home college football’s most distinguished individual honor next season. 


1. QB Caleb Williams, USC Trojans

There’s been only one two-time Heisman winner in the award’s 87-year history: Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975. 

After winning the stiff-arm trophy this season, USC quarterback Caleb Williams looks to join that exclusive club next year. The sophomore was both the third-highest-graded and third-most valuable Power Five quarterback this year, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. He tied for the national lead with 37 passing touchdowns while tossing just four interceptions.

Next season, Williams will have to deal with voter fatigue; those who cast their Heisman ballots will likely look for every reason not to give him the distinguished honor a second time. However, with one of the game’s best offensive minds coaching him in Lincoln Riley and a potential playoff roster surrounding him, Williams should be the favorite to repeat as the Heisman winner in 2023.


2. QB Drake Maye, North Carolina Tar Heels

There’s a serious argument to be made that Drake Maye, not Caleb Williams, was the best quarterback in college football this season. 

Maye led all Power Five quarterbacks in PFF grade (91.6) and was the most valuable signal-caller in the nation, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. The redshirt freshman also had 41 big-time throws this season, six more than any other quarterback in the FBS. Maye was an incredible dual-threat signal-caller, ranking second at the position with 512 rushing yards after contact.

Drake Maye vs. Caleb Williams | 2022
Player School Grade Value (Wins Above Average) Big-Time Throw % Turnover-Worthy Play % Rush Yds
Drake Maye North Carolina 91.6 1.62 8.2% 2.3% 833
Caleb Williams USC 90.9 1.12 5.8% 1.8% 614

Based on numbers alone, Maye arguably deserved the Heisman Trophy this season over Williams and should be the favorite for next year, as well. As 2022 has proven, though, it’s not all about the stats. Top candidates usually come from the top teams. In fact, three of this year’s four finalists were quarterbacks from schools in the College Football Playoff (Stetson Bennett, Max Duggan and C.J. Stroud). Meanwhile, Maye’s Tar Heels are currently unranked at 9-4 and are in the midst of a three-game losing streak heading into their bowl game.

Maye is good enough to win the Heisman Trophy, but North Carolina needs to be good enough to keep him in the spotlight..


3. QB Jordan Travis, Florida State Seminoles

No. 13 Florida State is having its best season since 2016, and much of that has to do with quarterback Jordan Travis. Among likely returning Power Five quarterbacks, only Caleb Williams and Drake Maye had a higher grade than Travis’ 90.6 mark in 2022.

Not to mention, the Seminoles should have one of the most electric offenses in the country next season. Running back Trey Benson already announced his return after a historic tackle-breaking year. Benson forced a missed tackle on 55% of his attempts in 2022, which breaks the PFF College record set by Javonte Williams in 2020 (48%). Wide receiver Johnny Wilson is tied for seventh in the Power Five this season with 2.94 yards per route run and could also return. Plus, Florida State is bringing in former South Carolina tight end Jaheim Bell, who was the No. 5 player in PFF’s transfer portal rankings.

The Seminoles could win the ACC next season thanks to an elite offense led by Travis, making him a top Heisman contender.


4. QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington Huskies

Michael Penix Jr. led college football in 2022 with 4,354 passing yards. The junior was also one of the best in the country at taking care of the football. His 1.3% turnover-worthy play rate ranked fifth lowest.

However, he was far from conservative. Penix’s 25 big-time throws were tied for the fourth-most in the Power Five. He led the Huskies to a 10-2 record this season, their best in five years. Another season like this could have Penix at the top of the Heisman conversation.


5. WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State Buckeyes

The only wide receiver this century to take home the Heisman Trophy was Alabama’s DeVonta Smith in 2020. Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. has a chance to join him next season. The son of NFL Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, junior was the best receiver in the country this year. 

The sophomore’s 90.2 grade this season led all Power Five wide receivers. He was simply unguardable one-on-one. Against single coverage, Harrison led all FBS wide receivers in grade (94.7) and receiving yards (807) while tying for the most touchdowns (12).

Working against him is the fact that the Buckeyes have another stud receiver in Emeka Egbuka, who will command his fair share of targets. Only Harrison was a more valuable Power Five receiver this season, according to PFF’s wins above average metric.


6. RB Donovan Edwards, Michigan Wolverines

I've already detailed why I would’ve given the Heisman Trophy this season to Michigan running back Blake Corum.

If Corum declares for the draft like most expect him to, the running back with the best chance to win it in 2023 could be his replacement in Donovan Edwards. The sophomore’s 90.8 grade was tied for sixth among FBS running backs with at least 270 snaps in 2022.

When Corum suffered his season-ending knee injury, Edwards stepped up when it mattered most. He ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns on only 22 carries against then-No. 2 Ohio State, in what was the biggest game of the college football regular season. His encore was a 185-yard, one-touchdown performance with 10 forced missed tackles against Purdue in the Big Ten championship game.

The Wolverines look like they could push for a third straight playoff appearance next season, and Edwards could be the team's top candidate to win the Heisman Trophy.


7. QB J.J. McCarthy, Michigan Wolverines

Edwards isn’t the only Wolverine with a shot at the Heisman. Michigan didn't need to rely on quarterback J.J. McCarthy too heavily last year with running back Blake Corum leading the way.

However, the sophomore still impressed in his first season as a starter with a 78.5 grade. McCarthy especially thrives outside of the original play design. His four passing touchdowns outside of structure trails only Bryce Young, Caleb Williams and Drake Maye among Power Five quarterbacks. McCarthy should take on a larger role in Michigan’s offense next season.


8. QB Cade Klubnik, Clemson Tigers

Like Donovan Edwards, Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik took his opportunity and ran with it. 

When DJ Uiagalelei was benched in the ACC championship game against then-No. 23 North Carolina, Klubnik entered and lit the Tar Heels up to the tune of 279 yards and a touchdown while posting an absurd 91.3% adjusted completion percentage. The true freshman also ran for 30 yards and a score in the Tigers’ dominant 39-10 victory. 

Now that Uiagalelei is in the transfer portal, this is Klubnik’s team. The top quarterback recruit in 2022 will try to lead Clemson back to the College Football Playoff after two years of missing it under Uiagalelei.


9. QB Quinn Ewers/Arch Manning, Texas Longhorns

Quinn Ewers was one of the highest-rated quarterback recruits in history. However, his first season as a starter was shaky, to say the least. The redshirt freshman’s 67.7 grade ranked 97th among 146 FBS quarterbacks. He still consistently showed off his insane arm talent, though, which is what made him such a highly touted recruit to begin with. Ewers finished with a 6.6% big-time throw rate, which ranked sixth highest among Power Five quarterbacks. The issue this year was accuracy, as his 65.2% adjusted completion percentage was the eighth-worst rate in the Power Five. If Ewers can fix that, the sky's the limit.

 

If he can’t, the Longhorns could turn to true freshman Arch Manning, who’s arguably the most hyped recruit of all time. Not only is Manning the top recruit in the country, but he’s also the grandson of Archie Manning and the nephew of Peyton and Eli. A true freshman has never won the Heisman Trophy, but Manning will certainly have the media attention necessary to do so if he plays well.

 

Working in both quarterbacks’ favor is the fact that they’d be throwing to one of the best receiving corps in the country, featuring tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders and wide receivers Xavier Worthy and Isaiah Neyor


10. RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss Rebels

Quinshon Judkins was the best true freshman in college football this season. His 88.2 grade led all first-year players and was tied for ninth among Power Five running backs overall.

Judkins ranked fourth among Power Five running backs in rushing yards (1,476), yards after contact (872) and forced missed tackles (74). He also had 86 rushing first downs or touchdowns, third most in the Power Five. With Judkins and quarterback Jaxson Dart returning, the Rebels could make some noise next year in the SEC.


Honorable mention: TE Brock Bowers, Georgia Bulldogs

Only two tight ends have taken home the Heisman Trophy in the award’s 88-year history: Yale’s Larry Kelley in 1936 and Notre Dame’s Leon Hart in 1949. 

That’s really the only reason Brock Bowers didn’t crack the top 10; he’s one of the best players in the country otherwise. Over his first two years in college, the sophomore has 249 more yards after the catch than any other FBS tight end. This year’s John Mackey Award winner also has 19 receiving touchdowns in that span, three more than the next-closest tight end.


Top contenders if they return: QB Jayden Daniels, LSU Tigers & QB Bo Nix, Oregon Ducks

LSU’s Jayden Daniels was the third-most valuable player in the country this season, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. The junior’s 0.6% turnover-worthy play rate was the lowest among all quarterbacks in the country, and he was the lone such player to rush for 1,000 yards. Plus, he’ll have no shortage of weapons if he decides to stay for 2023, as the Tigers return three of their top four receivers in Kayshon Boutte, Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr.

 

Bo Nix revived his career at Oregon after a lackluster three years at Auburn. After earning a 74.5 grade over his first three seasons, the senior jumped to an 85.4 mark in 2022. Nix’s accuracy was the most impressive part of his resurgence. He led all quarterbacks in the country with an 82.6% adjusted completion percentage. Nix now has a decision to make as to whether he wants to run it back at Oregon. Complicating matters is the fact that the Ducks’ offensive coordinator, 32-year-old Kenny Dillingham, was just made the Power Five’s youngest head coach by Arizona State.


Unproven but keep an eye on: Winners of Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama QB battles

As the Heisman Trophy has shown, playing on one of the top teams is almost a necessity to win the award. Three major programs will likely have a new quarterback next season in Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama. 

The defending champs will be losing Stetson Bennett after 2022, a year where the former walk-on was a Heisman finalist. His replacement will likely be one of Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton. Beck seems to have the inside track right now since he served as the Bulldogs’ backup all season and looked impressive with an 86.2 passing grade on limited snaps. But don’t count out Vandagriff, who was a five-star recruit and the fourth-best quarterback in the 2021 class, according to On3’s consensus ratings.

Ohio State will likely be losing C.J. Stroud, who is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Buckeyes' starting quarterback job is one of the most coveted in the country. The past five Ohio State quarterbacks have all finished in the top five of Heisman voting at least once: Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett IV, Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud. Not only that, you get to throw to arguably the two best returning receivers next season in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.

Replacing Stroud will likely be either Kyle McCord or Devin Brown, who were both five-star recruits in their respective classes. McCord likely has the upper hand, as he’s a year older and was Stroud’s backup the past two seasons. McCord is the biggest sleeper to win the Heisman right now.

Finally, Alabama is most likely losing Bryce Young, a past Heisman winner and the No. 1 overall player on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft big board. His replacement will likely be either redshirt freshman Jalen Milroe or true freshman Ty Simpson. Milroe was Young’s backup this year and is a year older than Simpson, but he showed that he has a lot to work on as a passer. Among FBS quarterbacks with at least 185 snaps, Milroe’s 30.7 passing grade was the worst by nearly seven points. Head coach Nick Saban could turn to the younger Simpson, who was a five-star recruit and the No. 2 quarterback in the 2022 class, according to On3’s consensus ratings.

Safety worth way more than 2 points. Help protext your family with fast, affordable life insurance. You could be covered in 10 minutes! Get a Free Quote.
Sponsor

College Featured Tools

  • Power Rankings are PFF’s NCAA power ratings based on weekly player grades in each facet of play. These power rankings are adjusted based on coach, quarterback and the market each season.

    Available with

  • PFF's exclusive metrics provide matchup previews, position rankings, grades, and snap counts.

    Available with

  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NCAA player performance data.

    Available with

Subscriptions

Unlock all tools and content including Player Grades, Fantasy, NFL Draft, Premium Stats, Greenline and DFS.

$9.99 / mo
$79.99 / yr