College Football: Week 9 Heisman Trophy rankings

2T1WKTJ Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. runs out to the field through purple smoke before an NCAA college football game against Oregon, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

• Michael Penix Jr. still leads the way: Even after a dud against Arizona State, the Washington quarterback leads the Heisman race.

• J.J. McCarthy comes in second: The Michigan quarterback is the favorite for most sportsbooks but is second in this ranking.

• Jayden Daniels rounds out the top three: Record be damned, the LSU quarterback has been one of the best players in college football.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

The 2023 Heisman Trophy race is WIDE open.

Just last weekend, Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was the heavy favorite to take home the award. Now, he has the second-best odds at most sportsbooks.

As we head into Week 9 of the college football season, here are the top five candidates for one of the most illustrious individual honors in sports.

1. QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington Huskies

Before this past weekend, Penix was the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Now, he has the second-best odds at most sportsbooks — behind the next player on this list.

That happened following a scare against Arizona State in which Penix posted just a 48.0 PFF grade, his worst over his two years in Seattle. Washington was also held without an offensive touchdown for the first time all season. Despite the dud, Penix is still our top candidate.

The sixth-year senior’s 91.3 passing grade ranks third among FBS quarterbacks, and he leads the nation with 2,582 passing yards. Penix also already had a signature Heisman moment in a win over then-No. 8 Oregon, tossing five big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays while freestyling about how he was going to lead the game-winning drive.

2. QB J.J. McCarthy, Michigan Wolverines

While Penix is still the leader on this list, McCarthy has overtaken him at most sportsbooks. There’s certainly a case to be made that the junior has been the best signal-caller in America this season. His 92.6 grade is currently the top mark in college football. McCarthy’s 9.4% big-time throw rate trails only Jalen Milroe among Power Five quarterbacks. He’s also been incredibly accurate while pushing the ball downfield. McCarthy is the only quarterback in the country to rank in the top five in adjusted completion rate (83.2%) with an average depth of target of more than 10 yards.

So why isn’t he topping this list? Because McCarthy and Michigan still haven’t been truly tested this season. The Wolverines have yet to play a top-30 team in PFF’s power rankings and haven’t faced a top-25 defense in expected points allowed per play.

With Michigan winning games by an average of 30 points, McCarthy has been able to enjoy early exits. He has only four dropbacks in the fourth quarter this season. That ranks 262nd among FBS quarterbacks, meaning nearly every school has two signal-callers with more fourth-quarter dropbacks than him.

Once McCarthy faces stiffer defenses, namely Penn State and Ohio State, we’ll find out much more about whether he truly deserves to be the Heisman favorite.

3. QB Jayden Daniels, LSU Tigers

A two-loss team has never made the College Football Playoff. Of the past 10 Heisman Trophy winners, only Lamar Jackson and Caleb Williams didn’t play in the playoff or the BCS National Championship Game. Suffice to say, the odds are stacked against Daniels since LSU already sports two defeats this season.

However, you’d be hard-pressed to find many players who deserve to go to New York more than the fifth-year senior as things stand.

Daniels' improvement throughout his career is Jalen Hurts-esque. During his three years at Arizona State, he struggled as a passer with just a 69.9 passing grade that placed 117th among FBS quarterbacks in that span. Last year at LSU, he improved that to a 79.1 mark by playing a very conservative brand of football. Daniels’ 0.6% turnover-worthy play rate led the nation, mainly because his 8.2-yard average depth of target was the 13th lowest in the Power Five.

This season, Daniels has become a flame-thrower. He leads all FBS quarterbacks with a 99.9 grade on deep throws this year. Not to mention, his 624 rushing yards ranks second among Power Five signal-callers.

Don’t let his defense fool you. Daniels deserves to be near the top of this Heisman race.

4. QB Bo Nix, Oregon Ducks

Daniels isn’t the only player on this list who has radically changed his playstyle at a new school. Nix was known as a gunslinger at Auburn, making 52 big-time throws across three years — tied for the eighth most in the Power Five. His 44 turnover-worthy plays, meanwhile, tied for the fourth most.

Since transferring to Oregon, Nix has become a conservative quarterback who is deadly efficient within the system. He leads the country this year with an 85.4% adjusted completion rate, while his 0.8% turnover-worthy play rate ranks third. If Nix can lead Oregon to a Pac-12 championship and a College Football Playoff berth, he could end up taking home the Heisman Trophy.

5. QB Shedeur Sanders, Colorado Buffaloes

Sanders has just the 33rd-best Heisman odds (+25000), according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Colorado, meanwhile, is 4-3 and projected to finish just 6-6, according to PFF’s power rankings.

However, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to “the most outstanding player in college football.” It’s hard to not have Sanders this high based on that criterion. His 92.2 grade trails only McCarthy among FBS quarterbacks, and he ranks fourth in passing yards (2,419) and third in passing touchdowns (21). The junior’s 19 big-time throws are also third in the FBS, while his 1.8% turnover-worthy play rate ranks eighth in the Power Five.

The fact that Colorado is likely making a bowl game after finishing 1-11 last season should be seen as nothing more than a resounding success, and Sanders is the biggest reason for that.

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