ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, a former Sun Devil, wins AP Player of the Year

Dec 7, 2023, 10:33 AM

Jayden Daniels of LSU rushes against Georgia...

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) runs the ball against Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson (10) in the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels is The Associated Press college football player of the year, the school’s second winner in the past five seasons.

Daniels received 35 of the 51 first-place votes and 130 total points from AP Top 25 poll voters. The Heisman Trophy finalist finished comfortably ahead of Washington quarterback Michael Penix, who was second with 15 first-place votes and 97 points.

Oregon QB Bo Nix was third, with Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison fourth and Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II fifth. Nix received the other first-place vote. USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the 2022 AP Player of the Year and last year’s Heisman winner, did not receive votes this season.

Daniels, Penix, Nix and Harrison are the finalists for the Heisman, which will be presented in New York on Saturday. The winner of the AP award has differed from the Heisman winner just twice in the past two decades.

The last LSU player to be named AP Player of the Year was Joe Burrow in 2019, when he also won the Heisman.

Jayden Daniels’ rise to Heisman candidate, player of the year

Daniels, a San Bernardino, California, native who transferred to LSU from Arizona State in 2022, has led the nation in total offense this season with 4,946 yards in 12 games (412.2 yards per game). He has passed for 3,812 yards, which ranks third nationally. His 40 TDs passing ties for first nationally with Nix, who has played in one more game than Daniels.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Daniels rushed for 1,134 yards and 10 TDs. His 50 touchdowns rushing and passing combined, along with a 2-point conversion on a passing play, has made him responsible for a nation-high 302 points.

As a youth athlete, his nickname was “Smooth,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press, “because it looks like I’m not running fast or running hard … but I’m moving faster than what most people think.”

As productive as Daniels has been as a passer, his elusiveness and breakaway speed as a scrambler have distinguished him. During a 52-35 victory over Florida, Daniels became the first Football Bowl Subdivision QB to pass for more than 350 yards and rush for more than 200 in a game.

“His ability to run when things are not there is unique,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “His speed, his durability, his toughness, puts him up there with the great ones.”

Daniels rushed for touchdowns of 85 and 51 yards against Florida, and said the latter exemplified his instinctive approach to scrambling. He said he read a linebacker’s eyes before darting behind him and then weaving his way to the end zone.

“It’s just all instincts,” Daniels said. “It’s not something that I think about pre-snap.”

His approach comes with risk and puts a premium on toughness.

A big and arguably late hit at Missouri briefly forced Daniels out of that game with a deep bruise in his ribs. He returned to lead LSU to a comeback victory, highlighted by his 35-yard scoring run. The rib injury bothered him for two more games.

“My pain tolerance is high,” Daniels said. “I was able to go out there and deal with it.”

LSU (9-3) was knocked out of contention for an SEC title when it lost to Alabama, a game in which Daniels spent most of the fourth quarter on the sideline with concussion symptoms after a penalized hit by linebacker Dallas Turner. Until that point, Alabama’s defense had struggled to contain Daniels.

“That still burns me,” Daniels said. “Obviously, we lost to a very good team, but I felt like it would have been a whole different story if I was in there.”

Daniels said it’s important to him to credit his team’s role in any individual accolades he receives, from the offensive line to the running backs and his pass-catchers.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be in a position like this where I was receiving any type of award,” Daniels said. “That’s my thing, is to make sure they feel a part of it.”

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