Jayden Daniels among Heisman finalists who reflect college football’s portal, NIL era

Dec 8, 2023, 5:03 PM

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels...

Heisman Trophy finalist LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels poses for a photo with the Heisman Trophy, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in New York. The Heisman Trophy, award to college football's top player, will be announced Saturday, Dec. 9. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

(AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

NEW YORK (AP) — This year’s Heisman Trophy ceremony will be an ode to the new era of college sports, transformed by the transfer portal and NIL.

Three of the four Heisman finalists are quarterbacks who blossomed into stars at their second schools and were having so much fun in college that they decided to stick around an extra year — or two.

“It’s different for everybody. It depends on how they want their life to go,” LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels said Friday. “We decided to transfer, and to start fresh, and to stay an extra year because we felt like we had something more to prove.”

Whether it is Daniels, Oregon’s Bo Nix or Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., the Heisman Trophy winner is likely to be a transfer quarterback for the fifth time in the last seven years.

The 89th Heisman will be handed out Saturday night in midtown Manhattan. Those three quarterbacks and Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. are the finalists. Daniels is the favorite to take home the big bronze statue.

The four spent Friday in New York City, sightseeing, talking to reporters, posing for photos with the trophy and, for the three quarterbacks, making an appearance at a fast-food chicken joint on Times Square. They all have endorsement deals with the national chain.

Even before transfer rules opened up in 2021, the number of quarterbacks switching schools was on the rise, with some finding stardom with a new team.

Oklahoma helped make Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) Heisman winners in their second college stops. Then in 2019, former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow won a Heisman and national championship at LSU.

Southern California’s Caleb Williams, last year’s Heisman winner, was part of a new wave of portal transfers, following coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to the Trojans with immediate eligibility as a sophomore.

Daniels, Nix and Penix Jr. have taken more circuitous routes to the top of the college football.

Nix was a five-star recruit and freshman starter at Auburn. A Tigers legacy whose father was also an Auburn quarterback, Nix spent three years on The Plains. He had some high highs and low lows and decided after 2021 to try something else.

It could not have worked out much better.

The Ducks contended for a playoff spot last year and with a chance to make another championship run, Nix came back for a fifth college season — taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA gave out to those who were in school during the 2020-21 pandemic.

The 23-year-old threw 40 touchdown passes this season and is threatening the FBS record for completion percentage in a season at 77.2%.

“I just think at the end of the day, you want to go somewhere where you’re going to grow as a player, where you’re going to be able to reach your full potential and to experience life and enjoy life in that period of college football, because you only get it for three, four or five, whatever years,” Nix said.

Penix, 23, is in his sixth year. He spent four injury-plagued years at Indiana before transferring to Washington in 2022 to play for Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer, who had been offensive coordinator with the Hoosiers.

“He’s definitely the biggest factor into me transferring to Washington. It’s just having that trust out there on the field and just knowing that every time I snap the ball, I have opportunity to do something great with it,” Penix said. “You know that feeling is something that you can’t match.”

Penix leads the nation at 324 yards passing per game and beat Oregon and Nix twice this season, guiding the second-ranked Huskies to a Pac-12 title and College Football Playoff appearance.

Daniels, who turns 23 Dec. 18, took the opposite path from Nix, going from the Pac-12 to the Southeastern Conference. He played three seasons at Arizona State before transferring to LSU last year.

His first season in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, wasn’t that much different than his time in Tempe, Arizona — good but inconsistent.

He, too, took advantage of the chance to play another college season and it all came together. He leads the nation in total offense at 412 yards per game and is averaging an astounding 10.7 yards per play.

Daniels has a chance to become the rare Heisman winner in the BCS/CFP era to play for a team that wasn’t a national title contender late in the season. The 13th-ranked Tigers went 9-3.

Daniels, a Southern California native, said he stepped out of his comfort zone and into the unknown when he decided to go to LSU.

“Going from the West Coast all the way to the Bayou, I didn’t know what i was getting myself into down at LSU,” Daniels said, “but I’m glad that I did choose that.”

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Jayden Daniels among Heisman finalists who reflect college football’s portal, NIL era