Michael Penix Jr., Marvin Harrison Jr. among Joel Klatt’s top-four Heisman candidates

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By Samantha Rose

When it comes to the Heisman Trophy race, the one thing I’ve always maintained about it is that it’s about playing on the right stage and having a path to winning the award. 

Heading into Week 12 of the season, we’re starting to figure some things out, and I think we’re down to our final four. That doesn’t mean that there are only four guys who have had great seasons. But when you take the path, performance and stages that are coming up into consideration, I think four guys can win the Heisman trophy. 

Some might argue that there are more players, but I think there’s a clear backstop after the fourth player, pending on what happens down the stretch. 

One player that isn’t on this list is Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. He is simply not going to win the Heisman Trophy after he threw just eight passes in Michigan’s win over Penn State. There are also enough voters out there that are likely stubborn enough to hold McCarthy “accountable” for what’s going on at Michigan. I’m already hearing it from some voters. So, he’s not going to win the Heisman, though I’m not sure that he cares about it, either. 


Here is a look at who I believe are the final four Heisman contenders, and an explanation of what each player needs to accomplish in the final stretch of the season in order to take home college football’s most prestigious individual award.

4. Oregon QB Bo Nix

Nix is playing outstanding. He leads the nation in completion percentage (77.7%). Oregon is currently leading the nation in scoring offense, putting up 46.3 points per game. In previous seasons, you could argue that Nix has had a stinker every now and again, but he really hasn’t done that this season. He has been so consistent and so efficient. 

When I watched his tape leading up to the Utah game, I was just so impressed with his quick decision-making, his accuracy, and everything he is in charge of at the line of scrimmage. This is not just a guy that is out there clapping his hands or looking over at the sidelines. He controls a lot of things. 

There is way too much hand-holding for the quarterback in college football today, and I understand it in certain cases, but Nix doesn’t need that. I love that.

Now, Nix does control his narrative to win the Heisman. If Oregon wins out, it would likely avenge the only loss Nix and the Ducks have suffered this season. He would probably have to play well for Oregon to win out as well, so that wouldn’t be a concern. 

Oregon has the stages and path for Nix to have his Heisman moment in the coming weeks. 

Bo Nix GOES OFF as he throws for 412 yards and four TDs in Oregon’s win vs. USC

Bo Nix GOES OFF as he throws for 412 yards and four TDs in Oregon's win vs. USC

3. LSU QB Jayden Daniels

When you look at what Daniels is doing, he is coming off of one of the great individual performances we’ve ever seen, in particular from a production standpoint. He was sensational last week with over 600 yards against Florida. That is incredible. 

I love Daniels’ story and I love the fact that he left Arizona State and found a home at LSU, where he is playing as well as he’s playing. He has 76 plays of 20-or-more yards this season, which is 19 more than the next closest player – Michael Penix Jr. 

This dude has been explosive, and if his team was better, I think he would probably walk away with this trophy. It wouldn’t be the first guy that played for a three-loss team that won the Heisman Trophy, so it’s not unprecedented. He is going to have a chance, there is no doubt about it. He has 38 total touchdowns this year, which is second behind Caleb Williams. He has needed to be great, which is one thing that I think has actually been a feather in his cap – he plays for a team that plays terrible defense. He has had to overcome that this season. 

Daniels has played incredibly well. He is going to have the numbers and he is going to be my backstop. Everybody else on this list has matchups, stages, and a path where if they falter and things don’t go their way, Jayden Daniels is going to win the Heisman Trophy. That’s how a guy that is a quarterback of a team with three losses ends up winning the Heisman Trophy.

Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. headline Joel Klatt’s top Heisman candidates

Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. headline Joel Klatt's top Heisman candidates

2. Ohio State Buckeyes WR Marvin Harrison Jr.

Marvin Harrison Jr. is the best player in college football. 

There hasn’t been as well-rounded of an explosive monster on the outside in a long time in college football. Harrison’s body control, the smoothness he runs routes, his catch radius, flexibility, nuance to his route running ability, ability to create space and win when there’s not space created are all outstanding. His production is incredible. He’s the best player, regardless of position, in college football.

What’s crazy is that Harrison was close to earning that claim last year, too. Since that ankle injury he suffered against Notre Dame in Week 4, Harrison leads the nation in receiving touchdowns with nine over Ohio State’s last six games. The Buckeyes relied heavily on him during that span, too. Harrison has 67 targets in the last six games, which is also the highest mark among Power 5 players during that span. He’s also got seven 100-yard receiving games this year, which is tied for the second most in the sport. 

Harrison also didn’t have Emeka Egbuka lined up alongside him at wide receiver for three games. One of those games came against Penn State, where it was all on Harrison to produce. He did that, recording 11 receptions on what felt like a million targets for 162 yards and a touchdown. He’s also had a quarterback that hasn’t been that great. Kyle McCord has been up-and-down all year. 

Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. & Alabama’s Jalen Milroe headline RJ’s top Heisman Contenders

Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. & Alabama’s Jalen Milroe headline RJ’s top Heisman Contenders

So, Harrison’s the best player in the game. He still has a path too, even if he isn’t a quarterback. Ohio State has to win out and Harrison, obviously, has to play great in each of those games. Unlike the player that’s at No. 1, Ohio State could theoretically win out without Harrison living up to the standard. But Harrison needs to produce, particularly against Michigan. If the Buckeyes win that game at Ann Arbor and Harrison is the best player on the field, he’ll have the momentum. 

Even then, that might not be enough as Harrison will probably need some outside help.  

1. Washington Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr.

Penix is doing everything he needs to do for Washington this season. 

The Huskies quarterback leads the country in passing – and by a lot. His 353.3 yards per game is 37 yards higher than the next closest quarterback, which is Daniels. Penix is doing this all for an undefeated team, carrying a top-five offense while Washington’s defense isn’t great, similar to Daniels in that respect. Washington’s defense is 50th in scoring but 102nd in total defense. That’s not very good at all.

So, you realize for Washington to be undefeated, Penix has had to be great all of the time. There’s no room for him to be bad. He’s had one bad game, which was a 15-7 win against 3-7 Arizona State. 

Penix has also played great in his biggest games so far this season. He outdueled fellow Heisman contender Bo Nix to get a win over previously undefeated Oregon. Games like that are why Penix is above Daniels for me at this point in the season. When Penix plays the biggest games against the best teams, he’s been able to play really well.

No. 18 Utah Utes vs. No. 5 Washington Huskies highlights

No. 18 Utah Utes vs. No. 5 Washington Huskies highlights

There are guys who are great throwers and then there are guys who are great passers. Passing has to do with ball placement along with time. Penix is a great passer. When you watch him play, you see a quarterback who constantly understands where to put the football to give his receiver the best chance to win. His ability to throw with proper leverage is uncanny. It’s the best in the sport. 

On top of all of that, if the Huskies remain undefeated, they will go into the College Football Playoff. That would probably give Penix the Heisman Trophy, because that would mean Washington defeated No. 11 Oregon State on Saturday and Oregon again in the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

If there’s a player that controls their destiny, it’s Penix. 

Joel Klatt is FOX Sports’ lead college football game analyst and the host of the podcast “The Joel Klatt Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @joelklatt and subscribe to the “Joel Klatt Show” on YouTube.

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