NEW YORK — Jayden Daniels, a Californian who hopscotched to Arizona and then Louisiana, where he accrued gobsmacking statistics, won the 89th Heisman Trophy here Saturday night and became the latest emblem of the college football era of player mobility. The second-year LSU quarterback and fifth-year collegian claimed the award; his fellow finalists were quarterback Michael Penix Jr. of Washington, quarterback Bo Nix of Oregon and wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. of Ohio State.
As the 20th quarterback to win in the 24 presentations this century, Daniels also became the second Heisman winner in a row and the fifth in the past seven to have transferred during their college years. He follows 2022 winner Caleb Williams, the Washingtonian who moved west to Oklahoma and then farther west to Los Angeles (Southern California). Two fellow long travelers joined Daniels in this 2023 ceremony: Penix, a Floridian who played at Indiana and then Washington, and Nix, an Alabamian who played at Auburn and then Oregon. Recent-years Heismans had gone to Joe Burrow (2019), who played at Ohio State and LSU; Kyler Murray (2018), who played at Texas A&M and Oklahoma; and Baker Mayfield (2017), who played at Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
Daniels is the third winner from LSU, putting his school in a seven-way tie behind only Southern California (eight winners if you include Reggie Bush’s returned award in 2005), Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma (seven each) and Alabama (four). He became the first winner since Lamar Jackson of Louisville in 2016 to play for a team with as many as three losses as of early December. No. 13 LSU (9-3) will play Wisconsin (7-5) in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa.
Daniels emerged from high school as the second-highest-rated dual-threat quarterback, as seen in the 247 Sports composite rankings. (He trailed only Nix.) He began in 2019 as the first true freshman ever to start at quarterback for Arizona State, coached back then by Herm Edwards, who knew the path to the bright lights as a former NFL star and a former coach of the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.
Yet after three seasons, Daniels exited Tempe in February 2022, not long after playing in the Las Vegas Bowl and not long after offensive coordinator Zak Hill resigned in the wake of an NCAA investigation of alleged improper contact during the coronavirus dead recruiting period.
Daniels alighted at LSU in March 2022 and by November 2023 had deluged the Heisman race with eye-popping numbers. Those included a 208.0 passer rating (the highest ever in the Football Bowl Subdivision), 40 touchdown passes against four interceptions, 3,812 passing yards, 1,134 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns and a game Nov. 11 against Florida in which he amassed an obscene 606 total yards — 372 passing and 234 rushing.
That night in Baton Rouge saw him do a Heisman pose as the noise started “amping up more,” as he put it, and Saturday night saw him attribute that to some goading. “That wasn’t me,” he said. “That was my teammates.” It came at a time when LSU’s second-year coach, Brian Kelly, began extolling Daniels as the best player in the sport.
All through the fall, Penix and Nix were strong candidates from the Pacific Northwest, a region seldom granted recognition in an eastern-biased sport. Nix finished second in passer rating (186.2) behind Daniels as his transfer wound up a two-season smash (including 40 touchdowns and three interceptions this year) while Penix finished first in passing yards per game (324.5) as his transfer wound up even happier. After a wretchedly unlucky sequence of injuries during four seasons at Indiana, Penix led the Huskies to a 13-0 record, two wins over Oregon (11-2) and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
“I would say the grass is not always greener on the other side,” Nix said of transferring during a pre-ceremony news conference. “But sometimes it is.”
“I would just say everybody’s journey is different,” Daniels said.
Harrison, the lone non-transfer among the quartet, caught 67 passes for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns for Ohio State (11-1) even while keyed on as a threat whose name appears high on NFL draft boards.