Five Early Contenders for the 2023 Heisman Trophy

After USC’s Caleb Williams won the hardware Saturday, who are the favorites to capture the award next year?

Five Early Contenders for the 2023 Heisman Trophy

After USC’s Caleb Williams won the hardware Saturday, who are the favorites to capture the award next year?

After USC’s Caleb Williams took home the 2022 Heisman Trophy last Saturday night, it’s time to look ahead to the ’23 season to evaluate which players could contend to take home the hardware next December.

As the nation’s top returning quarterback, Williams should find himself in the thick of the Heisman race, but he will face stiff competition if he wants to become the second player in college football history to win the award more than once.

With that in mind, Sports Illustrated looks ahead to next year’s Heisman race. Here are five early contenders to capture the sport’s most coveted individual award in 2023:

Caleb Williams - Quarterback, USC

Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Could Williams make it two in a row next season? Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the only player in the history of the Heisman Trophy to win the award twice (1974 and ’75).

Historically speaking, the odds are slim for Williams to win the Heisman for a second time. However, the rising junior quarterback should be one of the best players in the country once again in 2023, and the team around him could be even better than it was this season.

Could Williams eclipse the 4,075 passing yards and 37 touchdowns that won him the Heisman this season? If he takes it to another level and USC is in College Football Playoff contention, Williams could be in New York as a finalist again next December.

Drake Maye - Quarterback, North Carolina

Drake Maye gets ready to throw against Georgia State.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye could have easily been named a Heisman finalist this season if it weren’t for the Tar Heels’ sputtering end to the regular season. Carolina lost a head-scratcher to Georgia Tech in mid-November, and then followed it up a week later with a Black Friday overtime loss to rival NC State.

The Tar Heels still reached the ACC championship game against Clemson, but they lost that game as well to finish the season on a three-game slide.

In those three closing losses, Maye completed just 71 of 121 pass attempts (58.7%) for 703 yards and one touchdown to four interceptions. The poor close to the season put a damper on an otherwise-spectacular year for Maye, who completed 67.2% of his passes for 4,115 yards and 35 touchdowns to seven interceptions. 

On paper, his statistics weren’t far off from those of Heisman winner Williams, but the Tar Heels’ rough November likely ended any chance he had to win the award. 

The task won’t be easy in 2023 with offensive coordinator Phil Longo moving on to Wisconsin and top receiver Josh Downs heading to the NFL, but Maye has the requisite level of talent to put himself squarely in the Heisman mix again next season.

Jordan Travis - Quarterback, Florida State

Jordan Travis drops back to throw in a blowout win over Miami.

Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

Florida State quietly emerged as one of the nation’s most surprising teams in 2022, and a key reason for the Seminoles’ success in year three under Mike Norvell was the breakout performance of fifth-year junior quarterback Jordan Travis.

Travis enjoyed his most productive season as a college QB this year, notching career-highs in completion percentage (63.2%), passing yards (2,796), yards per attempt (8.9) and touchdown passes (22). Travis also added seven rushing touchdowns, operating as a dangerous dual-threat QB in the Seminoles’ offense.

After a 9–3 regular season and a berth in the Cheez-It Bowl, the Seminoles will enter 2023 as one of the teams to beat in the ACC. With Travis expected to return to school for his final season of eligibility, he could find himself in the thick of the Heisman race if the Seminoles are as good as many observers expect them to be.

Marvin Harrison Jr. - Wide Receiver, Ohio State

Marvin Harrison Jr. celebrates a touchdown in a victory over Indiana.

Brooke LaValley/The Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State continues to churn out elite wide receivers, and Marvin Harrison Jr. may be the best of the recent bunch. As a sophomore this season, Harrison hauled in 72 catches for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns. Harrison is a preseason All-American candidate heading into 2023 and will be a favorite to take home the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. 

Could Harrison fulfill the expectations that followed former teammate Jaxon Smith-Njigba? Smith-Njigba was touted as the nation’s top receiver heading into 2022, but a hamstring injury derailed his season. That led to more opportunities for Harrison, who emerged as one of the nation’s most dangerous wideouts.

Harrison will have similar expectations placed upon him in 2023 and will look to fulfill them with a new quarterback under center.

Michael Penix Jr. - Quarterback, Washington

Michael Penix Jr. throws a pass against Washington State.

James Snook/USA TODAY Sports

Michael Penix Jr. enjoyed the best season of his college career after transferring to Washington from Indiana for the 2022 season. Penix passed for an FBS-best 4,354 yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Much like Maye at North Carolina, Penix likely would have been more of a factor in the Heisman race if Washington hadn’t dropped back-to-back games on the road against UCLA and Arizona State in the middle of the season. The Huskies closed with six straight wins to finish the year 10–2, but the early-season Heisman hype around Penix wore off with the consecutive losses.

Penix returns in 2023 as a sixth-year senior and should command the attention of Heisman voters again as he operates the offense of one of the favorites to win the Pac-12.