LSU QB Jayden Daniels overcomes being out of playoff hunt to win Heisman Trophy with prolific season

Daniels is the first Heisman winner to be part of a team team that failed to play for a conference championship since Lamar Jackson in 2016.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels kisses the Heisman Trophy during a news conference after winning the award Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in New York.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels kisses the Heisman Trophy during a news conference after winning the award Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Jayden Daniels was too good to be overlooked.

LSU’s dazzling dual-threat quarterback won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, becoming the first player since 2016 to win college football’s most prestigious player of the year award as part of a team that did not play for a conference championship.

The fifth-year player, who transferred from Arizona State to LSU in 2022, received 503 first-place votes and 2,029 points after accounting for 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 total yards in just 12 regular-season games.

“This is a dream come true,” Daniels started his acceptance speech.

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Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. was the the runner-up with 292 first-place votes and 1,701 points and Oregon’s Bo Nix was third (51, 885), putting transfer quarterbacks in each of the top three spots. Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. finished fourth (20, 352).

Wearing a sharp light gray suit, Daniels dropped his head for a moment when his name was called. He was the favorite to win the award, but said he felt relieved when it was official.

Still, he stayed composed throughout his speech when he thanked everyone from his offensive line to the groundskeepers at Tigers Stadium and cafeteria workers who help feed the team.

“I wasn’t really like, emotional, like crying,” Daniels said later at a news conference. “I guess it’s kind of how I play on the field. I’m just enjoying the moment, just embracing everything, giving thanks to God.”

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Daniels, who turns 23 on Dec. 18, won AP Player of the Year earlier this week.

Daniels is the fifth quarterback in the last seven seasons to win the Heisman after transferring, joining former LSU star Joe Burrow in 2019 and USC’s Caleb Williams last year.

“I want to thank all my teammates, from Arizona State to LSU,” Daniels said. “You’re my brothers. You work so hard every day, inspiring me to be my best.”

He is also LSU’s third Heisman winner overall, along with running back Billy Cannon in 1959.

Burrow led LSU to a national championship and Cannon’s team came close, finishing No. 3 in the country.

Daniels’ Tigers (9-3) slipped out of that race with two losses in the first six weeks, but he certainly wasn’t to blame.

“I really wish I could have brought you back another championship,” Daniels said as he thanked the LSU fans.

Week after week he fueled the best offense in the country with his passing (3,812 yards) and running (1,134). He leads the nation in total offense at 412 yards per game and is averaging an astounding 10.71 yards per play.

No. 13 LSU is set to face Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Jan. 1, though Daniels has not yet decided if he will play the final game of his college career. The next stop for the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder could be the NFL draft combine, with his stock on the rise but no guarantee to be a first-round pick.

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson was the last and only player to win the Heisman on a team that lost three games and didn’t play for a conference title during the nine previous years of the College Football Playoff.

Voters usually look to CFP contenders to find a Heisman winner these days, but Daniels could not be ignored.

LSU was eliminated from the Southeastern Conference race when it lost to Alabama in early November, despite 382 yards and three total touchdowns in three quarters by Daniels. A hard hit put him in concussion protocol and kept him out of final quarter.

“Your goals are to play for championships at LSU and when we did not have that opportunity after the Alabama game, you start to recalibrate. And certainly one of them was to rally behind what we considered was the best player in college football,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Every player that is in our program knew that we had a special player that was having a special year.”

While Daniels faded from the playoff picture, his performance continued to demand attention. Against Florida, he became the first major college football player with at least 350 yards passing and 200 rushing in a game, going for a total of 606 yards against the Gators.

His teammates goaded him into flashing a Heisman pose during the game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Daniels said it was after that performance he started to believe winning the Heisman could become a reality.

Daniels’ evolution this season has been a revelation. He became just the second SEC player, joining 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M, and eighth in major college football to pass for at least 3,500 and run for 1,000 in a season.

He began his career at Arizona State as a four-star recruit from Southern California under then-coach Herman Edwards. Daniels started all three seasons for the Sun Devils, proving capable but inconsistent. With the Sun Devils facing an NCAA investigation, Daniels left for LSU to play for Kelly.

“A transfer quarterback that comes in to your program has to win the locker room and you do it by your work ethic. You do it by being humble, you do it with your actions and he did that on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said.

Daniels led the Tigers to an SEC West title last year and when he decided to return for a fifth season of college football it was clear he could be part of the Heisman discussion.

He ended up dominating that conversation even though his team was out of the spotlight down the stretch. LSU ran an aggressive campaign to support its quarterback.

Daniels and the Tigers finished their season against Texas A&M on rivalry weekend, with Nix, Penix and Harrison playing high-stakes games with playoff implications.

Daniels was the leader in the clubhouse on championship weekend as Nix and Penix squared off in the Pac-12 title game.

Both played well in a dramatic game that decided on playoff spot, but —- much like opposing defenses — neither could chase down Daniels.

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