As the transfer portal continues to grow in importance, it’s only fitting that the three QBs up for this year’s award took that route.
There are times when the Heisman Trophy can feel like a lifetime achievement award for a player who has been around for a while and played well for multiple years. For three of the four finalists, this year’s Heisman seems like a bookend to a second college career.
Transfer quarterbacks winning the Heisman is nothing new. Four of the last five QBs who have won the award did so at their second program. Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Caleb Williams started portions of one season at their first stops before making the portal plunge, while Joe Burrow barely played over two seasons at Ohio State.
2023 Heisman finalists Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix, on the other hand, had multiple seasons’ worth of time with their initial schools. Due to a multitude of reasons—greener pastures, a fresh start, injuries—the ’23 trio used the portal, the extra year of eligibility thanks to COVID-19 and relaxed transfer rules to their advantage. (Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is the only non-QB among this year’s finalists.)
“Everybody’s journey is different, Daniels said. “It worked out for three of four finalists here. All the quarterbacks have transferred, and then we all stayed an extra year. So it works. It’s different for everybody. It depends how they want their life to go, but I know that we decided transfer and start fresh.”
A fresh start was particularly necessary for Nix. His father played at Auburn, and his parents met at Auburn. He found himself in a situation where there was too much pressure on him and, as his mother described, he wore the weight of the entire university on his shoulders because of his name. It’s not that way at Oregon, where he plays freely and this year threw for 40 touchdowns and completed 77.2% of his passes (nearly a college football record), erasing Auburn era memories of erratic play and risky decisions.
“I think it’s just an opportunity after graduating. There’ve been a lot of grad transfers in the past, and they’ve all been able to go on and do something else and get a fresh start,” Nix said. “That’s all my story was—just a chance to get a fresh start and be around a new team and have a chance to go and compete at a high level.”
Despite their individual accolades, only one of them has the chance to bring home the ultimate team prize: Washington’s Penix, whose Huskies beat Nix’s Ducks twice this season and now has a crack at a national championship.
As for Penix’s advice to those in the portal now?
“I’d say just trust the process,” Penix said. “Trust your heart and trust your faith. I feel like that decision is definitely a big-time decision, and it’s something that you’ve got to truly believe in yourself. And you’re really betting on yourself whenever it comes to that. You’re going to a new school, new people, new coaches, probably already got guys there that have been doing it before you but I feel that you really have to believe in yourself, but you make the decision that’s best fit for you and not what other people feel like should be for you.”
College football’s transfer portal is now wide open and full of signal-callers hoping to find new homes and new success. They’re writing the ever-expanding road map for QBs to follow.