Alex Hickey: Naming the way-too-early Big Ten top 5 Heisman candidates in 2023
Now that the 2022 Heisman Trophy is out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about the next one.
Too soon? Too bad. We’re doing it anyway.
It’s pretty difficult to predict the future in college football, and doubly so in the transfer portal universe. At this time a year ago, Caleb Williams was not yet a USC Trojan.
But some things are foreseeable. CJ Stroud made the stage as a finalist in 2021, and it was a pretty good bet that he’d be back this year.
Here’s a way-too-early look at the 5 Big Ten candidates who will be best suited to take Stroud’s place in New York next year — or potentially become the first B1G Heisman winner since Troy Smith in 2006.
A word of warning: this list comes with some caveats. Or as you might call them, cop-outs. But it’s just me adjusting to the transfer portal universe.
2023 Big Ten Heisman Trophy candidates
1. QB JJ McCarthy, Michigan
Expect bookmakers to have McCarthy listed as one of the preseason favorites. He’ll be behind Williams, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and North Carolina’s Drake Maye, all of whom finished in the top 10 of the voting this year. But outside of that trio, McCarthy may be looked at as the most prominent college quarterback returning next season.
If he performs well in the College Football Playoff, that will carry over into next year in voters’ minds. Look no further than Stetson Bennett IV, who voters rewarded for winning the national championship last year and getting Georgia back to the CFP this year.
McCarthy is limited by Michigan’s offensive conservatism, but Jim Harbaugh has shown increasing trust in him as the season has progressed. I think he’ll take the kid gloves off next season.
And even if Harbaugh changes nothing about his approach, the Heisman electorate will find it irresistible if the Wolverines are 13-0 for a second straight year when they turn in their ballots.
2. WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
Harrison was already the most complete receiver in college football this season, though Tennessee speedster Jaylin Hyatt was able to take home the Biletnikoff Award thanks to his big-play prowess.
Health willing, Harrison will be back to claim the Biletnikoff next year. And that might not be the only hardware he brings back to Columbus.
With Stroud almost surely headed for the NFL, Harrison has a chance to show that his stats were not a byproduct of playing with a Heisman-finalist quarterback.
Harrison’s position is the biggest hurdle he has to overcome. No receivers finished in the top 10 of this year’s vote. Devonta Smith (2020) and Desmond Howard (1991) are the only receivers to win the Heisman since 1990. Larry Fitzgerald had arguably the greatest season ever for a college receiver in 2003, yet finished second to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White.
Harrison’s talent is good enough to get to NYC. But will the voters be smart enough to invite him?
3. QB TBA, Ohio State
Ryan Day might not even know who his starting quarterback is going to be next season. But whoever it is will have a shot at putting up big numbers, because that’s the way things go in Ohio State’s offense.
Current backup Kyle McCord has looked decent enough in mop-up time. Devin Brown is a 4-star signee who is redshirting this season. And clearly this is an attractive offense for any veteran quarterback in the transfer portal, of which there are dozens.
TBA’s gonna have a heck of a year.
4. RB Donovan Edwards, Michigan
Edwards has already shown himself capable of filling Blake Corum’s shoes since Corum suffered a knee injury against Illinois. It stands to reason that he’ll be able to do it for a full season, too.
Edwards leads all Big Ten ballcarriers with 7.5 yards per carry. Despite having about half as many touches as Corum, he has nearly as many plays of at least 20 yards — 13 to Corum’s 16.
Given Michigan’s offensive proclivities, Edwards is probably the best on-paper candidate to get to New York. But the fact Corum or Texas’ Bijan Robinson didn’t get there this year demonstrates how uphill the battle is for running backs in the Heisman game.
5. QB TBA, Wisconsin
That’s right. We’ve got a second QB TBA on our hands. But this one plays for Wisconsin.
It won’t be Drake Maye, who made it clear he’s staying at North Carolina after a few cycles of the internet rumor mill indicating otherwise. But the Badgers will have Maye’s offensive coordinator, Phil Longo. And Longo quarterbacks have a penchant for producing gaudy numbers.
Plus, the Heisman is a narrative award. The novelty of Wisconsin having a star quarterback will be impossible for many voters to resist, because it’s such a foreign concept.
Badgers QB TBA will likely be Wisconsin’s best quarterback since Russell Wilson. Let’s ride.