Heisman Watch: Pac-12 QBs swap places as Penix shines, Williams struggles

Oregon’s Bo Nix remains in the hunt as crucible of November looms

Welcome to our weekly look at the Pac-12’s leading Heisman Trophy candidates through an evaluation of the conference’s top players. Consider one Heisman voter’s perspective on the landscape.The rankings are based on individual performance, team value, and competition quality. Yes, defensive players are taken into account.

Last week, the Heisman Trophy race shifted dramatically as one frontrunner thrived under pressure while the other flopped.

In a blowout loss to Notre Dame, USC quarterback Caleb Williams threw a career-high three interceptions, three more than he had thrown all season.

The performance derailed his bid for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy. According to BetMGM, the odds of Williams winning the award increased from about 2-to-1 prior to Saturday’s meltdown to 35-to-1 after the loss.

Meanwhile, following the thrilling victory over Oregon, Penix has emerged as the clear frontrunner. Penix was 2-to-1 to win the award last week; his odds have now dropped to around 2-to-3.

He’s the only candidate in negative territory, which means Penix has a better than 50% chance of winning the Trophy.

Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel and Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy are the closest competitors, with a 10-to-1 advantage. Oregon’s Bo Nix, who was outstanding Saturday afternoon in Seattle and cannot be overlooked as a serious contender, is priced at 30-to-1.

Beyond the oddsmakers, there is widespread support for Penix’s candidacy. Penix received all 34 first-place votes in a straw poll of Heisman voters conducted by The Athletic this week .

The award is his to lose in November.

Our Pac-12 candidate ranking…

1. Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.

Last week: 2

Key stats: 383.5 yards per game, 10.7 yards-per-attempt, 20 touchdowns

Comment: Penix not only led UW to a massive victory, but he also delivered the proverbial Heisman moment with the game-winning two-play, 53-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes. And he did it all while clearly in pain. It was exactly the type of thing that Heisman voters across the country were looking for.

2. Oregon QB Bo Nix

Last week: 3

Key stats: 79.2 completion percentage, 17 touchdowns, one interception

Comment: Nix failed to convert the critical fourth-down pass in the final minutes, but his overall performance in Seattle (33 of 44, 337 yards, two touchdowns) was more than enough to keep him in the Heisman race. He’s not in the top tier, but he’s close enough to strike in November if Penix falls through.

3. USC QB Caleb Williams

Last week: 1

Key stats: 187 passer rating, 70 percent completions, 23 touchdowns

Comment: A single bad game does not derail a Heisman campaign, but it does reduce Williams’ margin for error. A second poor performance, regardless of opponent, and he’s probably done. But herein lies the stumbling block: Williams is held to an impossible standard.

4. Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders

Last week: 4

Key stats: 345.7 yards per game, 72.3 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns

Comment: Sanders’ numbers continue to be impressive, but the most important factor is working against him: the Buffaloes’ three losses (and counting). His interception in overtime against Stanford also didn’t help his case.

5. Washington WR Rome Odunze

Last week: 6

Key stats: 40 receptions, 18.7 yards per catch, six touchdowns

Comment: Odunze was on fire last weekend, with eight receptions and two second-half touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown with 1:38 remaining against Oregon. Odunze will miss the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City, but he is a strong contender for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation’s top receiver.

6. Utah DE Jonah Elliss

Last week: 7

Key stats: 13 tackles-for-loss, nine sacks, one fumble forced

Comment: Elliss continued to dominate Pac-12 offensive lines in the win over Cal, recording 2.5 tackles for loss and forcing a fumble. Our vote goes to the junior as the conference’s top defensive player through half of the season.

7. Washington State QB Cam Ward

Last week: 5

Key stats: 295. yards per game, 69.7 completion percentage

Comment: After his second consecutive subpar performance (and WSU’s second consecutive loss), we considered dropping Ward from the Heisman Trophy conversation entirely. If the Cougars do not adapt to the tactics of opposing defenses, their season could be over.

8. Arizona WR Jacob Cowing

Last week: 8

Key stats: 54 receptions, eight touchdowns

Comment: Cowing had eight catches in the rout of Washington State, but his yardage was limited (29). Cowing’s production has been hampered by the rise of teammate Tetairoa McMillan as a favorite target of quarterback Noah Fifita. However, his impact on the season thus far has been outstanding.

Also considered (alphabetically): Oregon DL Brandon Dorlus, Arizona State WR Elijhah Badger, Arizona QB Noah Fifita, Oregon WR Troy Franklin, Oregon State OL Joshua Gray, Colorado WR/CB Travis Hunter, UCLA Edge Laiatu Latu, Arizona LB Jacob Manu, Oregon State TB Damien Martinez, Cal TB Jaydn Ott, Washington State Edge Ron Stone Jr.

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