Heisman Watch: When Nix and Penix collide Saturday, will the losing QB be eliminated? Not necessarily

A recent example suggests one loss won’t derail either player’s campaign

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.

On Saturday, Oregon will play Washington in the Pac-12’s game of the year (so far). The stakes are personal for two of the players.

According to the most recent BetMGM odds, Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is the current frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy at +200 (or 2/1), while Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is the No. 3 betting favorite at +600.

Is the game in Seattle a Heisman Trophy eliminator for the losing quarterback? Not if history repeats itself.

This time last year, USC quarterback Caleb Williams lost a shootout in Salt Lake City but played well enough (five touchdown passes) to keep his Heisman Trophy hopes alive. He received the award two months later.

Penix and Nix are in similar circumstances.

One loss isn’t a fatal blow to any Heisman campaign; Williams won the award last year despite having two losses on his resume. Both Penix and Nix will have numerous opportunities to impress voters as the season progresses, as long as their teams continue to win at a high level.

In fact, the most important games for Penix and Nix are still weeks away, when they face off against Williams and USC on consecutive Saturdays in November. (Williams is the +225 second-best bet for the Heisman Trophy.)

But, in order for those battles to be meaningful, both quarterbacks must perform well on Saturday.

Our Pac-12 power rankings…

1. USC QB Caleb Williams

Last week: 2

Key stats: 205.7 passer rating, 10.9 yards per attempt, and 22 touchdowns

Comment: Whereas others saw a subpar first half from Williams in USC’s narrow victory over Arizona, we saw a sensational second half and overtime performance — good enough to overcome both the Wildcats and USC’s own inept defense. Williams scored USC’s first overtime touchdown on an 18-yard scamper, then converted the game-winning two-point conversion in the third overtime.

2 Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Last week: 1

Key stats: 399.8 yards per game, 11.2 yards per attempt, and 16 touchdowns

Comment: We’re intrigued by the paradox at work Saturday afternoon. The Huskies’ chances of winning improve significantly if they can run the ball effectively against an Oregon defense designed to stop the downfield passing game. However, for Heisman Trophy consideration, Penix would be better served leading an aerial assault.

3. Oregon QB Bo Nix

Last week: 3

Key stats: 184.7 passer rating, 80.4 completion percentage, and 15 touchdowns

Comment: Nix lacks the gaudy numbers that Williams and Penix have because the Ducks have a balanced offense: 41 percent of their total yards come on the ground, compared to 22 percent for the Huskies and 32 percent for the Trojans. In the end, that balance may be enough to get Oregon into the playoffs.

4. Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders

Last week: 5

Key stats: 72.7 percent completion rate, 16 touchdowns, and two interceptions

Comment: Whether he’s poking his fingers [into an opponent’s eyes] or not.Sanders’ public persona could use some matu. The Heisman Trophy race is largely a popularity contest.) Having said that, his performance in the fourth quarter of close games against TCU, Colorado State, USC, and Arizona State has been absolutely outstanding.

5 Washington State quarterback Cam Ward

Last week: 4

Key stats: 68.9 percent completion rate, 14 touchdowns, and two interceptions

Comment: Ward was so perplexed by UCLA’s defense tactics (19-of-39, two interceptions) that he reverted to the erratic, outmatched 2022 version of himself. Another performance like that would result in removal from our Heisman Watch.

6.Rome Odunze, Washington WR

Last week: 6

Key stats: 19 yards per catch, four touchdowns, 141.8 yards per game all-purpose

Comment: The Oregon game represents a huge opportunity for Odunze, who is currently tied with Missouri’s Luther Burden as the betting favorite (+400) for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation’s best receiver. (DraftKings Odds)

7.Jonah Elliss, Utah DE

Last week: 7

Key stats: 7.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss

Comment: Our opinion of Elliss has not changed: If the season ended today, the son of former Utah star Luther Elliss would be our pick for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, though UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu is on the rise.

8.Jacob Cowing of Arizona

Last week: It is not ranked.

Key stats: 46 catches, eight touchdowns

Comment: Cowing makes his first appearance on our Heisman Watch of the season after an outstanding performance in USC’s overtime loss. He leads the nation in touchdown catches and ranks fifth in receptions. Cowing has 132 catches in 18 games with Arizona (since transferring from UTEP).

9.Laiatu Latu of UCLA

Last week: 9

Key stats: five sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles

Comment: Latu returns to the Heisman Watch after a two-week absence and will compete for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors with Elliss and possibly a few others. He is also expected to be a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

10. Oregon State OL Joshua Gray

Last week: It is not ranked.

Key stats: This is not applicable.

Comment: The veteran left tackle anchors one of the conference’s best offensive lines and has been named Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week twice. Against San Diego State, he even scored on a trick play.

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