Pac-12 football: Ranking the top 2023 Heisman Trophy candidates

Colorado’s Travis Hunter leads an impressive group after two weeks

Welcome to a new feature on the Hotline: a weekly look at the Pac-12’s leading Heisman Trophy candidates through a power ranking of the conference’s top 10 players.

Consider one Heisman voter’s perspective on the field, which is jam-packed with candidates for the first time in ages.

The rankings are based on a subjective evaluation of individual performance, team value, and competition quality.

The Hotline essentially evaluates Heisman candidates based on the top category of John Wooden’s famed Pyramid of Success: competitive greatness, which Wooden defines as the ability to “be at your best when your best is needed.”

Yes, defensive players are taken into account.

1. Colorado WR/CB Travis Hunter

14 receptions, seven tackles, one interception… and 274 snaps. Comment: In both of Colorado’s victories, the two-way wonder contributed on both sides of the ball. We’re not convinced he can play 130 or more snaps per game each week without regressing in performance or breaking down physically. But, for the time being, Hunter’s historic performance will go down in Heisman history.

2. USC QB Caleb Williams

12 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a completion percentage of 78.6 Comment: Williams has approached perfection in the early stages of his trophy defense, but the statistic that distinguishes him from other Pac-12 quarterbacks is an out-of-this-world 12.5 yards per attempt (tops in the country). His main challenge may be voter fatigue. There hasn’t been a back-to-back winner since Archie Griffin of Ohio State in the 1970s.

3. Oregon QB Bo Nix

Five touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 77.5 completion percentage Comment: Nix had a strong, albeit easy, start for the Ducks, scoring 81 points against Portland State. His ranking is based on a brilliant fourth quarter in Oregon’s victory over Texas Tech. Nix led three scoring drives and completed eight of nine passes for 68 yards. “Be at your best when it is needed.”

4. Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders

Six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 77.5 completion percentage Sanders has made the transition from the FCS level without incident. TCU’s defense does not impress us. However, Nebraska has a strong team, and Sanders carved up the Cornhuskers. Hunter’s performance will be important in determining whether he can maintain his candidacy. Splitting the vote is a real possibility.

5. Washington QB Michael Penix

Key stats: 429.5 yards per game, 11 yards per attempt, and 73.1 percent completion rate Comment: Penix is the only quarterback on this list with an interception. (Oh, the horror!) But that’s not why he’s ranked fifth. In fact, Penix’s only flaw is that he has been fantastic rather than stupendous. If UW continues to win, he has a good chance of making it to New York City.

6. USC WR/KR/PR Zachariah Branch

41.7 yards per kick return, 22.6 yards per punt return Comment: In limited opportunities, the freshman receiver/returner has made an incredible impact, averaging 19.4 yards per touch and scoring touchdowns in three different disciplines. However, anyone looking for comparisons to you-know-who at USC has come to the wrong place. Branch deserves better.

7. WSU QB Cameron Ward

Five touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 70.4 completion percentage Comment: We’d like to see Ward’s completion rate in the mid-70s, but this ranking doesn’t accurately reflect his performance in leading the Cougars to a rout of Colorado State and a win over No. 19 Wisconsin. Ward’s impact thus far would have earned him a spot in the top five in any other year.

8. Utah S Cole Bishop

15 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble With Clark Phillips III off to the NFL, Bishop takes over as the star of Utah’s chaotic defense. In the win over Florida, he had 11 tackles, and his late interception at Baylor set up the game-winning touchdown. There is no better defensive player in the conference, in our opinion.

Laiatu Latu, UCLA

Key stats include 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Latu was a first-team all-conference pick in 2022 and entered this season as one of the top edge rushers in the country. He hasn’t disappointed, ranking third and first in the FBS in tackles-for-loss and sacks, respectively. Laiatu occupies linemen and frees up teammates when he isn’t collapsing the pocket.

10. WSU Edge Ron Stone

Key stats: eight tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles Comment: The unyielding senior was at his best when it counted: Stone won the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week award for his sacks and forced fumbles in the upset of Wisconsin. He also serves as an emotional leader for a defense that has been energized by the perception that WSU was passed over in the realignment game.

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