He’ll have company from some of the most productive passers and runners in the Bowl Subdivision. As of now, Williams’ biggest threat is North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, who surged into the Heisman picture as a redshirt freshman before sputtering during the Tar Heels’ three-game losing streak to end the regular season.
But with nine months until the 2023 season kicks off, the most overlooked Heisman contenders are the unknown starters at Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee, Georgia and elsewhere.
Alabama and Ohio State will be in the market for new quarterbacks with Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud expected to land among the top picks in next year’s NFL draft. Tennessee will be looking for a replacement for Hendon Hooker and Georgia for Stetson Bennett. All four new starters will put up good-to-great numbers for some of the nation’s best teams.
TCU should lose Max Duggan, the second-place finisher in Saturday’s voting, who has one more year of eligibility but could opt for the NFL with his stock at an all-time high.
Follow every game: Latest NCAA College Football Scores and Schedules
This 2023 Heisman watchlist removes additional players expected to strike out for the NFL — including Texas running back Bijan Robinson, Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson — and focuses on established starters or players widely expected to move into starting roles.
Until proven otherwise, next year’s Heisman is Williams’ to lose.
1. QB Caleb Williams, Southern California
The Trojans need to tap back into the transfer portal for help at the offensive skill positions with running back Travis Dye and star receiver Jordan Addison unlikely to return. But they need even more help on defense after a subpar regular season capped by a collapse against Utah. More balance will make USC better, which will only increase Williams’ chances of a historic repeat.
2. QB Drake Maye, North Carolina
Maye has already said he’ll return to play for the Tar Heels in 2023 and not put his name into the transfer portal. But he’ll enter the spring with some changes afoot on the offensive side of the ball with coordinator Phil Longo and line coach Jack Bicknell leaving for the same positions under Luke Fickell at Wisconsin. Still, expect him to be in the same neighborhood as this year’s numbers – 4,115 yards passing and 35 touchdowns.
3. QB Cade Klubnik, Clemson
The hype machine has already kicked into gear after Klubnik replaced an ineffective DJ Uiagalelei in the ACC championship game against North Carolina and threw for 279 yards as the Tigers won easily. With Uiagalelei already in the portal, Klubnik will take over as the obvious starter and team up with star running back Will Shipley in what may be the best backfield in the country.
4. QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington
Penix may be stymied by the fact that he isn’t currently viewed as the best quarterback in his own conference, let alone the broader Bowl Subdivision. But the former Indiana transfer was the most prolific passer in the country during the regular season with 4,354 yards and 27 touchdowns, giving his national profile a huge boost.
5. TE Brock Bowers, Georgia
With no obvious contender on the defensive side of the ball, Bowers represents the wild-card pick from a position that has almost never received Heisman attention. Since Notre Dame’s Leon Hart won the award in 1949, only two tight ends have even finished inside the top 10: Notre Dame’s Ken MacAfee in 1977 and Florida’s Kyle Pitts in 2020. But Bowers is by miles and miles the best tight end in the country and possibly college football’s best player regardless of position.
6. QB Jordan Travis, Florida State
The Seminoles are expected to take another step forward in 2023 after winning nine games in coach Mike Norvell’s third season. Their improvement can be linked to Travis’ own major gains in the starting lineup. He was superb down the stretch, with 16 total touchdowns and just one interception as FSU won five in a row heading into bowl play.
7. RB Donovan Edwards, Michigan
Edwards has been a breakout star by carrying the Wolverines’ running game in wins against Ohio State and Purdue. What separates him from most backs is his big-play potential: Edwards leads the Power Five in rushes of 60 or more yards despite ranking outside the top 100 nationally in carries. With starter Blake Corum expected to enter the NFL draft, Edwards will be the face of Michigan’s offense in 2023.
8. QB Drew Allar, Penn State
After spending his true freshman season as the backup to Sean Clifford, throwing for 344 yards with five touchdowns in limited duty, Allar will be one of several very impressive second-year players set to take control of the Nittany Lions’ offense that will have talent at skill positions. He has the size, arm strength and surrounding talent to be the best player in the Big Ten.
9. WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
With Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt of Tennessee expected to enter the draft, Harrison will be the nation’s top returning receiver after pulling down 72 grabs for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns to help lead the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff. There’s the question of who will be his quarterback: Kyle McCord is the favorite, but Ryan Day might tap into the transfer portal. But does that matter? Almost regardless of who takes snaps, Harrison and this offense will put up big numbers.
10. QB Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma
A lost season for Oklahoma — a hugely disappointing six-win finish under new coach Brent Venables — should yield a much better showing in 2023 as the Sooners look to add plug-and-play starters from the portal to a more experienced core of returning talent. That will benefit Gabriel, who had his season waylaid by an injury before the Texas game in October but still managed to throw for 2,925 yards and 24 touchdowns. He had his best game in the season finale against Texas Tech with 449 yards and six scores.