Disregard the Record: Jayden Daniels Should Be in Heisman Conversation

Last year, I made my case for Jayden Daniels to be in the Heisman Trophy conversation after his tremendous three game stretch between Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama, but it turns out that I was a year too early on that statement. As good as Daniels played in that stretch last season, the second year LSU starting quarterback is playing his best football ever. In fact, the Tigers’ dual threat quarterback may be playing better than any quarterback in the entire country right now.

Daniels’ numbers are staggering. Right now, the former Arizona State quarterback is enjoying his best season of his college career as he leads the country in total yards (2,391), is third in the country in passing yards (1,969), second in the country in yards per game (398.5), second in the country in touchdown passes (19) and tied second in the country in yards per attempt (10.9). He has also completed 73% of his passes while also continuing to use his blazing speed by rushing for 422 yards and four touchdowns.

LSU QB Jayden Daniels is ranked near the top three in every statistical passing category. (Photo taken by Billy Metcalf Photography)

Daniels has also taken the next step in throwing the ball down field. So much so, he has produced elite numbers as he is first in the nation when throwing passes of 20 yards or more. He has completed 69% of his passes for 741 yards 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. According to head coach Brian Kelly, being able to be not only accurate, but throwing those passes under duress have elevated him from being a good quarterback to an elite quarterback.

“Some of the things that you don’t see is him making throws under duress. Those are the big things that have stood out to me even the touchdown he threw to Nabers that was wide open, we had a freshman center in there and they overloaded the A gap and there was pressure. He had to move and slide under duress, and he threw that on the move. That was the nuances that a lot of people may not see, but I see those things. The quarterback coach and the offensive coordinator are seeing the little things that he is doing in throwing accurate balls under duress, under pressure, and getting hit are starting to separate him from good to great.”

LSU HC Brian Kelly on Jayden Daniels

When comparing to other leading Heisman candidates, Daniels has more yards than Caleb Williams and more touchdowns than Michael Penix Jr. He has put up those numbers in one of the toughest schedules around the country.

If that is not enough, Daniels has also produced a Heisman moment already in last week’s win against Missouri where he came back from a rib injury and accounted for two more touchdowns to help beat the Tigers on the road.

Finally, the stat that stands out the most are the numbers that Daniels has put up in comparison to another standout LSU quarterback in Joe Burrow, who had the greatest quarterback season in college football history. Through six games, it is hard to believe that both Burrow and Daniels have similar numbers at the halfway point of the regular season.

Going through all the numbers listed, it is clear that Jayden Daniels should be the Heisman frontrunner at the midway point of the season, but unfortunately, there is one drawback to him being the clear frontrunner, and that is the record. Through six games, the LSU Tigers are 4-2 with losses already to Florida State and Ole Miss. Defensively, LSU has been one of the worst statistical defenses in the country and that has hurt Daniels’ case, but having multiple losses in a season has proven throughout history to not be a dealbreaker.

Winners on Teams with Two Regular Season Losses
1954 Alan Ameche Wisconsin 7 – 2 – 0
1955 Howard Cassady Ohio State 7 – 2 – 0
1957 John David Crow Texas A&M 8 – 2 – 0
1962 Terry Baker Oregon State 8 – 2 – 0
1965 Mike Garrett So. California 7 – 2 – 1
1966 Steve Spurrier Florida 9 – 2 – 0
1967 Gary Beban UCLA 7 – 2 – 1
1984 Doug Flutie Boston College 9 – 2 – 0
1988 Barry Sanders Oklahoma State 9 – 2 – 0
1989 Andre Ware Houston 9 – 2 – 0
1991 Ty Detmer BYU 10 – 2 – 0
1995 Eddie George Ohio State 10 – 2 – 0
1999 Ron Dayne Wisconsin 9 – 2 – 0
2002 Carson Palmer So. California 10 – 2 – 0
2012 Johnny Manziel Texas A&M 10 – 2 – 0

Winners on Teams with Three Regular Season Losses
1950 Vic Janowicz Ohio State 6 – 3 – 0
1961 Ernie Davis Syracuse 7 – 3 – 0
1970 Jim Plunkett Stanford 8 – 3 – 0
1980 George Rogers South Carolina 8 – 3 – 0
1981 Marcus Allen So. California 8 – 3 – 0
1985 Bo Jackson Auburn 8 – 3 – 0
1987 Tim Brown Notre Dame 8 – 3 – 0
1998 Ricky Williams Texas 8 – 3 – 0
2007 Tim Tebow Florida 9 – 3 – 0
2011 Robert Griffin III Baylor 9 – 3 – 0
2016 Lamar Jackson Louisville 9 – 3 – 0

Winners on Teams with Four Regular Season Losses
1969 Steve Owens Oklahoma 6 – 4 – 0

Winners on Teams with a .500 Record
1935 Jay Berwanger Chicago 4 – 4 – 0

Winners on Teams with a Losing Record
1956 Paul Hornung Notre Dame 2 – 8 – 0

There have been multiple quarterbacks in recent years to have multiple losses and still win the Heisman including Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, who has endorsed Daniels to be in the Heisman conversation, and even last season with Caleb Williams winning the Heisman with three losses.

Daniels is not only getting endorsed by former Heisman Trophy winners, but even opposing SEC head coaches. This Saturday, the LSU Tigers will take on the Auburn Tigers and in today’s press conference, Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze is giving Daniels the ultimate stamp of approval.

“I don’t want to talk about game plans, but I don’t think you can stop him. There are just too many weapons around him and he’s too good. The key to this game is can we hold the field goals? Truthfully, nobody has stopped him. He plays so effortlessly literally runs forty yard touchdowns and it looks like he’s jogging and yet no one is catching him. His balls are so accurate to those talented receivers. I just think it’s a hard task. To this point and I haven’t watched future opponents so nobody use it for bulletin board material, but to this point, it’s the best offensive personnel I’ve seen in this league to this point.”

“If he is not in the Heisman discussion, then there is a massive problem.”

Auburn Head Coach Hugh Freeze

Despite the team’s record, LSU has still a lot of its goals ahead of them including a SEC West title if the Tigers win out, and outside of Caleb Williams, there may not be a more valuable player towards the success of their team than LSU’s #5. If he continues at this rate, then, there should be no doubt that Jayden Daniels will be near the top of the list of names that will be called upon to make the trip to New York in December.

LSU QB Jayden Daniels is playing as good as any quarterback halfway through the season. (Photo taken by Billy Metcalf Photography)