Was Jayden Daniels REALLY on the Heisman preseason watch list last year at this time? Maybe in a few spots, but it was all about whether or not Caleb Williams could repeat.

Were Michael Penix Jr., Bo Nix, and Marvin Harrison Jr. considered possible Heisman finalists? Actually, yeah.

This is a weird award when it comes to guys who come from out of nowhere and become college superstars - remember TCU QB Max Duggan? - but we pretty much know the drill by now.

Be an amazing statistical powerhouse, preferably for a big name team that will be - next year, no way the top Heisman candidates aren’t mostly from expanded College Football Playoff teams - and, oh yeah, be a quarterback.

This used to be a whole lot easier.

We knew who was around, could figure out who’d be coming back, and we could all put together the top skill guys from the best teams and assume one would hit the target.

Good luck with that now in a transfer portal world. So who are the likely Heisman favorites going into 2024?

First, assume that if you don’t see your guy here, it’s because he should be gone for the NFL. Shedeur Sanders and JJ McCarthy lead that way, along with just about every other good player you can think of who’s draft eligible. If that changes, this list expands to the top 20 or 25.

Second, the pivots will come fast. Utah’s Cam Rising should probably be on here, and Jalon Daniels along with Arizona QB Noah Fifita will be promoted big time. But for now, let’s start this list loaded with non-commitment calls with … 

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2024 Heisman Candidates

20. The Field

Every year it’s the safest call in the bunch. Take The Field, if it’s possible, on any preseason Heisman investments, because …

Manziel, Burrow, Jameis, DeVonta, Cam, Lamar, and to some extent, Jayden Daniels. You never quite know who’s about to rise up and be the signature star of the season.

It’s a guarantee that at least one 2024 Heisman finalist - and probably more; again think Max Duggan or Kenny Pickett - isn’t on this list. 

Remember, SEC fans laughed at the idea of Nix being the Oregon starting quarterback. Jayden Daniels was okay at Arizona State, but hardly Heisman special, so don’t scoff at …

19. Graham Mertz, QB Florida; 18. Omarion Hampton, RB North Carolina; 17. Travis Hunter, CB/WR Colorado; 16. Ollie Gordon, RB Oklahoma State; 15. Luther Burden, WR Missouri

They all have finalist potential if everything breaks dead-perfect right - assume at least one of them will be in the hunt for the third spot on the ballot at some point. Winning it? Nah.

That goes for two talented quarterbacks who no one will have on any Heisman list, but again, talent rises up in this race.

14. Drew Allar, QB Penn State

Yes, to win the Heisman it might be nice to actually hit a pass more than three feet down the field on a regular basis. Just assume the glitch is about to be fixed this offseason after all of the hullabaloo over the lack of any high-powered Nittany Lion offense last year. Allar has too many next-level skills to not go from meh to amazing with a little help. The same goes for …

13. Cade Klubnik, QB Clemson

Like Allar, Klubnik is a big-time talent who really needs more parts to work with. Clemson doesn’t do the transfer portal thing, but give this guy some dangerous targets and watch him start to light up the ACC.

Who do the Tigers start the season with? If Klubnik goes off in the opener and leads the way to a win over Georgia he’s the instant front-runner with a manageable schedule ahead - the date at Florida State helps the Heisman chances.

If Georgia rolls on August 31st, Klubnik gets cheerfully withdrawn. Now that we got those two out of the way.

12. 2024 Washington starting quarterback; 11. 2024 Michigan starting quarterback

Whatever quarterback steps in from the portal to take over the Washington gig might lead the nation in passing. So why so low? Why can’t the new guy be the next Michael Penix Jr.? Penix finished second in the Heisman race because he guided the way to a 13-0 season.

Next year? Welcome to the new Big Ten, Huskies. Michigan, at Iowa, USC, at Penn State, UCLA, at Oregon are all on the slate.

And Michigan? JJ McCarthy wasn’t really in the Heisman mix early on like many Wolverine fans think - and that was before the spam hit the fan. If he’s back, put him top 3 on this.

If he’s not, will it be big Alex Orji’s time to take over, or will Jim Harbaugh get his pick of top transfers?

- Jayden Daniels wins the Heisman: He was THAT outstanding 

- 2023 Heisman voting breakdown

10. 2024 Tennessee starting quarterback

It’s the Josh Heupel offense, and anyone running it will crank up the stats. That didn’t exactly work for Joe Milton this year, but if big-time recruit Nico Iamaleava is as good as advertised, the numbers and production should be there.

But he’s a freshman, and it’s asking a ton for him to be THAT good right away, so the transfer portal will play a role. It’s the same thing happening with …

9. 2024 Oklahoma starting quarterback

With Dillon Gabriel off to Oregon, here’s where former star recruit Jackson Arnold is supposed to step up and be become special. He’ll get his shot to show off in the Alamo Bowl against Arizona, but it’s Oklahoma. It’ll still grab a big-name transfer to come in and fight for the gig this spring.

8. 2024 Notre Dame starting quarterback

It’s Riley Leonard - maybe. As of right now the former Duke starter isn’t officially signed, sealed, or delivered, but it’ll be a massive shock if he isn’t it. He’s got high-end NFL Draft pick talent if he’s healthy - which he wasn’t for most of this season - and it’s Notre Dame. He’ll have every chance to shine.

7. 2024 Florida State starting quarterback

Oh yes, you want a Heisman interest in whoever becomes the lead singer on the 2024 Florida State Scorched Earth Tour.

DJ Uiagalelei might be ideal as the one to step in and destroy - Clemson comes to Doak Campbell, by the way - and new recruit Luke Kromenhoek fits everything the O needs, but leave this Heisman idea open-ended for now. No matter what, FSU will be a player in the Heisman race, as will …

6. Quinn Ewers, QB Texas

Or Arch Manning, if Ewers decides to turn pro. Let’s see how the College Football Playoff goes and where the quarterback room chips fall from there. No matter what, the Texas starter will be in the Heisman spotlight from the start, even if it’s the untested new guy with the big name.

5. Carson Beck, QB Georgia

Get ready for an offseason of “he wasn’t in the Heisman race last year, but …”

Beck was good, and he’s just getting started. 3,738 yards, 73% passing, 22 touchdowns, just six picks, four rushing touchdowns, and now he’ll be running an ultra-talented team that will be just a wee bit ticked off.

The opener matters. Georgia gets Clemson to start the season, and if it’s the Carson Beck show, here we go.

4. 2024 Ohio State starting quarterback

Even though the Buckeyes were - maybe - one throw/closed-drive against Michigan away from almost certainly being in the College Football Playoff, that wasn’t enough to give Kyle McCord any love or respect.

One thing is for certain, the offense will have a more dynamic playmaker under center.

McCord is gone in the transfer portal, and if it’s not Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz might get the call in the Cotton Bowl against Missouri, and then spring becomes a blast with superstar recruit Air Noland coming in.

3. 2024 USC starting quarterback

Baker, Kyler, Jalen - a finalist, not a winner - and Caleb. Only the late John Cazale (Fredo) - five movies, five best picture nominations - had a better percentage of greatness than Lincoln Riley has had so far with Heisman-caliber quarterbacks.

Will it be Malachi Nelson, or Miller Moss, or will it be the cream of the transfer portal crop, like, say, former Washington State veteran Cam Ward?

The defense won’t be amazing - meaning lots of QB stats - the offense is still the Riley offense, and there’s no expecting anything less than something massive.

2. Dillon Gabriel, QB Oregon

How do you replace Bo Nix, who finishes his Oregon career - he might play in the bowl game, though - after completing 75% of his passes for 7,738 yards and 69 touchdowns?

How about a guy who should be just as accurate in this offense with almost 15,000 yards of passing with 125 touchdowns on his resumé?

However, it’s sort of like the Heisman problem for Washington in the new Big Ten - at UCLA, Ohio State, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, and Washington are all a part of the fun. It’s going to be hard to run through that.

So, for now, the 2024 Heisman favorite is probably …

1. Jalen Milroe, QB Alabama

Honestly, if Alabama had really pushed it, there was a case to be made for Milroe to get more votes in the 2023 Heisman race after coming up with the play of the year (Auburn) and most important win of the season (Georgia) on the way to the SEC Championship.

Let’s see what he does in the College Football Playoff.

If he lights up Michigan, and Alabama goes on to win the national title, he’s the favorite from the start. Even if he doesn’t, he’s fully established in 2024 as the next superstar Crimson Tide quarterback after Jalen, and Tua, and Mac, and Bryce now that he’s experienced.

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