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Heisman Trophy contenders: The Big 12's Top 5 contenders, with Texas QB Quinn Ewers among the early frontrunners

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton06/09/23


USC’s Caleb Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 2022 and is the betting favorite to become just the second two-time winner, joining only Ohio State’s Archie Griffin. 

Over the next week, we’ll look at the Top 5 candidates from each Power 5 conference (and Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman). 

We kickstarted the series with the SEC, and then we looked at the Big Ten’s likeliest contenders, as well as the ACC (plus Notre Dame)’s potential candidates. Yesterday we looked at Williams and the other candidates in the Pac-12, and today we wrap up the Power 5 previews with a peak at the Big 12’s most likely contenders. 

The conference is short on headliner candidates, but there are several darkhorse options at QB if a couple of teams make major noise in the league this fall. 

*** Note: It’s fun (and easy) to toss out pie-in-the-sky picks, but each list this week is at least attempting to identify potential candidates who have a somewhat-realistic case to contend for the award. So you won’t see any defensive players, as the Heisman Trophy voter pool refuses to even invite a guy like Will Anderson to the ceremony (reminder: Alabama’s pass rusher had 101 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks in 2021). 

You also won’t find me listing guys like KJ Jefferson or Jalon Daniels — two really good college QBs, but players who are on teams that aren’t expected to win a whole lot in 2o23. 

Last season, Caleb Williams became the first Heisman Trophy winner since Lamar Jackson in 2016 to not lead his team to the College Football Playoff. With few exceptions, this has become a QB award going to the guy on one of the country’s best teams. Maybe that will change this fall. I doubt it. 

The Big-12 Top 5 Heisman Trophy candidates in 2023

QB Quinn Ewers, Texas

Easily the Big 12’s most likely Heisman Trophy contender, Ewers was officially anointed QB1 for the Longhorns this spring after holding off Maalik Murphy and Arch Manning. 

The former No. 1 overall recruit flashed his 5-star talent against Alabama and Oklahoma last season, but he also struggled with injuries and inconsistencies. But after a strong spring and surrounded by the best supporting cast of playmakers not at Ohio State, Ewers should have a monster sophomore season. 

Beat Alabama in Week 2 or take Texas to the Big 12 Championship and Ewers will be among the favorites to win the award come the end of the year.

QB Dillion Gabriel, Oklahoma 

Dillion Gabriel actually finished second in the Big 12 in passing (3,168 yards) despite missing most of the TCU game and the entire blowout against Texas with a concussion. 

The UCF transfer had 31 total touchdowns and just six picks in 2022, and if Gabriel can stay healthy this fall and led the Sooners back to the top of the standings in the Big 12 then he could find himself in the mix for an invite to NYC in December. 

QB Will Howard, Kansas State

This is where the pickings start to get a little slim for the options in the Big 12, but Will Howard might emerge as a darkhorse contender if Kansas State repeats as Big 12 champs. 

Howard took over for Adrian Martinez midway through last season, and he went 5-0 as a starter against conference competition, including leading the upset over TCU. 

He’ll need to up his production (18 touchdowns and just four picks) over the course of a full season, and with Deuce Vaughn no longer in K-State’s backfield he may get more opportunities.  

QB Tyler Shough, Texas Tech

Tyler Shough is not going to win the Heisman Trophy, but what if he guides Texas Tech — one of the sleeper teams in all of college football in 2023 — to the Big 12 Championship Game. 

Could he potentially score an invite? It’s not impossible. It’s the Max Duggan arc 2.0. 

The former Oregon transfer was hurt for much of last season, but he did start the Red Raiders’ final four games — all wins. He beat Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Ole Miss in the bowl game. 

QBs typically put up gaudy numbers in OC Zach Kittley’s pass-happy system, so the stats should be there. If he can win some marquee games, including a Week 2 showdown in Lubbock against a Top 15 Oregon squad, then perhaps Shough will have a mini-candidacy run. 

QB Chandler Morris, TCU

Chandler Morris was actually TCU’s starter in Week 1 in 2022, but he got hurt in the opener against Colorado and was promptly Wally Pip’d by Max Duggan. 

Morris is back as the Horned Frogs’ QB1 this fall, and while it’s no longer Garrett Riley’s offense, Kendal Briles is going to run a similar scheme, chucking the ball around a ton. 

They brought in impact transfer receivers like Jaylon Robinson from Ole Miss, John Paul Richardson from Oklahoma State, Dylan Wright from Minnesota and JoJo Earle from Alabama, so weapons should not be a problem. He’ll need to keep TCU in the national spotlight, though, which is a much more difficult deal after last year’s Cinderella season.