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Heisman Trophy contenders: The SEC's Top 5 candidates in 2023

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton06/05/23


For the first time in four years, the SEC didn’t take home college football’s most prestigious award. 

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 kickstart the series with the SEC, where the sport’s top conference is riddled with star talent but has no obvious frontrunner candidate. Still, there’s several intriguing options, including the QB1 in Baton Rouge and Athens. 

*** 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 SEC’s Top 5 Heisman Trophy candidates in 2023

QB Jayden Daniels, LSU

If LSU lives up to its College Football Playoff potential in 2023, dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels figures to be a major reason why. 

The former Arizona State transfer excelled in his first season as the Tigers’ starter, holding off Garrett Nussmeier for the job and leading LSU to an upset over Alabama and an SEC West title. 

Playing behind a green offensive line, Daniels still had 28 total touchdowns and nearly 3,800 total yards. He’ll be surrounded by even better skill talent this fall, and Year 2 in Mike Denbrock’s system should boost his numbers, too. 

TE Brock Bowers, Georgia

A tight end hasn’t won the award in 75 years, but Bowers may be the sport’s best bet in recent memory with the way Georgia gets the junior touches as a receiver and runner. 

The reigning Mackey Award winner is a nightmare mismatch in the middle of the field, leading UGA with 63 receptions for 942 yards (15 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. Bowers also carried the football nine times on jet sweeps and reverses, averaging 12.1 yards per rush and scoring three more times. 

RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss

As noted, tailbacks have become completely overshadowed in the Heisman Trophy field, but if one were able to buck the recent trends then Judkins is the surest pick. 

Ole Miss’ standout led the SEC in rushing as a freshman in 2022 (1565 yards, 5.7 yards per attempt), scoring a school-record 16 touchdowns. Judkins was extremely productive while splitting carries with former 5-star Zach Evans (936 yards, nine touchdowns). 

But with Evans off to the NFL and Ole Miss pony’ing up with a big NIL package to make sure Judkins didn’t transfer elsewhere, the sophomore will be the bell-cow ‘back in Lane Kiffin’s offense. Could Judkins flirt with 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns — ala: Derrick Henry’s 2015 Heisman Trophy season? 

QB Joe Milton, Tennessee

Looking for this year’s Anthony Richardson? A guy which freakish physical tools who could totally ball out in a non-conference game in Week 1 (Tennessee vs. Virginia) and generate all sorts of early Heisman buzz? I submit Joe Milton, a 6-5, 245-pound redshirt senior with a rocket launder for a right arm. 

Quarterbacks — all shapes and sizes — put up monster numbers in Josh Heupel’s offense (see: Hendon Hooker’s Heisman campaign last season when he threw for 3,125 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two picks). Milton was good in mop-up duty and then led Tennessee to a win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl (19 of 28 for 251 yards and three scores). 

If the Vols compete for the SEC East again in 2023 and Milton puts up gaudy stats then he could find himself in the mix for an invite to New York City. 

QB Carson Beck, Georgia 

Previously, this final spot likely would’ve gone to Alabama QB1 — as in whoever is ultimately named the starter between Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson or Tyler Buchner

But not in 2023.

Georgia’s likely QB1 Carson Beck has a greater chance of emerging as a Heisman Trophy contender than any of Alabama’s options this fall. Beck has bided his time, and now he gets to take the reins of the offense for the two-time defending national champs. Beck gets to throw to Brock Bowers, and the rest of UGA’s pass-catching corps is loaded, too. 

Georgia has the best offensive line in the country and its going to win a ton of games this fall, which should give Beck both the stats and team resume to contend for the trophy.