FOX Sports National College Football Analyst
The Heisman Trophy is both the most prestigious individual award in college sports and a massive popularity contest.
Since 1935, it’s been awarded to the most outstanding player in the sport, but let’s be honest, it really goes to the most outstanding offensive player. And more likely than not, that player will be a quarterback — as it was on Saturday when LSU signal-caller Jayden Daniels took home the 2023 Heisman.
[LSU QB Jayden Daniels wins 2023 Heisman Trophy]
The last defender to win the Heisman was Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson in 1997, and the fact that he was a dangerous return man in addition to being a lockdown corner is probably what put him over the top.
That’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t make any sense to fight it.
So as we look ahead to 2024, we’ll embrace that reality as we look to forecast next year’s winner.
Here is a look at the top five candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in 2024.
1. Dillon Gabriel, QB, Oregon
With his commitment to transfer to Oregon, Gabriel has an opportunity to leave the sport with one of the best careers any quarterback has enjoyed.
He’s already had four seasons of passing for at least 3,100 yards and 25 touchdowns, including in 2023 at Oklahoma, where he led the Sooners to a win against rival Texas in Dallas back in October. OU is the only program that beat the Longhorns this season, and Gabriel was the biggest reason.
To win the Heisman Trophy, a player must summon a signature performance on a national stage. After the Sooners were thumped by the Longhorns in 2022, 49-0 with Gabriel on the sideline due to injury, he mustered 285 passing yards, 113 rushing yards and the game-winning TD vs. UT this year.
At Oregon, he will have a chance to play against other name-brand opponents as the Ducks mark their first season in the Big Ten. UO plays Ohio State at home, Michigan on the road and ends the season with rival Washington at home.
Wearing the number of the last player to win the Heisman at Oregon — Marcus Mariota — Gabriel will have a chance from UO coach Dan Lanning and offensive coordinator Will Stein to not just compete for the Big Ten title, but a bid to the College Football Playoff in its 12-team format next season.
2. Jalen Milroe, QB, Alabama
After getting benched following a double-digit loss to Texas at home, Milroe reclaimed the starting quarterback job at Alabama and proceeded to put together a Heisman-caliber performance for the rest of the season.
With wins against LSU — led by Daniels — Ole Miss and rival Auburn, not to mention snapping Georgia’s 29-game winning streak in the SEC title game, Milroe has a chance to vault to the top of this list with a win against Michigan in the Rose Bowl and perhaps a national title.
While accounting for more than 3,100 combined yards passing and rushing, Milroe scored 35 TDs and put a 200-yard passing, 150-yard rushing performance on tape against the Bayou Bengals.
Heisman voters proved to pay attention as Milroe finished sixth in the 2023 voting — behind Jordan Travis, who helped lead Florida State to an undefeated regular season and the Noles’ first ACC title since 2014.
3. Ollie Gordon II, RB, Oklahoma State
After garnering just 19 touches in the first three games of the season, Gordon enjoyed the biggest breakout campaign of any player in the country. He finished 2023 with more than 1,600 rushing yards and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back.
He’s also the first OSU tailback to win that award, which was created two years after Barry Sanders won the Heisman.
In a season the Pokes were expected to use to rebuild, Gordon powered an offense that led OSU past Oklahoma in what many expect to be the last Bedlam game for some time, all while showing form rarely seen in the sport at this level.
He rushed for 100 yards in eight consecutive games, finishing second in rushing TDs (20).
Ollie Gordon II breaks loose for a 42-yard rushing TD
4. TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State
Many Buckeye fans breathed a sigh of relief when Henderson announced he’d return to Columbus for the 2024 season, which could prove pivotal for both him and OSU.
With Ohio State running backs Chip Trayanum and Evan Pryor entering the transfer portal, and Miyan Williams electing to declare for the NFL Draft, Henderson expects to be the bell-cow back — with Dallan Hayden spelling him — in an offense that might be more geared toward running the ball than any other Ryan Day-coached team.
Next season also would be an outstanding opportunity for Henderson to show the kind of form he displayed as a true freshman, when he rushed for more than 1,200 yards, averaged 6.8 yards per carry, and recorded 19 TDs.
As a threat to take every touch to the end zone, Henderson has both the talent and experience to finish in the top five in Heisman voting with an All-American-caliber season.
A win against Michigan for the first time since 2019 wouldn’t do much to hurt his chances, either.
Comparing Michigan’s Blake Corum and Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson
5. Carson Beck, QB, Georgia
While the quarterback position hasn’t been a source of great NFL potential since Justin Fields left the Dawgs for Ohio State, Beck has the talent to not only lead UGA back to the CFP but also win the Heisman and go No. 1 overall in the 2025 NFL Draft.
In his first season as the starter in Athens, Beck completed a gaudy 72.4%of his passes for over 3,700 yards, with 28 TDs and just eight INTs.
His return to Georgia solidifies the Dawgs at the position. It also cements Beck as one of the two best QBs in the SEC heading into an offseason that allows Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator to further develop the offense into a unit as feared as the UGA defense.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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