College Football
Joel Klatt: Top 5 Heisman Trophy candidates for 2024
College Football

Joel Klatt: Top 5 Heisman Trophy candidates for 2024

Published Dec. 12, 2023 6:38 p.m. ET

This year's Heisman Trophy race was exceptional, with four outstanding, viable finalists. In the end, it was LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels taking home what I believe to be the most prestigious individual award in sports.

With 2023's Heisman race in the books, I think we could have another great race for the Heisman in 2024. I believe we're entering a golden age of college football, where more of the top players stay in school, and we get more experienced guys playing at a high level, particularly at quarterback.

If you look at the finalists from this season, Daniels played a lot of football. Michael Penix Jr. played a lot of football. There's nobody who has played more college football than Bo Nix. That's why they were such good players. 

Hopefully, all of that experience will help those three quarterbacks in the NFL next season. But as they bid adieu to the college game, let's take a look at my top-five Heisman candidates for 2024.


5. Colorado Buffaloes QB Shedeur Sanders

When you look at the entirety of the program that is set up for him to succeed, his ability and the resources Colorado has at the skill positions, Sanders is a dark horse candidate to win the Heisman next.

Colorado might not be a major brand that we typically see represented at the Heisman ceremony, but it actually has a Heisman winner in its past. Rashan Salaam won it in 1994, so it isn't entirely unprecedented.

We also know that Colorado and Sanders are going to get a lot of attention. Now, some of it might not be great, and maybe some voters might feel inclined to not vote for Sanders because of that.

Colorado's Shedeur Sanders finds Travis Hunter for a 45-yard touchdown.

Sanders needs a lot of help, but it looks like they're starting to get it in the transfer portal. The Buffaloes are already getting some reinforcements along the offensive line, which was a major concern for them last season. If those additions pan out, you can't tell me that Sanders won't be among the nation's leading passers. He was already headed in that direction this year until it got to the point where they couldn't protect him at all, causing Sanders to be the most sacked quarterback in the FBS.

If Sanders is just protected better than he was in 2023, he'll likely have the numbers needed to be in the conversation. After that, it'll come down to team performance. Will Colorado start excelling and reach that eight-, nine- or even 10-win mark? If Colorado reaches that mark just two years after winning one game, I think Sanders will get some consideration for the Heisman Trophy.

4. Oregon Ducks QB Dillon Gabriel

After two seasons at Oklahoma, Gabriel announced Saturday that he's transferring to Oregon. 

I must say, this is a perfect fit for Gabriel and the Ducks. Similar to the NFL, fit matters. They want their quarterbacks to be like a point guard, which was what Nix was for them over the last couple of seasons. He was so good at that because he's such a smart player who was able to distribute the ball on time and accurately. 

Dillon Gabriel announces his transfer to Oregon for the 2024 season

That's what Oregon offensive coordinator Will Stein requires out of his quarterbacks, and that's what he'll get from Gabriel. Even before Gabriel's transfer, if you asked me to pick a spot where Gabriel fits perfectly, I would've said Oregon. 

This just makes so much sense for both parties. Gabriel's going to be so experienced when he arrives in Eugene next season, and he could actually break Nix's record for most starts by a quarterback (61 after the Fiesta Bowl) if he stays healthy in 2024, as he already has 49 career starts.

I love what Oregon has been able to do at quarterback under Dan Lanning, as the Ducks continue to add experienced quarterback after experienced quarterback.

3. Michigan Wolverines QB J.J. McCarthy 

McCarthy could declare for the NFL Draft following Michigan's College Football Playoff run, but I'm including him in this list because I think he has a reasonable chance at staying. I don't know if McCarthy is going to declare for the draft or not, but I think a lot of it will depend on how Michigan does in the postseason. 

With that caveat out of the way, if McCarthy and the right guys return in 2024, he could have another strong offense around him. There's a chance that running back Donovan Edwards and wide receiver Roman Wilson also return. We already know that tight end Colston Loveland will be back. They've got some other really good, young players on offense and along the offensive line. 

J.J. McCarthy throws a 22-yard TD DOT to Roman Wilson as Michigan grabs a 14-3 lead over Ohio State

Michigan has a chance to be really strong again. Of course, a lot of it will depend on whether Jim Harbaugh goes to the NFL and if McCarthy follows suit. I'm not sure on either, but if McCarthy's back, he's going to be in the running for the Heisman Trophy.

McCarthy is also the type of guy that if Michigan continues to win, he'll get that career achievement recognition and narrative behind him. He might need that to be a Heisman contender because his numbers won't necessarily be up there with the other elite quarterbacks in college football because of Michigan's style of play. 

So, I expect McCarthy to be in the conversation for the Heisman if he returns to Michigan next season. 

2. Alabama Crimson Tide QB Jalen Milroe

To me, this is a no-brainer.

Just look at what Milroe can do throwing the football and moving with his legs, which have helped him evolve into a great player. From the player we saw against Texas in Week 2 to the player we saw just beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, he makes more good, clean decisions. That obviously pairs well with his athleticism and his ability to throw the ball really well down the field, which are only going to get better.

Michigan-Alabama and Texas-Washington: Tale of the tape for CFP matchups

Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees know what Alabama is offensively with Milore. They can now build around him for the whole offseason, which will put Milroe right in the mix for the Heisman. 

1. Texas Longhorns QB Quinn Ewers

Similar to McCarthy, I think Ewers is going to come back, though I'm also not entirely sure, either. 

If Ewers comes back though, I think he would be the favorite to win the Heisman entering 2024. He's now led his team to a playoff berth and could possibly take Texas to a national title. 

You might think to yourself, "Are we sure Arch Manning's not going to be the quarterback?" Well, he might be. If Manning is the quarterback, then he will be on this list. So, maybe I should just list this spot as "whoever starts at quarterback for Texas next season."

But I expect Ewers to come back, and reports seem to indicate that will happen as well. Ewers will continue to develop and put up quality numbers if he's back in Austin next fall. This is a highly explosive offense and will continue to be with Steve Sarkisian. They've got things rolling on the offensive and defensive lines. They're recruiting at a high level and Ewers can just sit there to have a tremendous season once again. 

Quinn Ewers and Jalen Milroe in Joel Klatt's top 5 2024 Heisman Contenders

Who knows, it wouldn't surprise me if Texas won the national title this year. It wouldn't surprise me at all if any of the four teams in the playoff won it all, which is why I'm so excited for this playoff because I don't think there's an outright favorite. 

If Texas is coming off a national title, it'll only boost Ewers' chances to win the Heisman. 

Honorable mentions

Utah Utes QB Cam Rising: As he enters what feels like his 75th year in college football, Rising will garner some attention for the award. Utah won back-to-back Pac-12 titles with him at quarterback. Utah heads to the Big 12 next season, so I think its schedule will get easier. Utah could very well win another conference title.

Georgia Bulldogs QB Carson Beck: I know Georgia fell short of expectations this season, but Beck should rightfully be in the Heisman conversation next season. In many ways, the Bulldogs evolved offensively from a passing perspective in 2023. He'll have to do that without Brock Bowers in 2024, but Georgia should have athletes out there. 

Colorado Buffaloes WR/CB Travis Hunter: Hunter's the closest thing we've seen to Charles Woodson or any other two-way dynamic player we've seen in a long time. He's even more of a two-way player than Woodson was! There's no doubt that there will be a lot of eyeballs on Colorado next season. Hunter could be another beneficiary of an improved offensive line, which would allow him to put up bigger numbers offensively. If he records several interceptions as well, he'll garner a lot of attention for the award.

Cameron Ward: We don't know where Ward is going to play yet, so a lot of this is dependent on which school he decides to transfer to. He's the most coveted player in the transfer portal. If he goes to the right place, he'll be in the Heisman race without a doubt. If he goes to Florida State, he could get the team success needed to get to New York. But if he goes to Ohio State, he'd produce and be developed while being the centerpiece for a national title-contending team. If Ward heads to Columbus, he'd firmly be inside this top-five list. 

Joel Klatt is FOX Sports' lead college football game analyst and the host of the podcast "The Joel Klatt Show." Follow him on Twitter at @joelklatt and subscribe to the "Joel Klatt Show" on YouTube.


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