Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Oregon’s Bo Nix set for massive Pac-12 showdown

For the rest of the college football season, Yahoo Sports will highlight the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy on a weekly basis. All odds are via BetMGM.

The biggest game of Week 7 is the Pac-12 showdown between No. 8 Oregon and No. 7 Washington.

Both teams are undefeated and have national championship aspirations and they also are led by two of the top contenders to win the Heisman Trophy — senior quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix.

The two have followed similar paths by revitalizing their careers after transfers to the West Coast. Penix, the current betting favorite to win the Heisman with +200 odds at BetMGM, saw the field early at Indiana before transferring to Washington, but dealt with a slew of injuries.

Penix worked his way onto the field as a freshman for the Hoosiers, only to suffer a torn ACL and take a medical redshirt. Penix returned in 2019 as a redshirt freshman and earned the starting role, showing flashes of potential in six starts before another season-ending injury, this time to his shoulder.

Penix’s emergence helped Indiana get to a bowl game in 2019, and then he led the Hoosiers’ breakthrough season in 2020. IU started the season 6-0 and rose to No. 12 in the rankings, but Penix’s season was again cut short by another ACL tear. A brutal two-win season for the Hoosiers and another season-ending injury for Penix followed in 2021, so the quarterback hit the transfer portal in hopes of a fresh start.

He found one at Washington, where Kalen DeBoer, his old offensive coordinator at IU, had been hired as head coach. It was a perfect match as Penix threw for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns last season in DeBoer’s aggressive, downfield-attacking offense. And most importantly, Penix stayed healthy as Washington went 11-2.

Rather than jump to the NFL, Penix is back with the Huskies for one final season. And he’s certainly making the most of it as the betting favorite to win the Heisman.

(Yahoo Sports)

(Yahoo Sports)

Nix, meanwhile, is also making the most of his opportunity at a second school. Nix is the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix and he followed in his dad’s footsteps by signing to play for the Tigers. A five-star recruit out of high school, Nix immediately became Auburn’s starting quarterback but his play was up-and-down over three tumultuous years with the program that included the head-coaching transition from Gus Malzahn to Bryan Harsin.

The first year with Harsin did not go well, so Nix decided to transfer to Oregon to play for Kenny Dillingham, his first offensive coordinator at Auburn. Dillingham, now the head coach at Arizona State, had been hired as the OC for Dan Lanning in Eugene and he knew Nix could thrive in the Pac-12. Nix threw for 3,593 yards and 29 touchdowns while rushing for 510 yards and 14 more scores.

And like Penix, Nix decided to return for one final go-around rather than declare for the NFL Draft. Those decisions helped set up one of the games of the year as the Huskies and Ducks meet Saturday in Seattle. Not only is the top spot in the Pac-12 standings and a major CFP resume boost on the line, but it’s the kind of game that can make a major impact on the Heisman candidacy of both Penix and Nix.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. (+200)

Michael Penix Jr. is putting up video game-like numbers this season.

In five games, he’s thrown for 1,999 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 74.7% of his attempts. That’s 399.8 yards per game, which leads the country by a wide margin. Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders is second nationally at 336.7 yards per game. Sanders has a 21-yard edge on Penix for the national lead in passing yards, but Sanders has played in six games compared to Penix’s five.

Penix has topped the 400-yard mark and thrown at least four touchdown passes in three of UW’s five games. He also leads the nation in yards per attempt at 11.2. And with Saturday’s game vs. Oregon, he has the chance to begin separating himself from the pack.

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman, but his Huskies will face another Heisman contender this week in Oregon QB Bo Nix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman, but his Huskies will face another Heisman contender this week in Oregon QB Bo Nix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

USC QB Caleb Williams (+225)

Where would USC be without Caleb Williams? Despite USC’s incredibly porous defense, Williams was able to almost single-handedly guide the Trojans to the College Football Playoff last year. For those efforts, he won the Heisman Trophy.

The story hasn’t been much different this season. The Trojans, now 6-0 and ranked No. 10, have faced two teams from the Mountain West and four of the five worst teams from the Pac-12, yet the defense ranks No. 86 nationally in yards per play allowed and No. 112 in total defense. That puts a ton on Williams’ shoulders, yet he has delivered.

Williams has thrown for 1,817 yards and 22 touchdowns with just one interception while completing 71.7% of his attempts. He also has six rushing TDs on the year. But the schedule is about to considerably pick up in difficulty. The Trojans will head on the road to face No. 21 Notre Dame this week with conference games vs. Utah, Washington, Oregon and UCLA on the horizon.

If Williams somehow leads USC through this gauntlet, he will warrant considerable Heisman attention once again.

Oregon QB Bo Nix (+600)

While he hasn’t been consistently beating teams over the top quite like Penix, Bo Nix has been an incredibly efficient passer for Oregon this season. Nix has completed 80.4% of his passes this season to lead the nation, and that’s on 32.6 attempts per game. In Oregon’s two Pac-12 games, Nix has only 10 incompletions. He’s 55-of-65 for 566 yards and seven touchdowns as the Ducks outscored Colorado and Stanford by a ridiculous 84-12 margin.

For the year, Nix has thrown for 1,459 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception. And he hasn’t been forced to use his legs quite as much as he did last year. He’s rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown this year. Will his rushing skill set be unleashed on Saturday in Seattle?

Oregon quarterback Bo Nix has been one of the most efficient passers in the nation this season. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Oregon quarterback Bo Nix has been one of the most efficient passers in the nation this season. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Oklahoma QB Dillon Gabriel (+1200)

Dillon Gabriel surged up the Heisman odds board after his performance in the Red River Rivalry.

Gabriel led a dramatic, last-minute touchdown drive to push the Sooners past rival Texas, 34-30. Not only did Gabriel throw for 285 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining, he also scored on the ground and had a career-high 113 rushing yards. For the season, Gabriel is up to 1,878 yards and 16 touchdowns with two interceptions and a 72.3 completion percentage. He also has 208 yards and five touchdowns as a runner.

With Oklahoma now 6-0 and ranked No. 5, Gabriel should emerge as a major Heisman contender. The Sooners have a very navigable second-half schedule and a clear path to the Big 12 title game. If Gabriel can lead the Sooners to a conference title and even a CFP appearance, he could find himself in New York City for the Heisman ceremony.

Florida State QB Jordan Travis (+1600)

Jordan Travis opened the season with a brilliant performance, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another in Florida State’s Week 1 win over LSU. A month later, that win does not look quite as impressive now that we’ve seen how poor LSU’s defense has played.

For the season, Travis has thrown for 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception. He also has 119 yards and two TDs as a runner. Travis hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1 and has done an excellent job taking care of the ball. FSU has a few tricky games on the schedule during the second half of the season. If he can lead the Seminoles to an ACC title and a CFP berth, he’ll have a shot to get to New York.

North Carolina QB Drake Maye (+1600)

North Carolina hasn’t been involved in many marquee games this season, so the play of Drake Maye has flown under the radar a bit. He emerged as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks last fall and looks just as good — maybe even better — in 2023. Maye has thrown for 1,629 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 72.1% of his attempts.

Though he has four interceptions on the year, he hasn’t thrown one in the past two games. Maye was brilliant in last week’s 40-7 win over Syracuse, throwing for 442 yards and three touchdowns while adding 55 yards and a score on the ground. UNC is 5-0 and No. 12 in the country heading into a big game with Miami on Saturday. Can Maye lead the Tar Heels to the ACC title game?

Others on the radar

  • Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy (+2000)

  • LSU QB Jayden Daniels (+3000)

  • Georgia TE Brock Bowers (+3000)

  • Michigan RB Blake Corum (+4000)

  • Texas QB Quinn Ewers (+5000)

  • Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman (+5000)

  • Washington State QB Cameron Ward (+5000)

  • Penn State QB Drew Allar (+6000)

  • Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (+6600)

  • Georgia QB Carson Beck (+8000)

  • Ohio State QB Kyle McCord (+8000)

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