Evaluating where we went wrong on Jayden Daniels

Looking back on why we did not envision Jayden Daniels finishing his tenure with LSU football as the starting quarterback, much less the Heisman Trophy winner.

Dec 9, 2023; New York, New York, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels speaks to the media
Dec 9, 2023; New York, New York, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels speaks to the media / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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Jayden Daniels makes his LSU football exit just as I return to Death Valley Voice and reassume the site expert role. Forgive my absence while graduate studies consumed my days and nights this past semester. However, this post is not about my time away from the site, rather, it is about my prediction that Jayden Daniels would not win the Heisman.

Now is the time to own up to my lack of foresight.

Early in October, I wrote that Jayden Daniels would not win the Heisman Trophy because LSU football lost multiple games and was not in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. Since 2000, there were only two Heisman winners on teams outside of national championship contention at the time of voting. Imagining Daniels joining Robert Griffin III and Lamar Jackson as trophy-winning outliers was near-impossible. After all, so much college football voting feels like a popularity contest influenced by recency bias.

I was critical of Jayden Daniels in some early LSU football games. His first half against Arkansas was some of the worst football of the quarterback's tenure with the Tigers. His lazy underthrows felt like validation of the offseason criticisms including that which alluded to his reluctance to throw deep balls. However, the quarterback entered the second half in Fayetteville with the mojo LSU fans expected, and led his team to a 34-31 victory.

Daniels finished the win over the Razorbacks 20-29 with 320 yards through the air and four touchdown passes.

Jayden Daniels established a rapport with Malik Nabers that was somewhat unpredictable. We knew both were talented and due for some highlight reel plays in 2023. However, few predicted the Daniels and Nabers connection would emerge as the best in college football. Indeed, it was. Unfortunately, unlike Daniels, Nabers was robbed of the hardware that is deserving of his

Credit to the Heisman Trophy voters for getting it right. Well, all voters except for known Pac-12 homer John Canzano.

This was a college football season in which there was no Bryce Young or Joe Burrow. There were a few star quarterbacks leading their teams toward the CFP, but Jayden Daniels outplayed all of them. Still, I expected voters to pay more attention to Michael Penix and Bo Nix because historically, the leaders of the teams in contention hog the spotlight.

Conversely, it was difficult for Heisman voters to ignore Daniels' merits. Many coaches and players, past and present, unknowingly joined forces with several sports media members to campaign for the LSU football quarterback. I did not see that coming, nor did I expect social media to flood with posts acknowledging Jayden Daniels as the rightful Heisman Trophy winner.

Burrow's 2019 season with LSU football set a steep standard and expectation. As fans, we expected the Heisman Trophy winner to be one who led his team to a near-perfect regular season and the cusp of a national championship. Many of us doubted Daniels' ability to fulfill such a role. Some fans felt as though LSU's 2023 potential was better with Garrett Nussmeier as the starting quarterback.

In the end, Jayden Daniels proved that one does not need to mirror Joe Burrow to win the Heisman Trophy. Daniels challenged the status quo and blew up the Burrow-like comparisons and expectations by setting his own bar. Moving forward, for better or worse, all LSU football quarterback performances will be measured against Daniels' 2023 season.

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That is until another LSU quarterback comes along and wins the Heisman Trophy his way.