Can LSU’s Jayden Daniels replicate Joe Burrow’s shocking Heisman run?

On the surface, LSU starting quarterback Jayden Daniels has little in common with 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.

Daniels’ preseason Heisman odds this season do, however, resemble Burrow’s in 2019. Daniels is currently 80-to-1 while Burrow, who won the trophy by a landslide in 2019, entered that season with Heisman odds of 65-to-1.

At the risk of making the same mistake so many pundits made when they overlooked Burrow in 2019, Daniels does not appear poised for anything like the sensational season that made Burrow a star.

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Obstacles Abound for Daniels

The challenges for Daniels start with this being his first year at LSU after three seasons at Arizona State. He also faces several other obstacles making a Heisman-worthy season unlikely:

  • He is taking over a team that finished 6-6 in 2021 and brought in a new coaching staff in the offseason
  • LSU has a difficult schedule – the SEC West is once again as tough as any division in the country
  • His supporting cast pales in comparison, to say the least, to Burrow’s
  • Coach Brian Kelly’s offensive players at Notre Dame rarely got serious Heisman consideration, even when the team contended for the College Football Playoff

Before considering factors like the differences between LSU football in August 2019 and its current state, a quick look at Jayden Daniels’s numbers at Arizona State from 2019-21 and Burrow’s in 2018 shows why Daniels’ Heisman odds are less than tempting.

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Who is Jayden Daniels?

In three seasons with the Sun Devils, in a passer-friendly league – especially compared to the SEC – Daniels’ overall numbers were solid. With a completion percentage of 62.4% on 723 attempts for 6,024 yards, 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in three seasons, Daniels showed solid judgment and accuracy.

The red flags came during the 2021 season, with 10 touchdowns and 10 picks. It does not bode well for Daniels that during his first year at ASU, he posted an impressive 8.7 yards per attempt on 338 pass attempts, but that figure dropped to 8.3 on 84 attempts in 2020 and tumbled to 7.9 on 301 attempts in 2021. 

As a team, the Sun Devils posted 8-5 records in both ’19 and ’21 and went 2-2 during the Pac-12’s COVID-shortened ’20 season.

Daniels and Down in 2021

Statistically, and given the opponent, Daniels arguably delivered his most impressive performance of 2021 on the road against Pac-12 champ Utah. Against the Utes, he threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns in a game his team led 21-7. But in the second half, Arizona State gave up 28 unanswered and lost, 35-21.

Daniels faced one other opponent that finished last year in the Top 25, BYU. The Cougars beat the Sun Devils, 27-17, in Provo, Utah, in September, as Daniels threw for 265 yards, but was intercepted twice and did not throw a touchdown.

Going into 2019, Burrow had not been dominant in 2018. But with 16 touchdowns, five interceptions and an average of 7.6 passing yards per attempt while completing 57.8% of his passes (219-of-379) in 2018, he was at least a proven commodity with experience in the offense.

LSU is in a different place

In 2018, LSU went 10-3 and knocked off then-highly-ranked opponents Miami, Auburn and Georgia to finish No. 6 in the AP poll. The Tigers entered the following season, Burrow’s second leading their offense, ranked No. 6. 

In 2022, first-year head coach Brian Kelly’s team is unranked after a 6-6 finish in 2021 that brought about the firing of Ed Orgeron and his staff following last year’s regular season finale. While Kelly will provide a boost, and the roster remains well-stocked with elite recruits, Burrow was starting from a vastly different place than Daniels.

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Daniels faces a daunting schedule

Playing in the SEC West always makes for a challenging schedule, but this year, LSU has a particularly difficult slate.

Before entering the SEC West gauntlet – which includes preseason AP No. 1 Alabama, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 19 Arkansas and No. 21 Ole Miss – the Tigers take on Florida State in New Orleans in the season opener on Sept. 4 as just a 3-point favorite.

LSU’s SEC East opponents include Florida and Tennessee. While the Vols enter the season unranked, they’re right on the cusp of the Top 25 and boast a promising offense led by QB Hendon Hooker.

If the AP rankings don’t make the depth of the SEC West clear enough, consider ESPN’s Bill Connelly’s SP+ preseason projections for 2022. SP+ ranks every SEC West team besides LSU – which is ranked No. 36 – in the top 30.

LSU’s supporting cast doesn’t quite stack up to 2019

It feels safe to say Daniels won’t have as many highly-drafted offensive teammates as Burrow. The 2019 Heisman winner was joined as a first round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft by wide receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

A year later, Ja’Marr Chase and Burrow, who hooked up for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019, were reunited in Cincinnati after the Bengals selected Chase No. 5 in the 2021 draft. Another target of Burrow’s in 2019, Terrace Marshall Jr., was a second-round NFL Draft pick by the Panthers in 2021.

Daniels’ best target this season is expected to be wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, a preseason All-SEC selection.

Kelly did not produce a lot of Heisman contenders at Notre Dame

While Brian Kelly left Notre Dame as the winningest coach in program history with a record of 153-113, his defensive players and linemen brought home more accolades than his quarterbacks. 

In 12 years with the Fighting Irish, Kelly only had one player travel to New York as a Heisman finalist. Linebacker Manti Te’o finished second in the Heisman voting in 2012, but Heisman love otherwise eluded Kelly’s players, even as the Irish finished No. 12 or better in the AP poll from 2017-22.

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

About the Author

Tyler Everett

Tyler Everett has been a sportswriter since joining the student newspaper at his alma mater, NC State, back in 2008. He's covered sports and sports business for a number of newspapers and websites, including the Denver Broncos, Charlotte Observer, High Press Soccer and Sports Business Journal, where he currently works full-time.