Growing Heisman buzz doesn't surprise Washington's Kalen DeBoer, and it doesn't impact Michael Penix Jr.
On Saturday night, after polishing off a 39-28 win over then-No. 11 Michigan State, Washington tight end Devin Culp issued a declaration. “Mike Penix Jr. for Heisman,” he wrote on Twitter.
Earlier that evening, Penix shredded Michigan State. He had 397 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Yes, the Spartans’ much-maligned secondary had been taken to task many a time in the year prior and this was the first real test of whether that unit had many any improvement or not. And, yes, the Spartans failed that test in a major way. But the performance shouldn’t all be chalked up to poor secondary play. Penix has done this to everyone.
He leads all Power Five quarterbacks with 11 completions of throws at least 20 yards downfield. Some of those balls have been lasers, many of them NFL-caliber deliveries. He leads all Power Five quarterbacks with 1,079 passing yards in three games. He’s one off the FBS lead for passing touchdowns with 10. He is the Pac-12’s leader in yards per pass (10.2) and second only to Caleb Williams in QBR. By EPA, he’s the fifth most valuable quarterback in college football.
So, yes, start the Heisman buzz.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said Monday. “He was in it before, a couple years ago at this time in the season. You’ve got to win football games, I think (that) is a huge part of anything when it comes to those types of awards. I think if he just keeps his focus on what it’s been, and that’s winning football games, he’s naturally going to be a big part of us winning. So, if we just focus on winning football games those individual accolades will come.”
Penix just keeps making highlight-reel throws. The UW offense is explosive, the kind that captures attention. If Washington keeps winning, Penix will force his way into the conversation because, if he stays healthy, you’ll keep seeing his throws on SportsCenter.
Take Saturday night. He hits a back-shoulder to tailback Wayne Taulapapa for a touchdown.
“That was a great ball, but just look at the placement,” said offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb.
RIGHT ON THE MONEY 💸 🎯 pic.twitter.com/WQGM48xJWv
— ESPN (@espn) September 18, 2022
Health is the big thing here. If it persists for Penix — and it hasn’t always throughout his career — the highlights will keep coming in. He’s been that good to start the season.
The Athletic conducted its first weekly Heisman Straw Poll this week. Unsurprisingly, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud was the top vote-getter. Caleb Williams and Stetson Bennett were there at No. 2 and No. 3. Williams has had the narrative push since committing to transfer to USC. Bennett, if Georgia keeps obliterating teams, should be in the conversation. Alabama’s Bryce Young was fourth. The reigning winner, he’ll ultimately have a say in how this gets decided if Bama and the Bulldogs meet again for another SEC title.
And then, at No. 5, was Penix. No one outside of the fiercest UW fans in Seattle would have taken that list seriously if it had been presented in July.
Now? Different story.
As of publication, Penix has the seventh-best odds to claim the trophy at FanDuel.
But the UW quarterback is taking the head-down approach.
“I’m not going to lie, I don’t pay attention to that too much,” he said this week, per RealDawg.com. “I don’t focus on outside noise. I just try to come in and make sure I give the team the best effort I have every day. People will say a lot. It’s only going on Week 4 right now. I need to make sure I’m staying focused on the right things, which is winning football games for this team.”
Keep doing so and UW might have to plan a trip to the opposite coast in December.