Photo courtesy of Arizona State athletics

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious award in college football. For the Pac-12, the trophy has only traveled to a program on 11 occasions, with the vast majority of them with USC. Still, the offseason is the time to dream.

In this edition of the FQ Pac-12 Panel, take a look at one candidate to win the Heisman from each program:

Colorado: Alex Fontenot, RB

The only Heisman winner in Colorado history was Rashaan Salaam.

In 1994, the running back totaled over 2,300 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns on 7.3 yards per touch. Now while these numbers would be heavy expectations for the second-year starter in Fontenot, he should be garnering the lion’s share of carries this season. With a question mark under center heading into the season, Buffaloes’ head coach Karl Dorrell should be funneling his offense through the ground game. Fontenot did a lot with his carries last season, gaining almost 900 yards and five touchdowns behind a 4.7 average.

The problem facing Fontenot this season is not an ability, but the depth chart. Colorado has a young tailback in Jaren Mangham who already took away some carries last season. Colorado also has heavily-recruited Ashaad Clayton entering the room. While Mangham and Clayton bring more talent to the room, the starting job still is in Fontenot’s grasp. It is now up to him to run with it.

USC: Kedon Slovis, QB

It’s been six years since a player from the Pac-12 has won the Heisman Trophy, and according to The Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas, USC quarterback Kedon Slovis has the best chance in the conference to break the drought.

Listed at 25-to-1, Slovis has the eighth-best odds in the country. The reason is due to the recent memory of his true freshman campaign of 2019 and the skill players he has returning in the fall. After JT Daniels suffered an injury last season, Slovis took over under center. He never looked back, completing 72 percent of his passes for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Two of his most reliable targets are back in Amon-Ra St. Brown (1,042 yards in 2019) and Tyler Vaughns (912). He has good timing, anticipation, and throws well on the run. This leads to highlight plays for the non-West Coast voters to see.

If Slovis can improve on a solid first year with the help of offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, Slovis will not just lead the conference in stats. He could realistically become a finalist for the Heisman come December. Opening up against Alabama will get plenty of eyes on him. If Slovis shows up, he will get himself in the conversation. Ending the regular season against Notre Dame bookends the season with marquee matchups that will have the entire nation watching.

Oregon: Tyler Shough, QB

The Heisman Trophy is no longer for the best player in college football. While Penei Sewell could be in the conversation, it is a quarterback, and sometimes, a running back award.

With that being said, why not C.J. Verdell? Simply put: he will have to share too many carries, which leaves Tyler Shough. Shough is Justin Herbert’s heir and now has the keys to the offense. Herbert and Shough do have a lot in common. In fact, a lot of their Ducks teammates said they were the same, except for one thing: Shough has swagger. This may lead to Shough having the ‘it factor’ that Herbert lacked during his time in Eugene. Shough will be the next great Oregon signal-caller and could bring a second Heisman to Eugene in seven years.

Oregon State: Hamilcar Rashed Jr., OLB

Hamilcar Rashed Jr. absolutely burst onto the national scene last season. At season’s end, he was third in the nation in sacks with 14. He led the nation in tackles for loss with 22.5.

Rashed played the final three games with a cast on his hand caused by a major thumb injury and could have led the nation in sacks as well without this unfortunate injury. He statistically rivaled Chase Young, who was regarded as the best defensive player in the nation last year. With all that being said, expectations are sky-high for the 2020 season. Rashed is going to consistently cause headaches for opposing offensive coordinators who scheme against him.

He needs to somehow build upon his 2019 season and avoid any serious injury. If he does so, Rashed is primed to be in the conversation for a top defensive player in the nation and Heisman Trophy contention. 

Arizona State: Jayden Daniels, QB

This is probably not too shocking of a selection here.

Jayden Daniels was a top freshman quarterback last year while he led Arizona State to an 8-5 record and a Sun Bowl win over Florida State. The Sun Devils are a deep and talented team, which could help Daniels overcome this long shot. As a dual-threat quarterback, he improves his chances of having Heisman potential with gaudy-like numbers. He ran for 319 yards and added three touchdowns with his legs. While a long shot, if Daniels can lead his Sun Devils to a 10-plus win season, he could be in the conversation.

The ‘FQ Pac-12 Panel’ is a roundtable discussion of the Fifth Quarter writers covering Pac-12 teams to discuss a variety of topics. These writers can be found on social media for their corresponding teams: Colorado – @FQBuffaloesUSC – @FQTrojans, Oregon @FQDucks, Oregon State – @FQOregonStArizona State – @FQArizonaState