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Why — and why not— Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers could win the 2023 Heisman Trophy

The second-year starter has all the talent necessary to bring college football’s most prestigious award, but accomplishing a feat that even Vince Young could not won’t be easy.

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Texas at Washington Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

With the opening game of the 2023 season only days away, the transition from preseason expectations to gridiron reality looms large for a Texas Longhorns team that returns starters in key positions, added multiple transfers, and has another year in head coach Steve Sarkisian system. With all that, preseason expectations around the Forty Acres and nationally have surged.

No one understands battling expectations — perhaps controls the fate of the Longhorns — more than sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers. Coming out of high school at Southlake Carroll, Ewers was ranked as the No. 1 recruit nationally. Fast forward two years and Ewers will be heading into his second season at the helm of the Texas offense with pressure to perform and a spot on a hefty list of preseason watch lists. After a season in which Ewers completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 2,177 yards to go with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, Ewers is on the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, among others.

Ewers also currently has the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy according to multiple betting sites. With reigning winner Caleb Williams returning to USC this year and other quarterbacks like Drake Maye and Jordan Travis also poised for big years, can Ewers win the Heisman?

Why Ewers can win the Heisman

Thanks to an abundance of skilled teammates, a productive offseason, and the media allure leading the charge for a resurgent Texas program — the pieces are positioned for Quinn Ewers to make a formidable case for the prestigious accolade.

Deeper wide receiver corps

One of the most compelling factors bolstering the Heisman candidacy of Ewers is the star-studded receiving corps that Texas boasts this season. Leading the charge of this dangerous and versatile position group are homegrown Longhorns Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington. Worthy comes in with his own host of preseason award watch lists and possesses the speed and playmaking ability to elevate Ewers to Heisman hopeful. Meanwhile, Whittington provides Ewers the third-down reliability and steadiness out of the slot necessary for any quarterback to thrive.

Transfers Isaiah Neyor and AD Mitchell are also expected to slide smoothly into the offense and provide additional challenges for even the most advanced secondary. Beyond these four receivers, the Longhorns can expect some production from a host of young receivers eager to prove themselves and find time on the field including Casey Cain, Johntay Cook, Ryan Niblett, and DeAndre Moore Jr.

A wide receiver corp boasting enhanced depth and a greater array of vertical threats promises significant growth for Ewers and the passing game. The depth and versatility of this group will also allow players to settle into their preferred positions, a crucial factor considering last year’s challenges forced Whittington out of his optimal slot role. In the grand scheme of Texas’ revitalized offensive attack, the dynamic playmakers at the wide receiver positions are primed to aid Ewers such that Heisman-worthy accolades are well within the picture.

Offseason improvements

Beyond the new and returning talent around him, Ewers’ Heisman campaign is strengthened by the initial indications that this past off-season included abundant growth in two key areas: conditioning and attention to detail. These two areas will allow Ewers to deliver the ball on time and make decisions in a way that eluded him at times last year

By giving up Chik-Fil-A and other fast food and focusing on higher doses of protein, more vegetables, and less carbs, Ewers dropped from 218 pounds in the Alamo Bowl to under 200 pounds in preseason camp.

“Since we’ve had him this is the best shape we’ve seen him in, and so the suddenness in the pocket, like I said the ability to make throws off platform on the move was there, but I think he was quicker mentally today, too, I would argue probably the quickest I’ve seen him mentally. The decision-making was very clean for him,” Sarkisian said earlier this month.

Beyond the physical improvements, Ewers will have another offseason in this system beneath his belt. A greater understanding of his reads, improved trust in the scheme and more confident decision-making will provide Ewers with the mental tools necessary to win the Heisman.

Newsworthiness of Texas and the quarterback position

While the Heisman Trophy is intended to award the nation’s top player regardless of fame, Ewers possesses two characteristics that have the potential to elevate him into the ballots of voters.

First, Ewers will be leading a Longhorn team that could produce enough wins for serious consideration in national awards — Texas is favored to win the conference and picked by some college football pundits to make an appearance in the College Football Playoff as the team competes in the national spotlight provided by its final season in the Big 12.

Second, the Heisman trophy is biased towards quarterbacks. Since 2000 the award has been given to 18 quarterbacks, including a signal caller in six of the last seven years. For better or worse, being a quarterback is synonymous with the trophy for many voters.

Why Ewers won’t win the Heisman

While Ewers’ candidacy for the Heisman Trophy shines bright, some aspects could present challenges to his path of becoming the third Longhorn to hoist the trophy. Ewers’ ability to connect on the deep ball, the return of Caleb Williams and the recent history of Longhorn football’s disappointing preseason expectations are serious obstacles that he must overcome.

Inconsistent deep ball

Last year, Ewers and Worthy appeared to be on different pages with the deep ball. The problems that Ewers had to connect with Worthy and other receivers while attacking vertically were clear to casual watchers and Longhorn faithful alike. At the end of last season, Ewers’ ability to consistently provide accurate throws to receivers running patterns of 20-plus yards, remained unproven.

Unfortunately, this issue remains unsolved. Ewers’ was never able to quiet the critics of his deep ball and heads into the season with many questions surrounding his ability to place deep throws into tight windows. If Ewers cannot deliver the deep ball consistently to produce big numbers and attention-grabbing highlights, his Heisman campaign will not materialize.

Caleb Williams

Throughout history, only one player has ever won the Heisman more than once: Ohio State running back Archie Griffin. Last year’s winner, Caleb Williams, will be looking to become the second and undoubtedly possesses the talent and exposure to do it. Williams is already off to a strong start — in the season opener against San Jose State he completed 72.0 percent of his passes and threw four touchdowns. Regardless of the season Ewers has, Williams has the potential to perform at a level that warrants another Heisman. So, not only will Ewers need to prove he’s the best player, he’ll have to prove that he is better than last season’s winner.

Team success plays a role in the Heisman

Lastly, Texas as a program comes in with sky-high expectations and a history of underperforming. If the season doesn’t go as people expect, Ewers will likely be unable to garner the national attention necessary to win the award. Historically, national attention and awards tend to gravitate towards players on teams that have significant implications. Therefore, regardless of whether Ewers performs at the highest level, his Heisman hopes rest on his ability to elevate his team’s performance and solidify the return of Texas to the nation’s football elite.

Securing the Heisman trophy stands as a truly rare feat. During this season, Ewers will look to surpass Longhorn legends such as Vince Young and Colt McCoy to become the first Longhorn quarterback to hoist the award. While the necessary elements could align, multiple formidable roadblocks stand in the way. And, irrespective of whether Ewers ends the season in New York, the Texas quarterback and the rest of the Longhorns will be focused on finishing their last season in the Big 12 on a positive note.

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