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Penix joins Williams as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner


Six years into his college career, and the odds are finally swinging in the favour of Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Through four weeks, Penix leads all FBS passers in yards (1,636) and touchdowns (16), emerging as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner alongside the reigning winner, USC's Caleb Williams. The Huskies are 4-0 and currently ranked eighth in the AP Poll.

It hasn't always been this easy for Penix. He played in three games as a true freshman at Indiana in 2018, but had that season cut short when he suffered a torn ACL against Penn State in October. He recovered to earn the starting role a year later, but that was halted by a clavicle injury in early November. In 2020, Penix tore his ACL for a second time. The year after that, it was a separated shoulder. He made 17 starts in four years at Indiana, each cut short by a season-ending injury.

Penix transferred to Washington for the 2022 season, reuniting with head coach Kalen DeBoer, who was his offensive coordinator at Indiana two years prior. Penix threw 31 touchdowns and had a school-record 4,641 passing yards, leading the Huskies to an 11-2 record and a win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl. He finished in eighth in Heisman voting, eventually opting to come back for a sixth and final college season.

"Mike understands the accolades will come with our team's success," DeBoer said at Washington's media day in July. "We understand the conference, how strong it is. We know that every single weekend we've got our hands full."

Washington has had just one Pac-12 test thus far – last week's 59-32 win over California, where Penix threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns. But five matchups against conference rivals that are currently ranked await in the final nine games, including a meeting with Williams and USC on Nov. 8.

The game with the Trojans won't just have Heisman implications. Washington is bidding for its second appearance in the FBS playoffs after losing in the Peach Bowl to Alabama in 2016. USC was on track to appear for the first time last year, but a blowout loss to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship wiped out their undefeated season.

Oregon and Utah still loom for Washington prior to the matchup with Williams and USC. But first, a visit to Arizona on Saturday. Penix was at his best in last year against the Wildcats, passing for four touchdowns and a career-high 516 yards.

A repeat of that, and Penix may find some separation from Williams in the Heisman picture.