Saturday was a wild day in the world of college football that saw big shake-ups to the playoff picture as well as the Heisman Trophy race. Frontrunner Hendon Hooker had his worst game of the season against Georgia, while C.J. Stroud had a tough day versus Northwestern and extremely windy conditions. Last year’s winner, Bryce Young, had one of the worst games of his career in the loss to LSU that seemingly eliminated Alabama from playoff contention. That opened the door for the outsiders to make a push and one of the guys that may have benefited the most was Drake Maye.
While Maye didn’t have his most impressive performance of the season on Saturday against Virginia, he still finished with 367 yards of total offense and three touchdowns and had another amazing highlight on his touchdown run. More importantly, for the third consecutive game, he played his best football in the second half, helping lead the Tar Heels to their fifth road win of the season and putting them just a win away from the ACC Coastal. With what Maye has done over the past three weeks, there is no denying that Maye is squarely in the conversation. The question, though, is how serious of a contender actually is he right now?
Statistically, he may have the best case of anyone in the country with what he has done to this point in the season. He currently leads the country in passing touchdowns (31), total touchdowns (35), total yards (3,477) and total yards per game (386.3) and is top five in points responsible per game (23.6), passing efficiency (181.8), QBR (89.6) and completion percentage (71.2%). He is the only quarterback at the FBS level with five games of five total touchdowns this season and is the only player in the FBS this season to have four games with more than 400 yards of total offense. Throwing in his clutch numbers in the second half when tied or trailing and it’s hard to find a better statisical résumé.
The strength of schedule is the one thing that those making the argument against him are focusing on. It’s true: Maye’s best win so far to this point in the season is probably the road win over Duke, which doesn’t quite compare to that of Hendon Hooker’s Alabama win or C.J. Stroud’s Penn State win. However, when you compare Maye’s performance against similar opponents to those two, who are still seen as the Heisman front runners, you’ll see why the schedule he has played shouldn’t be the end all be all. He put up better numbers against Notre Dame than Stroud did in the season opener and his performance against Pittsburgh topped what Hooker did against them earlier in the season in a more comfort win.
So, do I think that Maye should be the favorite at this time? No. Despite how dominant he has been to this point in the season, the lack of a signature win is just too tough to ignore. However, while he might not be the leader in the race right now, he certainly has done enough to keep himself firmly in the hunt and if the season ended today, he would most likely be in New York. That alone would be huge for this program, but with nationally televised games in each of the last three weeks of the regular season and a primetime spot in the ACC Championship Game if they can get there, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could still become the Tar Heels first Heisman Trophy winner.