North Carolina’s Maye surging in Heisman race and QB rankings

Drake Maye is becoming impossible to ignore as a contender for the Heisman Trophy.

North Carolina’s redshirt freshman quarterback has been electric since the season opener and played an irreplaceable role in the Tar Heels’ ACC Coastal championship and steady climb up the College Football Playoff rankings.          

While there were some concerns about how UNC would fare without three-year starter Sam Howell under center, Maye has responded with perhaps the finest season by a passer in school history. 

Beyond the counting totals — he’s tied for first nationally with 34 touchdowns and ranks third with 3,412 passing yards — Maye has been at his best late in games, tossing eight touchdowns without an interception in the fourth quarter to help the Tar Heels win six games decided by a single possession. 

While he’s trailing the three Heisman front-runners, Maye could book a seat as a finalist should he lead UNC past Clemson for the ACC championship. He’s also rising fast on USA TODAY Sports’ list of the top quarterbacks in the country:

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1. Caleb Williams, Southern California (1)

The Trojans struggled out of the gate against Colorado before dropping 24 points in the second quarter and pulling away for a 55-17 win. Williams did toss an interception, just his second in 342 throws, but averaged 10.3 yards per attempt with another three touchdowns against the Buffaloes, giving him 31 on the season.

2. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (2)

Missouri had drawn within a possession of Tennessee at 28-24 in the third quarter when Hooker found Jalin Hyatt for a 68-yard touchdown, opening the floodgates. Beginning with that score, the Volunteers turned a close game into a 66-24 rout and took a big step toward the national semifinals.

3. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (3)

Without the sloppy conditions that plagued Ohio State against Northwestern, Stroud rebounded with a familiar passing line in an easy win against Indiana: 17 completions in 28 attempts, 297 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. He now has four games with five or more scores this season. 

4. Drake Maye, North Carolina (7)

What’s overlooked amid Maye’s gaudy passing totals is his huge impact as a runner. He leads UNC and ranks eighth in the ACC with 584 rushing yards, which includes yardage deducted by the 26 sacks the Tar Heels have allowed on the season. 

5. Bryce Young, Alabama (4)

Young has carried Alabama on his back all season with very little help, as seen most recently in Saturday’s win against Mississippi. The reigning Heisman winner threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in the 30-24 victory, accounting for a huge chunk of the Crimson Tide’s meager offensive output behind yet another disappointing performance from the offensive line. 

6. Max Duggan, TCU (5)

Duggan was held under 200 passing yards for the second game in a row and averaged just 4.3 yards per throw in the win against Texas, but managed once again to make the right throws and the right decisions to keep the Horned Frogs unbeaten. Was this the toughest test of the regular season for TCU? If so, this team will be the most unexpected playoff participant in the format’s history.

7. Michael Penix Jr., Washington (NR)

Penix has bounced on and off this list all season but should be here to stay after outplaying Oregon’s Bo Nix in the Huskies’ huge rivalry upset of the Ducks. He completed 74.3% of his attempts for 408 yards on 11.7 yards per throw as Washington moved to 8-2 and into the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

8. Stetson Bennett, Georgia (8)

Bennett has four interceptions in his past three games, with two against Florida and another pair in Saturday’s blowout win against Mississippi State. He’s still tossed just 12 picks in 616 throws since the start of last season, or an average of one for roughly every 51 attempts. His ability to avoid bad mistakes makes it even harder for overmatched opponents to upset the defending national champions.

9. Bo Nix, Oregon (6)

For Oregon, it’s painful to think about what could’ve been had Nix not suffered an apparent leg injury on the Ducks’ third-to-last offensive possession. He missed the ensuing series, which saw backup Ty Thompson hand the ball off four times before a turnover on downs. While Nix returned to nearly lead Oregon to the game-tying field goal, that failed possession would have looked very different with him under center.

10. Jordan Travis, Florida State (NR)

Travis is the headliner for what is shaping up to be Florida State’s breakthrough season under Mike Norvell. In his past two games, Travis has averaged 10.2 yards per attempt with more touchdowns, six, than incompletions, four. On the year, he is one of seven Power Five quarterbacks with 20 or more touchdowns and fewer than five interceptions, joining Maye, Stroud, Williams, Duggan, Young and UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson.  

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