How past UW Huskies, including Penix, have finished in Heisman race

Dec 8, 2023, 5:12 PM

UW Huskies Michael Penix Jr. Heisman...

UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. reacts after a win over Utah on Nov. 11, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

When Michael Penix Jr. takes the stage on Saturday as one of four finalists for the Heisman Trophy, he will become just the second player in UW Huskies history to do so, and the first since Steve Emtman in 1991.

UW Huskies’ Penix finishes 2nd to LSU’s Daniels for AP player of the year

Emtman finished fourth in the vote that year, best in school history; Penix is guaranteed to finish no worse than fourth, and likely will finish higher. Many expect LSU’s Jayden Daniels to win the award, though Penix is viewed as a strong possibility to finish second, with Oregon quarterback Bo Nix and Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. the other finalists.

Wherever Penix finishes, he will make some manner of UW history: no Huskies quarterback ever has finished higher than sixth in the Heisman voting, and Penix is the first UW player to finish in the Heisman top-10 more than once.

In fact, he is one of eight UW players ever to finish in the top-10 of the voting. Here’s a rundown of previous Huskies who contended for the sport’s most prestigious award.

RB Hugh McElhenny

Year: 1951

Finish: 8th

Winner: RB Dick Kazmaier, Princeton

With star quarterback Don Heinrich sidelined by a shoulder injury, the Huskies finished with a final record of 3-6-1 — but McElhenny was outstanding. He rushed for 936 yards and 5.5 per attempt, caught another 24 passes for 334 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns, including a 100-yard punt return against USC. McElhenny even kicked 23 extra points, and was selected first-team All-America.

QB Don Heinrich

Year: 1952

Finish: 9th

Winner: RB Billy Vessels, Oklahoma

Heinrich returned from injury to lead the nation in passing in 1952 — as he had in 1950 — and earned first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press for the second time. The Huskies went 7-3 and finished in third place in the Pacific Coast Conference, and though Heinrich finished ninth in the Heisman voting, he was the second-highest-finishing quarterback behind Maryland’s Jack Scarbath, who came in second.

RB Greg Lewis

Year: 1990

Finish: 7th

Winner: QB Ty Detmer, BYU

Playing for a team that finished 10-2 and won the Rose Bowl, Lewis set UW’s single-season rushing record with 1,407 yards (though he was credited with 1,297 at the time, as bowl stats didn’t count yet), and still is tied for the school record with 10 100-yard rushing games in one season. Colorado’s Eric Bieniemy, who finished third in the voting, was the only running back to finish ahead of Lewis, who also won that year’s Doak Walker Award.

DL Steve Emtman

Year: 1991

Finish: 4th

Winner: WR Desmond Howard, Michigan

While Emtman finished fourth in the vote, he actually received more first-place votes than anyone but Howard, who ran away with the award. A pair of quarterbacks — Florida State’s Casey Weldon, and BYU’s Detmer — finished second and third, respectively. As perhaps the best player in UW history, Emtman won both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, was a unanimous first-team All-American and became the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. He finished the 1991 season with 19.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks (pre-Rose Bowl), and was the most dominant player on one of college football’s most dominant defenses.

RB Napoleon Kaufman

Year: 1994

Finish: 9th

Winner: RB Rashaan Salaam, Colorado

The school pushed Kaufman for the Heisman by distributing materials to voters ahead of the season, touting Kaufman as “America’s Most Exciting All-Purpose Player.” He faced an uphill climb, though, with UW in its second season of bowl probation, though he did play through injury to finish with a career-best (and school record) 1,390 yards rushing — this third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Kaufman left UW as its all-time leading rusher. His senior season was a good year for running backs, nationally — Salaam won the Heisman, Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter was the runner-up, and Nebraska’s Lawrence Phillips finished one spot ahead of Kaufman.

QB Marques Tuiasosopo

Year: 2000

Finish: 8th

Winner: QB Chris Weinke, Florida State

Tuiasosopo led the Huskies to an 11-1 record, a Rose Bowl victory and a No. 3 final ranking, passing for 2,146 yards and rushing for 394 yards and six touchdowns, often as part of UW’s triple-option rushing attack. He was a major factor in helping the Huskies win seven games by seven or fewer points, including a Week 2 upset of then-No. 4 Miami, a three-point win over an Oregon State team that didn’t lose again, and a last-minute comeback at Stanford.

QB Jake Browning

Year: 2016

Finish: 6th

Winner: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Browning set UW’s single-season record with 43 touchdown passes, and threw for 3,430 yards to win Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. Jackson and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson received the majority of first- and second-place votes, and Browning just missed being invited to the ceremony as one of five finalists that year.

QB Michael Penix Jr.

Year: 2022

Finish: 8th

Winner: QB Caleb Williams, USC

Penix led FBS in passing yards per game in 2022 while leading the Huskies to just their fifth 11-win season ever. His performances in late-season victories at Oregon (408 yards) and Washington State (485 yards) supplied fuel for a late-season campaign, though Williams had emerged as the clear favorite, and the Huskies didn’t spend enough time in the national spotlight for Penix to merit widespread consideration. Still, his strong finish in 2022 — coupled with the team’s 11-2 final record — set Penix up for a run to New York this season as UW is 13-0, ranked No. 2 and preparing for a College Football Playoff semifinal game against Texas.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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