By R.L. Bynum
It’s been 73 seasons since a Carolina player had a solid chance of winning the Heisman Trophy, but week by week, Drake Maye is throwing history for a loop.
Not since legendary running back Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice finished second in the Heisman voting in 1948 and 1949 (and probably should have won it) has a Tar Heel earned his way into the Heisman Trophy discussion this far into the season. To do it and show such leadership as a redshirt freshman is even more remarkable.
He has UNC ranked No. 17 in the AP poll with four consecutive victories, a 7–1 record and well on its way to winning the final ACC Coastal Division title with a 4–0 league record. Even bigger, he’s proved to have generational talent.
After only eight games, he’s also in the discussion to potentially join Lawrence Taylor as one of the greatest players in program history. It’s lucky for Tar Heels fans that NFL rules aren’t like the NBA and Maye can’t turn pro after this season.
But with talk of Maye being the possible top pick in the 2024 NFL draft, his Carolina career as starter will undoubtedly last only two seasons.
Maye, who is the ACC quarterback of the week for a fourth time, has the football IQ to go with his ability to get the ball away quickly to avoid sacks and the elusiveness that has him leading the team in rushing. He may not yet have the ability to connect on deep passes that Washington rookie Sam Howell possessed, but, at 6–4½, he sees the whole field better and distributes passes to more receivers.
Anybody who has watched Maye play this season knows he has all the makings of an NFL star and the numbers confirm that.
He’s averaging 333.9 passing yards per game and leads the team with 439 rushing yards. The last two quarterbacks to pass for at least 300 yards per game and lead their teams in rushing in a season were Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes in 2016 and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in 2013, a year after he won the Heisman Trophy.
Winning the Heisman isn’t always an indicator of NFL success, considering how Manziel’s career played out and how Mahomes has performed for Kansas City Chiefs after he never finished in the top 10 in the Heisman voting.
Pro Football Focus has Maye as the highest-graded Power Five quarterback at 92.1, ahead of Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker (91.5) and Alabama’s Bryce Young (91.2), the 2021 Heisman winner.
Maye has the sixth-best Heisman Trophy odds at +3,300 (behind Hooker at -150, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud at +180, USC’s Caleb Williams at +1,200, Michigan’s Blake Corum at +1,600 and Young at +3,000).
With Hooker as the Heisman favorite, it’s fitting to look at how they performed against the only common opponent in Pittsburgh. They both won and threw no interceptions.
In the No. 2 Volunteers’ 34–27 win at Pittsburgh on Sept. 10, Hooker was 27 of 42 for 325 yards and two touchdowns, was sacked three times and ran 15 times for 47 yards. He converted one of two fourth-down tries.
In the Tar Heels’ 42–24 win Saturday against the Panthers, Maye was 34 of 44 for 388 yards and five touchdowns, was sacked twice and ran 14 times for 72 yards. He converted two of three fourth-down tries.
If Maye doesn’t win the Heisman this season, he should at least be invited to New York for the ceremony. Next season, even likely without his best receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green, he should be one of the favorites.
How good has Maye been? Let’s look at the numbers.
Maye leads the country in:
— Touchdown passes: 29 (tied with Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud; Sam Hartman second in the ACC with 22)
— Touchdowns responsible for: 32 (three ahead Stroud)
— Points responsible for: 194 (six ahead of Oregon’s Bo Nix)
— Points responsible for per game: 24.2 (Nix has 23.5)
— Total yards: 3,110, 388.8 per game (Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. is second at 2,952 and 369.0; Florida State’s Jordan Travis is second in the ACC at 2,272 and 284.0)
In national statistics, Maye is:
— No. 2 in Pro Football Focus Week 9 QB grade: 91.6 (behind 92.5 for Williams)
— No. 3 in passing efficiency: 185.48 (behind Stroud at 200.17 and Hooker at 191.64; leads the ACC, ahead of Hartman at 164.4)
— No. 3 in passing yards per game: 333.88 (Behind Penix Jr. at 366.75 and Georgia Southern’s Kyle Vantrese at 338.0); he leads the ACC (Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman is second at 289.4)
— No. 4 in season total quarterback rating: 90.2
— No. 4 in passing yards: 2,671 (behind Penix at 2,934, Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed at 2,764 and Vantrese at 2,704); he leads the ACC (Travis is second with 2,057)
— No. 5 in yards per pass attempt: 9.71
— No. 6 in total quarterback rating for Week 9: 93.4
— No. 9 in completion percentage: 71.3% (leads the ACC, ahead of Syracuse’s Garrett Shrader at 67.2%)
Maye is on pace to pass his dad’s career total of 3,459 passing yards this weekend at Virginia in only nine games. His dad played in 33 games over three seasons from 1984 to 1987, starting his last two seasons. Drake passed his dad’s touchdown pass total of 20 with two scoring passes in his sixth game Oct. 8 at Miami.
Even with just two seasons as a Carolina starter, Maye is well on his way to rewriting the Carolina record books that Howell heavily edited.
It’s not often that fans can watch a college player knowing he’ll likely be remembered as one of the all-time greats. Maye’s two seasons as the Tar Heels’ starter should be memorable.
|X-No. 13 North Carolina||6||0||9||1|
|X-No. 9 Clemson||7||0||9||1|
|No. 20 Florida State||5||3||7||3|
X-Clinched division title
North Carolina 36, Wake Forest 34
Duke 24, Virginia Tech 7
Pittsburgh 37, Virginia 7
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 14
Clemson 31, Louisville 16
Boston College 21, N.C. State 20
Florida State 38, Syracuse 3
Louisiana at Florida State, noon, ESPN3
Virginia Tech at Liberty, noon, ESPN+
Duke at Pittsburgh, noon, ACC Network
Boston College at Notre Dame, 2:30, NBC
Miami at Clemson, 3:30, ESPN
N.C. State at Louisville, 3:30, ACC Network
Coastal Carolina at Virginia, 3:30, ESPN3
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 5:30, ESPN2
Syracuse at Wake Forest, 8 p.m., ACC Network
|27||Saturday||W, 56–24||Home||Florida A&M||1–0|
|3||Saturday||W, 63–61||Boone||Appalachian State||2–0|
|10||Saturday||W, 35–28||Atlanta||Georgia State||3–0|
|24||Saturday||L, 45–32||Home||No. 19 |
|1||Saturday||W, 41–10||Home||Virginia Tech||4–1, 1–0 ACC|
|8||Saturday||W, 27–24||Miami |
|Miami||5–1, 2–0 ACC|
|15||Saturday||W, 38–35||Durham||Duke||6–1, 3–0 ACC|
|29||Saturday||W, 42–24||Home||Pittsburgh||7–1, 4–0 ACC|
|5||Saturday||W, 31–28||Charlottesville||Virginia||8–1, 5–0 ACC|
|12||Saturday||W, 36–34||Winston-Salem||Wake Forest||9–1, 6–0 ACC|
|19||Saturday||L, 21–17||Home||Georgia Tech||9–2, 6–1 ACC|
|25||Friday||L, 30–27, |
|Home||N.C. State||9–3, 6–2 ACC|
|3||Saturday||8 p.m.||Charlotte||No. 10 Clemson||ABC|
Photo via @UNCFootball