Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita tops On3 analyst's Big 12 Heisman Trophy contenders

Fifita is listed in a group alongside Colorado two-way stud Travis Hunter and Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II.
Arizona v USC
Arizona v USC / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages

I've said before that Noah Fifita is a Heisman Trophy candidate, and it appears that the rest of the country is finally starting to catch on. On3's Jesse Simonton released his latest group of Heisman contenders, where he goes conference-by-conference and ranks the top five most likely players to win the award.

For the Big 12, Arizona's second-year starting signal caller leads the list despite being grouped with some of the biggest names in college football.

What does Simonton say about Fifita?

Simonton calls Fifita's 2023 season the best of any freshman — true or redshirt — and cites his ridiculous efficiency for it: 25 touchdown passes in just nine games and completing a mind-boggling 73% of his passes.

Fifita's efforts last year didn't come in a vacuum, though, and Simonton addresses the other key piece of this equation: Tetairoa McMillan. The future first-round NFL draft pick has caught passes from Fifita over the last six seasons and is a true alpha do-it-all wideout. Pair that connection with Fifita rarely putting the ball in harm's way, and you get the recipe for an explosive passing offense.

Simonton does seem to show some hesitations when it comes to Arizona's Big 12 title hopes. Though not listed on the regular season schedule, Kansas and Oklahoma State are in good position to contend for the conference, and he also names Utah as a team the Wildcats will need to beat. However, if Arizona and new head coach Brent Brennan can weather the storm, Simonton sees a New York trip in the cards:

"Fifita could become the first Arizona player to ever be invited to NYC for the Heisman Trophy ceremony."

Jesse Simonton, On3

Who is Fifita beating out?

This begs the question: if Fifita is No. 1, who's holding down spots 2-5? It's quite the intriguing crop of players: Colorado DB/WR Travis Hunter, Kansas QB Jalon Daniels, K-State QB Avery Johnson, and Oklahoma State RB Ollie Gordon II.

Some of them (Hunter and Gordon) are proven commodities at skill positions, while the rest (Daniels, Johnson, and yes, even Fifita) are projections for high-ceiling quarterbacks based on past seasons' performances.

Fifita already has a leg up on Hunter and Gordon in that it's a rarity for skill-position players to win the award. In the 34 years since 1990, only three non-quarterbacks have won the award: wide receivers Desmond Howard (1991) and DeVonta Smith (2020) and defensive back Charles Woodson (1997). However, Gordon was among last season's finalists for the award, so it's not out of the question.

Things get even more interesting when comparing Fifita to the dual-threat quarterbacks from rival Kansas schools. Daniels is entering his fifth year and was on track for a great 2023 season before going down with an injury just three games in. Meanwhile, Johnson is entering just his second season after not starting until K-State's Pop Tarts Bowl win over NC State.

Of these three quarterbacks, Fifita has the best WR1 to connect with and the best processor. Though he isn't the dual-threat or freak athlete the rest of the players on the list are, he is one thing: smart. And he could parlay this smart, semi-conservative play style into the most coveted non-professional football award in the nation.

ICYMI. B12 predix. 247Sports writer lists Arizona Football at No. 7 in latest Big 12 season forecast. dark

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