Hayes: Why Jayden Daniels should become the first Heisman winner to opt out of a bowl game
Don’t do it, don’t let emotional heartstrings get in the way of pragmatic reality.
Take that Heisman Trophy and thank everyone involved at LSU, and leave with a grateful and full heart.
And opt out of LSU’s bowl game, Jayden Daniels.
Tell the Heisman Trust you’re humbled to win the award (because he most certainly is winning), and moving forward, will be a respectful ambassador of the greatest individual award in all of sports.
Only not in a bowl game.
Because nothing good can come from Daniels playing a meaningless bowl game for LSU — with so much on the line personally and professionally.
The only thing that matters now: that Daniels become the first Heisman winner to ever opt out of a bowl game.
“Being able to come here last year, and really believe in myself and trust the unknown,” Daniels said after LSU finished its regular season against Texas A&M, “I have not really sat down and embraced what I went through.”
It’s now time to stare into the future, where the NFL waits and the only thing that prevents Daniels from making life-changing money as a 1st-round NFL Draft pick is Daniels himself.
If he opts out of LSU’s ReliaQuest Bowl game against Wisconsin, he can stand on the sideline in purple and gold and support his teammates in the quest for another 10-win season.
He can go through bowl week, and spend time with his teammates and coaches and the LSU administration and family, and it can be a big week with big fun.
Only not on the field. Because the last thing Daniels needs is a strange move here, or an odd hit there — or even worse, a non-contact move — that blows out his knee or, heaven help us, does worse.
College football is so unique, and losing more and more of what separates it from the NFL with each passing season. Bowl games still matter, a indelible fabric of the history and tradition of the game.
You get rings for winning bowl games. You have lifelong memories of playing in and winning bowl games.
Players are treated like kings by the host cities, given swag and meals and amusement park passes and all the niceties they deserve for grinding through a physically-demanding season. Bowl games are rewards for players and coaching staffs, and behind the scenes administration staffers that work tirelessly throughout the year to produce the best product.
It’s all of that, and typically, pretty good games. Sometimes, even rare games.
But it’s not for Daniels. Not this year, not in any possible scenario.
LSU coach Brian Kelly won’t begrudge Daniels opting out. Nor will Daniels’ teammates.
Those who will have a problem with Daniels protecting his most valuable asset (himself) are fans complaining that he should show loyalty to LSU. He showed loyalty when he returned to LSU this season.
He showed it when he played, week after week — through multiple injuries in 2022 and 2023 — and put his body in harm’s way. He showed it when he was limping around the Mercedes-Benz Dome in December of 2022, playing with a high ankle sprain, desperately trying to keep LSU in the game against Georgia before he finally had to leave because he couldn’t stand — much less throw or run.
From Day 1, this was an odd yet eventually wonderful marriage between LSU and Daniels. He was born and raised in California, and was leaving a toxic situation at Arizona State. He sure as hell didn’t know anything about Louisiana.
But Kelly sold him on a dream that he could turn it quickly at suddenly stale LSU, and Daniels could be unique. He flashed at times at Arizona State but could never consistently perform at a high level.
Then Kelly and LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock got to work, molding a system to fit Daniels and slowly pushing him to take more chances, make more tight window throws, trust his eyes — and only then use his feet.
It all started to click in the last month of the 2022 season, when Daniels became the dangerous quarterback Kelly envisioned. Not long after that, Kelly declared this past spring that Daniels could be the best quarterback in college football in the 2023 season.
And then it happened — 3,812 passing yards and 40 TDs, and 1,134 yards rushing and 10 TDs. He averaged — that’s right, averaged — 10.7 yards every time he attempted a pass or ran the ball.
A 1st down every snap.
But for a regression on defense, LSU and Daniels could be preparing for something much bigger than a New Year’s Day bowl game in Tampa. But they’re not — and that’s the key.
That’s why Daniels has to say goodbye.
It’s not easy, and part of him will want to stay and finish what he started with his teammates. That’s just the way these guys are wired.
“I didn’t know what I was going to get myself into here,” Daniels said. “And now I just went through my last game here.”
He meant his last game in Baton Rouge.
Let’s hope it’s his last game at LSU. Not just because it’s a meaningless bowl game.
But because it’s the fiscally smart thing to do.