Oregon quarterback Bo Nix overcomes adversity at Auburn to become Heisman finalist

NEW YORK – Bo Nix stood confidently amongst the three other Heisman finalists, smiling and politely taking questions, but not forgetting the adversity he has gone through along the journey and now being in the spotlight as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.

As his whirlwind career winds down, Nix will try to become Oregon's second Heisman Trophy winner on Saturday night. Washington quarterback Michael Penix, Jr., LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison are the other finalists for the award.

But all that smiling was a far cry from the mood three years ago when he was essentially run out of Auburn, falling out of favor amongst a rabid fan base that expects to compete and win championships.  Turmoil amongst the administration and coaching staff did Nix no favors, seeing the firing of Gus Malzahn, who was replaced by Bryan Harsin, and Nix having three different offensive coordinators in three years.

In his 34 games as a starter with the Tigers and 26 more with Oregon, every snap was judged on whether he produced the desired results on the field. It was either “Good Bo” or “Bad Bo” and his career has gone along those lines.

Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is one of the Heisman Trophy finalists.
Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is one of the Heisman Trophy finalists.

He has thrown 91 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 167.1 rating in his team's wins. In his career losses, Nix has 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and a rating of 50 points fewer.

Following father's footsteps

Bo Nix grew up in essential football royalty in Alabama, as his father Patrick starred for Auburn in the mid-90s.  The younger Nix’s prep career was as good as advertised.

He played varsity as an eighth-grader, and when he attended Pinson Valley (Alabama) High School, he torched the competition, winning back-to-back Class 6A state championships.  He was named Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in 2018 after racking up 12,505 yards in total offense and accounting for 161 touchdowns.

He chose Auburn over offers from Florida, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Ohio State as a five-star recruit and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. He signed that December and enrolled in classes in January, winning the starting quarterback job out of fall practice.

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His first start came against Oregon and capped off a stellar game by throwing a 26-yard touchdown pass with 9 seconds remaining to complete the 27-21 win. His freshman campaign also included a victory over rival Alabama.

The Tigers went 6-5 during the 2020 COVID season after being ranked in the top 10 in preseason polls, which led to the firing of Malzahn. His final season ended when he broke his ankle in a November 2021 game against Mississippi State.

After entering the transfer portal as a graduate transfer, Nix quickly set his sights on a university that is roughly a seven-hour flight from Auburn, Alabama.

His first game with the Ducks in 2022 turned into a referendum on what their opponent, Georgia, turned out to be, instead of Nix’s ability moving forward. Georgia moved up and down the field at will, scoring touchdowns on each of its first seven possessions, amidst a 49-3 rout. Nix threw for just 173 yards and was picked off twice, leading many to bring up memories of “Bad Bo.”

Nix says he didn't care about the talk surrounding his play and tried to focus on the job at hand.

"It's whatever. If they are talking about you, that's a good thing," Nix told USA TODAY Sports. "All that's just a narrative and a made-up story anyway. I think that's what makes sports great, the good or bad narratives. We make college football bigger than life sometimes. I don't necessarily take it into each week, I just know what I am capable of doing."

The confidence in his head coach Dan Lanning never wavered and the Ducks won 10 games, ending with a bowl victory over North Carolina.

"I have always been confident and I have always believed in myself," Nix said. "It was just another game. I have been there before and lost before. I just had to bounce back and not let it define your season and not let it ultimately dictate how you measure yourself. You just have to continue to move forward and get better."

This season, Nix completed a nation-leading 77.2 percent of his passes for, 4,145 yards with 40 touchdowns and three interceptions, while also topping the FBS in completions and tied for the lead in touchdown passes. He didn't peg his chances at winning the Heisman when asked.

"I think that award goes beyond numbers," Nix said. "What you do on the field and with your team. Just to be a finalist is a tremendous accolade. With it being a team game, it's just all about winning football games. But it is fun to have success for your teammates and put them in a good position. Fortunately, for me, I was around a really good team."

Why Bo Nix decided to return to the Ducks in 2023

He says his decision to return to Oregon for the 2023 season was not taken lightly. With name, image, and likeness dominating the sport, Nix says the opportunities to stay in Eugene far exceeded any monetary value that he could have received.

"Mine (decision) was completely based on wanting to come back and maximize my time in college and have a chance to go for a championship, which is an opportunity we had this year. At the same time, I just didn't want to just chase the league and go just to be drafted. I thought there was still some potential left in college and I think I set myself up for a good situation moving forward."

Nix's college career is not finished. He will play in the Fiesta Bowl against Liberty and then decide his future from there.

"I wanted another opportunity to play with my teammates and for Oregon," Nix said. "After Friday (the 34-31 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship), I don't want to end the season like that."

"I can't believe I have been able to represent Oregon the way that I have. It is truly an honor to me. I know a lot of guys wish to be here so I don't take that lightly. "

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oregon QB Bo Nix overcomes adversity to become Heisman finalist