The Heisman Trophy is one of the most prestigious individual awards in American sports. The Heisman has been handed out every year since 1935 to the most outstanding player in college football. Winning the Heisman hasn’t always led to great success at the professional level, but it’s still the highest individual honor in college sports.
Last year, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield breezed his way to the Heisman before being taken No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Lamar Jackson, who won it 2 years ago at Louisville, was taken in the same draft a few rounds later by the Baltimore Ravens. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have gone on to enjoy so-so pro careers to this point, while the 2012 winner, Johnny Manziel, is currently plying his craft in Canada.
Who are the favorites to lift the trophy heading into the 2018 campaign? Here’s a list of some candidates:
- Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama +650
- Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin +650
- Bryce Love, Stanford +800
- Jake Fromm, Georgia +1200
- Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State +1600
- Khalil Tate, Arizona +1600
- Trace McSorley, Penn State +1600
- Trevor Lawrence, Clemson +1600
- Will Grier, West Virginia +1800
- JK Dobbins, Ohio State +2000
- Kyler Murray, Oklahoma +2000
- Shea Patterson, Michigan +2000
It’s shaping up to be an interesting season in Norman. With Baker Mayfield now in the pros, the Sooners are turning to quite the unproven successor in Kyler Murray. Murray was officially named as the starting quarterback on August 22, so he’ll be lining up with the No. 1s when Oklahoma hits the field for their opener against Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic on September 1.
Murray, a redshirt junior, started his collegiate career at Texas A&M under former head coach Kevin Sumlin. He was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school despite the fact that he’s listed at only 5’11” and 190 pounds. Murray was ranked as the best dual-threat quarterbacking prospect in the 2015 class before signing with the Aggies. In College Station, Murray competed with Kyle Allen, but ultimately lost the starting job as a true freshman. The Aggies still utilized Murray in some running situations before he ultimately won the job after Allen struggled a few weeks into the season. In his first start against South Carolina, Murray joined Cam Newton as the only players in the last 20 years to throw for and run for at least 100 yards while also throwing and rushing for a touchdown.
After the season, Murray announced his plans to transfer to Oklahoma. He played a little as Mayfield’s backup last year, but now it’s his job to lose heading into the season. This will be his one and only shot to win a Heisman. The Oakland Athletics drafted Murray with the No. 8 overall pick in the MLB draft earlier this summer. Rather than passing on the chance to make millions playing baseball, Murray decided to sign with the A’s under the condition that this would be his final season playing football. Considering Murray would have been a long shot to make it as a quarterback in the NFL at his size, the baseball route always made more sense.
The loss of Mayfield will hurt the Sooners in the eyes of some, but Oklahoma will still enter the season as the odds-on favorites to win the Big 12. Texas and TCU look to be the Sooners’ chief contenders. Murray will be afforded the chance to play with most of the same playmakers that helped Mayfield lift the hardware last season, so that’s a nice advantage for him entering the season. Dual-threat quarterbacks have an excellent track record of success at the college level, and Murray’s speed should suit him well against a league not exactly known for its defense.
I love the value on Murray to win the Heisman at +2000. He won’t really be sneaking up on anybody, but the profit potential here is very solid. I think Oklahoma will be very much in the midst of the national championship picture once again, and Murray will make a strong case to be named as college football’s best player.
Tate in the Desert
We associate the Arizona Wildcats more with basketball than we do with football, but the Arizona football program looks like it’s on the right track. There are legitimate expectations in Tucson this season, thanks in large part to the increased expectations for quarterback Khalil Tate.
Tate put himself on the national radar last October when he enjoyed one of the best individual statistical months we’ve seen in quite some time. Tate is a capable passer, but he’s able to inflict far more damage with his legs. In those 4 October games, Tate carried the ball 59 times for 840 yards and 8 touchdowns. He rushed for an FBS record 327 yards in one of those games. That’s only 14.2 yards per carry. Big deal.
On the season, Tate completed 62 percent of his throws for 1,591 yards with 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. On the ground, he toted the ball 153 times for 1,411 yards with another 12 scores. His overall impact on the Arizona offense is staggering. Tate is the Arizona offense.
Tate’s Heisman odds took a leap after Kevin Sumlin was named as the team’s head coach in lieu of Rich Rodriguez. Before Sumlin came aboard, Tate was listed at +2000. Now, he’s at +1600. The reasoning here is obvious. Sumlin presided over the incredible college career of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, and Tate brings quite a similar skill set to the field. Sumlin is a more creative offensive coach than Rodriguez, which should help Tate flourish.
Get used to the Tate-Manziel comparisons, because they aren’t going anywhere. The Wildcats may not have national title hopes, especially with a brand new coaching staff coming in, but Tate is going to make plenty of noise. You can do far worse than taking a punt on him here at +1600.
Show Me Some Love, Bryce
Bryce Love wound up finishing second in the Heisman voting behind Mayfield last season after enjoying a stellar campaign at Stanford. The running back rushed for 2,118 yards with 19 touchdowns, which isn’t too shabby. Love averaged 8 yards per carry, which was the fourth-highest average among running backs in FBS. He topped the 100-yard plateau in 13 of his 14 games, as well.
Obviously, Bryce Love isn’t sneaking up on anybody. He’s right there among the heavy favorites, though you can still get a pretty good price on him at +800. The unfortunate thing here for Love is that quarterbacks most often win the Heisman. There have been quite a few exceptions, obviously, and running backs have won the award more often than any other non-QB position.
Running backs used to dominate the Heisman voting. Between Jay Berwanger’s inaugural win in 1934 and Bo Jackson’s victory in 1985, a running back won the award 35 times in those 51 years. However, since Chris Weinke won the award as a quarterback in 2000, QBs have won the Heisman 15 times, compared to just 3 wins for RBs. The 3 running backs to win the award in that span were Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram, as well as Reggie Bush of USC.
The fact that Love didn’t win the Heisman last season despite the brilliant campaign he enjoyed is certainly a red flag moving forward. Can Love really win the Heisman this season if he happens to put up worse numbers? Or does he have to top 2,000 yards again? It also doesn’t help his case that Stanford isn’t looking like a real title contender this season.
If you’re betting on a running back, I think Jonathan Taylor makes more sense at +650. The Badgers’ back rushed for a freshman record 1,977 yards last season, and Wisconsin is something of a dark horse to be a real threat in the national championship picture. Taylor had 3 games of more than 200 yards, which is staggering. We know the style of football the Badgers prefer to play, which means Taylor will get no shortage of reps.
The value is there, but I’m worried that Love may have missed his best chance to win the Heisman. Give me Taylor here at a similar price.
Around this time last year, few outside of Tuscaloosa were aware that a quarterback named Tua Tagovailoa existed. The Crimson Tide stormed their way through the regular season with Jalen Hurts leading the way. However, when Hurts struggled in the first half of the national title game against Georgia, Nick Saban made the shocking decision to bench his longtime starter in favored of a complete wild card in Tagovailoa.
You know what happened next. Tagovailoa led the Tide all the way back, culminating in a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime to seal another title for Saban.
As of now, the starting quarterback job remains open. Neither Hurts nor Tagovailoa has been able to separate himself to this point, so we don’t know for sure that Tagoaviloa will be the guy. Alabama is set to open the season with a somewhat tricky game against Louisville, so it’s not like Saban can just blindly pick one of them and coast to an easy win.
Hurts has the better track record, as evidenced by his 26-2 record as the team’s starter. There is no shortage of talent at the skill positions, as usual, which will make life easier for whichever player gets the job. Considering Tagovailoa isn’t even a lock to be the team’s starter, I’m not all that interested in betting on his Heisman hopes at +650. I’d prefer longer odds. He has a great chance if he does ultimately win the job, but for now I’ll pass on Tagovailoa here.
Fromm Georgia With Love
The Georgia Bulldogs surprisingly made it all the way to the national title game last season despite having to ride a freshman quarterback for the vast majority of the season. Jake Fromm took over the Bulldogs’ starting job after Jacob Eason was injured in the team’s season opener. All Fromm did as a true freshman was complete over 62 percent of his passes for 2,615 yards with 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Much is expected of Georgia again this season after coming so close to winning it all last year. Fromm won’t be sneaking up on anybody now that he’s a household name, but the youngster showed he’s capable of staying cool under pressure. He looked unfazed under the bright lights of the championship game, so you can bet he’ll be excellent again this season.
Georgia has an incredibly easy schedule, so there’s a real chance they will meet Alabama in the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive year. The toughest tests on the Georgia schedule would appear to be a date in Death Vally with LSU in mid-October and a home tilt with Auburn in November. Georgia will likely be favored in both contests, and if they emerge unscathed you can bet the Heisman hype will grow around the team’s starting QB.
Fromm at +1200 is a fair going price, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up being a Heisman finalist with a solid chance of winning. The combination of value and likelihood here is excellent.
I’ll rank my favorite Heisman values as follows:
- Jake Fromm +1200
- Khalil Tate +1600
- Kyler Murray +2000
- Jonathan Taylor +650
- Bryce Love +800