Since 2000, 15 of 18 Heisman Trophy winner have been QBs, a legacy added to by Baker Mayfield thanks to the fourth-largest margin of victory in history.
After throwing for 4,600 yards and 43 scores in leading the Sooners into the College Football Playoff, Mayfield ran away with the vote despite some of the most prolific season-long performances we’ve ever seen from a special crop of running backs
The former Oklahoma standout opened second at 7-to-1 at Westgate behind only fellow QB Sam Darnold (9-to-2) of USC. The 2016 winner, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson had 10-to-1 odds, while the top running back, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, came in at 15-to-1. He ended up finishing fourth, while Stanford’s Bryce Love finished second.
Love was a 100-to-1 shot to win the Heisman when the 2017 season began. This year, he opened as the favorite (5-to-1). While Love ran for over 2,100 yards and averaged more than eight every time he carried the ball, Mayfield still won by the second-largest margin over a decade. Only Marcus Mariota dominated his class more in winning the Heisman in ’14, dusting Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper in addition to Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott.
Jackson finished third last season after another fantastic year, sabotaged by Louisville’s poor defense and some early losses. Barkley finished fourth, just ahead of San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who finished with 23 TDs and 2248 yards in managing to more than fill the footsteps of college football’s all-time leading rusher, Las Vegas’ Donnel Pumphrey.
Penny ended up top-five despite not being on the initial list of 52 candidates who you could wager upon, although he was available upon request. The message in this brief history lesson is that riding quarterbacks remains the way to go if you’re looking to win a Heisman futures prop and that backing a longshot who can pay off substantially can spice things up if you choose wisely.
While Love and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (8-to-1) should have tremendous seasons that keep them in the conversation all season, the risk with backing them to stay healthy at these odds doesn’t fit our strategy. I’m giving you four candidates to focus on among two groups. Pick your favorite one from each and hope for the best ride between now and December 9.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (4/1): It sounds like he’s going to end up being Nick Saban’s choice to lead the Crimson Tide, giving him a huge edge on the rest of the field since he’s actually capable of dropping jaws the way few ‘Bama quarterbacks have managed to over the years. He’ll suffer from Jalen Hurts likely getting into blowouts and Saban likely preferring to play things close to the vest offensively with another new coordinator in place, but if he’s at the helm of an undefeated likely champ when the final voting is done, it’s hard to argue with his emergence as the top choice to back.
Khalil Tate, Arizona (12/1): The Pac-12 has the potential to be wide open if Washington doesn’t get consistent play out of Jake Browning (25/1). That could open the door for Tate, who is similar to Louisville’s Jackson in providing the “wow” factor at the quarterback spot given his electric speed. The fact he also plays in an up-tempo system that Kevin Sumlin is implementing could produce eye-popping numbers. The wins will have to be there though.
Will Grier, West Virginia (15/1): Considered the top passer in this year’s class, Grier will have a chance to stake his claim to this trophy at home on Nov. 23. All eyes will be on Mountaineers-Sooners, so if that game decides the Big 12 and Grier puts up similar numbers to last year (3,490 yards, 34 TDs), he’s got a great shot at following in Mayfield’s footsteps, utilizing a similar formula in a pass-happy conference.
Trace McSorley, Penn State (15/1): With Barkley gone, McSorley will now get full credit for whatever he manages to accomplish in his third full season under center. He led the Big Ten in passing last season and continues to impress with his accuracy, toughness and ability to come through in the clutch. With most of his offensive line back and a couple of receivers back, he’s got a fighting chance to emerge if he keeps the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten race. The schedule won’t make that easy, but if he’s alive for consecutive games at Michigan and home against Wisconsin to open November, he’s got a shot at controlling his own destiny.
D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia (30/1): The task of replacing last year’s star tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel grew all the more difficult with freshman Zamir White’s unfortunate ACL tear. He was expected to be a big contributor for the ‘Dawgs, so Swift’s potential for an even larger roles increases. The electric sophomore has a chance to step into the spotlight and is a better play than QB Jake Fromm, who is available at 20-to-1.
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma (30/1): The Texas A&M transfer will get the keys to the most prolific offense in college football, complete with a standout RB in Rodney Anderson (20/1) and a terrific receiving corps. He’s going to be picked on about his size like Mayfield was, but can run and has a year in the system under his belt that should help aid the cause. If he puts up numbers and the Sooners win the Big 12, he’ll be in the mix.
McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF (50/1): There will have to be some out there who will feel badly for the Knights being denied a chance to play for a championship despite being unbeaten last season, so if Milton goes out and plays well enough to keep the talented Knights in the conversation, he’ll earn well deserved recognition. He really took a huge leap forward from his early body of work and has the goods to again dominate the American Athletic Conference.
If he can run the table and beat Pitt and UNC in non-conference play, he’ll be a worthy Cinderella candidate. The Hawai’I native will have to adjust to a new system with Josh Heupel on board, not to mention replace productive weapons Tre’Quan Smith and Jordan Akins, so there will be obstacles, but Milton was a 100-to-1 option last week, so he’s gotten some support.
Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky (300/1): Our biggest longshot plays for a traditional college football doormat, but he’s the first player in program history to top the 1,000-yard mark in consecutive years and is getting done as the focal point of every defense in the SEC. If he can help the Wildcats finish with a winning record for the third straight year and finds a way to dominate at home against Georgia to derail its potential title hopes, Snell may do swell in the final Heisman vote. At 300-to-1, he’s a lottery ticket worth having.