If you think you know college football, and like to put your money where your mouth is, then picking a preseason Heisman winner may be something you have tried your luck on in the past. This is one of the toughest futures to pick, because so many factors go into winning a Heisman. You have to stay healthy, play on a team that stays in contention, and make it through an entire season without a major letdown game.
Our process starts by comparing a list of favorites with a list of favorite teams to win the national championship. If a player’s team doesn’t have a chance of winning their conference and playing for a national championship they are off our list.
A quick comparison of the favorites to win the Heisman above (courtesy of Bet365) and the teams favored to win the national championship below is a quick way to narrow down your field of potential choices.
From there we narrow down our list to one or two favorites that we love, and one or two long shots with odds that are worth taking a risk on. Here is a look at our two favorite frontrunners and our two favorite sleepers for the 2017-2018 college football season.
Top 2017 Heisman Trophy Favorites
Obviously it makes sense to primarily focus on the top returning quarterbacks, QB’s have won 14 of the last 17 Heisman awards (running backs have won the other three). We have a great group of returning QB’s this season including: Darnold, Mayfield, Jackson, Barrett, Hurts, Browning, Fulk, and others not listed above that could come out of nowhere to win the award. Highlighting Lamar Jackson as the favorite is a tough call for me, because he is far from the best player in college football. The reality, however, is that Petrino has proven that he is going to run up scores to run up Jackson’s stats, and the Louisville schedule is a joke. They get Clemson at home, and if Jackson and Louisville are able to win that game, the FSU game may be irrelevant as he could already have the Heisman locked up by that point in the season. Jackson had over 5,000 yards and 51 touchdowns last season, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which Mayfield, Darnold, or Barrett can approach those numbers.
With Michigan only returning 5 starters, Ohio State (15 ret starters) looks like they have one more Big 10 championship in them before the Harbaugh era officially begins. While JT Barrett’s numbers from last season don’t jump off the page, we know from the 2014 season that he is capable of putting up huge numbers. While splitting snaps with Cardale Jones and missing the last three games of the season, Barrett put up 3800 yards and 45 touchdowns. If Ohio State makes the college football playoff again this season, it will likely be on the back of J.T. Barrett.
Top 2017 Heisman Trophy Sleepers
USF doesn’t play a top 70 schedule, returns 16 of 21 starters, and Charlie Strong brought Sterlin Gilbert with him. Gilbert is an Art Briles disciple and an offensive genius, that is lucky enough to inherit a QB that racked up over 4,300 yards and 42 touchdowns last season. The reality here is that you have a grade A coaching staff, with a fairly loaded roster, playing in what should be a bad American Athletic conference. USF is at worst a 10-2 team, but has a legitimate shot at running the table and sneaking into the college football playoff. If they somehow are able to do so, or even be in the discussion, Flowers will be a more than legitimate Heisman candidate and you are getting 40/1 odds.
I wanted to talk myself into a non-QB player in this last spot, but there are too many question marks around the running backs… The odds are rough for Guice, Barkley, and Scarborough. Chubb may give up too many snaps to Sony Michel, Mike Weber is too unproven, and we don’t know if Oregon will improve enough in year one under Taggart for Royce Freeman to be in the discussion. Allen is a player we thought would be a Heisman favorite as a Aggie this season. The disaster that was Kyler Murray and the 2015 season derailed the entire program, and Allen moved on to Houston seemingly to play under Tom Herman. Herman is now at Texas, but Major Applewhite will keep the system in place and returns a loaded group of weapons around Allen. Again Houston plays an extremely favorable schedule in the AAC, and Allen is one of the most NFL-ready QB’s in the nation. He should be able to pick apart this conference and will compete with Flowers for player of the year and a chance to represent a mid-major in the CFB playoff this season.
Non Power 5 Sleepers, Really?
Playing devil’s advocate, we just gave you two mid-major players as our favorite long shots. Given the systems they play in, and their favorable schedules, both are locks to put up Heisman-worthy numbers.
The problem here is that we know if given the option, Heisman voters will always favor a power 5 player. That is what will always make players like Darnold, Hurts, and Barrett a safer bet. If a non-power 5 player wins the Heisman this season it will be the first time since TY Detmer won the award out of the WAC conference in 1990.
With that being said, if you are looking for legitimate power 5 sleepers, you may have to look off the board provided by your sportsbook. Some names worth a look:
Trayveon Williams – Put up 1,100 yards and 8 touchdowns in an explosive freshman season at A&M. Will be the focal point of the offense this season.
Justin Herbert – In a down year for the Ducks, Herbert put up a 19/4 TD/INT ratio in just 7 starts (including Stanford, USC, Utah, and Washington). He has an absolutely loaded arsenal of weapons around him: Freeman, Nelson, Carrington, Mitchell, Brooks-James…
Malik Zaire – I was able to get Zaire at 150/1 odds last week. My recommendation to everyone would be to get some sort of action at that if possible. If he goes to Florida, I think they become the SEC East favorite. This is one of the most talented football players in the Nation, with enormous statistical upside given how well he runs. The three teams he is considering: Wisconsin, Texas, and Florida would all be considerable CFB playoff threats with Zaire.
Mark Walton – The draw is obvious here… We know Walton is uber-talented, will have a seasoned offensive line in front of him, and plays for Mark Richt a guy that was responsible for Chubb, Gurley, Crowell, and Moreno. With a first year starter at QB, Richt will likely lean heavily on his Sophomore RB.