Last December, a wide receiver won the Heisman for the first time since 1991, becoming just the fourth full-time pass catcher to take home the hardware. But everything else surrounding DeVonta Smith’s historic Heisman season was pretty much old hat. The best player, on the best team, won the trophy. To some, this just confirms that betting Heisman futures is a waste of time. When in reality, Smith (preseason Heisman odds of 100:1) was just another long shot to score huge returns for gamblers.

Dating to Derrick Henry’s Heisman run in 2015, 5 of the past 6 Heisman winners have entered the season with 25:1 or longer Heisman odds. In a given year, that means the top 5-10 players that oddsmakers have marked as the favorites have not won the trophy. FanDuel, for instance, has 8 players with Heisman odds below that 25:1 threshold as of today (Spencer Rattler, DJ Uiagalelei, Bryce Young, JT Daniels, Sam Howell, D’Eriq King, CJ Stroud, Matt Corral). Outside of those top players, there are major market spreads on long-shot odds. For instance, Desmond Ridder is listed at 30:1 over at FanDuel and 50:1 on DraftKings. And this is the norm, not the exception during the preseason. A little bit of shopping around can sometimes double your odds.

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So if preseason odds have little bearing on who wins the Heisman, what are some good rules of thumb? Here’s how I evaluate quarterbacks, the only group that I feel can truly control their own Heisman destiny.

— Team Requirements: Realistic Playoff aspirations / Minimum 3 ranked opponents / Coaching staff that values stat-padding / No more than 1 cupcake opponent

— QB nice-to-haves: Dual-threat / Experience carrying an offense / Name ID

Last season DeVonta Smith shocked the world at the Heisman ballot box, but only after Alabama posted a clean sweep in the team requirements category. The Crimson Tide started the season ranked No. 3, and never dipped below No. 2 once they actually started playing games on the field. Prior to the Heisman ceremony, they played and soundly defeated 4 ranked opponents, all while letting Smith pad his stats (7 multi-TD games). And thanks to the all-SEC schedule, Alabama avoided a Week 2 lay-up against Georgia State and a late-season snoozer (UT-Martin).

The first two requirements (Realistic Playoff aspirations, Minimum 3 ranked opponents) rule out a bunch of otherwise intriguing long shots right off the bat. By virtue of shopping around, Grayson McCall (Coastal Carolina, QB) can be found for an enticing price of 150:1. But Coastal will face one of the weakest schedules in the country without a single ranked opponent. Even with Coastal’s preseason ranking, its schedule all but rules out McCall. The average preseason ranking of the past 8 Heisman winners has been 7th and that includes Lamar Jackson’s run from a preseason slot of 19th. Setting a cutoff at 19 seems reasonable, a requirement that would throw the breaks on the following players Heisman campaigns before they even got started:

  • Matt Corral (35:1)
  • Jayden Daniels (35:1)
  • Casey Thompson (40:1)
  • McKenzie Milton (60:1)
  • Spencer Sanders (60:1)
  • Dorian Thompson-Robinson (60:1)
  • Dillon Gabriel (60:1)
  • Tank Bigsby (60:1)

But this article isn’t about throwing cold water on every Heisman campaign. I already have tickets on a handful of players, so let’s take a look.

 

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The Favorites

If you gave me the following group of players against the field at even money, I’d take that bet in a heartbeat.

Spencer Rattler (8:1), DJ Uiagalelei (8:1), Bryce Young (9:1), JT Daniels (12:1), Sam Howell (14:1)

I feel strongly that 1 of these 5 quarterbacks will lead the nation in passing touchdowns, while simultaneously punching a ticket to the CFP. Every other player at 50:1 odds or shorter on the board needs a perfect storm of stats, an undefeated season and a handful of Heisman moments. Those 5 quarterbacks have an easier row to hoe.

If I had to select one, I’m comfortable going with Uiagalelei because I believe he has the biggest rushing upside of the group as Clemson looks to replace Travis Etienne’s production. In each of his 2 career starts, Big Cinco punched in a rushing touchdown and is an absolute battle tank, goal-line weapon, at 6-4, 250 pounds. A win against Georgia in the opener would slingshot him to the top of the Heisman watchlist, a head start he’ll need as he and the Tigers jog through a ho-hum ACC schedule in 2021.

Challengers at the right price

As I mentioned, Desmond Ridder at 50:1 (DK) intrigues me. He may have been one of the most improved quarterbacks in college football last fall, and he accounted for 10 total touchdowns against just 1 turnover in his 4 games against ranked opponents. This season he’s primed for an encore, complete with a schedule that will likely feature 3 to 4 ranked opponents. One of those will be an afternoon tilt in South Bend, a Heisman stage if there ever was one.

Jimbo Fisher has pulled off this trick before. He slowly guided Florida State back to the promised land, relying on a redshirt freshman as the final puzzle piece. Can Haynes King (75:1 at DK) be a nuevo-Jameis Winston? I think that’s asking far too much of a young quarterback who wasn’t as highly-touted as Winston coming out of Longview, Texas. But at 75:1, I’m getting a player surrounded with elite talent, a shockingly manageable SEC West schedule (Alabama at home), and zero expectations to weigh him down. Just need him to lock down that QB1 spot first.

If King is too much of a mystery man for you, may I recommend Malik Willis (80:1 at DK) instead. If he stays healthy, and Liberty wins all of its games (they’ll be favored in 11 of 12), he’s more than likely going to wind up a finalist. The former Auburn signal-caller already piqued the interest of NFL scouts while averaging 321 total yards and 3.5 touchdowns per game last fall. He orchestrated upsets of Virginia Tech and Coastal Carolina while generating Heisman-worthy highlights like this one.

And if you’re thinking, well there’s no way he’ll even be a finalist, consider the fact that a Group of 5/Independent player has cracked the top 5 in the Heisman balloting 3 times in the past 8 years. And it’ll help that Willis will be in the conversation as the first quarterback selected in next spring’s NFL Draft. In an era of streaming services and social media highlights, Willis’ play will be seen and respected (if they can run the table).

Crazy long shots

Act fast, because as of Thursday morning FanDuel was still offering Max Johnson at 100:1. The same quarterback who put up 291 total yards and 3 scores in an upset of No. 6 Florida in The Swamp, can be had for the same odds attached to Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Georgia’s currently-injured George Pickens. I love this play and believe that Johnson is in line for a big statistical season with Myles Brennan now out due to injury.

And finally, how about a true lottery ticket? Nevada’s Carson Strong is sitting at 250:1 over at DraftKings. After posting an absurd 27:4 TD-INT ratio in just 9 games, Strong and his best pass catchers are back with a chance to not only win the MWC, but also vie for a NY6 bowl thanks to nonconference games at Cal and Kansas State. Another NFL Draftnik sweetheart, Strong has the arm strength, size, and moxie to attract a lot of attention.

National title long shots

The steady drumbeat of domination from Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma has impacted how casual fans view the national title race. The public now feels like it’s a 6-8 team race and backing long shots, as a result, has lost its luster.

Sportsbooks, eager to tie up customers’ money for 3 and 4 months at a time, have begun offering enticing triple-digit odds on teams that otherwise would have hit the board in the 30:1 to 50:1 range. But here’s the thing: Every single year dark horses crash the top 10 and provide bettors holding long shot tickets profitable hedge opportunities. Just last season, Texas A&M (preseason 40:1) rose to No. 5, Oklahoma State (60:1) to No. 6 and Indiana (200:1) to No. 9. Understanding that you don’t need these teams to actually win the whole thing to make money, I set my sights on 3 teams that could find themselves in the thick of the Playoff race come November.

Sports betting is now live in Tennessee. If you want to bet the Heisman or the College Football Playoff futures, you can do so right now. Click here to getting started.

TCU (200:1 at DK) 

When factoring in transfers, TCU is one of the most experienced teams in the nation. And from a coaching continuity standpoint, they’re the second most stable staff in the Big 12. After a lousy start, the Horned Frogs caught fire last season, ending on a 5-1 run that saw TCU win by an average of 16 points per game. Max Duggan blossomed into an elite dual-threat quarterback, torching a pair of ranked opponents (OK State, Texas) and ending the season with 10 rushing TDs in 10 games. Gary Patterson’s squad was offered at 500:1 at some books this offseason. Even at 200:1, they’re still a tremendous value and control their own playoff destiny should they knock off Oklahoma and win the Big 12.

NC State (200:1 DK)

The Wolfpack return 90% of their defensive production (6th nationally), dynamic skill position talent and Devin Leary, a quarterback who played at a high level when he was called upon to start as a sophomore. Then there’s the opportunity on Sept. 25 to shock the world. Hosting Clemson in a rebuilding year, by Dabo Swinney standards, is NC State’s chance to catapult from the the fringe of the Top 25 right smack dab into the top 10. The Tigers have played down to a middling conference opponent in each of the past 6 seasons (’20 BC, ’19 UNC, ’18 Syracuse, ’17 Syracuse, ’16 NC State, ’15 Louisville), either sneaking by in a one-score game or losing outright. The Wolfpack have the talent, coaching continuity (HC, OC, DC all return), and favorable home schedule (Clemson, UNC) to pull off a trip to the ACC title game if absolutely everything clicks.

Iowa (100:1 at DK)

Another team that slogged through a slow start during the weird COVID season, only to reel off a bunch of wins down the stretch. There’s no doubt in my mind that had the Hawkeyes won their first 2 games (4 point loss at Purdue, 1 point loss vs. NW), they would be going off in the 30:1 to 40:1 range and not triple digits.

Pretty simply, when Iowa establishes the run, they win. When rushing for over 100 yards, the Hawkeyes are 51-6 in the last 6 years. When they fail to crack the century mark, 2-15. This year, they’ve built their running game around Rimington Trophy finalist, Tyler Linderbaum, and All-Big Ten stud Tyler Goodson (5.3 ypc). If they can beat Indiana and Iowa State out of the gate, or even split, they have a schedule manageable enough to end up in Indianapolis for a de facto Playoff play-in game in the form of the Big Ten Championship Game.