It’s a narrative-driven award.

That’s what I’ve come to realize when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. Sure, you need to have the numbers. You won’t find a Heisman winner without some gaudy stats in this era of booming offense.

But in this era of social media and public perception being stronger than ever, the narrative is key.

I say that because we got some pre-spring updated Heisman odds via BetOnline. Spoiler alert: Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa are the favorites to win the award. Forced to choose, I’m probably picking one of those two if we’re talking about this today.

What we’re actually talking about, however, is odds. As in, which Heisman contender’s odds would give you the most bang for your buck. That means they should be in favorable position to put up gaudy numbers and follow the Heisman narrative. That is, a quarterback who bursts onto the national scene in a major way.

Simply meeting high expectations is no longer good enough to win the award. And preferably, the Heisman winner is playing their best ball in November because recency bias is part of the narrative, as well.

So with that in mind, here are my top 4 way-too-early Heisman bets:

4. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Odds: 5/1

Why I like those odds: To be honest, I’m not crazy about putting money on Tagovailoa to win the award. There are better bets than someone who has been the forefront of the college football landscape as much as anyone for the past 13 months. That’s not to say everyone already has Tagovailoa fatigue, but the challenge will be surpassing expectations.

Here’s what I do like. Tagovailoa returns nearly all of his pass-catchers (replacing Irv Smith Jr. will be tougher than some realize) and he has a season of reading SEC defenses under his belt. The Clemson loss should make him more motivated than ever to light it up. Without Jalen Hurts over his shoulder, maybe Tagovailoa is even more comfortable in his role as the guy.

Getting 5-to-1 your money for a player of Tagovailoa’s caliber to win the Heisman odds is intriguing, but his best chance to win the award is if he somehow surpasses the high bar he set for himself.

3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

Odds: 13/2

Why I like those odds: You could probably get a kid from the closest high school to Norman and sell me on the belief that they could have Heisman odds. That’s how impressive Lincoln Riley has been. Give him someone with the experience of Hurts and why can’t the Heisman hat trick happen?

Here is something else to consider. While Hurts will still need to come somewhere in the ballpark of Murray and Mayfield as a passer — that’s by no means a given — he can still be a dual-threat. Look at the amount of rushing touchdowns of each Heisman-winning quarterback in this decade:

Year
Heisman winner
Rushing TDs
2010
Cam Newton
20
2011
Robert Griffin
10
2012
Johnny Manziel
21
2013
Jameis Winston
4
2014
Marcus Mariota
15
2016
Lamar Jackson
21
2017
Baker Mayfield
5
2018
Kyler Murray
11

That’s an average of 13 rushing touchdowns per Heisman winner. That’s 75 percent of them who had double-digit rushing scores. In other words, history suggests that the award will go to a prolific dual-threat quarterback.

Hurts is in the perfect situation to become just that. He has the right offensive mind coaching him, he improved as a passer and he gets to face Big 12 defenses.

And even though Hurts has 2 years worth of starts, this new beginning at Oklahoma would perfectly fit into the Heisman narrative. A 6.5-to-1 return on your money for Hurts isn’t a bad value at all.

2. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska

Odds: 12/1

Why I like those odds: We love, love, love to crown the quarterback who makes the proverbial “step up.” At 12-to-1 odds, Martinez might be the best bet in America to do that. As a true freshman in Scott Frost’s offense, he did the following things in roughly 10.5 games:

  • Over 3,000 yards from scrimmage
  • 65 percent passer
  • 8 rushing TDs
  • 6 games with at least 3 touchdowns

The nice thing about Martinez is that while he put up solid numbers, those who watched him know he was far from perfect. He made some freshman mistakes that limited some of his statistical potential. He also played on a bad team that didn’t block very well.

Why is that good, you ask? Because in Year 2, there’s plenty of room to grow. His understanding of Frost’s offense will improve, as will the talent around him. If he’s the reason that Nebraska has a Florida-like jump to relevancy, Martinez will certainly be in the Heisman conversation.

Frost was the offensive coordinator when Mariota had his Heisman campaign in 2014. Martinez isn’t the same player from a skill set standpoint, but between the ears, the similarities are there. The sophomore-to-be could definitely put himself in the same breath as Mariota by season’s end.

1. Justin Fields, Ohio State

Odds: 12/1

Why I like those odds: “Like” isn’t a strong enough word. I’ll instead explain why I love* these odds.

Fields is believed to be one of the top quarterback prospects we’ve had in the past decade. We saw flashes of that at Georgia, but that was obviously limited by his run-heavy role in the offense. Now, Fields is going to a new team where he’ll be coached by Ryan Day, AKA the guy who helped Dwayne Haskins post the best season by a quarterback in Big Ten history.

And you mean I can get that at 12-1?

I understand the hesitation about Fields having never started a game, and some might believe his recruiting ranking is leading to too much of this preseason buzz. From a risk standpoint, I get that. He still has a lot to prove in terms of going through his progressions and handling the pressure of a full college season to show that he’s Heisman-worthy.

But I’m not a believer in the “lack of experience” argument for why someone can’t win the award. Manziel and Winston were both redshirt freshmen when they won. Jackson was a sophomore at Louisville. Murray was stuck behind Mayfield at Oklahoma before his Heisman season. Newton didn’t have an FBS start to speak of before he had his all-time season at Auburn in 2010.

Oh and Haskins had never started a game before his historic 2018 season with Day.

Why can’t Fields, who was a higher-rated prospect than all of them, also overcome inexperience en route to the Heisman? He’s got a backloaded schedule — Ohio State doesn’t play a Power 5 opponent in non-conference play — that ends with Penn State, Michigan and a potential Big Ten Championship. Talk about opportunities galore to have a Heisman moment.

Sorry, Georgia fans. Fields has all sorts of potential of clinching his “one that got away” status by hoisting the Heisman come next December.