Another year, another crop of Heisman watch-lists that, for the most part, ignore the recurring trends of what has become a somewhat predictable process. While the names change from year to year, we can bank on certain categories of players making the shortlist. We shouldn’t be all that surprised by the repetition. The same gaggle of sports writers is voting for the award each December. (Technically, fans have a modicum of input. But it represents about 1/1,000th of the vote.)
Want to know who has the inside track on the 2017 Heisman? All we have to do is break down the candidates by the category they fill in the voters’ minds.
Odds to win the 2017 Heisman: 4/1
In four of the last six years, one of the Heisman finalists has been the centrepiece of Alabama’s offense. In 2015, this meant Derrick Henry, who carried the ball 395 times and presumably ground his skeleton into a fine powder, got the nod. In 2013, when Alabama’s offense wasn’t exactly spectacular, Johnny Manziel’s roommate at summer camp got a trip to New York. The voters do not discriminate, except against defensive players, in which case they absolutely discriminate.
Who’s this going to be in 2017? My money is on QB Jalen Hurts, the freshman who earned Nick Saban’s trust and was named starter just weeks after he became eligible to vote. This year he comes into the season as the only QB in the country to have played in a national title game. He’ll have to be a little more reliable as a passer, but in total, he’s set up beautifully for the prize. That more books don’t have him as the favourite is a little puzzling, frankly.
Also worth a look: Bo Scarbrough, who buried Washington in the Peach Bowl and scored both of Alabama’s first-half touchdowns in the title game. If the Crimson Tide rely on him like they’ve relied on running backs in the past, he’ll have a great chance. But Scarborough might split carries with Damien Harris, in which case Hurts is definitely the better bet.
Odds to win the 2017 Heisman: 6/1
Lamar Jackson won the 2016 Heisman by displaying once-in-a-generation talent and scoring 51 touchdowns. As biased as the voters are, if you beat Florida State 63-20, you become the favorite in a hurry. His accomplishments have been covered comprehensively, but nobody’s going to blame you if you take a few minutes and watch his highlights again.
The only things stopping Jackson: he’ll have to live up to extremely high expectations to win again, and Louisville will have to figure out how to stop whatever happened against Houston, Kentucky, and LSU from ever happening again. In any rational universe, a top defense that allows 41 points to Kentucky would be dragged in front of a congressional hearing. Same goes for an offensive line that allows a Heisman-winning quarterback to be sacked eight times in a bowl game.
Odds to win the 2017 Heisman: 13/7
Sam Darnold of USC and Trace McSorley of Penn State got in on this one early, butting heads in a Rose Bowl game that became an instant classic and broke all of Vince Young’s old records. Darnold has become something of a media darling, and if he puts any kind of season together voters will be falling over themselves to cast their ballots for him. Most sports books have Darnold as the favorite, usually giving him much better odds than Jalen Hurts or Lamar Jackson. McSorley is usually far behind Darnold, despite having an unbelievable deep ball and a Big Ten championship. I would give Darnold a slight advantage, but not double, as some books are showing.
Not to be missed in this category: Deondre Francois, who climbed onto most watchlists by leading FSU to a 10-win season and throwing a football over a frat house. Don’t overlook Shane Buechele, either, who could score a lot of Heisman brownie points by bringing Tom Herman’s first Texas team to national prominence.
If any of these QB’s lead their sleeping-giant programs to a playoff berth, expect at least a trip to New York. The lines on these passers vary pretty wildly, from Darnold at +300 to Buechele at +3300, largely due to the strength of the teams they play on.
Odds to win the 2017 Heisman: 24/1
This is not Baker Mayfield’s first rodeo. He finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2015, third in 2016, and with a little help will continue his progression all the way to the top. The Oklahoma quarterback will be hoping for another chance at the playoff, having fallen just short in 2016 and not losing a game in the final nine weeks of the season. For his part, Mayfield has been metronomically consistent for his whole career at Oklahoma, throwing 36 and 38 touchdowns in his first and second seasons, respectively.
Also on his side: Mayfield has the “always a bridesmaid” narrative working for him, as well as a feel-good origin story; as a freshman walk-on, he was thrust onto the field by injury, threw four touchdowns, and became the starter.
Working against him: Baker Mayfield was arrested for public intoxication this February, and has actually been removed from most betting sites. There is a character piece to the Heisman voting, certainly, and the video of his arrest showed poor awareness and lagging footspeed.
Odds to win the 2017 Heisman: 20/1
Derrius Guice will be running behind the offensive line that helped make Leonard Fournette one of the most deeply unpleasant people to play football against in 2016. Coming off the bench last year, Guice ran for 7.8 yards per attempt and 15 touchdowns, a commendable season for any backup. With LSU’s offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, looking to install the power-spread concepts that have won every national championship in the playoff era, look for Guice to put up some seriously impressive numbers.
Guice is listed at +1600, indicating confidence in LSU’s new offensive schemes. A lot of pieces have to fall into place for the running back, including the Tiger’s finding a consistency that has eluded them in the past.
Odds to win the 2017 Heisman: 100/1
No defensive player has won the Heisman since Charles Woodson (1997). If anyone was going to snap the drought, it was Jabrill Peppers, who found a way to court Heisman voters as a defensive player by also playing quarterback. It’s a bold strategy, and one that more defensive hopefuls would do well to adopt.
Odds to win the 2017 Heisman: 10,000/1
Now you’re just not making any sense.
Photo credit: Echo73 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0] via Wikimedia Commons.
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