College Football: 2018 Heisman Trophy Betting Preview
With the college football season set to officially get under way, almost everyone is talking about this year's title favorites and who will win each conference. Big-time Week 1 matchups are also a hot topic for those eager to get a first look at major programs and could-be contenders.
But for the moment, let's shift the attention from the teams to the players. By the end of this season, who will will take home the coveted Heisman Memorial Trophy?
|Dwayne Haskins||QB||Ohio State||1100|
|Will Grier||QB||West Virginia||1100|
|Trace McSorley||QB||Penn State||1200|
|McKenzie Milton||QB||Central Florida||3500|
|J.K. Dobbins||RB||Ohio State||4000|
|Brandon Wimbush||QB||Notre Dame||5000|
|Cam Akers||RB||Florida State||6000|
|Deondre Francois||QB||Florida State||6000|
|Nick Fitzgerlad||QB||Mississippi State||6000|
As you can see, nothing but quarterbacks and running backs here. And even if we expand it to include the next nine players -- those outside +6000 odds -- the breakdown is 21 quarterbacks and 10 running backs followed by 2 defensive lineman -- Houston's Ed Oliver (+10000) and Ohio State's Nick Bosa (+12500) -- and the lone wide receiver, West Virginia's David Sills (+22500). That makes sense seeing as either a quarterback or running back has won the award in each of the 20 seasons since Charles Woodson took the hardware in 1997.
At the top, the favorite, Stanford's Bryce Love, is one of three players who were in the top eight of voting a year ago. While Love finished second to winner Baker Mayfield, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor was sixth with two first-place votes and Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton was eighth despite having four first-place votes.
Mostly, we get a bunch of new faces. And among them is Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whose call to fame is his three-touchdown performance off the bench in the Tide's win over Georgia in last year's title game. He leads an interesting group of unknowns and wildcards.
Of all these players, from the favorites to the longshots, who is most worth laying your money on as the season gets underway? And who should you steer clear of outside of the non-quarterback, non-running back candidates?
Let's check it out.
Not only is Love one of the only guys returning from last year's Heisman vote-getters, but he's also seen some positive movement in Vegas. Per Bovada, his odds have gone from +700 to +650 over the past week. But still, he might not be as big of a favorite as he should be.
Last season as a junior, in his first year clear of Christian McCaffrey, Love ran for more than 2,000 yards while averaging 8.1 yards a carry and turning in 19 touchdowns. And this year should be no different as he'll be running behind one of the better lines in the conference, if not the nation. Between them, their projected starters logged 54 games and played in a total of 63 last season. And that experience comes with proven production in the form of 202.6 rushing yards per game (30th in the nation), 5.9 yards per carry (6th) and an above-average 109.0 Rushing S&P+ (46th), according to Football Outsiders.
Running behind that line in an offensive attack that ran the ball on 55.88% of plays a year ago, Love should -- for a second straight year -- be able to produce the high-volume numbers necessary to overcome the negative of being on a team with just an eight-win total in Vegas.
With everything going on off the field in Columbus, Ohio State's super-talented on-field product could fly under the radar. At least in Vegas, that appears to be the case, too. While starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins (+1100) is properly valued for all the upside of a dual-threat guy in Urban Meyer's offensive system, sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins is further down the list after originally sitting at +1800 odds. Part of that is a product of the Buckeyes' first depth chart listing Dobbins and Mike Weber as co-starters, but Dobbins should command the majority of work in due time.
As a freshman, Dobbins out-carried Weber 194 to 101 en route to 1,403 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. He also did more work in the passing game (22 catches for 135 yards), though Weber was relied upon more in the red zone, as he ended the year with 10 rushing scores. But with another year under his belt, Dobbins might get a larger share of those opportunities.
Really, Dobbins' biggest hurdle is that of volume. In 2017, the Buckeyes' line ranked second in Football Outsiders' opportunity rate and eighth in adjusted line yards. Uncertain situations on the line could put a dent in that success carrying over, but the Heisman upside is there for Dobbins if he's able to be the leading rusher on a team Vegas expects to exceed last year's win total.
As we saw from the historical breakdown, targeting only running backs would be a mistake, so let's go with a signal caller here. Deondre Francois was just recently named Florida State's starting quarterback after a long offseason battle with James Blackman and Bailey Hockman. He's also coming off a torn patellar tendon in last year's season opener, so he doesn't come without risk, but the reward at +6000 odds is too juicy to pass up.
Not long ago, Francois was at +4500, and the drop doesn't make sense now that we know for sure he's starting. The 21-year-old enters as a fourth-year junior, who in his one full season in Tallahassee threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns, along with 5 more tuddies on the ground. He has had to learn a new offense under new head coach Willie Taggart, but he's reportedly picked it up quickly.
The Seminoles are expected to finish third in the ACC, with +750 odds to win the conference, and have an over/under of just 7.5 wins. That's an improvement over last year, but their chances of competing for a playoff title are slim as they will be forced to go up against the second-hardest schedule in the nation, per ESPN's Football Power Index. While it will take a lot for Francois to get the team to a point where it impacts his Heisman stock, he has the skillset to do it, and if he does it against top-level competition it's an even more impressive feat.
For being the player with the second-best odds in Vegas, Tua Tagovailoa is a relative unknown. In the most important of college football games, the number-one ranked dual-threat high school quarterback threw for 166 yards and 3 touchdowns, adding 27 yards on the ground. All total last year, the then-freshman passed and rushed for 769 yards and 13 touchdowns in limited action. Even now, he and the elder Jalen Hurts are listed as co-starters for head coach Nick Saban.
That's a problem to start with, particularly if Tagovailoa is slow out of the gates. After all, Alabama quarterbacks aren't usually the ones who get the glory under Saban. In a more run-oriented offense (20th in rush play percentage a year ago), two running backs -- Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram -- have won the program's only two Heisman awards in Saban's time in Tuscaloosa. In 2013, second-place finisher A.J. McCarron was the "closest" non-running back, but he received a mere 79 first-place votes to winner Jameis Winston's 668.
For all the hype with Tagovailoa, the uncertainty around him makes him worth fading in favor of quarterbacks with longer odds.
Speaking of hype, there might not be a quarterback under the microscope more than the Mountaineers' Will Grier. After transferring from Florida, Grier enjoyed an impressive first year in Morgantown and put himself in the conversation for the top quarterback in next year's NFL draft. He threw for 3,490 yards with 34 touchdowns to 12 picks on an average of 9.4 adjusted yards per attempt (10th in NCAA), alongside 122 yards and 2 touchdowns on 63 carries.
Grier is at the center of the Heisman conversation, and his odds have improved from +1400 to +1100. But outside of his talent as a prospect, there isn't much to love here.
Sporting an over/under of seven wins (the same as last year's total), West Virginia is tied for the third-best odds to win the competitive Big 12. Plus, their schedule is 10th-hardest by FPI, and neither their projected win total (6.1) nor conference championship odds (1.7%) are encouraging for a surprise season. Their defense ranked 57th in per-play efficiency a year ago, and while that could be a boon for Grier's stats since he may have to put up huge numbers for WVU to win games, an overall lack of victories could hurt Grier.
Kelly Bryant/Trevor Lawrence
This week, Dabo Swinney decided to go with senior Kelly Bryant over freshman Trevor Lawrence as the Clemson Tigers' starting quarterback to begin the 2018 campaign. Naturally, that would make Bryant and his +5000 odds more appealing, especially in comparison to Lawrence's inflated +1600 odds. Lawrence is an easy stay-away play without a starting status, but Bryant isn't one to target, either.
There are reasons to like Bryant. Clemson's win total is set at 11, they are big favorites (-185) to win their conference and come in only second to Alabama in championship odds (+400). Last year, though, Bryant threw for only 2,802 yards, 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions on 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt. He produced 665 yards and 11 scores on the ground, but if he doesn't improve in the passing game, he'll likely be on the outside looking in on the top-10 finishers once again.
It will be especially tough when you consider the team's defensive firepower, which should carry the squad throughout the season. Clemson ended 2017 with the nation's most efficient defense, and they return eight starters from that unit, including defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins and linebackers Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar -- all of whom find themselves on award watch lists to begin the year. It's hard to see Bryant being the most outstanding player on his own team, let alone the country.