College Football: 7 Early Bets to Win the 2019 Heisman Trophy
This past weekend, more than 60 FBS programs held their annual spring games. It was a temporary high for college football fanatics everywhere, giving them a sense of how good or bad their team might be in the coming season. It also shines some light on the national landscape, not just for the expectations of top programs but for the players who will lead those teams in 2019.
This year is unlike most others. A number of notable quarterbacks have transferred to different schools, where they are set to start -- or at least compete for a starting spot -- for high-caliber programs. And that's thrown a bit of a wrench into the early Heisman conversation.
Over at FanDuel Sportsbook, they offer betting odds for 43 of college football's top players, including 10 transfers, two of which will battle it out for the starting quarterback job at Missouri. Former Alabama signal caller Jalen Hurts -- now with Oklahoma -- and 2018's top-rated prospect, Justin Fields -- now with Ohio State -- are the most high-profile names of them all, but are they likely to compete for the coveted Heisman Trophy this season?
Let's take a look at which players you should be betting on from each tier, starting with the favorites (under +2000), then the middle tier (+2000 to +5000) and finishing with a pair of longshots (over +5000) to consider laying money on before the rest of the world catches on.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (+250)
There's basically three tiers among the favorites, with Tua and star Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence at the same short odds. While recency bias could have many opting for Lawrence, following his masterful championship performance, let's not forget that Tagovailoa showed the same magic in the 2018 title game. Don't let a poor two-interception game deter you from targeting Tua and his talented left arm.
After all, his Crimson Tide -- at +175 odds -- are still the favorites to take home the crystal next season. Even if winning isn't at the top of voters' lists, the stats speak for themselves. In 15 total appearances last season, the then-sophomore completed 69.0% of his passes for 43 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions. He finished second to eventual Heisman winner Kyler Murray with 12.8 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) en route to the nation's best passing efficiency rating (199.4) and nearly 4,000 yards. He won the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards, and could have easily finished first -- rather than second -- in the Heisman voting if not for an injury-plagued season. So long as he remains healthy, Tua is the favorite to capture the hardware.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (+1100)
Tua's predecessor of sorts, Jalen Hurts, kicks off the rest of the Heisman field. In fact, he is the only player listed at longer than +250 odds but shorter than +1400. The former 'Bama quarterback is in a category of his own as he takes the reigns of Lincoln Riley's high-flying offense in Norman. It really suits the situation he's in, not just now but historically. By historically, I mostly mean for the past two seasons, which resulted in Oklahoma quarterbacks winning back-to-back Heisman honors. But even if we go back to 2003, the Sooners boast four Heisman quarterbacks, all of whom threw for at least 40 touchdowns in their winning season.
That is the type of offensive upgrade Hurts is stepping into. After being a bit handcuffed operating Nick Saban's run-first pro-style offense, an approach that's resulted in two Heisman backs -- not quarterbacks -- in the past 10 years, Hurts should benefit from a team that averaged the most points per game (48.4) in all the land. He might not be a Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray, but the two averaged 12.9 and 13.0 adjusted yards per attempt in their final seasons, giving hope for Hurts to push the ball downfield more often and improve on his 8.6 AY/A in his time with the Tide.
In the team's spring game, Hurts impressed, completing 11 of 14 attempts for 174 yards and a score. He added 12 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and he looked to be in tune with stud receiver CeeDee Lamb, as well as a quartet of newcomers at the position. With all the talent around him, there's no denying Hurts' chances of making it three straight Sooners on the Heisman stage.
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska +1800
In case you're wondering why we are completing bypassing the likes of running backs D'Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor, the answer is quite simple: quarterbacks reign supreme. Since Mark Ingram won the Heisman in 2009, only one running back -- Derrick Henry in 2015 -- has captured the award. Since then, we've had three straight quarterbacks, and before that, we saw a run of five straight signal callers. And since the turn of the century, QBs have gotten the nod in 16 of 19 seasons (including Reggie Bush's in 2005).
The thing is, many quarterbacks have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting in place of running backs. Take Martinez for example. Last year as a freshman, not only did he throw for over 2,600 yards and 17 scores, but he ran the ball 140 times for 629 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was 15 carries short of the team lead and finished second in rushing scores. He rushed for 100 yards twice and accounted for 400 yards of offense in three of 11 games he appeared in.
Nebraska struggled in their first year under head coach Scott Frost, going 4-8 and ranking outside the top 40 in Football Outsiders' S&P+. But on the heels of Frost's 20th-ranked recruiting class, we could see improvement on both sides of the ball -- and it all starts with Martinez. Because of the certainty around his role, he is a far superior bet to a guy like Justin Fields, who struggled in his debut and checks in at shorter odds to boot.
The Middle Tier
Ian Book, Notre Dame (+3600)
Book did enough with his play last year to warrant a spot on this list heading into 2019. The rising senior played in 10 games, producing 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns on an impressive 68.2% completion rate and 8.6 adjusted yards per attempt. He also contributed 280 yards and four scores on the ground, but with that being said there's much more to the Notre Dame quarterback's Heisman upside.
For starters, Book looked the part in the Fighting Irish's spring game, throwing for 220 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-21 passing. He was 5-for-5 on his opening drive and rifled in a 12-yard touchdown pass.
What's going on around Book, though, is as promising as anything we see on the game tape. The quarterback told ESPN that the Irish -- 38th in plays per game a year ago -- want to operate at an even higher tempo, and they have the skill position players to make it work. Chase Claypool is a number-one receiver on the outside, while a lead back like Jafar Armstrong will help to keep Notre Dame balanced and allow Book to feed off play action throws.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (+4500)
Running backs are unlikely candidates, at best, and usually those who don't play for Nick Saban are even less of a contender. If you are following that trend, the Tide's Najee Harris, at +3600, is the play, but Dobbins would bring back a meatier return if he's able to capitalize on a larger workload in one of the nation's best offenses.
We've already touched on the uncertainty around Fields and the quarterback spot, and that could only add to the intrigue with the team's best back. However, the biggest statistical boost should come from Mike Weber moving on to the NFL. Weber was second on the team with 172 rushes a year ago, and his 1,000-plus scrimmage yards ate into the production of the younger -- but highly regarded -- Dobbins.
This year, Dobbins won't be without competition, but with his experience he expects to be the back for the Buckeyes' new regime. As a junior, he's already played in 28 games and has averaged 5.8 yards per carry on 424 rushes. No matter who's under center, Ohio State's offense is ranked sixth by projected offensive S&P+ after they ended 2018 in fourth.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M (+10000)
For those unknown names or players on teams outside the national spotlight, it's all about finding a path to them being relevant for the Heisman conversation. For some, it's all about pure stats -- say Lamar Jackson in 2016 -- and for others it's a surprisingly high win total or some combination of the two.
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond could fall into any one of those three baskets, playing for a big-name school in a competitive conference SEC conference, but he could put up massive numbers in his junior year. By efficiency, his 7.7 adjusted yards per attempt are less than ideal, yet he threw for 3,107 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2018, while he ran for another 474 yards with seven trips to the end zone. The rushing numbers aren't quite on the level of a Johnny Manziel (2012 Heisman version), however, the passing numbers aren't that far off, and he could reach the 10-touchdown threshold on the ground with Trayveon Williams no longer in College Station.
Mond will be asked to do a lot for head coach Jimbo Fisher. And in case you forgot, it wasn't long ago (2013) that Fisher watched his star quarterback, Jameis Winston, throw for 4,000 yards and 40 scores en route to a Heisman trophy at Florida State.
While the masses look for Kelly Bryant (+8000) to take names in his post-Clemson revenge tour, we must note that former standout and NFL talent Drew Lock didn't garner a single Heisman vote in his time at Missouri, despite throwing for 72 touchdowns in his last two years. It will take a lot for Bryant to be relevant. Buy into Mond and an A&M offense projected to be ninth by S&P+.
Jordan Love, Utah State (+16000)
Unlike Mond, Jordan Love doesn't play for a Power Five team. His Utah State Aggies are part of the Mount West Conference, and until last year they had three straight losing seasons under Matt Wells. In what turned out to be his final season at the helm, Wells led his team to a 10-2 record and a commanding 39-point win in the New Mexico Bowl.
In that bowl game, Love was named co-MVP as he threw for 359 yards and four touchdowns, alongside a rushing score. All total, the then-sophomore ended the year with 3,567 passing yards to just 63 rushing yards, but his seven rushing scores led to a combined 39 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. His 9.4 adjusted yards per attempt ended the year in a tie for 10th, and across several other categories he was among the country's best. In most cases, he joined the company of current and former Heisman candidates, as well as those who moved on to enter the draft.
Needless to say, the Aggies don't play a super-tough schedule. Their conference is rather weak, and their toughest opponent will undoubtedly be the LSU Tigers, who they will face in Baton Rouge on October 5. That will be the statement game for Love, with LSU projected first in Defensive S&P+. If he gets through that one -- possibly with a Heisman moment -- and punishes the rest of the schedule, he could end up with some impressive stats -- stats worthy of some Heisman talk by season's end.