Handicapping the Heisman

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Handicapping the Heisman

Dating back to the year 2000, 19 of the 23 players that have won the Heisman Trophy were quarterbacks. That’s impossible to ignore when betting on this market. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the award last year.

 

Williams is a heavy favorite to win the Heisman in back-to-back years, as the Trojans superstar is listed at +600 to get the job done. The next closest players are Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers, Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis and LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels. In fact, the first 11 players listed in the Heisman Trophy market this year are quarterbacks. That should give you an idea of how hard it is to win if you’re not throwing passes.

It does, however, need to be noted that it’s not impossible for a skill position player to win. This isn’t quite like the NFL MVP race, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who now catches passes for the Philadelphia Eagles, gave wide receivers and running backs hope by taking home the award with the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2020. That season, Smith caught 117 passes for 1,857 yards and 23 touchdowns, pacing an Alabama team that won the College Football Playoff.

With that out of the way, let’s run through some of the best betting options. I’d personally suggest prioritizing elite quarterbacks as your biggest Heisman bets. But I’ll also give you some non-quarterback options I like, as well as some dark horses that could pay off in a big way.

Best Chalk Option

QB Jordan Travis (+1400), Florida State Seminoles

Travis is one of the most electric dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, and he is pretty easily my favorite Heisman bet this year. Last season, Travis threw for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions for Florida State. He also rushed for 417 yards with seven touchdowns, marking the third year in a row that he reached the seven-touchdown mark in the running game. 

Travis used to be known as a runner mostly, but he has really made strides as a passer. His completion percentage was 64.0% last year, way higher than the 55.0% he posted in 2020. I’d expect Travis to continue to grow as a thrower this year, as he is more comfortable than ever in this offense. That should result in some monstrous numbers from the West Palm Beach native. Travis should have a lot more time to throw this season, as Florida State’s O-line is no longer a glaring weakness. 

With Travis a near-lock to put up great numbers this season, to have a real case for the Heisman, he needs a big year from Florida State. And that is already expected this year, with the Seminoles having a regular season win total of 10. Florida State is also just behind Clemson’s odds to win the ACC this year. They are also tied for the seventh-best odds to win a national title. If the Seminoles come close to achieving any of those goals, Travis’ fingerprints will be all over it. 

Another thing to like about Travis is that he’s a “Heisman moment” waiting to happen. He broke a 71-yard run against the NC State Wolfpack last year, and he should add to his highlight reel in 2023. Travis will need to find a way to make plays in the biggest games, and I think he’ll do so. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll play in an offense that returns most of its key starters this year. 

Best Value Play

QB Dillon Gabriel (+4000), Oklahoma Sooners

Gabriel was a popular sleeper pick to win the Heisman Trophy last year, but his first season in Oklahoma didn’t quite go as planned. The Sooners went only 6-7 on the season, and the year ended in a 35-32 loss to Florida State in the Cheez-It Bowl. For Oklahoma’s standards, it was an unacceptable year. But the Sooners should be much better in Year 2 under Brent Venables. The former long-time Clemson defensive coordinator did good work in the transfer portal, and this team returns a good amount of last year’s production. Now, Oklahoma has the second-best odds to win the Big 12. 

Last year, Gabriel really wasn’t to blame for all of Oklahoma’s troubles. In fact, the lefty gunslinger threw for 3,168 yards with 25 touchdowns and only six picks in his first year in offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby’s offense. Gabriel should be a lot better with a full year in this system under his belt. At the University of Central Florida, the talented signal caller improved drastically from freshman to sophomore year. So, he has proven that he can make a year-over-year leap. 

If Gabriel gets back to posting the kind of numbers he did with UCF while continuing to utilize his legs a bit more, I expect him to be in the conversation for this award. Oklahoma will just need to find a way to win 10 or so games. The team’s regular season win total is currently 9.5, so that isn’t exactly out of the question. 

Non-Quarterbacks

RB Blake Corum (+2800), Michigan Wolverines

Corum suffered a season-ending knee injury in Michigan’s win over the Ohio State Buckeyes last December, forcing him out of action for the College Football Playoff. But Corum’s recovery is apparently going very well, with the star running back telling The 33rd Team that he’s “full-go” back in June. If Corum really is close to 100%, he’s one of the few non-quarterbacks that has a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. 

Corum rushed for 1,463 yards with 18 touchdowns on 247 carries last season while also chipping in 11 catches for 80 yards and a score as a pass catcher. Corum was the engine behind this Michigan offense, which averaged more points per game (40.4) than all but five teams last season. This year, Corum will again be a bell cow in this offense, which still lacks a consistently explosive passing game. The latter is rather important in the context of winning a Heisman, as Corum will likely be credited with any success the Wolverines have offensively — barring an insane leap from quarterback J.J. McCarthy. 

Michigan’s regular season win total is up at 10.5 this season, with the Wolverines also listed as the second-most likely team to win the Big Ten this year. If Michigan accomplishes all its goals as a team and Corum once again paces the offense, he should give the elite quarterbacks a run for their money. 

RB Braelon Allen (+6000), Wisconsin Badgers

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that we’re going from one Big Ten running back to another here. This is one of the few conferences in which many of the elite programs still possess run-first offenses. And make no mistake about it: Wisconsin will still emphasize the run, even with Phil Longo implementing his version of the Air Raid offense in his first year with the program. 

When Luke Fickell took the head coaching job for Wisconsin, he wanted to bring in a coordinator that could open things up and get more out of the passing game. That’s why Longo is now in Madison. But Fickell knows that he can’t just abandon the program’s bread and butter. He has a very good offensive line in place, and Allen is one of the best running backs in the country. Why would he go away from that? 

I think an improved passing game will do wonders for Allen, who rushed for 1,242 yards with 11 touchdowns last season. Defenses used to be able to load up the box against Wisconsin, so Allen was often being met behind the line of scrimmage or just having very little room to work with. But with Tanner Mordecai now playing quarterback for the Badgers, with a good group of pass catchers, opponents can’t focus all their attention on Allen. That means that Allen should turn in a career year for Wisconsin, which looks like a legitimate sleeper to win the Big Ten this season. 

The Badgers are arguably the best team in the Big Ten West, and they’re the betting favorites to win the division this season. But with Fickell around, Wisconsin hopes to compete with the big boys. If the Badgers can find a way to do it, I wouldn’t rule out Allen making his mark on the Heisman race. 

Dark Horses and Dart Throws

QB Jalen Milroe (+6000) and Ty Simpson (+6000), Alabama Crimson Tide

Currently, it’s unclear who will emerge as the starting quarterback for Nick Saban’s team. As far as betting goes, it might make sense to put a little something down on Milroe and Simpson. Both are going off at +6000 odds. Milroe’s experience should give him a leg up in the competition, but there’s some buzz that Simpson will get the nod. 

The Crimson Tide have had a top-five passing offense in each of the past five years, and things likely won’t be slowing down with Tommy Rees now entrenched as the program’s offensive coordinator. Rees is viewed as a brilliant offensive mind, so being the quarterback in his offense should result in tremendous numbers. It doesn’t hurt that either one will be surrounded by elite talent all over the field. 

Milroe showcased his dual-threat ability in a start against the Texas A&M Aggies last year. That was the only start of his college career, and Milroe threw for three touchdowns and one pick while also adding 81 rushing yards in that game. He broke one run for 33 yards in that one, which shows his big-play ability with his legs. The week before, Milroe had a 77-yard run against the Arkansas Razorbacks in relief of an injured Bryce Young. Simpson has some of that same dual-threat magic, but he isn’t quite as electric with his legs. However, he might be a touch more accurate as a passer.

Alabama will obviously play a very tough SEC schedule this season, but the team should find a way to navigate it and flirt with a College Football Playoff berth. That should mean that whoever claims this job will be in the Heisman picture. 

QB D.J. Uiagalelei (+9000), Oregon State Beavers

Uiagalelei was once considered a contender to win this award for the Clemson Tigers, but things never quite clicked. Uiagalelei struggled with his passing efficiency, and the Tigers were forced to go in another direction. Rather than choosing a flashier option in the transfer market, Uiagalelei decided to continue his playing career in Corvallis. All things considered, I loved the move for the former five-star recruit. Jonathan Smith is an elite head coach that played the quarterback position and has a great offensive mind. If anybody can get everything out of Uiagalelei, it’s Smith and a low-pressure Oregon State environment. 

The Beavers were a very good football team in 2022, going 10-3 on the season. Oregon State now returns a significant number of starters on the offensive side of the ball, which gives Uigalelei a lot of talent to work with. He will also be facing Pac-12 competition, which should allow him to post some big numbers as both a runner and a passer. 

For as bad as Uiagalelei’s 2022 season might have seemed, he did throw for 2,521 yards with 22 touchdowns and only seven picks. He also added 545 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. I wouldn’t be surprised if he improves those numbers, facing a much easier schedule. And I like Oregon State’s chances of emerging from a wide-open Pac-12. That would put Uiagalelei on the national radar.