Betting the Heisman—as you might expect—has proved to be a difficult task in recent years. The favorites have typically followed up promise and hype with disappointment, and the award comes with a certain bit of unpredictability.
This unpredictability doesn’t come in the form of position, of course. It’s a quarterback award until further notice. But predicting a winner isn’t quite as easy, even with the ability to eliminate key positions—like the entire defensive side—to start.
The online sportsbook Bovada.lv has posted an early batch of Heisman odds for the 2014 season. The odds, which can be seen on the college football blog Kegs ‘n Eggs, have already moved some and will continue to shift in the coming weeks and months.
It’s early, but it’s never too early. Of course it’s not. Here are a few players—a favorite and some more value-packed names—that might be worth a look.
The Chalk Worth Backing
Three unsurprising names sit atop the Heisman odds in expected order. Florida State’s Jameis Winston checks in at 2-to-1, while Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller are right behind, each checking in at 4-to-1.
All three are tremendous playmaking quarterbacks that operate in unique ways. You give me these three guys heading into next season—despite the run of favorite issues—and I’m feeling pretty good about my chances.
For his part, Winston is concentrating on a different game for now.
"I just want to have an effect on this team like I did the football team," Winston told the Associated Press via ESPN, last week before his first practice of the 2014 season with Florida State's baseball team. "I just want to be a team player and get this show going."
If I’m picking one, however, give me Mariota.
Full disclosure: He was my Heisman heading into the 2013 season, and I loved touting him at the value price of 16-to-1 on Bovada’s initial odds a year ago. That was way too good of value for a player of his skill level, and it looked great for a while. But a knee injury and midseason struggles—perhaps caused by said injury—derailed a promising start.
In 2014, you won’t get Mariota at that same price. Even at 4-to-1, however, he seems like a solid selection. The offense has the chance to be more explosive next season, and defensively, the Ducks return quite a bit as well.
If Oregon is ready to take that next step, next season seems like the right time. And if they do, Mariota will find himself in New York City. It’s that simple.
(Well, it’s never that simple, but it looks good now).
The Running Back Worth Backing
Of the past 14 Heisman winners, 12 have been quarterbacks. The award is obviously skewed toward the position, although running backs are at least a distant No. 2 in the appreciation department.
It takes a spectacular back (and season) to generate consideration, although Georgia’s Todd Gurley certainly fits that mold. And at 12-to-1, there is still a bit of value on the best runner in the country by a significant margin.
He’s that rare combination of power, speed, brute force and grace you endlessly search for. He can do absolutely everything. The only real concern about him going forward is his health, something that was a problem in 2013.
Can he stay healthy over the course of the season to rack up the necessary numbers needed to find his way to NYC? If he can avoid the sideline, he’ll likely give the voters something to think about. The other worry comes down to his team and winning enough games. Georgia’s defense should be much improved, and many key parts will be back from injury.
If you’re interested in siding against a quarterback—and that’s a big if—don’t look far. Here’s your guy.
The Running Back to Run from
Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon is outstanding. His potential is off the charts, and there are few backs in the country that can match what he can offer physically.
With that being said, run from his Heisman odds. Run away and don’t look back. Keep running.
Yeldon opened up at the very chalky price of 5-to-1, the most puzzling posting of them all. He has since moved to 15-to-2—just a shade under 8-to-1—although even this won’t cut it.
Not only does Yeldon have to sort out his fumbling issues—something that will likely cut into carries as long as the problem lingers—but the young Derrick Henry is ready to take on a more significant workload this year. In fact, you could argue that Henry would be a much better overall bet at, say, 30- or 40-to-1, although I’m not too fond of either of the backs in this system.
They will split carries, diminishing the likelihood for individual awards. In the case of Yeldon, anything less than 20-to-1 isn’t even worth a look.
The Hunt for Value: Long Shots That Make Sense
As the board currently sits, there are only seven players at 25-to-1 or more. While they might seem like long shots now, keep in mind that Jameis Winston opened around 30-to-1 last season, and he was added late. That lasted for about 30 minutes of actual game time.
Two potential quarterbacks that fit that mold are Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. Each have tremendous upside, although both still have enough questions surrounding their game—and their teams—to move them down the board a bit.
Knight checks in at a cool 25-to-1, which could prove to be quite the steal if his Sugar Bowl performance was just a window into the future. He can do it all, and he’ll be playing on a Sooners squad that suddenly has a fair amount of momentum heading into next season.
Obviously, Knight will have to carry his one-game masterpiece over the course of a year, which is easier said than done. But there’s talent there, lots of it, and there’s reason to believe he can deliver with some consistency.
The same can be said for Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who is listed at 40-to-1. Prescott was a late addition to the Bovada board, and he was quickly bet down after opening at 50-to-1. Even though the top value is no longer available, 40-to-1 still makes quite a bit of sense.
For Prescott, the foundation is there. He’s one of the better athletes at the position, and he should only improve.
Can he, like Knight, elevate his game to that next echelon? And perhaps more importantly, can Mississippi State win enough games to keep him in the conversation? That's the bigger question, and it's why it will take a dream season to make this cash possible. It's not out of the question, though.
Other off-the-Board Names to Consider
This is an abbreviated list as it stands. Other offline sportsbooks will join in on the action, posting more names and odds, and Bovada will add to it throughout the offseason. As more players are added, the odds will shift plenty more.
As for those who aren’t listed but likely will be at some point, here are a few potential solid options with potential value.
Nick Marshall (Auburn, QB): A quarterback playing in Gus Malzahn’s offense should automatically garner eyeballs for the award. The loss of his left tackle and star running back are concerning, but he should develop as a passer over the next seven months.
What kind of value will you get on him? Anything around 25-to-1 would be a steal, although I doubt he'll stay at that number for long.
Jacob Coker (Alabama, QB): It might take a while for Coker to find his name on the odds list, although the recent Alabama transfer could be a value-packed option. For one, he has the tools to be an elite college quarterback. Now you surround him with absurd skill position talent on a team that will remain in the spotlight, and the results could be intriguing.
I’m not sure where he ends up given just how new he is, but somewhere around 50-to-1 would definitely be worth a stab.
Maty Mauk (Missouri, QB): And for your deep, deep long shot, how about the quarterback that looked absolutely brilliant at times when called upon as a freshman? Mauk has excellent speed, and he’ll likely pad the stat sheet with production once he gets rolling. Simply put, he looked the part when tossed into game action.
The bigger question: Will a sportsbook even take odds on the Tigers QB? If so, he could be an intriguing option around 50- or 60-to-1.