Setting the Early Odds on 2018 Heisman Contenders

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2018

Setting the Early Odds on 2018 Heisman Contenders

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    Although the 2018 season is merely a distant speck on the college football horizon, the next battle for the Heisman Trophy already has a clear batch of candidates at the top.

    Most of the early contenders are returning stars, including Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and 2017 breakout players Jake Fromm, Jarrett Stidham and Jonathan Taylor.

    Established players will receive the most buzz over the offseason, but previous reservessuch as Georgia's D'Andre Swiftare certain to receive plenty of attention, too.

    While other names are sure to surface during the summer and once the 2018 campaign begins, these are the leading candidates in the immediate aftermath of 2017. Odds listed are B/R's own expectation of how they will look prior to the 2018 season.

Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona

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    2017 highlight: After opening the year as a backup, Khalil Tate stepped in for an injured Brandon Dawkins and shredded Colorado. He piled up 327 yards on the ground as well as 154 through the air and accounted for five touchdowns. Tate amassed 3,002 yards of offense and was responsible for 26 scores despite barely playing until October.

    What's changing in 2018: Head coach Rich Rodriguez is gone, but Arizona hired Kevin Sumlinwho brought in Noel Mazzone as offensive coordinator. While the system will be different, Sumlin has fostered productive passers throughout his coaching career. His arrival should greatly benefit Tate.

    Early odds (25/1): Tate's progression as a passer will determine whether he's a realistic threat. Still, he has ample opportunity and a favorable situation for big numbers. Tate's surge in 2017 will boost his recognition over the summer and make him a trendy value pick.

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

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    2017 highlight: Two weeks before Auburn stunned Alabama in the Iron Bowl, Jarrett Stidham accounted for four touchdowns in a demolition of No. 1 Georgia. He ended the campaign with 3,311 yards of total offense and 22 scores to only six interceptions.

    What's changing in 2018: Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway both elected to chase the NFL, and Auburn loses three starters on the offensive line. There may be more pressure on Stidham to help the Tigers win games through the air.

    Early odds (22/1): An increase in offensive responsibilities would bolster Stidham's case. Granted, that's partly conjecture on analysts' ends but seems likely given the personnel losses on offense. If he can match upper-level efficiency with higher production, Stidham will be a serious contender down the stretch.

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

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    2017 highlight: If you love passing stats, have we got a Will Grier for you. He registered no fewer than 285 passing yards and two touchdowns in each of West Virginia's first 10 games last season before a finger injury ended his campaign in game 11. Grier posted 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions.

    What's changing in 2018: Other than Justin Crawford and Ka'Raun White using up their eligibility, not much. And that's a massive plus for Grier. Kennedy McKoy is well-prepared to succeed Crawford, and the offensive line brings back four starters.

    Early odds (18/1): Gary Jennings (97 receptions) and Davis Sills V (18 touchdowns) return for West Virginia, providing Grier with a pair of familiar and superb targets. If he and the Mountaineers take advantage of a favorable early schedule, Grier will remain a Heisman contender come November.

Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

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    2017 highlight: Unexpectedly thrust into the lineup as the replacement for an injured Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm took hold of the starting role and never relinquished it. He guided Georgia to an SEC title and an appearance in the national championship, tallying 2,694 yards of total offense and accounting for 27 touchdowns along the way.

    What's changing in 2018: Beyond the marquee losses of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Javon Wims, Fromm won't be as carefully protected. The Bulldogs spent much of 2017 putting Fromm in low-risk situations, but he consistently showed the ability to handle larger responsibilities that will begin next season.

    Early odds (16/1): Yes, Georgia should "take off the training wheels." Why pass the ball when running is so effective, though? If the Dawgs are as successful on the ground as expectedmore on that shortlyFromm's outstanding efficiency will be tempered by low volume. A similar year with another SEC title appearance should safely keep him in the conversation, though.

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State

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    2017 highlight: During the Fiesta Bowl, Trace McSorley picked apart an elite Washington defense for 342 yardshighlighted by a stunning 12-of-12 mark for 193 yards on third down. The quarterback wrapped up the season with a 66.5 percent completion mark, 4,061 total offensive yards and accounted for 39 touchdowns.

    What's changing in 2018: McSorley will no longer enjoy the playmaking styles of Saquon Barkley and cannot target either DaeSean Hamilton or Mike Gesicki. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead became the head coach at Mississippi State, too. The Nittany Lions will rely heavily on McSorley to propel the scoring attack.

    Early odds (14/1): Considering the production Penn State must replace, calling McSorley a top Heisman option is enormous praise for his skill set. The dual-threat star will need to handle a larger role as a rusher while continuing to be one of the nation's most efficient passers.

D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

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    2017 highlight: D'Andre Swift sealed Georgia's SEC crown and place in the College Football Playoff with a 64-yard scamper against Auburn. He collected 618 rushing yards and chipped in 17 receptions for 153 yards with four combined scores as a third-string freshman.

    What's changing in 2018: Chubb and Michel are headed to the NFL. Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien are still around, but this is likely Swift's backfield now. Although left tackle Isaiah Wynn will be missed, the four other starters on the offensive line return.

    Early odds (10/1): As long as Swift holds a clear advantage on the depth chart, the combination of his explosiveness with that projected carry volume will define his candidacy. The schedule tightens up in the latter half of the regular season, but a quick start would put Swift squarely in the Heisman debate.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

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    2017 highlight: Jonathan Taylor earned second-team AP All-America honors as a freshman. He notched 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns for a Wisconsin team that earned a 13-1 record. Taylor topped the 100-yard mark in 10 games, surpassing 200 yards three times.

    What's changing in 2018: The big question is whether the coaching staff tries to limit his touches. That answer won't be known for a while and could hamper his Heisman ceiling. Taylor averaged 21.4 carries per game, which ranked 12th nationally.

    Early odds (9/1): Notice how the previous section is pretty thin? Well, the Badgers return all five offensive linemenincluding a pair of AP All-Americans in David Edwards and Beau Benzschawel. Taylor has a wonderful opportunity to improve his sixth-place Heisman finish.

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

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    2017 highlight: Over the first seven games of 2017, Bryce Love racked up 1,387 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He was the Heisman favorite before an ankle injury robbed him of one appearance and visibly hampered the Stanford star down the stretch. Love, who finished second in the trophy's final vote, gathered 2,118 rushing yards and 19 scores on the year.

    What's changing in 2018: The Cardinal need to replace one member of the offensive line and tight end Dalton Schultz. KJ Costello figures to be the full-time starter at quarterback. Otherwise, it will be a familiar situation for the speedster in the backfield.

    Early odds (6/1): Somewhat unexpectedly, the draft-eligible standout decided to return for his senior season. That choice pushed Love atop the Heisman list for 2018, when he'll attempt to shake the program's trend of five runner-up finishes since 2009.