The NCAA college football season got off to a big start last Saturday.
The 14th ranked Stanford Cardinal and 100-1 favorite to win the Heisman, running back Bryce Love, ran roughshod over the hapless Rice Owls by a count of 62-7. Love ran for 183 yards on just 13 carries and scored a TD in the blowout.
In the other opener, the 19th ranked South Florida Bulls and 60-1 favorite QB Quinton Flowers came from behind to clip San Jose State 42-22. Down 16-0, Flowers engineered six consecutive scoring drives to put the game out of reach for the Spartans. He was 11-of-22 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball 18 times for 91 yards and another score.
Of course, a lot of betting favorites, besides Love and Flowers (sounds like a band’s name), hope to jump start their quest for a Heisman Trophy, including the current holder, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson.
Here are 15 short and long odds favorites for the coveted bauble.
15. QB Quinton Flowers – South Florida Bulls (80-1)
Just like his team’s chances of winning the FBS (they are in the AAC and the lower-ranked Group of 5), Quinton Flowers has long odds at 80-1 of copping the Heisman. But, we love an underdog and sing the Bulls star QB’s praises. Like we noted above, Flowers gave his chances a mighty boost with his performance Saturday against San Jose State. Flowers numbers in his first two seasons as a starter at SFU were spot on. In 2015, the Miami, FLA native passed for 2,296 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions and had a passer rating of 149.4 in 13 games. Last season, Flowers posted a stat line of 2,296 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs and a passer rating of 153.6, also in 13 contests. He also ran the ball for 991 yards and 12 TDs in 2015 and then a sterling 1,530 yards and 18 scores in 2016. We think he has a very good outside shot.
14. QB Shane Buechele – Texas Longhorns (60-1)
If there is a player more ideally suited to dealing with the pressure of big time college football, then he must be great to beat out Texas Longhorn’s sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele. The Arlington, TX native and graduate of football factory high school Lamar had a standout freshman season with his homestate Longhorns in Austin. Buechele completed 236 of 391 passes for the Longhorns in 2016, along with 21 TDs (11 INTs) and a passer rating of 136.0. While his team’s mark was just 5-7 last year, the ‘Horns are ranked 23rd this season and may make some noise. His most notable victories in 2016 were those against Texas – El Paso (41-7 win, 244 yards passing, 4 TD) and Oklahoma (45-40 loss, 245 yards passing, 3 TD, 1 INT). He’s a good one who will get better.
13. QB Wilton Speight – Michigan Wolverines (50-1)
If Wilton Speight wants to join the ranks of UM Heisman Trophy winners Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson, he’ll have to beat long odds to do so. The Virginia native starts his quest for Michigan’s fourth Heisman when he and his 11th ranked Wolverines tangle with 17th seeded Florida Gators this Saturday. The big (6’6″) junior had a heck of a season as a first-time starter in 2016, throwing for 2,538 yards, 18 touchdowns and a passer rating of 139.8. He was 10-3 as a starter and took Big Blue to the Orange Bowl, where they lost a narrow 33-32 decision to Florida State. Further to that, he owned a 7-2 mark against Big 10 competition, only losing to Iowa (14-13) and Ohio State (30-27 in double overtime).
12. QB Luke Falk – Washington State Cougars (40-1)
Falk is only the second senior pivot ranked here and if he’s true to form, rocket-armed Falk might become the first ever Cougar to be named Heisman Trophy winner. In his sophomore and junior seasons Falk passed for well over 4,000 yards (4,561 in 2015 and 4,468 in 2016) and fired 38 TD passes each year (76 total against just 19 interceptions) and an average passer rating of 145.7. Last year Falk guided the Cougars to a 8-5 finish and spot in the Holiday Bowl, which they lost 17-12 to Minnesota. Against Pac-12 competition last season, Falk was an admirable 7-2. His only knock might be that he disappeared in a pivotal game against Washington on Nov. 25, when he threw for 269 yards, one TD and a season high three interceptions in a 45-17 loss. However, he was lights out against just about everyone else and deserves his current odds of winning the Heisman.
11. RB Nick Chubb – Georgia Bulldogs (30-1)
It’s been 35 years since a Bulldog won a Heisman and that man was superstar running back Herschel Walker. Senior RB Nick Chubb may not be as big as Walker, or have the same stats, but if can duplicate the numbers from his fine freshman season (1,547 yards rushing, 213 yards receiving, 16 TDs), he has a shot at putting his name on the hallowed trophy. After a down sophomore campaign, Chubb came back with a fluorish in 2016, dashing for 1,130 yards and eight scores during the Bulldogs 8-5 season, which culminated in a Liberty Bowl victory over TCU. Chubb has shown an ability, too, to elevate his game in crucial situations, as he ran for 142 yards (his second highest total in 2016) and a TD against the Horned Frogs in that Bowl game. He and the 15th ranked ‘Dogs entertain Appalachian State on Saturday.
10. RB Derrius Guice – LSU Tigers (25-1)
Derrius Guice has some giant shoes to fill in Baton Rouge this season — those belonging to the departed Leonard Fournette. And it’s not assured that Guice can begin his quest to show the LSU faithful that he is worthy of being named in the same breath as the Heisman. He may miss the no. 13 ranked Tigers opener at home against BYU on Saturday, which could hamper his chances. Guice actually got to play a lot as a sophomore in 2016 as future first round pick Fournette was hobbled with injuries. Guice gained 1,387 yards on the ground and another 106 in the air in 2016, along with 16 touchdowns. His most noteworthy performance came against Texas A&M on Nov. 24, 2016, when he rushed for a season high 285 yards and four TDs in a 54-39 win.
9. QB Jalen Hurts – Alabama Crimson Tide (20-1)
Hurts is the last of who we consider to be long odds to win the Heisman. But, playing for no. 1 ranked Alabama, many times on national TV, will only give him a leg up on some of those ahead of him right now. Hurts’ freshmen season with the Crimson Tide can be summed up as outstanding. On one of college football’s most storied stages, Hurts threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns and a passer rating of 139.1. He ran for another 954 yards and 13 more TDs to put an exclamation mark on his big first season. His record was a perfect 14-0 until he and the Tide ran into Clemson in the national title game and lost 35-31. He wasn’t quite as stellar that day (131 yards passing, 63 yards rushing, two TDs) but for an 18-year-old he performed well. A big year will put him easily into Heisman consideration.
8. QB Jarrett Stidham – Auburn Tigers (15-1)
It’s been two years since Stidham threw a football in anger, under the watchful eye of disgraced Baylor coach Art Briles, no less. Stidham had ridiculous numbers for Baylor in 2015, throwing for 1,265 yards in 10 games (just three starts), 12 touchdowns (two INTs) and a passer rating of 199.0. Stidham will lead the no. 12 ranked Tigers into the season on Saturday, when Georgia Southern pays a visit. He’ll get his first big test a week later when Auburn heads to “Death Valley” in Clemson, S.C. to take on the fifth-ranked and defending national champion Tigers. Stidham left Baylor in the summer of 2016 in the wake of the ugly sexual abuse scandal that involved several allegations and a conviction of a Baylor player Tevin Elliott. The last Tiger to win the Heisman was none other than Cam Newton in 2010.
7. QB Deondre Francois – Florida State Seminoles (15-1)
The battle among sophomore college quarterbacks for the Heisman will be a heated one in 2017. Orlando native Deondre Francois was superb in his freshman season with Florida State in 2016, throwing for 3,350 yards and 20 TDs for the 10-3 Seminoles. This year, FSU is ranked third in the nation, which will ratchet up the pressure for Francois to up his game and possibly join the ranks of three other historical Seminoles Heisman winners, quarterbacks Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston. Francois will get his chance to shine and maybe make an early season push for the Heisman when he and the Seminoles tangle with no. 1 Alabama this Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
6. QB Jake Browning – Washington Huskies (15-1)
Hard to believe that with the season Jake Browning had with the Huskies last year that he was only sixth in Heisman Trophy voting (a Husky has never won it). The Folsom, CA born Browning passed for 3,430 yards and an amazing 43 touchdowns (setting a new record for TDs per attempt at 12.2 percent), just nine interceptions and a rating of 167.5. In just one game last season against Pac-12 foe California, Browning completed 22 of 28 passes for six touchdowns, a well as running for two more scores in a 70-21 rout of the Bears. Overall, Browning’s record was 12-2, his only losses to USC and Alabama in the CFP semi-final. He underwent surgery on his throwing arm after that game, and it was speculated that the injury he suffered had an effect on his reduced performance that game. The no. 8 Huskies travel to New Jersey to take on Rutgers Friday night.
5. RB Saquon Barkley – Penn State Nittany Lions (15-1)
In the storied history of Nittany Lions football, only one player has ever won the Heisman. He was running back John Cappelletti, way back in 1973. The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions have roared back to prominence in the last couple of years and key to their resurgence has been the outstanding running of junior RB Saquon Barkley. The native of Coplay, PA didn’t have to go far to star in college football (his hometown is two and a half hours from University Park) and so far he has shone. In his sophomore season, Barkley ran for 1,496 yards and 18 TDs, as well as catching 28 passes for another 402 yards and four more scores. He saved one of his best college football games yet for last in 2016, scampering for 194 yards — including an astounding 79-yard TD and one other — in a 52-49 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl. Penn State and Barkley get their season rolling at Beaver Stadium this Saturday against Akron.
4. QB J.T. Barrett – Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1)
Now we get into the short odds and those who have a fighting chance at a Heisman. And of all schools in NCAA D-I football, the Buckeyes (along with Notre Dame) have each had seven Heisman winners, the most of all schools. Barrett’s up-and-down collegiate career could see him become the eighth, after he shook off injuries and inconsistent play to have a pretty good season in 2016. Now in his last year of eligibility, Barrett leads the second-ranked Buckeyes into a season full of promise. Barrett was near perfect in 2016, fashioning a record of 11-2 and passing for 2,555 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He added 845 yards rushing and nine more TDs to his outstanding year. The only blemish on what was otherwise a great season was that 31-0 loss to Clemson in the CFP semi-final, where he passed for just 127 yards and was intercepted twice.
3. QB Lamar Jackson – Louisville Cardinals (10-1)
The defending Heisman Trophy winner might become just the second two-time winner in the award’s history since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin turned the trick in 1974-75. In fact, for others on this list to unseat him, especially fellow pivots, they will have to turn in monster years. Jackson was a one-man wrecking crew for the 9-4 Cardinals in 2016, passing for 3,543 yards and 30 TDs (nine INTs) and running for another 1,571 yards and an eye-popping 21 touchdowns. The only team to really throttle him back last year was LSU, which limited him to 153 yards passing, 33 yards rushing and no touchdowns during a 29-9 Tigers win in the Citrus Bowl. Jackson and the no. 16 Cardinals head to Indianapolis on Saturday to take on Purdue in their season opener.
2. QB Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma Sooners (10-1)
Before he even sets foot on the grass at Owen Field this Saturday for the Sooners opener against UTEP, Baker Mayfield already has one strike against him. After being arrested in the off-season for a wild night that included being booked on misdemeanor charges for public intoxication and resisting arrest, Mayfield has lots to prove after being told by the University to undergo 35 hours of community service and completing an alcohol education program. Heisman voters will no doubt have that in the back of mind for a player deemed by odds-makers of have the second best chances at the trophy. Despite his off-field troubles, Mayfield had a great season in 2016, throwing for 3,965 yards and 40 TDs, against just eight INTs. He threw two touchdown passes in a 35-19 victory over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl last year and a season highlight was a 545-yard, seven-TD performance in a wild 66-59 triumph against Texas Tech last October.
1. QB Sam Darnold – USC Trojans (9-2)
The Trojans have had many golden boys in their long and illustrious NCAA football history and if the odds-makers are to be believed, sophomore Californian Sam Darnold has the best chance to join their ranks. The Capistrano Beach native, should he win the Heisman, would become the seventh Trojan so honored on a list that includes Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Marcus Allen, Charles White, O.J. Simpson and Mike Garrett. After a slow start to his freshman season and being the no. 2 man to Max Browne, Darnold got a chance to start for the then 1-2 Trojans late last September and made the most of it. After losing his first ever start to Utah, Darnold went undefeated the rest of the season. He capped that 9-1 record as a starter with a fluorish, victimizing Penn State’s defence for a season high 453 yards passing and five TDs in a 52-49 Rose Bowl victory. He’s the man, so far, and the rest will have to chase him.