As a one-man-band I track as many predictions on college football games as I can. That means straight-up winners and picks against the spread. Every year in August I post a season preview with a bunch of season predictions from all of our favorite (and most hated) college football experts. This doesn’t go into the official record, and it is mostly for fun so we can look back after the season and have a laugh. I don’t track Heisman predictions in my official record, but I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see just how hard it is to get it right in August.
For starters, let’s take a quick look at the current Heisman odds for the 2017-18 college football season. As last year’s winner, Lamar Jackson (QB Louisville) is the current favorite sitting at 13/2 (+650). I loved seeing Lamar Jackson win last year not because I am a Louisville fan, but because Lamar Jackson winning is fun. As much fun as it is seeing traditional powers win the Heisman, like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and
Reggie Bush [VACATED], it is always special when the right player for the right team has a magical year to win such a prestigious award. However, since we’ve only had one repeat Heisman winner in Archie Griffin, a bet on Lamar Jackson is probably lighting money on fire. Aside from the difficulty of recapturing that magic for another season, the voters want a new shiny toy to sell their papers, gain viewers, and drive internet traffic. So how far do we have to dig to find the eventual winner in the preseason odds in past years? Let’s take a look!
In 2016 offseason, there were 3 clear favorites in Leonard Fournette (9/2), Deshaun Watson (5/1), and Christian McCaffrey (11/2). Fournette emerged at 4/1 as the favorite closer to kickoff. We had to go all the way down to 50/1 to find eventual winner Lamar Jackson, who had the same preseason odds as Trevor Knight and Patrick Mahomes. Watson started and finished the season at 2nd. Christian McCaffrey fell to 9th while Fournette fell off the board completely due to the injury bug.
In 2015, Trevone Boykin and Zeke Elliott were by far the favorites at 5/1. Derrick Henry (RB Alabama) was sitting down at 25/1 after falling all offseason from starting at 14/1. An Alabama running back playing for Nick Saban seems like a pretty obvious choice in hindsight, but according to the experts out in the desert his stock was falling. Zeke Elliott finished 8th with Boykin finishing 10th.
In 2014, it seems like the bookmakers had it somewhat close in August. Jameis Winston (6th in Heisman voting) was the favorite at 9/2, right ahead of eventual winner Marcus Mariota at 5/1. 2014 Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon was the 4th preseason favorite at 12/1. 10th place finisher Bryce Petty was also 4th in preseason at 12/1.
In 2013, the preseason favorites were Braxton Miller (9/2) and Jadeveon Clowney (13/2). Considering there has only been one primarily defensive player to win the Heisman, if you bet on Clowney you were throwing away money; he didn’t finish in the top 10. Eventual winner Jameis Winston was way down the line at 33/1. Braxton Miller squeaked in at 9th place.
In 2012, Matt Barkley was a preseason lock at 3/1 with Montee Ball coming in next at 6/1. 2012 winner Johnny Manziel WAS NOT EVEN ON THE BOARD. He wasn’t even projected as the best player at A&M; RB Christine Michael was on the board at 175/1. You could damn sure bet Utah RB John White IV at 200/1, but nobody on earth thought this knucklehead freshman from Texas A&M was going to light it up this season. Barkley and Ball did not even place in the final Heisman voting.
In 2011, Andrew Luck was the favorite at 9/2 with Landry Jones at 13/2 and LaMichael James at 15/2. 2011 winner Robert Griffin III was down at 20/1. Andrew Luck finished 2nd that year (his beard had not yet fully matured), while LaMichael James finished 10th. Landry Jones did not place. Griffin has since spent most of his career being carted off of various NFL fields with injuries.
Strangely enough, we have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the previous winner starting out as the preseason favorite the next year. Mark Ingram was sitting at 7/2 with Terrelle Pryor at 5/1 and Ryan Mallett at 10/1. Unfortunately Ingram, Pryor and Mallett all failed to place in the Heisman voting. A young man with a history of shady allegations during his time at Florida named Cam Newton had transferred to Auburn (by way of Blinn Junior College) to come out of nowhere to win both the Heisman trophy and national championship this year. In fact, none of the preseason top 10 finished in the Heisman top 10. Oops!
In 2009, Tim Tebow came in as the preseason LOCK at 2/1. Sam Bradford was at 5/2 with Colt McCoy right behind at 3/1. Eventual winner Mark Ingram was once again NOT ON THE BOARD in the preseason, but you could definitely put your money on Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour at 150/1. Preseason favorite Tim Tebow went on to finish 5th, before launching a lucrative minor league baseball career years later.
In 2008, Tim Tebow was back on top of the preseason rankings at 7/2. Chris Wells started at 6/1 with Knowshon Moreno at 8/1. Winner Sam Bradford was 16/1 in July, with runner-up Colt McCoy at 28/1. Wells and Moreno did not place, with Tebow finishing 3rd.
In 2007, the field was pretty compact as far as odds go. The odds were: Steve Slayton 4/1, John David Booty 4/1, Darren McFadden 9/2, Brian Brohm 5/1, Colt Brennan 6/1, and Ray Rice at 13/2. Favorites Slayton and Booty did not place, with 3rd preseason favorite McFadden coming in 2nd. Eventual winner Tim Tebow was at 9/1 in the preseason, and thanks to this Heisman award, Skip Bayless has had ten more years of fuel for his career.
In 2006, Brady Quinn was the favorite at 3/1 with Adrian Peterson at 4/1. 2006 winner Troy Smith was 11/1. This was another year where the bookies had it pretty close. Troy Smith started 3rd at 11/1 and finished 1st. Quinn started 1st and finished 3rd, and was last seen still waiting to be drafted at the 2007 NFL draft.
In 2005, Matt Leinart was the HUGE favorite at 13/10 in the preseason coming in as the previous year’s winner. I mean, just give the guy the trophy already right?
Reggie Bush [VACATED] was the 2nd favorite at 9/2 with Adrian Peterson at 13/2 and Vince Young at 7/1. Pretty good job by the bookies, since Reggie Bush [VACATED] won the Heisman this year, with Young and Leinart coming in at 2nd and 3rd.
In 2004, Matt Leinart led the season wire-to-wire starting preseason at 4/1 with Darren Sproles at 5/1 and 2003 winner Jason White at 8/1. Sproles did not place in the voting with Jason White finishing 3rd as predicted.
In 2003, Maurice Clarett was the big favorite at 4/1 with Eli Manning at 8/1 and Kevin Jones/Phillip Rivers at 12/1. Clarett and Jones did not place in the final voting, with Manning finishing 3rd, and Rivers 7th. Winner Jason White was nowhere on the board but if you wanted you could have Boston College RB Derrick Knight at 50/1.
In 2002, Rex Grossman was a sure thing at 2/1 in August. Ken Dorsey followed at 15/4 and Byron Leftwich was 3rd at 4/1. You could have gotten 2002 winner Carson Palmer way down at 20/1 for some nice value. Grossman didn’t place in the final voting, with Dorsey and Leftwich finishing 5th and 6th respectively.
In 2001, winner Eric Crouch started as the favorite at 3/1 and finished on top. Following Crouch were Ken Simonton (4/1), Damien Anderson (5/1), and Chris Simms (6/1). To find the next hit on the preseason odds, you’d need to go to Ken Dorsey who was 6th at 10/1 and finished 3rd.
Prior to 2001 it becomes incredibly difficult to find preseason odds, so that’s where I give up. What does any of this mean? Only 3 times out of the last 16 years has the preseason favorite gone on to win the Heisman. Going blindly off of that number, you’d need to be getting at least 13/3 (+433) to break even on Lamar Jackson this year. I took the average preseason odds of each year’s winners (substituting the highest odds posted for those who weren’t on the board), your average winner started at 40/1 (+4000). If I throw out the four winners who weren’t on the preseason board, you’d still need at least 167/10 (+1670) to break even; let’s call it 17/1.
What should you do with all of this unscientific nonsense? I wouldn’t personally bet on Lamar Jackson to repeat. Dig down deeper in the list for a darkhorse contender for your Heisman futures betting. Considering that four of these sixteen winners weren’t on the board, maybe it wasn’t so crazy after all when my friend @CoachPerc started the “Greg Paulus for Heisman” campaign in 2009. But obviously you can’t bet if they aren’t on the board, so give me a nice Derrius Grice at +1600 or Nick Fitzgerald at +2500. Hell, bet the field if you can find it.