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Giving Away Money: Preseason Heisman Odds — Back-to-back for Caleb Williams?

Is Caleb Williams the smart money? What kind of fool is going to put money on Joe Milton?

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Tulane at Southern California Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, we had an absolute runaway in the Heisman Memorial Trophy, as USC QB Caleb Williams brought home the Trojans’ 7th overall Stiff Arm Guy, and the first for the Men of Troy in 15 years. Caleb won 77.3% of all First Place Votes, which is good for 10th all-time in lopsided outcomes.

But, blowouts have not been rare of late. In 2019, Joe Burrow set a record for the most Heisman votes overall, and the greatest margin of 1st place votes (93.8%). Then, just two years later, Bryce Young claimed over 83% of first place votes, good for 7th all-time. And, in the modern playoff/BCS era, 8 of the 10 have been routs — including Baker Mayfield, Johnny Football, Marcus Mariota and others.

So, the odds are in your favor that whoever claims the Heisman this year will do so in convincing fashion. And the early favorite is Caleb Williams to reprise last year’s feat.

Here are the odds for Quarterbacks (and the winner will emerge from this group), and then we’ll take a stab at some good and bad bets.

  • Caleb Williams, QB, USC (+450)
  • Jordan Travis, QB, Florida State (+1200)
  • Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina (+1200)
  • Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington (+1200)
  • Bo Nix, QB, Oregon (+1400)
  • Quinn Ewers, QB, Texas (+1600)
  • Sam Hartman, QB, Notre Dame (+1600)
  • Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU (+1600)
  • Kyle McCord, QB, Ohio State (+1600)
  • Joe Milton, QB, Tennessee (+1800)
  • JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan (+1800)

Smartest Money

Caleb Williams has the best odds for a reason: he’s the most talented returning player in the country, with a generous schedule, has the scheme in place, and has an awful defense behind him. He was 1st in TDs, 5th in YPA, 5th in QB efficiency, 4th in YPG, 3rd in total yards, and 2nd in interception rate. He’s on a team that will get Top 10 hype, in a major media market, and gets to play in a terrible conference that nonetheless will feature lots of close games. He has something working against him, though: History. Only once has a player won two Heismans, when Archie Griffin claimed it B2B for the Buckeyes. So, ESPN et al will take this one of two ways: Either hyping his inflated stats to repeat Griffin’s half-century old feat; or try and manufacture a horse race, to get someone new on the stage. In either case, he’ll draw the eyeballs. I think though that not even ESPN can be credited for this one — his performance likely stands a very good shot to win it outright again...and if he puts up last year’s numbers, he’ll deserve it. Again.

Not A Prayer

Jayden Daniels is a limited player that relies on his legs to make plays. Cam Newton, Kyler Murray, and Tim Tebow, he is not. Hell, he’s not even Blake Sims. Daniels does play in a controlled passing offense that leans into YAC, so his raw data is propped up by LSU’s short passes and talented receivers. For instance, he is 9th in Comp. %, but where it matters, he’s deficient: He threw for just 17 scores last year, had under 3000 yards passing, was 40th in pass efficiency rating, and 56th in YPA. Worse, every last interception he threw came when LSU was tied or losing: When he has to pass, he can’t. He’ll have the LSU cachet and the preseason Top 10 ranking, but he’s a no-hoper.

Most Foolish Bet

JJ McCarthy. Michigan is a ball control offense that leans on its offensive line and running game to control the contest. McCarthy averaged less than 200 yards per game last year, did not even reach the magic 3000 yard milestone, and had a very modest 22 scores. He was just 70th in pass attempts, 33rd in pass efficiency rating, and 27th in YPA. This is the most sucker of sucker bets. The Wolverines are not going to morph into something they’re not, and they’re certainly not doing so with a merely above-average arm. There are sucker bets, then there’s “Jim Harbaugh having a Heisman winning QB”-kind of sucker bet.

Better Than You Think

FSU may finally, actually be back. Norvell can coach a dominant offense, and he has poached three straight classes of top tier talent from the Portal to build a complete team. And it begins with the Renaissance’s trigger man: Jordan Travis. He was injured early in the year, so he was banged up for almost half the year (though still playing), but still finished 5th in YPA, 14th in Pass Efficiency, and threw for 25 scores to just 5 INTs. Another year older and healthier will make him the man the offense goes through. The media loves a good villain and comeback story. The Noles can be both. If the trend holds, the Super Senior is poised to go off — and he’ll have the offense to do it under too, in a Preseason Top 10 team with a gentler schedule, and all the hype in the world. You would like to see better completion numbers though just 64% last year.

Best Long Odds

Sam Hartman, Notre Dame. If you did not see Hartman’s work at Wake Forest, you were deprived of a treat. The guy is a baller. And this year he transferred to the most visible, hyped program in the country. He’ll be playing under a new pass-friendly OC, with a stout defense to give him the ball back, and finally gets to be surrounded by blue-chip talent. Even better: since he transferred to South Bend, his schedule will be opponents he is already very familiar with. If a Notre Dame QB is even remotely in the discussion, a Northern bloc that rallies around guys at the traditional rust belt powers will make the difference. Bet on that. Hartman was in the Top 20 in literally every passing stat of note last year, and if they give him the keys this year, he could repeat that feat...and find himself in New York.

Chime in below.

Who’s your sleeper in this race (and don’t say Drake Maye: every Heisman winner for like half a century has come from a national title contender, and that’s never gonna’ happen with Road Mack Brown...and with UNC’s defense that drop 3-4 losses on the Tar Heels out of the gate).