Betting the 2018 Heisman: Value Picks, Dark Horses and Stay-Aways
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tua Tagovailoa, Trace McSorley, D’Andre Swift
- Heisman Trophy winners all fit a certain criteria, and you should use them when betting on the award.
- Ken Barkley has value picks, dark horses to consider and stay-aways for the 2018 Heisman betting market.
- Each player fits his criteria for winning, so you can eliminate a lot of guys off the bat.
Heisman mania is here! Heis-mania? Yeah, that’s better. Heismania! It’s here.
Earlier this month, I wrote about some of the criteria that voters use (whether they really know it or not) to select a Heisman winner. Without bogging down this article with that analysis, a player really needs to meet these requirements:
- Play QB or RB.
- Play for a Power 5 school.
- Play for a team that wins nine-plus regular-season games (but 10 is strongly preferred).
- Play for a team where he can build a statistical profile that stands out significantly from his peers, and stands out in basic, raw numbers.
Here are the latest odds:
Using just those criteria won’t really get you to a group that you can bet all of reliably, but it does eliminate some of the sure losers, or players whose odds of winning are maybe 1,000,000-1 but are listed at 100-1. It can help you make smarter decisions.
Taking that group and whittling it down to players you want to bet requires sort of a mixture of art, science and analysis. Some of it is indeed about opinion, but a lot of it is really about price, too, as you’ll see with the players who should be avoided. Here are some of my thoughts on Heisman prices.
All odds as of Aug. 22.
Heisman Prices I’m Buying
- Penn State
- Odds: 15-1
The table is set here for an incredible statistical season. Saquon Barkley is gone, leaving McSorley as the only name fans remember. Because of how the Nittany Lions have recruited (behind basically just Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia), there are still tremendous weapons around him.
The schedule starts out with Appalachian State (replacing an incredible defensive coordinator) in Week 1, Pitt on national TV in prime time in Week 2, then Kent State and Illinois, where Penn State can essentially name the score.
There’s a good chance McSorley heads into the Sept. 29 clash with Ohio State with a legitimate Heisman candidacy and strong national narrative. Win that game, and he might be the favorite.
The question of whether this team can win nine or 10 games is worth asking of any team in the Big Ten East, but Penn State is at home for three of its four toughest games (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State), only having to go to Ann Arbor. I think nine or 10 wins is reasonable.
The other question mark is at offensive coordinator, where Ricky Rahne replaces the highly regarded Joe Moorhead (now the head coach at Mississippi State). Rahne has been on staff for all of McSorley’s time, he’s keeping the same offense in place, and he did call an excellent bowl game against Washington, where McSorley threw for more than 300 yards. There are unknowns with Rahne, sure.
There’s lots of potential here, and opportunities for accolades to be heaped solely on one player, considering the lack of known star power around him.
Trace McSorley Career Stats
- Running back
- Odds: 40-1
Georgia will be favored in all 12 games (unless it suffers injuries and Auburn overachieves significantly by the time they meet), so there is very little risk in the Bulldogs qualifying as an elite, 10-plus win team. That’s one of the criteria needed to win the Heisman.
Swift made the second half of Georgia games last year must-see viewing, because he only got mop-up chances sitting behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. In nine of his 12 regular-season games, despite extremely limited touches, Swift had either a rush or reception of 20 yards or more (and in some cases, way more).
With an experienced returning offensive line leading a run-heavy attack (Georgia ran the ball on better than 67% of its plays last season), I think the opportunity is here for a large statistical profile with no Chubb or Michel.
The reason I prefer Swift to someone like Damien Harris at Alabama, or either Clemson running back, is simply the touches. Harris may not average even 10 carries a game this season based on past Alabama rush offenses and the backs sitting behind him.
Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne at Clemson are likely to split production, and I’m still not entirely convinced Clemson’s offense will be particularly potent anyway. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have the same problem at Ohio State this year, too.
Georgia is the 10-plus-win program most likely to have one running back stand out at a national level.
Heisman Dark Horses
- Running back
- Odds: 125-1
I’m aware of inherent West Coast bias with Heisman voting, and I know Chris Petersen has some strong opinions on how Pac-12 teams are viewed as well. To consider a West Coast player, you have to really believe he can do memorable things (think Christian McCaffrey, who came close).
This type of stigma is what makes me waffle every day on someone like Oregon QB Justin Herbert (31-1). Even with the opportunity for big games because of the schedule, the price may just be too short. Tough call.
In Gaskin, I get the player I think is most likely to have a dominant statistical profile from Washington, which is the team most likely to exceed nine wins from the Pac-12. And I get that player at 125-1. It’s really that simple.
Myles Gaskins Career Stats
- Odds: 125-1
This is of course predicated on him winning the starting job to begin with.
I’m not even particularly excited about this USC team, but I also know that almost no one is. That public opinion may be creating value. Reports from camp (albeit biased ones that are very unlikely to be negative) signal that he’s performing well so far.
Getting a USC quarterback at this price can be appealing because of the popularity and “name brand” of the program. This bet really depends on how quickly you think he can pick up the offense and whether you think the team can get to 10 wins (in what many are considering a down year).
I prefer others, but in this price tier, he stands out a little more than most.
- Running back
- Odds: 300-1
I like to make one of these completely absurd (but somehow not absurd?) statements in most content that I produce, because I think it’s fun. I recently went on a podcast and made a claim that Cal and Baylor at 2,000-1 each to win the College Football Playoff would be fun bets to make. This is my wacky one for the Heisman.
Making a case for Kentucky winning nine games will require all of the mental gymnastics you can muster.
But here are some things to consider: Snell was 59 yards shy of being the leading rusher in the SEC last year. Fifty-nine. He finished ahead of Derrius Guice and just behind Nick Chubb and Kerryon Johnson.
Kentucky doesn’t play Alabama, Auburn or LSU this year, three defenses he would have an incredibly hard time running against. He gets to play Central Michigan, Murray State, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee State and a completely rebuilding Louisville defense in the season’s final week.
Even games against Tennessee and Missouri may be good opportunities to put up numbers. Again, I’m not saying go out and slam this one, but of the pool of guys 100-1 or higher, he is far more appealing than almost anyone.
Players (Really Prices) to Avoid
- Running back
- Odds: 7-1
If I’m going to bet on the favorite for the award (which I am almost never going to do anyway), I would sure want more positive evidence that the team he plays for can win nine or 10 games.
Stanford’s win total is set at 8.5, and the Cardinal have a lot of questions on defense after poor showings last season. And their schedule is brutal. They play five games against teams who have outrecruited them overall in recent years, and they play six games on the road (five in conference and Notre Dame).
None of this is really a knock on Love’s talent — although he had multiple injuries last year that hampered him, so we’ll see if he can stay durable — but why take a price this low for what could very well be the best player on a 7-5 or 8-4 team?
- Odds: 15-2
The second choice on the board, and another player I’d rather avoid. Alabama will have no problem winning the requisite number of games for him to qualify, but I would be much more concerned with how it wins the games.
As we saw with Jalen Hurts last year, blowouts can happen often when you’re dealing with a team this talented, and the backups played extensively. That cuts down on opportunities to pile up stats.
>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest conversation delivered into your inbox each morning.
Also, I’m not totally convinced Tagovailoa is going to take all the snaps. While I do think he’ll begin the season as the starter, his grip on that job isn’t concrete. Alabama’s dominant run game always makes me hesitant to take its quarterbacks, except at longer prices.
Basically, Tagovailoa could be incredible and still have no chance to win this award. With this much uncertainty in his situation and available opportunities, and with such a low price, I would pass.
- Odds: 20-1
There are so many things going against him at this price. He has one of the lowest prices on the board, but plays for a team that probably won’t win 10 games. (The Wolverines play at Notre Dame, vs. Wisconsin, at Michigan State, vs. Penn State and at Ohio State this season.)
Michigan has a history of not getting a ton of production out of its quarterback, and Patterson is going to be playing in a completely different system (with a completely different offensive coordinator, or none at all, as has also been documented).
Because of the style Michigan plays, I would consider it unlikely he can accrue the statistical profile necessary.
Can he win? Sure, but at 20-1, I need more working in his favor.
The One Player I Have No Idea What to Do With
- West Virginia
- Odds: 14-1
I dunno, man. I just don’t know. Grier is getting so much buzz to win this award. And I get it. This West Virginia offense is going to score a lot this year, most of it through the air. And the Mountaineers will have to score a lot, because their defense ain’t stopping most people.
We know from Baker Mayfield’s jaw-dropping seasons that in the Big 12, you can really rack up yards and touchdowns in a hurry. Can this team really win nine or 10 games, though? And can Grier stay healthy? That’s what I keep coming back to, because this price is extremely low. You would want much more of a sure thing to hop in at this number.
Will Grier Career Stats
WVU plays six teams this season that have outrecruited it over the past five years. Half its schedule against better talent!
The Mountaineers play at Texas Tech (hugely improved defense last year with a lot back production-wise), at Iowa State (great defense) and at Texas (even better defense).
What I will say is that this price might drop as the season goes along, so maybe grabbing it now (as opposed to Week 3 or 4) is the way to go if you want to bet him. Grier faces a completely rebuilding Tennessee team (which loses its three best corners from last year) in Week 1, and follows that up with Youngstown State and an N.C. State team that lost more defensively than almost any other program.
The real tough part of the schedule comes late, so you could buy Grier with the hopes that when we get to Week 8 or 9, he has become the favorite. (The favorite when these markets reopen has almost nothing to do with schedule remaining, and is more about current national opinion.)
Then you could buy out by betting the field vs. Grier before he faces Texas, TCU and Oklahoma to close the season. Still, not a lot of wiggle room and potential profit when you’re only starting at 14-1 to begin with. Bryce Love had a similar situation arise late last year, but you were working with 175-1 before the season, not 14-1.
Just like with any of these players, it’s a tough call to make given how the award takes shape. Heismania is always full of surprises.