Heisman Trophy Odds, Picks: Do Michigan’s JJ McCarthy, Blake Corum Have a Real Shot?
Nic Antaya/Getty Images. Pictured: Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy.
It's not often that a team has three Heisman candidates on the same offense, let alone in the same backfield.
Michigan was already set to return quarterback J.J. McCarthy and running back Donovan Edwards for their junior seasons. However, it was a pleasant surprise for Wolverine fans when running back Blake Corum announced he would return to Ann Arbor as well.
With McCarthy, Corum and Edwards all returning, Michigan should put up big numbers offensively after averaging 40 points per game last season. The Wolverines are currently +180 to win the Big Ten and +850 to win the National Championship at FanDuel.
They may be in line for plenty of team success this season, but will their talented backfield limit their own chances of taking home the Heisman Trophy?
Let's start with McCarthy.
Last season, I backed McCarthy as a longshot to win college football's highest individual honor when he was 100-1.
I knew that if Michigan beat Ohio State on the road for the first time in over 20 years, it would likely be because of McCarthy. He then threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns and added 27 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
McCarthy had the fourth-shortest odds to win the award at one point during the regular season but ultimately did not factor into the race. He threw for 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 64.6% of his passes. Those are solid numbers for a first-year starter but also not enough to garner attention from the Heisman Trust.
I'm still very high on McCarthy's talent, and I'm not alone.
Several notable outlets, including ESPN and The Athletic, have McCarthy projected as a first-round pick in next year's NFL Draft. McCarthy's experience in Michigan's pro-style offense will help him in that regard, but the team's run-first approach may limit his production.
The last 12 quarterbacks to win the Heisman have averaged 4,307 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes. John Navarre still holds Michigan's school record for passing yards with 3,331, while Elvis Grbac and Chad Henne hold a share of the school-record 25 passing touchdowns.
I expect McCarthy to break both of those records this season, but I don't expect him to throw for 4,000 passing yards.
Michigan will have to replace Ronnie Bell, its leading receiver from last season. However, Darrius Clemons and Tyler Morris should emerge this season, and Colston Loveland will be one of the country's best tight ends. Michigan also returns Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson.
An interesting wrinkle to Michigan's offense this season is the suspension of head coach Jim Harbaugh for three games and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore for the season opener.
Quarterbacks coach Kirk Campbell will call plays against East Carolina, and McCarthy has raved about him this offseason. There has been buzz in Ann Arbor about the Wolverines opening up the offense for McCarthy in an attempt to become more balanced.
A more balanced offense will help Michigan in its quest to win a national title. However, Harbaugh's teams have placed an emphasis on running the football despite the fact that Harbaugh was a quarterback himself. At Stanford, Harbaugh had Toby Gerhart and Stepfan Taylor as 1,000-yard backs, plus Frank Gore when he went to the 49ers.
Karan Higdon, Hassan Haskins and Corum have all run for 1,000 yards or more in a season under Harbaugh, while Edwards missed the mark by nine yards last season.
Now, he has an offense where his running backs are his two best skill players. Due to the presence of Corum and Edwards, McCarthy likely won't throw for 40 touchdowns either.
Of the three, I still feel that McCarthy is the most likely to win the Heisman this season because he's a quarterback. Since 2000, only four non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy, and three of them went to Alabama.
Additionally, for better or worse, the quarterback gets most of the credit and also much of the blame for a team's success or failures. However, at 18-1, I don't believe there's much value on him this season given Michigan's offensive approach.
FanDuel does offer McCarthy to throw 25 regular-season passing touchdowns and Michigan to win the Big Ten Championship at +650 as a season special, which is how I would back McCarthy this season.
Michigan did have a player in last year's Heisman race heading into the Ohio State game, but it wasn't McCarthy; it was Corum.
However, Corum suffered a torn meniscus in Michigan's penultimate game against Illinois. He tried to play through the pain against the Buckeyes but wasn't much of a factor.
Corum finished seventh in Heisman voting last season. If he had 100-yard games in Michigan's wins over Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten Championship, Caleb Williams would've had reason to sweat. Instead, he ran away with the award down the stretch despite the Trojans losing the Pac-12 Championship, North Carolina's poor finish that eliminated Drake Maye from contention and Michigan eliminating C.J. Stroud.
Despite the fact that he likely would have been drafted, Corum returned to Ann Arbor for another season, which is tremendous news for the Wolverines.
Top graded seasons by a RB in the PFF era👀 pic.twitter.com/3ULnIqzv8E
— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 25, 2023
Corum not only earned the highest grade Pro Football Focus has given a running back in nine seasons, but he was also the fourth-best overall player in that period.
He proved to be Michigan's most valuable non-quarterback last season, running for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. However, he had 247 carries in essentially 11 games plus a quarter, including six games with 25 carries or more.
The most important regular-season game on Michigan's schedule is Ohio State, but it's the last game of the season. Corum has been hobbled entering The Game each of the last two seasons and has received just eight carries in those matchups.
It's impossible to predict injuries. However, I'm predicting that Michigan will manage Corum's workload more to help keep him healthy throughout the year, particularly with Edwards on the roster.
If so, Corum will still have a great season, but it likely won't be the season a running back needs to win the Heisman in this era — in the neighborhood of 1,800-plus rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
However, if you're backing Corum to take home the Heisman this season, target FanDuel. He's +5000 to win the award there compared to +2800 at both DraftKings and bet365, and +4000 on BetMGM.
Edwards is the other half of college football's best running-back tandem. He ran for 991 yards and seven touchdowns last season, including 520 yards and three touchdowns in the final three games essentially without Corum. Plus, he posted four of his six runs of 45 yards or more in that stretch.
Edwards is the back who likely has more upside at the NFL level because of his size, speed and pass-catching ability. However, we have yet to see what he's fully capable of.
Like Corum, Edwards also played through injuries last year with both a partially torn patella tendon that he had for the majority of the season and a broken hand he suffered in a November game against Nebraska.
Edwards missed the game in which Corum was injured against Illinois. In the final three games, he caught four passes for 21 yards.
For the season, he hauled in 18 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. As a true freshman, he recorded 10 receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown against Maryland. Edwards may even line up in the slot or split out wide in some packages this season.
If Edwards played at a program where he was the sole focal point of the offense, he has the skill set to threaten 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving. However, with Corum and Michigan's other weapons, it doesn't need to use Edwards that heavily.
As the 1B in Michigan's two-headed monster, Edwards faces the longer odds to win the Heisman this year. If he and Corum are both healthy for the majority of the season, it's hard to see Edwards being a factor in the Heisman race.