Wilson: 4 Keys to Betting the 2018 Heisman Race
Wisconsin Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor (23) rushes for a touchdown via Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
- Historically speaking, regional bias for Heisman voting hasn’t been kind to teams out West, unless you’re USC.
- Bryce Love’s injury history makes him a questionable favorite to win the trophy
- Defense wins championships, but not Heisman trophies, since Charles Woodson took home the hardware in 1997. Think quarterback.
Heisman odds have been available at offshore books since in January, but this past weekend, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook became first to market domestically. With higher limits accepted at the sportsbook, many of the offshore odds moved to replicate Westgate.
Historical Trend Perspective
It is important to understand the Heisman voting process when looking through historical trends. There are six regional sections — each made up of 145 media voters — making 870 total. Only one of the regions represents the Mountain and Pacific Time zones. The Heisman Trust is cognizant of the regional bias, stating “the advent of the information age, the internet and social media” will keep all voters honest.
The remaining votes are given to a Nissan fan vote and former players. Sports journalists with a Heisman vote might not have a regional bias, but the former players certainly might. USC has six recognized Heisman Trophy winners plus Reggie Bush, yet no other Mountain or Pacific time-zone team has two or more. I’m positive Billy Sims could tell you Oklahoma has six winners and needs one more to tie Ohio State at seven.
Fading the Favorites
Bryce Love tops the leaderboard, but that certainly does not make him automatic to win the trophy. If regional bias is not an issue, then the health of Stanford’s star starts the conversation. Love missed games the past two years for health reasons. While 2016’s ‘lower body injury’ created a slow start, it was 2017’s recurring ankle issue that limited his cutting around offensive tackles. Betting on Love equals a wager that he stays healthy. That might be tough for a player whose highlights always include limping.
If the items above are not hindering Love, then consider that Heisman winners generally come from title contenders. Only three players in the past 30 years have won despite their team having three losses (Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, and Tim Tebow).
Finally, ESPN FPI lists Stanford’s strength of schedule as 13th. More specifically, the Cardinal will face some tough rushing defenses. San Diego State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Utah, and Washington all finished in the top 40 in 2017 S&P+ Rushing defense.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is second in odds at most sportsbook offerings. I can make a case for Taylor over Love, considering that Wisconsin should play in its conference championship game after an easier schedule against rush defenses. The regular-season finale against Minnesota is crucial for Taylor to make a statement. Three of the Badgers’ final four games (projecting a Big Ten championship game) come against S&P+ rush defenses that ranked in the top 20 in 2017. Also, keep in mind that 15 of the past 18 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.
Filtering the List
Plenty of hype surrounds the skill positions at schools with College Football Playoff aspirations. Battles will roll into September for Kelly Bryant, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney may act as if there is a competition, but what they desire is to have zero transfers. Multiple weapons equal depth for a grueling run to the playoff. Therefore, we will bypass anyone in a perceived competition.
The notion that seniors such as Jake Browning, Ryan Finley or Drew Lock have a leg up due to tenure does not hold true. There have been as many freshman winners (2) as seniors in the past 15 years. I will throw JT Daniels off the list, as he was playing his Pee Wee Super Bowl five seasons ago.
McKenzie Milton and any other Group of Five players may have an issue, as Heisman winners have all been from Power 5 schools since 1991. Any defensive players can be thrown off the list since Charles Woodson is the only defensive winner since Ernie Davis who played linebacker and running back in 1961. It will probably infuriate Wolverine fans, but I am not looking at Shea Patterson going under center as an easy transition. Patterson has documented issues with pressure, and running Jim Harbaugh’s play action will take plenty of game experience.
Remaining Heisman Recommendation
There are a few quarterbacks who survive the filters mentioned above. Kyler Murray will be starting at Oklahoma while the Sooners march to the Big 12 championship game. Murray has already been named the starter, and with the QB’s baseball signing bonus already in place, head coach Lincoln Riley will do everything in his power to keep him playing football.
Another quarterback at a blue-blood program that deserves consideration is Trace McSorley. A Penn State berth in the Big Ten championship game should guarantee McSorley a seat in New York for the presentation of the Heisman Trophy. The Nittany Lions end their regular season against Rutgers and Maryland pass defenses, giving the quarterback the showcase he needs to close the season.
Dwayne Haskins is as good as advertised and presents a better Ohio State future than any of the individual Buckeyes props. Haskins has been named the Ohio State starter, and he may get off to a fast start in this season. The Buckeyes open their season against teams that struggled with IsoPPP in 2017 with Oregon State (93rd), Rutgers (47th), and TCU (128th).
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