The college football season is nowhere. The Heisman Trophy race is always a huge part of every college football campaign. You probably know which players are the favorites or at least the main frontline contenders to win the stiff-arm trophy: Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma, Sam Howell of North Carolina, Bryce Young of Alabama, D’Eriq King of Miami, Chris Olave of Ohio State, D.J. Uiagalelei of Clemson, J.T. Daniels of Georgia, and Matt Corral of Ole Miss.
Heisman Longshot Best Bets
What about the not-as-prominent players or the subgroup of players not nearly as likely to win the Heisman? Remember that in 2016, Lamar Jackson won the Heisman.
He was not on most oddsmakers’ big boards at the start of the season. He authored a meteoric rise to the top. Kyler Murray of Oklahoma carved out a similar trajectory in 2018. Will there be a similar story this year? Let’s look at some of the better longshot candidates outside the list of the top-tier favorites:
Kedon Slovis, Quarterback, USC
Odds At FanDuel Sportsbook: +2500
If Slovis has an incredible season, he might be able to make some noise. Remember that USC quarterbacks get more publicity and more praise than quarterbacks from other Pac-12 schools. It’s true that Marcus Mariota of Oregon won the Heisman in 2014, but he had to have a statistically brilliant season to win the award.
He was remarkable throughout that year, and he would not have won the Heisman if he produced 80 percent of his actual final stats. When USC quarterbacks are in the thick of the Heisman Trophy hunt, they often win. Matt Leinart won it in 2004. Carson Palmer won in 2002. If Slovis, who had shoulder problems last year, is healthy this year and is able to dramatically elevate his level of performance, he could make a run at the award.
USC would need to win the Pac-12 championship for Slovis to have a realistic chance. USC would need to beat Notre Dame on the road for Slovis to have a realistic chance. Again, the margins are small – such is naturally the case for a longshot candidate – but if Slovis does max out this year, the trophy is within his grasp.
C.J. Stroud, Quarterback, Ohio State
Odds At FanDuel Sportsbook: +1600
Chris Olave is Ohio State’s best Heisman Trophy candidate because he is a veteran wide receiver in a year when a receiver is a defending Heisman Trophy champion, DeVonta Smith of Alabama. Olave is the Ohio State player with the highest ceiling, but that doesn’t mean he is the only significant Heisman candidate on the Ohio State roster.
Stroud, entering his first season of college football, is likely to go through a learning curve, which is what makes his Heisman chances a lot lower than a number of other quarterbacks at high-profile schools.
However, if he is a special quarterback who learns quickly and masters the finer points of quarterback play, he could lead Ohio State to the College Football Playoff and Big Ten championship, deriving the benefits of being the leader of an elite football school on the road to success. That could certainly thrust him into the middle of the Heisman mix.
Jayden Daniels, Quarterback, Arizona State
Odds At FanDuel Sportsbook: +4000
Some pundits and analysts think Arizona State can be a 10-win team this year. Daniels would likely need to win at least 11 games if not 12 to have a realistic shot at the Heisman. Arizona State would need to win the Pac-12 championship. The Sun Devils would need to make a big national splash for Daniels to have a realistic chance.
Daniels would knock Kedon Slovis out of the Heisman race if Arizona State beats USC later this season, but that’s merely playing spoiler, not actually advancing one’s own candidacy. Arizona State needs to be 12-1 with a conference championship to give its quarterback a possible Heisman opening.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE Rusher, Oregon
Odds At FanDuel Sportsbook: +6000
This is the best defensive player in the country according to most analysts. Defensive players don’t usually make the list of Heisman finalists, but every now and then, they surge to the top tier of candidates. If Oregon goes 12-1 and wins the Pac-12 championship and makes the College Football Playoff, Thibodeaux would very likely be a Heisman finalist, because a high-impact year from Thibodeaux is the only realistic way the Ducks will be able to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt the whole season.
If Oregon loses twice, and one of those two losses is in the game against Ohio State on Sept. 11, Thibodeaux will have very little chance – if any at all – of winning the Heisman this year.
McKenzie Milton, Quarterback, Florida State
Odds At DraftKings Sportsbook: +4000
This is an interesting Heisman Trophy story to keep an eye on. Milton led UCF to the Group of Five championship and New Year’s Six bowl appearances – including a Peach Bowl win – in 2017 and 2018. Then, in 2019, he got injured. The injury was gruesome and kept him out of football for over a full year. It was that bad.
Milton has fought hard to get back to the practice field, and he transferred from UCF to Florida State. People recognize his name. Heisman voters do as well. Milton, because of his name recognition, could pick up a number of Heisman votes if he lights up the scoreboard for Florida State this season. It’s not likely that he will soar, but if he does manage to produce a brilliant season and FSU is able to win at least 10 games if not 11, Milton’s candidacy will get a serious look.
Desmond Ridder, Quarterback, Cincinnati
Odds At PointsBet Sportsbook: +3000
This is the most prominent candidate for any school outside the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame. Cincinnati almost completed a perfect season last year under Ridder. The Bearcats have national name recognition and have achieved well in recent years. If Ridder leads Cincinnati to a perfect regular season and stuffs the stat sheet with gleaming numbers, he could very reasonably make a run at the Heisman, especially if other top candidates stumble and open the door for him this year.