The 2019 Heisman Trophy ceremony is almost 12 months in the future.
Almost every contender still has a game to play this year. And it is not at all important to figure out who will win the award pre-Christmas this year.
But can it be fun to analyze? Absolutely. Especially if you’re a college football nerd or a gambler.
Several offshore sportsbooks already have posted Heisman odds for next season, initiated by MyBookie early Saturday afternoon. Here’s a look at the players I think are true contenders, along with their current odds at MyBookie.
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (+200): By losing this year, Tagovailoa has a better chance to win the Heisman in 2019. Voters are extremely reluctant to give the award to a player twice, as it has only happened once (Archie Griffin in 1974 and ’75). Also, Oklahoma State QB Kyler Murray will be a professional athlete of some sort, most likely as a member of the Oakland Athletics minor league system. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins hasn’t announced a decision publicly, but he’s almost certain to declare for the NFL draft.
Alabama’s 2017 recruiting class probably should go down in history as its best ever offensively, and none of them are eligible for the NFL draft.
There aren’t many negatives with Tagovailoa, but there are a few things to think about. I’m not close enough to the program to know if there is any merit whatsoever to Tagovailoa being fragile. But he did incur a broken finger, sprained knee (seemingly aggravated more than once) and high-ankle sprain this year, and he isn’t as strong physically as Jalen Hurts. As we saw this season, the wrong injury at the wrong game can eliminate him from winning the Heisman.
Plus, Tagovailoa is the betting favorite for the 2019 Heisman already. You’ll probably get odds at the end of September that are not much worse, in addition to the benefit of handicapping the competition with one-third of the season in the books. It’s not worth tying up your money for 12 months by betting on him now.
Jerry Jeudy (+1100) also will be a preseason Heisman candidate, though I doubt he’ll get in the way of Tagovailoa’s candidacy.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence (+550), Georgia QB Jake Fromm (+650): We’ll see whether Clemson is an ACC mirage or truly Alabama’s biggest challenger in the next few weeks. But Lawrence helped transform that program much like Tagovailoa did at Alabama. Fromm is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, even though for whatever reason there’s an anti-Fromm fan club whenever he makes a poor throw. Both of these players are on teams that are annual threats to make the College Football Playoff, and should start the season ranked in the top 5. Both also have incredible skill guys around them.
That may cut two ways, as running backs Travis Etienne and D’Andre Swift are strong Heisman Trophy candidates as well. But history tells us that a familiar star at quarterback who puts up top 10 stats for a national championship contender is a strong Heisman contender.
Texas QB Sam Ehlinger (+900): How many media members or fans did you see on Twitter or on TV this year just itching to declare “Texas is back,” whatever that actually means? Ehlinger is the best quarterback to put on a Longhorns uniform since Colt McCoy. Texas made it to the Big 12 championship game despite a major talent drain on a defense that will improve. Oklahoma his losing a Heisman Trophy quarterback for the second consecutive year. It’s possible 2019 is the year that Tom Herman gets the program from top 15-20, which is where I have the team power rated now, to top 5.
If that happens, the narrative that everyone is just bursting to spew will come into prominence. And Ehlinger is likely to get the credit. He’s a decent runner, and that will add to his stats, as it will add to his injury risk. If he stays healthy all year and Texas wins the Big 12, he’s a great bet for at least an invite to New York. And his odds are more favorable than the quarterbacks I mentioned previously.
Notre Dame QB Ian Book (not listed): The Fighting Irish have to play at Georgia and at Michigan next season. If they at least split those games, there’s a very real chance they’ll be in the College Football Playoff conversation again next season. Book is legitimately good, and he’ll have an entire season as the starter, plus name recognition after what he did this year. Expect national media outlets to write offseason profiles on Book, who will get a big attention boost because of the uniform he wears.
Ohio State/Oklahoma (+1100 each): The starting quarterbacks for these schools will contend for the Heisman. During Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension early in the season, then-interim coach Ryan Day incorporated more vertical passes than we’ve seen from the Buckeyes in many years. I expect the offense to get less risk-averse, so Tate Martell or whomever wins that job should put up big numbers for a Big Ten championship contender. Oklahoma quarterbacks have won back-to-back Heisman Trophies, and that’s not even mentioning Sam Bradford (2008) and Jason White (2003). Coach Lincoln Riley is coveted by a lot of NFL teams and is arguably one of the best two or three offensive coaches at any level of football right now. As long as he’s in Norman, his quarterback is worth mentioning for Heisman consideration.
This is not a banner year for quarterback recruits, but Spencer Rattler is by far the most impressive, and he’s committed to the Sooners. I watched Rattler play live a few times this fall, and I think he’s too raw to be a Heisman winner in 2019. Don’t be surprised if Austin Kendall wins the job as a redshirt junior, and he’s completed 28 of 39 throws in limited time in addition to pushing Murray in the fall.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor (+700): One of the preseason frontrunners this year along with Bryce Love, Taylor came nowhere near an invite to New York despite rushing for 1,989 yards and a ridiculous 7.1 yards per carry on a team with a passing game that garnered less than zero respect. I do not think he’s a good bet, but he’ll get preseason hype. A running back can win the Heisman, but it takes an unpredictable confluence of circumstances that go well beyond stats and performance. Plus, running back injuries are much more likely than quarterback injuries, especially for a player that carries the ball nearly 300 times a season.
Wild cards: Should he transfer to the right other school, which seems far from certain, an improved Jalen Hurts (+2000) has a chance to become a long-shot Heisman candidate. For example, can you imagine him in Lincoln Riley’s offense at Oklahoma? He doesn’t have the same passing ability as Baker Mayfield or Murray, and he’s probably not an NFL quarterback. But he could run for 800+ yards and throw for a lot of touchdowns after a year of development with quarterbacks coach Dan Enos. (Not saying Hurts is in any way linked to Oklahoma, just that if he went to a school with the right offense, he could put up worthy numbers.)
Khalil Tate (+2500) is another guy who fits into that potential transfer/Heisman longshot category. (Can you believe we may see another high-profile QB divorce on a Kevin Sumlin-coached team?)
I think Purdue’s Rondale Moore (+1600) has the best chance of the non-QBs as an all-purpose guy who is brilliant in the open field. And due to UCF QB McKenzie Milton’s gruesome injury, I think Houston QB D’Eriq King (+2500) is the best candidate out of the Group of 5. Ed Oliver cast a long shadow for the Cougars this year, but King was the most important player on that team. He also is recovering from injury, but should be fine to start next season.
Christopher Smith is a professional handicapper. He’s the founder of Sports Locksmith and also works full-time for MyBookie out of Costa Rica.