The hype machine at USC continues to chug along this offseason, and quarterback Sam Darnold is one of the main reasons why. The latest Heisman odds released from Bovada now have Darnold running away with the preseason Heisman in what is a crowded field.
Check out the latest odds released from Bovada on Monday and compare them to the most recent odds released before that. Without a single game being played, Darnold went from having a 9/1 shot to win the Heisman (fourth overall on the board) to being the definitive favorite. He has skipped past Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamer Jackson of Louisville, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, who had previously been labeled the preseason betting favorite.
So how exactly has this happened? Over the last month, the money coming in for the early Heisman odds has certainly been favoring Darnold, with the expectation the 2017 season sees him lead USC back to being a Pac-12 contender, if not a playoff contender. As the money comes in, the oddsmakers react and adjust the odds accordingly in order to protect themselves from losing too much money on any particular bet. So it is perfectly normal to see some flexible Heisman odds in the offseason. But the problem now is the payout for betting on Darnold has taken a bit of a hit in terms of reward.
Betting on Darnold is not necessarily a bad bet, of course, but if you are looking to cash out in a big way, you want to see who else is sitting out there on the board with a chance to move up as the 2017 college football season rolls along. So which way do you go? Quarterbacks tend to have the edge in the Heisman Trophy race these days, which means even top running backs like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley (12/1) and LSU’s Derrius Grice (16/1) and Georgia’s Nick Chubb (16/1) are considered risky bets. But you have to risk something to win something, right? Barkley and Grice are the top running backs returning in the Big Ten and SEC, respectively, which means they should be good candidates to be in the running if things go well in the win column for each team. I’d keep tabs on Barkley, as Penn State gets the two teams that defeated them in the regular season last year on their home field this season (Pitt and Michigan), and he put on a dynamic show the last time he visited Ohio State (where Penn State travels this year).
Forget about Luke Falk of Washington State. His offensive system will come back to hurt him even if he is putting up big numbers. If you want to place a bet on Falk, you might as well just send me your money instead, because you are never going to see it again. Also, forget about Nick Fitzgerald. He may be the best quarterback in the SEC, but Mississippi State will need to have a magical season in order for him to be in the conversation in the end, and that just might not happen in a conference and a division with Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
What about Jackson? Expect him to put up big numbers once again in 2017, but I tend to roll with history on this one. We have only had one two-time Heisman Trophy winner (Archie Griffin) in the history of the sport, and recent history has not been too kind to returning Heisman Trophy winners (Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston).
The two players that have a chance to take an early lead in the Heisman hunt may be Mayfield and Barrett. The two square off in Columbus early in the 2017 season in the second part of a home-and-home agreement. Losing to Ohio State (and Houston) put Mayfield way behind the pack out of the gates of the 2016 season. Winning on the road against Ohio State would likely mean Mayfield earns a signature win in September, and if the Sooners roar through the Big 12, then Mayfield could not only get to New York but may also strike a Heisman pose. Barrett has been on the radar the last few years but continues to be struggling to get over the hump. If he improves his passing efficiency and production, beats Oklahoma, Michiagn and Penn State, then Barrett should have a chance to make a name for himself as well.