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When handicapping the college football preseason, the first destination for my eyes is the Heisman Trophy futures board. It is home to the longest odds and where the most options are truly in play.
That’s not the case for the national championship, where Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State hover in the 4-1 range, and even longer shots like Oklahoma and Georgia don’t exceed 7-1 on DraftKings.
The odds for the national championship are just reminders that the deck is stacked in favor of the Power 5 schools. This gives bookmakers the upper hand for most college football futures. However, preseason Heisman futures somewhat minimize that power.
Undoubtedly, the next Heisman winner will come from a Power 5 school, just as everyone before him since Andre Ware in 1989 and Ty Detmer in 1990. Still, this expansive board allows bettors a legitimate opportunity to scan up and down to identify a number of potential plays.
This won’t be based on making statistical projections for 12 regular-season games but instead will be about breaking down all the factors needed to gain valuable media attention, which fuels this popularity contest.
Candidates playing in today’s crowded media marketplace need superior individual accomplishments, team success and the press to latch on to a sustainable narrative for as long as possible. That translates into a number of dominoes falling into place. At this point of the year, handicapping the Heisman field means determining who has the fewest dominoes to deal with.
A new domino is in play this season: the ability for players to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness. Previously, Heisman campaigns were spurred by sports information directors who creatively developed marketing strategies to gain attention and secure votes.
Then came the cable sports television explosion, with every game or highlight basically a nationally televised commercial for the top candidates. Now this year we need to see what happens with the rise of sponsored social media posts driving publicity.
If a Heisman candidate signs a marketing agreement with a commercial sponsor, that business will have incentive to help promote its influencer. How that plays out with voting members is still to be determined. Hype might be converted to votes, or it could antagonize media members who think social media is an end-around to the traditional methods. Either way, expect a lot of NIL stories this season that will likely bring some coattail publicity for the top players.
Here is an early look at some Heisman candidates and a rundown of what needs to happen for them to win the award.
Spencer Rattler (+ 550 DraftKings, BetMGM, BetRivers)
From a qualitative standpoint, Rattler has every reason to be the top candidate. The name alone draws attention, as will the comparisons to Patrick Mahomes.
The Oklahoma quarterback comes into 2021 on a top-5 squad that should contend for the national championship.
Somewhere in that + 550 is a built-in Lincoln Riley tax because the preseason stories about the returning QB will likely include references to his coach’s Heisman success with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Riley is 0-3 in the College Football Playoff, but that plays no role in Heisman voting.