In a normal season, which is normally anything but normal, this is the time when a Heisman campaign starts to take shape.
For the favorites heading into the year, the process is well underway. It begins in the offseason, and in many cases the season that came before it. It then grows with wins, elite play and attention.
But for the players coming from off the pace, as they often do, the campaign must start somewhere.
But this year? Good luck finding one.
Even now, still in September, the Heisman feels like a two-horse race. The updated odds certainly reflect that.
After a month (and change) of college football, Ole Miss QB Matt Corral is the Heisman favorite (+ 150) followed by Alabama QB Bryce Young (+ 175). Those two will meet up this week -- more on that game in a moment -- and that result will create some separation between the two.
The other favorites entering the year? It largely hasn’t gone well. Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler, the chalk before the season began, is now 25-1. D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson’s next great five-star QB, is now 75-1 after a loss to North Carolina State. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud, who missed last week’s game due to an injury, is now 30-1 after surging up odds boards before the season began.
It is, quite simply, a mess. And for those in search of the next DeVonta Smith -- a player who vaulted into contention into consideration as last season progressed -- the possibilities seem limited.
As I see it, here are some options:
J.T. Daniels (25-1): He plays quarterback at Georgia, which might be the best team in college football. And he could, if all goes accordingly to plan, get a crack at Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. I liked him before the season began. At 25-1, he is the best value on the board.
CJ Verdell (40-1): Here is where you start to feel the drop off. I love watching Oregon’s running back play. He’s explosive and should continue to post numbers. The problem is that a) he splits carries and b) it might be difficult for a running back on a good (but not dominant) team to win.
Casey Thompson (100-1): Let’s get weird. He started the season on the bench, although Thompson has been a monster for Texas since seeing the field. The odds speak to the likelihood of this taking shape, but Thompson has at least a few of the ingredients needed.
I don’t love any of the options above. I also don’t love a lot of players, besides Daniels, coming just off the pace. And Corral or Young could both boost their cases this week, separating themselves even more.
Godspeed, Heisman trophy value seekers.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Clemson is broken. It doesn’t mean the Tigers’ dynasty push is over; maybe 2021 is merely an outlier in a sustained run of success. But Saturday’s loss to NC State -- a game the Tigers were a double-digit favorite in -- highlighted a myriad of issues. The offensive line is a mess, the quarterback play, as referenced above, has been subpar and the team simply isn’t the explosive group we’re used to seeing at Clemson. Add in a few key injuries on Saturday, and you have yourself a good ol’ fashion mess that does not have a quick fix.
2. On the topic of the ACC, how about Wake Forest? I bet Virginia (-4) last week, and this proved to be a terrible decision. Wake cruised in this game, winning 37-17. The Demon Deacons are now 4-0, ranked in the AP Poll and have an excellent chance to be 8-0 before traveling to North Carolina. (It is worth noting that UNC just lost badly to Georgia Tech.) Lots of football left, but this is clearly the best team in the conference right now.
3. Alabama has now won 100 consecutive games against unranked teams -- a streak that dates all the way back to 2007. When you actually think about the magnitude of this, it’s quite staggering. For most fan bases, losing to unranked teams is a part of every single season. For Alabama? It’s not even a discussion point.
4. Nebraska finds new and amazing ways to lose football games; it's actually quite remarkable. The Cornhuskers played an excellent game for much of Saturday night against Michigan State. They were done in late by trickery on a punt return deep in the fourth quarter and an interception in overtime. You simply can’t have these kinds of sequences this deep into the Scott Frost era. Also, massive gambling intrigue surrounding Michigan State’s decision to kick the field goal in OT rather than score with the spread hovering around 3.5. Condolences, Sparty backers.
5. Week 5 has one of the best slates of games I can remember. And because I can’t possibly cover all of the games I am intrigued by, I implore you to cancel all plans and dive in. I have confidence that you will.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. Alabama (-14, 77.5) vs. Ole Miss
The quarterbacks. The coaches. The stakes. If you love college football, you love this game. The movement on this point spread and total will be fascinating to track throughout the week, and as I write this I’ve already seen the line shrink multiple points. For Ole Miss, which comes into this game off a bye, the goal is simple: duplicate last year’s game against the Crimson Tide with a little more defense. The Rebels scored 48 points against Saban’s group last year. The problem? They allowed 63. Ole Miss’ defense looks to be much improved, although we’ll find out just how much better it is against QB Bryce Young and an offense with plenty of weapons. Matt Corral, meanwhile, can assert himself as the No. 1 QB in the country with a strong showing. Lane Kiffin is 3-0 ATS the spread this season, and it feels like he has a good chance to push that to 4-0 this week. This game might take five hours, and I simply can’t wait.
2. Georgia (-19, 48.5) vs. Arkansas
The point spread here is a bit jarring considering how well Arkansas has played in big moments this year, although it’s a bit less jarring when you consider just how good the Bulldogs are in so many places. Still, the win over Clemson hasn’t exactly aged well, and Georgia has played UAB, South Carolina and Vanderbilt since. They did, however, outscore those opponents 156-20 (my goodness) and are 3-1 ATS this year. The Hogs are the talk of CFB with wins over Texas and Texas A&M -- the latest an outright winner against the Aggies as a 4.5-point underdog. Arkansas has also been kind to backers this year, covering all four games. To do it again, it’ll take a monumental effort on offense. The health of QB KJ Jefferson, who was in and out of Saturday’s game with an injury, is something to monitor. As is the movement of another big SEC spread. Arkansas feels like a really solid play, although Georgia might just be that good.
3. Cincinnati (-3, 51) at Notre Dame
Even after a dominant win over Wisconsin, Notre Dame is a tough team to figure out. The Irish manhandled the Badgers 41-13 in Week 4 as a six-point underdog, delivering their most convincing win to date. Notre Dame’s defense and special teams accounted for three touchdowns, which is good in some ways and potentially misleading in others. Cincinnati was off during Week 4, a week removed from a massive come-from-behind win (and cover) at Indiana. The Bearcats started slow in that game; they were also aided by a buffet of Indiana miscues. In fairness, Cincinnati played a role in many of those. I tend to lean toward Cincinnati, although the Irish might just be a rollercoaster spread team all season long.
4. Iowa (-3.5, 45) at Maryland
First, a scheduling note. This game will be played on Friday evening. As far as Friday night games go, this one is sizable in nature … which isn’t something many expected coming into the year. Both teams, however, are unbeaten through four weeks. The Hawkeyes’ key wins -- victories over Indiana and Iowa State -- have lost some juice, and they haven’t looked sharp the past two weeks against Kent State and Colorado State. Iowa won both games, but the passing offense (No. 113 in the country) is a concern. Maryland’s victory over West Virginia in the opener is the highlight of its season thus far, although there hasn’t been much competition since. Still, the Terps are dangerous. And Iowa, which has been flirting with offensive ineptitude and plays Penn State the following weekend, needs to find something fast to keep the momentum going. Danger zone for a top-five team.
5. UCLA (-3.5, 55.5) vs. Arizona State
The slate of games is truly an all-weekend event, and this Pac-12 doozy will take us deep into Saturday evening and Sunday morning. UCLA recovered from its Fresno State undoing with a win (and cover) over Stanford on Saturday. It wasn’t domination from the Bruins, but it was the kind of win as a short favorite to help get the season back in check. On the other sideline, Arizona State has been pretty quiet thus far. The Sun Devils’ lone loss came against BYU on the road, which might not be a bad loss at all. They followed up that defeat with a 22-point win over Colorado on Saturday. In that game, QB Jayden Daniels played like a star. And this feels like a spotlight that he could announce his presence yet again.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
Oklahoma (-10.5, 53) at Kansas State: The Sooners’ fans are actively calling for the backup QB, and the offense just hasn’t looked right all season. This feels like a very similar position to what Clemson found itself in last week against North Carolina State. We all saw how that went. Look out.
Florida (-8, 55.5) at Kentucky: The Gators handled Tennessee a week after playing Alabama, which doesn’t tell us much given the state of the Vols. This could (and should) be a much different test. We could also get a ton of points in this one.
Oklahoma State (-4, 49.5) vs. Baylor: Yes, both teams are undefeated. Yes, that’s a bit weird to type, but here we are. Oklahoma State has had a strange season, although I believe the Pokes keep the weird run moving.