For the first time since 2015, a non-quarterback won the Heisman Trophy last year. Many of us rejoiced. Given the voting monotony exhibited over the previous decades, this was a moment.
Whether it was the start of a movement or a blip, however, will be decided in the years to follow. For a wide receiver to win, everything had to align. A sensational player on a sensational team delivered a sensational season while playing with a quarterback who never quite captured the buzz necessary to win.
Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith deserved it. But this still is a quarterback award until further notice, and the betting odds as we churn toward the 2021 season reflect that.
Before I make my selections, here are my personal Heisman betting tips.
Quarterbacks will always have the edge: I’ve said it plenty already. You know the drill. While the value in top QBs simply won’t be there, there's a reason for this. Maybe last season was the start of a magical trend, though it seems unlikely.
It’s never just about the player; it’s about the team: A dazzling athlete on even a good team will struggle mightily to win the award. Excellence isn’t just about the player or the stats. His team must win a lot of games, if not every game. For many gifted players with possible roads to the award, the path often falls apart here.
Oh, and the helmet matters: As much as I would love to tell you that a star player at a middling Power 5 school has a fair shot at this, that simply isn’t the case. You know this. Not only does a team have to be good, but the brand also impacts this heavily.
My Favorite Chalk: Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei (+ 800)
Trevor Lawrence didn’t win a Heisman at Clemson. It seems reasonable to think (and perhaps expect) that D.J. Uiagalelei will accomplish this at least once over the next two seasons. A true sophomore, Uiagalelei was allowed ample seasoning as a freshman when Lawrence was unable to play due to testing positive for COVID-19.
Against Notre Dame in his first start, all Uiagalelei did was throw for 439 yards on the road in a 47-40 double-OT loss. He followed it up the following week by throwing for 342 yards against Boston College.
I feel confident in saying Uiagalelei has the strongest arms in college football and might have one of the strongest arms we’ve seen in the last decade. He shouldn’t just produce at Clemson — he has a chance to dazzle.
In terms of garnering buzz, Uiagalelei shouldn’t have to wait long. Clemson plays Georgia to start the season, one of the most anticipated openers in recent memory. A win and sizable performance early on will catapult Uiagalelei above the field. The schedule from that point on is quite frankly one he should dominate. (Clemson’s very favorable slate could be viewed as both a positive and a negative.)
Even with the loss of running back Travis Etienne and some quality pass catchers, the offense should be loaded. The return of wide receiver Justyn Ross is also massive.
If Clemson beats Georgia, Uiagalelei’s 8-1 odds will be long gone. And even if the Tigers fall short, he’ll be right there.
Down the Board (Slightly): Georgia QB JT Daniels (25-1)
We don’t have to stray far for our next contender. Daniels, the other QB in the season’s marquee opener, is also a fascinating prospect with better value.
The journey to this position has not been spotless. Daniels was a standout prospect in high school, played at USC and transferred to Georgia. While the belief early on was that he would thrive from the start, that was not the case last year.
However, once given an opportunity, he showed flashes. Daniels closed with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in Georgia’s final four games, finishing with a 392-yard passing performance against a quality Cincinnati defense in the bowl season.
Surrounded by incredible talent at wide receiver, Daniels has a chance to make these flashes more consistent. And with the possibility of an SEC championship game against Alabama late in the year, it is fair to reason no player could have a larger late-season spotlight than Daniels.
Let’s Pick a Non-Quarterback: Texas RB Bijan Robinson (30-1)
Mark my words: By the end of the 2021 season, assuming he stays healthy, Robinson will be one of the faces of college football and one of the sport’s most electric talents.
The arrival of Steve Sarkisian only adds to this intrigue, as Robinson will likely take advantage of an offense that should afford him ample carries and targets out of the backfield.
While he started slowly in 2020, largely due to a lack of touches, Robinson exploded in the back half of the season. In the last two games, he totaled 443 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.
Texas’ schedule is conducive to much more production, though beating Oklahoma, which has not come easily for the Longhorns, would certainly help this cause. Playing for the Longhorns — a massive brand in a constant game of “Are they back?!?!” — doesn’t hurt his chances either. Whether Texas ever gets back or not, the Longhorns are a huge draw.
A lot to like here, minus the fact that he doesn’t play QB. Still, Robinson might just have that kind of season.
The Value Play: Florida QB Emory Jones (80-1)
This pick has high boom-or-bust potential; hence, the odds. But here’s what we know.
Jones is athletically special. He is largely inexperienced, with just 221 passing yards and two touchdowns in 2020. He plays for a team that will get plenty of high-profile moments. And working under coach Dan Mullen, one of football’s great quarterback whisperers, it’s reasonable to assume he will be a much more polished player this fall.
He can also run. While Jones was Kyle Trask’s backup last year, he also totaled 217 rushing yards and averaged nearly 7 yards per carry.
There is plenty to like about his game, the fit and his potential. But can he grow that much?
The loss of key pass catchers to the NFL doesn’t help, though Florida is still plenty stockpiled at the skill positions. Jones will need a Joe Burrow-esque transformation for this bet to cash, though it’s not unreasonable given the odds.