Last season was incredible for college football, and right at the top of the highlight story list was the performance of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who not only led his team to the national championship but also captured the Heisman Trophy. The latter was no small feat, as Burrow was listed at as high as 200-1 odds. Perhaps Burrow’s most impressive performances came in head-to-head matchups against the two quarterbacks who were the heavy Heisman favorites at the outset of the season. In wins over Alabama and Clemson, Burrow was 62 of 88 for 856 yards with eight touchdown passes against zero interceptions. Those numbers bested Tua Tagovailoa, who was + 250 in odds, and Trevor Lawrence (+ 300). Those wins were just a part of the story that turned Burrow from incredible long shot to overwhelming favorite.
With day-to-day sports on hiatus for the foreseeable future, bettors are busy shopping futures, perhaps looking for that next magic bullet, that once-in-a-lifetime bet that can transform their bankrolls. Unfortunately, those are called once-in-a-lifetime bets for a reason, and the wise bettor is simply looking for value. The 2020 Heisman Trophy race once again has two massive favorites in Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, and the only true value is listed beyond those two.
To understand how to score a Burrow-like wager on a futures option, you need to understand how Burrow happened, and not just last season. In my opinion, the seeds for Burrow to grow into the player he became were planted at the end of the 2018 season. In the final three games, LSU put up 154 points and 1,047 yards passing. In the Tigers’ bowl game win over UCF, Burrow starred, going 21 of 34 for 394 yards and four TDs. The offense showed the explosive potential that was unleashed in 2019 under new passing-game coordinator Joe Brady. Perhaps more importantly, Burrow displayed the moxie that made him the country’s biggest star in less than 12 months.
The secret in looking for a potential home run in the Heisman futures market is to find a talented player — using old recruiting rankings helps — coming off a good but not great season and assuming the leadership role on a team that seems to be on the way up. A great performance to end the previous season in a key contest like a bowl is certainly a viable springboard. I will point out a few candidates who fit this template. I tend to eliminate running backs and players who don’t compete in power conferences.
Here are the odds listed by the Westgate SuperBook last month, plus a brief comment on each player.
Justin Fields, Ohio State, 4-1: Little value at 4-1, would have to put up even better numbers than last year to win.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson, 4-1: Again, little value here. Lawrence is best pro QB prospect in a while, but Clemson’s schedule doesn’t offer many high-profile games to cement status.
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma, 12-1: I like these odds for a former five-star QB recruit who is certain to put up big numbers for a program that has produced two of the last three Heisman winners.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas, 14-1: Texas is expected to be a Top 10 team. Value isn’t at Burrow level because Ehlinger is a much better-known QB. Being invited to New York wouldn’t be a surprise.
Jamie Newman, Georgia, 14-1: Strange one here. Is Newman certain to be the guy? Georgia offense isn’t as explosive as other teams and usually has its highly rated running backs very involved.
Travis Etienne, Clemson, 20-1: Never like a guy who figures to be playing a secondary role in an offense, as RB will with Lawrence at QB.
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State, 20-1: Running backs winning the Heisman seem like a thing of the past, and OSU is a Top 20 team, not a Top 5 team.
Ian Book, Notre Dame, 20-1: Would have loved to see more out of Book in the blowout bowl win over Iowa State, but this one has some potential. Book is off 34-6 TD-INT ratio last season, and Notre Dame expected to be ranked in Top 10.
Kedon Slovis, USC, 25-1: USC was blown out in Holiday Bowl, but otherwise this QB is a reasonable candidate, especially with national media loving Trojans football.
Myles Brennan, LSU, 25-1: The next Burrow? Don’t fall for it. Heir-apparent will have to work with new core group of talent, and passing-game coordinator Brady has moved on to NFL.
Mac Jones, Alabama, 25-1: Slips into good spot as QB of Top 5 team, but not a dynamic dual-threat player like many on this list.
Bo Nix, Auburn, 25-1: Interesting one as Nix seems to possess the same confidence and toughness Burrow displayed. Is Auburn good enough to contend? Will his numbers be big enough?
D'Eriq King, Miami, 25-1: Houston QB transfer looks good on paper, but Miami doesn’t. Hurricanes were 6-7 last year and put up real stinker in bowl again.
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska, 30-1: Last year Martinez was No. 3 on this list, but Nebraska was massively overhyped. His numbers weren’t good either.
Sean Clifford, Penn State, 40-1: Tough, gritty QB on a good team that put up 53 points in bowl. Sound like Burrow? Think again. He had just three TDs, four INTs in final four games.
Najee Harris, Alabama, 40-1: Big, powerful back coming off huge bowl performance vs. Michigan, but last RB to win Heisman was Reggie Bush in 2010 in a much different body.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M, 50-1: This one is intriguing. Mond is a dynamic QB coming off a good but not great season and leading a team that could step forward into a Top 10 program.
Master Teague, Ohio State, 60-1: Fields will be top option for OSU offense, not RB Teague.
Tyler Shough, Oregon, 60-1: Taking over for Justin Herbert. Threw only 15 passes last year. Herbert was tough, special and 20 pounds heavier. Don’t assume replacing him will be seamless.
Brock Purdy, Iowa State, 60-1: Iowa State ranked outside Top 30 in ESPN’s preseason FPI ratings. Have to be on a top team. Also not a dual threat.
CJ Verdell, Oregon, 60-1: RB is just not that big a part of the offense. Had only two games with 20 or more touches in 2019.
Kyle Trask, Florida, 60-1: This is one of my long-shot recommendations. The 6-5, 239-pound QB definitely played with moxie and put up good numbers last year (25-9 TD-INT, 2,941 yards). Huge key to emerging team.
Charlie Brewer, Baylor, 60-1: Team won with defense last year, didn’t put up typically prolific Big 12 numbers. QB coming off upper-body injury in Georgia game, a concern at 6-1, 206.
Sam Howell, North Carolina, 60-1: One of the first guys I thought of when deciding to write this. Howell was top-rated recruit, threw for 3,641 yards with 38-7 TD-INT ratio and led UNC to 55-13 win in Military Bowl. Tar Heels expected to be Top 20 team, continuing resurgence.
Zamir White, Georgia, 80-1: Which Georgia RB will emerge?
Michael Penix, Indiana, 100-1: Sorry, Hoosiers fans, you aren’t winning enough for QB Penix to be in consideration.
JaMarr Chase, LSU, 100-1: Won the 2019 Fred Biletnikoff Award as country’s best receiver.
Dylan McCaffrey, Michigan, 100-1: In good situation as starting QB for Michigan. Big at 6-5, 220, but threw only 35 passes in first two years.
Rondale Moore, Purdue, 100-1: A 5-9, 180-pound Purdue wide receiver win the Heisman? That’ll be the day.
Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State, 100-1: Turnover-prone last year with 11 interceptions in only 247 attempts.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama, 100-1: No Alabama skill player will receive the lion’s share of the load, including this WR.
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama, 100-1: Electric WR, but see above.
Chubba Purdy, Florida State, 100-1: Four-star recruit taking over at QB for second-rate program. Not the recipe we’re looking for.
Michael Warren, Cincinnati, 100-1: RB for program that’s not a power conference team.
Penei Sewell, Oregon, 100-1: Who?
Dillon Gabriel, UCF, 100-1: QB leads team that’s not in power conference.
Brady White, Memphis, 100-1: Not a power conference team, otherwise a big-numbers QB for a team that should win a lot.
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis, 100-1: Running back at non-power conference team, no shot.
Justyn Ross, Clemson, 100-1: Great talent, but actual trophy winner might be throwing him the ball.
Micale Cunningham, Louisville, 100-1: Pretty good numbers and very good price on QB. Can Louisville win enough? Had 360 total yards in bowl win over SEC team.
Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech, 100-1: Dual “threat” may be overstating it. Ran a lot last year for not many yards.
Alan Bowman, Texas Tech, 100-1: Oft-injured QB.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA, 100-1: Is third year the charm for Chip Kelly at UCLA? If so, this former highly rated dual-threat QB recruit could be the beneficiary.
Jayden Daniels, Arizona State, 100-1: Had nice freshman year with 17 TDs vs. just two interceptions. Will anybody outside Arizona see him play?
George Pickens, Georgia, 100-1: How many Georgia guys are we going to see on this list?
Terrace Marshall, LSU, 100-1: Elite talent, but catching balls from Burrow was easy.
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M, 100-1: Running back will not be more important than QB Mond.
John Rhys Plumlee, Ole Miss, 100-1: Didn’t throw a touchdown pass in 80 attempts over final five games of 2019.
Micah Parsons, Penn State, 100-1: Defensive end for Penn State would have to beat Chase Young’s impact for Ohio State last year to even warrant consideration.
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota, 100-1: One of the last on the list but not on my opinion sheet. Very good numbers (30-7 TD-INT ratio) for emerging program with most weapons back.
Wan'dale Robinson, Nebraska, 100-1: Wide receiver for one of last year’s Heisman favorites, no way he passes Martinez in importance to Nebraska offense.
These three didn’t make the list but would be on my own radar at even longer odds:
Graham Mertz, Wisconsin: Highly rated recruit was most hyped QB acquisition for Wisconsin since Russell Wilson. How long can Badgers keep him on sideline behind Jack Coan? With RB Jonathan Taylor gone, more of 2020 onus could fall on quarterback position for Top 10 team.
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State: Running back had 1,350 yards last year. Could improve rushing and receiving stats dramatically under Mike Leach offense.
K.J. Costello, Mississippi State: Stanford QB transfer in Mike Leach offense in SEC? Could get interesting.