We’re in a bit of a boom of running backs in college football as 5 out of the 10 Heisman finalists last year came from that position. Only 2 out of those 5 return to the college game in 2018 but they are among the heavy favorites to take home the hardware this fall while a third is coming off a big freshman season and slots right up at the top, as well.
Gun to your head, are you picking a running back to win the Heisman for the 4th time since 2005?
RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (+600)
RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (+650)
RB Bryce Love, Stanford (+700)
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (+700)
QB Jake Fromm, Georgia (+1200)
Are we experiencing Wisconsin running back fatigue? Apparently not! We just witnessed Josh Adams chasing the Notre Dame single-season rushing record although he ultimately fell short. The Irish still don’t have a player who’s gained more than 1,450 yards on the ground in a season. Wisconsin’s Top 10 all-time record book has everyone over 1,600 yards (5 seasons over 1,900 yards) and 9 of those seasons have come since the Ron Dayne era. Long story short, I’d put Taylor’s odds of winning much, much lower than above. Melvin Gordon ran for 2,587 yards in 2014 and still finished a distant second to Marcus Mariota. As per usual, the Badgers really don’t have many marquee games, either.
Dobbins is another stay away for me, our second true sophomore running back! I feel like he was good (for a freshman) but we really don’t know a ton about him or if he’s truly an elite enough player to be this high in the odds. Perhaps that’s controversial, but if he was a junior last year he’s not this high in the odds. The media tend to lose their mind over freshman even though I think running back is a position with the most immediate impact and least long-term growth.
For me, Bryce Love should be the clear favorite among the running backs, and maybe overall for the country. For one, Stanford is returning a lot of talent on offense but not enough nationally recognized guys to take the spotlight away from Love. Also, we may be entering Stanford Lifetime Heisman time. The Cardinal have had 7 different seasons among the Top 10 in Heisman voting since Toby Gerhart in 2008, with an amazing 5 runner-up finishes. The media is going to be rooting hard for Bryce Love, just like last year, but even worse.
I already love me some Tua T from T-Town (I just made this up has anyone ever used it?) because a lefty Hawaiian who seems like a good dude and can be the most electric playmaker in the country is about as likable as you’re going to get under Nick Saban. Still, he broke a bone in his throwing hand and has missed tons of time this spring and to me it’s a little crazy that he’s this high while you can’t even get odds on Jalen Hurts from Bovada.
I’ve got no issue with anyone thinking Fromm is the overall Heisman favorite. He packed in a ton of experience and sophomore quarterbacks have been quite Heisman lucky in recent years. The Dawgs should re-load at tailback and offer Fromm plenty of options at receiver. Their schedule is also pretty favorable for a SEC team.
The Other Top Quarterbacks
QB Khalil Tate, Arizona (+1400)
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn (+1600)
QB Justin Herbert, Oregon (+1800)
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State (+1800)
QB Will Grier, West Virginia (+2000)
QB Kelly Bryant, Clemson (+2000)
This is a super underwhelming list. Tate blew up on the scene last year but didn’t even finish in the Top 10 for Heisman voting last year. He could put up a 2k season through the air and ground and I’d still have a hard time imagining someone from Arizona really winning this thing.
Stidham is way too inconsistent, only had 1 really outstanding game in 2017, and is going to miss Kerryon Johnson immensely. Justin Herbert is now coached by Mario Cristobal so cross him off the list right now. McSorley is losing both Saquon Barkley and noted offensive whiz OC Joe Moorhead. I foresee copious amounts of turnovers and silly chuck-it-deep hero ball blowing it up in his face. Grier is a nice numbers guy but not a serious candidate.
Kelly Bryant is a smart pick, he should be a lot better (especially through the air) in his second season especially if he stays fully healthy. As a dual-threat quarterback on a National Title contender he’s a complete bargain at +2000.
The Best (Long) Bets
QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State (+2200)
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State (+3500)
QB Deondre Francois, Florida State (OFF)
Dare I say one Mr. Urban Meyer has a habit of quarterbacks not improving or leveling off under his tutelage? J.T. Barrett leaves Columbus with a billion yards to his name but was maybe his best as a freshman. In that vein, I really like Dwayne Haskins and he showed a few glimpses last year that he could be dynamic enough to take teammate J.K. Dobbins out of the spotlight.
Fitzgerald is largely a flyer to take way down the board. He gets to match up with the aforementioned Joe Moorhead and will likely see a significant uptick in his passing production to go with 1,000-yard rushing ability. The problem here–as always for the Bulldogs–is a brutal schedule. Fitzgerald will face Florida, Auburn, LSU, A&M, and Alabama all within a 6-game window. Yikes.
Deondre Francois is still rehabbing from his torn patellar tendon injury and has been used very minimally this spring. However, for someone pretty much off the radar nationally he’s more than good enough to come back (he should be 100% healthy by summer) and take command of a good Florida State offense. If you find odds at some point jump on them!