Some preseason bets are easy to make. Team win totals usually have good opportunities, as well as the rookie of the year awards, as those are funneled into clear archetypes of play.
Heisman? Not so much. There are some easy filters to circle—turns out quarterbacks win the award a lot—but the volatility of college ball and the expected glut of qualified candidates make this a tough list to find edges. But we will try nonetheless.
Here are the current odds for the 2021 Heisman Award, as set at BetOnline.
- Spencer Rattler - Oklahoma +500
- Bryce Young - Alabama +700
- D.J. Uiagalelei - Clemson +700
- CJ Stroud - Ohio State +1200
- JT Daniels - Georgia +1200
- D'Eriq King - Miami +1400
- Sam Howell - UNC +1400
- Kedon Slovis - USC +1600
- Bijan Robinson - Texas +2000
- Breece Hall - Iowa State +2500
- Emory Jones - Florida +2500
- Matt Corral - Ole Miss +2500
- Brock Purdy - Iowa State +2800
- Jayden Daniels - Arizona State +2800
- Desmond Ridder - Cincinnati +3300
Betting on anyone other than chalk is pretty silly at this early stage. If there is to be a dark horse riser like Joe Burrow, it would be almost impossible to call him at this time—even if his odds were listed. Quarterbacks for perennially underperforming Power 5 programs like Miami (D’Eriq King) and FSU (McKenzie Milton) are honey traps, just like those for currently surging but generally overperforming programs like Iowa State (Brock Purdy) and Cincinnati (Desmond Ridder). It would be fun if any of these players won the award like it was when Lamar Jackson won it for the Louisville Cardinals in 2016, but it’s a tough bet to make.
Besides the two Alabama skill position players in Derrick Henry (2015) and DeVonta Smith (2020), the award is won by quarterbacks from major, contending programs. In the early 2010s, that was Cam Newton from Auburn, Jameis Winston from FSU, and Marcus Mariota from Oregon. In the late 2010s, that’s LSU QB Joe Burrow and Oklahoma QBs Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Murray and Mayfield taking home back-to-back Heismans gives Spencer Rattler a really nice projection for the award. He’ll be a second-year starter in a Lincoln Riley offense that returns a ton of starters, got better as the year went on last season, and has more natural talent as a thrower than both Mayfield and Murray did in college. Throw in his ability to scramble, and he checks the boxes you’d like to see for a Heisman-winning QB.
That’s an important note: Heisman-winning QBs usually move around a little bit. Beyond the obvious Lamar Jacksons and Kyler Murrays, Burrow and Mayfield both had enough juice as runners to threaten defenses off script or on the occasional called read option. That doesn’t disqualify any of our clear favorites in D.J. Uiagalelei or Bryce Young, but it does take away players like JT Daniels and Kedon Slovis, who are second-tier options on the odds list but operate mostly as pocket passers.
Are Uiagalelei or Young worth the buy? What about Ohio State QB CJ Stroud, offered at a slight discount? I’d stay away from all of ‘em, frankly.
Among the quarterbacks to win the award recently, the only first-year starter to do so was Murray. Burrow was in his second year for the Tigers; Mayfield was in his third year as the Sooners' starter; Jackson was in his second season; Mariota was in his third year. Winston is the next-most recent first-year starter to win the award.
There’s usually just too much volatility with young passers. Young is probably the best bet of the three, as Alabama has a greater proven record as an offensive powerhouse independent of circumstance than Clemson or Ohio State, but I’d rather back Rattler’s extra year of experience than get the additional odds on anyone else.
Are there any other multi-year starters with mobility playing quarterback for a contending team? I don’t think North Carolina’s roster is good enough to give Sam Howell that kind of juice, and I’m not sure Emory Jones at Florida has that level of talent. I’d love to say Matt Corral of Ole Miss, but can they really hang on an SEC schedule? It’s a softer year in the SEC with a reload underway at Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn, and Ole Miss does miss Georgia on the schedule. But, for as much as I like Corral and the Lane Kiffin offense, I just don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze.
Take the chalk. It’s Rattler as the clear leader this season.