- A year ago, Baker Mayfield was +800 to win the Heisman. This season, Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor is a strong bet at the same odds. And if Mississippi State makes a run in the SEC, QB Nick Fitzgerald will surely be at the forefront of Heisman conversations.
Baker Mayfield was an easy call for the Heisman Trophy in 2017, putting up ridiculous passing stats (43 touchdowns, six picks) on an Oklahoma squad that earned a College Football Playoff trip to Pasadena. Of course, things were hardly so clear before the season: Mayfield shared +800 preseason Heisman odds with Lamar Jackson and J.T. Barrett, trailing only Sam Darnold (+400) and Saquon Barkley (+700).
Entering the 2018 season, there's a similarly crowded group of talents that the gambling cognoscenti have hailed as preseason favorites for the award. But only a few of those players represent good values for gambling purposes, four of which are identified for you below. First, the complete set of odds from William Hill:
Bryce Love (Stanford) +600
Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) +700
Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) +800
Jake Fromm (Georgia) +1400
Khalil Tate (Arizona) +1400
J.K. Dobbins (Ohio St) +1600
Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) +1600
Justin Herbert (Oregon) +1600
Trace McSorley (Penn St) +1600
Dwayne Haskins (Ohio St) +2000
Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) +2000
Cam Akers (Florida St) +2500
D'Andre Swift (Georgia) +2500
Will Grier (West Virginia) +2500
Kelly Bryant (Clemson) +2800
McKenzie Milton (UCF) +3300
Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi St) +5000
Jalen Hurts (Alabama +6600
Travis Etienne (Clemson) +6600
Ed Oliver (Houston) +8000
Myles Gaskin (Washington) +8000
Nick Bosa (Ohio St) +8000
Justice Hill (Oklahoma St) +10000
Jonathan Taylor +800 — Taylor exploded onto the scene last year, racking up 1,977 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns for the Badgers as a true freshman. This season, he'll once again be running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to improve on some already gaudy numbers, but the difference is that Wisconsin could actually be a College Football Playoff team. If Taylor is one of the best rushers in the country for a title contender, he’ll find himself near the top of the Heisman race. He’s playing in an offense that will feed him the ball as much as he can handle it, alongside a quarterback (Alex Hornibrook) who's good enough to take the pressure off the run game without stealing the spotlight. Even among the upper echelon of Heisman favorites, Taylor represents excellent value.
Khalil Tate +1400 — Tate was arguably the most explosive player in college football last year, and he now gets a full season under center in Tucson. Rich Rodriguez is no longer the head coach at Arizona, but in comes quarterback-friendly Kevin Sumlin. Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy back in 2012 during Sumlin's first season as head coach at Texas A&M, and he was a nominee once again in 2013. Tate might not be the passer that Manziel was, but he is easily the best running quarterback in the country—especially with 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson now spending his Sundays with the Baltimore Ravens. With Tate facing a Pac-12 conference full of porous defenses, expect some huge numbers in Year 2. And if Arizona can win eight or more games, Tate will look like a steal at these odds.
Kyler Murray +2000 — Mayfield will no longer be terrorizing the Sooners' opponents this season, but Murray isn’t going to make things much easier on them. The former five-star recruit spent his first year in college with Texas A&M, but he has now found his home playing for an innovative head coach in Lincoln Riley. Murray isn’t quite the precision passer that Mayfield was, but he brings serious arm strength to an offense that will allow him to take plenty of shots downfield. He's also extremely fast—one reason the Oakland Athletics took him with the No. 9 pick in June's MLB Draft—which will give this Oklahoma offense a dimension that even Mayfield couldn’t provide. Expect Murray to put up huge numbers, especially in Big 12 play.
Nick Fitzgerald +5000 — Fitzgerald suffered a gruesome knee injury against Ole Miss late last season, but the expectation is that he’ll be ready to go with no limitations in Week 1. Before getting hurt, Fitzgerald’s combination of size and speed was an absolute nightmare for opposing coaches to deal with. If healthy, Fitzgerald should continue to look like the combination of Cam Newton and Tim Tebow we’ve gotten glimpses of in the past. The senior isn’t the most accurate passer in the world, but he is still capable of making some beautiful throws downfield. And when he takes off to run, Fitzgerald is just as capable of inflicting physical punishment as any defensive player. Many are optimistic about the 2018 Bulldogs, and those expectations are ultimately Fitzgerald's to fulfill. A win over Auburn in early October could vault him to the top of Heisman watch lists.