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Top picks to win the Heisman Trophy

Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield has the best shot to win the Heisman Trophy this season, but keep an eye on dark horses like Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph and Georgia's Nick Chubb.

This past weekend, while in Lake Tahoe for a bachelor party, I stopped into the sports book at one of the casinos and grabbed the latest odds on the 2017 Heisman Trophy. Since we’ve arrived at the start of conference media days, I figured it’d be a good time to go through those odds.

The favorite is USC sophomore QB Sam Darnold at 7/2, followed by last year’s winner Lamar Jackson from Louisville at 8/1. There are three players slotted at 10/1 including the first running back, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who is joined by Washington’s Jake Browning and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, the transfer QB from Baylor, has shot up the board this summer as a trendy sleeper pick and is now 12/1, as priced by William Hill of the Hard Rock Casino.

Rounding out the 10 best odds: Florida State QB Deondre Francois is 15/1; Alabama sophomore QB Jalen Hurts is 20/1; and then comes a quartet at 22/1: UCLA QB Josh Rosen, Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough, LSU RB Derrius Guice and Penn State QB Trace McSorley.

If I were ranking the board in probability to win the stiff-armed statue this season, here would be my order.

1. Mayfield

In his two seasons at Oklahoma, his TD-INT ratio is 76–15. In 2016 he finished third for the Heisman, and he set the FBS single-season pass efficiency rating record with a 196.4 mark. (The previous record was 191.8. For added context consider this: The next highest Power 5 figure in 2016 was 167.5.) Mayfield is brilliant at beating defenses with his arm and his legs. Better still, he’ll be playing behind what should be the Sooners' best O-line in years. The downside: He will be without Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook as well as standout RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.

2. Darnold

I love his ability to extend plays and burn defenses. Darnold has everything to make a big run at the Heisman including playing a glamour position at a marquee program with a rich Heisman history. He’s also clearly USC’s top guy. The downside: He’s breaking in with a lot of young (but very talented) receivers. The Trojans also don’t have any bye weeks this season. Don’t be surprised if you see some few hiccups from what will be a very inexperienced offense in a program heaped with soaring expectations.

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3. Barkley

As I wrote last week, the Penn State star is the freakiest athlete in college football. According to Pro Football Focus, no returning college RB forced more missed tackles than Barkley’s 72. Coaches and teammates also rave about his character. He’s worked diligently to improve his pass-blocking and his ability to finish off home-run plays, increasing his speed and his strength while also becoming more aware thanks to his film study. He plays in a fun offense that should put up a ton of points; his QB, though, could take away some of his votes.

4. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

This one’s probably polarizing. Barrett came in fifth for the Heisman three years ago. He’s the only three-time captain in the storied history of Ohio State football. Coaches say he’s a fantastic leader and he’s a good fit for this system because he runs well enough to keep defenses honest. He also will have more than his share of marquee games to get Heisman voters on board starting with a Week 2 visit from Mayfield’s Sooners. The Buckeyes also host Barkley and Penn State and then face their arch-rival Michigan. For a lot of college football fans, the last memory of Barrett and the Buckeyes is getting shutout by Clemson in the College Football Playoff. The big question entering this season is can this Ohio State offense hit big pass plays downfield? The Buckeyes do have some promising young wideouts who look capable, and the arrival of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and new QB coach Ryan Day bodes very well.

5. Guice

​If Barkley isn’t the best back in college football, Derrius Guice is. He has the power of a much bigger back, tremendous burst and the elusiveness to embarrass tacklers. Guice led the SEC in rushing last season despite sharing time with the great Leonard Fournette. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry. New OC Matt Canada should help spice up the Tigers offense. The big issue is whether LSU can be potent enough in the passing game to take some of the heat off Guice and emerge as a top 5 team.

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Beyond the favorites, here are four value picks I think are very intriguing.

Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph (25/1)

He’ll put up huge numbers after throwing for over 4,000 yards and with a 28–4 TD-INT ratio. And, the Cowboys receiving corps will be even better this year with huge Marcell Ateman and LSU transfer Tyron Johnson in action. If they can overcome Oklahoma and win the Big 12, I think Rudolph has a legit shot.

Georgia RB Nick Chubb (30/1)

I think some people forget how special he is because he’s been banged up and he plays in a conference loaded with terrific backs. But if Chubb can stay healthy and the Dawgs can emerge in the SEC East, he’ll be on the Heisman radar.


His teammate Hurts is higher on the board, and I certainly am a big believer in the Tide’s group of receivers, but I feel like Scarbrough has more of a wow factor that can stick in voters head when he breaks off long runs in big match-ups. Just ask the Washington staff about how dangerous he is. Like Chubb, Scarbrough has some problems staying healthy. The presence of Guice, Chubb and some other top backs in the SEC, especially if they’re producing big numbers, also might cloud his case. Scarbrough's other big obstacle could be his teammates: Hurts will get plenty of votes if the Crimson Tide roll to the SEC title again, and Bama also has a slew of other superb running backs.

Florida State DB Derwin James (50/1)

I know that defensive players, especially ones not really involved in the offense, have virtually no shot at the Heisman, but … James is special. He is a play-making machine that can be deployed all over the field in a variety of roles. If he has a monster performance and shows he’s the best player on the field in Week 1 against Alabama when all eyes will be on that game, he could give juice to a Heisman campaign. That said, will he then be able to consistently produce enough of the kind of numbers to hold voters attention?

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I would’ve thought I’d be writing about Stidham in this area, but that was before I noticed how much his number has moved. I thought he might be 30/1, not 12/1, but he is very talented as a passer and runner. I am curious to see him in the Tigers offense, especially since he’s got some good skill talent and a formidable O-line.

A few other names of note: Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway is 25/1; USF QB Quinton Flowers is 30/1; Washington State QB Luke Falk is 40/1 as is Texas QB Shane Buechele; Notre Dame’s new starting QB Brandon Wimbush is 50/1; West Virginia QB Will Grier and Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald are 60/1; Oregon RB Royce Freeman, Ohio State RB Mike Weber, Georgia QB Jacob Eason and Houston DT Ed Oliver are 75/1; Michigan QB Wilton Speight is 125/1.

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As for any shot of Jackson repeating, well, obviously history isn’t on his side since it’s only happened once when Ohio State’s Archie Griffin did it 40-plus years ago. Jackson’s so dynamic and a blast to watch, but given how expectations work in this era of the media and 24–7 analysis, I think it’s only become that much tougher to repeat. A lot of folks' last memory of his 2016 was him getting swarmed by Houston or shut down by LSU. The upshot of that is some feel like Deshaun Watson should’ve won the Heisman factoring in the college football postseason. That’s probably not fair, but I do buy that it’s a factor after talking to a bunch of people this off-season. I think Jackson has a chance to repeat, but I see it as more of a long shot than just 8/1.