Evaluating early Heisman odds

Could Clemson signal-caller Deshaun Watson have a Heisman-worthy season in 2015? Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports

Bovada’s Heisman Trophy odds hit the Internet this week. Per the site’s wisdom, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott (6-1) has the best shot to win the award in December.

Quarterbacks have won 12 of the past 13 Heisman awards, so it’s interesting to see running backs with three of the four best odds for 2015. In addition to Elliott, LSU’s Leonard Fournette (15-2) and Georgia’s Nick Chubb (8-1) are among the early favorites. Fournette and Chubb will be sophomores.

Scanning the other options, some of the numbers look off. Here are players whose odds will shrink and balloon between now and December.

Good buys

Cody Kessler, USC QB (12-1): Given that stat about quarterbacks winning the award just about every year, Kessler stands out as someone who could quickly rise. It’s surprising he isn’t in the single digits, actually, considering he completed 70 percent of his passes and had a 39-5 TD-INT rate in 2014.

If USC makes a run at the College Football Playoff -- many inside the sport believe it has a legit shot -- Kessler will be a huge part of it and will vault up Heisman boards.

Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB (20-1): Some of the cautious handicapping is justified. When Watson was on the field, he showed as a freshman that he is as purely talented as any quarterback in the country. But staying on the field was an issue. First it was a collarbone in the spring, then a hand injury, then -- the worst -- a torn ACL. Watson is expected to be a go by preseason camp, but he has to shake that injury-prone tag to make 20-1 a value. He is as intriguing a choice as there is on the board, however.

Seth Russell, Baylor QB (33-1): Like a lot of coaches, Art Briles hates the “system QB” label. When you think about it, though, it’s a compliment that Briles can continue to have sustainable success from one QB to the next.

Baylor will miss Bryce Petty, but only to a point. Briles and his staff already think there are things Russell can do that Petty could not. If Russell puts up the same eye-popping numbers Petty did and Baylor is in the Big 12 and national conversations, Russell could certainly make a run at New York.

Jared Goff, Cal QB (50-1): Goff’s numbers (62 percent completion rate, 35 TDs, 7 INTs) were in the same ballpark as Kessler’s, which is quite the compliment, considering Cal is still working its way back and doesn’t have nearly the skill-player firepower of USC.

There’s a sense from Pac-12 folks that Goff -- a QB prototype at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds -- could really break out in his third season and elevate his name on NFL draft boards. The Heisman radar could very well work in concert with Goff’s professional prospects.

Scooby Wright III, Arizona LB (66-1): Some candidates need a year or two to make themselves known to voters and the general public. Robert Griffin III was an example.

With that in mind, there’s a growing awareness of Wright after his sophomore season with 163 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss (14 of them sacks) and six forced fumbles.

Those are stronger numbers than the ones that put Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o in the hunt. Wright won the Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik awards in 2014. Will he win the Heisman in ’15? He’s a defensive player, so be realistic. But can he get to NYC as a finalist? Absolutely. If you can find that as a prop, go for it.


Everett Golson, Florida State QB (14-1): This feels foolish. Golson was a turnover machine in 2014. He was going to lose his starting job at Notre Dame to Malik Zaire before bolting. We’re supposed to believe he’s going to transfer to FSU and instantly become a superstar? It’s a stretch, at best.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher’s system is complicated. There is bound to be a learning curve for a new QB. Plus, Fisher seems comfortable with Sean Maguire as his starter, so there’s no guarantee Golson plays at all.

On top of that, the FSU QB will be surrounded mostly by youth and inexperience at the skill positions and on the offensive line. There’s no good reason to expect an FSU QB, Golson or Maguire, to win a Heisman Trophy. If someone forced me to bet one of the two, I’d take Maguire. He’s the likely starter.

Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB (25-1): The playmaking ability is unquestioned. Just about everything else is, at this point: Miller's durability, how he’ll respond to shoulder surgery -- including when he’ll be cleared -- and, of course, the three-way competition for the starting job, a race with a decided leader in Cardale Jones.

If anything, Miller has to be considered a long shot for the Heisman. Setting him at 25-1 would have been generous, even if Jones and J.T. Barrett had not emerged, just because of health concerns.

On the off-chance Miller transfers, it’s not as if the calendar for his shoulder recovery will change. Nor will the fact that, even when healthy, he hasn’t proven himself a consistent passer.

Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech QB (33-1): Thomas is good. So is his team. But let’s not get carried away. He is still a Georgia Tech quarterback. He will not throw enough to merit serious consideration.