Smalls’ Way-too-Early Heisman Predictions

I’m gonna be honest, it’s a rough time of the year for me right now. The Super Bowl is over, there are 184 days left until college football starts again (yes, I keep track), and the AAF just isn’t quite doing it for me. The draft isn’t until late April, and we still have a week until the combine even starts. The only thing keeping me kind of sane is watching everyone arguing about who’s mock draft is the most accurate (spoiler alert: everyone on planet earth will be wrong, including you Todd McShay). This is a dry spell if I’ve ever seen one, and as a college-aged male who’s spent most of his life single, I know something about dry spells.

But fear not, football fans. “That time of the year” can always get a little bit brighter with a little Heisman prediction talk. The Heisman winner is usually a highly contested pick every year, and next year will be no different. So, without further ado, here are the players (with updated odds from 247 Sports) to look out for in next year’s Heisman race.

My Serious Contenders

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (Odds: 5/1)

This one is pretty obvious, I think. Hawaiian Jesus was pretty much the frontrunner all year since he completely changed the dynamic of Alabama’s traditionally boring offense. After years of watching guys like AJ McCarron, Jake Coker, and Greg McElroy essentially act as game managers for teams who just pushed around opponents on the line of scrimmage, the Crimson Tide actually have a guy that is both dynamic on the run and acccurate through the air. He broke numerous single season passing records in Tuscaloosa, all while usually only playing for the first three quarters of games. The only time Tua seemed human was against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and Clemson in the National Chamionship, when he was fighting through an injury. He was so good that he took away the starting job from Jalen Hurts, who had calmly led the Tide to two straight national championship games. If Tua can be better down the final stretch of the season, it’s hard to argue that he won’t get another invite to New York.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (Odds: 7/2)

Here’s the guy that literally has ALL the hype around him, and for good reason. After making Kelly Bryant (the guy that had led Clemson to a 12-2 record and a playoff appearance in 2017) transfer to Missouri, Lawrence went on to go 259/398 for 3,280 yards, 30 TD’s and only 4 interceptions (as a freshman, mind you). The only thing that annoyed me with T-Law was the fact that seemingly no one made a big deal about this kid until he and Justyn Ross dismantled the Crimson Tide in the title game. It wasn’t really his fault that everyone was only concerned about Tua and Kyler Murray, it was just irritating that guys like Max Kellerman pretended they had been thinking he was the best QB in the country literally all season long. Either way, now that he’s projected as a #1 overall pick in whatever draft he declares for, Lawrence has to be considered one of the favorites to win the trophy in New York this year. Plus, if he has even half the intensity he shows while playing IM basketball, you can’t count him out in 2019.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (Odds: 12/1)

After absolutely lighting the Big Ten on fire as a freshman in 2017, Taylor still had quite a good year in his sophomore season. This came despite Wisconsin taking a GIANT step back this past year (they went 8-5 and only 5-4 in the Big Ten). Taylor was a bright spot in 2018, going for 2,194 yards (#1 in the country) on 307 carries and scoring 16 TD’s. His 7.1 yards per carry was impressive, and was really the only consistent thing on the Badger offense. I love this guy as a fan. He’s not exactly flashy, like Saquon Barkley was, but God damn this kid can play. If Wisco plays more consistent and actually competes for a Big Ten title, Taylor has a shot to be in New York for the Heisman ceremony. I do definitely think he’s the best running back still in college, and because of that, I think he has a serious chance.

My Current Outsiders Looking In

Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma (Odds: 13/2)

My guy Jalen set the internet on fire last week with a video of him squatting what I think was 585 lbs. Jesus Christ, what a freak. While sitting behind Tua in Tuscaloosa, Hurts still threw for 765 yards and 8 TD’s. He also had that incredible comeback win against Bama’s most recent SEC title competitor Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Now that he’s transferred to Oklahoma, I do think his role will be much different. Instead of being the game manager that he was at Alabama, I expect Lincoln Riley to expand Jalen’s horizon and let him air it out a bit more (assuming he wins the starting job). Riley is known for building the best system possible around his quarterbacks, and has produced the last two (!!!) Heisman winners. The Big 12 is also a VERY pass-heavy and almost defense-absent league, which will help boost Hurts’ stats a ton. Overall, I think it’s a great transfer from Hurts’ perspective, but I’m not quite sold on his accuracy yet, only because Nick Saban had him playing a much more conservative role.

D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia (Odds: 12/1)

Since Swift was finally healthy and not sitting behind Sony Michel and Nick Chubb on the depth chart, he came on strong in his sophomore season. He rushed for 1,049 yards and 10 TD’s while splitting snaps in the backfield. Now that Elijah Holyfield is going to the draft, it’s Swift’s time to shine and run all over the SEC. Assuming he doesn’t split that many carries with incoming five-star recruit Zamir White, I fully expect Swift to be the best back in the SEC. I don’t love his chances of winning the Heisman though, for a few reasons. First, he’ll be a running back trying to win an award that absolutely favors quarterbacks. Second, he’ll be sharing the stage with QB Jake Fromm. Heisman winners, for the most part, seem to be that season’s new and exciting storyline, while also being the program’s centerpiece and main reason their team is competing at the highest level. Fromm is a beast, so I think Swift winning the Heisman is a stretch. He might actually get an invite to New York, but I don’t think he’ll get enough hype to actually win.

Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska (Odds: 12/1)

I don’t actually think Martinez will have a strong enough team to actually compete for a Heisman (yet), but I had to throw his name in here strictly because he’s the most interesting name floating around out there. After leaving UCF to help resurrect his alma mater, Scott Frost seems to be turning the Nebraska football program around, and at a faster rate than most expected. They earned the #4 spot in the Big Ten recruiting rankings for 2019, and showed some improvement near the end of last season. Martinez was a bright spot for the Huskers last year, throwing for 2,617 yards and 17 TD’s as a freshman. He also ran for 629 yards and scored 8 rushing TD’s. All of this came on a team that was absolutely miserable for most of the year. But with the right recruiting and coaching decisions, Frost could put Martinez in a spot to at least be part of the Heisman conversation. It’s definitely a stretch, but with comparisons to UCF’s McKenzie Milton being made, I could see Martinez making some noise this year, especially if the Huskers end the season in the top 25.

Honorable Mentions and Other Notes

These are some of the other names that I think have somewhat of an outside chance:

  • Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas (16/1)
  • Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (12/1)
  • Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia (12/1)
  • Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama (12/1)
  • Tate Martell, QB, Miami (40/1)
  • D’Eriq King, QB, Houston (55/1)

With all that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if literally none of these players win the Heisman next year. Preseason odds are hardly ever correct when looking back through the years:

2014

Actual 2014 Heisman winner: Marcus Mariota (6/1)

2015

Actual 2015 Heisman winner: Derrick Henry (14/1)

2016

Actual 2016 Heisman winner: Lamar Jackson (50/1)

2017

Actual 2017 Heisman winner: Baker Mayfield (11/2)

2018

Actual 2018 Heisman winner: Kyler Murray (22/1)

As you can see, Vegas hardly ever gets it right. Out of the last 5 years, only Baker Mayfield and Marcus Mariota were favorites to win the award. The other 3 were pretty much counted out from the start. This just goes to show what’s so weird about the Heisman trophy: you almost need a perfect storm of team relevance, crazy good personal stats, an intriguing storyline, and absolutely zero let-down games throughout the season. Quadzilla himself Saquon Barkley had all the highlights, hype, and talent, yet he missed out on an invitation to New York after he only produced one long touchdown run against Northwestern in 2017. Mayfield definitely deserved to win the 2017 Heisman, but Barkley didn’t even make it as a finalist because he had a few games where his stats didn’t jump off the page. Bottom line: the Heisman is a weird phenomenon, and the best all-around player doesn’t always win.

So what’s my official 2019 Heisman prediction? I’m obviously going with the outside pick: the Man Missile from Down Under, newly signed Miami punter Louis Hedley. Age is but a number, just ask Chris Weinke. Plus, I’m so sick of the anti-punter narrative in college football. Punters are people too, and some of them are monsters who probably picked fights with kangaroos for years.

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