LSU’s Joe Burrow entered last season with 200-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy before a record-setting season that will be the standard at the position for years to come.
Sometimes that dark-horse contender beats the preseason favorites who generate the most hype. It’s no different in 2020 when looking at the Heisman odds.
Ohio State’s Justin Fields (7-2) and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (4-1) are the heavy favorites. Fields was a Heisman finalist last season, and Lawrence has led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff championship game the last two seasons.
Outside of those two, which candidates are worth watching?
Best transfer QB
Jamie Newman, Georgia (10-1)
Can Newman pull a Burrow in one season with the Bulldogs? He finished with 2,868 passing yards, 574 yards and 32 total TDs at Wake Forest last season, and now he steps into a brighter spotlight in trying to lead Georgia to its first national title since 1980. How much will the Bulldogs tweak the offense with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken to suit Newman’s talent? That will determine whether he makes a true Heisman run.
Best system QB
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (12-1)
We’re simply following the trend. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray won back-to-back Heisman Trophies in 2017-18, and Jalen Hurts was a Heisman finalist last season. Rattler had a year to sit and learn under Lincoln Riley, and he will lead the Sooners’ explosive offense. Oklahoma has averaged 45.2 points per game the last three seasons. If Rattler keeps the Sooners humming at that clip, then he will be in New York, too.
Best veteran QB
Sam Ehlinger, Texas (20-1)
If Ehlinger can lead the Longhorns to break-through victories against LSU and Oklahoma in the first half of the season, then he will have a chance to be a contender too. Ehlinger had 93 total TDs for his career, and if Texas is back once and for all, then you can bet he will be a Heisman finalist. Vince Young (2005) and Colt McCoy (2008) finished second. Could Ehlinger be the one?
Best running back
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (60-1)
A defensive player hasn’t won the Heisman since 1997. A receiver hasn’t won the Heisman since 1991. The last two running backs to win it were Alabama’s Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015). Harris, who evolved into an all-around every-down back for the Crimson Tide last season, easily could put up the numbers to make a run. We like Clemson’s Travis Etienne, too, but it would hard for him to surpass Lawrence in the voting.
Five to watch
Here is a sleeper for each Power 5 conference to keep an eye on:
Sam Howell, North Carolina (30-1)
Howell set the true freshman record with 38 TD passes in 2019. That first-round potential continues to evolve with offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Howell would need to lead the Tar Heels to an ACC championship game appearance – and most likely an upset of Clemson – to get to New York. The numbers will be there.
Dylan McCaffrey, Michigan (100-1)
Penn State’s Sean Clifford (40-1) and Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez (40-1) have better odds as quarterbacks, but if McCaffrey can lead Michigan to a Big Ten championship and beat Fields in the regular-season finale, then he would have the best chance of the three to be in New York.
Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State (50-1)
Chuba Hubbard’s return is the headline for the Cowboys, but Sanders is the type of quarterback who could pass for 3,000-plus yards and rush for at least 1,000 more in Mke Gundy’s offense. Sanders will have showdowns with Rattler and Ehlinger, too. Let the best Big 12 quarterback win, right?
Kedon Slovis, USC (40-1)
Slovis showed signs that he could be the Trojans’ next great quarterback as a freshman. He had 14 TDs and just one interception in USC’s last four games, and he gets another year to work with offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. That stability should lead to better production in 2020.
Bo Nix, Auburn (30-1)
Nix was one of the more-entertaining freshman to watch in college football last season, and he needs to improve his consistency as a sophomore. Auburn plays in more than enough big games, so Nix will get a chance to show those improvements. Keep an eye on Florida’s Kyle Trask (50-1), too.
Best lottery ticket
Micale Cunningham, QB, Louisville (150-1)
Lamar Jackson came out of nowhere to win the Heisman. Cunningham totaled 28 TDs last season and could put the monster numbers in Louisville’s offense to put some pressure on the voters. He still has a lot to prove and faces the same obstacle with Clemson. That didn’t stop Jackson – who finished ahead of Deshaun Watson in the voting in 2016.