The most recent 2016 Heisman odds were significantly different from last week’s. A number of players saw their odds lowered from where they previously were, with only a couple of players in the top fifteen posting better odds this time around. One of those players only just made it to the Vegas odds, having previously failed to make the board. With so many changes in Vegas, this seems like as good a time as any to discuss some of the most favored players in the NCAA and their chances at bringing home the coveted Heisman Memorial Trophy Award for this season.
Remember that the 2016 Heisman won’t just be granted to the best player, or at least it shouldn’t be. The Heisman is supposed to be given to the player who best combines excellence with integrity, even if this second criterion sometimes seems to be ignored. In assessing the top five players in the Vegas odds for the 2016 Heisman, we will do our best to honor the spirit of the award, seeking a player who is truly the best in every sense of the word.
Before getting to the top five, we’d like to mention some other players that Vegas has favored among the top fifteen for the 2016 Heisman. The first is Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly. Since we sang the praises of Ole Miss so highly in our 2016 College Football Championship predictions, we feel the need to mention him. As far as excellence is concerned, he’s delivered by leading his team to a 4-1 season which included a major victory against Alabama. His integrity, however, is up in the air. He has a long history of questionable behavior. If the integrity requirement is taken even a little bit seriously, he has to really turn things around this year. He went on a mission trip to Haiti back in March, so maybe this is the year he’ll turn things around. Still, Vegas is only giving him 65/1 odds of winning the Heisman, down from 33/1 last week.
We’d also like to give an honorable mention to Texas A&M QB Kyle Allen. We don’t know much about his overall integrity, but we know that he’s not a quitter. He didn’t win starting QB last year, but he kept up his training regimen and managed to go 3-2 with 1,058 passing yards when he was suddenly called up as starter for the last five games. His performance this year has been worlds better. The Aggies are undefeated so far, with Allen throwing for 322 yards in their most recent game. His teammates praise his maturity, his leadership, and his excellent skills as a pocket passer. Vegas dropped his odds from 20/1 to 35/1, but we’re thinking his odds are better than that if he keeps his performance up.
There are a lot of great names in the running for the 2016 Heisman, but we’re giving our last honorable mention to Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. Vegas is currently giving Mayfield 25/1 odds of winning the 2016 Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, which is pretty amazing when you consider that they didn’t even have him in the running at the end of September. He opened his season strong, and the Heisman buzz started early. But while we’re pretty sure the currently undefeated Sooners are in for a disappointment sometime soon, Mayfield is a strong Heisman candidate. He’s always been pretty strong—when he played at Texas Tech, he started his season opener as a true freshman walk-on. The former Longhorns fan has a lot of confidence, but he isn’t egotistical about it. He’s optimistic, speaking highly of his team’s abilities, but he doesn’t rank himself above them. He’s got a lot of integrity. Even when Oklahoma starts losing, Mayfield will still look like a pretty strong candidate for the 2016 Heisman. He just needs to make sure he isn’t the cause of their inevitable losing streak.
Nick Chubb – RB, Georgia
At the time of writing, Nick Chubb is fifth on the list of Vegas odds for the 2016 Heisman. He previously had 7/1 odds, which have been dropped to 15/1 as of the most recent postings. His team is 4-1 at the moment, with one loss against Alabama. And even in the course of racking up that loss, Chubb managed to rush past the defensive line for an 83-yard touchdown. Chubb is the second-best running back in the NCAA right now, averaging 149 yards per game. He’s got three games in a row of at least 200 yards, not to mention thirteen straight games of at least 100 yards. If he manages to make that fourteen, he’ll have set a school record.
We don’t know much about Chubb’s integrity, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As we’ve talked about before, egos sometimes run high in sports. When we don’t know whether a player has one or not, it means they’ve been keeping things under wraps. Integrity doesn’t generally make the news as easily as the lack of it. And in the case of Chubb, the fact that he’s been so quiet is definitely a mark in his favor. He’s been overshadowed by LSU RB Leonard Fournette this season, but he could easily be clamoring for recognition. He may not be posting Fournette’s numbers, but he’s still going strong so far.
Chubb could easily be worried after Georgia’s loss to Alabama, but he’s staying pretty optimistic. He has faith in himself and in his team. We share that faith, to an extent. He’ll be a finalist in the running for the 2016 Heisman for certain, but it’s basically between him and Fournette. Of course, this prediction is based on the assumption that nothing major will happen to hurt either player’s candidacy. In that unlikely event, we’ll discuss the other candidates on this list as if they stand on equal footing. But to be frank, they really don’t. Unless another player comes out of the woodwork with an amazing show of skill and integrity, the 2016 Heisman belongs to Chubb or Fournette.
Trevone Boykin – QB, TCU
Trevone Boykin is one of the more unique names on this list, as he might be taking on a new role at some point in the future. Boykin averages about 400 yards per game, 360 of which are from passing. In other words, he knows a thing or two about mounting a successful passing offense. He’s thrown a total of 19 touchdown passes, which is pretty good when you consider the fact that he’s only thrown 3 interceptions. And this lack of interceptions is even better when you consider the fact that TCU is almost halfway through an undefeated season. Boykin has got a solid arm, so it would be a shame to see him switch positions. On the other hand, he knows enough about how the game is played to make a pretty decent wide receiver.
We don’t know much about Boykin’s integrity, but we know that his team’s integrity is actually holding him back. When the Horned Frogs led 30-0 against the Texas Longhorns after the first quarter of their recent game, they recognized the need to show a little bit of sportsmanship. The Frogs took Boykin out during the second half, as he had already pretty much eviscerated the Longhorns and solidified a win. Even so, he managed to throw 332 yards in that game, with four touchdowns in the first half and one in the second. Including that game, Boykin’s thrown 1,566 yards and 18 touchdowns (he only threw a single touchdown in TCU’s first game, which was not his best). If TCU kept Boykin on the field at all times, their chances of winning the title this year would be virtually unquestionable.
Despite his great performance, Boykin is one of the players whose Vegas odds dropped this week. He had previously been given 7/1 odds of winning the 2016 Heisman, but his odds are now posted as 19/2. This is a bit surprising. Not only has he performed well lately, but he’s even been honored with it. In TCU’s last game of September, Boykin was responsible for the winning touchdown that led the Horned Frogs to a narrow 55-52 win in the last 23 seconds of the game. Over the course of the entire game, he threw 485 yards to make 527 yards in total. It was the second time in a row he had managed more than 500 yards, and he received the Davey O’Brien Quarterback of the Week Award for the second time in his career. We don’t know that he’ll nab the 2016 Heisman, but he’s still done pretty well for himself at this point in the year.
Ezekiel Elliott – RB, Ohio State
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the few 2016 Heisman candidates that actually moved up in the Vegas odds this week. While he had previously been favored at 12/1, he is now listed at 9/1. This isn’t huge, but it’s pretty good considering that most players either stayed the same or plummeted. But it isn’t just Vegas that seems to appreciate the work Elliott’s been putting in lately; Elliott is currently the top-ranked player in the Big Ten Player Rankings. After rushing for 274 yards against the Indiana Hoosiers (bringing his total to 724 yards, with an average of 145.8 yards per game), Elliott might be establishing himself as one of the Buckeyes’ best rushers of all time.
So far, what we know of Elliott’s integrity has little to do with his on-field performance. When it comes to this young man’s strength of character, one of the most telling stories might actually concern his dog’s disappearance. Elliott’s Alaskan Malamute-German Shepard mix, Chase, was stolen last week. A police report was filed, and multiple suspects were later apprehended when the dog was found. But rather than exercise his legal right to seek revenge through the justice system, Elliott declined to press charges. He was just happy to have his dog back. And while he could have taken a moment in the spotlight to talk to the press, he declined to comment. At the time, he felt the need to put his studies first. Considering what seems to be a rise in academic fraud cases lately, it’s kind of refreshing to be reminded that many of the NCAA’s talented young athletes are also dedicated students.
Of course, integrity is a small factor in determining the winner of the Heisman Trophy. If Zeke Elliott wins the 2016 Heisman, it’ll be due largely to his sheer excellence as a player. And much like Nick Chubb, Elliott will have to shine in a vast college football league that currently seems to be focused on Leonard Fournette. SB Nation points out Elliott’s inconsistency, which could easily keep the 2016 Heisman just out of his reach. There are games where he’s averaged less than five yards per carry (such as the Hawaii game in which 27 carries only got him 101 yards). Two games in which he had the same number of carries saw him net widely different totals, with a difference of 101 yards. Each of the three aforementioned games were against teams with poor ratings in rush defense. We like the guy, but we’re not sure we can see him bringing this trophy home.
Seth Russell – QB, Baylor
The Vegas odds for Seth Russell winning the 2016 Heisman have not shifted at all in the past week, still locked in at 8/1. It’s not too surprising that Vegas has him in second for the 2016 Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, seeing as he’s currently the top-rated passer in the nation. Baylor’s gone 4-0 so far, with Russell passing for 1,281 yards and 19 touchdowns, not to mention rushing for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Given that 81 of those rushing yards (and two of those three touchdowns) came from the last game alone, it seems that Russell’s rushing game is improving. We had mixed feelings about Baylor at the start of the season, but Russell is helping us come around a bit. More importantly, he’s developing into a strong all-around quarterback right as he reaches draft eligibility.
If you need proof that the Baylor Bears are a strong team with Russell driving the ship, just look at the odds on their upcoming game against 0-4 Kansas. It’s a home game for the Jayhawks, and yet the Bears are favored on a 42-point spread. And it’s important to look at Baylor when talking about Russell, because this is the school where head coach Art Briles churned out Heisman-winning QB Robert Griffin III. The Big Lead pointed out back in August that, of the past nine Heisman winners, eight of them were quarterbacks. Four of those eight were first-time starters, just like Russell. This is a major advantage for Russell. He’s one of the few players who can’t be judged against Fournette, primarily because he’s playing a favored position. Just remember that, while quarterbacks are eight for nine on the Heisman, they’re also ten for fifteen. They might win it a bit more often, but a strong running back can still upset their usual dominance.
As far as integrity is concerned, it’s probably a mark in Russell’s favor that he isn’t too preoccupied with personal awards. He is fully aware of the buzz that he’s a strong candidate for the 2016 Heisman, but he only cares about his team. As long as the team wins, then the score and his own personal numbers are irrelevant to him. Some might look down on this attitude, as it sounds like Russell doesn’t care about performing at his best. That’s certainly one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is that Russell favors camaraderie over egotism. Say what you want about that mindset, but it certainly isn’t lacking in integrity.
Leonard Fournette – RB, LSU
We’d normally have a separate section for final predictions, but this is pretty much it. If it goes to a quarterback, it’ll probably be Seth Russell. If it goes to a running back, then it’ll probably be Leonard Fournette. Nick Chubb’s hat is certainly in the ring, but Fournette is leading by a landslide. He was previously given 3/2 odds of winning the 2016 Heisman, but Vegas posted his odds at 1/2 this week. That’s about as strong as you can get. And considering his average yards per game are the best in the NCAA by a margin bigger than any player has posted since 1988, it isn’t too surprising that so many people are expecting him to receive the 2016 Heisman.
Fournette has 40-yard, 62-yard, and 75-yard touchdowns. He has three 200-yard games, and has shown that he can get within spitting distance of 300. And he’s got speed unlike that of most other players his size, which tends to discourage defensive players from getting in his way. Those who do get in his way don’t get very far. LSU’s game against Auburn exemplified that, with tackles literally rolling off Fournette’s back like water off a super-powered duck. We’ve previously said that other teams would have to learn how to start bringing him down if they wanted to keep LSU out of the championship. No one has done it yet. And in a way, we’re not too surprised. We’re talking about a guy whose highlights as a freshman included a touchdown from one goal line to the other. As far as the “excellence” criterion is concerned, the 2016 Heisman is basically Fournette’s already. He could get injured next week, and LSU could lose every game from there on out. And there would still be a push to throw Fournette a Heisman based on everything we’ve seen from him so far.
Now, as for the integrity criterion is concerned, we have to give Fournette some major points for sportsmanship. Fournette was recently compared to SEC legends Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker. Not only did he disagree with the comparison, but he used the interview as a forum to congratulate Nick Chubb on his 13 consecutive 100-yard games. That’s pretty darn commendable. Fournette deserves a pat on the back for not patting himself on the back.
Commentators have said that the only thing scarier than vying for the 2016 Heisman against Leonard Fournette is the knowledge that he has the chance to win it again next year. Assuming Fournette gets better with every season, then his potential is greater than the 2016 Heisman. He has the chance to become the next Archie Griffin if he can manage to nab the Heisman both this year and next. With that kind of future ahead of him, it’s crazy that he’d be focused on other players’ achievements. We normally judge athletes with big egos, but Fournette’s almost stranger for not having one. Sometimes these types of articles are geared more toward who we think deserves to win than who we think actually will. In Fournette’s case, there’s really no distinction. The 2016 Heisman is as good as his.