Hey, the 2016 Heisman big board is out! Yeah, I know what you're saying — the 2015 season hasn't even cooled off yet, and we're already talking about 2016?!? Well, when the opportunity to gamble is nigh, we must discuss it! That's the rules, man. So let's talk some Heisman finalists and see if there's any value on the board.
Keep in mind as we look at these that for about a five-year period, the eventual winner of the award was nowhere to be found on these preseason odds boards. Mark Ingram (2009), Cam Newton (2010), Johnny Manziel (2012) and James Winston (2013) were all just nebulous names before their respective Heisman campaigns began, and even Robert Griffin III (2011) was barely a fringe candidate.
That trend seems to have been pushed aside the past couple of seasons with Marcus Mariota going virtually wire to wire in 2014, and Derrick Henry seizing the frontrunner status in early November this past season and taking home the award fairly easily. Both Mariota and Henry were among the top ten or 15 candidates heading into each one's Heisman season.
So how does 2016 play out? Let's look at the board...
THE 2015 FINALISTS
Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford) 7-1
Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson) 8-1
COMMENT: Both of these 2015 true sophomores head into the 2016 season with the most momentum. McCaffrey would've gotten my 2015 vote and may have won the award if his games didn't all start after 9 p.m. on the East Coast. He broke Barry Sanders's single-season total yardage record in 2015. Both players head into 2016 with their final 2015 salvo being a spectacular bowl game effort, McCaffrey with an historic Rose Bowl performance in a rout of Iowa, and Watson with a one-man show in a losing effort to Alabama in the national title game. Watson gets the slight edge, with Clemson having a decent chance at running the table in the regular season once again in 2016.
THE 2015 NEAR FINALISTS
Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma) 9-1
Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU) 10-1
COMMENT: Mayfield was spectacular during the second half of 2015 and nearly earned himself a trip to New York. They will continue to build the Sooner offense around him in 2016, and he also has the best chance to make some early statements against great competition with Oklahoma playing Houston and Ohio State out of conference. Fournette basically had this award wrapped up through September and October, and then ran into a buzzsaw in Alabama, where the Crimson Tide defense held him to 31 yards on 19 carries.
THE QB SQUAD
Chad Kelly (QB, Ole Miss) 14-1
Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA) 14-1
JT Barrett (QB, Ohio State) 14-1
Joshua Dobbs (QB, Tennessee) 20-1
COMMENT: An interesting group of signal callers here. I'd probably give Kelly the best chance to break out, since he got steadily better as the 2015 season went on and winning in the SEC West will always trump winning in other divisions of other conferences. Josh Rosen has seized the title of "QB who would be drafted first overall if not for these cockamamie NFL underclassmen rules," and Barrett has the early season showcase against Oklahoma. (NOTE: Ohio State loses a TON of guys to the draft this spring, though.) Dobbs is intriguing insomuch as Tennessee could've been a 10- or 11-win team in 2015 if it had just not screwed up the Oklahoma and Florida games. He's a solid sleeper.
Seth Russell (QB, Baylor) 16-1
Jarrett Stidham (QB, Baylor) 16-1
COMMENT: How do you know you have a pretty good system? When the Heisman big board includes BOTH of your quarterbacks because we don't know which one will start. Congrats, Art Briles!
DeShone Kizer (QB, Notre Dame) 20-1
Malik Zaire (QB, Notre Dame) 25-1
COMMENT: How do you know your school has decades of tradition and a hall pass into Heisman relevance? When the Heisman big board includes BOTH of your quarterbacks because we don't know which one will start. Congrats, Knute Rockne!
THE RB SQUAD
Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State) 14-1
Samaje Perine (RB, Oklahoma) 16-1
Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia) 18-1
Royce Freeman (RB, Oregon) 20-1
Jalen Hurd (RB, Tennessee) 20-1
COMMENT: This is a quarterback's and running back's award; however, being more specific, it's been a quarterback and an ALABAMA running back's award over the past decade, with Reggie Bush being the last non-Tide running back to take home the honors, in 2005, and Ron Dayne being the last non-Tide running back who didn't have the award redacted because of illegal benefits to take home the honors, in 1999. Cook is the obvious play from this group, as Perine and Hurd have QBs from their own teams ahead of them on this list, Chubb is coming off an injury, and Oregon running backs are gimmicks as much as anything in that offense.
Greg Ward Jr. (QB, Houston) 40-1
COMMENT: Okay, Coog fan, here we go. I was mildly shocked to see Ward this far down the board, and make no mistake, his placement is 1,000 percent due to the conference he plays in. Anyone with a working set of eyeballs knows that the Cougar offense flows fully through Ward and that the team's greatest offensive plays are the broken ones in which Ward decides to improvise. He will get a chance to get some of that early Heisman buzz if he can pull off he upset of Oklahoma, and then ride some undefeated momentum during the regular season. I've been on this storyline ahead of everyone else, but Ward individually and the Cougars as a team have a chance to break some real glass ceilings this coming season.
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Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama) 25-1
Brad Kaaya (QB, Miami) 25-1
Luke Falk (QB, Washington State) 25-1
Jabrill Peppers (CB/WR, Michigan) 25-1
Mason Rudolph (QB, Oklahoma State) 33-1
Christian Kirk (WR, Texas A&M) 33-1
Elijah Hood (RB, North Carolina) 33-1
Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State) 40-1
Corey Clement (RB, Wisconsin) 40-1
Juju Smith-Schuster (WR, USC) 66-1
Antonio Callaway (WR, Florida) 100-1
(NOTE: A previous version of this post included Alex Collins of Arkansas. However, he has declared for the 2016 NFL Draft.)
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