Going into 2021, conversations surrounding the Heisman Trophy typically involve players like Alabama’s Bryce Young, Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, and Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei. However, the past few seasons should make bettors very aware that the preseason favorites aren’t always the winners.
From Kyler Murray (+2000 preseason odds to win the award) to Joe Burrow (+20000) and DeVonta Smith (+5000 odds as late as Week 8 of the 2020 season), preseason longshots seem to hold nothing but value. In the CFP era, no preseason favorite has gone on to win the Heisman trophy, with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (+500) being the closest to it.
Let’s take a look at five longshots who have a legitimate chance of being the next Heisman winner for the 2021 season.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas ()
One number might be all you need to understand what the Texas Longhorns have in Bijan Robinson: 8.2. That’s Robinson’s yards per attempt a season ago on 86 carries, including a whopping 18.7 per carry over his last two games (19 carries, versus Kansas State and Colorado). If I could make this entire article about why you should lay some cash down on Bijan Robinson for Heisman, I would.
Four factors also point to Robinson getting a ton of work early, too.
- First and most importantly, the departure of 3.5-year star Sam Ehlinger leaves Texas with an inexperienced quarterback.
- Second, they have a change at head coach to Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who helped support Najee Harris to 1,466 rushing yards this past year.
- Third is their lack of depth at receiver, causing them to lean further into the run game as they get their new crop adjusted early.
- Finally, Texas’ defense is stout and won’t be bleeding points. Teams that leading tend to rely on the run game.
Bijan Robinson will continue to dominate opposing defenses while also being the bellcow for Texas. He’s the running back that should be talked about the most.
John Metchie III, WR, Alabama ()
Two Alabama receivers taking home the Heisman in a row? It’s not likely, but if you’re looking for someone whose odds don’t match their actual chances at winning the award, it’s John Metchie III. In 2020, he was buried by star Jaylen Waddle and Heisman winner DeVonta Smith. However, despite sitting behind those two superstars, Metchie picked up the quietest 900 receiving yards in the nation.
To follow the recent line of Alabama receivers, Metchie posts a 4.36 40-time, faster than both Smith and Waddle (seriously). He’s also the only returning Bama receiver with any experience, making him an excellent go-to for Bryce Young. Young is moving into his first year as a starter for the Tide, but is already sitting near the top of Heisman odds tables.
Should Metchie be made the go-to in Tuscaloosa, we could see him pace with DeVonta Smith’s production from a year ago and maybe make him the best receiver Alabama’s seen.
Jayden Daniels, QB, Arizona State ()
His freshman year at Arizona State should not be overlooked; Jayden Daniels finished with 20 total touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions in 12 games. Daniels was named to Athlon Sports’ second team preseason All Pac-12 ahead of other names like UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson. For good reason, too– he’s an explosive playmaker who is pass-first but can also burn a defense with his legs.
Despite a light workload in 2020 (the Sun Devils played just four games), Daniels continued his efficiency. He scored four times on the ground in those games and finished with five passing touchdowns and one interception thrown. His pitfall in 2020 was his passing completion, which sat at just 58.3%. However, Arizona State returns their top four receivers from a year ago, giving Daniels another season to acclimate to his pass catchers.
While the floor might be lower than other Heisman candidates, Jayden Daniels has one of the highest ceilings in all of college football. Should he hit that, his name will rise up odds boards quickly.
Michael Penix Jr., QB, Indiana (+5000)
It wasn’t by chance that Indiana had a breakout season a year ago. From Day 1, Michael Penix Jr. proved to be able to carry teams on his own; their gritty overtime win against Penn State solidified him as a star in the Big Ten. As a sophomore, Penix scored 16 total touchdowns in six games. As a freshman, he split time with Peyton Ramsey (who transferred to Northwestern). Even in the split season, Penix recorded a 157.6 rating, 14th best in the nation.
It helps that the Hoosiers return their top star receiver Ty Fryfogle, who posted 721 yards, seven touchdowns, and 19.5 yards per reception in 2020 (eight games). The Penix-Fryfogle connection was lethal against the Ohio State Buckeyes a season ago, with Indiana taking them down to the final minutes.
His odds will be fairly determinant on the success of Indiana as a whole, but Michael Penix Jr. has the talent and the weapons surrounding him to be a serious contender.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati ()
If Desmond Ritter was put on, say, Ohio State or another Power Five team close in geography to Cincinnati, he would be one of the Heisman frontrunners. His ability was on full display in the Peach Bowl, where he tossed for two touchdowns and no turnovers against the stout Georgia defense. Ridder is decisive, athletic, and talented.
The Bearcats have a few opportunities to shine a season after finishing 9-1– at Indiana and at Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. Both teams are known for their defense but lose several key pieces, giving Cincinnati’s offense a serious opportunity (and the team as a whole to pull off an upset). In the Group of Five, it takes a massive season to get in the Heisman consideration. However, look no farther back than BYU’s Zach Wilson a season ago.
If Cincy can rip off a few upset wins early, we could see Ridder’s name start to move up odds tables. He was listed at +3300 at DraftKings in mid-June, which is telling of his ability as a Group of Five player. Other sportsbooks (BetMGM) have Riddler listed longer at .