Heisman Watch: Preseason Edition
The 2022 college football season is quickly approaching, as the first games get underway this coming Saturday. The first week of games is classified as "Week 0" as it won't feature any top-25 action. Nevertheless, college football is back. With that in mind, let's take a look at the Heisman contenders for the upcoming season.
Bryce Young won the award as a sophomore last year and could potentially repeat. However, there has only been repeat champion, running back Archie Griffin of Ohio State in 1974 and 1975. Can it happen for the second time this year? It's not likely, as the odds are against Young. The Alabama quarterback opened up last year +900 odds to win it, while the favorite, Spencer Rattler (+550) was benched for Caleb Williams. Let's get into the best bets and dark horses entering the season. All odds are from DraftKings Sportsbook. Keep in mind these are my rankings and not based on best odds.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (+220)
After losing some top level targets to the NFL Draft, Stroud still has what it takes to win the coveted award. Ohio State will have a very explosive offense even without top picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Stroud's top target Jaxon Smith-Njigba is also a potential Heisman candidate, while Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming round out the receiver corp. Running back TreVeyon Henderson - another potential candidate - and a strong offensive line also give the junior quarterback plenty of potential to shine. Last season, Stroud completed almost 72 percent of his passes for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns to six interceptions. He was the favorite for the Heisman at points last year, but struggled in "The Game" against Michigan, which caused him to fall a bit. This season, a big performance in that game will be important for him to have a chance.
Caleb Williams, QB, USC (+700)
After stepping in for Rattler last season, Williams immediately shined and stepped into the Heisman conversation as a true freshman. That was despite not coming into a game until October 16. He threw for 21 touchdowns on just over 200 attempts and ran for six more. The sophomore has the dual threat capabilities that Stroud doesn't have, and now joins Lincoln Riley and transfer receiver Jordan Addison from Pitt at USC. It may take some time for Williams and the rest of the new faces to jell, but can really impress once they get going. There hasn't been a USC player to be a Heisman finalist since 2005 when Reggie Bush won it. That award is now vacated and still won't be returned despite NIL being in full swing. They also had a winner in 2004 (Matt Leinart) and 2002 (Carson Palmer). Williams looks to become the first finalist in 17 years.
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama (+380)
Being that it's so tough to repeat as Heisman winner, Young lands at three on this list. While he may not put up as historical a season as last year, the junior quarterback is still going to be in the running. Last season, the 21-year-old completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 47 touchdowns and 4,872 yards. One thing that could stop Young from having a shot at the award again is the weapons he lost. In addition to losing three receivers - Jameson Williams, John Metchie III, and Jalen Tolbert - he also lost running back Brian Robinson Jr. and top offensive tackle Evan Neal. However, Young and the Crimson Tide also have some solid additions. Jermaine Burton transferred in from Georgia while Tyler Harrell transferred in from Louisville. It's going to be a young receiver group, which could cause them to take some time to mesh. If Young can put up anywhere close to similar or better numbers than last season, he very well might be the second repeat Heisman ever. Only time will tell.
Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama (+1600)
Even though I have him lower on the preseason rankings, Anderson might have a better shot to win the Heisman than his teammate in Young. While the award has been historically a "quarterback" award, Anderson is trying to change the narrative. The defensive powerhouse led the country with 17.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss last season and was the recipient of the Bronko Nagurski award for best defensive player. The soon-to-be 21-year-old finished fifth in Heisman voting after that impressive season but also received the third-most first-place votes. Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson finished second in the voting but was well behind Young. The only defensive player to ever win the Heisman was Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson, who also spent a lot of time as a kick-returner and receiver. Anderson can really take his game to an even higher level this season and will be the leader on the Alabama defense. He spoke about what he is looking to do this season at SEC Media Day.
“I kind of feel like they love offense over there. They love touchdowns, they love yards,” Anderson said. “That’s what I want to do. It’s not really just for me, but for other defensive players to know that we have a chance. We are worthy enough to be a Heisman candidate or win a Heisman.”
The Top Dark Horses
Here, we look at potential dark horses that can really elevate their chances throughout the season. What qualifies them as a dark horse for this Heisman watch is having longer than +4000 odds at this point in time.
Will Levis, QB, Kentucky (+5000)
The Penn State transfer had a strong first season in Lexington last year and can make a big jump in 2022. Levis threw for 2,826 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions while running for 376 yards and nine touchdowns. Those numbers will have to improve for him to have a legitimate shot, especially the interceptions. The 6-foot-3, 232 pound quarterback has a big arm and is very athletic. No Kentucky player has ever won the Heisman while only one finished in the top 10, Tim Couch in 1998. Levis is uber-focused on just doing his job and isn't paying any attention to the Heisman hype.
“I don’t care. It doesn’t mean anything,” Levis said of the Heisman hype. “I don’t look at that stuff. None of that’s ever mattered, so why should I care about it?”
Jaxson Dart, QB, Ole Miss (+7000)
After Matt Corral finished seventh in the 2021 Heisman voting, Ole Miss could have another candidate in Dart. The USC transfer comes in with tight end Michael Trigg after Williams transferred to USC. Dart took over for the injured Kedon Slovis last season and completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 1,353 yards, nine touchdowns, and five interceptions over six games. He has a chance to come in and put up big numbers in Lane Kiffin's offense for the Rebels. For him to have real potential at winning the award, the 19-year-old will have to exceed the numbers Corral put up. The real test will come in late-season matchups against Texas A&M on the road and Alabama at home.
Jordan Addison, WR, USC (+8000)
Another transfer, Addison joins Williams at USC after coming over from Pitt. With Kenny Pickett entering the draft, the 2021 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner wanted to go play for another top quarterback. Lincoln Riley taking over the program also had a lot to do with it, as there were a number of transfers to head to Los Angeles. In 2021, Addison recorded 100 receptions for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns. Now with an offensive mastermind in Riley and a quarterback in Williams - who might be even better than Pickett - he can blow past those numbers.