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Early College Football Futures: Best Bet for Heisman Winner (2021)

by January 13, 2021

Just over a week ago, DeVonta Smith captured the third Heisman Trophy in Alabama history. He became just the fourth wide receiver to win the award since its inception and the first since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991.

With so many standouts leaving the college ranks for the NFL, the 2021 Heisman Trophy field is one of the least star-studded in recent memory. This opens the door for a young sophomore in a Heisman-friendly offense to steal the show.

Let’s take a glance at some of the key candidates and dive into why I’m uncharacteristically bullish on the current favorite: Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler (+300).

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The Candidates

Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma): +300
The opening and current favorite, and for good reason. Rattler finished the year much stronger than he started. He’ll steer the most consistently quarterback-friendly offense in the country.

Bryce Young (Alabama): +400
Young probably would have been my pick had Steve Sarkisian not taken the Texas job. Alabama barely misses a beat with new coordinators, but Young hasn’t played many meaningful snaps, so he may get out of the gate a bit slow.

D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson): +650
Uiagalelei is an absolute star in the making, but Clemson relies on a more balanced offense than the one-man quarterback show. Despite having Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, Dabo Swinney has never produced a Heisman winner.

Sam Howell (North Carolina): +800
Howell has thrown for 68 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions in two seasons. But it’s tough to win a Heisman with multiple losses, no conference title, and no playoff berth. With Clemson in the Tar Heels’ way, it’ll be a difficult hill to climb.

D’Eriq King (Miami): +1200
Coming off a torn ACL, King claims he’ll be ready for the season. Even if he is, it’d be unwise to expect a Heisman-level performance so soon after a major injury.

JT Daniels (Georgia)+1800
Daniels was fantastic once he received the job in Athens. Still, like Clemson, Georgia relies on too much of a balanced, even run-heavy attack for Daniels to consistently compile Heisman-worthy numbers.

The Heisman Trophy: A Quarterback Award

Despite a wide receiver taking home this year’s Heisman, the award is generally reserved for quarterbacks. Since 2000, 17 of the 21 Heisman recipients (81.0%) have been quarterbacks. There haven’t been back-to-back non-quarterback Heisman winners since Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne in 1998-99. I’m happy to buy into this trend and focus on the signal-callers, namely Rattler, my sleeper Heisman choice heading into last season.

The University of Oklahoma: A Quarterback Factory

If you’re a high school quarterback with Heisman Trophy-winning aspirations, the number one school on your wish list should be Oklahoma. Since Lincoln Riley took over as the head coach in 2017, he’s produced two Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and one Heisman runner-up in Jalen Hurts. 

What’s more: each of the three was a finalist in essentially his first full season as Oklahoma’s starter under Riley (Mayfield’s first two years as the Sooners starting quarterback came under Bob Stoops). It was nearly impossible to expect the same from Spencer Rattler amidst all the COVID protocols and shortened offseason programs. Yet now, with an extra year under his belt, he may post better numbers than any of his three predecessors. He’s already off to a heck of a start.

In their Heisman-winning (and in Hurts’ case, finalist) campaigns, Mayfield, Murray, and Hurts averaged 39 passing touchdowns and 13 more on the ground to go along with nearly 4,300 passing yards, only seven interceptions, and a completion percentage just shy of 70%. Heisman numbers indeed, but Rattler’s redshirt freshman year wasn’t all that far behind those benchmarks, especially when you consider how many pieces Oklahoma lost on offense and how Rattler essentially had to learn to be a college quarterback on the fly.

He threw for 3,112 yards, 28 touchdowns, ran for another six scores, completed over 67% of his passes, and threw just seven interceptions. Rattler naturally struggled early, which submarined his numbers quite a bit. After dropping two of his first three starts and throwing four combined interceptions, he tossed 18 touchdowns and just three picks over the final eight games, all victories. That stretch includes the Big 12 Championship win over sixth-ranked Iowa State and the Cotton Bowl triumph over seventh-ranked Florida.

Stats That Matter

Despite not being named a Heisman finalist in 2020, Rattler caught the national media’s attention, especially in dazzling late-season performances. Here are some interesting stats that help solidify Rattler’s case as the early 2021 Heisman favorite:

Per Pro Football Focus, Rattler’s receivers dropped an astounding nine end-zone passes in 2020. That’s nearly double any other quarterback in the country.

PFF also listed Rattler as the fourth-highest graded quarterback in the country in 2020, finishing behind probable 2021 first-round NFL Draft picks Mac Jones, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields. He was also PFF’s highest-graded offensive player in the Big 12.

Rattler is a big play waiting to happen, and Heisman voters love the fireworks. Per ESPN Stats and Info, nobody in America was more adept at the home run ball than Oklahoma’s quarterback.

The Bet: Spencer Rattler (+300) to win the 2021 Heisman Trophy

Spencer Rattler is a star, and he’s going to shine even brighter than he did this year, thanks to an underwhelming Heisman field heading into 2021. He’s in a high-octane offense, his coach is one of the best in the country, and he was nearly unstoppable once he got comfortable in Oklahoma’s offense. I’m all over Rattler at +300 to win next year’s Heisman.

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Mike Wagenman is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @mjwags23.

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