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How to Find Your 2017 Heisman Trophy Winner

Our Heisman field begins with everyone listed on this ESPN post, which has updated odds up to a few days back. Everyone on this list is a contender for the 2017 Heisman Trophy in one way or another, and it’s pretty comprehensive to the point that a winner not already listed would be extremely surprising.

Below are ten rules to follow when selecting your preseason Heisman winner.

Eliminate any player who doesn’t play running back or quarterback.

We haven’t had a non-RB/QB winner since Charles Woodson in 1997, and that was so controversial that a defensive player will never win the award again. Wide receivers? Larry Fitzgerald had one of the greatest receiving seasons of all time in 2004 and lost to Matt Leinart. Until it happens, I think we’re safe to know it’s never going to happen. While the quarterback is indeed the most important part of any team and the running back could reasonably be ranked second, I do wish voters would get rid of the singular focus and pay attention to other positions. Oh well.

This eliminates Derwin James, Christian Kirk, Da’Shawn Hand, James Washington, and numerous others.

Eliminate anyone who doesn’t play in a Group of Five conference.

Regrettably, this will hold for a 27th straight season. No Group of Five player has won the Heisman Trophy since BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990. Again, until it happens, it’s not gonna happen.

This eliminates Quinton Flowers, Brett Rypien, and numerous others.

Eliminate those not on a preseason Top 25 team.

This one is a little painful, because it’s always nice to see unusual winners…but 26 of the last 28 Heisman winners came from preseason Top 25 teams. Barring an event that happens 7.1% of the time from 1989 on, we have to hold this against our potential candidates. Sorry, Kenny Trill.

This eliminates UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Justin Herbert, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, and Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush.

Eliminate the previous year’s winner.

We haven’t had a repeat winner since Archie Griffin. I’d be willing to bet at least a few 2018 recruits have parents who weren’t alive for Griffin’s run.

This eliminates Lamar Jackson.

Eliminate any player coming off of a losing season OR a player on a team ending the previous season losing 2 or more straight games.

No winners of the Heisman have pulled this off with one of these two qualities since Ricky Williams in 1998, and he was one of the greatest college players ever. It’s possible, but it requires a perfect storm and a lot of good luck.

This eliminates Texas’ Shane Buechele, Washington State’s Luke Falk, Michigan’s Wilton Speight, and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham.


Let’s catch up on who’s left. We’ve eliminated a ton of people with five very simple rules. Alone, these rules have eliminated all but twelve players from our consideration (odds listed in parentheses):

  • Sam Darnold, QB, USC (11-4)
  • Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (15-2)
  • J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (8-1)
  • Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama (14-1)
  • Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama (16-1)
  • Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State (18-1)
  • Jake Browning, QB, Washington (18-1)
  • Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (20-1)
  • Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State (33-1)
  • Cam Akers, RB, Florida State (40-1)
  • Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State (60-1)
  • Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia (100-1)

Some of these are pretty surprising, huh? Eason still being around is interesting – same with Weber. The remaining nine have all been hyped for the last six months as serious contenders, so none of those are surprising. However, we’ve knocked out four of the top ten players by the odds. Let’s start the second half strong.

Eliminate any non-mobile QB who hasn’t rushed for at least 300 non-sack yards in a season.

Only one of the last nine quarterbacks who won this award failed to meet this requirement. With college football shifting to a faster, speedier game, faster, speedier quarterbacks are necessary. If you can’t run, you might get left behind.

This eliminates Jake Browning, Jacob Eason, and Mason Rudolph.

Down to nine! Next rule:

Eliminate seniors and true freshmen.

This may sound silly, but it makes sense: just one of the last 14 winners was a senior. We’ve had more redshirt freshmen win the award since 2002 than we have seniors. Go to the NFL Draft while you still can, underclassmen. Also, no true freshman has ever won the award.

This eliminates J.T. Barrett (senior), Baker Mayfield (senior), and Cam Akers (freshman).

Six players left. Let’s knock a bunch more out.

Eliminate anyone at 20-1 or better odds.

Yes, this sounds insane. But, with credit to the Ringer for the original idea, it’s a correct take. Since 2009, 79 players have entered the season with 20-1 or better odds to win the Heisman. Out of those eight Heisman trophies, one was won by a preseason favorite. In fact, only 12 have even been able to finish in the top five. That’s 1.5 per year! Pretty insane, no? Here’s a guess: one or two of the preseason favorites finish in the top five and perhaps one or two more in the top ten. That’s it. That’s how this goes!

This eliminates Sam Darnold, Deondre Francois, Jalen Hurts, and Bo Scarbrough.

So we have two candidates for the 2017 Heisman Trophy remaining: Penn State QB Trace McSorley and Ohio State RB Mike Weber. That brings us to our final rule that enables us to find a winner.

Eliminate any remaining player who was not at least a 4* recruit in high school.

Yep! Recruiting matters. Out of the last 13 Heisman Trophy winners, an astounding eleven were 4 or 5* recruits coming out of high school. The two that weren’t either had flashy seasons in years without other serious contenders (Johnny Manziel) or were historically efficient (Marcus Mariota). That’s all! The remaining eleven were all blue-chip recruits. Sorry, Trace McSorley, but you’re out, meaning…

Ohio State’s Mike Weber is your 2017 Heisman Trophy winner.

Here’s how I rationalize this: Weber split carries with an NFL Draft pick and J.T. Barrett for all of 2016 behind the worst Ohio State offensive line since Urban got there. He only received about 15 touches per game. Ohio State also had an NFL Draft pick at wide receiver and Barrett attempted more passes than any Buckeye quarterback in a decade. The running game had to be phased out for the final two games against Michigan and Clemson. And Mike Weber still hit 1,000 yards by his 160th carry of the season. He’s really freaking good, and he’ll be even better in his second full season. 50-1 (now 60-1!) odds make no sense for someone who will be the likely focal point for the preseason #2 team’s offense. It’s worth a shot, and worth seeing if this all checks out by the end of the year.

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