USC’s Sam Darnold enters season as Heisman Trophy betting favorite

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While being Hollywood-adjacent gives Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold a huge platform for a Heisman Trophy campaign, recent history shows being an early favorite often works against a player’s chance of being voted college football’s most outstanding player.

Darnold, the sophomore quarterback for the USC Trojans, is listed as the +400 favorite on the odds to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The top tier of the board also includes Penn State RB Saquon Barkley (+700), Oklahoma Sooners QB Baker Mayfield (+800), Louisville QB and reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson (+800),  and Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett (+800).

At the outset of the 2016 season, the board was topped by talents such as Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson. Jackson was listed at +1800 early in the season.

Darnold is certainly worthy of 2018 NFL draft hype, but as a pocket passer likely will need numbers in the range of 4,000 yards and 40 TD passes to have a shot. Doing so will require quickly building rapport with a USC receiving corps that lost the sure hands that latched on to 44 per cent of Darnold’s 2016 yardage, so how Darnold gets up to speed with ballyhooed frosh WR Joseph Lewis will be essential.

Similarly, Mayfield has also lost his three best skill-position complements to the NFL. Being a finalist as a sophomore or junior, as Mayfield was, usually doesn’t portend winning; it often just means a player has hit his ceiling with Heisman voters. The debate over how Jackson’s game will translate to the NFL could also give voters pause about picking him again, unless he somehow tops his 2016 total of 51 total touchdowns (passing and rushing).

The last three running backs selected all gained at least 1,650 yards, and if he stays healthy Barkley is capable of exceeding that total in a Penn State spread offense where QB Trace McSorley (+3300) will keep opponents from putting eight defenders in the box. The Big Ten has not had a Heisman winner in the last 10 seasons, its longest drought since a 15-year span a generation ago (1976-90).

Five of the last 10 Heisman winners have hailed from the SEC, which has by far the largest media footprint of any conference in the nation. With some further research, one can zero in on playing a hunch on the Heisman Trophy betting lines between one of the many SEC running backs on the board, including Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough (+1400), Louisiana State’s Derrius Guice (+1200) and Georgia’s Nick Chubb (+2500).

Of those three, Guice, who averaged almost 162 yards across his eight starts in 2016, might be the most likely to get credit for his team’s success. It’s hard to imagine another ‘Bama back winning so soon after the 1,943-yard season Derrick Henry had while winning the Heisman in 2015.

Three of the last six winners, including Jackson, played for teams that heretofore had never had a Heisman winner. That is more of a cluster than a trend, since prior to Baylor’s Robert Griffin III in 2011, the last player to bring his team its first Heisman was in 1994.