1. Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Clemson
Why he will not win the Heisman Trophy: I just said the Heisman is his to lose and while I believe that is true, this award is incredibly easy to lose, especially if everyone thinks you're the favorite. Watson put up incredible numbers last year, and it will be tough for the voters to give him the award if his numbers do not exceed last year's. passing for 4000 yards is one thing, but it is not in Clemson or Watson's best interest for him to carry the ball 200+ times like he did last year. Clemson being expected to contend for the National Title can also work against Watson because if they get to the point where they are no longer contenders for a a playoff spot, the season will be viewed as a disappointment and the media is not going to give the award to the Quarterback of a team seen as a disappointment. His mistakes, like Jameis Winston's in 2014, will be magnified and success will be expected. All of these factors are tough to overcome.
Bovada Odds: +400
2. Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Florida State
Why he will win the Heisman Trophy: Cook, who prepped in Miami, is as talented as any player in the nation, including Fournette. Not only is he talented, but he will be running around an offensive line completely intact from a year ago, a year in which Cook averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Also, redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois should be able to take the top off of defenses better than Everett Golson and Sean Maguire did last year, keeping the safeties back and giving Cook even more running room. Cook is the complete package as a back, and while maybe is not as as good as a natural runner of the football as Fournette, he is better in the passing game, and the softer schedule could help his numbers. It is not far-fetched for Cook to see Cook have a 2000 yard season, as he only played 12 games last year total and very well could be playing 13 before the Heisman ceremony. That thirteenth game will of course be the ACC championship game, a game in which I believe Florida State will earn the right to play in by coming off of a fortuitously scheduled bye week and beating Clemson at home October 29, a game that could end up playing a huge part in this Heisman race. I think Florida State beats Clemson, and wins the ACC, which, as long he is on the field and healthy all year, should put Cook in position to be at the ceremony in New York with numbers no better than last year. If the numbers exceed last year's, say for example, 1800 yds, 28 total TD's, it will take a special player to beat him out for the award. Those numbers are far from unrealistic, and I would actually say that if he is on the field all year, they're more likely than unlikely. Cook is that good, and I think Florida State will be that good, too.
Why he will not win the Heisman Trophy: While I think all the things that Cook needs to go right to win the Heisman Trophy are totally feasible, it is still a lot of different things that have to go right in order for him to win, and the most important thing, Florida State going to the College Football Playoff, might not be under his control. The schedule is certainly softer than LSU's, but it is not exactly a cakewalk, as Phil Steele has it as the 14th toughest schedule in the nation. Other than that showdown with Clemson, Florida State has to go to Miami. It will be a homecoming for Cook, but that is a game that could spell trouble for Florida State if Mark Richt starts to get that Hurricane swagger back in Coral Gables, especially if the 'Noles are looking forward to the showdown with Clemson. The whole offensive line coming back cannot be possibly construed as a negative, but every single player with over six receptions comes back as well, and given that Francois is expected to be better than Maguire and Golson were in the passing game last year, Cook could lose out on some volume to the passing game, as well as get lose some carries to the athletic Francois. Francois could realistically steal the spotlight from Cook if he plays outstanding, like the last freshman to start at Quarterback in Tallahassee, Jameis Winston.
Bovada Odds: +750
3. Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma
Why he will win the Heisman Trophy: Mayfield is one of those players that is just fun to watch. The former Texas Tech walk-on mixes an Oklahoma offense predicated on short, quick passes and a consistent zone run game and adds in his own freewheeling, scrambling, making-something-out-of-nothing style to make the OU offense one of the most fun offenses in the country to watch. He is at his best when the play breaks down, and those are the kind of plays that made Johnny Manziel a household name and gave him the Heisman Trophy. Mayfield is not necessarily a dual threat quarterback in the zone read sense, but he did have over 400 yards and 7 touchdowns via the ground last year, adding another dimension to his game. His confident/borderline cocky persona is endearing to the media and the general public, as his walk-on origin story. Oklahoma figures to be the clear frontrunner in a Big 12 with no clear challenger to the Sooners, as TCU lost a lot of talent, Baylor is a dumpster fire, and Texas has not played consistent football in over half a decade now. Oklahoma expects to be in the playoff and if they are in the playoff and Mayfield is healthy, it is really tough to see him not making the ceremony with a shot to win.
Why he will not win the Heisman Trophy: Mayfield is fun to watch, but the entire time you're wondering how he is staying upright, as he is not very big and his scrambling, as well as the fact that he does run the ball somewhat, leaves him exposed to a lot of hits. He has done a nice job of staying healthy so far, but it is not a stretch to say that he has a higher than normal chance of getting injured at some point this year. His stats will show he only threw a respectable seven interceptions last year, but his tendency to take chances could easily lead to an uptick in interceptions this year, just like it did for Jameis Winston from his 2013 to 2014 season. Also, his best weapon in Sterling Shepard has moved on to the NFL (though he will have former Nittany Lion Geno Lewis to throw to, among others) and the Sooners have a great running back in Samaje Perine who can and will take a lot of touches and maybe even the focus of the Sooner offense away from Baker Mayfield. The Big 12 does look to be down, but the Sooners play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in America as they play a very good Houston team on the road in week one and welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to Norman in week three. They could absolutely lose one of those games, and while it is certainly easier to come back from an early season loss than one in November, given the soft nature of the Big 12 this year a loss, especially to Houston, might end up keeping Oklahoma out of the playoff talk for the vast majority of the year.
4. J.T. Barrett, Quarterback, Ohio State
Why he will win the Heisman Trophy: Barrett may be the player with the a good chance of wining the award that is receiving the least Heisman hype from the media. Despite being nothing short of fantastic leading the Buckeye offense in 2014 before going down with a season-ending injury against Michigan, Meyer decided to give Cardale Jones, the postseason hero (but the much worse college quarterback), the job going into 2015. By the end of the season, Barrett was clearly the right guy to lead the Buckeye attack. Meyer has had a lot of really good quarterbacks for his system in his time as a head coach, and Barrett is right up there in terms of efficiency. With Ezekiel Elliot gone, Barrett will now be the focal point of the offense. He came close to a 3000/1000 season to go along with 45 total touchdowns in 2014, and given that he should have higher usage this year, it is certainly feasible for Barrett to have a season with 3000 yards passing, 1000 on the ground, and 50 total touchdowns this year. Ohio State is not as good as the past two years where they were littered with top end, experienced, NFL talent, but they still have more than enough talent to win the Big Ten, as well as enough talent for Barrett to throw to and to protect him, and get to the playoff. They'll be tested early as Oklahoma comes to Columbus week 3, but that also gives Barrett a big chance to make a statement on national television as to why he is the premier player in the nation. Ohio State has three more games schedule for primetime against Wisconsin, Penn State, and Nebraska, and that does not even take into consideration the two games they end the season with, Michigan State and Michigan, which will almost surely be high-profile games. Barrett, given the strength of his team, and his ability to rack up numbers both through the air and on the ground, needs to be taken more seriously as a Heisman contender, because he could absolutely be the one hoisting the trophy.
Why he will not win the Heisman Trophy: I said above that Barrett should be receiving more preseason hype for the award, and while there have been winners who have come out of nowhere recently, the favorites all faltered those years, and Barrett will have to hope someone like Deshaun Watson, who could put up similar numbers on a team with high expectations, either loses a few games, misses time, or does not have a particularly great year. Narrative plays a large factor in the Heisman Race, and Watson has it right now and has the ability to keep the narrative on him, even if Barrett might end up deserving it more. Ezekiel Elliot leaving for the NFL should provide Barrett more usage, but it also made it a lot easier for Barrett to put up big numbers when teams had to key so heavily on Elliot. Not only did it help in the play-action pass game, but also helped on zone read plays, as many times opposing players would lose their keys and chase Elliot, only for Barrett to keep the ball for a nice gain. Also gone is Michael Thomas, who was a reliable option underneath the last two years, and the offensive line is breaking in multiple new starters. Quite simply, it could be significantly harder to move the ball for Barrett than it has been over the past two years. All those high-profile games could help Barrett if he plays well, but it could also end his candidacy pretty quickly if he struggles. He plays in the tougher division in his conference, which means he will play Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn state, three teams who have been among college football's best on defense lately, as well as Wisconsin and Nebraska out of the West, both of whom should be at least alright on defense. All of these games are not only hiccups for Barrett, but when you factor in Oklahoma as well, it is a lot of potential hiccups for Ohio State's win-loss record.
Bovada Odds: +1000
5. Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Stanford
Why he will win the Heisman Trophy. McCaffrey, like Reggie Bush before him, is not fully described by the running back distinction. McCaffrey can catch passes out of the backfield as well as lineup on the outside or in the slot. He's also one of the best kick returners in the country, which gives him ample opportunities to make highlight reel plays. It took awhile for his name to enter household status last year but once it did he did not disappoint, as arguably his two strongest games of the year were the PAC 12 Championship against USC and The Rose Bowl against Iowa. In fact, if the award was given out after the season, McCaffrey might have defied the criteria and beat Henry for the award. This gives him huge momentum coming into this year and with Kevin Hogan gone, he will absolutely be the focal point of the Cardinal offense.The sentiment prevalent right now that McCaffrey should have won last year could lead to voters giving him the benefit of the doubt if it is a tight raceAlso, the Heisman voters are known to vote geographically and there are not many other candidates on the West Coast, so he could benefit by not having to share votes with anyone else. Furthermore, the Stanford is the favorite in the PAC 12 and with playing Kansas State and Notre Dame out of conference, Stanford might even be able to make the playoff with a loss if things go their way. Stanford being nationally relevant all year long will help McCaffrey's chances to raise the Heisman Trophy.
Why he will not win the Heisman Trophy: He is not a traditional running back which helps, but he still is not a quarterback and that is a challenge any non-quarterback must overcome. Furthermore, all of those touches he is going to need to get to win the award mean a high change of injury. Playing on the West Coast might help with geographical voting, but it does him no favors with east-coast voters as a few times a year Stanford games are not even kicking off until 11:15 PM ET, a time where a lot of people simply will not see him play. Kevin Hogan is gone, and Stanford will be working in new starter and former Penn State target Ryan Burns. This will allow defenses to really key on McCaffrey in both the run and pass game, as they're going to force Burns to go through his reads instead of allowing him to pick his first read, which will frequently be McCaffrey. He had 17 total touchdowns a year ago, a respectable total, but not a high one, and only eight of those were on the ground, four of those coming in one game. I would not expect that total to go up a lot this year as Coach David Shaw will use the best goal line back they have at the goal line, and that might not be McCaffrey. This lack of touchdowns means he will rely on big plays, and while he absolutely makes more big plays than the mean, it still is something that has variance, especially as teams learn to not kick to him in the kicking and punting game and decide to double cover him when he is split out. He will be hard pressed to put up the total yardage numbers he put up last year with the entire focus of the defense on him. Also, while Stanford is the favorite in the PAC 12, it seems as if they always do just enough to take them out of the title picture, and the schedule does have enough potential losses on it where you'd pause penciling in a team breaking in a new quarterback into the playoff.
Bovada Odds: +750
6. Leonard Fournette, Running Back, LSU
Why he will win the Heisman Trophy: In an offensive scheme so unexciting that a receiving corps of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. could not even make it exciting, Leonard Fournette brings the possibility of greatness every time he touches the ball. The former number one recruit in America has not disappointed in Baton Rouge. Fournette is a physical freak with an unmatched strength and speed combination that allows him to make highlight long touchdown runs on almost a weekly basis, so he definitely fulfills the "Heisman moment" criteria. He has already taken the wear and tear of a 300 carry season and handled it very well. That impressive workload is one of the factors that put Derrick Henry over the top in last year's crowded field, and it could help Fournette as well. LSU has been inconsistent ever since the 2011 season, but they certainly have enough talent to make a run to the College Football Playoff, especially since one loss in the rugged SEC West will not eliminate you from contention. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that if LSU wins the SEC, Leonard Fournette will be the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
Why he will not win the Heisman Trophy: That offensive scheme being stuck in the 1980s means that it is really easy to key on Fournette running the ball, as LSU does not really utilize their outstanding talent at wide receiver well. A lot of times, LSU has enough talent up front to neutralize teams ganging up on the run, but when they do not, such as last year against Alabama, Fournette can end up having no running room. Going into that game, he had rushed for 150+ yards in the first seven games and was the Heisman front-runner, but was held to 31 yards on 19 carries against the Crimson Tide. I'm pretty bearish on LSU's ability to throw the football again this year, and teams are once again going to stack the box against Fournette. Last year he handled the workload pretty well, but he has already picked up a sprained ankle in preseason this year and is questionable for the opener against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field. Any time he misses will lower the chances of him winning the award, obviously. Plus, ankle injuries can linger and could hurt his production. Finally, I do not trust LSU to play to their potential. The quarterback play will not be good enough, the play-calling will be stale, and it is not hard to see LSU losing three or more games. Again, no running back has won the award in the 2000s if their team is not playing for a national title, and if you do not think LSU can play for the title, you also must seriously doubt Fournette's Heisman chances
Bovada Odds: +400
7. Josh Rosen, Quarterback, UCLA
Why he will win the Heisman Trophy: Rosen has made a lot of headlines off the field this summer for a variety of reasons, his opposition to Donald Trump paramount among them. All that aside, he was mighty impressive in Westwood last season as a true freshman, and he has a ton of talent. Gone is outstanding running back Paul Perkins, and now the offense should really revolve around Rosen. He threw for nearly 3500 yards last year, and a 4000 yard, 30 touchdown season is not out of the question this year. That is really impressive when the pro-style offense UCLA runs is factored in. Not only is Rosen talented, but he just so happens to reside in the biggest market in America that has a college football team (Rutgers, you are not part of NYC). Though UCLA only has one Heisman winner, Gary Beban in 1967, crosstown rivals Southern California have produced 7, which shows that the Los Angeles media market can be very powerful in the Heisman race. He gets a high-profile test early on against Texas A&M week one, another marquee non-conference game when he faces off with BYU in week three, and then faces a PAC 12 South schedule devoid of any bonafide national title contenders, but full of average-to-good teams. However, UCLA does draw Stanford out of the PAC 12 North in week 4, and this will be a big opportunity for Rosen to really introduce himself on a national level for his on-field play. If UCLA can get through those three big games in the first four weeks, and Rosen is impressive in doing so, not only will UCLA be ranked in the top 10, but Rosen will be getting hype as a serious Heisman contender. The back half of the schedule sets up with a lot of underwhelming defenses that Rosen can continue to build momentum. Given the media market, Rosen might not even need his team to make the playoff to win the Heisman Trophy. 10-2 with great numbers and no bad performances could be enough for him, given his media market.
Why he will not win the Heisman: Rosen might only be a true sophomore, but he is one of the veterans of an offense that only returns 5 starters from last year. While talented players will be replacing them, stud wideouts Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte did combine for almost 2000 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, and that kind of loss is not easy for any quarterback to deal with. Paul Perkins is gone, but fellow classmate Soso Jamabo is back, and he was productive last year backing up Perkins, so it is certainly possible UCLA will still have somewhat of a commitment to the run game. That Los Angeles media market is powerful, but as with Christian McCaffrey, playing on the West Coast means that some weeks, a large portion of the population will not see Rosen play, as 8PM PT kickoffs mean an 11 PM kickoff on the east coast, and that is a time that even the most dedicated fans and journalist might not see the entire game. Plus, UCLA is not even the biggest act in town, as much to the Bruins dismay, LA will always be Southern Cal's city. In a weird way, his own Heisman chances are linked to the success of USC, because if USC pulls the upset against Alabama in week one and keeps winning, the LA media will be talking about the rebirth of USC football, not the outstanding play of Josh Rosen. UCLA itself has the potential to have a fine season, and 10-2 with a PAC 12 South title is a realistic ceiling for them, but 6-6 or 7-5 is also a realistic floor, and he will have no chance to win the award if UCLA has 4 losses, or even be in New York City for the ceremony at all if UCLA is any worse than 8-4. There is also a narrative among the college football universe that Rosen is a year away from being the sport's marquee star, and given that there are a lot of established names returning this year, that could really work against him.
Bovada Odds: +3500
8. Brad Kaaya, Quarterback, Miami (FL)
Why he will win the Heisman: Ever since a fantastic performance as a true freshman against then-#2 Florida State, Kaaya has had the attention of NFL scouts, and this year he finally should get some real name recognition around college football. Kaaya has all the tools to put up huge numbers, and he is joined in Coral Gables by 8 other returning starters, including an offensive line that brings backs 85 career starts, a 1000 yard rusher in Joseph Yearby, and five players that caught 18 passes or more last year. He also gets a huge upgrade in coaching, as the ineffective Al Golden has been replaced by perennial winner Mark Richt, and Richt has decided to call the plays for the offense this fall. Richt, in my opinion, was the perfect hire to bring big-time success back to Miami, and much of the media is buying into this, as well. Looking at the schedule, Miami opens up with four games they should be highly favored in before welcome Florida State back for the first time since that classic in 2014. Mark my words, if Miami starts 4-0 as they should, all eyes will be on that game on October 8, as the media will be pumping the "Miami is back" narrative pretty hard. Miami does not necessarily even need to beat Florida State that night for Kaaya's candidacy to benefit. If he plays a great game in a losing effort, it will serve as a springboard for his candidacy. This game, coupled with a visit to South Bend three weeks later, are going to be two of the most-watched college football games this year, and if Kaaya can play well, and Miami win one of those games, not only is a double-digit win regular season in play, but Kaaya's Heisman narrative could take off just like Tebow's, RGIII's, and Johnny Manziel's did before him. The player his potential path to victory most reminds me of is none of those three. Rather, Carson Palmer bringing USC back to national relevance in 2002 is a real-life example of a player under similar circumstances as Kaaya winning the award, and Kaaya might be just as talented as Palmer.
Why he will not win the Heisman Trophy: Kaaya is very good, and has a chance to be the first quarterback off the board next Spring, but he will need to double his 16 touchdown passes he had last year to even enter the conversation, given the huge numbers that guys with more numbers-friendly systems will put up. Richt is certainly an upgrade over the play calling and general team direction he had his first two years, but Richt never had a quarterback ever end up in serious Heisman consideration at the end of the year at Georgia. Plus, the aforementioned Yearby, Mark Walton, and Gus Edwards are all very talented runners and will get a good share of the touches overall. I'm very confident that Miami will start 4-0, but after that the schedule does get pretty tough. Given the fact that Miami is unlikely to go to the playoff, Kaaya has to play at such a high level every single week all season long, a tough task for any player, even one the caliber of Kaaya. Even if Kaaya does play at a very high level all season long, he won't win the award if Miami loses four or more games, certainly a possibility given the schedule. He also might end up in a situation where ACC voters and media are split between him, Dalvin Cook, and Deshaun Watson, and all three of their candidacies will suffer if that occurs. His whole candidacy really relies on narrative, something that is totally out of his control, as the media will decide the Heisman narrative as the season goes on.
Bovada Odds: +4000
Honorable mentions: Georgia RB Nick Chubb, Houston QB Greg Ward Jr., Oregon RB Royce Freeman, USC WR/CB/KR Adoree Jackson, Oklahoma Running Back Samaje Perine