It's time to start talking seriously about the 2017-18 college football season. In a few weeks, teams will report for summer practice and before we know it — the new campaign will be officially underway.
There's no way to speculate about the college football season without discussing the favorites to win the coveted Heisman Trophy.
Updated Heisman odds: Darnold 7/2; Lamar J 8/1; Barkley, Mayfield & J Browning 10/1; JT Barrett & Stidham 12/1; Francois 15/1 (William Hill)
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) July 9, 2017
On Sunday, Sports Illustrated FBS guru Bruce Feldman released the updated Heisman odds, according to William Hill, an international company that specializes in sports betting. The odds will be slightly different depending on the sports book, but this is how most folks in Las Vegas view the 2018 Heisman race.
These odds-makers are smart and I tend to agree with their evaluation. Let's break down the top candidates.
Sam Darnold 7/2
Almost everyone believes USC quarterback Sam Darnold is primed for a breakout season and will clearly emerge as the top quarterback in the country. If this happens, it's obviously probable Darnold will win the Heisman — which has been awarded to a QB 8 of the last 10 years.
I'm all in on Darnold. He's coming off a year where he threw for 3,086 yards, 30 touchdowns and just nine picks. Like Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck — Darnold is a perfectionist who is constantly mastering his craft. He has plenty of weapons around him and USC could very well emerge as one of the four teams to reach the College Football Playoff.
Lamar Jackson 8/1
With the ACC being my wheelhouse, I'm one of the biggest Lamar Jackson fans on the planet. Some people don't quite realize how ridiculous the Louisville dual-threat QB has been in his two seasons as the starter.
Just watched 2 UL games from 2016 & still say Jackson winning the Heisman behind that OL is the single greatest CFB accomplishment I've seen
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) July 8, 2017
The Cardinals don't have an overly brutal 2017-18 schedule, but I do think Jackson could take a minor step back and struggle against the handful of elite defenses on the docket. Will he be good? Of course he will, some of the other QBs in this year's class could be better. Jackson has tough tests against Clemson, N.C. State and Florida State — three of the top defensive groups in the country. We saw him struggle mightily against LSU in the Citrus Bowl last December (10-of-27, 153 yards, no touchdowns) and the nation's best defensive units are good enough to slow him down.
Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't be shocked if Jackson pulled his usual routine and posted insane numbers in a run at another Heisman Trophy, but the odds aren't in his favor.
Saquon Barkley, Baker Mayfield and Jake Browning 10/1
These three are grouped together at 10/1 odds, but I think one of these players has a much better chance than the other two.
I love Barkley in the backfield Penn State. He has the skill set to emerge as one of the best running backs we've seen in a very long time. Unfortunately, he's still a running back and Derrick Henry (Alabama, 2015) and Mark Ingram (Alabama, 2009) have been the only ball carriers to win the Heisman in the last 16 years. It could happen — but isn't probable.
Browning is a great player coming off a season where he broke all kinds of records at Washington. The Huskies have the easiest schedule in the Pac-12 and one of the easiest schedules amongst all Power 5 programs. I think Browning will light it up — but the Heisman Trophy voters will take a heavy look at his competition. He can't control that, but it could still become the deal-breaker.
Finally, there's Mayfield — who was a Heisman Trophy finalist a season ago. He enters the new campaign with his trusted offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley as the new head coach at Oklahoma. I love this in terms of Mayfield taking another step forward. He and Riley have been together for two seasons and now Riley has full control to unleash everything he has in his arsenal. It's also fair to note Oklahoma lost it's two top running backs from the last two seasons, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Some might think this will hurt Mayfield — but it just means he will throw more and use his legs a ton. Do I think Mayfield will win the Heisman? No, but he has a chance.