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2016 Heisman Watch: Preseason Favorites Rarely Win, but Don’t Tell Leonard Fournette

Elias Stein/Getty Images
Elias Stein/Getty Images

Michigan dynamo Jabrill Peppers may have already locked up this season’s Heisman Trophy, but we’re going to preview the race for the award anyway. With the help of Bovada’s latest gambling odds, here’s our breakdown of this year’s crop of candidates (i.e., quarterbacks and running backs who played well in 2015).

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Bovada odds: 4–1

Let’s start with the bad news: Preseason favorites almost never win the Heisman. Expectations are too damn high, and Heisman voters are a notoriously fickle bunch. They want to see year-over-year improvement, which naturally works against players coming off of strong seasons.

Then again, Fournette is a singular talent, and may very well be an exception to this rule. With the wildly mediocre Brandon Harris under center, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Fournette should see upward of 30 carries per game, provided he’s not hampered by a minor ankle injury he suffered in a recent scrimmage. He’s widely regarded as the best back in the country — sorry, Christian McCaffrey — and has been billed as a Heisman contender since he was in high school. (Just ask him!) Hell, after Fournette scored his first touchdown in an LSU uniform, he had the audacity to strike the Heisman pose.

Before Fournette arrived on campus, Tigers coach Les Miles likened him to Michael Jordan, because apparently the standard Adrian Peterson comparison wasn’t quite flattering enough. Fournette was put on earth to win the Heisman, and 2016 will be his last chance to fulfill his destiny. (Yes, he’s only a junior, but there’s no chance in hell that he doesn’t enter next April’s NFL draft.)

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Bovada odds: 9–2

Watson could be more susceptible to the plight of the preseason favorite than Fournette, if only due to Clemson’s uncharacteristically lofty expectations. Anything less than a return to the College Football Playoff will be considered a disappointment for the Tigers, and for quarterbacks, Heisman campaigns are often inextricably linked to team success. While there are some encouraging similarities between Watson in 2016 and Marcus Mariota in 2014, look no further than last fall’s preseason darling, Trevone Boykin, to see what Watson is up against. (Boykin finished 10th in Heisman voting.)

In last year’s run to the national title game, Watson became the first player in FBS history to eclipse 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season. He returns two of his favorite targets from 2015, Artavis Scott and Hunter Renfrow, plus redshirt junior wideout Mike Williams, who was expected to be Watson’s top weapon last year before suffering a freak neck injury in Week 1. Most importantly, Watson shines against top-flight competition. Apologies to Cardale Jones, but no one has shredded Alabama’s defense like Watson did since the heyday of Johnny Manziel:

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Bovada odds: 11–2

Although last year’s Heisman runner-up broke the 2,000-yard rushing barrier and shattered Barry Sanders’s single-season all-purpose yardage record, he scored only 15 total touchdowns, a relatively low mark by the award’s standards. (By contrast, Heisman winner Derrick Henry reached the end zone 28 times.) As such, the news that McCaffrey will see more short-yardage carries this year should come as a welcome development to Stanford fans, who haven’t seen a Cardinal player hoist the Heisman since quarterback Jim Plunkett in 1970. The junior will have to overcome the electorate’s infamous East Coast bias, but now that he’s established himself as appointment viewing (right, Iowa?), that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Just take it from this dude:

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

Bovada odds: 12–1

Barrett is back for another go-round in Columbus, but much of his supporting cast from the past two seasons is off to the NFL. He’ll need to develop quick chemistry with the Buckeyes’ next wave of playmakers, including H-back Curtis Samuel and wideout Noah Brown, before Ohio State visits Oklahoma on September 17, which could make or break Barrett’s Heisman campaign. At least he’s the unquestioned starter this year!

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Bovada odds: 12–1

With Fournette and McCaffrey grabbing all the preseason hype, the Seminoles’ Cook enters the season somewhat under the radar — inasmuch as a 1,691-yard rusher who averaged 7.4 yards per carry last fall can be considered “under the radar.” Cook has the benefit of opening his junior campaign in prime time on a Monday night against Ole Miss. A strong showing could catapult him to the front of the Heisman race, but the real test for his candidacy will come in Florida State’s October 29 showdown with ACC rival Clemson. Remember, Cook has gashed the Tigers before:

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Bovada odds: 14–1

If you didn’t think Mayfield — who accounted for 4,105 total yards with 43 touchdowns in 2015 — could top last year’s glorious whip video, think again:

Mayfield is college football’s version of Simone Biles, and this year’s Heisman race is already over. Good job, good effort, everyone else. Come back next season, and in the meantime, learn some goddamn gymnastics.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Bovada odds: 16–1

Betting on Chubb to win the Heisman would be akin to lighting your money on fire. Sure, he averaged 8.1 yards per carry in limited action last season, but Georgia’s running backs are totally cursed, and new Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart hasn’t been able to change that. If Todd freaking Gurley couldn’t overcome the demon plaguing Georgia’s tailback position, Chubb doesn’t stand a chance.