Whether or not they know the statistics, most college football fans know in their hearts that the preseason favorite to win the Heisman is rarely the guy who actually does.
This year, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the preseason favorite.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has opened odds on the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner with Tagovailoa as the favorite at +250, followed by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence at 3-1. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma), Justin Fields (Ohio State) and Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) are tied for the next-best odds at 6-1, followed by Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor at 15-1.
Tagovailoa finished second to Kyler Murray in the 2018 Heisman race. He’s expected to go as high as No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. And he plays for a team that will most likely compete for the national championship. It makes perfect sense to think of Tagovailoa as the Heisman favorite, but it makes no sense to bet that way.
The evidence is overwhelming, and well presented by Action Network.
Since 2009, there have been 92 players that began the season with +2000 or better odds to win the Heisman per SportsOddsHistory. These players are the preseason favorites. Despite being the most talented players in college football, only 27 finished in the top 10 in voting. Just 14 were invited to New York for the ceremony and only two of the preseason favorites actually won the award.
Because the Heisman is subjective, it makes sense that players who come out of nowhere would have an advantage over established stars. It’s a more compelling story, and there is no question story has an impact on the Heisman vote.
The ultimate example is Johnny Football. In 2012, Johnny Manziel was the most exciting and joyful thing not just in football, but in American life. He still needed the numbers, and needed to beat Alabama in order to win the Heisman. But we’re talking about a guy who was on no lists before the season started. He wasn’t even favored to be the starter at Texas A&M when fall camp began. Mack Brown recruited him as a safety. The preseason favorites that year were guys like Matt Barkley, Marcus Lattimore, Denard Robinson and Montee Ball — established stars.
A glaring recent exception to all this was in 2017, when Baker Mayfield was among the favorites before the 2017 season and held off a challenge from Lamar Jackson, who had come out of nowhere to win the Heisman in 2016.
So it’s probably best to just stay away from this one.