Posted on July 30, 2018, by Travis Pulver
Even before Baker Mayfield was named the Heisman Trophy winner last year, people began to speculate as to who would win it in 2018. There was certainly a plethora of worthy candidates from Bryce Love to Jonathan Taylor and JK Dobbins, to name a few.
But how do you pick a favorite from such a loaded group? Easy– you pay attention to history. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the preseason favorite rarely wins.
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That means fans shouldn’t count on Ohio State running back JK Dobbins or Stanford’s Jonathan Taylor winning. As of July 29, both are considered the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy with 7-1 odds (according to Betway.com).
Since 2009, the only preseason favorite to win the award was Marcus Mariota in 2014. Sam Darnold (2017), Trevone Boykin (2015), Braxton Miller (2013), Matt Barkley (2012), Mark Ingram (2010), Tim Tebow (2009) were not even invited to the ceremony in December after starting the season as favorites.
The eventual winner is often someone who wasn’t even in the conversation during the preseason. Mark Ingram (2009), Cam Newton (2010), and Jameis Winston (2013) were not unknown commodities entering the seasons in which they won. But they were not considered among the best that college football had to offer either.
Johnny Manziel wasn’t even a blip on the radar prior to his entertaining run in 2012. His odds were still a little on the high side as late as Week 11 (20-1).
So—what was it about the favorites that causes them to fall off the radar? It’s the same thing that got Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, and Jameis Winston on it.
The Wow Factor.
Frontrunners are typically guys who were in contention for the award the year before—which is why they start out as the favorites to win. But when the season rolls around, fans and voters already have preconceived notions as to how that player should perform. While a 200-yard game was impressive last season, it isn’t this season.
Last season, it was new and exciting. It was something we haven’t seen before. This season, it’s what we expect. A player that meets expectations is not award-worthy or exciting. We don’t watch him and go, “Wow!”
Frontrunners often still have good seasons. They may even be statistically comparable to the one they had the year before. But since we already knew they were that good, it doesn’t impress us as much. Since there are always plenty of fresh faces exploding on the college football scene every year, we tend to overlook them.
You know—because it’s more fun to vote for the flashy, new model than the same old boring, reliable one.
Does that mean that talented, established players have lost before the season has even begun? Of course not. They just better find a way to increase their production. They need to give voters something to be impressed by.
Marcus Mariota did in 2014. He tacked on close to 1000 passing yard and 11 touchdowns to his 2013 stats. He gave the voters something to be impressed with and it worked.
Dobbins may get the opportunity. Someone is going to need to replace J.T. Barrett’s production in the run game (798 yards and 12 touchdowns). Tack that onto what Dobbins did last season and you have Heisman-worthy production. But Love may have a harder time adding to his stat line after rushing for nearly 2000 yards.
So, front-runners beware! You don’t know who is coming for you, but rest assured—someone is.