Heisman Trophy odds, best bets: Value on Howell, Penix in wide-open field
The Heisman Trophy has historically been a quarterback's award, with all but four winners this century being signal-callers. However, Alabama star DeVonta Smith broke the mold in 2020 with a record-setting campaign as a receiver and returner, edging out teammate Mac Jones and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask in a strong class of contenders.
All three of those players have since graduated to the NFL, while three of the top five favorites to win this year's award have started a combined two starts entering 2021. Here are the odds to win the Heisman Trophy this season (shorter than 100-1), along with our five favorite value bets in a wide-open field.
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (+2000)
Howell is arguably the most accomplished player in college football and the only player priced 20-1 or shorter with at least two years as a starter under his belt. He's looked the part: The North Carolina star and potential No. 1 pick in 2022 threw for at least 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, leading the Tar Heels to 41.7 points per game in 2020 and a brief top-five ranking early in the year.
North Carolina enters 2021 as a top-10 team nationally on the back of Howell, who will likely break the ACC record for career passing touchdowns (41) and should enter the top five in passing yards, too. The Tar Heels are 8-1 to win the ACC championship; if they outlast Clemson for the conference title and Howell plays as expected, it'll be hard to deny him the hardware.
Michael Penix, QB, Indiana (+5000)
The question with Penix isn't whether he can put together a Heisman-worthy campaign; it's whether he can stay healthy for one. The Indiana star quarterback has seen each of his first three years cut short by injuries - a shoulder ailment in 2019 and ACL tears in 2018 and 2020 - and he's yet to play more than six games in a season.
If he manages to stay on the field, he'll be worth the gamble. Penix combined for 3,144 yards and 28 touchdowns over 12 games in his last two seasons and has already produced multiple "Heisman moments" for the Hoosiers. There's clear risk, but he could be a steal at this price.
Brian Robinson, RB, Alabama (+7500)
Each of the last three non-QBs to win this award hailed from Alabama, including two running backs (Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry) and last year's winner in Smith. So why then is Robinson such a long shot? After all, the fifth-year senior averaged 5.0 yards per carry as a complementary back and will finally step into the primary role behind Bama's elite O-line.
It also helps that the Crimson Tide are integrating a new quarterback in Bryce Young, who has never started a game in college. Expect the defending champions to feature Robinson early and often this season, which we've already seen can lead to hardware for an Alabama back.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon (+150000)
It's not sexy to bet a defensive player to win the Heisman, as it's only happened once in college football history, when Charles Woodson won as an electric cornerback who also returned kicks and played occasional receiver. Thibodeaux won't showcase that versatility, but it's still borderline malpractice to price the best player in college football as a 150-1 afterthought.
The Ducks' star edge rusher recorded 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss across 22 games in his first two seasons, and if Oregon can make a playoff push this year, Thibodeaux's name will be written all over it. We've seen seven linemen finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting since 2005, led by 2009 finalist Ndamukong Suh. Don't be surprised when Thibodeaux joins the list.
Carson Strong, QB, Nevada (+250000)
It's been 31 years since a player from a non-Power 5 school won the Heisman. If anyone can change that, it's Strong, who is already generating buzz as a potential top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft. The Nevada gunslinger dazzled in 2020, completing 70.1% of his passes for 2,858 yards and producing a stellar 27-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
That was good enough to earn MWC Offensive Player of the Year, and he's the runaway favorite to win the award in 2021, too. If Strong leads the Wolfpack to a win over California on Sept. 4 and a potential MWC title run with similar numbers to the last two years, he'll need to make room for a bigger trophy on his mantle.