Top Contenders for the 2021 Heisman Trophy

By Dan Vasta in College Football
| June 22, 2021 6:44 am PDT
Heisman Trophy 2021

Every player that wins the coveted Heisman Trophy receives praise that lives with them forever.

The Heisman moment includes a key play or two that stands out above the rest of the competition. Many boxes must be checked off just to be considered a finalist for the Heisman.

Lately, your team needs to either be in the College Football Playoff or close to it. It is tough to win the award if your team is not very good. Plus, quarterbacks get a major edge, having won four of the last five. Only three non-quarterbacks have won the award since 2010.

These are important things to keep in mind when betting on the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner.

Here are my top favorites for the award, with a way too early prediction on who I believe will capture the 2021 Heisman Trophy.

Kedon Slovis, QB, USC (+1600)

USC was a team I nearly mentioned for programs with the most Heisman trophies won. Reggie Bush vacated his 2005 Heisman; otherwise, USC would have as many as Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Ohio State (7).

A pair of signal-callers have already scored Heisman Trophy wins for the Trojans (Matt Leinart 2004, Carson Palmer 2003), and a third could be in store with the skills Kedon Slovis brings to the table.

The major question is if head coach Clay Helton will survive as a coach and find success on a national level. So many fans want their program to start competing for a national title before they kick the bucket. Most feel that is only possible if a new coach is in charge.

Numbers are mandatory if you expect to win the Heisman and the USC schedule sets up nicely in their first six games. San Jose State, Stanford, Washington State (road), Oregon State, Colorado (road), and Utah are all winnable games. The Utes might be the only squad that stays within ten or fewer points. USC will be a two-touchdown favorite or more against all of those teams.

That should give Slovis plenty of opportunities to post the necessary gaudy numbers, which he’s done over his first 18 games.

Year Passing Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
2019 3,502 30 9
2020 1,921 17 7

The key Pac-12 matchup that USC will need to grab is the one in Tempe against Arizona State on November 6th. That will likely decide the Pac-12 South and a trip to the conference championship game.

Oregon and Washington are solid favorites for the North division, and that would give Slovis another chance to show off for the Heisman voters on a Friday night where most of the nation will only be watching one game.

USC has a capable schedule later on in the season for Slovis (+2500) to flourish, as well. The trip to Notre Dame in the middle of the slate is a monster matchup. Knocking off relevant Irish teams is always the perfect way to a Heisman vote, and USC could return to national relevancy in the process.

Slovis has accumulated 47 passing touchdowns in two seasons thus far, and the best is yet to come. The weapons are led by Drake London and Bru McCoy, two future studs that are capable of making it to Sunday football.

The production and surrounding talent is there for Slovis to be a legit 2021 Heisman Trophy threat, but the one thing missing is more team success with a coach that enters the season on the hot seat.

Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (+1200)

I am legitimately a backer of North Carolina this year and feel they will be a Top 10 squad for the majority of the 2021 college football season.

The main reason is easily the presence of star quarterback Sam Howell, who is a real threat to go first overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.

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The poise, pocket presence, and accuracy Howell has shown thus far in his career have been nothing short of spectacular. He helped lead the Tar Heels to their first-ever Orange Bowl appearance, despite playing the game without their top handful of skill players.

Despite his stellar play and impact for UNC, Howell offers compelling value with his +1200 Heisman Trophy odds. He’s developed a rapport with the young up-and-coming players on his team, and now the sky’s the limit for the Tar Heels.

Howell is placed in the perfect division for great success despite the talents of Miami and Virginia Tech. Those two teams will allow Howell to be featured in several matchups.

The season opener in Blacksburg will be one of those pivotal matchups in the Coastal division. A night game at Lane Stadium is where Heisman campaigns could go to die, but Howell and the Tar Heels are primed for this matchup. This schedule has a few landmines, but there will be plenty of opportunities for North Carolina to win the majority of those matchups.

A trip to Notre Dame will be a great one to catch because Howell could storm up the Heisman rankings with just a few solid performances. Finding ways to win will shorten his odds by the game. I love this kid and feel UNC is a lock for double-digit victories. That alone would keep him in the Heisman conversation. It is often impossible to project which young signal-caller is going to go bonkers in a season.

Top Tip
It’s worth noting that Howell is seen by many as the consensus top pick in next year’s draft, and three of the last four Heisman winners were taken first overall. That could suggest that Howell is an amazing betting value at his current price.

The last few Heisman winners I accurately projected in the preseason were Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, and Baker Mayfield. During the season, it is much easier after just watching the eye test comparison. Guys such as Cam Newton, Kyler Murray, and Joe Burrow did not need many games to steal the spotlight.

Howell will have a shot to go 11-1 or 12-0, heading into a likely date with Clemson for the ACC title. Another performance there, and the trophy could be his for the taking.

Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss (+2500)

Lane Kiffin coached plenty of successful quarterbacks in the SEC while he was with Alabama. The production was outstanding to watch last season, and they put forth a tremendous effort in their bowl victory over Indiana. Corral lit up the Hoosiers for 344 yards and two scores without turning the ball over.

The turnover bug reared its ugly head in many of the Rebels’ losses. Against LSU with inclement weather, Corral threw five picks, and a few were ugly ducks. Sadly, that was not even his worst performance of the season. A grueling loss at Arkansas was where Corral ended up throwing six interceptions. In fact, two of those picks were returned for scores.

That made the difference in their 33-21 loss, but Corral has shown great upside with some Heisman He’s trophy-winning potential, so Kiffin is going to have to take the good with the occasional bad. This program has been near the basement for a few years now and last season was the most excitement Oxford has seen in a while.

They’re projected to be among the best college football offenses this year, to the surprise of no one.

Threading the needle 30-plus times a game was the norm for the Rebels last season. The challenge for defenses is defending the legs of Corral, who rushed for over 500 yards with four scores.

That is what makes passing attacks so potent. When the man in charge can escape pressure and buy time for his weapons, it can make the offense nearly unstoppable. The SEC West is the toughest of competition in the nation, and the Rebels could be the top dark horse for double-digit victories.

Corral may not be Lamar Jackson, but the numbers could say otherwise, and we could see comparable records as well. Louisville went 9-4 and did not even appear in a New Year’s Six bowl despite a torrid pace early on in the season.

Corral will have an uphill battle matching the 51 total touchdowns that Jackson had in his 2016 Heisman campaign, but he is such a talent in an aggressive offense with their no-huddle style.

JT Daniels, QB, Georgia (+1200)

A highly touted signal-caller playing at Georgia is nothing new. Winning a Heisman, though, has never happened in the history of the program.

Herschel Walker in 1982 and Frank Sinkwich in 1942 are the only winners we have seen in Athens. The odd foreshadowing here is that those seasons resulted in the lone pair of national championships for the Bulldogs.

If Daniels wants to become an upper-tier Heisman candidate, the numbers will need to be there. Based on aggressiveness, I’d say he certainly has a shot.

The depth is outstanding at Georgia, and they truly are the top program that has not won it all recently. Looking at the College Football Playoff era, Oklahoma could make a case, as well. Still, the Sooners suffered a disappointing double-overtime loss (54-48 in the national semifinal) to the Bulldogs in Pasadena back in 2018.

The biggest concern these past few seasons was all about the quarterback position. Daniels could have led Georgia to a potential national title last season. The Stetson Bennett-led Bulldogs were very inconsistent last season and laid an egg in their second-half performance against Alabama. Daniels should avoid those types of performances, and we will see just how Heisman-ready he is right out of the gates against Clemson.

The Tigers and Dabo Swinney bring everything to the table that Kirby Smart and Georgia have been dreaming about. They have come close to capturing the big prize, but ultimately they need their quarterback to kick down the door.

He certainly could, as some view him as a potential #1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He pulls in with the sixth-best odds per BetOnline.

  • Spencer Rattler (+140)
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux (+275)
  • Sam Howell (+450)
  • Malik Willis (+750)
  • Kedon Slovis (+1200)
  • Tyler Shough (+1800)
  • JT Daniels (+1800)

Being those guys isn’t ideal, but simply being among them is reason enough to track Daniels a bit more closely this season.

The Georgia Bulldogs are scrapping and clawing in search of their first national championship since 1980. JT Daniels gives them a puncher’s chance to be that winning quarterback on a team that will have plenty of obstacles ahead of them. After Clemson in the opener, matchups with Florida, Auburn, and the SEC West winner (Alabama) await.

A balanced offense that has leaned heavily towards their running game at times could be a roadblock that prevents Daniels from posting video game-like numbers. However, we have seen time after time that winning is the cure for nearly everything.

A.J. McCarron nearly won the Heisman Trophy due to his knack for being nails in fourth quarters. Daniels could be even better with a season-opening victory over Clemson. Entering the season, that’s arguably the most circled matchup of any game of the entire regular season.

A pair of top-five squads matching up on Labor Day weekend gives us everything we need to start the season. Daniels is tied for the fourth shortest odds (+1200) to win the Heisman, and it would drastically change with a win over Clemson.

2021 Heisman Trophy Honorable Mentions

  • J. Stroud (Ohio State)
  • J. Uiagalelei (Clemson)
  • Bryce Young (Alabama)
  • D’Eriq King (Miami)
  • Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati)

There are a ton of young and inexperienced youngsters on my 2021 Heisman Trophy snubs list.

Young (second-best odds at BetOnline) and Uiagalelei will have plenty of opportunities to become the green performer to take home all the awards. I feel the scoring on those teams will be up there, but not quite as high as we have seen recently. Plus, the defenses will be dominant for the top preseason ranked squad in America.

The Ohio State signal-caller, whoever it is, could run into more of the same issues that Alabama and Clemson have. The Buckeyes might have the easiest schedule among the three, which means there could be even less playing time for Stroud.

These three all have tremendous upside, but the entire trio should have legitimate ground games paving the way for their offense.

Ridder has two major non-conference matchups against Indiana and Notre Dame that will make or break his Heisman chances. I will go with the ladder and take my chances with the other candidates I have listed.

Predicting Who Will Win the 2021 Heisman Trophy

In the name of handing out a surprise, I didn’t break down Spencer Rattler, who is my pick to win the Heisman in 2021.

The Oklahoma Sooners have had seven different Heisman winners in their storied history. That is tied with Notre Dame and Ohio State for the most winners ever. Rattler (+500 Heisman favorite at most sportsbooks) would love to join the Heisman house and shoot some commercials in the upcoming summers to show off all that he has accomplished.

So far, the Sooner signal-caller has accomplished a decent amount of accolades, and he is capable of so much more. Lincoln Riley has been magical with the way he has handled quarterbacks thus far in Norman. Riley has turned into the quarterback whisperer. Whoever he sends out there has turned into a superstar.

Production and talent do not always mix, and yet Riley has done everything you could ask of him in the regular season. He is an athletic passer that can buy himself time and keep the eyes of defense on him at all times. If he can continue to be a threat as a rusher near the end zone, this Sooners offense could be unstoppable.

Rattler is the favorite for the 2021 season, and Oklahoma has recently had a knack for posting gaudy numbers from a star quarterback. Kyler Murray had 54 total touchdowns in 2018 when he won the Heisman. Baker Mayfield had 48 total touchdowns in 2017 when he captured the Heisman. Both seasons ended with 12-2 records and trips to the College Football Playoff.

Rattler has a chance to be even more productive, and the team should have at least similar success as well. This Sooner will likely be in the running all season for the stiff-armed trophy. I love this pick despite being the favorite and believe Rattler will reap all the benefits in Norman.

Ready to bet on who will win the 2021 Heisman Trophy? I’d start with Rattler, but everyone on this list looks like a solid try at the best college football betting sites.

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