We are less than two weeks away from the start of the college football season. It is time to breakout our Heisman picks but before we make a selection, I wanted to take a look at five dark horse candidates. First, I am using Fan Duel for all odds. Second, no player can have better odds than +3000. This eliminates all of the big names and star quarterbacks. We are going to look at the most realistic options which eliminates any defensive players. As much as I love defense, we know they are an absolute long shot to even get invited to New York, let alone win the Heisman. All of that being said, here are my five dark horse candidates:
1: Bijan Robinson/RB Texas (+3000) – If you follow me on twitter, you know I am the biggest Bijan Robinson fan. He averaged over 8.0 yards per carry as a freshman and began to come into his own by the end of the season. Steve Sarkisian is breaking in a new quarterback which means they will be leaning on their star running back. For Robinson to win the Heisman this season, he will need almost 2,000 yards. Texas will also need to win at least 10 games. Robinson has the talent to be the difference maker for Texas this year and he will have opportunities to show out against good competition, but he will also need a little bit of luck as the Heisman is a quarterback driven award.
2: Malik Willis/QB Liberty (+5000) – In his first season as a starting quarterback, Malik Willis totaled 34 touchdowns while leading Liberty to a 10-1 record last year. Willis threw for 2,260 yards while rushing for an additional 944. Willis should be in line to have another great season while seeing his statistics increase this fall. The issue for Willis will be the lack of premier opponents on the schedule. Liberty’s biggest games this season are Ole Miss and Louisiana. While both of those teams should be strong, Willis only playing two top level opponents will limit his exposure. If Willis puts up the numbers, people will start to tune in.
3: Tank Bigsby/RB Auburn (+6000) – 2020 was an incredibly up and down season for Tank Bigsby. He showed flashes where he can be one of the best running backs in the SEC this season but other games he nearly disappeared. Bigsby had four games where he had less than 10 carries. He also had four games where he crossed 100 yards. New coach Bryan Harsin will look to lean upon Bigsby as Bo Nix has struggled to progress over the past few years. Auburn will have plenty of chances to show case Bigsby’s talent but how many of those games will they win? Penn State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and Alabama are all potential games Auburn could lose. Even if Bigsby has a phenomenal season, how many games can Auburn lose where he could still have a chance at the Heisman?
4: Michael Penix/QB Indiana (+8000) – I am very aware most analysts are not as high on Indiana as I am. Micheal Penix was having a good season until he got injured against Maryland. He threw 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions in six games. Penix is not a true duel threat quarterback. He has the ability to escape if the pocket breaks down, but rarely is the play call a designed run. Penix returns one of his top wide receivers to assist him this season in Ty Fryfogle. He should also have a formidable rushing attack with Stephen Carr transferring from USC. For Penix to have a chance, he will need to be more efficient in the passing game as he only completed 56% of his passes last fall. The Hoosiers have games against Iowa, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan which gives Penix more than enough opportunities to insert his name into the race.
5: Justyn Ross/WR Clemson (+10,000) – Justyn Ross is one of the biggest wild cards in all of college football this year. In his first two seasons at Clemson, he totaled 1,865 yards with 17 touchdowns, then Ross suffered a horrific back injury which threatened his career. Ross has been cleared to play this fall which means he should be the clear cut number one receiver for D.J. Uiagalelei. Many experts believe Ross will return to his 2019 form where he was one of the best receivers in the country. The receiving core behind Ross is relatively inexperienced. If Clemson wants to be a national title contender again this fall, they will need Ross to play at a high level. For Ross to be in contention for the Heisman, he will need to produce similar numbers to DeVonta Smith’s Heisman campaign. Ross is one of the favorites for the Biletnikoff award this year but there is the unknown of how he will bounce back from his injury.