Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (+350)
Deshaun Watson enters the 2016-17 season as the Heisman favorite, just ahead of Leonard Fournette of LSU and last year’s runner-up, Christian McCaffrey of Stanford. Watson will be leading a stacked offense, which boasts 8 returning starters, including top receiving threats Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett. Despite numerous losses to the defense, ESPN still has Clemson ranked second in its current preseason poll, behind only Alabama. If the Tigers defense struggles, particularly early in the season, it could help prevent blowouts and keep Watson on the field to rack up stats. Ultimately, Clemson should win games by dominating on offense, and get plenty of national exposure to boot.
Watson is the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the nation. He is coming off a season in which he won the Davey O’Brien Award (given annually to the nation’s best quarterback), and was named the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the Year. He led the ACC with a 156.3 passer efficiency rating while throwing for over 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns. Watson is the total package, and with a strong supporting cast returning, he should be one of the most dominant players in the nation.
The good news for Watson is that 13 of the past 15 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks. If he can lead Clemson to a win in a pivotal match-up at Florida State in late-October, and otherwise live up to the hype throughout the season, he should cement his status as the favorite.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (+400)
LSU finished a disappointing 9-3 last year, including 5-3 in the SEC. They will look to get back on top this year with the immensely talented Fournette again leading the offense. ESPN has LSU ranked fifth in its preseason poll, and if they can take care of business before a Nov. 5 showdown with Alabama, Fournette will have a chance to exact revenge against the team that derailed his Heisman dreams last season.
Fournette began last year with an unbelievable 1,352 yards rushing through his first seven games before running into a stout Alabama defense that limited him to a paltry 31 yards. Following two further losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss – games in which Fournette did not perform particularly well – he was effectively eliminated from contention. He did rebound with two strong games to finish out the season, however, including 212 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the Texas Bowl, but it was too late by then to revive his candidacy.
Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns on the year. He earned All-American honors and finished sixth in the voting. While Fournette certainly had an excellent season, he is widely regarded as a transcendentally gifted athlete, and it is this potential that has vaulted him past McCaffrey to near the top of Heisman contenders for next year. Whether Fournette can take another step forward will remain to be seen. LSU has a treacherous schedule and will be tested the entire way. A saving grace is that they will at least get Alabama and Ole Miss at home. It will take big games against great teams for Fournette to fulfill his potential and take home the trophy this year.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford (+500)
It’s surprising to see McCaffrey considered the third most likely Heisman winner, especially after finishing runner-up last year. Some of the skepticism could be due to the graduation of an excellent quarterback in Kevin Hogan as well as heavy losses to the Cardinal offensive line. However, ESPN has Stanford ranked eighth in its preseason poll, which suggests that it should remain a powerhouse and help keep McCaffrey in the national spotlight.
McCaffrey had an amazing 2015-16 season. He obliterated the NCAA record for all-purpose yards with 3,864, besting the previous record-holder, Barry Sanders, by over 600 yards. He became the first player in Stanford history to rush for 2,000 yards, finishing with 2,019. He also helped lead the Cardinal to a 12-2 record, a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl victory over Iowa. He became the first player in history to have 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a Rose Bowl game, and in that same game, he broke another Rose Bowl record with 368 all-purpose yards. He earned the game MVP for his efforts.
After a record-setting year in which McCaffrey captured the AP National Player of the Year award but didn’t win the Heisman, expectations are sky high for a repeat performance. Many pundits felt that McCaffrey deserved the trophy, and if he can match his numbers from a year ago while leading Stanford to the college football playoff, he might gain an edge this year based on last year’s snub.
One thing I’ve found is that these favorites draw a lot of action with the spreads each week. You probably won’t see me taking these teams with any of my premium or even free college football picks that I offer.
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