Every year it seems as though the imaginary Heisman trophy shifts hands about 10 times from August up until the actual Heisman ceremony in December. Last season, college football's most prestigious award was supposed to be TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin's to lose. Then it was Ezekiel Elliott, fresh off of his magical postseason momentum, who was deemed ready to continue the Ohio State 20 year running back for Heisman tradition. Then it was Leonard Fournette, Baker Mayfield, Christian McCaffrey, and finally it was Derrick Henry.
A lot goes into winning a Heisman Trophy. Numbers are important, but as we saw last season with Henry winning over McCaffrey, even record breaking numbers aren't enough sometimes. Team success is important, no one wants to vote for a loser, but Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III both managed to win the Heisman with two and three loss seasons respectively. Then there's this thing called a "Heisman moment" which also seems to be a bit of a requirement.
A good example of a "Heisman moment", is from Ohio State great Troy Smith. Basically, a "Heisman moment" must be a play that defies reason, and shows how the candidate is simply on another level than those around him. Smith's moment entailed him running around in the backfield before launching a heat seeking missile to Brian Robiskie to ice a victory over Penn State:
Far from an exact science, the selection of each season's Heisman winner has so many variables that attempting to guess the winner seven months in advance is borderline insane. However, this hasn't stopped Vegas from predicting the Heisman odds for the 2016 season, and I'm here to explain why J.T. Barrett is much closer to becoming Ohio State's next Heisman winner than you might think.
Reason No. 1: Dem digits
When J.T. Barrett is in control of the Buckeyes' offense, it is a sight to behold. The intelligence to consistently make the correct read in the option game, the accuracy to put the ball on a dime anywhere on the field, the running ability to make any team in America pay on the ground: J.T. Barrett is special.
In Barrett's 2014 campaign, his numbers were good enough to place him fifth in the final Heisman ballot, and Barrett could have risen even higher if it wasn't for that ill-fated second down run against Michigan. 2015 saw Barrett's passing production dip dramatically thanks to the early season insistence on starting Cardale Jones and only using Barrett sparingly (and mostly in the red zone at that). However, Barrett's rushing production took a step forward from an already impressive 2014 season, and the Ohio State offense often looked its most lethal with Barrett running the hurry up option game against the likes of Michigan and Notre Dame.
For Barrett to have a shot to make it to New York, these passing numbers will need to go back to where they were during Barrett's freshman season. Cam Newton won a Heisman while passing for just 2,854 yards, and with Ohio State leaning towards a running back by committee approach at the moment, there's no reason to believe that Barrett won't put up some gaudy rushing statistics surpassing both his 2014 and 2015 totals.
Reason No. 2: Expectations
Currently Barrett has the fourth best Heisman odds at +1,000. This leaves Barrett behind current favorite, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (+300), incumbent finalist Christian McCaffrey (+400) and LSU running back Leonard Fournette (+400). While all three of these athletes are undoubtedly exceptional football players, expectations could prove to be their downfall.
For Deshaun Watson to win the Heisman, Clemson will seemingly have to garner a repeat playoff appearance, and Watson better look good while doing so. Life at the top of the mountain is nice, but it just takes one hiccup to question a player's Heisman credentials, and regaining this momentum is very difficult. Remember the expectations that each Ohio State quarterback faced prior to the 2014 season? That is what Watson faces this year, and anything less than perfection will be scrutinized.
Christina McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette find themselves in the awkward positions of trying to one up their already masterful performances from a season ago. McCaffrey managed to break the all-time single season total yardage record, while Fournette's 1,953 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns were breathtaking in their own right. Anything less than these gaudy totals will likely leave the worst "D" word of them all coming out of voter's mouths: disappointing.
And then we have J.T. Barrett. While Barrett faced a similar Watson-esque view on his Heisman chances last season, this year Barrett can return to his 2014 role of lovable underdog. The Buckeyes are being projected to be ranked outside of the top 10 for the 2016 season, meaning Barrett will have more room to climb than any other top candidate. A big win at Oklahoma in week two could be just the type of jump start that Barrett's campaign needs. Then Barrett would have the chance to put up some gaudy statistics against the rest of Ohio State's non-conference schedule and middling Big Ten opponents.
The bottom line
While the 2016 season may not look like the perfect storm for Ohio State's title chances, it may just be the perfect combination of low expectations and missing talent for J.T. Barrett to thrive. If you thought Ohio State leaned too much on Barrett's running ability last season, just try subtracting the best running back in the country and see what that does to Barrett's number of carries. And while the receiving talent is unproven after having three starters leave for the NFL, Barrett functioned best in 2014 when the goal of the offense was simply to move the ball down the field, when getting specific players a predetermined amount of touches was an afterthought.
J.T. Barrett isn't exactly being disrespected by being tabbed as the player fourth most likely to win the Heisman, but then again, there is no reason for the large gap between third place (Fournette) and Barrett. Barrett's credentials and ability make him a top flight Heisman contender, and if Ohio State's talent around Barrett grows up faster than expected (like in 2014), don't be shocked to see Barrett strutting across the stage in New York come December.