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Ask LGHL: How good are C.J. Stroud’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 11 Heisman Trophy Ceremony Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Question: How good are C.J. Stroud’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy?

In 2021, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was one of four finalists invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The Buckeye ended up coming in fourth with 399 total points, behind winner Alabama QB Bryce Young (2,311 points), TTUN edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson (954), and Pitt QB Kenny Pickett (631).

However, with Hutchinson and Pickett off to the NFL, Stroud has leapfrogged Young and is now the nearly unanimous favorite to win the Heisman come Dec. 5. While one yahoo from Ann Arbor continued the needling of Stroud that he started at last year’s Heisman ceremony and believes that Young should be the favorite solely because he was the last man to win the award. That kind of lazy, regressive thinking is what gives us nearly useless “analysts” like Desmond Howard and Danny Kanell.

Anyway, back to Stroud and his chances to win the most prized trophy in college sports. Coming into the 2021 season, the Heisman front-runner was Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler (11-2), followed by Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (7-1). Then came Young (9-1) and Stroud (10-1); neither Hutchinson nor Pickett were anywhere near consideration.

In 2020, the preseason favorite was OSU’s Justin Fields (we know how that worked out for the greatest QB in Buckeye history). Fields finished seventh and was not invited to New York while Crimson Tide WR DeVonta Smith took home the trophy. He was not in the top 20 preseason.

In 2019, it was Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence who entered the season as the favorite, but it was Ohio State legend and forever-Buckeye Joe Burrow who won the award. I could go on, but you get the picture, the preseason favorite rarely wins the Heisman, and that’s not just a function of bookmakers being wrong.

There is always an element of narrative that factors into the Heisman voting. Commentators love to talk about candidates needing a “Heisman moment,” even though the trophy is supposed to be awarded for play throughout the season, not because they juked a defender out of his shoes during the fourth quarter of a rivalry game. So, for guys who come in with loads of hype already at their backs, it is difficult for them to sustain the excitement and the story of their rise to the top of college football.

Instead, because their skills are so well known, analysts, commentators, and fans often start focusing on every perceived imperfection in the players’ game, because their sustained excellence is just not as interesting to talk about, making it difficult for a well-known player to maintain the necessary levels of momentum throughout the year.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, just that it’s difficult. Coming into the 2022 campaign, Stroud is the favorite amongst fans and bookies alike. According to the SBN Reacts preseason survey, more than one-quarter of all respondents picked the Buckeye signal-caller to receive the individual honor this season.

That plurality puts him in first place, ahead of Young (18%) and his Alabama teammate linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (8%). Oklahoma USC quarterback Caleb Williams was the only other player to warrant a mention at 5%.

Now here’s the thing, Bryce Young isn’t going to win the Heisman in 2022, so you can just go ahead and take him out of consideration right now. Now don’t get me wrong, he is absolutely a quality quarterback; in fact, I’d say he’s slightly better than fine. But he is nowhere near transcendent, and that’s what one would need to be in order to win the trophy in back-to-back years in today’s landscape.

While of course as Buckeye fans, we love that we can claim Archie Griffin as “college football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner,” but this isn’t about my admitted Buckeye homerism; it goes back to that whole narrative thing I mentioned above. In my opinion, Young won the Heisman last year by default. He was the quarterback on the best team in the country, and for whatever reason, voters can’t bring themselves to vote for a defensive player, even if he objectively deserves the award (sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

Young averaged 324.8 yards passing per game, while Stroud put up 369.3. Young averaged 3.13 touchdowns per outing, while Stroud went for 3.67. Young did have the slightest of edges in the interception department averaging 0.47 picks per contest to Stroud’s 0.5. The only difference? The Tide were undefeated and the Buckeyes lost two games.

Now, this is not to say that Young isn’t a worthy candidate, he had an unequivocally above-average performance last year, but nothing that is going to make a bunch of crusty old college football writers light five decades of history on fire. So, advantage Stroud.

That could be part of the rationale behind DraftKings Sportsbook giving the OSU QB a fairly sizeable advantage in the pre-season Heisman odds. At +220, bettors who go with Stroud will take home $220 for every $100 they bet, compared to Young, who comes in second at +380. Stroud’s premier receiving target Jaxon Smith-Njigba is in sixth place — and the top-rated WR — at +2,500, while Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson is tied with Miami QB and former Buckeye backup Quinn Ewers in eighth at +3,500.

Numbers and odds and narratives are all well and good, but what I think that Stroud truly has going for him — in addition to perhaps the best offense in college football history — is the fact he still has opportunities to surprise and impress. Obviously, anyone who watched him play throughout 2021 saw the marked improvement that he made from week to week.

However, many non-Ohio State fans and reporters are likely still stuck on the memory of Stroud “struggling” at the beginning of last season and a certain nasty subset of fans calling for him to be replaced. Because of that, if he comes out this fall — especially in the season-opener against a top-five Notre Dame — he has the ability to shock the casuals who dismissed him as a Dollar Store Justin Fields just a year ago.

Will C.J. Stroud win the Heisman in 2022? What do I look like, a Magic 8 Ball? I honestly have no idea, and history suggests that it’s not especially likely, but if there is any quarterback in any situation who could buck(eye) those trends, I’d put my money on No. 7.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.