With about four months left before the regular season kicks off in the fall, few college football programs know exactly what they’re going to put on the field after spring games. But plenty have a pretty good idea.
You can see it in the Heisman Trophy futures — top programs almost always have their quarterback situation figured out, even if they don’t admit it publicly, and the odds reflect that. It’s no shock that the defending Heisman winner, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, and Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud are the favorites, although it might be somewhat surprising that Stroud is half the price (+200) as Young (+400) at FanDuel, which has the most expansive Heisman offerings.
So what does it say about Michigan and Michigan State that the Heisman odds for their prospective stars are all over the map or off the board entirely at online sportsbooks in the state? Even after breakout seasons last year, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding both programs, at least at the skill positions.
But with that comes the potential for value. If you believe both programs will be prominent nationally again, their best players could creep into the Heisman conversation in 2022 at a price, like Kenneth Walker III did for the Spartans last season.
So, who can be a dark horse Heisman candidate this year from the top college football programs in the state? Let’s dive in.
Who will be under center in Ann Arbor?
The main impediment to forecasting Michigan’s Heisman prospects is an expected quarterback battle between returning starter Cade McNamara and last season’s backup, sophomore J.J. McCarthy.
McNamara’s résumé, in the context of Michigan’s recent history, is pretty impressive. He helped lead the Wolverines to their first win over Ohio State since 2011, a Big Ten championship, and Michigan’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Cade McNamara dropped this in the 🪣#CFB
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) November 27, 2021
But McNamara didn’t shoulder much of the load, outside of a 44-attempt performance in a loss against Michigan State, when he threw for 383 yards on 28 completions. In his 13 other starts last season, McNamara averaged just 14 completions, 21.8 pass attempts, and 168.7 passing yards per game. Although he threw just six interceptions, his 15 touchdown passes — with a game more than most players and two more than some because of postseason play — ranked 73rd nationally.
So does the grass just appear greener with McCarthy behind center, or could he be a significant improvement over McNamara?
McCarthy was a five-star recruit for head coach Jim Harbaugh from the class of 2021 (McNamara was a four-star signing in 2019), and the Heisman odds could be a hint, even though a lingering shoulder injury that made McCarthy miss the Michigan spring game could complicate things.
This throw from J.J. McCarthy 👀🚀@UMichFootball is pouring it on WMU pic.twitter.com/LyRj4vzeeD
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) September 4, 2021
As of this week, McCarthy is the top choice among Michigan Heisman candidates at FanDuel (+10000), DraftKings (+10000), BetMGM (+6600), Barstool (+5000), and BetRivers (+5000), but he is tied with McNamara at PointsBet (+8000) and off the board at FOX Bet (where McNamara is +15000, same as DraftKings and FanDuel). Caesars, WynnBet, and Golden Nugget do not have Heisman odds up yet.
The other Michigan Heisman candidate on the board at FanDuel is running back Donovan Edwards (+15000), but he is off the board at most books. Edwards ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries last season. If you like Edwards to have a breakout season, you can get a hefty +40000 for him to win the Heisman at PointsBet.
Thorne gets little respect
Michigan State’s returning starter at quarterback, Payton Thorne, is not considered a contender based on his Heisman odds at FanDuel, where his +20000 is the same price as the backup QB at Texas A&M, the starting QB at Akron, and defending national champion Stetson Bennett at Georgia.
But if Thorne — who threw for 3,240 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions last year — takes another step forward in head coach Mel Tucker’s third season, the national spotlight is not out of the question.
Payton Thorne ➡️ Jayden Reed
What a play for the Spartans to strike first! pic.twitter.com/C7Ixtlczm4
— ESPN (@espn) December 31, 2021
Thorne’s Heisman odds, however, vary wildly. At BetRivers and Barstool, he is +5000 to win the award, on par with McCarthy and ahead of McNamara, while he is +25000 at PointsBet and off the board at BetMGM and FOX Bet.
As for who will replace Walker in the MSU backfield, Jarek Broussard appears the most likely candidate. A transfer from Colorado, Broussard ran for 661 yards and two touchdowns on 142 carries for a bad Buffaloes squad last season. He is +15000 to win the Heisman at DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet, but a shocking +5000 at FOX Bet and off the board at BetMGM, Barstool, and BetRivers.
Deeper on the MSU running back depth chart is Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger, who is only offered at FanDuel (+50000) and PointsBet (+20000), but there have been hints that other players could get significant snaps as well.
Photo: Junfu Han/USA TODAY