Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (+450).
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (+500).
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (+1200).
The eventual winner, the smaller rep guy from a smaller school, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, started the season at +10,000.
(There were seven players considered more likely to be named the player of the year than Patrick Mahomes, but you may have heard things are working out for him pretty good.)
the beginning of the season
Jackson served notice that he was someone to be reckoned with in the first week of the season, a 70-14 victory. Now, you could say Charlotte is not much of a yardstick to measure greatness, but 286 yards passing and 119 yards rushing is a good day no matter who’s on the other sideline.
Oddsmakers agreed, and Jackson dipped to +4000, while Watson moved slightly to +500, despite Clemson opening with a win at Auburn, McCaffrey stayed steady at +500 and Mayfield ballooned to +2500 after a Sooners loss to Houston, despite him throwing for 323 yards.
Week two, and what at first might look like a lopsided Big East basketball butt whoopin’ was in fact the Cardinals putting it on the Orangemen 62-28, led by Jackson’s 411 yards in the air and 199 on the ground, including a touchdown scored after hurdling a defender.
The days of getting down a super profitable bet on Jackson were over. Now he was +800, with Watson and McCaffrey still both at +500, McCaffrey having led his team in rushing each week and also in receiving one of those games. Watson turned a similar trick, leading the Tigers in rushing once while putting up gaudy passing stats. Mayfield, meanwhile, was slipping into Heisman irrelevance.
A Heisman winner in... louisville?
By now, fans were wondering how Jackson ended up at Louisville, not exactly a powerhouse. Despite the fact he had once thrown a football 100 yards while in high school, and had a quarterback rating of 102.7, his off the charts athleticism had some schools envisioning him at running back or wide receiver. Plus, he was ranked only a three-star prospect by ESPN and 247Sports, and a four-star by Rivals.com.
He wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by Power 5 offers, though he did get interest from Florida, Auburn and Clemson. But it was a promise by Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino that Lamar would play quarterback and nothing else that convinced Jackson’s mother that Louisville was the place for him.
Back to 2016, week four.
“Marshall became the latest victim of the University of Louisville's early-season assault on college football Saturday night as Lamar Jackson accounted for seven touchdowns in 3 1/2 quarters and the No. 4 Cardinals rolled 59-28,” reported the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Jackson completed 24 of 44 passes for 417 yards and five TDs with one interception and ran 12 times for 62 yards and two scores.”
"It was a good win for us," coach Bobby Petrino said. "It wasn't the best that we've played all year, but it was good to come out and compete. There are some things we need to clean up before our game on the road next week at Clemson."
Next week didn’t work out the way Petrino hoped, and the Cardinals took their first loss of the season, 42-36 to Watson and Clemson.
swinney and those damn tigers
“Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had a simple message for his defense in facing Louisville star Lamar Jackson,” said ESPN.
‘If he's Superman," Swinney told them, "we're going to be the Kryptonite.’
No. 5 Clemson did just enough, rallying for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and stopping Jackson and No. 3 Louisville a yard short on fourth down with 33 seconds left to hold on for a 42-36 victory Saturday night.
The Tigers rallied behind Deshaun Watson's five touchdowns, the last two coming in the final seven minutes, after Louisville (4-1, 2-1) wiped out an 18-point lead behind another standout performance by Jackson.
Watson was no slouch. He had his errors -- a career-high three interceptions and a fumble -- but in the end found a way to succeed with 306 yards on 20-of-31 passing.
oddsmakers ignore the loss
The Tigers win was not reflected in the opinions of oddsmakers, though, as Jackson moved to -275, McCaffrey to +1000 and Watson to +1200.
And that ended any drama in the Heisman race, as Jackson became a more and more overwhelming favourite, getting to -3000 and -5000 in the last two of the Cardinals’ regular season.
Even eye-popping performances by one time contenders like McCaffrey (284 yards rushing vs Cal) and Watson (580! yards passing vs Pitt) couldn’t move the needle.
the heisman trophy ceremony
Watson and Mayfield were invited to New York and somehow Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook, after not figuring in the odds all season, also emerged as a Heisman finalist, along with Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers. Peppers had been chosen as both the defensive player of the week and special teams player of the week in the Big 10 during the season, and his Wolverines bio says he saw the field at 15 different positions. He won the Paul Hornung award as the most versatile player in the nation, in what had to be a supremely easy vote.
At the ceremony on December 10, Jackson became Louisville's first Heisman Trophy winner, and the youngest recipient of the award at 19 years and 337 days.
Though the Cardinals finished a pedestrian 9–4, Jackson’s season included 3,543 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, and nine interceptions, along with 260 carries for 1,571 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns.
After finishing third in Heisman voting the next season behind winner Baker Mayfield and Bryce Love, Jackson announced for the NFL draft. In a bid to convince scouts not to think of him as anything but a quarterback, he declined to run the 40 at the combine, but he reportedly ran a 4.34 at Louisville in 2017, which would have been the fastest time ever for a quarterback.