Breaking down the wide-open Heisman race and other odd races of the past

    Bill Connelly is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

Conventional wisdom can shift in strange and unexpected ways sometimes. Three weeks before Heisman ballots were due last season, oddsmakers gave Alabama’s DeVonta Smith +2,200 odds of taking home college football’s most coveted individual trophy, equivalent to about a 4% chance. A week earlier, he was at +5,000 (2%). But what appeared to be a four-quarterback race — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence vs. Alabama’s Mac Jones vs. Ohio State’s Justin Fields vs. Florida’s Kyle Trask — went topsy-turvy late in the year.

All four of those signal-callers continued to mostly look the part, but Smith emerged as an alternative candidate for those who couldn’t differentiate between QBs. He caught eight balls for 231 yards and three touchdowns against LSU on Dec. 5 to move to +2,200. He returned a punt for a touchdown in an otherwise quiet game against Arkansas and suddenly leaped to co-favorite status. Then he stole the show in the SEC championship game, catching 15 of Jones’ passes for 184 yards and two scores in Alabama’s 52-46 win over Trask and Florida.

Smith’s rise was the final chapter in one of the most storybook careers ever — he caught the national title-winning touchdown in overtime as a freshman, then finished with a second title and the Heisman as a senior — and even by this late point in the season, we didn’t really know it was about to happen.

Looking at the current Heisman odds for 2021, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if we saw another out-of-nowhere run.

Current Heisman odds, per Caesars:
QB Bryce Young (Alabama) +180
QB C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) +280
RB Kenneth Walker III (Michigan State) +280
QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss) +700
QB Kenny Pickett (Pitt) +2,500
QB Caleb Williams (Oklahoma) +4,000
RB TreVeyon Henderson (Ohio State) +4,000
QB Sam Hartman (Wake Forest) +5,000
QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) +6,000
DL Jordan Davis (Georgia) +8,000
LB Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama) +8,000

To be sure, a clear crop of favorites has emerged. Young, Stroud and Walker all have +280 odds or better, and while Corral’s stock has fallen as he’s battled injury, he’s still a clear No. 4.

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