Editors Note: This is Joel Penfield’s first article with CRFF. Please join me in welcoming Joel to the team. You’ll be hearing a lot from him during football season, starting with this.
Bold predictions precede every sports season and college football is no exception. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, Vegas had Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State as the odds on favorite to win the Heisman trophy, followed by Dak Prescott of Mississippi State and Leonard Fournette of LSU.
By season’s end, the three finalists were Deshaun Watson of Clemson, Christian McCaffery of Stanford, and winner Derick Henry of Alabama. Neither Watson nor Henry were listed in the preseason top 7 odds on favorites, and McCaffery was not even listed in the top 30. This proves how unpredictable a college football season can be, and how expert analyst opinions and betting odds do not always come to fruition by the end of the season.
Enter Mason Rudolph, currently at 50-1 odds to win the Heisman. This may seem staggering, but not as much as one would think. Mason has the ability to have a stellar year, even better than last year. He has proven he is one of the top quarterbacks not only in the Big 12, but in the nation as well, going 12-3 in a season plus since taking over as OSU’s starting QB.
He knows how to win, and his leadership is key in OSU having a good season. A team’s win/loss record does factor into Heisman voting, whether we like it or not. If QB2 can lead OSU to a 10-2 or better record as expected, the odds shift dramatically in his favor. Mason Rudolph has also proven to have one of the best arms in the nation, using his cannon of a right arm to throw for 3770 yards and 21 touchdowns last season while forfeiting all red zone opportunities to J.W. Walsh.
Expect another huge year from Rudolph, with much of the talented receiving corps coming back this year, especially his favorite target James Washington. Mason will have plenty of options even without Marcell Ateman until October, thanks to a deep and experienced group at the wide receiver position.
The key, however, for Mason to have a big 2016 campaign is a balanced offensive attack. The team lacked a credible run game last year, forcing Mason to rely on his strong arm to make big plays. Throughout last season, Rudolph proved he can pick defenses apart and produce touchdowns, although opponent secondary’s quickly adjusted to the unbalanced offensive scheme. If OSU builds a strong, respected run game, expect play action passes for big gains down the field.
Another factor people don’t necessarily think about is when and where a team plays actually makes a difference to Heisman voters. For example, while many people agreed that McCaffery was more deserving than Henry for the Heisman, voters said they did not consider the Stanford running back because his primarily West Coast games were too late in the evening for most viewers in the Midwest and east coast. Henry’s games at Alabama were primetime afternoon or early evening contests with a much larger viewing audience. Rudolph has the luxury of playing in a Big 12 market where games get a lot of press coverage and strong viewership. If OSU, and Rudolph in particular, have a stellar season, people will tune in for the games, increasing the vote potential for #2.
With these factors in mind, it is not out of the question for Mason to make a run at the Heisman. He has the ability for throw for over 4000 yards for 30 or more TD’s, complemented by a more balanced offense, and will lead a team that has the talent and coaching to win the Big 12.
Making bold predictions before the first snap is easy to predict but is very unpredictable; once the season starts, its game on. Those early frontrunners may in fact be sitting at the Radio City Music Hall in December to discover who wins the most coveted award in college football. Other talented top-tier athletes like Fournette, Watson, McCaffery, Baker Mayfield, J.T. Barrett, and Chad Kelly will provide stiff competition for Rudolph, but don’t count him out.
If last year is any indication, the nominees may be the guys hanging in the shadows that no one expects, and Rudolph just might be that guy. Even at 50-1 odds, I would bet on Rudolph being there in the end.