In the same way that schedule strength can impact an entire team’s results, it can affect individual athlete’s achievements.
An easier slate can give a talented player a more optimum stage to impress award committees and potential suitors in the professional ranks. On the flip side, a tougher schedule can work against a player with top talent, potentially making it seem as if he is struggling vs. his counterpart with a less-difficult path to greatness.
Following are Vegas’ top ten Heisman candidates ranked, from easiest to most difficult, by the strength of their 2019 schedule in according to Phil Steele. Each unique combination of opponents is what stands between the top-ranked athlete and history.
(10). Trevor Lawrence – QB – Clemson
Schedule Strength: No. 66
Odds: +275 (No. 2)
2019 Schedule: Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, at Syracuse, Charlotte, at North Carolina, Florida State, at Louisville, Boston College, FCS Wofford, at NC State, Wake Forest, at South Carolina
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence has the second-best odds of winning the Heisman and the easiest rated schedule among Vegas’ top candidates. Steele rates the Tigers’ slate as the fifth easiest in the ACC and nationally has it ranked between Tulsa at No. 65 and Tulane at No. 67.
The Tigers do host Texas A&M in Week 2, but they also pick up North Carolina as their rotating opponent from the Coastal, avoiding Miami Fla. and Virginia Tech all together. They do have to travel to South Carolina but get Florida State at home.
(9). Adrian Martinez – QB – Nebraska
Schedule Strength: No. 59
Odds: +1100 (No. 5)
2019 Schedule: South Alabama, at Colorado, Northern Illinois, at Illinois, Ohio State, Northwestern, at Minnesota, Indiana, at Purdue, Wisconsin, at Maryland, Iowa
Hidden in the shadows of Nebraska’s second-consecutive 4-8 finish last season was the performance of true freshman QB Adrian Martinez who racked up 3,246 total yards in only 11 starts, the fifth-most in program history. The Cornhuskers’ schedule is rated as the easiest in the Big Ten and is comparable to Utah State at No. 58 and Arizona State at No. 60.
The biggest challenge for Nebraska outside of league play is Colorado, a team that’s won just 10 games over the last two seasons and is on an 0-7 streak. The Huskers do draw Ohio State from the East, but meter that with games vs. Indiana and at Maryland. They won’t play Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in the regular season.
(8). Jalen Hurts – QB – Oklahoma
Schedule Strength: No. 46
Odds: +1000 (No. 4)
2019 Schedule: Houston, FCS South Dakota, at UCLA, Texas Tech, at Kansas, vs. Texas (at Dallas, Texas), West Virginia, at Kansas State, Iowa State, at Baylor, TCU, at Oklahoma State
Jalen Hurts’ quest to become the third-consecutive Heisman winning QB from Oklahoma will be aided by having the third-easiest schedule among the top contenders. The Sooners’ slate is No. 8 in the Big 12 and is ranked alongside Oregon at No. 45 and Indiana at No. 47.
Oklahoma opens vs. a Houston team that beat Arizona last season and has a familiar face in new head coach Dana Holgorsen who is fresh off eight seasons at Big 12 foe West Virginia. The other challenge out of conference is UCLA, a program that went 3-9 last year and hasn’t posted a winning mark since 2015. The Sooners do have to travel to Oklahoma State but get TCU and Iowa State at home.
(7). Justin Hebert – QB – Oregon
Schedule Strength: No. 45
Odds: +2000 (Tied for No. 8)
2019 Schedule: vs. Auburn (at Arlington, Texas), Nevada, FCS Montana, at Stanford, California, Colorado, at Washington, Washington State, at USC, Arizona, at Arizona State, Oregon State
Justin Hebert had a chance to be the first QB taken in the 2019 NFL Draft but instead opted out and is set to return for his senior season at Oregon. The Ducks’ slate rates in the middle of the Pac-12 and is ranked between frontrunners Alabama at No. 44 and Oklahoma at No. 46.
The highlights of Oregon’s 2019 schedule are the neutral opener vs. Auburn and roadies at Stanford, Washington and USC. Other than the Trojans, the Ducks also draw Arizona State from the South, a team expected to contend with USC and Utah for the divisional crown.
(6). Tua Tagovailoa – QB – Alabama
Schedule Strength: No. 44
Odds: +250 (No. 1)
2019 Schedule: vs. Duke (at Atlanta, Ga.), New Mexico State, at South Carolina, Southern Miss, Ole Miss, at Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, at Mississippi State, FCS Western Carolina, at Auburn
The athlete with the best odds of taking home the Heisman, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, faces a schedule that is on par with fellow top contenders Justin Hebert and Jalen Hurts in strength. It creates an intriguing level playing field. The Crimson Tide’s schedule is the second easiest in the SEC, a notch above Kentucky at No. 51 nationally.
Alabama’s biggest non-conference threat is the opener in Atlanta vs. Duke. From the SEC East the Tide pair their annual clash with Tennessee with a road date at South Carolina, avoiding Georgia and Florida completely. They do visit Texas A&M and Auburn but get LSU and Ole Miss at home.
(5). Sam Ehlinger – QB – Texas
Schedule Strength: No. 23
Odds: +1500 (No. 7)
2019 Schedule: Louisiana Tech, LSU, vs. Rice (at NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas), Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma (at Dallas, Texas), Kansas, at TCU, Kansas State, at Iowa State, at Baylor, Texas Tech
The first of five top contenders with a Top 25 ranked schedule, Sam Ehlinger is vying to be the first-ever Longhorn QB to win the Heisman. Texas’ slate is the second hardest in the Big 12 and is on par with Purdue at No. 22 and Georgia Tech at No. 24.
Texas gets LSU in Austin, one of only six home games due to its two neutral dates in 2019. TCU, Iowa State and Baylor – all expected to finish in the top half of the Big 12 – are road games.
(4). Jonathan Taylor – RB – Wisconsin
Schedule Strength: No. 20
Odds: +2000 (Tied for No. 8)
2019 Schedule: at USF, Central Michigan, Michigan, Northwestern, Kent State, Michigan State, at Illinois, at Ohio State, Iowa, at Nebraska, Purdue, at Minnesota
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor – who led the FBS in rushing yards per game as a sophomore in 2019 – is the only non-QB on Vegas’ top contender list. Despite being one of only 15 Power schools not playing a Power team out of conference, Wisconsin’s slate is rated No. 4 in the Big Ten and is comparable to SEC programs Mississippi State at No. 19 and Ole Miss at No. 21.
What ramps up the Badgers’ schedule difficulty is who it draws from the Big Ten East – Michigan, Michigan State and at Ohio State, the top three teams in the division. It also gets Nebraska on the road.
(3). Justin Fields – QB – Ohio State
Schedule Strength: No. 17
Odds: +900 (No. 3)
2019 Schedule: FAU, Cincinnati, at Indiana, Miami Ohio, at Nebraska, Michigan State, at Northwestern, Wisconsin, Maryland, at Rutgers, Penn State, at Michigan
Justin Fields has never taken a snap for the Buckeyes but was used sparingly as a freshman at Georgia last season, participating in 12 games and going 27-of-39 (69.2%) for 328 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for 266 yards on 42 attempts, scoring an additional four TDs. Like Wisconsin, Ohio State is one of 15 Power clubs without a Power opponent in 2019. Its slate is rated No. 3 in the Big Ten and comes in nationally between Oregon State at No. 16 and Vandy at No. 18.
What makes up for the Buckeye’s lack of non-Big Ten competition is first it gets Michigan on the road and secondly it draws the top of the West division in games at Nebraska and vs. Wisconsin. It also gets extra credit for playing in a stacked East.
(2). Jake Fromm – QB – Georgia
Schedule Strength: No. 13
Odds: +1400 (No. 6)
2019 Schedule: at Vanderbilt, FCS Murray State, Arkansas State, Notre Dame, at Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, vs. Florida (at Jacksonville, Fla.), Missouri, at Auburn, Texas A&M, at Georgia Tech
Jake Fromm may not have set the world on fire in yards in 2018 (he finished No. 43 in total passing yards), but he was efficient and effective, finishing No. 5 – in the nation – in passer rating (171.22). The Bulldogs’ schedule is No. 7 in a stacked SEC and sandwiched nationally between Stanford at No. 12 and West Virginia at No. 14.
Like Clemson, Georgia doubles up on Power foes, adding a visit from Notre Dame to its annual clash with Georgia Tech. What sets the Bulldogs apart from the Tigers is a conference schedule that includes the entire SEC East and Texas A&M as its rotating opponent from the West to go along with its permanent rival Auburn (which it gets on the road). Yikes!
(1). Shea Patterson – QB – Michigan
Schedule Strength: No. 9
Odds: +2500 (No. 10)
2019 Schedule: Middle Tennessee, Army, at Wisconsin, Rutgers, Iowa, at Illinois, at Penn State, Notre Dame, at Maryland, Michigan State, at Indiana, Ohio State
What could make or break Shea Patterson’s Heisman candidacy is how quickly Michigan’s new OC – Josh Gattis – gets his offensive scheme up and running in Ann Arbor. Among his contemporaries listed here, Patterson has the unfortunate combination of the worst odds to win the award and the toughest schedule. The Wolverines’ slate is No. 1 in the Big Ten and on par with UCLA at No. 8 and Florida at No. 10.
Michigan basically takes Ohio State’s No. 17 ranked schedule and adds a visit from Notre Dame in place of a home game vs. Cincinnati. The Wolverines are at Penn State and then draw games at Wisconsin and vs. Iowa from the West. The Hawkeyes, like the Cornhuskers, are also predicted to finish in the top three in the division.