The best college football team in Texas in 2016 might be Houston, and the Cougars' star quarterback is Greg Ward Jr. He's +2500 NCAAF odds to take this year's Heisman Trophy.
Power 5 Schools Dominate Landscape
Just like national champions no longer come outside of Power 5 Conferences, neither do Heisman Trophy winners. The Power 5 schools have all the money, get all the TV exposure and thus get the best players. It's not rocket science why the ACC (plus Notre Dame), Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC dominate everything. The last player to win a Heisman Trophy from a school not currently in a Power 5 Conference was quarterback Ty Detmer of BYU in 1990 -- the Cougars are currently an independent but ironically could become a member of the Big 12 soon if that league decides to expand. Of course Alabama running back Derrick Henry was the Heisman winner in 2015. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was the highest finisher from outside the Power 5, finishing fifth. He has graduated and is now trying to make the roster of the New England Patriots.
Thus the odds are stacked against Houston's dual-threat senior Ward in 2016. His school has had a Heisman winner before: quarterback Andre Ware in 1989. But the college football landscape was a lot different then. What Ward would need to do to have a chance is obviously put up huge numbers but also have the Cougars, who play in the American Athletic Conference, likely go unbeaten in the regular season and reach the College Football Playoff. And you know what? That's not too far-fetched.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead For Houston
Under first-year coach Tom Herman, the former Ohio State offensive coordinator, Houston had the best season in school history in 2015 -- so good that school officials had to give Herman a big raise already to keep bigger programs from poaching him. The Cougars went 12-1 in the regular season and won the AAC Championship Game over Temple. Houston might have played in the College Football Playoff if not for that lone loss. That was 20-17 on Nov. 21 at Connecticut. That so happened to be the lone game that Ward didn't start as he was injured. His backup, Kyle Postma, really struggled. Ward did come in with 55 seconds left but was intercepted.
But as the top-ranked Group of 5 program, Houston earned a New Year's Six Peach Bowl appearance against powerhouse Florida State, which was a 7.5-point favorite on NCAA football odds in Atlanta. Ward was healthy then and he led a 38-24 upset of the No. 9 Seminoles, Houston's fourth win over a ranked team in 2015. Ward was terrific against one of the nation's top defenses, throwing for 238 yards and a touchdown and rushing 20 times for 67 yards and two scores in being named the game's offensive MVP. UH finished the season ranked No. 8 in the AP poll.
Overall on the year, Ward became the first Houston quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, finishing with 1,108. He finished fifth in the nation and set the Houston single-season record for rushing touchdowns with 21. Ward also completed 67.2 percent of his passes (ninth in nation) for 2,828 yards, 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions (seventh fewest in country among QBs with at least 300 attempts). Ward joined Clemson's Deshaun Watson, a 2015 Heisman finalist and 2016 favorite on NCAA football picks, as the only quarterbacks in the country to rush for at least 1,000 yards and pass for a minimum of 2,000. Ward won the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award over Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Baylor's Corey Coleman, and TCU's Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson. That goes to the best offensive player in Division I Texas football.
He's +2500 on BetOnline NCAA football odds, so what realistic chance does Ward have to win this year's Heisman? The guy has won 14 straight starts, and if Ward leads Houston to an opening week upset of certain Top-10 team Oklahoma, then he has a shot. The Cougars are 8.5-point underdogs on NCAA football picks for the Sept. 3 game at NRG Stadium in Houston. If the Cougars win that, they could run the table as they may not face another ranked team in the regular season. The toughest games figure to be Sept. 15 at Cincinnati, Oct. 8 at Navy and Nov. 17 vs. Louisville.
The Cougars are likely to be a Top-15 preseason team. So if they repeat as AAC champions and are unbeaten, there's almost no way they can be kept out of the playoff -- UH has a wins total of 9 at sportsbooks -- and Ward would be a legitimate Heisman contender. It all rides on that Oklahoma game.