Could Alabama's Calvin Ridley be the Heisman Trophy Winner in 2016? Ridley is a +3300 long shot on betting sites' college football odds. Read on as we analyze if he's a dark horse.
Can Tide Get Back-To-Back Winners?
The two previous Heisman winners to play wideout were Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991, although his candidacy got a big boost because he was a stellar punt returner and Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987. You could say two other Heisman winners also played some receiver but it wasn't their sole primary position: Michigan's Charles Woodson (cornerback) in 1997 and Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers (running back) in 1972.
So guys like Ridley would appear to face pretty long odds. But college football is a lot different this century with teams passing much more than they ever have -- just like in the NFL. So we could see some receivers put up pretty incredible numbers and earn a trip to New York.
Could the University of Alabama (+800 to win National Championship, at WilliamHill) join a very exclusive company by having a second straight Heisman winner? It has only happened four times overall but in reality twice. Let me explain. Players from Yale won the second and third Heisman Trophies ever given out: end Larry Kelley in 1936 and halfback Clint Frank the next year. So that's legitimate. The other true one was Army running backs Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis winning in 1945 & '46 respectively.
The two I put an asterisk on are: Ohio State in 1974-75. That's because running back Archie Griffin won both, still the only two-time Heisman winner. An amazing feat, but not quite the same as different players winning in consecutive years from the same school. Then you have USC quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004 and running back Reggie Bush in '05. Bush's has since been vacated because he broke NCAA rules in accepting benefits while still in college.
Of course, Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the award last year, just the second Tide player to do so. Henry is now with the NFL's Tennessee Titans. The other Alabama winner was tailback Mark Ingram in 2009. He didn't have nearly as good of a season in 2010 when he was an early favorite on college football odds and wasn't a Heisman factor.
Looking Ahead To 2016
The Tide have had some great receivers in their history. In recent years, you have Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, now two of the best in the NFL. Cooper finished his career with all the major school records: 228 catches, 3,463 yards, and 31 touchdowns. No other Tide receiver has reached 200 catches, 3,000 yards or 20 TDs. Cooper was third in the 2014 Heisman voting on college football picks.
Ridley absolutely has the talent to break Cooper's records if he stays healthy over the next two seasons. As a true freshman last year, the five-star recruit from south Florida set the UA single-season freshman receiving record for yards with 1,045, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,000 held by Cooper in 2012. Ridley led Alabama with 89 catches and in yardage. A total of 17 of his catches went for 15-plus yards, including five of his seven TDs. Ridley torched a very good Michigan State defense in the College Football Playoff in the Cotton Bowl with eight catches for 138 yards and two scores.
Consider that those numbers came with the Tide running the ball so much behind Henry. Alabama QBs attempted 446 passes, while the Crimson Tide had 642 carries -- with Henry getting a whopping 395. With him gone, we should see more of an offensive split although Alabama has other five-star running backs like Bo Scarbrough waiting in the wings.
A receiver can only be as good as his quarterback and that's one big question for the Tide. Last year's starter, Jake Coker, is gone. The top options to replace him are Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett. Bateman, a junior, looks to be the favorite after backing up Coker last year and starting the Ole Miss game over Coker. Bateman finished the year completing 37 of 52 passes for 291 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
Ridley is going to be a future Top-10 pick in the NFL Draft assuming good health. And if he was on a more pass-happy team like a Baylor (+5000, at BetOnline) or Oklahoma (+1400, at WilliamHill) or some Pac-12 schools, then I'd say he has a Heisman chance. But the Tide are always going to focus more on the run as long as Nick Saban is in charge. Ridley could at least be a finalist, however.
Want to read more on other Heisman Odds: Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs Solid Dark-Horse Candidate