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  • If the Heisman Trophy is a popularity contest, how do we measure popularity?
  • Is there a correlation between Heisman winners and Google search volume?

College football fans have long bemoaned the lack of consistency in choosing Heisman finalists and winners. Last year, when we were trying to find a variable that could predict Heisman success, we found that on-field performance was indeed a bad indicator, and that search volume (the amount of Google searches for each player) might be a better metric.

Players with unbelievable stats frequently get nowhere with Heisman voters, while players with measurably fewer achievements and better search numbers get a trip to New York City. Instead of throwing up our hands, we decided to double down on the theory that Heisman voting is biased. If the system is biased, it should at least be predictable, right?

And it kind of is! If you look at the search volume comparison graph, even in a very crude way, you’ll get an idea of who the favorites are. Last year we didn’t have great tools for comparing search data, or really getting raw numbers, but this year we have access to some more solid data. We’ll be able to make more concrete statements this year, and do some interesting things with the data.

How Search Volume is Looking in 2018

  • In our opinion, Jonathan Taylor is overrated as the favorite

Here’s how the search volume numbers break down on Bovada’s five favorites to win the Heisman.

Odds and search data as of 10/4/2018

Player Pos Team Bovada Odds to Win Heisman Trophy Average Monthly Search Volume Average Monthly Clicks Search Data Last Updated
Tua Tagovailoa QB Alabama -105 60000 46,952 10 July 2018
Kyler Murray QB Oklahoma +350 19000 12,633 4 Oct 2018
Dwayne Haskins QB Ohio State +375 7600 6,253 3 Oct 2018
Will Grier QB West Virginia +550 33000 19,317 3 Oct 2018
McKenzie Milton QB UCF +2000 8800 5,955 2 Oct 2018

You might say that Tua Tagovailoa is getting a lot of help from his performance in the dying minutes of the College Football Playoff, and you’d be absolutely right. That shouldn’t figure in to his chances to win the 2018 Heisman Trophy, but if you don’t think it will you are being naive. He’s also an Alabama quarterback with enormous buzz, so all the system’s biases are in his favor.

For our most recent update, check out our article on Will Grier as the value pick. He’s performing well, even in comparison to Tua Tagovailoa, and particularly in the areas where Heisman voters concentrate. Worth a look!

Why This Works, Explained Cynically

  • It’s all about how profitable the players are for the voters

The Heisman Trophy is voted on by sportswriters, who are all by definition in the business of generating as much traffic as possible for their advertisers. There are some brave bloggers out there who exist to serve their readers and provide valuable insight, but they don’t get Heisman votes.

Everyone with a Heisman ballot is either a previous winner or (far more commonly) in the business of generating traffic with college football content

Everyone with a Heisman ballot is either a previous winner or (far more commonly) in the business of generating traffic with college football content. It’s not outrageous to say that they would, on a very broad level, develop an affinity for the players that are performing best in the one metric that affects their bottom line.

How it Worked Out in 2017

  • We told you to pick Baker Mayfield when he was at +1200. You owe us money.

Heisman Trophy winners don’t usually return to college the next year, so it was tough to figure out what to do with Lamar Jackson’s numbers. He was among the favorites for the Heisman early in the season, and was an absolute beast in terms of search volume, but a lot of that could be attributed to his historic 2016 season.

He quieted down a bit in 2017, and wasn’t a true contender for the trophy, so we didn’t have to worry about it too much.

The one thing we did catch is that Bryce Love was wildly overrated on the odds sheet. Within the somewhat insular world of college football fandom, he was an absolute star. But the search volume numbers made very clear that people weren’t staying up to watch him tear holes in the PAC-12.

Baker Mayfield attracted a lot of attention, of every kind, and by the end of the season was likely the most talked about and most productive player in the country. In late October, Bryce Love and Saquon Barkley were the favorites, but Baker Mayfield was still leading in search volume, so we pointed you that way.