Predicting the 2017 Heisman by Search Volume: Well, that’ll do it.

(Photo by David Stacy/Icon Sportswire)

Before the college football season started, we noticed that search volume seemed to be a good metric for success in Heisman trophy voting. Over the course of the season, we checked in periodically, trying to find value in the often-crazy odds that sportsbooks offer on the Heisman, and now we’ve arrived here, at what sportsbooks would lead you to believe is the end of the Heisman race.

Heisman Trophy odds as of Nov. 17, 2017

Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma): -2000
Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State): +1000
Bryce Love (RB, Stanford): +1000

Well that took a turn. Last time we checked, Barkley was the odds-on favorite, and Mayfield was an outside shot. What happened? Did someone lose to Ohio State? Did someone slow down a little bit at the end of the season?

These odds would suggest that the Heisman race is all but over. Mayfield’s odds carry an implied probability of 95%. Quite beside the point, these odds also carry a cumulative probability of nearly 115%, which is a pretty generous vig.

The Search Volume

The search volume would tend to agree that Mayfield is the favorite. He has the biggest week overall, that early season win against Ohio State, he’s led in the same number of weeks as Saquon Barkley, and the critical weeks of November have been all Mayfield. Saquon Barkley also doesn’t have any big games or conference championships coming up, and Mayfield still has a ranked opponent (West Virginia is #24!) and a likely conference championship game to look ahead to. It’s a pretty tight margin, but a visible one, and one that isn’t likely to change. Mayfield will carry an advantage into Heisman voting.

So What Does this Mean for Bettors?

The people who set these odds have a tendency to pretty wildly overrate the favorites. They did it last time we checked in, when Barkley was odds-on and we thought Mayfield at +1200 might be worth a look, and they might be doing it again. Given the numbers that we’re looking at for search volume, you’d definitely conclude that Barkley is an underdog, but a 10/1 shot?Do we really have 95% faith in:

  • a) Baker Mayfield doesn’t get arrested doing something stupid again
  • b) the Heisman voters make the right decision

Of the two listed at +1000, Barkley is by far the better value. Bryce Love has been incredible, prolific, historic… and largely ignored. He hasn’t led a single week in search volume, and all those complaints about bias against the West Coast are starting to make sense.

There could be value in taking Love or Barkley as an outside shot/indictment of the Heisman voter, and I wouldn’t blame you. For now, though, we’ve got a playoff contender leading in search volume, who has the lovely narrative of being a snubbed walk-on and a two-time Heisman runner-up, and I’ll keep my money in my pocket.