Sports books finally taking Kenneth Walker III's Heisman candidacy seriously

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Kenneth Walker III's Heisman Trophy campaign has been gaining steam since he took the opening handoff of the season 75 yards for a touchdown. That was the precursor to a four-score performance in Michigan State's Week 1 win over Northwestern.

Walker needed to deliver a dominant performance in front of a captive audience to really state his case. He did Saturday, scoring all five of Michigan State's touchdowns in a 37-33 win over rival Michigan on national television. Walker became the first player ever to rush for five TDs against Michigan.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III runs the ball during the third quarter.

The performance boosted Walker's Heisman Trophy odds significantly. According to BetMGM, he now is the fourth-favorite to take home the award during the December ceremony, at +500 odds (bet $100, win $500). Pregame, he was the sixth-favorite.

Walker also is at +500 at DraftKings, a huge jump from +2000 before the game. At DraftKings, he's listed as the third-favorite.

More: Wojo: Spartans' indomitable spirit and unstoppable star stagger Wolverines in classic

Before the season, Walker, a transfer from Wake Forest, was generally listed around 80/1 to win the Heisman Trophy, something no Michigan State player has ever done.

Walker downplayed his Heisman candidacy after Saturday's win, his first appearance in the in-state rivalry. But his coaches and teammates certainly didn't.

“I mean, the whole world was watching,” head coach Mel Tucker said. “And everyone wants to know, ‘OK, well, if he’s gonna be considered for the Heisman, then in a game like this you’ve got to come in and produce.’ And he was able to do that.”

Walker's chief competition for the award includes Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud. The closest other running backs to Walker, per DraftKings, are Ohio State's TreVeyon Henderson (+3000) and Alabama's Brian Robinson Jr. (+4000).

While the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to a running back 45 times (to 44 players; Ohio State's Archie Griffin won it twice), no running back has won it since 2015. That year, Alabama's Derrick Henry rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Walker's candidacy will continue to depend on Michigan State's season. The Spartans are 8-0, with games left against Purdue, Maryland, Ohio State and Penn State.

The only Heisman Trophy winners from the state are Charles Woodson (1997), Desmond Howard (1991) and Tom Harmon (1940), all from Michigan.

Walker, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound dynamo who is among the best backs in the nation in terms of breaking tackles, is on pace to rush for 1,940 yards and 23 touchdowns.  Through Saturday's game, in which he ran for 197 yards, Walker has 1,194 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, as well as one receiving touchdown.

Walker rushed for 579 yards during both of his seasons at Wake Forest, with 13 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore and four as a freshman.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984