On Monday, the Heisman Trust released the list of finalists for the 2016 Heisman Trophy. They are Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook, Michigan versatile star Jabrill Peppers, and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Those players are invited to New York for a final ceremony on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), when someone is going to win the award for college football’s most outstanding player. Since the ceremony became part of the Heisman unveiling in the 1980s, the average number of finalists has been four per year. Whether more than three players get invited depends on how close they are in the vote count, so this year’s race was at least tight between the third and fifth highest totals.
This year’s race might not have much suspense. Jackson seized the frontrunner’s spot early in the season, and he’s stayed there all year. The Cardinals did lose their last two games, and that might create an opening for one of his fellow finalists.
With that in mind, let’s meet the field.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville quarterback
Not even two years ago, Jackson was a highly touted but not earth-shattering recruit from South Florida. Now, he’s a superstar as a true sophomore, with a great shot to be back in the Heisman hunt in 2017. In 12 games, he accounted for 51 touchdowns (30 thrown, 21 rushed), more than anybody else. He was 11th nationally in passing scores, tied for fourth in rushing or receiving scores, and was the key cog in the nation’s top-scoring offense. Louisville didn’t make a big bowl game, but Jackson had as big-time a season as you could have.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson quarterback
Watson has the benefit of being on the ACC champion that claimed a Playoff spot and beat Jackson’s team head-to-head. And Watson had a great year, finishing sixth in the country with 3,914 passing yards, while tying for fifth with 37 touchdown passes, and 17th among qualifiers with a 154 passer rating. But those numbers are more "excellent" than "Heisman-worthy," and Watson hasn’t been a big runner. He’s also thrown 15 interceptions.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan super-utility player
If you’re looking for big stats, you won’t find them here. Peppers’ numbers are regular all across the board. But the thing about Peppers isn’t performance at any one spot. It’s his versatility, like how he’s played as a linebacker, a safety, a cornerback, a wildcat quarterback, a running back, a receiver, a kick returner, and a punt returner. He’s got one interception, three sacks, and 66 tackles, plus 170 yards of offense and four touchdowns between offense and special teams.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma quarterback
Oklahoma has been really hot since starting the year 1-2. The Sooners won their last nine games to claim the Big 12, and Mayfield was great during their run. His 198 passer rating leads the country by a large margin and stands likely to break Russell Wilson’s single-season record, set in 2011, of 191.78. Mayfield has a 38-to-8 TDs-to-INTs ratio. He’s ninth in total passing yardage but first in yards per throw, at a ridiculous 11.1.
Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma receiver
The primary beneficiary of Mayfield’s great season, and vice versa. Westbrook got hurt in OU’s last game, a Big 12-clinching win against Oklahoma State. But before that, he accumulated 16 receiving touchdowns and almost 1,500 yards.
Players who could’ve been finalists
Jake Browning, Washington quarterback
Browning brought Washington to the Playoff, and he led an offense that scored 44.5 points per game – fourth in the country. His 42 touchdown passes are one off Toledo’s Logan Woodside for the national lead, and he’s only thrown seven picks. His yardage total is only 21st, however, and it won’t help Browning that he plays on the West Coast, in the Pac-12.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State running back
No. 2 in the country in yards from scrimmage against FBS teams with winning records, and No. 1 by far among players who’ve played at least six such games, he’s been big in big games. He’s No. 7 overall in rushing yards in all games and is No. 3 among running backs in 10-yard gains on the year.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State quarterback
Barrett hasn’t had a loud year, but he’ll be in the discussion because he’s played well in leading a top-three team. Barrett has a 24-to-five touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, but he doesn’t throw as much as other QBs, and his 847 rushing yards are helpful, but just 91st in the country (and eighth among quarterbacks). He’s a real long shot.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama defensive end
Minkah Fitzpatrick , Alabama safety
Reuben Foster, Alabama linebacker
Alabama has the country’s best defense. The Crimson Tide allowed fewer than 12 points per game, and they’ll have All-Americans at every level of the defense. Depending on your taste for pass-rushing, elite linebacker play, and a dominant safety who does whatever Alabama needs, maybe you think the best defense in the land deserves some representation. Allen, Fitzpatrick, and Foster had good case. So did a few other Bama defenders, if we’re being honest. The problem is that defensive players usually get a raw deal in Heisman voting.
D’Onta Foreman, Texas running back
Foreman was the only runner in the country to go over 2,000 yards during the regular season, and he did it in just 11 games. He had an incredible season, and nobody stopped him or even came close to it. Working against him, though, were two things: Like Mayfield and Westbrook, Foreman is an offensive player in the anti-defense Big 12. Plus, he played for a 5-7 Texas team.
Donell Pumphrey, San Diego State running back
He’s already broken Marshall Faulk’s school career rushing record and, in SDSU’s bowl against Houston, could break Ron Dayne’s all-time NCAA record, having just passed Ricky Williams. He needs only 108 yards to do it. This year, he leads all running backs in 10-yard gains and is No. 2 in rushing yards per game.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan receiver
Davis was terrific, and he’s likely to get some votes as the headliner on WMU’s unbeaten scoring machine. He racked up a nation-leading 18 touchdowns through the MAC Championship Game, and he’s a great story on a team full of great stories.
Did the voters get it right? Who got snubbed, if anyone? Let us know.