The finalists for this year's Heisman Trophy were revealed on Monday, and a race that Lamar Jackson looked to have a runaway lead in has tightened some in recent weeks. The Louisville sophomore quarterback will be joined for the Heisman ceremony in New York on Saturday by four others: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers and Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook. College Football 24/7 handicaps the race for the most coveted individual award in the game:
Preparing a speech (55-percent chance)
QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Three factors make the Heisman, despite his late-season struggles, Jackson's to lose. First and foremost, his numbers are simply overwhelming. He ranks 12th in the FBS in passing yards (3,390), eighth in rushing yards (1,538), and accounted for 51 touchdowns. When a passer as prolific as Jackson is also delivering on the ground better than all but seven running backs in the game, the Heisman is predictable as a result. The second thing in Jackson's favor is the "wow" factor. The guy is truly electric on the field; a highlight waiting to happen. Week after week this season, he not only piled up yardage and points, but did it in a way that was often visually stunning. He just looks a cut above anyone else on the field athletically, something that will resonate with Heisman voters. Finally, he was a relatively easy choice for the Heisman for too much of the season not to win it. While he faltered some late in the year, the suspicion here is that a lot of Heisman ballots already carried Jackson's name, at least in voters' minds, by that time.
Don't count him out (30-percent chance)
QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson didn't have quite as good a season as he did a year ago when he was a Heisman finalist, but there are several points that stand out on his 2016 resume. One is a head-to-head win over Jackson. If anyone deserves the Heisman over Louisville's explosive star, it's the quarterback who was the first to beat Jackson and the Cardinals this season. As well, Watson has his team playing for much higher stakes than the Citrus Bowl trophy that Jackson is playing for. Clemson is in the College Football Playoff as a No. 2 seed, and Watson is the centerpiece of the Tigers' chances for a national title. Don't discount Watson's career success at CU as a factor, either. Yes, Heisman voters are supposed to consider only the current season in casting their ballots. But you'd be foolish to think some voters aren't influenced by the prolific career Watson has had. He's 26-2 as a starter over the last two years and is in the CFP's four-team field for the second time. If that doesn't weigh in the conscious mind of some voters, it likely, at least, weighs in the subconscious.
Longest of longshots (5-percent chance each)
LB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
A player who made most of his contributions on defense hasn't won the Heisman since Charles Woodson in 1997, and Peppers isn't at all likely to become the second such player to do so. Woodson's Wolverines, don't forget, were in position to win a national title in 1997 when he won the award (and went on to do so). Peppers lost out on national-title hopes in Michigan's 30-27 overtime loss to rival Ohio State, and he never really had the kind of defining Heisman moment that can punctuate a winning candidacy. Peppers has had a fine season and is a remarkable athlete, but he wasn't the dominant presence Heisman winners must be.
QB Baker Mayfield and WR Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
Mayfield and Westbrook are the first pair from the same school to make the Heisman trip to New York since 2004, when USC sent QB Matt Leinart and RB Reggie Bush, while Oklahoma sent QB Jason White and RB Adrian Peterson. What makes a Heisman candidacy problematic in these scenarios is that two teammates will cost one another votes in the Heisman voting region in which they play. While they've both been prolific and two of the most exciting players to watch this season, it's hard to imagine either besting Watson or Jackson in the voting.