Last year there were two running backs and one quarterback invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy announcement. For better or worse, this year there are three QB’s and one WR and LB – a more normal distribution. The five 2016 finalists, in alphabetical order:
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: first player in FBS history with 3300 yards passing and 1500 yards rushing. Broke the ACC single-season record with 51 touchdowns. ACC player of the year. The favorite for most of the year, but faded with poor performances in his final two games, both losses. Other negatives: plays in the ACC. Strength of schedule not the greatest. Only a sophomore. Lost three games. Jackson was the favorite after a monster September. But like McCaffrey last year, he could lose to a player from a better team.
Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield: led nation in QB efficiency and completion percentage, gained 3669 yards passing with 44 TD’s. Led Oklahoma to a conference championship. Last year he finished 4th in the Heisman voting. Negatives: his own teammate will draw votes away from him.
Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers did not win the Butkus Award, given to the top defensive player in the country – or the Bronco Nagurski Award for the nation’s best defensive player. Alabama linebackers Reuben Foster and Jonathan Allen won those awards. Had Peppers won those awards AND played on at least one of the top four teams, PERHAPS then he could be considered. But then, why weren’t Foster or Allen considered? (1) Since they play for the same team, votes were spread out between them, (2) Alabama plays in the South, and (3) Peppers plays in the North.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson: 4443 yards of total offense and 43 TD’s. Beat Jackson’s Louisville team (and Mayfield’s Oklahoma squad in last year’s playoff game). Led Tigers to an ACC Championship, a spot in the Playoff, and a 12-1 record – the best of the five finalists. Watson was also a Heisman finalist last year, finishing third. He is graduating from Clemson in three years. Negatives: plays in the ACC – and the South. Watson SHOULD win, but very possibly won’t.
Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook: 1465 yards receiving with 16 TD’s – ranking 4th in the nation in receiving yards per game (122.1). Reached 100 yards receiving in 8 of his last 9 games. Negative: voters unlikely to cast ballots for two players from one team (but hey, he is in the top five).
Fans may be amazed at Jackson’s statistics and forget his role in his team’s three losses. Watson’s stats are only slightly worse – yet his team only lost one game. Plus, this was Watson’s second straight great season. You can make the same argument for Mayfield.
I wasn’t following individual college players this year either. Not sure how Mayfield did, though Stanford had a new QB this year, which may have been why they didn’t do as well as last season. Still, the Cardinal finished strong. Washington QB Jake Browning was left out as well, as was the Texas back who led the nation in rushing.
As a group the Heisman electorate favors candidates from the north over the south and west. Last year Pac 12 player of the year Christian McCaffrey complied the greatest season in college football history, yet did not win the Heisman. Voters famously chose Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson over Tennessee QB Peyton Manning. It is quite possible this year voters could look at the negatives and pick favored son Peppers ahead of the others. That would be a shame.
5. Westbrook: not the best player on his own team.
4. Peppers: strong finish for a linebacker.
3. Jackson: faded at the end.
2. Mayfield: great performance 2 straight years
1. Watson: slightly better than Mayfield the past 2 years.
A word about media bias: the media may say they’re unbiased, but that’s a lie. As in politics, writers and voters naturally migrate to the teams and players they see most often. Every week Michigan and Ohio State play at noon (or prime time) on ABC or ESPN. Teams like Oklahoma usually play later in the day. ACC teams like Clemson and Louisville usually play on smaller networks, at varying times, or even on Thursday or Friday. As a Southerner, I’m certainly biased toward the teams and players I see the most. To say otherwise is a fallacy.