For the first time since 2011, five of college football’s biggest stars will head to the New York as finalists for the Heisman Trophy. The Heisman Trust announced Monday that Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Dede Westrbrook are this year’s finalists for the award, which will be handed out Saturday night.
Although Jackson has been considered the clear top candidate for most of the season, the race has seemed to tighten over the final month of action, and each of the five finalists can present a compelling case.
Jackson, the first Heisman finalist from Louisville, flew onto the Heisman radar with an explosive start to the season. He scored 25 touchdowns in the Cardinals’ first four games and finished the season with a national-best 51 touchdowns along with 410.7 yards of offense per game, second in the nation. However, after putting up mind-boggling stats through the first two months of the season, Jackson ended the year with back-to-back losses, including just 244 total yards and one touchdown in Louisville’s Nov. 17 loss to Houston.
Watson, a Heisman finalist last year, earned a return trip to New York with another sensational season. The quarterback led the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff with 3,914 yards passing, 529 yards rushing and 43 total touchdowns. He closed the season strong with 11 touchdowns in Clemson’s final two games, including a magnificent performance in the Tigers’ ACC championship game victory over Virginia Tech (288 yards passing, 85 yards rushing, five total touchdowns). However, Watson’s 15 interceptions are tied for the third most in the country.
Peppers is just the third linebacker to become a Heisman finalist, though limiting him to simply a linebacker hardly does him justice. The do-it-all star has played 15 different positions this season, including 53 snaps on offense, 726 on defense and 154 on special teams. He was named the Big Ten’s linebacker of the year, defensive player of the year and return specialist of the year. Peppers finished the regular season with 72 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, four sacks, an interception and a forced fumble on defense. He also ranks fifth in the country with 14.8 yards per punt return and gained 167 yards rushing with three touchdowns on 27 carries.
Mayfield and Westbrook are the fifth pair of teammates to be named finalists and the first since 2004 when USC’s Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and Oklahoma’s Jason White and Adrian Peterson were invited to New York.
Mayfield led the nation in QB rating at 197.75, completing 71.2% of his passes for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 11.1 yards per attempt were .7 yards more than the next closest passer, and he also added six scores on the ground. Mayfield finished fourth in last year’s Heisman race.
Westbrook was far and away Mayfield’s top target, catching 74 passes for 1,465 yards with 16 touchdowns. His receiving yards were second most among Power 5 players while his touchdowns tied for fourth most in the nation. From Oklahoma’s Oct. 1 win over TCU to its Nov. 3 victory at Iowa State, Westbrook went six consecutive games with at least 105 yards receiving. He’s attempting to become the first wide receiver to win the award since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991.
So which of these five players should take home the Heisman? The official ballots have been case, but now it’s time to submit your vote in SI’s annual People’s Heisman poll. Just like the actual Heisman ballot, SI’s People’s Heisman ballot awards three points for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote. Make your picks by 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday.