Alabama running back Derrick Henry, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey are the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.
The announcement came Monday night.
Henry and McCaffrey will be trying to break a streak of five straight quarterbacks winning college football’s top honor when the trophy is presented Saturday night in New York.
Mark Ingram of Alabama in 2009 was the last running back – and only Crimson Tide player – to win the Heisman. Since 2000, 13 of the 15 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.
Among those missing out on a trip to New York City was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who was the early season favorite and Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
Henry seems to be the front runner in a Heisman race that tightened over championship weekend. He ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries in the Alabama’s Southeastern Conference championship game victory against Florida on Saturday.
Later that night, McCaffrey had 461 all-purpose yards with touchdowns running, receiving and passing as Stanford beat Southern California in the Pac-12 title game and Watson had 420 total yards and accounted for five touchdowns in Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game win against North Carolina.
Close Heisman voting has been uncommon in recent years. The last three winners – Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel – all won by comfortable margins.
The last time there was real suspense at the Heisman presentation was 2009, when Ingram received only 1 percent more of the vote than Stanford’s Toby Gerhart. By percentage, that ranks as the closest Heisman vote in history.
A look at the finalists:
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior carried the Tide (12-1) to the College Football Playoff, setting a Southeastern Conference with 1,986 yards and nation’s best 23 touchdowns. With a passing game that has been inconsistent, the Tide has leaned heavily on Henry on its biggest games. He carried the ball 90 times combined in Alabama’s last two games and has averaged 180 yards per game against SEC opponents.
“The Heisman Trophy has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid and the chance to go to New York as a finalist is amazing, but none of this would be possible without my coaches and teammates,” Henry said in a statement. “The offensive line, the quarterback, wide receivers and tight ends have done an unbelievable job all season and our coaches always put us in a position to be successful.”
While Henry is the prototypical power runner, McCaffrey is all about elusiveness and versatility. The 200-pound sophomore broke Barry Sanders’ NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season with 3,496. He has scored 13 touchdowns and thrown two TD passes.
He would be Stanford’s second Heisman winner, joining Jim Plunkett in 1970. The Cardinal did have a recent run of three straight seasons with the runner-up. Toby Gerhart finished second behind Ingram in ‘09 and Andrew Luck came in second to Cam Newton (2010) and Robert Griffin III (2011).
The sophomore has Clemson in the playoff, trying for its first national championship since 1981. Watson fits the mold of recent Heisman winners Cam Newton, RGIII, Manziel and Mariota as a dual-threat quarterback, capable of dominating as a runner or passer.
Watson is the only player in the country who has surpassed 800 yards rushing (887) and 3,500 yards passing (3,512), and he has accounted for 41 touchdowns. He would be Clemson’s first Heisman winner.
“It has been a dream of mine to bring my mom to New York and be a Heisman finalist. We have never been to New York,” Watson said. “I am honored to be the first Heisman finalist from Clemson. I plan to represent our team and Clemson University and the Clemson family this weekend.
“I want to give congratulations to the other finalists and I look forward to seeing them this weekend.”
Dabo Swinney on Deshaun Watson being named a Heisman finalist
“I am so happy for Deshaun Watson. This is recognition for a great performance on the field and for the hard work he has put in over the last year after suffering a torn ACL. A year ago Saturday night (Dec. 12, 2014) he was in the hospital having surgery. Exactly a year later he will be in New York as a Heisman finalist.
“Deshaun Watson is the epitome of what the Heisman Trophy is all about. He has been the leader of the only undefeated team in college football in every way.”