Louisville QB in line to produce school's first win, ACC's only for non-Florida State player
Keeping our Heisman Trophy votes under wraps until after Saturday's ceremony is part of the expectation, and while this maintaining that veil of secrecy, it's a fool's errand trying to make the case for anyone ahead of Louisville's Lamar Jackson.
The sophomore quarterback, who became the fourth Power 5 conference player with 20 touchdowns passing and 20 rushing -- the other three are all Heisman winners in Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel -- is the clear leader to hoist that 25-pound icon-maker.
But it's by how much of a margin, and how the field of four other finalists factor in, where things get truly interesting.
With past results and voting trends as our guide, here's what is most likely to unfold in Times Square.
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1. Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville, Soph.
Seeing anyone else in this spot would be simply stunning, and potentially one of the biggest upsets in the award's history.
Everything is in place for Jackson to win, including his numbers -- 4,928 total yards and 51 TDs, which puts him well above the 4,600-plus yards and 47 TDs the past five QBs to win averaged -- and players who have been in similar positions. Texas' Ricky Williams (1998), Florida's Tim Tebow (2007) and Baylor's Robert Griffin III (2011) all won on three-loss teams and won with comfortable margins. Tebow's was the closest at a 254-point margin and with 171 first-place votes ahead of second-place Darren McFadden of Arkansas, but that vote has to be viewed through the prism of Tebow being a sophomore and up until that point, no underclassman had ever won.
The back-to-back losses to Houston -- in a prime time affair -- and Kentucky likely spoiled any chance of challenging Florida State's Charlie Ward's record for the highest percentage of first-place votes at 93.6. But Jackson could and should be in line with Notre Dame's Tim Brown, the last recipient to end his regular season with consecutive defeats who won by 611 points ahead of Syracuse's Don McPherson in a field of five finalists (the same number of this class).
Expect Jackson to claim every region, especially with no true No. 2 in this race. While he may challenge for a top-five result as far as percentage of first-place votes, here's thinking he falls short of the 85.5 percent he'd need to supplant Miami's Vinny Testaverde (1986).
Louisville should earn its first Heisman, the first for the ACC from a player who didn't suit up for Florida State, and the first sophomore since Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009.
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2. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, Jr.
He made the most of a rivalry game and a conference championship, combining for 739 yards and 11 TDs in wins over South Carolina and No. 23 Virginia Tech, the latter propelling the Tigers back into the College Football Playoff.
In terms of this voting, that provided a push that is likely to get him know higher than first runner-up to Jackson, but it still represents an increase of a spot from where he was a year ago. He would be the first player to go from third to second in consecutive votes since USC's Ricky Belly in 1975. The last second-place finisher to come back and win the next year was Georgia's Herschel Walker in 1982.
The likely runner up in his home region of the Mid-Atlantic and the South and Northeast -- thanks to those ACC ties -- his national appeal after last year's run to the national title game also makes him a potential factor in every region.
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3. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma, Jr.
Fourth a year ago, Mayfield got his trip to New York this time around. In the 2015 vote he was 831 points away from third, hence his not making the ceremony (finalists are based on natural cut off in point totals), but that he and teammate Dede Westbrook both made it is the most telling aspect of this vote.
Simply put, there were so many options to put behind Jackson, we could have seen even more players earn invites. But Oklahoma's Mayfield and Westbrook, as primarily factors in their region -- the Southwest -- and Far West, find themselves with seat at the table.
Thirty-five times teammates have finished in the top 10 in voting, so it's not exactly rare, and it's happened 10 times since 1992. They last produced a winner in 2005 with USC's Reggie Bush's now vacated victory -- he was joined by Matt Leinart -- and that duo was also in attendance in '04 with Sooners Jason White and Adrian Peterson.
A QB and WR have never joined each other in NYC, but typically, a big-name passer has been hard to eclipse. Mayfield's numbers were certainly helped by Westbrook's eruption, but he averaged 325.2 yards per game from Oct. 8 vs. Texas on, including 288 and three TDs vs. Oklahoma State, a game Westbrook left in the first half after a brutal hit.
Like passer Texas Tech's Graham Harrell finishing fourth to his receiver Michael Crabtree's fifth in 2008, Mayfield will be slightly ahead.
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4. Dede Westbrook, WR Oklahoma, RS Sr.
As mentioned above, Mayfield is likely to get a little bit more support than Westbrook, but even getting to NYC is a feat within a feat.
Alabama's Amari Cooper was there in 2014 to watch Marcus Mariota win, and before that, the last receiver to crack the top three was Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Of course, no wideout has won since Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991 and Brown before that in '87.
Westbrook is in line with both of those recipients, who were involved in the return game, as he had eight kickoff returns for 227 yards and returned four punts or 79 yards and a score to go along with those 1,465 yards and 16 TDs on 74 receptions.
Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter (second) and Kerry Collins (fourth) have the highest finishes for teammates that didn't include a win in the finalists era (1982 and after). The Sooners won't surpass that, but they could be a notch above Harrell and Crabtree.
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5. Jabrill Peppers, LB Michigan, Jr.
In the era of finalists, six times a defender has landed in New York, with Notre Dame's Manti Te'o -- second in 2012 behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel -- the last, and it hasn't been a Wolverine defensive player since Charles Woodson's win in 1997. Expect to hear that note plenty.
Should Peppers finish here, he'll be in line with LSU's Tyrann Mathieu in 2011, which came in a year with a winner on a three-loss team (Griffin) and in a year with five finalists, furthering the potential resemblance to this vote.
What figures to be of most interest with Peppers, if he's fifth, is just how close is the gap between those who came in sixth, and seventh, and on? When you consider that Browning, Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Florida State's Dalvin Cook, Texas' D'Onta Foreman and San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey will -- among others -- have their supporters, the quality and quantity of those challengers bring into question how narrow of a margin was it that got Peppers into the ceremony?
For measuring stick purposes, in 2009, Tebow made his third appearance at the ceremony despite finishing fifth at 425 points behind fourth-place Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska. That gap represents the greatest points between the last two finalists of any group with more than four.