What field of five finalists tells us about this Heisman Trophy vote
As expected, Lamar Jackson is headed to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, and the clear favorite has company.
A lot of it.
The Louisville quarterback will be joined Saturday night by Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers and Clemson's Deshaun Watson. Watson is a returnee after finishing third a year ago, while Mayfield came in fourth.
It's been five years since five players were invited to the ceremony — when Robert Griffin III won by 280 points over Andrew Luck in 2011 — and 10 times in all in the 34 that finalists have been invited.
Three attended the ceremony in each of the past two seasons and that has happened six times in the past 11 races, but four has been the most common, happening 13 times. There has been as many as six, coming in 2013 and 1994.
An elevated number of players in attendance can make a race difficult to read. Five has given us Barry Sanders winning by 966 points over Rodney Peete in 1988, and it also provided the two closest votes in history with 2009 — Mark Ingram edging Toby Gerhart by a mere 28 points — and 1985 — when Bo Jackson beat Chuck Long by 53 — as well as Andre Ware's 70-point win in 1989.
But this vote figures to be much more in line with, if not Sanders, then a winner whose final push to the Heisman ceremony mirrors Jackson's in 1987 winner Tim Brown.
The Notre Dame wide receiver is the last recipient to lose his final two games of the regular season — which Jackson also did as Louisville was knocked out of the College Football Playoff hunt by Houston, and then removed from the Orange Bowl mix a week later with a loss to Kentucky — Brown still went on to beat Don McPherson by 611 points and earned 324 first-place votes to the Syracuse QB's 167.
That vote included a gap of just 199 between second and fourth — McPherson, Gordy Lockbaum and Lorenzo White — while Craig Heyward was fifth at 1,272 points behind.
It would be no surprise to see a similar result announced Saturday night with Jackson winning handedly and challenging for a top-five result in terms of percentage of first-place votes. He would need to get at least 85.8 to supplant Vinny Testaverde for No. 5 on that list, which is topped by Charlie Ward (93.6).
Expect those finalists behind him to be bunched together, a byproduct of Jackson being out in front since the early weeks of the season and no single player being in a position to challenge his lead.
Jackson should claim all six voting regions, with the others gaining more support in their home regions — Peppers in the Midwest, Watson in the Mid-Atlantic and Mayfield and Westbrook in the Southwest. Peppers and Watson likely weren't factors in the Sooners' region, hence those teammates generating the brunt of support behind the Cardinals passer.
Jackson is still a near-lock to be the one hoisting the trophy this weekend, and that he's joined by a crowded class of finalists seems to show just how convoluted this race was behind him.