Is the stage set for Heisman Trophy drama? History says otherwise

Oklahoma's Kyler Murray (left), Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins give the Heisman Trophy ceremony three finalists for the third time in four years.

The Heisman Trophy finalist field is set, with the expectation this could be an historically close vote. But in terms of votes past, the number of players who will be present in New York typically speaks to an easy win.

Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa — the frontrunner for nearly the entirety of the season — will be joined by Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, quarterbacks that received the nod Monday night to make it a trio at the ceremony for the third time in four years.

That was also the number of players present last season, when Murray’s predecessor, Baker Mayfield, won by a whopping 1,098 points. In the 36 votes since the Downtown Athletic Club/Heisman Trust began inviting players — with the cutoff of invitees coming at the natural break in voting — three finalists has set the stage for the biggest landslide wins in the era.

In 1993, Florida State’s Charlie Ward was joined by Tennessee’s Heath Shuler and Alabama’s David Palmer, with the Seminoles QB winning by 1,622 points. Then in 2006, Ohio State’s Troy Smith claimed the trophy by 1,662 points over Arkansas‘ Darren McFadden and Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn.

Granted, there have been close calls with three players at the proceedings, the smallest being Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford by 122 points over Texas‘ Colt McCoy and Florida’s Tim Tebow, but it dwarfs the results of the other most common numbers of finalists.

There has been three-, four- and five-player groupings 11 times each, and that 122-point spread is nearly double the smallest in four-finalist classes (62 points by Nebraska’s Eric Crouch in 2001) and more than quadruple the 28 that Alabama’s Mark Ingram won in 2009, the smallest margin ever, which came in a five-finalist field.

Based on average margin of victory, only four-player classes (1,199) have been routinely more prolific, with the winner out of three finalists rolling by 816.4 points.

Considering the number of players joining him and Tagovailoa’s month’s long standing as the clear leader, what figures to be telling after Saturday’s results are announced will be the timing of votes. Especially if the Crimson Tide QB wins.

Ballots arrived in voters’ inboxes on Monday, Nov. 26, providing just one week before the 5 p.m. deadline on Dec. 3. The change from a three-week voting period to one was put in place last season in order for the emphasis to be squarely on championship weekend.

That didn’t dissuade 11 percent of the votership — nearly 100 voters — from sending in their ballots ahead of the title games last season. That was a swing of potentially 300 points last season, with the ballot providing three points going to the player appearing first on ballot (second place gets two and third place receives three).

How many voters cast their ballots before Tagovailoa — who was in the midst of his worst performance of the season — rolled his ankle and left Saturday’s SEC Championship Game with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter?

How many didn’t see Murray torch Texas for 379 yards and three touchdowns to cement the Sooners a Big 12 crown (and eventually a spot in the College Football Playoff opposite Alabama)? How many negated Haskins’ 499 yards and five TDs to lead Ohio State to a win over Northwestern and a Big Ten title?

Better yet, how many did those games not matter to at all?

Buckeyes great Archie Griffin, the only two-time winner, has said multiple times he votes after every player has played the same amount of games. There were 98 voters who felt the same way last season.

Given Tagovailoa’s favorite status, should he win comfortably, it’s hard to imagine a large percentage of early votes not coming his way in these proceedings. But it also seems unlikely a massive number of voters followed Griffin’s habit, what with the top three contenders all in action on Saturday, and all vying to claim conference titles and with all their teams in the CFP hunt, only helping the case of Murray — the biggest challenger to the Crimson Tide passer — and Haskins.

Nonetheless, we’ve been gifted a number of finalists that historically leads to a sizable win, though the direction of this season made it a stretch to see another player sliding in to join then.

Be it an Oklahoma repeat or a coronation for Tagovailoa, here are two storylines to keep in mind. The Sooners’ two wins in the finalist era both came with three player at the ceremony, while the last time an Alabama player hoisted the award — Derrick Henry in 2015 — that was the second-closest vote in eight years (293 points). And it came in a three-finalist field.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.