For the first time since 2005, two Heisman Trophy finalists have been selected from one team. In a down year for the award, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook made convincing arguments for themselves. But, an inevitable vote split between the duo will probably cost them both a shot at the award.
For better or for worse, the criteria for winning a Heisman goes far beyond being the nation’s best college football player. Joining the Heisman fraternity is almost impossible without A.) Being on a winning team B.) Playing quarterback or running back C.) Having your best games or having a “Heisman moment” in November and December.
The other three nominees do not check all three of these boxes. Louisville’s season-long favorite Lamar Jackson has the numbers of a Heisman Trophy winner. His 4,928 total yards and 51 touchdowns trounce the stats of his competitors. But his last three games were his worst three games, and poor performances against Houston and Kentucky made this once one-horse race a neck and neck finish.
Michigan’s Swiss Army Knife Jabrill Peppers primarily played linebacker and defensive back this season. But secondarily, he played just about everything else. Along with his stellar defensive efforts, he played at least ten snaps at running back, quarterback and wide receiver. However, Michigan lost two of its last three games, including a double overtime thriller against Ohio State, which featured a disoriented fourth quarter effort from Peppers, and the defense he calls signals for. As versatile as Peppers is, his stats don’t exactly jump off the page. He ranked 32nd in the Big Ten with 71 tackles. On offense he only amassed 170 yards from scrimmage. The most multitalented player in the country? Yes. The most outstanding player? No.
Then there’s Deshaun Watson, who appears to be gaining momentum by the day. At times, Watson was spectacular. He would go on streaks where he’d complete 10-plus passes in a row, and he wasn’t just dinking and dunking. He threw deep balls to receivers Mike Williams and Hunter Renfrow that made Clemson’s offense look unstoppable. But sometimes Watson was flat out bad. He made NFL scouts cringe by throwing 15 interceptions, including a would be touchdown against Louisville that ended up two yards behind a wide open receiver and in the hands of a defensive back; as well as a terrible pick on the doorstep of victory against Pittsburgh, a game Clemson lost.
Most years, Jackson, Peppers and Watson wouldn’t have a chance at this award, and this year, there isn’t much that separates them from Westbrook or Mayfield.
Westbrook is clearly the college football’s best pass catcher. A shoe-in for the Biletnikoff Award, and an early season hamstring injury away from probably being the favorite to win on Saturday night. The injury he suffered against Oklahoma State knocked him out of the game and knocked out his last chance to bolster his résumé.
Mayfield just capped off the most efficient season in college football history. He had a great year in 2015, and surpassed himself in almost every way in 2016. His first half performance against Oklahoma State, after Westbrook went down, was one of the best stints of his college career. It might be this lackluster year’s only “Heisman moment.”
That being said, Heisman voting can almost always be broken down regionally. Media members always tend to vote for the most local option. Voters from the southwest will, like many OU fans, have a difficult time deciding which of the two Sooners is more deserving. That could be what ultimately cost OU its fifth Heisman Trophy.