While the list of Heisman Trophy candidates appeared to be long, only three players will actually be in New York for the award presentation on Saturday night.
On Monday, Alabama running back Derrick Henry, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson were given invitations as the 2015 finalists. None of the choices are surprises, but it felt like the field could have been larger this year, given how competitive and deep the race has been. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was a particularly surprising omission.
It is important to remember, though, that the number of finalists is dictated by voting. Voters choose only their Heisman top three, and once the choices are tallied up, a natural cut-off point is found for whom to invite to New York. High-profile players who were not named finalists simply are not close enough in the voting to warrant an invitation, even if it seems like they should get a chance to go to the ceremony. This year, Henry, McCaffrey and Watson became a consensus top three by the end of the final weekend -- a weekend in which Mayfield did not play, it should be noted -- and the votes show that. Mayfield or someone like Leonard Fournette getting enough votes to be a finalist would have required many voters leaving Henry, McCaffrey and/or Watson off their ballots.
Given the system in place, it's easy to see why there are only three finalists. A solution that would lead to more finalists getting recognition would be to expand ballots from three players to four or five players. If that happened, it would be much easier for candidates like Mayfield to garner enough votes to be close enough to get the invitation to New York. Alas, while there were many deserving candidates this year, most voters appeared to have opted for Henry, McCaffrey and Watson, and thus only three players will attend the presentation.
So, let's break down who is going to New York and who's not. Sports on Earth will have complete analysis of the race and who should win later this week, and the 2015 Heisman Trophy will be awarded at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
2015 Heisman Trophy Finalists
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. Henry has been the presumptive frontrunner since Alabama demolished LSU in early November. In the Crimson Tide's 30-16 win, Henry ran 38 times for 210 yards and three touchdowns, doing what he does best: wearing down a team and seemingly getting stronger as the game goes on. While Henry had mixed results in the first half of the season, he has been on a roll in the second half, partially because of heavy volume and partially because of his powerful skill set. He has averaged 180 yards per game in SEC play, carrying the ball 31.8 times per game in nine conference games. He's cracked 200 yards four times., against Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn, as he has run over the rest of the SEC West. For the season, Henry 339 carries for 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns, setting the SEC's single-season rushing record.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. Perhaps nobody has been more valuable to his team than McCaffrey, who has contributed at a high level in a variety of ways in setting the FBS single-season all-purpose yards record, previously held by Barry Sanders. McCaffrey is second in rushing yards per game (142.1), with 319 carries for 1,847 yards and eight touchdowns. He has 41 catches for 540 yards and five touchdowns, lending the team in both catches and yards. His punt returns haven't made much of an impact, but he is ninth in kick return average at 28.9, with one touchdown. McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yards by a wide margin, but it's not just the kick return yards that has boosted him. He also leads the nation in yards per scrimmage (rushing/receiving), with 183.6 per game.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. After showing flashes of brilliance in a freshman season marred by injuries, Watson confirmed his status as a college football superstar as a sophomore. Despite losing most of his offensive line and his offensive coordinator in the offseason, in addition to top receiver Mike Williams to a Week 1 injury, Watson has thrived in leading Clemson to an undefeated record, the No. 1 ranking and a spot in the playoff. This isn't a default "quarterback of the best team" honor. Watson belongs in New York, having completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 3,512 yards with 30 touchdowns and 11 picks and rushing 163 times for 887 yards and a 11 touchdowns. Watson consistently comes through with big plays when Clemson needs them most, and he's been carrying the Tigers down the stretch.
Who Got Left Out?
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU. Boykin was a frontrunner for much of the season, but his mistakes at Oklahoma State followed by an ankle injury kept him out of the race. Boykin threw four picks in the loss in Stillwater, then hurt his ankle and missed most of the close win over Kansas and the entire loss to Oklahoma. For the season, though, it's clear that Boykin has been one of the nation's best players. He has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,575 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 picks, and he has rushed 123 times for 612 yards and nine touchdowns. Many of his numbers are a bit better than last year, when he finished fourth in the Heisman race and also missed the finalist cut.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Cook never really got enough credit for carrying Florida State to a 10-2 record and the Peach Bowl. With problems in the passing game and occasionally on the offensive line, in addition to nagging injuries, Cook still averaged 7.86 yards per carry, rushing 211 times for 1,658 yards and 18 touchdowns and catching 22 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. Only McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette averaged more yards from scrimmage per game.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. Elliott's season became most known for his criticism of Ohio State's play-calling after the loss to Michigan State, but despite the lackluster outing on that Saturday, he has had another outstanding season. Elliott was easily the most dependable part of an erratic Buckeyes offense, rushing 262 times for 1,672 yards and 19 touchdowns. He had at least 100 rushing yards in every game but the loss to the Spartans, with 274 yards to bail out Ohio State at Indiana and 214 in the 42-13 demolition of Michigan.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Fournette was the runaway favorite through two months, but then his Heisman campaign fell apart down the stretch just as LSU fell apart. His line struggled and LSU's passing game struggled, and Fournette managed 31 rushing yards against Alabama, followed by 91 against Arkansas and 108 against Ole Miss in losses. His average of 4.97 yards per carry against Texas A&M was his highest mark in four November games. Fair or not, Heismans are won and lost down the stretch in high-profile games, and while Fournette is still clearly one of the most talented players in college football, he couldn't recover from how the season ended. Still, there's a strong argument that Fournette should be in New York, given that he averages 6.4 yards per carry for the season, rushing 271 times for 1,741 yards and 18 touchdowns in just 11 games -- averaging a national-best 158.3 yards per game -- in addition to making an impact as a receiver late in the season. He'll be a prime candidate again next season.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The most notable and surprising omission from the list of finalists, the former walk-on and Texas Tech transfer has been a revelation for the Sooners, exceling in the offense of new coordinator Lincoln Riley. Mayfield has played a huge role in Oklahoma's turnaround from a disappointing 2014 to a playoff bid this fall, ranking second nationally in passer rating and bringing some Johnny Manziel-like qualities to the table with his escapability and improvisational skills. Mayfield has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 3,389 yards with 35 touchdowns and just five picks, and he has rushed 131 times for 420 yards and seven touchdowns.
Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy. Reynolds certainly would have been a strong sentimental choice to get to New York. He has had a phenomenal career as the quarterback of Navy's option offense. He has yet to lose to Army, and this season, as a senior, he broke the FBS career rushing touchdowns record and has led the Midshipmen to a 9-2 record (they play Army on Saturday, before the Heisman presentation). Reynolds has 220 carries for 1,093 yards and 19 touchdowns, plus 964 yards and six passing touchdowns, and as always he has been outstanding in playing a point guard role in the option attack. Reynolds getting an invitation to New York would have been a great story, and no one really would have argued against his inclusion. With that said, it would have been hard to justify putting him on a three-person ballot for most outstanding player in college football.
Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston. Ward thrived under new coach Tom Herman for a top-20 team that is going to the Peach Bowl. Unfortunately, he missed the second-half comeback against Memphis and most of the upset loss at UConn with an ankle injury. Still, Ward was one of the nation's top dual threats: He completed 68.1 percent for 2,590 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions, and he ran 178 times for 1,041 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Prolific Group of Five passers. Several Group of Five quarterbacks have had terrific seasons and deserved a look as fringe candidates, but they didn't really have a chance of getting to the Heisman ceremony. Memphis' Paxton Lynch threw for 3,670 yards, 28 touchdowns and three picks, with a seven-touchdown first half against SMU. Bowling Green's Matt Johnson threw for 4,700 yards and 43 touchdowns. Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty threw for 4,594 yards and 45 touchdowns. All have had phenomenal seasons for good teams, so at the very least, be sure to tune in for their bowl games.
Anyone who is not a quarterback or running back. Plenty of receivers, linemen and defenders had strong seasons, but there wasn't a particularly great alternative candidate this year that truly belongs in New York. Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman had a fantastic season but lost steam down the stretch against quality competition, in part because of injuries to his quarterbacks. Injuries marred the end of TCU receiver Josh Doctson's season too. The highest-profile defensive player in college football, Ohio State end Joey Bosa, had another terrific season, but the stats aren't there for him to get actual Heisman consideration. There's no Manti Te'o, Ndamukong Suh or Tyrann Mathieu this season, and while it's frustrating at times that the Heisman is limited to mostly quarterbacks and running backs, voting differently was hard to justify this time.