With the 2015 season in the books, we’re a little more than three weeks away from what should be two invigorating matchups between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl Semifinal and No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl Semifinal.
So as the teams begin making preparations for their bowl matchups, the focus will intensify over the next few days as we begin to approach the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Saturday, December 12th.
Here is a list of the top candidates and the final impression they left on voters in their team’s last game of the season.
Honorable Mentions –
TCU QB Trevone Boykin
Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliot
Houston QB Greg Ward, Jr.
#5 – Leonard Fournette, Sophomore Running Back, LSU
Fournette got out the gate strong with his 228-yard masterpiece where he averaged 12-yards-per- carry against Auburn in LSU’s second game of the season. He was easily the top candidate early on until Alabama took him out like Mr. Hahn did Jim Kelly in Enter The Dragon. When the Crimson Tide bullied LSU like Biff did George McFly, holding Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries, his candidacy stalled like a '70s Chevy Nova.
He finished strong with 159 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries in a 19-7 win over Texas A&M but LSU’s three straight losses against Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss destroyed his candidacy like stupidity destroyed Dan Quayle’s presidential bid in 2000. Overall, Fournette gained 1,741 yards, scored 18 touchdowns and had a phenomenal season. If the Tigers’ opening game against McNeese State had not been cancelled due to severe weather, he could’ve possibly rushed for 2,000 yards this year.
#4 – Baker Mayfield, Junior Quarterback, Oklahoma
Oklahoma played like the nation’s best team after their inexcusable 24-16 loss to Texas on October 10th. Mayfield has the heart of a lion. He threw for 3,389 yards and 35 touchdowns against only five interceptions.
In the Sooners’ 58-23 win over Big 12 rival Oklahoma State, he threw two TD passes, ran for another score and completed 17 of his 25 passes for 180 yards. His candidacy is propped up behind Oklahoma’s stellar finish, but his final chance to make a definitive statement was derailed by his supreme running back tandem of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who ran over the Cowboys like the two cars did Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black when they put up 136 and 131 yards and two touchdowns apiece respectively.
#3 – Deshaun Watson, Sophomore Quarterback, Clemson
Watson has quarterbacked the #1 team in the country from the moment the playoff rankings were initially released until the final horn of the ACC Championship. He’s the best dual-threat signal caller in America who has thrown for 3,512 yards and 30 scores. His signature game was the 5-touchdown gem he pitched against North Carolina State at the end of October in a 56-41 win.
Clemson is the only unbeaten team in the playoffs. Only Houston’s Greg Ward, Jr. and Navy’s Keenan Reynolds have rushed for more yards from the quarterback position. Watson averages over five yards per carry and has rushed for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns. He made an outstanding final impression on the Heisman voters by throwing for 289 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 131 yards and two more scores in the Tigers' thrilling 45-37 victory over North Carolina in the ACC title game.
#2 – Derrick Henry, Junior Running Back, Alabama
Henry led the nation in rushing with 1,986 yards. He scored 23 touchdowns. The amazing part of those numbers is that Alabama’s passing attack was weaker than Bootney Farnsworth when he wasn’t under hypnosis, so every defense that the Crimson Tide faced knew what was coming. Think about the greatest running backs ever in SEC history: Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith. None of them ever rushed for more yards in a single season. The previous record of 1,891 yards was set by Walker in 1981.
Like death and taxes, defensive coordinators knew that Henry was coming to wreak havoc, yet they could do nothing to stop it. His consistency, power and speed were marvelous to watch every week. His signature game came against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, where he carried the rock an astounding 46 times for 271 yards. In the SEC Championship, he bulldozed the Florida Gators for 189 yards on 44 carries.
#1 – Christian McCaffrey, Sophomore Running Back, Stanford
Most pundits think that the Heisman is already being engraved with Henry’s name on it, but I beg to differ. I’ve watched every game that Alabama and Stanford have played this year, and I can say unequivocally that no player in college football has had a better season than Christian McCaffrey.
No player in the country has been more versatile. He’s scored touchdowns running, receiving and passing this year. In addition to his duties on offense, he’s also the Cardinal’s punt and kick returner. The incomparable Barry Sanders held the record for all-purpose yards in a season, 3,250, which he set during his Heisman Trophy winning season at Oklahoma State in 1988. McCaffrey, after putting up an insane 461 yards against USC in the Pac-12 title game, now owns the record with 3,496.
Against USC, he ran for 207 yards, had 105 receiving yards and 149 on kick and punt returns. The degree to which he propels Stanford’s offense is mind-boggling. Coach David Shaw got the ball into his hands 44 times against the Trojans, lining him up all over the field. As excellent as the Crimson Tide's Henry has been from start to finish, McCaffrey’s spine-tingling production gives him the edge. Overall, he averaged about the same yards per carry as Henry while accumulating 1,847 yards on the ground.
He caught 41 passes for 540 yards and returned 36 kickoffs for 1,042, including a magnificent 98-yarder.
In a great season with a slew of outstanding, deserving candidates, McCaffrey's breaking Barry Sanders' record pushes him to the head of the class.