Wat­son, Jack­son top list of Heis­man Tro­phy fi­nal­ists

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY RALPH D. RUSSO

NEW YORK | Clem­son quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son is a Heis­man Tro­phy fi­nal­ist for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive sea­son, join­ing Louisville quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son, Michi­gan line­backer Jabrill Pep­pers and Ok­la­homa team­mates Baker May­field and Dede West­brook.

The award will be pre­sented Satur­day in New York.

Wat­son fin­ished third in last year’s vot­ing, won by Alabama run­ning back Der­rick Henry. Just like last year, he heads to New York not as the fa­vorite but as the con­tender com­ing on strong at the end.

“You just don’t have a lot of two-time Heis­man fi­nal­ists over the his­tory of your pro­gram. He is our first, and he’s very de­serv­ing,” Clem­son coach Dabo Swin­ney said in a state­ment. “I’ve said it be­fore; I be­lieve he is the best player in the na­tion and has been a great rep­re­sen­ta­tive of our Univer­sity.”

May­field fin­ished fourth last sea­son, but did not get an in­vite to Heis­man pre­sen­ta­tion in New York. West­brook and May­field are the first team­mates to be fi­nal­ists since Reg­gie Bush and Matt Leinart from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia fin­ished first and third, re­spec­tively in 2005.

Pep­pers is the first de­fen­sive player to be a Heis­man fi­nal­ists since Notre Dame line­backer Manti Teo was a dis­tant run­ner-up to Johnny Manziel in 2012.

Fi­nal­ists are de­ter­mined by the mar­gins be­tween vote-get­ters. The bal­lots of more than 900 vot­ers, which in­cluded for­mer Heis­man win­ners, were due Mon­day.

Wat­son en­tered as the pre­sea­son fa­vorite in what looked like a strong field of con­tenders, but Jack­son quickly swept past them all to be front-run­ner. He was bril­liant for the first two months of the sea­son and Louisville was look­ing like a Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off con­tender.

It seemed as if Jack­son would be a run­away Heis­man win­ner, but the 15th-ranked Car­di­nals lost their fi­nal two games of the sea­son. He was sacked 11 times in a lop­sided loss at Hous­ton and he com­mit­ted four turnovers in a last-sec­ond loss against Ken­tucky.

Wat­son, mean­while, has surged since Clem­son’s only loss to Pitt in mid-Novem­ber. He also had the ben­e­fit of play­ing in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence ti­tle game last Satur­day and took full ad­van­tage of the spot­light. Wat­son threw three touch­down passes and ran for two scores in a 42-35 vic­tory against Vir­ginia Tech to seal a spot in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

The raw num­bers still fa­vor Jack­son, who is sec­ond in the na­tion in to­tal yards per game (410.7) and has ac­counted for 51 touch­downs (21 rush­ing TDs and 30 TD passes) with 13 turnovers (nine INTs and four lost fum­bles) in 12 games. Wat­son av­er­ages 341.8 yards per game and has 43 touch­downs (six rush­ing and 37 pass­ing) with 15 turnovers (all in­ter­cep­tions) in 13 games. When the two met on Oct. 1 at Clem­son in what was one of the sea­son’s most en­ter­tain­ing games, Wat­son threw for 306 yards and five touch­downs, ran for 91 and was picked off three times. Jack­son had 295 yards pass­ing, 162 rush­ing and ac­counted for three touch­downs with one in­ter­cep­tion. Clem­son won 42-36.

May­field and West­brook have been a dy­namic com­bi­na­tion, and late in the sea­son No. 7 Ok­la­homa started a dual cam­paign to pro­mote both for the Heis­man. May­field is on pace to break the NCAA record for passer ef­fi­ciency rat­ing in a sea­son (197.75). West­brook has 74 catches for 1,465 yards and 16 touch­downs and has more re­cep­tions cov­er­ing at least 20 yards (26) than any re­ceiver in the coun­try.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ok­la­homa team­mates Dede West­brook (11) and Baker May­field were named Heis­man Tro­phy fi­nal­ists Mon­day.

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