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Handicapping the Heisman Trophy finalists


Now that the college football regular season and conference championship games are over, the 90 percent of Heisman voters who hadn't already turned in their ballots before last weekend's games have a tough choice to make.

» Henry, McCaffrey, Watson named Heisman Trophy finalists

Here's how I would handicap the Heisman race, a neck-and-neck affair that only got tighter with the game's stars playing their best in the brightest spotlight of the season. Note that this is not the same ranking as my ballot would be if I had a vote ... merely my opinion as to who's likely to walk away with the most coveted individual trophy in college sports.

Preparing a speech (50 percent)

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
If you break a Hershel Walker SEC record, chances are you're in the Heisman race. Henry took down the 1982 Heisman winner from Georgia's conference record for rushing yards in a season (1,891) on his way to SEC Championship Game Most Valuable Player honors, as the Tide secured their spot in the College Football Playoff with a win over Florida. The powerful but surprisingly nimble runner at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds became a leading contender in the team's win over LSU in November, as Henry ran past the current favorite, Tigers back Leonard Fournette, with a 210-yard, three-touchdown performance. Putting up 271 yards in the Iron Bowl and then 189 yards versus the Gators, while carrying the mail 90 times in those two games, sealed the deal. Without the nation's leader in rushing yards carrying the load, 'Bama would not be in a position to chase the national championship.

If only he played in the SEC ...(40 percent)

Take a look at Heisman Trophy winners who also excelled in the NFL, including nine who went on to become members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Despite Henry's excellent season, McCaffrey is the player I would pick first if given the chance to add any player in the country to my team. He ranks only behind Henry in the country with 1,847 rushing yards, coming up big against hated rival Cal in "The Big Game" (192 rush yards) and USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game (207). McCaffrey's second 100 rush/100 receiving yard game of the year, against the Trojans, gave him as many of those as all other players in the FBS combined this season. His kick return prowess (28.9 yards per attempt, one score) helped him beat Barry Sanders' 27-year-old record for all-purpose yards -- he has 3,496 with a bowl game remaining. McCaffrey's combination of toughness, vision, quickness through the hole, receiving hands and special teams acumen make him special, even among this talented list of players. We'll see if his work against USC last weekend overcame against East Coast/SEC bias among Heisman voters failing to consistently watch games played in California.

Close, but not close enough (10 percent)

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
The undefeated Tigers rely heavily on their sophomore leader to steer the offensive ship. He's averaged more than 400 yards of offense over the past seven weeks, including huge wins over Florida State in November and North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game. Watson's made a lot of plays with his arms during that run (16 touchdowns against just four interceptions), but legs have also played a major role as he's averaged more than 100 yards per game on the ground. Even though Watson lost a fair amount of his freshman year with multiple injuries, he's returned to his dual-threat roots this season and the Tigers have reaped the benefits.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.


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