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Louisville's Lamar Jackson among five Heisman Trophy finalists


Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson were revealed as finalists for the Heisman Trophy on Monday.

The Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football's outstanding player each year, will be awarded to one of the finalists on Saturday at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York. Eight consecutive Heisman winners were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft until last year, when Alabama's Derrick Henry won the honor and was subsequently chosen in the second round by the Tennessee Titans.

The Heisman Trust hasn't invited this many finalists to the award ceremony since 2013, when six players gathered in New York. Jackson's amazing play early in the season established him as a front-runner for the honor. Three conferences were represented: The Big Ten (Peppers), Big 12 (Mayfield and Westbrook) and ACC (Jackson, Watson). It's also the first time a defensive player has been selected as a finalist since Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o in 2012.

Michigan's official Twitter feed captured the moment Peppers heard the news on Monday:

Jackson had a spectacular season for the Cardinals as a true sophomore, leading UL (9-3) to a berth in the Citrus Bowl against LSU on New Year's Eve. He accounted for a whopping 51 touchdowns (30 passing 21 rushing) and 4,928 yards (3,390 passing, 1,598 rushing) in total offense on the season. His explosive athleticism and strong throwing arm resulted in highlight-reel plays for the UL offense on a regular basis, making him the runaway favorite to win the Heisman for most of the season. His performance wobbled some late in the year, however, as Louisville lost its final two games to fall out of College Football Playoff contention.

Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist last year, but finished in third place for the award behind Henry and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. This season, he's led the Tigers to the CFP for the second year in a row, passing for 3,914 passing yards and 37 touchdowns on the way to an ACC title. Watson has been less prolific as a runner this season, however, with roughly half the rushing yards (529) as he had a year ago (1,105).




An NFC executive said in October that Jackson looked like a No. 1 overall draft pick while Watson did not have the same look. As a sophomore, Jackson won't be eligible for the NFL draft until 2018 or 2019, while Watson, a junior, intends to apply for 2017 draft eligibility.

Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield led OU to the Big 12 title for the second consecutive season, and once again made easy work of opposing defenses. The junior, who has announced he intends to return to college next year, completed an impressive 72 percent of his passes (235 of 330) for 3,669 yards, 38 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. The former walk-on did it with a certain flare, a knack for escaping pressure and extending plays that made the Sooners offense one of the nation's best. Mayfield, for his part, endorsed his teammate and top receiving target, Westbrook, for the Heisman honor.

Peppers made 72 tackles and 16 tackles for loss, four of them sacks, for the Wolverines this season in his first year playing primarily at linebacker. He was also a prolific specialist with a 14.8-yard average on punt returns, and helped Michigan's offense as a rusher (27 for 167 yards, three TDs), as well. Peppers' versatility makes him one of the most valuable players in the college game, but history suggests Peppers is a Heisman underdog. Only one Heisman winner, former Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, has won the honor as a primary defensive player.

Westbrook stepped in for New York Giants rookie Sterling Shepard as Oklahoma's top receiver this year, and exploded for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns on 74 receptions. The senior's value to the team was evident in that the Sooners began the season losing two of their first three games with a limited contribution, and no touchdowns, from Westbrook. OU won nine games in a row to finish the year, however, during which time Westbrook caught at least one touchdown pass every week and posted 100-yard performances in eight of nine games.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.



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