The Heisman races from the past three seasons were fairly anticlimactic. In 2012, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel had his Heisman moment in a stunning win over Alabama. In 2013, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston clearly emerged as the best player in college football (on the best team) over the course of the season. Last year, it wasn't a question of "if" Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota would win as much as it was a question of "by how much."
That's not the case in 2015. This has been the most wide-open Heisman race since 2011, when Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III got a winning boost in the final weekend of the year.
On that note, this year's race has an uncommon quality: Its presumed front-runner, Alabama's Derrick Henry, is a running back. In fact, two of the three finalists are running backs, the other being Stanford's Christian McCaffrey. The lone quarterback is Clemson's Deshaun Watson.
The Heisman Trophy @HeismanTrophy
The 2015 #Heisman Finalists: @KingHenry_2 (@AlabamaFTBL), @cmccaffrey5 (@StanfordFball) & @shaunwatson4 (@ClemsonFB) https://t.co/zP8iLrbJN52015-12-7 23:21:03
And that's it. Those are your 2015 Heisman finalists. No Baker Mayfield. No Keenan Reynolds. No Ezekiel Elliott.
It's a narrow list considering there were so many players worthy of consideration. But keep in mind that Heisman ballots only have three spots, as Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News explained. If there are three obvious choices, the list of candidates shrinks:
Chuck Carlton @ChuckCarltonDMN
Heisman voting is top three only. When you have obvious candidates sucking up the oxygen, hard for guys like Baker Mayfield to get invite.2015-12-7 23:28:15
With the finalists now official, it's time to compare what they've done. Below are the resumes for each of the Heisman finalists, listed in alphabetical order:
Alabama Running Back Derrick Henry
The Stats: 339 carries, 1,986 yards, 5.86 yards per rush, 23 rushing touchdowns
The Skinny: Henry is the odds-on favorite, and he didn't do anything to change that during championship weekend. Against Florida, which has the No. 12 rushing defense in college football in yards per carry allowed (3.39), Henry rushed for 189 yards and a score. If Henry had been stuffed, the Heisman race might be more uncertain, but the fact he kept pace with his breakout year likely means he's still the favorite.
And it has been quite a year for Henry, who now owns single-season team records for rushing yards and touchdowns, as well as the SEC record for rushing yards, breaking Herschel Walker's previous mark of 1,891 yards.
To top it off, Henry broke it with fewer carries, as Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com tweeted:
Kevin Scarbinsky @KevinScarbinsky
Herschel in 1981: 385 carries for 1,891 yards. Derrick Henry this year to this moment: 327 carries for 1,932 yards.2015-12-5 23:58:57
Henry has been a workhorse. No other running back has more carries than the Alabama junior, and he's recorded at least 100 yards in eight of nine SEC games (including four 200-yard games). But Henry's Heisman campaign really took off last month when he rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-16 win over LSU. At the time, Tigers running back Leonard Fournette was the clear Heisman front-runner, but he rushed for only 31 yards against Alabama's stiff run defense.
Stanford Running Back Christian McCaffrey
The Stats: 3,496 all-purpose yards (268.9 per game), 1,847 rushing yards (5.79 YPC), 540 receiving yards (13.17 YPC), 1,042 kickoff return yards, 67 punt return yards, 15 total touchdowns
The Skinny: Stanford head coach David Shaw is admittedly biased, but he has a strong stance about his running back, Christian McCaffrey.
"To my left is the best player in the nation," Shaw said of McCaffrey following a win over USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game (via Kyle Kensing of Sports on Earth). "It's not even a debate."
David Shaw @CoachDavidShaw
Christian McCaffrey just gained more yards in a season than anyone who has EVER played college football. #Heisman #WildCaff #GoStanford2015-12-6 16:42:06
At the very least, McCaffrey is college football's most versatile player. No one comes close to his all-purpose yards per game. In Saturday's game against the Trojans, McCaffrey broke the record for most all-purpose yards in a season, previously held by the great Barry Sanders. Furthermore, he did so in basically the same number of touches as Sanders, as CFB writer Matt Hinton noted:
Matt Hinton @MattRHinton
Barry Sanders in 1988: 3,249 yds on 394 touches Christian McCaffrey in 2015: 3,254 yds on 388 touches (so far)2015-12-6 02:10:47
There's probably a better true running back in college football than McCaffrey, and there are definitely better receivers. However, there's not a player in college football who has done what McCaffrey has. If the Heisman is rooted in "value" for certain voters, there's not a more valuable player than the Stanford all-purpose back.
Clemson Quarterback Deshaun Watson
The Stats: 3,512 passing yards, 8.5 yards per attempt, 30 passing touchdowns, 887 rushing yards, 5.44 yards per rush, 11 rushing touchdowns
The Skinny: Watson is the best player on the best team in college football—at least according to the College Football Playoff committee. But Watson doesn't deserve to be a Heisman finalist simply because of that; Watson deserves to be a Heisman finalist because he's one of the most outstanding players in college football. No other player ever looks to be in as much control as Watson does, as David Ubben of Sports on Earth noted:
David Ubben @davidubben
Most impressive thing about Deshaun Watson is how he always seems to be in control. Of himself and, by default, the game.2015-11-28 18:57:44
That's an underrated quality. Watson, maybe to a fault, almost makes things look too easy.
Like Mayfield, Watson is a do-it-all quarterback who can hurt defenses with his arm and his legs. His development as a passer has been noteworthy. Watson's ball placement and touch are finally catching up with his pure arm strength. He can throw a football on a rope from one side of the field to the other or display touch on an intermediate route over a defender.
Over the past few weeks, though, Clemson has utilized Watson's legs more, as the quarterback has four 100-yard rushing efforts in the last five games. Heisman voters love quarterbacks who can score in a variety of ways.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.