NEW YORK — Alabama's Derrick Henry and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey are hoping to return to the Heisman Trophy to the running backs. Clemson's Deshaun Watson can keep it with the QBs.
The two star running backs with very different styles and the dual-threat quarterback of the No. 1 team in the country are headed for New York after being named Heisman finalists Monday night.
Henry and McCaffrey will be looking to break a five-year streak of quarterbacks winning college football's top honor when the trophy is presented Saturday night in Midtown Manhattan.
Mark Ingram of Alabama in 2009 was the last running back — and only Crimson Tide player — to win the Heisman. Since 2000, 13 of the 15 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.
Among those missing out on a trip to New York City was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who was the early season favorite, and Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
Henry seems to be the front runner in a Heisman race that tightened over championship weekend. He ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries in the Alabama's Southeastern Conference championship game victory against Florida on Saturday.
Later that night, McCaffrey had 461 all-purpose yards with touchdowns running, receiving and passing as Stanford beat Southern California in the Pac-12 title game, and Watson had 420 total yards and accounted for five touchdowns in Clemson's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game win against North Carolina.
Close Heisman voting has been uncommon in recent years. The last three winners — Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel — all won by comfortable margins.
The last time there was real suspense at the Heisman presentation was 2009, when Ingram received only 1 percent more of the vote than Stanford's Toby Gerhart. By percentage, that ranks as the closest Heisman vote in history.
A look at the finalists:
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior carried the Tide (12-1) to the College Football Playoff, setting an SEC record with 1,986 yards and nation's best 23 touchdowns. With a passing game that has been inconsistent, the Tide has leaned heavily on Henry in its biggest games. He carried the ball 90 times in Alabama's last two games and has averaged 180 yards per game against SEC opponents.
"The Heisman Trophy has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid and the chance to go to New York as a finalist is amazing, but none of this would be possible without my coaches and teammates," Henry said in a statement. "The offensive line, the quarterback, wide receivers and tight ends have done an unbelievable job all season and our coaches always put us in a position to be successful."
While Henry is the prototypical power runner, McCaffrey is all about elusiveness and versatility. The 200-pound sophomore broke Barry Sanders' NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season with 3,496. He has scored 13 touchdowns and thrown two TD passes.
He would be Stanford's second Heisman winner, joining Jim Plunkett in 1970. The Cardinal did have a recent run of three straight seasons with the runner-up. Gerhart finished second behind Ingram in '09 and Andrew Luck came in second to Cam Newton (2010) and Robert Griffin III (2011).
"Just found out five minutes ago. I'm a little emotional," McCaffrey told reporters at Stanford.
The sophomore has Clemson in the playoff, trying for its first national championship since 1981. Watson fits the mold of recent Heisman winners Cam Newton, RGIII, Manziel and Mariota as a dual-threat quarterback, capable of dominating as a runner or passer.
Watson is the only player in the country who has surpassed 800 yards rushing (887) and 3,500 yards passing (3,512), and he has accounted for 41 touchdowns. He would be Clemson's first Heisman winner.
"This is recognition for a great performance on the field and for the hard work he has put in over the last year after suffering a torn ACL," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "A year ago Saturday night (December 12, 2014) he was in the hospital having surgery. Exactly a year later he will be in New York as a Heisman finalist."