Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville: 3,390 yards, 30 touchdowns, 1,538 rushing yards, 21 rushing touchdowns
Jackson and the Cardinals don’t have a conference championship to show for, but with the way he played this season, he didn’t need that boost to his resume. Jackson accounted for 51 touchdowns, which is tied for 13th-most all time. Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Marcus Mariota are some of the guys ahead of him. All of those guys took home the Heisman Trophy. Jackson also had five games with five or more touchdowns. One of those games, he scored eight touchdowns, and in another he scored seven times. Jackson was dominant and electric this season. Watching him play was like watching a highlight reel. Every play, viewers expected him to do something crazy whether it be a hurdle over a defender or an 80-yard touchdown run. Jackson should win the Heisman, and it shouldn’t be close.
Jake Browning, quarterback, Washington: 3,280 yards, 42 touchdowns
Browning led Washington to its most successful season since 2000. The Huskies sealed their College Football Playoff appearance with a win against Colorado 41-10 in the Pac-12 Championship on Friday. It was UW’s first Pac-12 title since 2000 when they were co-champions and it was still known as the Pac-10. It was the Huskies’ first outright conference championship since 1991. Browning has been a huge part of UW’s success. The sophomore threw fewer attempts than he did in his freshman season but has 26 more touchdowns to show for it. That’s massive improvement. Browning would be the frontrunner in any other season, but Jackson had a historic season. UW faces Alabama in the Peach Bowl in a CFP semifinal.
Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Alabama: 2,592 yards, 22 touchdowns, 841 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns
Alabama dominated Florida in every phase of the game Saturday. The Crimson Tide crushed Florida 54-16, and Hurts didn’t need to do much. The true freshman threw only 20 pass attempts, completed 11 of them and had one touchdown throw. Hurts is less productive in the passing game than his counterparts, but makes up for it with his run game. He also gets a boost because he leads the only undefeated Power Five team. This is his first season, but it’s the first of many in the Heisman race for Hurts.
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma: 3,669 yards, 38 touchdowns
Mayfield did it again. For the second consecutive season, Mayfield led Oklahoma to a Big 12 championship in the de facto title game against Oklahoma State. In the 2016 edition of Bedlam, Mayfield tossed three touchdowns and threw only six incompletions in a game full of drops. Mayfield’s Heisman stock slightly suffers because OU isn’t a playoff team. Despite its playoff status, Mayfield winds up in a similar spot as last season in terms of the Heisman race. Mayfield produced almost identical numbers as he did in 2015. In fact, he did more with less. In 65 fewer attempts, Mayfield threw two more touchdowns and 31 fewer yards. That means he threw the ball more down the field this season. Mayfield announced he will be back for his senior season, and he figures to be a Heisman favorite.
Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Clemson: 3,914 yards, 37 touchdowns
Clemson secured its spot in the CFP on Saturday when it edged Virginia Tech 42-35 for the ACC title. Watson continued his trend of scoring multiple touchdowns. He threw for three touchdowns and ran in two scores. Watson made it to New York a season ago, but will fail to do so this year. The difference between 2015 and 2016 is his production running the ball. Whether it be on designed runs or in broken plays, Watson has rushed less. His rushing attempts went down by 78 rushes in a year’s time, and he rushed for 576 yards less in 2016 compared to his production in 2015. Clemson is headed to the Fiesta Bowl to play Ohio State in a CFP semifinal.