NEW YORK — After putting on a show in Death Valley back in October, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson will face off again.
This time in New York with the Heisman Trophy on the line.
The Atlantic Coast Conference quarterbacks who dueled in one of the best games of the college football season were named Heisman finalists Monday, along with Michigan’s versatile star Jabrill Peppers and Oklahoma teammates Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook.
The award will be presented Saturday in Manhattan.
Watson finished third in last year’s voting, won by Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Just like last year, he heads to New York not as the favorite but as the contender coming on strong at the end.
“You just don’t have a lot of two-time Heisman finalists over the history of your program. He is our first, and he’s very deserving,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. “I’ve said it before; I believe he is the best player in the nation and has been a great representative of our University.”
Mayfield finished fourth last season, but did not get an invitation to attend the Heisman presentation in New York.
Westbrook and Mayfield are the first teammates to be finalists since Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart from Southern California finished first and third, respectively in 2005.
“I knew he was going,” Mayfield said of Westbrook. “I had all the confidence in the world that Dede was going to get invited. It was more of a relief that my name got called. And then, I was just waiting to see his name pop up and see his highlights. It’s enjoyable the two of us up there together.”
Peppers is the first defensive player to be a Heisman finalists since Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo was a distant runner-up to Johnny Manziel in 2012.
Finalists are determined by the margins between vote-getters. The ballots of more than 900 voters, which include former Heisman winners, were due Monday.
Watson entered as the preseason favorite in what looked like a strong field of contenders, but Jackson quickly swept past them all to be front-runner. He was brilliant for the first two months of the season and Louisville was looking like a College Football Playoff contender.
It seemed as if Jackson would be a runaway Heisman winner, but the 15th-ranked Cardinals lost their final two games of the season. He was sacked 11 times in a lopsided loss at Houston and he committed four turnovers in a last-second loss against Kentucky. The last player to win the Heisman after his team lost its final two games was Notre Dame’s Tim Brown in 1987.
Watson, meanwhile, has surged since Clemson’s only loss to Pitt in mid-November. He also had the benefit of playing in the ACC title game last Saturday and took full advantage of the spotlight. Watson threw three touchdown passes and ran for two scores in a 42-35 victory against Virginia Tech to seal a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The raw numbers still favor Jackson, who is second in the nation in total yards per game (410.7) and has accounted for 51 touchdowns (21 rushing TDs and 30 TD passes) with 13 turnovers (nine INTs and four lost fumbles) in 12 games. Watson averages 341.8 yards per game and has 43 touchdowns (six rushing and 37 passing) with 15 turnovers (all interceptions) in 13 games.
When the two met on Oct. 1 at Clemson, Watson threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns, ran for 91 and was picked off three times. Jackson had 295 yards passing, 162 rushing and accounted for three touchdowns with one interception. Clemson won 42-36.
“It will mean a lot,” Jackson said about the possibility of winning. “Just being the first person to win it @ the University of Louisville, so it’ll be an honor.”
Mayfield and Westbrook have been a dynamic combination, and late in the season No. 7 Oklahoma started a dual campaign to promote both for the Heisman. Mayfield is on pace to break the NCAA record for passer efficiency rating in a season (197.75). Westbrook has 74 catches for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns and has more receptions covering at least 20 yards (26) than any receiver in the country.
Peppers played defense, offense and special teams for Michigan, lining up all over the field. He had 60 tackles, three sacks and an interception on defense, scored three touchdowns on offense being used mostly as a wildcat quarterback and averaged 14.8 yards with a touchdown on punt returns.
Still, he was a bit of a surprising finalist.
Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Washington quarterback Jake Browning were among those who were considered potential finalists that did not draw enough support to get an invitation to New York.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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