Heisman Trophy opinion polls are conducted every week during the college football season, and often the top of the leaderboard shuffles during the year.
That didn’t happen in 2016. Once Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson seized control of the national perception in the early weeks of the season he never surrendered it.
Jackson, a sophomore from Boynton Beach, Fla., is the favorite to win the 82nd Heisman Trophy, which will be announced Saturday night in New York on ESPN.
Perhaps Jackson’s slow finish will narrow the gap that seemed like a landslide throughout the season. Jackson built his early lead by accounting for 25 touchdowns in the first four games, including a swamping of Florida State.
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The Cardinals lost to Clemson in a showdown between Jackson and another Heisman finalist, Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, but Jackson continued his stellar play until the season’s final weeks.
That’s when Louisville lost its final two games to Houston and Kentucky.
Did opportunity open for Watson or Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to make a move? They led their teams to conference championships, and Louisville didn’t even reach the ACC title game.
On Thursday, Watson won the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation's top quarterback, for the second straight year
But Jackson’s numbers may be too much for a challenger to overcome. He ranks second nationally with 410.7 total yards per game and in combined passing and rushing touchdowns with 51.
He’s the first person to pass for 30 touchdowns (31) and rush for 20 during a regular season, and he’s the first to pass for 3,300 yards and rush for 1,500 in a season.
Teams keyed on Jackson all season, and he still produced.
He may not win the Heisman in a landslide, but Jackson should become the first Louisville player to bring home the trophy.
The Heisman finalists
LAMAR JACKSON, Louisville quarterback
Why he’ll win: Jackson is college football’s dynamic player, and his statistics are Heisman-esque: 3,390 passing yards and 30 touchdowns and 1,538 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s been the Heisman favorite all season long and a big favorite to win the trophy Saturday.
Why he won’t: Jackson left the door open when Louisville lost its final two games, to Houston and Kentucky. Also, the Cardinals didn’t even win their division.
Projected finish: first
BAKER MAYFIELD, Oklahoma quarterback
Why he’ll win: Mayfield is having a better season than last year when he was fourth in the voting. He’s completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,669 yards and 38 touchdowns with only eight interceptions, leading the Sooners to their second straight Big 12 championship.
Why he won’t: If Oklahoma were headed to the national semifinals, Mayfield would stand a better chance. He was the Big 12 offensive player of the year in 2015, but that honor went to his teammate and fellow Heisman finalists Dede Westbrook this year.
Projected finish: third
JABRILL PEPPERS, Michigan linebacker
Why he’ll win: Peppers is a terrific return man in addition to being a top-notch defender. And the award goes to the nation’s most “outstanding college football player.” It’s not position restricted. Peppers has played at least 10 positions for the Wolverines this season.
Why he won’t: Peppers has only one interception this season, and he didn’t have the type of highlight moments that accompany a Heisman triumph.
Projected finish: fourth
DESHAUN WATSON, Clemson quarterback
Why he’ll win: Watson finished third in last year’s Heisman voting. Clemson is the highest ranked team with a Heisman finalist, and Watson is the Tigers’ top player. He’s passed for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns, and he threw for five touchdowns and 306 yards in the victory over Louisville and Jackson.
Why he won’t: The 15 interceptions don’t help, and although Watson is having a terrific season, it’s about the same as a last year statistically. If Jackson didn’t have an outstanding season, Watson could have won it this year.
Projected finish: second
DEDE WESTBROOK, Oklahoma wide receiver
Why he’ll win: After three mediocre games, Westbrook soared to the next level and became the nation’s most productive wide receiver. He’s had a touchdown in each of his last nine games and has 74 receptions and 1,465 yards on the season.
Why he won’t: There’s an award for college football’s top wide receiver, named for Fred Biletnikoff.
Projected finish: fifth (or sixth behind Washington quarterback Jake Browning)