The stage appears to be set for a Baker Mayfield to claim the 83rd Heisman Trophy in a landslide.
The Oklahoma quarterback, the clear favorite, was named one of three finalists Monday. He’ll be joined Saturday night in New York by the reigning winner, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, and Stanford running back Bryce Love.
It’s the 11th time that three players are heading to the ceremony, and — foreshadowing what we can likely expect from this result — two of those votes include the widest margins ever in the finalist era, which started in 1982.
The expectation here is that Mayfield will be followed by Love, with Jackson coming in third. That would be the best finish for a returner since Tim Tebow in 2008, but the more important question is just how big of a win will this be for the Sooners QB?
In 2006, Ohio State’s Troy Smith won by 1,662 points and in 1993, Florida State’s Charlie Ward claimed the award by 1,622 points. More recently, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (1,284 points) took a three-player field in 2014. Only O.J. Simpson won by a bigger margin (1,750 points) back in 1968 before the votership was whittled down from a whopping 1,200 ballots.
This is the 11th time we’ve had three #Heisman finalists.
Three biggest margins of victories in finalists era (Tory Smith, Marcus Mariota, Charlie Ward) all came in three-finalist fields.
— Cory McCartney (@coryjmccartney) December 5, 2017
In their wins, Smith and Mariota claimed 91.6 and 90.9 percent of the votes, respectively, which are Nos. 1 and 2 all-time. Given the way this race has played itself out — Mayfield pulled away weeks ago despite red flags that could have hurt had his had a legit contender behind him — it would seem to be in position to challenge those past winning QBs.
While Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor were mounting charges up until Championship Weekend, and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley was a threat for most of the season, all ultimately fell off.
It became a jockeying for position simply to get a seat alongside Mayfield, with the field set by the natural break in voting, and we’re left with Love — the Power 5 leader with 1,973 yards — and Jackson, the returning winner.
He was going to get a spot at the ceremony regardless, considering just one returning finalist who made it through the season healthy was invited (Jameis Winston in 2014), but to his credit, Jackson was spectacular. He leads the nation in total offense at 411 yards per game — a higher average than a year ago — and hebecame the first player in history with back-to-back seasons of at least 3,000 yard passing and 1,000 rushing.
The belief here was that Jackson was going to be the tipping point in the vote because of that history with finalists returning. Case in point, in 2009, Tim Tebow — fifth in the voting — returned to the ceremony despite being 425 points behind fourth-place Ndamukong Suh, while there was just a 167-point gap between Tebow and sixth-place C.J. Spiller, who didn’t make it.
Jackson is still likely that bridge, but in this small of a field, it means one of three things: there’s a massive gap between Mayfield and everyone else; there’s a large point differential between Love and Jackson and the field was capped after the reigning winner or the dropoff comes after the Louisville QB.
The guess here is that its the latter, with this vote looking eerily similar to Mariota’s win from three years ago. In that balloting, third-place Amari Cooper was 805 points ahead of the next-closest player.
There’s the potential that voters soured on Mayfield after his crotch-grabbing, expletive-shouting incident at Kansas, and he could be left off ballots as a result. In 2010, 105 ballots were returned minus Cam Newton and in ’13, Winston was shunned by 13 percent of voters. Regardless, Newton is fifth all-time, receiving 81.5 percent of possible points and Winston is seventh (79.2).
But the difference is Newton was in a four-finalist field and Winston shared the stage with five others.
Given his domination in throwing for 4,340 yards, leading FBS with 203.8 and helping Oklahoma reach the playoff and the lack of any viable challenger, Mayfield should be a lock to win by 1,500-plus points, with north of 80 percent of the potential points.
The only intrigue heading into Saturday night has nothing to do with who will be holding the trophy. It’s simply how historic a margin Mayfield wins by.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.