Alabama running back Derrick Henry would be a very worthy winner. Stanford all-purpose man Christian McCaffrey would be a very worthy winner. Several other guys, including the third and final finalist invited to New York for the announcement of the winner, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, would be slightly less worthy, yet still worthy. Louisiana State running back Leonard Fournette, the marvelous football player who led this chase all through September and October, would be worthy enough.
He, after all, led the nation in rushing in the year of the running back, at 158.27 yards per game, even if a wee 31 came in the biggest game, at Alabama.
The puzzle between Henry and McCaffrey spews too many components to process, even before you mull possible outside factors. Are you, a voter, succumbing to the Alabaman royalty of recent years? Are you committing East Coast bias? Are you committing Southeastern Conference bias? Are you, perhaps, sick of the Southeastern Conference?
There’s also the football. Henry rushed for 1,986 yards, the most yards anybody ever trampled on southeastern fields in a Southeastern Conference season, even after decades upon decades of SEC teams trying to establish the run. He surpassed Herschel Walker’s 1,891 from 1981, but in more games, so there’s a glowering asterisk, but then again, Herschel Walker. Unquestionably, Henry took huge games and towered over them. He opened with 147 yards on only 13 carries against Wisconsin. He gained 210 yards in the colossus against LSU, 189 in the SEC championship game against Florida. He quieted ornery crowds. On the road, he gained 204 at then-ranked Mississippi State, 271 at Auburn, 236 at Texas A&M, such that the 148 at Georgia looked smallish when it wasn’t. When Alabama faced strife at home to Tennessee on Oct. 24, trailing 14-13 inside five minutes, Henry carried five times after midfield, including the final 14 yards.
In the final two games, at Auburn and against Florida, he carried 90 times.
He pretty much defined tirelessness.
“He’s had a phenomenal season, and he deserves every accolade that anyone could ever throw his way,” said Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who doesn’t effuse just to effuse.
McCaffrey gained 3,496 yards in a bewildering array of ways, the most yards anybody has ever trampled on American fields in a college season, even after decades upon decades of college players straining to gain yardage. He surpassed Barry Sanders’s 3,250 all-purpose yards from 1988, but in more games, so there’s a glowering asterisk, but then again, Barry Sanders. He gained 461 on Saturday night alone, in the Pacific-12 championship against Southern California. His 207 rushing yards marked his third 200-yard rushing game. His season boasted a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 96-yard kickoff return to arrange another touchdown.
He threw two touchdown passes.
He pretty much redefined tirelessness.
“I mean, ‘What doesn’t he do,’ is what you could ask me,” said Southern California hybrid safety-linebacker Su’a Cravens. “He catches the ball in the backfield, makes the guy miss, and takes it to the house, and rushes the ball inside and on the edge and really scores with any play they draw for him. He’s just a special guy. In my opinion, he should win the Heisman.”
In a country and culture that prizes clarity even when clarity isn’t viable, it’s completely unclear.
If you’re into the Heisman as a leadership award, Watson led Clemson to 13-0 with the No. 3 passing percentage, the No. 11 passer rating and 887 rushing yards mixed in, much of it against the top 10 — 131 in the ACC championship against North Carolina, 107 against Florida State and 93 against Notre Dame.
If you’re into the Heisman as a most valuable player award, Baker Mayfield transformed Oklahoma, finished as the No. 2-rated passer behind Oregon’s resurgent Vernon Adams Jr., threw 35 touchdown passes, threw only five interceptions and rushed for a helpful 420 yards. If you’re into the Heisman as a bit of a career nod, you can’t ignore Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott or his 1,672 rushing yards, 214 in mauling Michigan, and you can’t ignore Keenan Reynolds, the Navy quarterback who directed a rise to rare heights and merely scored the most rushing touchdowns ever in the top tier. If you’re into the Heisman as a rebellious thinker who finds defense important and thinks it a chronic national failure that defensive players aren’t honored, well, Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib did lead the nation in sacks and forced fumbles while finishing second in tackles for a loss.
Of course, none of those four got trips to New York, so if you’re deciding between Henry and McCaffrey, as many will, you can’t go wrong, and you can’t go right. It can make you ask some big questions, such as why our national culture is so smitten with awards, even as winter is coming, and it will be so much fun to watch the Golden Globes and the Oscars.