Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson emerge as top Heisman candidates

Clemson's Deshaun Watson building dreams one home at a time
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Story highlights

  • Heisman finalists are Jackson, Watson, Baker Mayfield, Jabrill Peppers and Dede Westbrook
  • Louisville's Jackson emerged as early front-runner but has struggled down the stretch

(CNN)The race for the Heisman is finally coming into focus -- and just in time.

The 82nd annual Heisman Trophy ceremony will take place Saturday at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square, with two clear front-runners for the award: Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson and Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson.
At Thursday's College Football Awards presentation in Atlanta, Jackson won the Maxwell Award, which is given to the player of the year. Watson, who finished third in the Heisman voting last year, won the Davey O'Brien Award, which is for the best quarterback in the nation.
    The finalists for the 2016 Heisman Trophy are Jackson, Watson, Oklahoma junior quarterback Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma senior wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Michigan junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers.
    With a breakout performance in a 63-20 blowout against Florida State on September 17, Jackson became the early favorite to win the Heisman. In that game, Jackson ran for four touchdowns and threw for another, compiling 146 yards rushing and 216 yards passing.
    For the season, Jackson had 4,928 yards of total offense and 51 total touchdowns. He became just the third player to pass for 30 touchdowns and rush for 20 in the same season. He is Louisville's first Heisman finalist.
    Jackson revealed Thursday that his aspirations of winning the Heisman first stemmed from playing a video game, "NCAA Football."
    "Ever since ('NCAA Football') was out, me creating players and winning the Heisman on there, I was like, 'Hopefully, I can do that when I go to college someday,' " he said. "It's a fun experience for me."
    As to which scenario -- a video game or real life -- was more fun: "Both," he replied. "I love video games, so it's fun with both."
    But Jackson, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, struggled down the stretch and seemingly opened the door for other candidates, throwing three interceptions in his most recent game, a 41-38 loss to Kentucky on November 26.
    Enter Watson, who has led Clemson to the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year. Watson was eighth in the nation with 4,443 yards of total offense this season. He passed for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns while also rushing for 529 yards and six touchdowns.
    "It'd just really mean a lot, just all the hard work and dreams that I put in to it, but really just for my hometown, my university, just for all those people that's been waiting for so long to get a Heisman winner," Watson said. "It'd just be an awesome opportunity."