The announcement came Monday night on ESPN’s SportsCenter via 1998 Heisman winner Ricky Williams.
Henry and McCaffrey will be trying to break a streak of five straight quarterbacks winning college football’s top honor when the trophy is presented Saturday night in New York.
Mark Ingram of Alabama in 2009 was the last running back — and only Crimson Tide player — to win the Heisman. Since 2000, 13 of the 15 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.
Henry seems to be the front runner in a Heisman race that tightened over championship weekend. He ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries in the Alabama’s Southeastern Conference championship game victory against Florida on Saturday.
Later that night, McCaffrey had 461 all-purpose yards with touchdowns running, receiving and passing as Stanford beat Southern California in the Pac-12 title game and Watson had 420 total yards and accounted for five touchdowns in Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game win against North Carolina.
The last time there was real suspense at the Heisman presentation was 2009, when Ingram received only 1 percent more of the vote than Stanford’s Toby Gerhart. By percentage, that ranks as the closest Heisman vote in history.
Henry, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior, carried the Tide (12-1) to the College Football Playoff, setting a Southeastern Conference with 1,986 yards and nation’s best 23 touchdowns.
With a passing game that has been inconsistent, the Tide has leaned heavily on Henry on its biggest games. He carried the ball 90 times combined in Alabama’s last two games and has averaged 180 yards per game against SEC opponents.
“The Heisman Trophy has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid and the chance to go to New York as a finalist is amazing, but none of this would be possible without my coaches and teammates,” Henry said in a statement. “The offensive line, the quarterback, wide receivers and tight ends have done an unbelievable job all season and our coaches always put us in a position to be successful.”
While Henry is the prototypical power runner, McCaffrey is all about elusiveness and versatility. The 200-pound sophomore broke Barry Sanders‘ NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season with 3,496.
McCaffrey has scored 13 touchdowns and thrown two TD passes. He would be Stanford’s second Heisman winner, joining Jim Plunkett in 1970. The Cardinal did have a recent run of three straight seasons with the runner-up. Gerhart finished second behind Ingram in 2009 and Andrew Luck came in second to Cam Newton (2010) and Robert Griffin III (2011).
Watson has Clemson in the playoff as a sophomore, trying for its first national championship since 1981. Watson fits the mold of recent Heisman winners Cam Newton, RGIII, Manziel and Mariota as a dual-threat quarterback, capable of dominating as a runner or passer.
Watson is the only player in the country who has surpassed 800 yards rushing (887) and 3,500 yards passing (3,512), and he has accounted for 41 touchdowns. He would be Clemson’s first Heisman winner.