In College Football America, our preview publication, I wrote about the Heisman frontrunners and sleepers, from my perspective.
This is my fifth and final update. I started with 25 candidates with the idea of eliminating players every two weeks. Well, this has become one of the most uncertain Heisman races in recent memory and I find myself in the unexpected position of actually adding potential candidates at the 11th hour. Crazy.
As in other updates, we have a frontrunner. But instead of tiers I’m listing the players that I believe can make it to New York City, a group of six. It’s a nod to the talent of these players but it’s also a nod to the complete uncertainty this horse race has become. I’m eliminating several players this week, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them made a comeback this weekend. Or if one or two of the players I added this week makes it to New York City. It is that uncertain as we enter conference championship week. Next Monday I’ll put forth my Heisman ballot (If I actually had one).
As mentioned we have a new leader.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: ESPN’s Paul Finebaum put it best last Thursday morning – there are more than 900 Heisman Trophy voters waiting for the other shoe to drop. The sexual assault investigation, which some had hoped would wrap up this week, looks like it may drag out beyond the Heisman ballot deadline of Dec. 9. Finebaum said if there were no clouds hanging over Winston right now then he would be the runaway No. 1 candidate, and I would have to agree. Winston has the numbers, the personality, the publicity and the success – both as an individual and as a team – that voters love to reward. Finebaum also said something else I agreed with – no Heisman voter wants to cast his ballot and find out a couple of days later that charges will be filed against Winston. The more uncertainty surrounding his off-the-field issue will turn up the heat on voters and their decision-making. Winston put up big numbers again against Florida and only has Duke left to face in the ACC Title Game. But none of that will matter if a majority of the voters believe putting Winston on the top of their ballot, much less on their ballot, will discredit the award. It’s unfair but it’s part of the decision process, but it is going to be a factor. And that makes the reporting of ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, who has been all over this story since it broke, as compelling to watch as the ACC title game itself. It makes for a dramatic final week of the season ramping up to the award ceremony Dec. 14.
The players below are legitimate candidates to reach New York City or win the award. Note: candidates are in alphabetical order.
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois: Lynch has one game remaining, the MAC Championship game. The Huskies are once against BCS-bowl eligible, thanks to that Top 16 quirk and Fresno State’s loss. Lynch had a November to remember – he threw for 746 yards and 4 touchdowns while rushing for 724 yards and 12 touchdowns. He broke his own career high for rushing yards in a game with 321 yards against Western Michigan last week. He’s had three straight prime-time games to show himself off to voters and he’s risen to the occasion. He could become the first player in FBS history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 2,000 yards in the same season. He is the quintessential dual-threat quarterback in this Heisman race. This has been the Heisman race from bizarro world. I’m not sure Lynch can win it, though a race without Winston – or at least a weakened Winston – would make it interesting. But in terms of having the numbers and team success to reach New York City, yeah he’s got it. He was on my sleeper list at the start of the season and he’s lived up to the billing. One note – it all goes away if the Huskies lose Friday night against Bowling Green.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Technically Manziel has always been a lock to be in New York City – as a former Heisman winner. And that is the capacity in which he will be at the Heisman ceremony on Dec. 14, passing the award off to his successor (assuming Manziel wishes to be there). My leader after Week 12, Manziel went to Baton Rouge and the LSU Tiger defense did a number on him – 16-of-41 for 224 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Then Manziel followed that with even less production – 24-of-35 for 195 and 1 touchdown – against Missouri. Both games were losses. You don’t end a Heisman push like that. He may be on some ballots, but not enough to be considered a finalist.
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama: I still think there’s a chance McCarron can get to New York City, though it probably demands that there be a negative development on the Winston front. Frankly, I think some voters, especially those in the Southeast, will look past the loss to Auburn and want to reward the body of McCarron’s work in some way. Honestly, he had a solid game against Auburn – 277 yards passing, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. It’s hard to blame him for how the game ended. He did his job and he’s done it that way all season. He has a better chance than some potential candidates because of the goodwill he’s built up the past four years by playing at a high level and remaining humble while doing so.
Here are the two new players on my list that have a legitimate shot to be in New York City:
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State: His numbers are off the charts – 4,462 yards passing and 45 touchdown passes. Just 5 interceptions. His last two games – 522 yards passing against New Mexico and 519 yards passing against New Mexico. Thirteen combined touchdown passes. The insane part is that he put up those season numbers in 11 games, as Fresno State’s game with Colorado was cancelled. If he were putting up these numbers in the SEC or the Big 12 or the Pac 12 the senior would be the front-runner for this award, I have no doubt. I’m not sure how much the San Jose State loss works against him, especially when you consider he threw six touchdowns and just one interception in that game. Carr has one final game to convince voters he is worth a place on the ballot, and that comes Saturday night against Utah State. But with no BCS bowl game implications and with the game being a 9 p.m. start on the East Coast, will anyone pay attention?
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College: As the only back in FBS with 2,000 or more yards rushing this season he deserves consideration. The senior might be the reason the Eagles lost their finale against Syracuse, though. He left the game with a shoulder injury after rushing for 29 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles lost 34-31. It’s a huge turnaround season for the Eagles, who won two games a year ago and went 7-5 this year under first-year coach Steve Addazio. Before the injury Williams’ last five games looked like this – 172 yards, 166 yards, 295 yards, 339 yards and 263 yards. That run also included nine touchdowns. Four of those games were wins. One thing to keep in mind is that his two worst games came against USC (38 yards) and Clemson (70 yards). Three of BC’s four losses came with Williams rushing for 70 yards or fewer. That certainly proves his value.
These are players that were on my last update that I now consider to be out of the race.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: He’s been on the fringe the past few weeks. But the loss to South Carolina sealed his fate. That’s a shame. This senior has worked as hard as anyone in the game and leaves Death Valley having re-written Clemson’s record book for his position.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: Bridgewater is the best pro-style quarterback in the college game and is going to make some bottom-feeding NFL team very happy. But his last three games have been pedestrian by his standards and there’s a good chance the Cardinals won’t even win the American Athletic Conference, a league that most of us – including myself – considered to be the Cards’ to lose. He’s not even in the conversation now.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: For a good portion of the season Mariota was everyone’s frontrunner. But since injuring his knee just before the Stanford game Mariota’s game has suffered somewhat. He threw four interceptions in his final two games. Plus, the Ducks lost two of their last four games coming down the stretch and barely bear Oregon State (though there’s no shame in that, really). In his last five games he’s cracked 300 yards passing just once and has been in negative rushing twice. He’s dropped off the radar at this point and I don’t see him crawling back into this race. The real question now is whether he comes back in 2014.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: See Manziel, Johnny. Though Petty put up solid numbers against Oklahoma State – 359 yards and 2 touchdowns – it came in a game in which the Bears lost, 49-17. Those numbers look great in a win. But in a loss they look like Petty took advantage of prevent coverage in garbage time, and that’s exactly what happened. In better conditions a week later Petty threw for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns against TCU, with the Bears winning by only three points. Petty completed just 50 percent of his passes. The buzz that surrounded him and the Bears is gone. The good news? Petty is a junior and will be a legitimate front-runner next year. It doesn’t sound like he’s interested in jumping early to the NFL, though he’ll have more than a month to think about it.
Just for a contrasting opinion
After I wrote this article I checked out some Heisman straw polls. Here are some other Top 5s from around the Web:
HeismanPundit.com (Nov. 26): Winston, Williams, McCarron, Lynch, Manziel
ESPN.com (Dec. 3): Winston, Lynch, Williams, McCarron, RB Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona)
CBSSports.com (Dec. 3): Winston, Lynch, Manziel, QB Braxton Miller (Ohio State), Williams
I love Carey as a player. If you look at the past two seasons in college football no running back has been more productive. But the one-game suspension set him back. I don’t think the western block of voters has forgotten about him and he’ll be on many of the ballots out there, but he needs support nationally and he doesn’t seem to have it.
I don’t believe Miller has a chance to be a finalist, even with an undefeated Ohio State team.