Heisman Watch Week 15: Florida State's Winston could win by historic margin
If you’re looking for drama, you might want to skip Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony. This one is likely to be yet another dominating performance by Jameis Winston.
Florida State’s quarterback will be the runaway winner of the 2013 Heisman Trophy after putting together a remarkable redshirt freshman season. Winston is the headliner of a top-ranked Seminoles team that will face Auburn for the final BCS title. And just as Florida State has steamrolled every opponent on its schedule, Winston is primed to win the Heisman with the backing of a historic voting margin.
According to Kari Chisholm of StiffArmTrophy.com, who measures voting margin based on a percentage of points possible, USC running back Reggie Bush claimed the 2005 Heisman –before it was nullified -- with 2,541 of the possible 2,769 total points, or 91.77 percent. Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith garnered 91.63 percent of points possible in 2006 for the second-highest margin of victory.
After Bush and Smith, no other Heisman winner has earned more than 86 percent of that year’s possible points. Winston has a chance to rank among the top three in all-time voting margin after Saturday’s ceremony.
That’s because he faces so few challengers after an up-and-down season of Heisman candidates. Names such as Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller are all plagued by at least one bad loss or one poor on-field performance. Winston is the only candidate to remain consistently dominant and efficient as the leader of an unbeaten program in the hunt for a national title.
There’s also the matter of voting regions, which could shake up portions of the Heisman electorate. For example, how would SEC voters in the South section, Winston’s home region, cast their ballots with respect to Auburn running back Tre Mason, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron or even Manziel? Could Boston College running back Andre Williams steal votes in the Northeast region, which is home to no other Heisman contender? Perhaps Mariota could present the same challange with voters in the Far West?
That’s why this year’s Heisman finish beyond Winston is so hard to predict. The Heisman Trust doesn’t allow voters to publicly share their ballots this season, so the following list does not reflect my personal Heisman ballot. Rather, it is an indication of how I expect the Heisman finish to shape up this weekend.
1. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
Season stats: 237-of-349 passing for 3,820 yards, 38 TDs, 10 INTs; 77 rushes for 193 yards, 4 TDs
Winston would have locked up the Heisman long ago if not for the sexual assault investigation that lingered over the last month of his season. Winston’s college career – and, in reality, much more -- hung in jeopardy due to the very serious allegation. But when Florida state attorney Willie Meggs determined last week that not enough evidence existed to seek charges on Winston, the quarterback’s path to the Heisman was all but cemented.
No one doubted Winston’s credentials on the field. The first-year starter was hyped up during the offseason as the talented replacement for the departed E.J. Manuel, and he delivered from the get-go by completing 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns in the ‘Noles opener against Pitt.
Winston finished the year as the nation’s best in passing efficiency (190.1) and QBR (90.9) while also leading the country in yards-per-attempt (10.9) and finishing second in total touchdowns (38). He threw for at least 300 yards seven times and put up four games with at least four touchdown passes. Moreover, his veteran-like numbers in an October rout of No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley (444 yards, four total touchdowns) will go down as the defining game of his Heisman season.
Perhaps the most amazing part of Winston’s Heisman season is this: No one cares that he’s a redshirt freshman. That narrative dominated Manziel’s campaign last year when he became the first freshman to win the award. But Winston’s season further proved that voters don’t seem to care anymore about a player’s experience. If you’re considered the best player in the country and you prove it, you have a chance to hoist the Heisman.
2. Tre Mason, RB Auburn
Season stats: 283 rushes for 1,621 yards, 22 TDs
Mason might not even be the best running back in the country. One could argue that Williams at Boston College and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey have been more productive ‘backs this year. But Mason’s 305-yard, four-touchdown finish to the season against Missouri in the SEC title game will land the Tigers’ rusher on a number of Heisman ballots, and because that game took place Saturday, Mason might even jump up to No. 2.
The quick leap to runner-up is partly due to a lack of serious contenders behind Winston, but it’s also hard to ignore that Mason is one of the key cogs on an offense that’s shocked the country and reached the BCS title game. That’s a perfect Heisman narrative.
3. Andre Williams, RB Boston College
Season stats: 329 rushes for 2,102 yards, 17 TDs
Williams looked like a video-game running back with his numbers this season. He finished as the only player in the FBS with more than 2,000 yards on the ground, and his surge in the second half of the season lifted him into the Heisman conversation. Prior to the Eagles’ regular-season finale against Syracuse, Williams had rushed for at least 263 yards in three straight games.
However, he left a bad taste in many voters’ mouths after accounting for a season-low 29 yards when he left the game early against the Orange on Nov. 30. Still, Williams’ insane numbers and overall body of work could convince a hefty number of Heisman voters to include his name on their ballots.
4. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
Season stats: 270-of-391 passing for 3,732 yards, 33 TDs, 13 INTs; 133 rushes for 686 yards, 8 TDs
Heisman history dictated that Manziel’s shot at winning the trophy was slim. Only one player, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin, had ever claimed the Heisman twice. But Manziel continued to captivate much of the country with his sensational style of play and remained in the conversation.
Losses to Alabama and Auburn didn’t hurt Manziel as much because the quarterback still put up impressive numbers in those games. What did hurt Manziel were A&M’s final two losses to LSU and Missouri, in which the redshirt sophomore accounted for two touchdowns alongside two interceptions in perhaps the worst games of his career.
But Manziel is a prime example of a player whom voters might view from a holistic perspective. Sure, the quarterback didn’t excel against all obstacles in a tough SEC schedule, but many followers of college football still believe Manziel is flat-out the best player in the game. There are very few players like Manziel in the country; despite his struggles, he still finished with the most total offense of any player in an AQ conference. Some Heisman voters might step back and vote based on talent instead of performance, and Manziel could again reach New York as a finalist despite a four-loss campaign.
5. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
Season stats: 207-of-386 passing for 2,676 yards, 26 TDs, 5 INTs
A couple of weeks ago, SI.com’s Stewart Mandel described McCarron as the “in case of emergency” candidate. That a fairly accurate assessment of McCarron, Alabama’s unheralded three-year starter who entered the season in search of a third straight BCS title. The quarterback is unheralded because he won’t wow you with stats – his 2,676 passing yards rank 39th in FBS. He’s more prone to complete 15 passes for 150 yards than to put up Winston-like numbers.
But McCarron sticks around in Heisman voters’ minds because he’s efficient and, fair or not, he wins. Some have a hard time separating McCarron’s career achievements – which shouldn’t matter in a Heisman race – from his 2013 accomplishments. Up until Alabama’s loss in the Iron Bowl to close the season, McCarron boasted as many losses (two) as BCS title rings, yet he’s never sniffed New York as a Heisman finalist.
The argument is not whether McCarron is a good player; it’s whether he’s good enough for Heisman consideration. He wouldn’t be if the race were stocked with bona fide candidates behind Winston. So that’s why this could be the time for McCarron to sneak into the picture, even though Alabama won’t win the BCS title.
UPDATE: SI.com's Heisman Watch was published before the six Heisman finalists were announced on Monday. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch will join these five players as finalists at Saturday's ceremony in New York.MANDEL: College Football Overtime: Final BCS season brings questions, not controversy; more Overtime