By Zac Ellis
September 16, 2013

Both AJ McCarron (10) and Johnny Manziel left Saturday's game with rising Heisman hopes. Both AJ McCarron (10) and Johnny Manziel left Saturday's game with rising Heisman hopes. (David J. Phillip/AP)

After all was said and done, the scoreboard at Kyle Field showed Alabama escaping Texas A&M on Saturday in one of the season’s wildest games. But the box score wasn’t as black and white in at least one perspective. AJ McCarron and Johnny Manziel mirrored each other with equally dominant performances under center, and with plenty of season left to play, it’s not too early to frame Saturday’s contest as the launching pad for both passers’ Heisman campaigns.

Of course, Manziel cracked the Heisman conversation in similar fashion in 2012. Even with nine weeks worth of eye-popping stats under his belt, Manziel’s name wasn’t among the Heisman favorites until his Aggies toppled the top-ranked Tide last November. While the perception of Manziel and McCarron went opposite directions after that game, both players emerged from this year’s installment on an upward swing in the Heisman race.

The duo combined for nine touchdowns, two interceptions and key plays in the fourth quarter, and both quarterbacks re-directed their own personal narratives, as well. In one fell swoop, McCarron quelled concerns of a senior slump after a very pedestrian first game against Virginia Tech. Likewise, Manziel reminded us all why he’s already claimed the Heisman and why an offseason’s worth of antics might not prevent a second visit to New York.

Heisman Watch – Week 3

1. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson

2. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon

3. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M

4. Aaron Murray, QB Georgia

5. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama

6. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville

7. Todd Gurley, RB Georgia

8. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State

9. Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State

10. Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M

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Player of the Week

AJ McCarron, QB Alabama

Week 3 stats: 20-of-29 passing, 334 yards, four TDs

Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M

Week 3 stats: 28-of-39 passing, 464 yards, five TDs, two INTs; 14 carries, 98 yards rushing

We couldn’t just pick one, right? The argument could be made that either one of these players was the best quarterback on the field Saturday. On one hand, McCarron was the more efficient player, completing 69 percent of his throws and finishing with a 211.2 passer rating, and he also displayed guts in the waning moments. With Alabama nursing a one-touchdown lead with only 2:28 left, the Tide sat just outside the end zone on a third-and-five situation. McCarron swung to the right on play-action and tossed a short touchdown pass to Jalston Fowler instead of opting for the safer run. “He wanted the ball in his hand on the third-and-five at the end of the game,” ‘Bama coach Nick Saban said later.

Manziel was simply Manziel-ian in both aspects of the A&M offense, tallying 562 total yards and a career-high five passing touchdowns. Although he was especially productive in helping the Aggies grab a 14-0 lead – his first six completions went for 135 yards and a score – Manziel really turned things on in the second half, as four of his five touchdown passes came after intermission. But Manziel did throw two interceptions, both of which led to ensuing Alabama touchdowns. His receivers also bailed him out on a bone-headed throw in the second quarter that was begging to be intercepted.

We already know Johnny Football’s path to the Heisman comes with a historical roadblock: With the exception of Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (1974-75), no player has claimed the Heisman twice, and some believe it will never happen again. Plus, while Manziel wowed on the stat sheet, McCarron’s team left College Station with the win, and that notion will play in voters’ minds in head-to-head comparisons. If the Aggies win this game, it'd be hard to rank anyone above Manziel.

In the end, the effects of this matchup might not be as fresh in the Heisman race as last year’s game, which took place in November. We just don’t know where these teams, and players, will sit two months down the road.

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Stock rising

Marcus Mariota

It’s hard to drop Tajh Boyd from the top spot during an off week, but Oregon’s quarterback gave Boyd a run for his money against Tennessee. Mariota picked apart the Vols for a career-high 456 passing yards, becoming the first Ducks quarterback to surpass the 400-yard mark since Kellen Clemmons in 2005. Mariota’s production is undeniable – he’s accumulated 889 passing yards through three games – but he’s done so against Nicholls State, Virginia and Tennessee. Boyd shined against a top-10 team (Georgia) in Week 1, which is why he retains the top spot.

Jameis Winston

The folks in Tallahassee probably didn’t expect this kind of accuracy from Winston. Through two games, the Seminoles’ quarterback is leading the country in completion percentage (40-of-45, 88.9 percent) and is second in yards per attempt (12.7). Winston’s production isn’t likely to drop off anytime soon, as Florida State won’t face a daunting challenge until Oct. 19 at Clemson.

Mike Evans

If there’s one position group that’s in for a tough practice this week, it should be Alabama’s defensive backs. The Crimson Tide watched as Evans hauled in 279 yards on only seven catches, including a 95-yard touchdown grab to bring A&M within one score with 8:04 left. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Evans is now the country’s leading receiving with 510 yards on 20 catches. The trouble with Evans’ candidacy is if he’s blowing up the stat sheet, Manziel probably is, too.

Melvin Gordon

The Badgers boast a three-headed attack with Corey Clement, James White and Gordon, but it’s Gordon who’s shining the brightest. The sophomore was at his best against Arizona State on Saturday, tallying 193 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Gordon has a couple of big stages coming up: After Wisconsin faces Purdue this weekend, it clashes with Ohio State and Northwestern in consecutive weeks.

Jameis Winston's efficiency has quickly propelled him into the thick of the Heisman race. Jameis Winston's efficiency has propelled him into the thick of the Heisman race. (Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Stock falling

Teddy Bridgewater

Believe it or not, this weekend’s rivalry game against lowly Kentucky was one of the more difficult opponents Bridgewater will face this year. But the quarterback wasn’t his usual game-changing self in Lexington. He started slowly against the ‘Cats to finish with season lows in touchdowns (one), yards (250) and completion percentage (57 percent). Fair or not, Bridgewater must fully dominate that soft schedule if he expects a Heisman nod.

Braxton Miller

The severity of Miller’s knee injury isn’t known in Columbus, but it doesn’t appear as precautionary as Urban Meyer assured last week. In fact, it was enough to keep Miller out of the Buckeyes’ matchup against Cal on Saturday. Fifth-year senior Kenny Guiton started in Miller’s place and wowed in Berkeley, throwing four touchdown passes as Ohio State blitzed the Golden Bears. With Big Ten play approaching, Miller still has time to jump back in the Heisman picture, but his path just got more difficult now that he’s missed a game.

De’Anthony Thomas

We said it from the beginning: Thomas would face the toughest challenge in the Heisman race from his own backfield. The Ducks’ offense is humming largely behind the production of Mariota, and the quarterback rightfully garnered the attention in Oregon’s rout of Tennessee. Thomas, meanwhile, finished with only 86 yards on 13 carries; he entered the day averaging 126 through the Ducks’ first two games, albeit against lesser opponents.

Marqise Lee

The wide receiver’s Heisman shot might be all but squashed, and it isn’t completely his fault. USC’s struggles have ripped the spotlight from Lee’s talent, and even as the Trojans ripped through Boston College on Saturday, the wideout’s two-catch, 90-yard day was largely overshadowed by quarterback Cody Kessler’s debut as the starting quarterback (237 yards). Plus, running back Tre Madden is becoming the best weapon on that offense; he’s the first USC player to open the season with three straight 100-yard rushing game in 32 years.

Heisman Chatter

Tweets of the week:

This really puts things in perspective:

The Ducks’ quarterback can’t stay on the field during all these blowouts:

So THAT’s how he does it…

Video of the week:

This is the kind of play that gets lesser players benched. Johnny Manziel dropped from the Alabama 34-yard line all the way to A&M’s 40 before hurling a deep (and lucky) completion to Edward Pope.

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