Heisman Watch Week 11: Alabama QB AJ McCarron building can't-dismiss case
Last week’s Heisman Watch attempted to explain how November has become a game-changing month in the Heisman Trophy race. Week 11 showed just how fluid that chase can be.
It was put-up-or-shut-up time for a handful of Heisman candidates this weekend, and as it often goes in November, some fared better than others. Thanks to Oregon’s Thursday-night loss to Stanford, Marcus Mariota took a big enough dip to lift Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston into the Heisman lead. But Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Baylor’s Bryce Petty each passed tremendous tests to boost their own résumés.
If the race’s current state holds, there should be plenty to watch from a balloting standpoint. The Heisman voting regions could play a big role in the race’s outcome, as those six sections of the country often feature geographical biases based on teams those media members watch on a more regular basis. As Chris Huston of NBC Sports explained Saturday, voters in the South section might split votes between McCarron and Winston, especially if Alabama and Florida State land in the BCS title game. Such a scenario could help a player like Mariota, who might be the dominant candidate in the Far West. And who knows how Johnny Manziel and Bryce Petty would affect one another in the Southwest.
In 2012, Manziel won every region but the Midwest, which selected Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o by a mere three-point margin. Kansas State’s Collin Klein finished third in each region but garnered his best finish (220 points) among Big 12 voters in the Southwest. Regional biases exist in the Heisman race, and that may become a battle to watch between the newest top two in this week’s truncated Heisman Watch.
Heisman Watch Week 11
1. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
2. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
3. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
4. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
5. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Player of the Week
AJ McCarron, Alabama QB
Week 11 stats: 14-of-20 passing for 179 yards, three touchdowns
The last time LSU visited Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, AJ McCarron looked the part of a first-year starter against an imposing defense. McCarron completed only 16-of-28 passes, threw an interception and couldn’t find the end zone in the infamous 9-6 overtime loss to top-ranked Tigers. But two seasons and two national titles later, the Crimson Tide quarterback was a seasoned veteran in the latest installment of the SEC clash.
McCarron threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns and helped his offense play mistake-free football in No. 1 Alabama’s 38-17 victory over No. 10 LSU. He found freshman tight end O.J. Howard for a 52-yard score to give the Tide a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, and they never trailed again. McCarron, who is seeking his third national championship, surpassed former ‘Bama quarterback John Parker Wilson to become the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (7,997).
Manziel, Mariota and Winston might dominate the box score, but McCarron has long been lauded as more of a game-manager than a game-changer, and that approach has worked wonders for the Tide’s veteran leader. McCarron has completed at least 70 percent of his throws in six of Alabama’s nine games this season, and he connected on 69 percent against Texas A&M. After starting the season with three interceptions in his first four games, the senior hasn’t tossed a pick since Sept. 28 against Ole Miss.
If you’re looking for explosive stats from a Heisman winner, McCarron isn’t your guy; he sits just outside the country’s top 40 in total passing yards. But McCarron is the ultra-efficient headliner of college football No. 1 team. He ranks top-10 in completion percentage (69.4), passing efficiency (169.1) and adjusted quarterback rating, or QBR (83.3).
Despite the benefits of playing for the nation’s No. 1 team, McCarron still faces an uphill climb to hoist the trophy in New York. In a stat-heavy world of offensive football, how many voters would cast their ballots for a quarterback who doesn’t boast those gaudy numbers? The last three Heisman winners have all been dual-threat passers, and the most recent pro-style quarterback to win the Heisman, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in 2008, threw for more than 4,700 yards and 50 touchdowns during his winning season.
Winston didn’t have to do much against Wake Forest thanks to a stellar showing from Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles forced seven Demon Deacon turnovers, including six interceptions, and held Wake to only a field goal. That’s fortunate for the ‘Noles, who weren’t as prolific on offense as usual. Winston played just over two quarters and finished 17-of-28 for 159 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, though the offense recorded only 296 total yards. For now, Winston’s numbers on the year are giving him the edge over McCarron, but Florida State’s first-year starter might have to reel off some bigger stats to keep that spot.
Baylor’s defense was the story of its win over Oklahoma, but Petty squashed his own doubters by performing against a tough Sooners defense. Despite throwing for a season-low 204 yards, Petty found the end zone three times through the air and twice on the ground. The Bears reeled off 459 yards of offense and Petty didn’t throw an interception – he only has one pick in all of 2013. Keep an eye on Baylor’s quarterback if Baylor continues to climb the BCS standings.
Let’s be clear: Mariota’s chances of winning the Heisman are not dead. Both Manziel and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III hailed from teams with at least two losses and weren’t true title contenders when they claimed their awards. But there’s no doubt Mariota faltered in a game that should define a Heisman winner. He completed only 59 percent of his throws, lost a fumble and was a non-factor on the ground, where he was sacked three times and managed -16 net rushing yards. Still, Mariota has yet to throw an interception against 22 touchdowns and he’s among the nation’s leaders in total offense. He could still find his way to New York.
Tweets of the week
Big praise from a big name:
Not a bad first season in college:
Video of the week
AJ McCarron’s 52-yard touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard gave the Crimson Tide the lead against LSU, and they wouldn’t trail again.