The sure thing?
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State Seminoles
Last Week: 19-for-21, 277 passing yards, two TDs; defeated Syracuse, 59-3
2013 Season: 185-for-261, 2,938 passing yards, 28 TDs, seven INTs; 145 rushing yards, three TDs
Jameis Winston rebounded from his quietest week of the season by silencing anyone who thought TMZ headlines were going to rattle him, dicing up Syracuse's defense like he did Pittsburgh's in his national debut. Winston's two incompletions in this game, much like his two against Pitt, included one drop. His play is unimpeachable.
But it's going to be hard to discuss Winston for the rest of the season without talking about the Tallahassee sexual assault complaint that involves an investigation into him. Though he hasn't been charged or even suspected of any crime, he's not yet cleared.
The character of Heisman candidates is routinely scrutinized. How much character matters, given the Heisman Trust's vague mission to honor "the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity," really varies. The two most recent players for whom character has been a major concern for voters were Hawai'i quarterback Colt Brennan in 2006 and 2007 and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in 2010. For Brennan, being a convicted felon probably wasn't as damaging as being Hawai'i's quarterback and competing with Troy Smith and Tim Tebow; for Newton, who knew a few things about competing with Tebow, his reported misdeeds at Florida were irrelevant, and Auburn's NCAA investigation wasn't nearly enough to stop a runaway.
If Winston isn't charged, then some Heisman voters who don't understand the legal process might still hold it against him, but probably not enough to affect the outcome.
Florida State fans are understandably antsy about this situation, given the severity of the accusation and how it could jeopardize a national title run — and those fans have been good about understanding, as we all should, that Winston's career is far from the most important part of the story. If there isn't a charge — and my gut, based on reading reporting from the past week and FSU's relatively forthright handling of Winston, tells me there won't be one — I think Winston's still likely to win the Heisman, even if the door is open for Johnny Manziel to make a run.
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: Bye
2013 Season: 230-for-315, 3,313 passing yards, 31 TDs, 11 INTs; 611 rushing yards, eight TDs
And so, amusingly, the door is open for Manziel, whose offseason was spent making headlines for, essentially, carousing. Red flags? What red flags?
Johnny Football's football chops have never been up for debate, and his season's tremendous from a statistical standpoint, with numbers that dwarf his competition's totals and many of the Heisman winners of the last two decades. But he's still basically on par with what he did last year, and he faces stiffer competition in Winston than he did in Manti Te'o and Collin Klein, something that is overlooked, I think, by Aggie partisans.
Te'o was the star of an undefeated Notre Dame team, sure, and had the Lennay Kekua myth in place — but he was a linebacker, and defensive players' handicaps in the Heisman race are and will forever be bigger than freshmen's handicaps. And Klein was a solid candidate who excited no one. Manziel had the stats and the je ne sais quoi, and certainly felt like the right winner last year.
Does he feel like the right winner this year? I would argue no, given how fantastic Winston has been; at a minimum, even Manziel supporters would probably concede that Winston's been to Florida State fans what Johnny was to them in 2012.
Manziel could still change that by dazzling against LSU and Missouri, but Winston's got a big lead and will be running his race in the ACC Championship Game after Manziel finishes his, though Winston's last cuts are going to be mitigated if the 'Noles play Duke. With huge, full-on Johnny Football days against both teams, maybe this race turns into a dead heat down the backstretch.
But I wouldn't bet on it.
The darker horses
Last Week: 18-for-32, 187 passing yards, two TDs, two INTs; defeated Mississippi State, 20-7
2013 Season: 177-for-261, 2,228 passing yards, 21 TDs, five INTs
Last Week: 17-for-31, 335 passing yards, three TDs; nine rushing yards, two TDs; defeated Texas Tech, 63-34
2013 Season: 152-for-233, 2,992 passing yards, 24 TDs, one INT; 127 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs
AJ McCarron throwing two picks in a desultory road win over Mississippi State is probably as good a reason as any that he's not winning the Heisman, barring other players totally collapsing. And there's a sign here, too: Tim Tebow did the same thing in 2009, which hurt his Heisman candidacy ... and then his winning-wearied team eventually lost its SEC and national title shots to Alabama. At least 'Bama can't lose to 'Bama? (Probably, I mean.)
Bryce Petty, meanwhile, accounted for 344 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in a demolition of a formerly ranked team, and you and I heard very little about it, because Baylor's not even the also-ran undefeated team this year. Petty's plenty good, but I'm not even sure he gets invited to New York at this point.
Either McCarron or Petty -- or both -- could be finalists, for the mere fact that the Heisman ceremony is never a two-man affair in this TV era. But they'll be seat-fillers, and their stories airtime-fillers
The doomed closer
Last Week: 26-for-32, 345 yards, two TDs; 20 carries, 123 yards, two TDs; defeated Ball State, 48-27
2013 Season: 194-of-303, 2,216 passing yards, 21 TDs, five INTs; 1,275 rushing yards, 10 TDs
Jordan Lynch needed to be great in his two midweek MACtion games to make a charge, and he was certainly that against Ball State.
No one in front of him slipped but McCarron, though, and McCarron's only really going to slip with an (unlikely) Alabama loss. Will he be able to draw enough votes from Big Ten country to get to New York with no other Big Ten players putting together legitimate campaigns? I doubt it. But matching or topping his Ball State performance this Wednesday at Toledo would help.
The Heismen of the Week
LB/RB Myles Jack, UCLA Bruins
The Line: 13 carries, 60 yards, four TDs; five tackles, one pass broken up
Jack wasn't quite as good on defense as he was last week, and didn't have a highlight run like he did against Arizona, but he's suddenly the most interesting man in college football, which sort of makes me want UCLA to use him as its goal line back next year and stage a Heisman campaign for a genuine two-way player in 2014.
RB Kapri Bibbs, Colorado St. Rams
The Line: 38 carries, 291 yards, six touchdowns
Bibbs wasn't running over anyone special in Colorado State's 66-42 defeat of New Mexico, but neither was Boston College's Andre Williams (42 carries, 339 yards, two touchdowns) against NC State. And the timing Bibbs's six touchdowns gives him a nutty distinction: all six came with 3:46 remaining in the first half on, meaning that he scored 15 more points than the Lobos by himself during that stretch. Bibbs scored the Rams' final six touchdowns, and turned a 45-42 lead entering the fourth quarter into a comfortable win. And he put together his stats patiently, never running for more than 27 yards on a carry.
The FCS Heismen of the Week
QB Garrett Safron, Sacramento State Hornets
The Line: 34-for-50, 554 passing yards, four TDs, one INT; 42 rushing yards, two TDs
QB Michael Strauss, Richmond Spiders
The Line: 35-for-46, 543 passing yards, five TDs, one INT
Both Safron and Strauss put up massive stat lines — and both of their teams needed all those numbers desperately. Strauss had to pilot Richmond back after a 22-3 lead fully evaporated, turning into a 43-39 deficit with 45 seconds to go, and he did, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass with four seconds on the clock.
Safron did that and more in a wild game with Portland State, in which he and the Vikings' D.J. Adams (26 carries, 249 yards, five touchdowns) combined to account for all but one touchdown. Sacramento State lost its 3-0 lead in the middle of the first quarter, and trailed deep into the fourth, going down 42-31 with less than 10 minutes to go. And after a Safron touchdown pass slashed the lead to 42-37, the Hornets went for two and failed, forcing them to score another touchdown. Safron delivered with his fourth and final touchdown pass of the day with 30 seconds left, giving Sac State a 43-42 victory.