Heisman Watch, Week 14: Jameis Winston on the brink

Jeff Gammons

Florida State's quarterback will win the Heisman Trophy, as long as he isn't charged with a crime. But who else should be selected as finalists?

Waiting

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State Seminoles

Last Week: 14-for-25, 225 passing yards, four TDs; defeated Idaho, 80-14
2013 Season: 199-for-286, 3,136 passing yards, 32 TDs, seven INTs; 126 rushing yards, three TDs

As has been the case for much of this season for Jameis Winston, his play makes him the clear favorite for the 2013 Heisman Trophy. And with the rest of the field falling away, there's no one to make a charge at him from elsewhere in the pack.

So it is clear that, right now, the only thing that could prevent Winston from hoisting the Heisman, if he maintains his current level of play, is if he is charged with sexual battery.

Obviously, the ramifications of a possible criminal charge for Winston's Heisman candidacy are secondary to the ramifications for Winston and his accuser. Noting a relatively unimportant consequence of a criminal charge, even one as serious as this one, is in no way meant to divert focus from the seriousness of the charge.

It's not clear when a decision on whether to charge will be made, though the timeframe at present suggests shortly after Thanksgiving. But it is clear, from comments by Football Study Hall's Matt Hinton and others, that the cloud over Winston right now makes it impossible to declare him the winner yet. And a charge is possible in the time between now and the Heisman ceremony, but a fair and speedy trial and exoneration following that charge is not; a charge would impact his candidacy in a way a later acquittal could not undo.

But, again: If Jameis Winston is not charged with sexual battery, he is assuredly your Heisman winner. If he is, the race will be very, very different.

So long, Johnny

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Aggies

Last Week: 16-for-41, 224 passing yards, one TD, two INTs; 54 rushing yards; lost to LSU, 34-10
2013 Season: 245-for-356, 3,537 passing yards, 31 TDs, 13 INTs; 665 rushing yards, eight TDs

The door was wide open for Manziel as of last week. He had stellar stats, two showcase games left, and relatively benign off-the-field demerits to worry about.

Manziel doesn't have a prayer of winning a second straight Heisman.

Then he played the worst game of his collegiate career in a blowout loss to LSU.

Manziel's 16-for-41 line produced his first sub-50 percent completion rate of his career; his 83.20 passer rating narrowly misses being his worst, thanks to an 82.48 in last season's meeting against the Tigers. His 54 rushing yards doubled his 27 against LSU last year, sure, but he led the Aggies to one touchdown compared to their two in 2012, and though the 24-19 loss last year was deceptively close (A&M scored with under two minutes left to cut the lead), there was nothing deceptive about how fully the Aggies were shut down on Saturday.

Manziel doesn't have a prayer of winning a second straight Heisman, as other candidates have passed him in the pecking order behind Winston, but that forgettable performance might keep him out of New York, despite numbers that still qualify as eye-popping.

Kevin C. Cox, Getty

The dark (crimson) horse

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama Crimson Tide

Last Week: 15-for-20, 184 passing yards, two TDs; defeated Chattanooga, 49-0
2013 Season: 190-for-277, 2,399 passing yards, 23 TDs, five INTs

McCarron is unspectacular efficiency boiled to its essence, the sort of broth in which you can make nearly any standard dinner, but never a jaw-dropping dish. He does not make great throws routinely, he is not the most talented player on his own team, he will not be remembered as much more than a caretaker — I've seen a fair bit of McCarron = Ken Dorsey in the last week — and he should not win this Heisman Trophy.

But there's no other more prominent and less flawed candidate than McCarron should Winston's candidacy take a hit, and so he's the clear runner-up right now, and could become the winner almost by default.

The small-program studs

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois Huskies

Last Week: 17-for-22, 202 passing yards; 28 carries, 161 rushing yards, three TDs; defeated Toledo, 35-17
2013 Season: 207-of-312, 2,418 passing yards, 21 TDs, five INTs; 1,434 rushing yards, 17 TDs

RB Andre Williams, Boston College Eagles

Last Week: 32 carries, 263 rushing yards, two TDs; defeated Maryland, 29-26
2013 Season: 320 carries, 2,073 rushing yards, 16 TDs

Jordan Lynch has been great in his two midweek MACtion games against good opponents over the last two weeks, looking like the best player on the field in easy wins and rolling up the numbers. But he will have a different challenge this Tuesday night, when Northern Illinois faces a bad Western Michigan team that is 1-10 and ranked 80th in total defense. The Huskies play at home, and should breeze by the Broncos, but Lynch won't be impressing anyone by merely beating them, so he needs to roll up stats — and big nights through the air and on the ground should get him back to the 2,500 passing yards/1,500 rushing yards plateau that only he occupied last year.

A truly massive night on the ground might also put 3,000 passing yards (which shouldn't be hard, given Northern Illinois having two more games left after tonight's) and 2,000 rushing yards (a far tougher feat) in play, and while Lynch likely wouldn't have those totals until after his bowl game, there's no reason Northern Illinois couldn't use "He's about to do something unprecendented" to hype his candidacy.

Williams, meanwhile, has done something precedented but rare in topping the 2,000-yard mark. No one has done that since Donald Brown did it for Connecticut in 2008, though three players (UCF's Kevin Smith, Tulane's Matt Forte, and Rutgers's Ray Rice) did so in 2007. What Williams has done by getting to that mark in his 11th game is something only Forte matched, however — and Williams is already within 100 yards of Forte's total with two games to go. Williams has also done his damage on fewer carries, averaging 6.43 yards per tote; none of those other recent 2,000-yard backs topped Forte's 5.89 yards per carry.

Williams's candidacy is a late-blooming one, to be sure, and predicated on his titanic total from the last three weeks, 897 rushing yards, which alone would rank him 48th nationally in rushing yards. But averaging just under 300 yards a game is absurd, and if he can turn in another game of nearly that caliber against Syracuse, a very good run defense, there's no good reason he shouldn't be in New York other than "Boston College lost four games."

The unlucky losers

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor Bears

Last Week: 28-for-48, 359 passing yards, two TDs; 46 rushing yards; lost to Oklahoma State, 49-17
2013 Season: 180-for-281, 3,351 passing yards, 26 TDs, one INT; 173 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks

Last Week: 27-for-41, 308 passing yards, two TDs, two INTs; 52 rushing yards; lost to Arizona, 42-16
2013 Season: 210-for-326, 3,127 passing yards, 27 TDs, two INTs; 529 rushing yards, nine rushing TDs

QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville Cardinals

Last Week: 26-for-36, 220 passing yards, one TD; defeated Memphis, 24-17
2013 Season: 245-for-345, 3,268 passing yards, 25 TDs, three INTs

I firmly believe that none of these three players will be in New York for the Heisman ceremony, and all three have losses to thank for that.

Mariota's two, both coinciding with underwhelming days from him, have knocked Oregon out of even Pac-12 title contention. The first one to Stanford made him a fringe Heisman contender at best; the Arizona blowout last Saturday was the knockout blow. Petty suffered a blowout knockout of his own, as Baylor got crushed by Oklahoma State. It's most unfair that Bridgewater's candidacy died in a loss, considering that he was great in Louisville's loss to UCF, and hasn't had a bad game this year, but Louisville's profile was always part of his appeal, and the Cardinals' loss sideswiped his bandwagon.

Winning the Heisman doesn't just require greatness from a single player. This 2013 field is better evidence of that than most years' lists of candidates.

The Heismen of the Week

QB Keenan Reynolds, Navy Midshipmen

The Line: 36 carries, 240 yards, seven rushing TDs; 4-for-6, 46 yards, one passing TD

The seven rushing touchdowns is an NCAA record, though it took a 58-52 triple-overtime barn-burner against San Jose State to accomplish. But not too many times has "eight total touchdowns accounted for" ever been done in my lifetime, either.

QB Derek Carr, Fresno State Bulldogs

The Line: 27-for-37, 522 passing yards, seven passing TDs

Carr's one of the lesser-known names in the fantastic crop of college quarterbacks this year, and he's not really a Heisman candidate despite his nutty stat line (3,943 yards, 39 passing touchdowns) but he's bound to receive some votes, especially if voters caught him filleting New Mexico in the Bulldogs' 69-28 win.

The FCS Heisman of the Week

QB John Robertson, Villanova Wildcats

The Line: 19-for-28, 252 passing yards, three TDs, one INT; 31 carries, 165 rushing yards, one TD

There were players with better lines (Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 477 yards and six touchdowns; Murray State's Maikhail Miller had 467 passing yards and two scores to go with two more TDs on the ground), but Robertson's context makes his awesome: Villanova trailed Delaware 34-12 entering the fourth quarter, but scored 23 points in the game's final 8:01, with three touchdowns from Robertson coming in that span, to shock the Blue Hens, 35-34.

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