I don’t think I can recall a Heisman Trophy front runner who faces a closing schedule that is less compelling than the one Jameis Winston now faces.
The Seminoles will play Idaho on Saturday, then a 5-6 Florida team and then, most likely, Duke.
And I am beginning to wonder if it will have some effect on his Heisman hopes. To wit, will voters bother to tune in to watch him in these final weeks?
With FSU’s win over Miami earlier this month (and before that Clemson) still relatively fresh in the minds of voters, Winston’s candidacy hasn’t really been affected much by scheduling issues up to this point. But there remains a chance that he has peaked too soon and that the more intriguing matchups featuring the other candidates could, in these closing weeks, whittle away at the case he has built for himself.
Past winners have tended to play in high-profile games toward the end of the season that have enabled them to put a final stamp on their Heisman resumes. Since 80 to 90 percent of Heisman voters wait until the last week to fill out their ballots, they can be heavily influenced by what takes place in the traditional matchups and conference title games that happen at the end of the year. Sometimes, what they see merely confirms what they’ve been thinking the whole time. Other times, it brings new information that enables them to make up their mind.
Therefore, unless enough voters have already made up their minds about Winston for him to win, we probably won’t see much movement his way in the final weeks. Those who are undecided or persuadable one way or another will probably not tune in to see FSU take on Duke since the Pac-12 and Big Ten title games are also scheduled for that time slot while Baylor is scheduled to take on Texas in what could be a de facto Big 12 title game. If anything, we may see some movement away from him, unless the other candidates fail to provide compelling cases on their own. So the question is: Has he built up enough of a lead in the minds of voters for his remaining schedule to keep him afloat?
To illustrate what Winston might be up against, here are the final three games of the most recent Heisman winners:
Johnny Manziel — Alabama, Sam Houston State, Missouri
Robert Griffin III — Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas
Cameron Newton — Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina
Mark Ingram — Chattanooga, Auburn, Florida
Sam Bradford — Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri
Tim Tebow — South Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Florida State
Troy Smith — Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan
Reggie Bush — California, Fresno State, UCLA
Matt Leinart — Arizona, Notre Dame, UCLA
Jason White — Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas State
Carson Palmer — Arizona State, UCLA, Notre Dame
Eric Crouch — Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado
I could keep going further back, but I don’t think I’ll find a trio of games that holds less intrigue than what’s in store for FSU and Winston. It could be that it won’t matter, that Winston has already shown enough to voters and that he is, essentially, the Heisman Trophy winner in waiting.
But the contrast between his schedule and those of his competitors is enough to compel me to hold off on making such a pronouncement for now.