The latest news on the Jameis Winston case does not look good for the Florida State freshman.
According to an ESPN report out on Wednesday night, the Florida state attorney’s office confirmed that DNA provided by Winston matched the sample taken from the underwear of a woman who has accused him of sexual battery.
It is normal practice at HP to not comment on these types of off-the-field issues except as they may pertain to the Heisman race. It is not my intention to make light of a very serious accusation by pondering how it will affect something as frivolous as a college football award.
The state attorney’s office says it will likely have a decision on the case either this week or next. If Winston gets charged, then he’s obviously going to have a lot more to think about than the Heisman or even the BCS title race.
In that scenario, I suspect he will be quickly erased from most ballots and cease to be a serious challenger for the trophy. If the case is not resolved one way or the other, but instead remains hanging over him like the sword of Damocles, a large chunk of voters will be leery of putting him on their ballots and his candidacy will be severely diminished as a result.
The only way I can see Winston not suffering any damage from this is if the state attorney’s office completely exonerates him before the Heisman votes are due. Given that there are questions about how the case has been handled to this point, I find that to be a highly unlikely scenario.
So which candidate benefits if Winston’s Heisman hopes are dashed as a result of all this?
The easy and most obvious answer is that Johnny Manziel will be the new, tentative front runner. I have my doubts about this, though. Winston’s issues are likely to thrust the character issue front and center in the Heisman race and, while Manziel’s off-the-field issues from the summer do not compare to what Winston is going through, some voters are likely to be reminded of them again and seek out a candidate whose image is a bit more squeaky clean. Add that group to the group that is already reluctant to confer a second Heisman on Manziel and it will likely be too much for the Aggies’ superstar to overcome.
That leaves Bryce Petty, Marcus Mariota and AJ McCarron. All are worthy, uncontroversial Heisman candidates who most voters would have no problem putting on their ballots if it came to it. But all three have some very important games left to play that will influence which way the race turns.
It all starts with Baylor’s game with Oklahoma State on Saturday. If Petty shines in a big win, he’ll likely become the Heisman front runner. If not, then the Iron Bowl gives McCarron an opening to make up some ground. Meanwhile, Oregon’s matchup in the Pac-12 title game provides Mariota with a chance to make a late move.
This is easily the weirdest Heisman race I’ve seen in the 10 seasons I’ve been covering the award. Despite it being so late in the process, the race could easily go any number of ways. It would not surprise me if Winston survived this crisis and went on to win the trophy. Nor would it surprise me if he fell by the wayside. It would not shock me if either Petty, McCarron or Mariota won it, or if Manziel made history yet again.
One thing I do know is that, as I write this, there is not enough information available to know for sure how it’s going to end up. By late November, I usually have a pretty good idea who is going to win. That’s not the case this year.
I have a feeling that this race will have a few more crazy twists and turns in it before it’s through.