Heisman Apocalypto

andre williams

What to make of this year’s Heisman race?

In my 10 seasons covering the trophy, I’ve never seen a race this unsettled this late in the process.

Every candidate has at least two major drawbacks that in any other year would probably be disqualifying. In the end, it may come down to which candidate ends up dominating his region while appearing on just enough ballots nationwide to eke out a win. I envision the results of this race looking a lot like that of 2001, when Eric Crouch won the Heisman with just one region and 770 points (the lowest winning total since Terry Baker won with 707 points in 1962) while five other candidates totaled over 200.

Let’s do a rundown of what we’re dealing with.

— The tentative front runner, Jameis Winston of Florida State, has a major legal issue hanging over him that could potentially derail his candidacy. That issue is unlikely to be resolved one way or the other before Thanksgiving, which means that the decision could come just as the Seminoles begin preparations for the ACC title game. If he is not charged, then I think it’s likely that enough Heisman voters will give him the benefit of the doubt to enable him to win the trophy. Even then, he’s going to have a hard time benefiting much from what he does on the field from here on out because FSU’s remaining schedule includes the worst Florida team since 1979 and Duke in the ACC title game — hardly the type of matchups that will compel voters to tune in. Of course, if he is charged with a felony, he will likely be dropped from the majority of ballots and voters will look elsewhere.

AJ McCarron of Alabama seems to be the safest candidate. After all, he’s the quarterback for the No. 1 team and a well-known and proven commodity. But to win he’ll have to overcome his relatively lackluster production and the perception that he’s not really the engine that drives Alabama’s success. Big games in his remaining matchups against Auburn and in the SEC title game could help him change that perception just enough to tilt the race in his direction. I have a feeling that, while he’s likely to appear on a lot of ballots, he’ll need to finish strong in his home region (the South) to have a shot at winning. That means putting distance between himself and Winston and Manziel — a tall order indeed.

— The conventional wisdom is that Bryce Petty of Baylor is now out of the race as a result of his team’s crushing defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State. But Petty has two more games left to add to his still-impressive resume and his one loss may not be that fatal given that none of the other candidates have been able to pull away from the pack either. The narrative aiding Petty until tonight was that he was leading an unstoppable offense on a Cinderella charge to an undefeated season. That’s now gone and all he’s got left are his numbers and, potentially, the best season in school history. But that attribute doesn’t capture the imagination of voters around the country the way it might with, say, a more traditional power. The problem with Petty is that he never got a chance to break out of his status as a quality regional candidate — he lost that shot tonight. But in a really close race with a lot of candidates getting support, it’s possible that he wins his region and remains a viable contender so long as he finishes strong against TCU and Texas.

— Is Marcus Mariota out of the race after throwing his first two interceptions of the season in his team’s second loss, this one a 42-16 drubbing by Arizona? I believe so. But, again, with so many candidates having so many weaknesses and the race likely coming down to hard-core regionalism, it’s still possible that Mariota’s production and name recognition could attract enough voters out West to give him influence over the final outcome. With Oregon now out of the Pac-12 title game, I can’t see a path to victory, but I can see him getting to New York.

Heismandment No. 9 looks to be safe for another year and I’d venture to guess that if Johnny Manziel can’t overturn it, who will? Johnny Football had perhaps his worst game in his team’s loss to LSU and won’t win that second Heisman, but if he rebounds with a great outing against Missouri, I think there’s enough sentiment in his favor out there to allow him to have a respectable showing in this race. People know how good he is, even if they don’t think he had the most outstanding season this time around. He might end up weakening Winston (assuming he’s not charged) and McCarron in the South region while also sapping Petty’s strength in the Southwest. I think he’s headed to New York and will likely finish third.

— All the chaos of the day opens up the door for perhaps the most unlikely Heisman candidate in recent memory. I’m talking running back Andre Williams of Boston College. I don’t think he was on anyone’s radar until this weekend and I think most voters still don’t know who he is. But I suspect that is about to change (BC will need to give him a boost). After all, he’s now eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark with one game yet to play. With so many flawed candidates arrayed against him, I think voters might be more inclined to overlook his team’s 7-4 record — keep in mind Toby Gerhart of Stanford was on an 8-4 team in 2009 and he was the runner up in the vote by the closest margin in Heisman history. And it helps that his recent rushing explosion has spurred his team to a four-game win streak. There’s a possibility that Williams captures the vote in the Northeast and does well in the Mid-Atlantic as well. Again, in a close race spread out over several candidates, the winner might not need to capture more than one region.

— There are definite cases to be made for Jordan Lynch and Derek Carr, but I don’t expect them to be able to get enough national support to make it to New York. Ironically, Lynch and Carr did not benefit much from today’s meltdowns since the lack of a consensus Heisman front runner is more likely to depress their vote totals.  The presence of a clear cut winner usually makes it easier for a voter to take a flyer on a player like Lynch or Carr by putting them in the 2nd or 3rd spots on their ballot. But with so many options still remaining and voters still undecided on a leader, they are likely to be crowded out a bit by the remaining group of contenders. I expect Lynch to influence who wins the MidWest, while Carr will obviously be a factor in the West, but I can’t see either winning their region.

Yes, there are still games to play that will decide this thing. It seems that anything that can happen will happen, which is why we might end up with one of most suspense-filled races in Heisman history before all is said and done.

How would the race go if the vote was held right now? I think it would look something like this (don’t quote me…it’ll probably change next week):

1. Jameis Winston

2. AJ McCarron

3. Johnny Manziel

4. Bryce Petty

5. Andre Williams

6. Marcus Mariota

7. Jordan Lynch

8. Ka’Deem Carey

9. Derek Carr

10. Tajh Boyd

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About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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7 Responses to Heisman Apocalypto

  1. M E Carroll November 24, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    Should Alabama get past the two top-6 teams coming up next on their schedule, and nail their spot in the BCS Championship, on what basis could voters NOT vote for A J McCarron for the Heisman?

    • Nick November 24, 2013 at 10:16 am #

      Quite simple. The award isn’t for the best team. It is for the best player in College football. McCarron is a great leader. He plays on an amazing team. But he isn’t even close to the best player in college football.

    • Bill R November 24, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      If McCarron goes 15-25 for 175 in both games… you know, like AJ McCarron…. and Alabama stuffs both SEC teams on defense. I think people want to give him the Heisman, but they want to be ‘wowed’ or ‘confident’ in doing so. I mean, he kind of feels like Ken Dorsey.

  2. CM November 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    One thing I really get sick of reading and hearing in regards to the Heisman is how “AJ McCarron isn’t even the best player on his team.”

    So what? Plenty of Heisman winners have had teammates that went higher in the NFL draft and were better players. I’m not really sure why they think it’s such a knock. And just like I knew they would, the media is trying to hype some guy from Northern Illinois and some RB from Boston College. Remember in the pre-season all the talk regarding McCarron was how he got to play behind awesome offensive lines (as if that’s a knock somehow as well)….well, the first several games of the season the Bama OL was definitely not a strong point of the team. And while it’s shown flashes of dominance, I still wouldn’t say it’s been anywhere as consistent as some of Bama’s recent OLs. So does AJ get credit now for playing behind a less than all-world OL? Apparently not.

    Even if Winston isn’t charged in the rape, I still think AJ should get the nod IF Bama wins out with back to back victories over Top 10 teams. FSU has played an absolute joke of a schedule outside of the Clemson game. Winston’s stats are overly inflated. Yes, I think he’s a talent…yes, I think he has a NFL calibre arm. But I’m just not in the camp that thinks he’s head and shoulders above everyone else and it’s just the rape issue keeping him down. ‘Ol Squinty also has a super talented team around him. I’ve heard several commentators say FSU is the most talented team in the country. But oddly enough, that’s NOT a knock when it comes to Jameis “DNA in the Panties” Winston.

    • Josh November 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Look at Winston’s numbers then look at McCarron’s…

      Winston has almost 15 more TD’s and a 1000 more yards than McCarron.

  3. Josh November 24, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    I’m wondering why Tajh Boyd can’t get any love…

    * He had 1 bad game against arguably the best team in the country.
    * He has great numbers ( 3505 total yards, 37 TD’s, 7 INT’s ).
    * He is the best player on the #4 team in the country.
    * He has a top 5 win under his belt against a healthy Georgia in which he had 5 TD’s and 0 turnovers and has the potential for another against SC.
    * He is one of only 18 QB’s in history to have 100 or more career passing TD’s.
    * He has turned a Clemson program that was in disarray into a top program going 31-7 as a starter.
    * He is statistically the best QB in ACC history.

    So whether they want to make the Heisman award for the best player in the country or lifetime achievement, I think Boyd has a case either way. At the very least he should get an invite to NYC.

  4. JW November 24, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    Interesting question… If ‘Bama loses the Iron Bowl in a lackluster performance by McCarron, Winston’s ordeal is either still in the air OR he is charged, and Manziel absolutely TROUNCES Mizzou (i.e., 450+yds, 5TD), what the #3!! happens?