Calling the 2013 Heisman Race

winston

Other work obligations prevented me from getting to my usual Heisman Watch on Monday, but it was at least partly due to my developing thoughts on the 2013 Heisman Trophy race.

The more I pondered the rather odd circumstances of this campaign, the more it occurred to me that I was looking at it the wrong way. Once I figured that out, the outcome of the race became clear (so did the choice on my ballot, but that will not be revealed here).

Which is why I’m dispensing with any more Heisman Watches and submitting my traditional calling-of-the-race post right now.

The winner of the 2013 Heisman Trophy will be Jameis Winston of Florida State.

Now, this should not come as much of a shock to most of you. After all, Winston has been the leader of my Straw Poll for the last four weeks. He’s faced very little adversity on the field this year while putting up excellent production and his team, a traditional Heisman power, remains undefeated. He plays in a conference that intersects three Heisman voting regions, thus improving his exposure with the Heisman electorate in those areas. By all rights, his pending victory should be considered a no-brainer. Check your lines at SportsBettingOnline.ag.

The only question that has been hanging over the race has been a criminal investigation involving an alleged rape, of which Winston is the subject. It constitutes the main obstacle to his winning the Heisman. But that doesn’t mean the investigation as it currently stands is a big enough obstacle to kill his candidacy.

As serious as the accusations are, they do not hold the same weight as a criminal charge and therefore their impact has actually decreased as time has passed. Not to trivialize the matter, but think of the Nov. 13 news reports about Winston’s alleged actions as being equally damaging to him as having a four-interception game, or to Florida State losing a last-second heartbreaker to Miami because he fumbled in the end zone. In the short term, his Heisman candidacy would take a big hit but, over time, memories of the performance would fade and voters would not penalize him as much as they did in its immediate aftermath. After all, voters tend to look at seasons as whole rather than in bits and pieces.

So in a race filled with many flawed candidacies, Winston’s is the least flawed, even if that one flaw involves a criminal investigation. For someone other than Winston to win, then, that player must be seen as defensible alternative to Winston.

That’s been a problem.

AJ McCarron of Alabama was supposed to be leading his team to a third national title. That didn’t happen. And without that you’re mostly left with a guy with sub-par production compared to the other quarterbacks in the race.

Andre Williams has had a great season, but he has minimal name recognition and hardly any of the voters have seen him play. If a running back rushes for 2,102 yards in the middle of a forest, does he make a noise? Besides, he plays for a four-loss team and, while that’s not automatically disqualifying, it raises the bar for what he has to do to garner support.

Jordan Lynch still has a game to play and I think that if this calling of the race proves to be wrong — or overcome by events — then he will be the reason. Lynch is just 245 rushing yards away from becoming the first 2,000 passer/2,000 rusher in NCAA history. This is a very powerful stat. If enough voters are skittish enough about Winston and are looking for a viable alternative, then a 2,000/2,000 guy might rise to that standard, even if he does play for Northern Illinois. Ah, and there’s the rub. If Lynch was playing for an undefeated school in a BCS league, he’d be running away with this thing. But then, maybe he doesn’t get 2,000/2,000 playing for a major school. This is the issue voters grapple with when it comes to Lynch. As of right now, his school and its lack of quality competition are his biggest drawbacks as a candidate. It also doesn’t help that FSU did a number on him in the last Orange Bowl.

Bryce Petty also has a game to play, but he’d have to really light it up against Texas to get people excited about his candidacy at this late stage. Much of the luster of his campaign — and it never really got that shiny to begin with — went away when the Bears got killed by Oklahoma State. He didn’t play nearly as well in November as he did in September and October, which is (coincidentally) about the time Baylor’s schedule started to toughen up. In order for Petty to win, Baylor needed to either go undefeated or Petty needed to have a Tebow/Newton/Manziel-type of season. Neither happened, so he won’t win.

Marcus Mariota was the front runner for a good chunk of the year and had his chance to win the Heisman, but he wasn’t able to get it done against Stanford in early November. It’s hard to recover from losing in that fashion to a highly-ranked team so late in the season, but Mariota’s production was so good and the respect for his talent so high that he couldn’t really be counted out of the race until the Ducks got crushed by Arizona a couple weeks later. The production remains, but he hasn’t been able to escape the aura of Oregon’s disappointing season.

Johnny Manziel was never going to win the Heisman because there will never be another two-time Heisman winner. Said it over and over. Next.

Derek Carr has incredible numbers but you can’t win the Heisman playing for a one-loss Fresno State team. Not yet anyway.

Braxton Miller missed almost three full games. His production has been very good since he’s come back from injury, but unless he has a game for the ages against a stout Michigan State defense in the Big Ten title game on Saturday, he’s going to have a hard time even getting to New York. Still, the fact that he is showing up on Heisman watches pretty much validates my choice of him as the preseason Heisman favorite.

Teddy Bridgewater had a fine season, but the inability of his team to dominate a weak schedule did him in. Tajh Boyd couldn’t beat Winston head-to-head nor guide Clemson past South Carolina. Ka’Deem Carey is a regional candidate with numbers less impressive than Williams, plus his team has five losses. Nick Marshall has led his team on a miracle run and though we once talked about him making a late move in this race, he hasn’t been consistently outstanding this season. And voters still don’t know much about him.

Which brings us back around to Winston.

Let’s look at what the redshirt freshman has done this year.

With one game to play, he’s thrown for 3,580 yards with 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s completed 68.8 percent of his throws and his passer rating of 192.64 is on pace to break Russell Wilson’s NCAA mark of 191.78 set two seasons ago. He’s also added three rushing touchdowns. Most importantly, he has helped resurrect a once-proud program while playing at a level not usually associated with Florida State quarterbacks — at least not in the last 13 years or so. His remarkable consistency and presence on the field has sparked his team to its first undefeated regular season since 1999 (assuming all goes well against Duke on Saturday). Thanks in large part to his play, the Seminoles are back. What’s more, he’s an elite talent and a future top 10 draft pick. What’s not to like?

Well, there is still that investigation.

There are seven ways it could go:

1. Winston doesn’t get charged or exonerated before the Heisman ceremony. The investigation continues.

This is the current status quo. In this scenario, because of the lack of a viable alternative and absent any more damning information, Winston wins but by a relatively small margin.

2. Winston gets exonerated before the Heisman ceremony and before ballots are due.

If this happens, Winston will win the Heisman by a very healthy margin.

3. Winston gets exonerated before the Heisman ceremony but after ballots are due.

This is where things get problematic. If enough voters leave him off their ballots to prevent him from winning the Heisman and then the accusations prove to be baseless, then it will be seen as a great Heisman tragedy and Winston will rightfully be viewed as having been wronged.

4. Winston gets charged with a felony before the Heisman ceremony and before ballots are due.

This is the opposite of 2. If this happens, Winston’s support will evaporate and he won’t make it to New York.

5. Winston gets charged with a felony before the Heisman ceremony but after ballots are due.

Another very problematic scenario that races a lot of questions. Will he be allowed to leave Florida to attend the Heisman ceremony while under such a charge? Will the Heisman Trust eschew his participation in the events of the weekend since his presence would stir up a media circus? Could he be awarded his Heisman in absentia, as Barry Sanders and Andre Ware did? Will Winston be allowed to accept the Heisman at all?

6. Winston gets exonerated after the Heisman ceremony.

This is not a bad scenario, unless he loses the Heisman in a close vote. And then people will feel really bad about it.

7. Winston gets charged after the Heisman ceremony and later found guilty or not guilty.

If Winston wins the Heisman, there could be some initial consternation about him being charged, but I believe he will keep the trophy until his trial ends. He’ll obviously keep it if found not guilty and everyone will then be relieved. If he is found guilty, I believe he will also keep it unless the Heisman Trust takes unprecedented action and revokes his honor. I think it would behoove them to set a policy on this matter well ahead of time for the sake of transparency.

So there you have it.

In five (and quite possibly six) of these seven situations relating to his investigation, Winston still wins the Heisman.

I can’t predict what the legal system is going to do. I can only assume that the status quo will be maintained and go from there. If the previously-spelled-out scenarios detrimental to Winston’s candidacy come to fruition, then my call will turn out to be wrong…but for reasons well beyond most anyone’s ability to confidently predict.

So let’s call it for him.

Congrats to Winston and Florida State, which is about to win its third Heisman.

If the vote was held right now (not how it will end up):

1. Winston

2. Lynch

3. McCarron

4. Miller

5. Williams

6. Petty

7. Manziel

8. Mariota

9. Marshall

10. Carr

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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