With the six finalists named and Heisman week upon us, it’s time to look back at how we got here.
There were a lot of twists and turns in this year’s race. Here are the 10 most important Heisman moments of 2013:
#10 — Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville upset by UCF
A hot start helped Bridgewater jump to the top of the Sept. 10 edition of the HeismanPundit Straw Poll, but the Cardinals blew a 28-7 third quarter lead against UCF and lost, 38-35, in mid-October. With Louisville’s weak schedule, Bridgewater could not afford a loss and, despite a stellar season, his candidacy never recovered from this upset.
#9 — Bryce Petty and Baylor get crushed by Oklahoma State
It was all there for the taking for Baylor and its star quarterback, Bryce Petty. A possible BCS title berth. A Heisman Trophy. All the Bears had to do was beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater for the first time since 1939. The late-November showdown was cold and dreary and not amenable to the Baylor offense, which produced its worst showing of the season in a 49-17 drubbing. The general drop-off by Petty in November was accentuated by his out-of-this-world September and October, which probably set expectations too high for Heisman observers.
#8 — Jordan Lynch sets the NCAA quarterback rushing record…twice
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch was the only player to rush for over 300 yards twice this season. Each time, he broke the NCAA record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback. His last time was a 321-yard effort against Western Michigan that probably assured he would become a Heisman finalist and, potentially, log the highest non-BCS-conference Heisman finish of the BCS era.
#7 — Andre Williams tops the 2,000-yard rushing mark
One week after rolling for an FBS-season-best 339 yards against North Carolina State, Boston College running back Andre Williams became the 16th player to top the 2,000-yard rushing mark by rushing for 263 yards against Maryland. One week later, he became the ninth player to surpass 2,100 rushing yards. The feat propelled him into the thick of the Heisman race, but a shoulder injury in his final game against Syracuse sapped whatever late-season momentum he had.
#6 — Tre Mason rolls for 304 yards and four touchdowns against Missouri in SEC title game
Tre Mason vaulted himself to New York as a Heisman finalist on the strength of his 46-carry, 304-yard, 4-touchdown performance in Auburn’s 59-42 victory over Missouri in the SEC title game. With one fell swoop, he overcame a season’s-worth of relative anonymity to become a late-breaking Heisman candidate. Doesn’t happen like that very often.
#5 — Johnny Manziel launches furious comeback against No. 1 Alabama
The most anticipated matchup of the early part of the season saw the defending Heisman winner rip the vaunted Alabama defense for 562 total yards and five touchdowns. Manziel led his team to 21 fourth quarter points, including a 95-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Evans. It wasn’t enough. Alabama won, 49-42. But Johnny Football showed he was back…and better than ever.
#4 — Winston inserts himself into the upper echelon of candidates as Florida State obliterates Clemson
Jameis Winston threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns as No. 5 Florida State destroyed No. 3 Clemson, 51-14. This game established Winston as a legitimate Heisman candidate and moved him into second in the HeismanPundit Straw Poll. He wouldn’t stay there very long.
#3 — Braxton Miller hurts knee, misses almost three full games
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was the front runner for the Heisman heading into the season, but he hurt his knee in week two during the first series of the Buckeyes’ game against San Diego State and was forced to sit out the next two contests. No Heisman winner has ever missed that many games, so Miller was basically done as a serious candidate. His late-season production showed the potential of his candidacy, however, and it’s likely that if he had stayed healthy all season, his name would be the one announced on the podium in New York on Saturday.
#2 — Marcus Mariota drops the ball against Stanford
Marcus Mariota of Oregon was the front runner in the race from mid-October until early November. His numbers were extraordinary and, following good performances against ranked UCLA and Washington teams, he looked capable of running away with the Heisman. All he had to do was get by nemesis Stanford — which owned a victory over the Ducks from the prior season — and he’d be home free. The Thursday night matchup of top five teams quickly turned into a nightmare for Mariota and his team. Oregon fell behind 26-0 and Mariota looked shaky, at one point fumbling the ball away in Stanford territory. He led a furious rally to make the score respectable but the damage was done. The Ducks never really recovered psychologically from that loss and they dropped another game in embarrassing fashion to Arizona two weeks later. Despite his stellar numbers, Mariota — who was playing with a sprained knee, as it turns out — dropped off the Heisman radar.
#1 — Willie Meggs decides not to press charges against Jameis Winston
The news that Jameis Winston was under investigation for an alleged rape came out on Nov. 13 and, for the next three weeks, the race was in a state of limbo. Some Heisman voters recoiled at the idea of voting for a player who might be charged with rape. Others wanted to wait to see if more information came out before making a decision. Still others gave him the benefit of the doubt and defended Winston’s right to be presumed innocent. Looming over everything was the seriousness of a matter involving the lives of two young adults, which made the whole business of the Heisman seem rather trivial by comparison. Nonetheless, if Winston had been charged, or if the the matter was not adequately resolved before Heisman ballots were due, we would today be looking at a radically different Heisman race and, potentially, a nightmare of a Heisman ceremony. Instead, Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs held a press conference on Dec. 5 announcing that Winston would not be charged with a crime. Among the byproducts of that decision was that it cleared the way for voters to pick Winston without the stench of controversy hanging over their decision. As a result, he’s on his way to a landslide victory on Saturday.