Discussion of the Heisman Trophy has been a roller-coaster ride during the 2013 season largely due to the criminal investigation of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
If voting was strictly based upon a player’s performance on the football field, Winston would be the runaway winner. But the very first sentence of the Heisman Trust’s mission statement speaks of other intangibles. Note the very last word: “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
Barring Winston being charged with a crime, however, voters will make the Seminoles freshman the Heisman’s latest recipient by default. From a football standpoint, he’s the only player that deserves the award, and there’s not enough off-the-field evidence to deny him the honor at this point in time.
It’s not a perfect world we live in and it’s impossible to judge the integrity of someone with 100 percent conviction. Take a look at two of last year’s finalists.
There were no red flags at the time of last year’s Heisman balloting, but Johnny Manziel has since displayed immaturity at the very least with accusations of accepting money in exchange for autographs, outlandish offseason exploits and perhaps actions unbecoming of a leader on the football field.
Then there’s Manti Te’o, who may be a victim of naivety but wasn’t exactly forthcoming about his pseudo-relationship until after the media exposed it (after Heisman voting we might add).
Granted, the situations of Manziel and Te’o are tame compared to allegations of rape. But what are voters to do? They don’t follow the players around 24-7, and they can’t predict the future.
It just goes to show that it takes a lot to trump the integrity part of the Heisman equation.
Six finalists will be invited to attend the Heisman Trophy ceremony Saturday evening in New York. What follows is a breakdown of their credentials.
Northern Illinois Quarterback Jordan Lynch
The case for: In terms of being the “most valuable” player in college football, there may be no player more valuable to their team than Lynch. This isn’t an award for the best pro football prospect, it’s for the best player in college football, and Lynch at least makes for a compelling argument. He finished second in the nation with 1,881 rushing yards, which was tops among quarterbacks. While not a picture-perfect passer, he was more than capable, completing 63.1 percent of his passes for 2,676 yards with 23 touchdowns, including a 6-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio against Big Ten opponents.
The case against: With the MAC conference championship and a berth in a BCS bowl game at stake, Lynch had one of his worst performance of the season last week against Bowling Green when he threw two costly interceptions. It’s never a good thing to have your worst performance late in the season fresh in the minds of voters when the cast their ballots.
Texas A&M Quarterback Johnny Manziel
The case for: Manziel’s throwing the football even better than a year ago when he won the Heisman Trophy, hitting on 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,732 yards and 33 touchdown. He hits a higher percentage of his passes than Winston, along with more average yards passing per game. He’s one of the more electrifying players in college football, able to make plays with both his arms and his legs. Not many players can do what Manziel did against the Alabama defense in September when he threw for a career-high 464 yards and five touchdowns.
The case against: Manziel’s rushing numbers are down significantly from last year, 1,410 and 21 touchdowns in 2012 compared to 686 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. His interceptions are also up, from nine to 13. His team lost four games overall and his season ended on two-game losing streak, not looking good in either game against LSU or Missouri. His best performance of the season against Alabama ended in defeat and also included two interceptions.
Auburn Running Back Tre Mason
The case for: Mason had his best game when the stakes were highest, a 304-yard, four-touchdown outburst against Missouri in the SEC Championship in a win that was needed to advance to the national-championship game. His hard-fought 164-yard output against Alabama should not go overlooked either. Mason finished the season seventh in the nation with 1,621 rushing yards and third with 22 rushing touchdowns.
The case against: The season started slow for Mason, who failed to top 100 rushing yards in four of the first five games of the year. It’s also debatable whether Mason is the most outstanding player on his own team. Quarterback Nick Marshall has made the Auburn offense hum, throwing for more than 1,700 yards and rushing in excess of 1,000 more.
Alabama Quarterback A.J. McCarron
The case for: The Heisman Trophy isn’t a career-achievement award, but if it were, it would go to McCarron who led Alabama to two national championships and a one-loss season. He directs the Alabama offense with deft precision, putting his teammates in position to make plays while minimizing mistakes and taking the leadership intangible to new levels. McCarron completes more than two-thirds of his passes (67.6 percent) to go along with 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. And that 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper against Auburn sure was exciting.
The case against: The career-achievement notion works against McCarron for an award that’s designed to honor a player for his single-season performance. There’s also the argument that any number of players would be able to have as much success as McCarron if they had as many weapons around them and were protected by the NFL-caliber Tide offensive line. And unfortunately for McCarron, his 99-yard touchdown pass was drowned out by two bigger plays made by Auburn in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl.
Boston College Running Back Andre Williams
The case for: Williams led the nation with both 2,102 rushing yards and 175.2 average rushing yards per game. He had five games with more than 200 rushing yards, including a three-game streak against New Mexico State, North Carolina State and Maryland that featured rushing totals of 295, 339 and 263 yards. He helped Boston College improve from a 2-10 record in 2012 to 7-5 and bowl eligibility in 2013.
The case against: As nice as it for Boston College to improve five more wins than a season ago, they weren’t a factor nationally, let alone the ACC conference like many of the other candidates. Williams’ season ended in a thud during the regular-season finale when he rushed for just 29 yards on nine carries against Syracuse before having to leave to the game with a shoulder injury. He also didn’t catch a single pass the entire season.
Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston
The case for: Already the winner of the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback, Winston led his team to an undefeated season, the ACC championship and a spot in the BCS national-title game. It’s remarkable for what he’s been able to accomplish as a freshman, with signature moments coming in the season opener and his first career start at Pitt (completing 25 of 27 passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions), connecting on a Hail Mary against Boston College and winning games against Clemson, Miami and Florida. Winston ranks No. 1 in the nation in passer rating (190.06) and yards per attempt (10.9), No. 2 with 38 touchdown passes and No. 8 with 3,820 yards.
The case against: The afore-mentioned “integrity” issue would be about the only thing standing in the way of the Heisman Trophy, but minus any criminal charge, there won’t be many voters that take a stand against Winston. He did throw 10 interceptions on the season. As a point of comparison, there are 100 other college quarterbacks that averaged at least 15 pass attempts per game that threw fewer interceptions.
Prediction: Winston has the CFWP endorsement for the Heisman Trophy and our prediction for whom I think will win it as well. Television coverage of the ceremony begins at 7:00 p.m. CT on ESPN.
The lone FBS football game on the docket for Saturday is the always-fun Army-Navy showdown in Philadelphia.
Nope, they aren’t the best teams. But the tradition, the history, the rich milieu and the players themselves make the game worth watching.
Last season, Army had an opportunity to end an 11-year losing drought to Navy, down 17-13 but within striking distance of scoring with just seconds remaining.
Unfortunately for Army, hard luck quarterback Trent Steelman fumbled a handoff exchange, and Navy held on for the victory.
Predictably, Army (3-8) and Navy (7-4) rank No. 2 and 3 respectively in the nation in rushing offense, each averaging over 320 yards on the ground per game, running their triple-option offense.
There’s not a lot separating these two team, either offensive or defensively, but it’s hard to bet against Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose team has wins this season over Pittsburgh, Indiana, San Jose State, Air Force, South Alabama, Hawaii and pushed Notre Dame to the brink before losing.
If there’s one thing working in Army’s favor, it’s that Navy has already gained bowl eligibility and could take an Army team they’ve beaten for more than a decade rather lightly.
Prediction: Beating Navy would make Army’s season, but look for the streak to continue as quarterback Keenan Reynolds makes plays in both the passing and running game. Navy wins 28-14. Kickoff is at 2:00 p.m. CT on CBS.
The Wisconsin Connection
First of all, congratulations to Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis for winning the Burlsworth Trophy for the most outstanding college football player that began his career as a walk-on.
Abbrederis finished his senior season with more than 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors.
The Badgers will have a big void to fill at the receiver position next season. It was frequent topic of discussion who would emerge as the No. 2 wide receiver opposite Abbrederis, and after this season, they’ll have no clear cut No. 1 receiver, let alone No. 2.
Two other news items made headlines for the Badgers this week, one of them being Melvin Gordon deciding whether he will declare for the NFL draft. He hasn’t decided yet and likely won’t until after the Badgers’ appearance in the Citrus Bowl* on New Year’s Day against South Carolina.
Gordon is third-ranked running back by NFLDraftScout.com in the 2016 draft class, but such rankings are fluid. He could arguably be No. 1 and he could easily drop in the rankings if he were to suffer an injury down the road.
Because there’s still room for improvement and because James White will be out of the equation next season, the guess here is that Gordon returns, just like Montee Ball after flirting with declaring early.
But it’s difficult to blame a young man for deciding to enter the NFL draft. He has every right to maximize his earning potential whenever he chooses.
The other piece of news meriting analysis is that Tanner McEvoy will compete to be the starting quarterback next season despite becoming a starter at safety late this season.
There’s nothing wrong with McEvoy giving it one more go-around at quarterback. Joel Stave has been adequate as the Badgers’ starting quarterback, but his accuracy has left much to be desired and it’s very possible the Badgers could do better.
McEvoy is definitely athletic enough to be a dual-threat quarterback, and now it’s just a matter if he can be as effective if not better than Stave delivering the football on a consistent basis.
If McEvoy isn’t able to win the job, he has a pretty decent fall-back option at safety. But this should probably McEvoy’s last chance. Unless he becomes the Badgers’ starting quarterback by next fall, he should probably move to defense full-time.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.