The 2013 college football campaign is entering its final act, but the drama that has enveloped this season seems to be just beginning. Most any award or championship that matters is still up for grabs, a rarity at this late juncture of the season. The race for the sports’ highest honor, the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, remains especially jumbled.
There are still multiple candidates hopeful that their name will be called on December 14 in Best Buy Hall at a point in the season where one player has usually distinguished himself already. This year, the race is still wide open entering Championship Week, so the contenders playing in a conference title game have one more chance to impress voters before the polls close on December 9. Those who are idle next week must hope that their previous performance has been enough to separate them. Here are the nominees for the 79th iteration of the Heisman.
AJ McCarron QB – Alabama
McCarron was a front-runner heading into Saturday’s Iron Bowl, but he lacks the impressive stats of the top candidates, and Alabama’s loss to Auburn likely knocked the senior out of the race for the moment. If any of the candidates stumble, however, the two-time BCS champion could be right back in the mix.
Andre Williams RB – Boston College
Season: 2073 rush yards, 16 TD, 6.5 yards per carry
This Week: 9 carries, 29 yards, 0 TD, Lost 34-31 vs. Syracuse
In a year that quarterbacks have dominated the headlines, Williams has gained serious Heisman momentum only in the last several weeks. His push for the award got a huge boost when the Pennsylvania native rushed for over 250 yards in three consecutive games from November 9-23, giving the bruising back a whopping five games in which he has topped 200 yards on the ground this season.
That three-game explosion not only landed Williams in the national consciousness, but also propelled him over the 2000-yard mark for the year, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by a running back since Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Kevin Smith did it in 2007. Passing that plateau is especially important for Williams’ campaign because it’s something voters can easily recall of as they cast their votes.
The case for Williams took a hit, however, against Syracuse on Saturday, as the senior was limited to less than 30 rushing yards and missed the majority of second half with an undisclosed injury. Boston College finished 7-5 and will not play in a conference title game, so that will be pollsters’ last memory of Williams this season. The running back’s injury against ‘Cuse might have knocked him out of not only the game, but out of the Heisman race as well.
Next Week: None
Braxton Miller QB – Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ quarterback was on the Heisman short list at the outset of the season but missed several games due to injury and largely fell out of contention. Still, he hasn’t lost a game in the last two seasons and has 27 total TDs this year. If he has a big performance in the Big Ten Championship Game against a Michigan State defense that many consider to be one of the best in the country, he could be back in the thick of the race, especially after a huge five-touchdown performance against arch rival Michigan.
Derek Carr QB – Fresno State
Carr has set numerous passing records this season, throwing for nearly 4500 yards and 45 TDs, but, like Lynch, he plays in a non-AQ conference. It will be difficult for Carr’s campaign to overcome Friday’s loss to San Jose State, which ruined the Bulldogs’ undefeated season.
Jameis Winston QB – Florida State
Season: 69.6 Comp %, 3163 pass yards, 32 TD, 7 INT, 12-0 Record
This Week: 19-31, 327 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, Won 37-7 vs. Florida
Winston has been the best player on what is clearly the nation’s best team this season. The redshirt freshman has been remarkably consistent, leading an offense that scored more than 37 points in all 12 of its games and tossing multiple TDs in 11 of those games.
The Bessemer, AL native is probably the front-runner for the award at the moment, but there are a few factors working against his case. First, his only truly signature moment, a 51-14 win in primetime over a previously undefeated Clemson team, happened six weeks ago and a soft schedule has kept Florida St. and, by extension, Winston somewhat under the radar ever since.
Second, and probably more significant, Winston is currently at the center of a sexual assault investigation. Few details have been revealed and Winston hasn’t been formally charged, but many voters take off-the-field issues into account. If the investigation is still open when ballots are due, some pollsters might leave Winston off their card entirely, despite his spectacular play this season and his previously lauded character.
Next Week: ACC Championship Game vs. Duke
Johnny Manziel QB – Texas A&M
The reigning Heisman winner has statistics comparable, and in some cases superior, to his numbers from a season ago. He’s thrown 32 touchdowns and run for nine more, compiling 4200 total yards in the process. He lacks a defining moment this year, though, as he had in the victory over No. 1 Alabama in 2012 and, after losing to Missouri on Saturday, the Aggies are a pedestrian 8-4. Johnny Football’s chances of becoming the second repeat Heisman winner seem slim as of now.
Jordan Lynch QB – Northern Illinois
Season: 64.4 Comp %, 2457 pass yards, 22 TD, 5 INT, 1755 rush yards, 20 TD, 7.1 yards per carry, 12-0 record
This Week: 27 carries, 321 yards rushing, 3 TD, 5-17, 39 yards passing, 1 TD, 0 INT, Won 33-14 vs. Western Michigan
Lynch certainly ended the regular season on a high note, breaking his own record for rush yards in a game by a quarterback and becoming just the fifth player to throw for 5000 yards and run for 4000 yards in a career. Those are just a few of the numerous records Lynch has shattered, leading NIU to an undefeated season and bringing the Huskies within a victory in the Mid-American Conference championship game of back-to-back BCS bowl appearances.
The Chicago native certainly has the gaudy stats necessary to support a Heisman campaign and Northern Illinois is fighting for his candidacy, but Lynch will always be questioned because he plays for a team from a non-AQ conference. The Huskies most impressive win this season came against an 8-4 Iowa team and most of Lynch’s dominant season was played against overmatched MAC foes.
Still, Lynch has done everything asked of him, including performing at a high level in all 12 games. With such a wide-open race, this could be the year that a player from a mid-major conference gets some love from the voters. At the very least, the dual-threat quarterback should be invited to New York for the presentation ceremony, an accomplishment in itself.
Next Week: MAC Championship Game vs. Bowling Green
Ka’Deem Carey RB – Arizona
Carey rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the first ten games he played this year and faced a more difficult slate of foes than Andre Williams. However, he doesn’t have much name recognition with voters and doesn’t have a single benchmark statistic to hang his hat on like Williams does.
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