Heisman Watch: Race narrows to final four players

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Week 11 saw one player’s Heisman hopes fade away to the same team for the second year in a row. Sorry, Marcus Mariota — there’s always next year. The rest of the serious contenders kept pace, leaving the Oregon quarterback in the dust of the Heisman and national title races.

1. Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State) — At this point, Winston’s stats are less important than the fact that the Seminoles remain undefeated. Blowing out lesser opponents in the process doesn’t hurt, either. The redshirt freshman guided the No. 2 Seminoles to a 59-3 win against Wake Forest, throwing for 159 yards in two-plus quarters of playing time. Winston’s next two Saturdays could be shortened as well, with home games against Syracuse (5-4, 3-2) and Idaho (1-9) to make sure the Heisman contender is 100-percent healthy for the Seminoles regular season concluding matchup with Florida in Gainesville, Fla. If the Seminoles roll through the Gators, like I expect them to, then the ACC Championship game would be their final hurdle in the race towards the BCS National Championship. The ACC’s Coastal division is still jumbled up with teams like Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Duke, and Miami all sitting with two conference losses, while North Carolina and Pittsburgh each have three losses.

2. Bryce Petty (QB, Baylor) — The benefit of playing on Thursday nights, especially on a night on which the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins are the NFL game, is the national exposure your program and top players receive. That is, if they perform. Petty and the Bears did just that, routing Oklahoma last Thursday in a 41-12 win. Petty, despite a slow start, directed the win without star running back junior Lache Seastrunk and his speedy receiver senior Tevin Reese. The junior quarterback accounted for five touchdowns — three in the air and two on the ground — as he aired it out for 204 yards and legged out another 45 yards on the ground, all without committing a turnover. Currently, the No. 5 Bears (8-0, 5-0) are on the outside looking in for the BCS National Championship. They sit behind one-loss Stanford and undefeated Ohio State, Florida State and Alabama. Petty could still come away with the ultimate individual hardware, though, if he can guide the Bears through the their remaining schedule, starting with Texas Tech, a team desperate to end a three-game losing streak. Then they’ll see road matchups with No. 12 Oklahoma State and TCU in back-to-back weekends before ending the season with a Dec. 7 battle, likely for the Big 12 title, with a revived No. 24 Texas.

3. A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama) — How’s the saying go? Roll Tide? Well that’s precisely what the McCarron-led Alabama squad has continued to do, winning its last seven games by at least 21 points. Most recently, McCarron navigated a 38-17 win against LSU during which the senior quarterback completed 14-of-20 pass attempts for three touchdowns. With a road-win against Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M; Aggies on this year’s Heisman resume, and the possibility of a third BCS National Championship in a row being inked next to his name, McCarron is now in the thick of the Heisman conversations. Unless the No. 1 ranked Tide trips up against Mississippi State on the road or loses to Chattanooga — a sure sign of the apocalypse — McCarron’s biggest test will be a Nov. 30 road-matchup with No. 7 Auburn, followed, if Alabama wins, by the SEC Championship game.

4. Johnny Manziel (QB, Alabama) — Even if no one in front of Manziel loses, I hope the reigning Heisman winner gets an invite to New York in December. It’s the least they could do for a guy cursed with a terrible defense. Manziel’s latest example — 30 for 39 for 446 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions — in the Aggies’ 51-41 win against Mississippi State is just the latest display of how valuable Manziel really is. The sophomore is second in the NCAA in total offense, behind only SMU’s Garrett Gilbert, with 392.4 yards per game, which has helped the Aggies overcome an 89th ranked defense in points per game allowed in all but two games. Manziel could greatly help his chances to receive a Heisman finalist invitation with road wins against No. 21 LSU and No. 9 Missouri to end the regular season.

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