Heisman Watch: Winston still playing strong despite ongoing investigation


As the college football season nears an end, the room for error narrows for potential Heisman candidates. One off game, even in a win, can cost a player dearly in a year with four remaining undefeated BCS conference schools from different conferences. If only the playoff was this year. Throw in the Johnny ‘Football’ factor, and this should make out to be one of the more interesting Heisman finishes in a while.

1. Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State) – Think the news of being investigated for an alleged sexual assault last December would throw off the freshman Heisman front-runner? Not even a little bit. Winston connected on 19 of 21 pass attempts for 277 yards against Syracuse to coast to a 59-3 win. As it stands, the No. 2 Seminoles and Winston sit just three very winnable games – Idaho, Florida and the ACC Championship game – from a BCS National Championship bid. Right now Duke leads the Coastal division with two road games to play, while Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami (FL) all sit with three conference losses. The Seminoles haven’t played any of those teams, but considering they haven’t won a game by less than 14-points all season — including a 37-point drubbing of then-No. 3 Clemson — they don’t pose a huge threat. Hitting the 13-0 mark almost guarantees Winston a plane ticket to New York for the Dec. 14 Heisman presentation. The rest depends on the remaining Heisman finalists and how the voters value statistics, winning, and strength of schedule.

2. Bryce Petty (QB, Baylor) – Petty won’t have to worry about lacking the statistical “wow” factor. The Bears will continue to score from first to last whistle to climb up the BCS standings, currently behind undefeated Ohio State, Florida State and Alabama. The Bears need at least one, probably two, of the teams ahead of them to lose to sneak in the BCS National Championship game. The good news for Petty is, he’s been able to guide an untamed offense to new heights – averaging an NCAA best 61.2 points per game and 684.8 yards per game. Of those, Petty accounts for 346.6 yards per game, sixth best in the NCAA. His latest outing included an early comeback turned into a 63-34 blowout of Texas Tech. After falling down 20-7 in the first quarter, Petty and the Bears took off. When it was over, Petty had thrown for 335 yards and three touchdowns, running for two more in the third quarter. Facing his biggest test as a Bear this weekend against No. 10 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Petty can really make a case to be on Jameis Winston’s Heisman level.

3. Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M;) – A part of me still believes Mr. Johnny “Football” has an outside shot at repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner. It’s a small part, but it’s still there. He’s averaging 392.4 yards per game, second best in the NCAA. He holds a 186.9 passer efficiency, third best in the NCAA, and he leads the NCAA in points responsible for with 234. How did Manziel steal the show last year to win the Heisman? Stacked stats early and a standout win late in the regular season – apparently he needed to play Alabama in November this year. With the loss to the Tide far behind the Aggies, and another loss to Auburn looking less damaging on Manziel’s resume each week, the sophomore has two chances to defend his Heisman. Manziel’s first chance comes Saturday against No. 22 LSU in Baton Rouge, La. The second and final opportunity for Manziel, as the Aggies are out of the race in the SEC West, is on the road against No. 8 Missouri.

4. A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama) – After an impressive showing against rival LSU, completing 70 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 21-point win, McCarron followed it up with a less than stellar performance. Sure, No. 1 Alabama beat Mississippi State 20-7 to remain undefeated and keep their three-peat hopes alive. But McCarron looked more like a freshman than a Heisman candidate. McCarron completed 56 percent of his passes, throwing two touchdowns and also two interceptions. McCarron can erase the sloppy win with a tune-up game against Chattanooga Saturday to prepare for the biggest Iron Bowl since Cam Newton graced NCAA fields. Not to mention the Tide’s regular season finale against No. 6 Auburn is on the road, with the winner advancing to the SEC Championship game.