The Heisman Trophy Trust asks its voters to select and rank three players that best fit the description of "the most outstanding college football player." With Heisman hype and debates raging in full force, we try to identify the different schools of thought employed by the 870 media voters across the country.
Best Player, Best Team
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron: My colleague Tony Barnhart made a passionate pitch for McCarron on Monday's Tim Brando Show, and I expect the momentum will build rapidly if the Crimson Tide continue their tear through the SEC and lock up a spot in the BCS title game. In the eyes of many voters, Alabama's dominant second half against LSU reaffirmed its position on top of the college football world. The "best player, best team" approach is the easiest for a voter, and as more players fall from contention in the coming weeks it will become more popular.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: No one in college football has demonstrated the ability to single-handedly take over a game like Johnny Football. Manziel was able to overcome his redshirt freshman status and two regular-season losses to win the award in 2012, and by many accounts (including Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin) the Aggies quarterback is playing even better in his redshirt sophomore season. Manziel is must-see TV every time he sets foot on the field, and with road games against LSU and Missouri there will be plenty of opportunities to assert that dominance against top-notch competition.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty: Innovative offenses with wild statistics are often brushed aside from traditionalists, but it is hard to argue against a quarterback that has thrown 21 touchdowns to just one interception and leads the nation in yards per attempt (13.2) and passing efficiency (210.6). Manziel and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will have impressive totals when the Heisman voters fill out their ballots, but for now Petty has one statistic that separates him from the other stat-stuffers: zero losses. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston ranks just below Petty in most statistical categories, giving him an extra edge in the overall race.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: The fact that Texas A&M has scored more than 40 points in every game this season does not come as a huge surprise considering Manziel's development in year two under Kevin Sumlin. However, the fact that the Aggies have needed 40-plus points to win (or even fall short vs. Alabama and Auburn) is just one of many reasons to suggest that Texas A&M would not be 8-2 without Johnny Football under center.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston: Manziel broke down the freshman barrier for the Heisman Trophy, and just one year later it looks like we could have another rookie winner. Leading Florida State back to national-title contention would get Heisman recognition regardless of the stats and intangibles. Throw in a cool nickname, nationally televised pregame speeches and a statistical dominance that puts him the same conversation as Petty, Mariota, Manziel and others and you have another Heisman-ready freshman on your hands.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston: Winston is young, charismatic, camera-friendly and fantastic at football. Only Manziel rivals his hype, only McCarron rivals his spotlight for the final weeks of the season.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron: The Heisman Trust does not ask voters to make this award a lifetime achievement honor, but that has not prevented voters from using it as a crutch in the past. McCarron is the most accomplished active college football player, so he becomes the choice for voters who value such things in Heisman consideration.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater: When Louisville announced before the season that Bridgewater would not have a school-supported "Heisman campaign," it did not seem like a big deal because the NFL was already doing a great job of promoting the Cardinals quarterback. NFL Draft stock should not play a role in the Heisman voting, but the unmatched popularity of the league and its annual job fair has crafted the way we analyze and compare college football players. Oregon's Mariota has surged up draft boards this season to join Bridgewater in this category, and both players could receive votes because of the excitement coming from the pro ranks.
To Be Decided: The idea of needing a "Heisman moment" to win the award is an approach contrived by the media, but accepted by the college football world as a way to elevate certain contenders above his peers. In today's "what have you done for me lately" sports world, the Heisman spotlight demands some kind of heroic and/or spectacular individual performance in November or December. Voters who employ this approach are procrastinators, panicking for a reason to make a pick with the deadline approaching.