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 and 50+ former Heisman winners across the country.
Best Player, Best Team
McCarron has stumbled at times this season (Virginia Tech, Mississippi State), but his greatest trait in the Heisman race is delivering when Alabama needs him most. The Tide offense, directed by McCarron, went blow-for-blow with Johnny Manziel and slowly squeezed the life out of the LSU defense. With a trip to Auburn on Saturday with the SEC West on the line in the Iron Bowl, the Tide will need McCarron's best peformance again.
Best Player, Best Team; Part Deux
Florida State is putting up video game numbers, but not because of an up-tempo attack or unique scheme. What the Seminoles do is a simple-but-steady elimination, led by Winston's direction on offense and a defensive unit that has developed a knack for finding the end zone. Winston has not played many third or fourth quarter snaps in the last two months, but his FBS-leading 194.5 passing efficiency is evidence that the redshirt freshman is making the most of every opportunity on the field. While the off-field scrutiny continues (more on that below), Winston can keep his Heisman hopes alive by maintaining that calm effectiveness that has put the Seminoles in the driver's seat to a BCS title game appearance.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston
For all his spectacular on-field achievements, Winston's name has dominated the news cycle for two weeks because of off-field legal issues. Winston's Heisman candidacy has already been affected by the sexual abuse allegations and ongoing investigation into an incident last December, and now voters have a difficult decision ahead. The Heisman Trophy description includes language about "character," and some voters will cite that in their support of other candidates -- or lengthy columns titled "Why I didn't vote for Winston;" or something like that. It is important to note that if Winston is charged before the ballots are due there is little-to-no chance he wins the award.
Last week's "Hipster Heisman" has moved into the frontrunner position for voters looking to back a guy with impressive stats. By breaking through the sacred 2,000-yard rushing mark a week earlier than expected, Williams has the attention of the country as we see where he will fall among the all-time greats. His time in the spotlight will be brief, because Williams has accomplished this feat in steady fashion, just as Boston College has slowly rebuilt itself back from the pits of a 2-10 despair at the end of the Frank Spaziani era. If Williams rushes his average (188.45 yards per game), he will rank No. 4 on the all-time single-season rushing list behind two Heisman winners (Barry Sanders and Marcus Allen) and just ahead of a Heisman runner-up (Iowa State running back Troy Davis, 1996).
While Manziel did not look dominant vs. LSU, his body of work is worth consideration for anyone looking to award "the most outstanding player in college football." Johnny Football will have the spotlight again against Missouri this week, as the Tigers play for a spot in the SEC Championship Game. A poor performance from AJ McCarron or off-field issues for Jameis Winston could re-open the race in the next two weeks, and Manziel's body of work is still as good as anyone in the country.
Aaron Donald is a surefire All-American, but his recent dominance has led to a surge in Heisman chatter. After Donald had eight solo tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and blocked an extra point in Pitt's 17-16 win against Syracuse, the school put together a handy infographic comparing Donald's 2013 campaign to Ndamukong Suh's 2009 season that finished in a trip to New York City. Donald leads the country in tackles for loss (26) and ranks in the top 10 nationally with 10.0 sacks on the season. Unlike Suh and Te'o, Donald is not playing for a conference or national title contender. But thanks to that blocked extra point, Pitt does have a ticket to the postseason.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron
[Reminder: You don't need a Heisman moment to win or deserve the award, but voters have come to expect such things in the era of year-long Heisman hype]
With all eyes on one of the biggest Iron Bowl games in decades, AJ McCarron will play out his "Heisman Moment" whether he wants to or not. Heisman voters will sit down for that game with ballots in their hands, and McCarron's performance will dictate where his name falls among the contenders. Florida State might be playing backups in the fourth quarter against Florida; and if the Seminoles are not then one would assume it has been an unusual day for Jameis Winston. No other contender will have the spotlight McCarron has down the stretch of the voting period, so no other contender will have the "Heisman Moment" opportunities quite like the Tide's senior quarterback.