There seems to be little doubt. From all indications, Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston will win the Heisman Trophy tonight in New York, becoming the second straight freshman to capture the most prestigious award in college football.
“It would be an honor,” Winston said. “The best part would be looking out into the crowd, seeing my coach and my family and thinking, ‘I made you happy. I made you proud.’ ”
If Winston becomes FSU’s third Heisman winner, joining fellow quarterbacks Charlie Ward (1993) and Chris Weinke (2000), there will be pride.
In other corners of the room, there might be some discomfort.
FSU’s ascension to a possible national championship and the rock-solid Heisman candidacy of its offensive leader has played out amid the investigation into an alleged sexual assault. Winston, identified as the suspect, was not charged last week because State Attorney Willie Meggs didn’t feel there was enough evidence for a conviction. Meggs declared it a closed case.
But for some Heisman voters, the debate might be ongoing.
Is the Heisman just about on-field performance?
Does character matter?
Since Winston wasn’t charged, should the incident be a factor?
Winston is one of six Heisman finalists, along with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (the 2012 Heisman winner), Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Auburn running back Tre Mason and Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Winston, who passed for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns this season, could gather 90 percent of the possible voting points, establishing the dominance only enjoyed by USC running back Reggie Bush (2005) and Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith (2006) in the past decade.
“Jameis Winston is the best player I’ve ever seen to play quarterback,” Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins said.
So he’s a lock?
“I think it should be voted on everything — character, how you present yourself off the field — and I’m pretty sure it is kind of judged on that,” Watkins said. “Whoever has the best character and plays good on the field will definitely win it.”
At Thursday night’s Home Depot College Football Awards, Winston captured the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award and also was named the Walter Camp All-American Player of the Year.
But McCarron, a senior, took home the Maxwell Award, given to college football’s top player. He started on two national championship teams and — had it not been for Auburn’s 109-yard return of a missed field-goal attempt — he would likely be going for his third in a head-to-head duel with Winston.
Just getting to New York was meaningful for McCarron.
“Of course, it made me feel good, but I also feel like I earned it and I deserve it,’’ McCarron said. “You look at the three years with me starting and I’d put my numbers up against anybody in the country. I had 13 interceptions in my whole three years. A lot of guys throw that in one year.
“I’ll be happy for anybody who wins it. Johnny (Manziel) is one of my good friends. I’d be happy for Jameis, too. I don’t have any hatred for anybody or the Heisman committee or whoever votes for it. I can go home at night and pull out my three national championship rings and be pretty happy. I don’t need an individual award to tell me what I’ve achieved at my university.”
Manziel doesn’t need the validation, either. He could become only the second two-time Heisman winner — joining Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (1974 and 1975) — but a late-season slump might have doomed his chances. He’s considering early entry into the NFL draft and that might be a bigger concern.
As a Heisman winner, Manziel has a vote. He said he didn’t use it on himself “for first place or second place.”
He was thrilled by last season’s experience, but, in a way that almost sounded world-weary, he said it’s also a life-changing moment.
“It was different,” Manziel said. “To go from such a small, slow town like College Station where everybody knows you, then to take that to a national level where you’re walking around Times Square and people are stopping you and noticing you … it was like nothing I had ever expected.”
Winston first became aware of the Heisman through a video game where you could make yourself into the award winner.
“Of course, I did that,” Winston said. “I’ve thought about it. It would be great. But I think every player who is going (to New York) is deserving. So we’ll see what happens.”
One of those players is Williams, the nation’s leading rusher. He gained 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns, registering the ninth-most productive year in Football Bowl Subdivision history, despite missing the season’s final game due to injury.
“If I was a Heisman voter, I would look at what the award is handed out for, the pursuit of excellence with integrity,” Williams said. “I guess I’d have to factor in all of that, what’s going on in games and off the field.”
Williams faced Winston in an early season ACC game, when BC actually led 17-3 before the Seminoles fought back to win by two touchdowns.
“He’s awesome,” said Williams, the Doak Walker Award winner. “Being able to conduct his team at such a young age, that’s all I know about him. Seeing what he has been able to do this year, I would give him my vote.”