Though Texas A&M’s loss to Alabama won’t kill Johnny Manziel’s campaign for a second Heisman, it can’t hurt Jameis Winston’s bid to become the second freshman in history to win the bronze statuette.
Yes, every loss suffered by a major competitor means that other top hopefuls will increase their chances of walking away with the highest individual honor in college football.
Florida State’s Winston—through a mere two games—has shown composure and potential similar to Manziel’s in 2012, making it seem possible that he could follow in his footsteps in 2013.
Heisman history makes it clear that once a major barrier is broken to win the trophy, a repeat is imminent.
To illustrate, in 2007, Florida’s Tim Tebow became the first sophomore winner. This "first" quickly became a "second" and "third" when Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Alabama’s Mark Ingram won as sophomores in 2008 and 2009.
Here’s what needs to happen, other than staying healthy, for Winston to be the first Seminole to win the Heisman since 2000.
Win 10 Games
Of the 15 Heisman winners in the BCS era, 11 have played for a team that finished the regular season with 10 or more wins.
The exceptions are Ricky Williams from Texas in 1998, Ron Dayne from Wisconsin in 1999, Tim Tebow from Florida in 2007 and Robert Griffin III from Baylor in 2011.
In every case but that of Tebow, each athlete put up all-world stats that presumably overrode the win-loss mark. This means that the Seminoles, at 2-0, need eight more wins to get Winston to the podium.
Wins are expected at home against FCS Bethune-Cookman, Maryland, N.C. State, Syracuse and Idaho. Road victories should come at Boston College and at Wake Forest.
If Florida State wins these seven contests, it will need to find its 10th win at Clemson on Oct. 19, versus Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 2 or at Florida on Nov. 30.
Or it could win the ACC title game slated for Dec. 7, a week before the Heisman presentation.
Win the ACC Title
Ten of the 15 Heisman winners in the BCS era played for teams that finished the season with at least a divisional title. Of these, nine played for programs which won a conference championship.
The directive here is clear: Winston and Florida State need to win the ACC Atlantic and more than likely the ACC championship for him to win the Heisman.
This is true more so for Winston because of the general belief that the Seminoles play a somewhat “soft” schedule.
It will be even more important if Winston goes head-to-head in the Heisman voting against Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Georgia’s Todd Gurley or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. All these guys will have earned their achievements against a tougher set of opponents.
Put Up Big Stats
The last three Heisman winners have all been dual-threat quarterbacks, and each has set the bar higher in statistics.
Auburn’s Cam Newton posted 4,369 total yards in 2010, Baylor’s Griffin racked up 5,007 in 2011 and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel cranked out 5,116 in 2012.
Based on these numbers, Winston—regardless of the mix between passing and rushing—needs to target the 5,000-yard range. This doesn’t mean he has to surpass Griffin or Manziel, but his numbers need to be big.
It’s also worth noting that each of the last three winners threw fewer than 10 interceptions and scored more than 45 touchdowns. Winston has 603 yards and eight touchdowns through two games.
When you think back to how Manziel managed to win the Heisman as a freshman in 2012, it’s impossible to consider him winning without the victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
In the case of Newton, the most recent signature win in the voters' minds would have been the victory at Alabama. With Griffin, it was the finale, a blowout win over Texas.
Winston has three potential signature games to convince the voters that he’s the best player in college football.
The first will come in the Week 8 trip to Clemson, the second will come in Week 10 at home versus Miami (Fla.) and the last will be the finale at Florida.
Though the Clemson game looks the best on paper—and is likely the highest-ranked opponent the Seminoles will face—a month-and-a-half separates this game and the Heisman voting.
So while Winston and Florida State need to beat Clemson, from an individual standpoint, he must shine even brighter at Florida on Nov. 30.
Competition Falls Away
The untold story of every successful Heisman campaign is the guys who fell from the watch list.
Last season, West Virginia’s Geno Smith was all but the Heisman elect until the Mountaineers lost five straight on their way to a 7-5 regular-season finish.
Then there was Kansas State’s Collin Klein, who was the front-runner in Week 8 through Week 11 only to crash and burn in the Wildcats’ Week 12 upset loss at Baylor.
This shocking defeat combined with the Aggies’ win over Alabama was perfect timing for Manziel.
For Winston, you’ve got to believe that the most helpful scenario would be if Mariota and Oregon could either lose at Stanford on Nov. 7 or in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 7.
Another boost could come from a late Ohio State loss at Michigan or in the Big Ten title game, derailing Braxton Miller’s campaign.
Though Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is still at the top of Heisman watch lists, the Cardinals’ softer schedule could damage the viability of his campaign. This, combined with a near-miss or loss to UCF on Oct. 18 or at Cincinnati on Dec. 5, could spell disaster for him.