The race for the Heisman Trophy can be a bumpy and unpredictable ride not unlike the college football season as a whole. Players, like teams, can fall in and out of contention, and each weekend usually brings something totally unexpected.
But the past two weeks have turned the Heisman race on its head, and McCarron could benefit the most from it, especially with at least one more huge game left on his schedule.
Manziel was still in the race despite having, at the time, two losses to his name because he was still putting up incredible numbers, and it is hard to peg the losses to Alabama and Auburn on him.
Saturday, though, he imploded.
Against the LSU Tigers, Manziel completed just 39 percent of his passes for 224 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He rushed 12 times for only 54 yards and no scores. The Tigers defense made him look like a mortal for the first time this season, and it wasn’t pretty.
The Heisman has typically gone to the best player on one of the best teams in the country, and Manziel’s three losses mixed with his subpar play won’t look good to voters.
Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com wrote that Manziel missed his chance to impress on the big stage:
And it came at the worst possible time for his chances of repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner. The LSU game was nationally televised, against a big-name top-25 opponent, on the second-to-last Saturday of the regular season. For many voters, this was their last chance to get a glimpse of last year's Heisman winner before turning in their ballots. And the impression left was of a player rattled in a hostile environment and overwhelmed by the combination of LSU's speed at defensive end and in the secondary.
Then there’s Mariota, who threw his first and second interceptions of the season in a 42-16 loss to the Arizona Wildcats. The first one was just an incredible play, but the second was inexcusable. Mariota was 27-of-41 with 308 yards passing and two touchdowns in addition to the two picks, with one of the scores coming when the game was out of hand.
Mariota was already teetering on the edge after the Ducks’ loss to Stanford and was probably eliminated from contention for the trophy, but he could still get an invitation to New York as a finalist.
Winston is the wild card in all of this.
His play on the field has been nothing short of masterful. He’s led Florida State to an undefeated season and No. 2 BCS ranking and has them on track for an appearance in the national championship game.
But what happens to him off the field remains to be seen.
Winston is accused of sexual assault, a situation that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. The Associated Press reports that a decision on whether or not to charge Winston won’t be made this week.
If Winston is charged with a felony, he could be immediately suspended from the team, which would put him out of the running for the trophy. And even if he isn’t charged, voters may still be wary of choosing him.
So how does this affect McCarron? Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel sums it up nicely:
It seems we've reached the point in the Heisman race where voters break the AJ McCarron "in case of emergency" glass.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 24, 2013
McCarron has been on the second or third tier of Heisman candidates all season long, as he puts up decent but extremely efficient numbers in Alabama’s offense. He doesn’t rack up big statistics because he doesn’t have to with the Tide’s running game and defense. But he’s led Alabama to an 11-0 record and has the Tide in position to win a third straight title.
He also will have one, if not two chances to showcase himself to an audience suddenly searching for a Heisman front-runner. A massive Iron Bowl awaits McCarron on Saturday, and if Alabama wins, it would face Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC Championship.
With everyone above McCarron in the Heisman race stumbling, he could be the last one standing at the end of the season.