Heisman Watch 2013: Grading Top Contenders' Performances from Week 14

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2013

Heisman Watch 2013: Grading Top Contenders' Performances from Week 14

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    Lost in all the commotion surrounding the finishes in the Alabama-Auburn and Ohio State-Michigan games is the fact that we are nearing the end of the annual Heisman Trophy race.

    One candidate has emerged as the clear-cut favorite, while several other dark-horse contenders have recently emerged in surprising fashion. While there seemed to be a consensus top five entering November, no one quite knows who will make it to New York for the ceremony as the month comes to a close.

    Let's take a look at five of the more promising candidates to win the award and grade their respective performances from Week 14.


    Note: We're using the latest edition of ESPN's Heisman Watch as the basis for choosing which five players to grade.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois

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    Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch had another chance to impress voters in the Huskies' penultimate game of the season against Western Michigan.

    If you look at the box score, you'll first notice that he completed less than 30 percent of his passes for just 39 yards and one touchdown. He's out of the race, right? Ah, but then you look further down to the rushing statistics, where you'll see that Lynch ran for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the team's 33-14 win.

    Of course, you wouldn't even need to look at the box score if you watched the game live, as Lynch put on a tour de force in the ground attack, bowling over defenders and making things look easy in the open field. You'd like to see more efficiency in the passing game, but 300-plus yards on the ground (for the second time this season) from the quarterback position is unheard of. For that, Lynch aced his Week 14 test.

    Grade: A

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

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    Just when it seemed like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was going to have a legitimate shot to win a second straight Heisman, he came up with a dud against LSU.

    A week later at Missouri, that free fall continued, and suddenly Johnny Football has lost some of the magic that had previously surrounded him. Against the Tigers, Manziel completed 24 of 35 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown, which isn't all that bad. But he only ran for 21 yards, and his team scored just 21 points in the loss.

    To be a real threat to win the Heisman Trophy, you have to be able to put the team on your back and lead it to victory. Manziel has done that throughout most of the season, even playing well in losses to Alabama and Auburn. But with a second straight game in which he was unable to make very many big plays, his hopes of winning the award are dead in the water.

    Grade: C-

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama

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    AJ McCarron finally had a performance worthy of winning the Heisman Trophy, and then his team lost the game.

    But exactly none of that can be blamed on the senior quarterback, who passed for 277 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. One of the drives late in the game was stalled after the Auburn defense stuffed a rushing attempt on 4th-and-1. Three more (including the final drive) fizzled out with missed field goals.

    Twice against Auburn, McCarron was backed up in his own end zone. On the first occasion, he rifled a pass up the sideline to get the Crimson Tide out near midfield. The next time, he decided not to waste any time and completed a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. No matter how you slice it, McCarron came up big at Auburn. Unfortunately, without another game on the schedule until bowl season, his chances of actually winning the award are slim.

    Grade: A-

RB Andre Williams, Boston College

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    When Boston College running back Andre Williams topped the 2,000-yard mark for the season against Maryland, it seemed to finally awaken the nation to what was happening.

    Then, with everyone watching to see how he would do against Syracuse, Williams turned in perhaps his worst performance of the year, eventually leaving the game with an injury. He did churn out a 26-yard scoring run in the first quarter, which may have propelled him to a big game.

    Unfortunately, we'll never know how Williams might have finished the game. Instead, all we can look at is the fact that he rushed for just 29 yards on nine carries. The effort likely takes him out of contention, but remember that he still has 2,102 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on the season. If that isn't enough to at least get to New York, nothing is.

    Grade: D

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State

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    Florida State hasn't played a good defense in quite some time, so many were curious to see how quarterback Jameis Winston would fare against Florida.

    Of course, no one expected the Gators to actually hang around with the 'Noles, but they were still giving up just 21 points per game, so a low-scoring affair wouldn't have been surprising.

    Instead, quarterback Jameis Winston had yet another signature performance, throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns in the 37-7 victory. At this point, Winston has pretty much answered every single call on the field, and he'll get a chance to make one final impression against Duke in the ACC Championship Game.

    Grade: A-