Now, because the 6'4", 228-pounder was the subject of a sexual assault investigation recently, and despite the fact that charges ultimately were not filed in the case, a handful of pious voters will leave him off the ballot entirely—much like many of them (including yours truly) did for Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in 2010 due to the shadiness that surfaced with regard to his recruitment.
All that aside, on the ballots in which Winston does appear, he should be first on the overwhelming majority of them and capture the award by a wide margin.
The Hueytown (Ala.) High School product was a revelation for the Seminoles all season long, leading the country in efficiency rating (190.1) and setting an FBS record for touchdown passes by a freshman (38). He completed 67.9 percent of his throws and averaged a nation-best 10.9 yards per attempt, as he consistently made plays down the field out of a pro-style system, not just dinking and dunking in a flag football-like spread-option scheme.
As a result, FSU destroyed its competition by an average score of 53-11 en route to a 13-0 mark, a No. 1 ranking and a spot in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena.
Yet every time a member of the media tried to shower him with praise, Winston stiff-armed the adoration and instead talked about how well his offensive line blocked, how hard his tailbacks ran, how open his wideouts were and how much he loves coach Jimbo Fisher.
To better demonstrate just how well he played as a first-year starter, he replaced a fifth-year senior that went on to become a first-round draft pick: EJ Manuel. Winston has thrown for 428 more yards and 15 more touchdowns on 38 fewer attempts—he still has one more game to play, remember—than Manuel did in 2012, plus his average of 16.1 yards per completion dwarfs his predecessor's 12.9.
By the way, Manuel played behind the same line (e.g. Cameron Erving), handed off to the same backs (e.g. Devonta Freeman) and threw to the same receivers (e.g. Kelvin Benjamin) as Winston currently does.
Is Erving a better blocker, Freeman a better runner and Benjamin a better catcher now than a year ago? To some degree, of course. But Winston is maximizing their potential with his superior accuracy, decision making and leadership. He's allowing his teammates to perform in ways that Manuel simply never could.
Even if a voter somehow doesn’t believe Winston was without a doubt the best player in the land from beginning to end in 2013, who else exactly is worthy of the bronze?
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota separated himself from the early crowd when he was lighting up every defense in his path with both his arm and his legs. Losses at Stanford and Arizona in the span of three weeks in November knocked him off course, as did the four interceptions he threw in his final two contests.
Boston College tailback Andre Williams crossed the 2,000-yard plateau, which is always a magical achievement for a ball carrier. However, as soon as his name started to get tossed around in Heisman discussions, he stumbled his way to 29 measly yards against lowly Syracuse before departing with an injury.
NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch made a late charge up the standings with his eye-popping numbers both through the air and on the ground. But once his Huskies got upset by Bowling Green and were eliminated from BCS-bowl consideration, his Heisman chances went down in flames, too.
Auburn tailback Tre Mason is one of the few candidates to gain momentum and not suffer a late setback, cemented by his SEC title game-record 304 yards rushing to lead the Tigers to the national-championship tilt. Nevertheless, the Heisman is a season-long honor, and he wasn’t on any voter’s radar as recently as two weeks ago.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 winner, put up statistics just as gaudy and assembled a highlight reel every bit as video game-like this season as he did a year ago. Still, a 4-4 conference record and a few lifeless efforts down the stretch mean he isn’t going to be the next Archie Griffin.
Again, dear voter, if not Winston, who in all honestly is deserving?
Once the dust had settled on yet another tremendous season of college football, the only thing that could have derailed Winston from becoming the third Heisman winner to wear garnet and gold (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke) was the State Attorney’s office.
Maybe he did take advantage of that girl, or perhaps she wrongfully accused him all along—we'll never know for sure. No matter your feelings on the subject, no charges were filed and the case is closed. It should not have any effect on the voting process whatsoever.
But it will. Count on it. Just how much remains to be seen.
“I really doubt many voters will penalize Jameis for being the subject of the sexual assault inquiry,” Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, himself a long-time Heisman voter, told me. “Could he have behaved more admirably that night? Of course. But everything from the season points to him being a high-character kid. And in terms of football, he had no peer this season.”
The more interesting voting results will be for who ends up finishing comfortably behind Winston—at least they'll get an all-expenses-paid trip to the Big Apple for their efforts.
Said Greenstein, “The top spot was an easy call for me; it was Nos. 2 and 3 that gave me pause.”
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