As a first-year Heisman Trophy voter, there wasn’t much pressure to get the winner right.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the runaway choice despite a sexual assault case that grabbed headlines.
Like most voters, I suppose, when prosecutors opted not to press forward with charges against Winston, he became the first choice — really, the only choice — for the top spot on the ballot.
That part was easy.
Winston put up terrific numbers — completing 237 of 349 passes (67.9 percent) for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions — and also led the Seminoles to an undefeated season.
During ACC play, he was even better, completing a higher percentage of his throws (69.9) for more yards per attempt (11.35 versus 10.95).
Winston roasted Clemson for 444 yards and three touchdowns in his signature performance and, despite sitting out the fourth quarter in a lot of games, topped 300 yards seven times. He posted a QB efficiency rating of 200 or better five times.
Bottom line, Winston was excellent — truly excellent, and a cut above the rest of the field.
Beyond that, it was a mess and it became clear that there really are no parameters for the award laid out by the Heisman Trust. It’s not clear whether it’s an MVP award, which to me suggests a player must help his team win, or a Most Outstanding Player award, which to me suggests personal excellence regardless of team performance.
It doesn’t expressly say how much character or level of competition should factor into voting decisions and offers little other than vague platitudes about diligence and hard work, which is fine but that leaves a lot open to interpretation.
When the dust settled as I tried to fill out the final two spots on my ballot, I found myself leaning toward the MVP notion, which is why Auburn junior running back Tre Mason rocketed up my list.
He always was on the periphery, but I honestly looked at Nick Marshall as the stronger candidate entering the SEC Championship game. (Of course, with that vague integrity line, do I still punish Marshall for the theft incident that led to his dismissal at Georgia or is that all forgiven now?)
Anyway, Mason led the SEC in rushing — and yes, it’s still the nation’s best conference — with 283 carries for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns. His performance against Missouri in the conference championship game, 304 yards and four touchdowns, sent Mason zooming past Marshall and everyone else not named Jameis Winston.
Lest folks think that game and that game alone earned him a spot on the ballot, it’s worth noting that Mason rushed for more than 1,000 yards playing for a poor offense on a team that went winless in SEC play the year before. He’s bona fide.
However, that third spot proved quite vexing. It was something of a war of attrition. Here are a few guys who didn’t make the cut:
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. He became a fancy late-season Heisman pick before the Crimson Tide stumbled in the Iron Bowl. Of course, the way I see it, a Heisman winner should be the best player on his team and an all-conference performer.
McCarron isn’t the best player for Alabama. He may not even be in the top five and snuck onto the Associated Press All-SEC team as an honorable mention. I think McCarron is a good player and worthy of praise, but he isn’t one of the best players in the country.
Boston College running back Andre Williams. He rushed for more than 2,000 yards, but he did it in a horrible league. Racking up 339 yards against a North Carolina State defense than allowed more than 180 yards per game isn’t exactly impressive.
His supporters love to point out the 166 yards against Virginia Tech and 149 yards against Florida State, but Williams’ supporters never mention 17 carries for 38 yards against USC or 24 carries for 70 yards against Clemson. He barely topped 100 yards against Villanova and had nine carries for 29 yards against Syracuse. There wasn’t a consistent level of excellence.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He had the numbers — 268 of 382 for 3,523 yards with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions, but there just wasn’t a wow factor. He made some nice plays and the loss to Central Florida can’t be pinned on him. Still, was pedestrian against Kentucky and had an underwhelming closing kick in November. Pass.
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. He put up stupid numbers — 424 of 605 for 4,866 yards with 48 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Of course, such numbers were common in the defensively challenged Mountain West. If Carr’s a Heisman candidate, how much consideration does San Jose State’s David Fales, who put up very good numbers — 312 of 487 for 4,189 yards with 33 TDs and 13 INTs — against a tougher schedule, merit?
Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald — all good players who had good seasons, but fell short of greatness.
For me, the toughest player to leave off was Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t as good as last season, but he still had a very good sophomore season. He threw for more yards and completed a higher percentage of passes than his freshman season. Still, Manziel, who completed 270 of 391 passes for 3,732 yards with 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, wasn’t as effective as a runner and lost four games. That left the door open
for Jordan Lynch. Lynch finished second in the nation in rushing. Let that sink in, a quarterback who rushed for more yards than everybody else in the country not named Andre Williams. I get the level-of-competition arguments, but Lynch was clearly one of the best running backs in the country. He finished with 274 carries for 1,881 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Only Lynch isn’t a running back, of course. He’s a quarterback, so in addition to putting together one of the best rushing campaigns in the nation this season, Lynch also completed 233 of 369 passes for 2,676 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Color me impressed (and count me among those who think the MAC is a better league than it gets credit for), and give him my third spot — regardless of the loss to Bowling Green.