Jameis Winston goes into his final regular season game of the season with the knowledge he won’t be charged with sexual assault in a year-old rape case.
And now the more than 900-plus Heisman Trophy voters know there’s not a legal reason to keep the Florida State quarterback off their ballots.
All votes are due by the close of business Monday. Perhaps with a Heisman deadline in mind, State Attorney William Meggs announced Thursday he would not bring charges against Winston, the Seminoles’ redshirt freshman sensation.
Winston, with legal issues resolved, is the strongest surviving Heisman candidate in a field that no longer features Johnny Manziel, last year’s winner.
It’s not clear whether any other player can catch Winston, who will lead top-ranked Florida State in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Duke. Other questions include who will join Winston in New York for the most celebrated ceremony in college football. And will Manziel be amongst the finalists?
Tim Henning, a spokesman for the Heisman, told the American-Statesman on Thursday that it’s unclear how many finalists will be named to attend the Dec. 14 ceremony.
“There is not any type of scientific formula,” Henning said in an email. “Every year there is a ‘break’ in the voting between the top vote earners and the rest. Our independent accountants at Deloitte tell us the individuals, in alphabetical order, that have received the highest number of votes prior to that break. Those are the individuals that we invite to NYC as Heisman finalists. In the past, we have had as many as six finalists or as little as three.”
Last month, Manziel had an opportunity to surge ahead of Winston and become the first repeat Heisman winner since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin did so in 1975. But in successive weeks, Manziel experienced two of his worst games of his career, both losses for the Aggies.
Bovada, an offshore oddsmaker, doesn’t even consider Manziel a candidate anymore. He was off the board this week, with Winston the heavy favorite. USA Today’s weekly Heisman tracking poll listed Manziel sixth. He received no points in the weekly poll for HeismanPundit.com.
Baylor’s Bryce Petty also could help his cause for a Heisman invitation if he puts up spectacular numbers against Texas.
Over the last decade, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was the only Heisman winner with eligibility remaining not to be invited back as a finalist. But that wasn’t because of sub-par play. Rather, Bradford injured his shoulder in 2009 and missed most of the season.
Oklahoma’s Jason White (2003) and USC’s Matt Leinart (2004) were welcomed back in the years after they won. Florida’s Tim Tebow, who won in 2007, was a finalist in both 2008-09. The Heisman invited five players to New York in 2009, perhaps to accommodate the popular Tebow, who finished fifth.
The candidates for the Walter Camp player of the year award, which were announced this week, possibly offer a a Heisman finalist boilerplate. Winston, Manziel, Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Boston College’s Andre Williams made the top five.
Lynch, like Winston, still has a game remaining to impress or fall back.
Winston needs only two touchdown throws and 251 yards to break two major NCAA freshman records. His main hopes are qualifying the Seminoles for the national championship game.
Meanwhile, Lynch will attempt to lead his team to a second straight BCS berth. As a quarterback, he’s fourth in the country in rushing after running for 321 yards — an NCAA position record — in his last game. For the season, he’s accumulated 4,212 yards of total offense with 1,755 rushing and 2,457 passing. A year ago, Lynch was the first player in NCAA history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 1,500.
Heisman voters also will be keeping an eye on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. A knee injury allowed him to play only only one series in a three-game span in September. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last three games while scoring eight touchdowns.