Winston wins; moving on to 2014


LITTLE ROCK — Revelation of the Heisman Trophy vote has all the mystery of the recent presidential election in Azerbaijan.

Maybe you missed it, but Ilham Aliyev, long-standing president of the European country by the Caspin Sea, won another term according to results published a day before the polls opened. An equally foregone conclusion is the announcement of Jameis Winston’s name on Saturdaynight in New York. Aliyev received more than 70 percent of the “vote,” which sounds low for the Florida State University quarterback.

The number of Heisman voters fluctuates, but the tally will be something like 2006 when Ohio State’s Troy Smith received 91.6 percent of the points possible and finished 1,662 points ahead of Arkansas’ Darren McFadden.

Winston’s rout is the result of a perfect storm:

• Johnny Manziel erased the argument that a freshman should not win the Heisman.

• Winston is the quarterback on the only unbeaten team in the country.

• Other Heisman candidates faded, including Manziel and Marcus Mariota of Oregon.

• Winston has three receivers, each of whom has caught 50 passes or more.

• He grabbed national attention by completing 25-of-27 in the season opener and never stumbled.

Now that the 2013 Heisman is all but history, let’s move on to Winston’s chances of repeating. Right off, he is going against his own impressive numbers and the team’s perfect season — a double dip of difficulty.

Manziel’s completion percentage and yards per attempt improved slightly this year and he is one of a record-tying six players invited to New York, but he might not finish in the top three. More than anything, the Aggies surprised the SEC by winning 10 regular-season games in 2012 and then disappointed by winning eight this year. Targeted by all, FSU opens 2014 against Oklahoma State.

If not Winston in 2014, then who? Pursuing the Manziel-Winston trend, the winner will be a redshirt freshman quarterback. Unfamiliar with rosters around the country, here are some candidates who have name recognition and resumes:

• Very good during the regular season, Auburn running back Tre Mason was spectacular in Atlanta, running for 304 yards on 46 carries in the SEC championship game, and earning a trip to New York. Mason being forthcoming about wanting to win the Heisman was refreshing. If he plays another year, Mason will be held to unrealistic expectations, same as Winston. Plus, he will share the glory with quarterback Nick Marshall.

• Connor Cook began the 2013 season as Michigan State’s No. 2 quarterback, but took over in the second game and the Spartans won their last nine, earning a Rose Bowl berth in the process. Along the way, Cook pulled even with Ohio State’s Braxton Miller as the Big Ten’s leading Heisman candidate for 2014. A serious threat when running the ball, Miller took a step back when he completed 8-of-21 in the conference championship game.

• Bryce Petty’s numbers in 2013 included 30 touchdown passes vs. two interceptions, but he missed on 20-of-48 in the bad loss to Oklahoma State and some will contend he is a product of Art Briles’ system. He can jump-start his 2014 with a big performance against Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

• Mariota, 62-10 on TD passes vs. interceptions the past two years, was in the Heisman hunt until struggling in losses to Stanford and Arizona. Still, his quarterback rating of almost 168 was sixth best in the country. Like Petty, he has said he will stay in college for another year and those announcements, plus knee injuries to Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, are extra impetus for Manziel to declare for the NFL draft. If he surprises and stays, Manziel would be at the top of the list of Heisman favorites.

• Outsiders from the SEC include running backs Mike Davis of South Carolina and Todd Gurley of Georgia. Both will have ample opportunity with departure of quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Murray.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.