Heisman intrigue is merely in margin

By the Numbers: 2013 Heisman finalists

There is little intrigue leading into the 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony Saturday in the Best Buy Theater in New York. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the overwhelming favorite to take home the coveted bronze statue.

He's the best player on the nation's top-ranked team and the highest-rated quarterback, according to the NCAA's efficiency rating and ESPN.com's Total Quarterback Rating.

But, as with this college football season as a whole, Winston's candidacy was not without detours and complications. The redshirt freshman's often brilliant and refreshingly exuberant play on the field was offset to some degree by an off-field incident that cast a dark cloud over him and the Seminoles for weeks. He was accused of but not charged with sexual assault, and the media storm surrounding the incident, as well as the curious way the case was handled by police, still has lingering and discomfiting fumes.

How discomfiting those fumes are to voters across the country will be revealed by how wide Winston's winning margin is among the 928 total ballots cast by 870 media members, 57 previous winners and one vote from the general public.

The controversy that enveloped Winston is the most likely reason the Heisman Trust invited a record-tying six finalists to the ceremony. Before Florida state attorney Willie Meggs said on national television on Dec. 5 that there would be no charges against Winston and the case was closed, voters had to envision alternative plans.

Enter the other five finalists: Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, Auburn running back Tre Mason and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won the award last year.

Each, like Winston, has an outstanding résumé, but those résumés are very different.

McCarron doesn't have the eye-popping numbers of the other candidates, but he does have one of the great careers in college football history. Although his candidacy likely was done in by a 34-28 loss to Auburn that cost the Crimson Tide a shot at a third consecutive BCS national title, he has lost just three games in his career and has been the program's charismatic rock-star frontman during a dynastic run in Tuscaloosa.

Mason is a big reason McCarron is a long shot to win. The Tigers running back was pretty much unknown nationally before he rushed for 164 yards against Alabama's vaunted defense, then, for an encore, turned in an epic performance in the SEC title game against Missouri, rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the 59-42 victory that sent Auburn to the national title game.

Williams earned his Heisman invitation by a more conventional method: He led the nation with 175 yards rushing per game, and became the first FBS back to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing since Connecticut's Donald Brown in 2008, despite getting hurt in the season finale against Syracuse with only 30 yards on his ledger. He essentially was Boston College's offense, as he accounted for 47.5 percent of the Eagles' total yards.

While Williams was the BC offense, Lynch for two years has been Northern Illinois football, nearly leading the MAC power to a second consecutive BCS bowl game. The term we're going to adopt to describe his numbers is "stupendous." As in: 1,881 yards rushing and 2,676 yards passing with 45 total touchdowns, 23 coming through the air. On the downside, the Huskies lost the MAC title game to Bowling Green and the competition Lynch has faced wasn't stellar.

Manziel certainly faced rugged competition, and he often looked like a more refined quarterback this year compared with his swashbuckling redshirt freshman season. But, although he provided a steady supply of spectacular plays, his rushing numbers were down and his interception total went up. Further, there was no marquee win as there was last year at Alabama. The Aggies lost all four of their games against ranked teams.

Winston? His numbers are exceptional. He set FBS freshman records for passing yards (3,820) and touchdown passes (38) while the Seminoles dominated every team on their schedule, averaging 53 points per game.

Winston was not on the preseason Heisman radar as a first-year starter. He eclipsed early-season favorite Tajh Boyd when he led the Seminoles to a 51-14 road stomping of Boyd's Clemson team on Oct. 19, throwing three touchdown passes in the process. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had a midseason surge in most Heisman polls, but, when the Ducks lost at Stanford on Nov. 7 with an injured Mariota playing poorly, Winston became the front-runner.

Although Winston's route to New York and the bronze statue wasn't straight, it's a near certainty he'll become the 58th winner of the award. The only intrigue is by what margin. And perhaps who'll finish second.