Editorial Section: The Heisman Roundtable


Q. Who are your top three choices to win the Heisman Trophy?

Matt Zemek:

On Twitter @SectionMZ

As is the case with preseason polls, I take little pleasure in projecting Heisman winners before the season, because — as in the cases of Johnny Manziel and A.J. McCarron last season — an avalanche of preseason hype can and does influence the way voters see various players. This should not be seen as an emphatic endorsement of one player’s candidacy, or a strong insistence that one player is going to outshine others. It’s merely one possible guess of how the season is going to unfold through the prisms of individual performances and Heisman politics (the mixture of publicity, visibility on television, and team performance).

The two most obvious Heisman candidates are Jameis Winston and Nick Marshall. The quarterbacks of the teams that played for the whole ball of wax last season will be front and center in this year’s Heisman race.

If there’s a true darkhorse — not a player on a top-15 team, but someone from left field — Rakeem Cato of Marshall deserves consideration. That “left field” label might appear to be an insult to Cato, but it’s not meant to be. He’s on the radar of many people in the industry because of his skill and prowess, also because he’ll be talked about in relationship to the 2015 NFL Draft. Cato is a darkhorse and not merely a straightforward “contender,” though, because he plays in Conference USA, and not just C-USA itself, but a watered-down version of what existed before the recent wave of conference realignment. Color me surprised if Cato is a top-four vote getter. (Fifth? Maybe he gets a ticket to New York, but I’m skeptical.)

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

Really, the Heisman has become the Davey O’Brien Award only with guys playing other positions able to heist a few votes at this point, so you can sling anyone other than a quarterback out of the window unless you’re trying to be contrarian guy. Just remember, contrarian guy drinks Zima.

Jameis Winston is probably favorite number one, but you can expect the media to be extra crabby with scrutinizing him after winning last year about pretty much everything he does short of breathing (see: Manziel, Johnny), and most assuredly they’ll cast a wider net on his shortcomings, worried about him adding another trophy to the mast. See what all I did there?

I think when the dust clears, you’ll see Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly with a satchel full of stats hovering around the Heisman talk, and if you’re looking for one of those bets you throw $20 on just to be completely obnoxious around your friends when it’s November and there’s a chance it might happen …

Will Gardner from Louisville. I depart from Matt in thinking that a non-Power 5 Conference player can win the award anymore, and Gardner in Bobby Petrino’s offense can be the eye-catching type on a team that hovers around the top 10-15 enough to get him in the discussion.

If he wins, tell your buddies you saw it first in this column. If he doesn’t come even close, remember, Terry Johnson said he’d win it. Not me.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

I share Matt’s frustration about preseason Heisman voting. After all, it’s tough to decide who the most outstanding player in college football is when not a single down of football has been played yet. Sure, we can guess, but given that the last two winners were both redshirt freshmen, there’s no way to make a pick with any type of accuracy.

With that disclaimer in mind, here’s my list.

Jameis Winston is my favorite to win this award. Sure, only one man has won this prestigious award more than once (Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975), but if anyone can accomplish this rare feat, it’s Winston. In his first season as starter, Winston showed the poise of a veteran, continually making plays when the Seminoles needed him to. But what separated him from the other candidates last year was that he was at his best when the game was on the line. When FSU was within a touchdown either way last season, Winston completed 71 % of his passes with an amazing 14/3 TD-to-INT ratio.

If he plays like that again this fall – and Florida State runs the table as expected – the only race will be for second place.

Marcus Mariota would be second on my ballot. Yes, other quarterbacks might have better numbers, but that’s because they play the entire game, where Mariota didn’t play in the fourth quarter in five contests last year due to a lopsided score. If he can lead the Ducks to a berth in the College Football Playoff, he’ll earn a trip to New York.

As for a sleeper candidate, keep an eye on Brandon Connette from Fresno State. After three years under the tutelage of David Cutcliffe and Kurt Roper at Duke, he should thrive in the Bulldogs’ wide-open offense, which averaged 394 yards per game through the air last season.

Q. If Jameis Winston is in the top two at the end of the season and seems to be in a neck-and-neck race, will he get the benefit of the doubt or not?

Bart Doan:

Oh, absolutely not. It was the same as Johnny Manziel last year, who had a legitimate case as the best college football player in the country. It probably hurt Tim Tebow at one point. That’s part of the Heisman, the added scrutiny.

What’s more perverse is the idea that the answer is always “absolutely not.” Each year is in a different vacuum. But voting in sports is typically absurd across the board. Getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame often has something to do with how long you’ve waited, and lest The Flood come back and we all need arks, no one’s getting 100 percent of the vote no matter how obvious it is.

Winston set the bar even higher than Manziel, going undefeated, playing in the BCS Championship Game, and then leading a scintillating last-minute touchdown drive where he threw the game-winning sling.

Skipper’s Wager here says he’s got no shot if it comes down to being a close race.

Terry Johnson:

Ideally, the most deserving candidate should always win the Heisman.

However, Winston has absolutely no chance if it’s a close race. As Bart correctly pointed out, the odds are against him because he was the best player in college football last season. And much like the final campaigns of Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel, voters will put Winston’s every move under a microscope, looking for even the smallest reason to move him down on the ballot. A simple ill-timed pick or a less than stellar performance in a big game would be enough to derail his candidacy.

That’s a shame. If the Heisman Trophy is really about rewarding college football’s most outstanding player, it should evaluate someone’s entire body of work rather than looking for reasons not to vote for someone.

Of course, this exercise may be academic. If the ‘Noles make it to the College Football Playoff as expected, and Winston has another solid season, the award is his to lose.

Matt Zemek:

This might not turn out to be the defining question/issue of the season as far as the Heisman Trophy is concerned, but it could become quite the conversation piece (and headache) in late November. The importance of this question — at least right now — is found in the question itself, not so much the answer. It’s important for college football people to evaluate the raw merits of every player’s season before anything else. If there is a dead heat, though, a lot of reflection must be devoted to this question. We’re going to have to wait to assess the particulars of the race as it unfolds.

CFB KaDeem Carey

Ka’Deem Carey didn’t receive a plane ticket to New York last season, unlike fellow running backs Andre Williams of Boston College and Tre Mason of Auburn. Was he the third-best running back in the country… or were late-night Pac-12 games part of the reason why he didn’t get to visit the Downtown Athletic Club?

Q. Is regional representation a true problem with the Heisman voting and finalist selection processes, or is this an overblown issue?

Terry Johnson:

I’ll take this an overblown issue for $1000 please, Alex.

Please note that I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as East Coast bias, because I know that it exists. As someone who has two small children and lives in the Eastern time zone, I often have to have a couple of Spark energy drinks to make it through all of the West Coast games on Saturdays. However, not everyone is as dedicated as I am, meaning that they might choose to go to bed at a reasonable hour, especially if the games they really care about are already finished.

With that said, regional bias really doesn’t play that big of a role in the Heisman voting. Sure, the voters might not have watched all of the games that a candidate plays in. But they will vote for the best player on a team that competes for a national championship. That’s why USC won 3 out of 4 Heisman Trophies between 2002-2005.

Matt Zemek:

Disclaimer: I live in Seattle and was born in Phoenix. I’ve lived in those two cities all my life.

You can’t tell me that the 2013 Heisman balloting, shown here, wasn’t affected to a considerable degree by the familiar combination of regional voting and national media publicity. Bryce Petty, Derek Carr, and Ka’Deem Carey (not to mention Marcus Mariota) all fell short of a ticket to New York? I don’t want to make Texas A&M fans mad, so I’ll say that if Mike Evans, and not Johnny Manziel, had finished fifth in the balloting, I could have accepted the whole of the balloting results on a larger level. Evans had the better season than Manziel did. Ultimately, the fact that Manziel finished fifth and A.J. McCarron finished second showed just how much national publicity blitzes influence rankings. These publicity blitzes often work against Western candidates.

Others will quickly note that a Baylor player (Robert Griffin) won the Heisman in 2011, with a Western player (Andrew Luck of Stanford) finishing second. I would submit to the members of the jury that Griffin stood out as the best candidate in a clearer manner that season, and that questions of bias are much more relevant in seasons when clusters of candidates don’t gain nearly as much separation from the field. Luck, in 2011, benefited from an abundant amount of ESPN coverage, flowing from a desire to pump up the 2012 NFL Draft, a consideration which should never be too far from the minds of the discerning fan and media analyst when a college football season’s coverage tendencies are assessed. If the West doesn’t have a sexy golden-boy quarterback:

A) from USC;


B) with top-5-NFL-draft-stock potential,

does the West (and also the non-sexy schools in the Big 12) get a fair shake? I don’t think so.

Bart Doan:

Modern humanity seems to be pretty comfortable displaying excuses for actual failings, and that’s what this argument is.

“Yeah, I threw Cletus through the bar window for mouthing off, but I wouldn’t have even been out without you screaming at me when I came home.”

“I wouldn’t have shanked that approach wedge if you wouldn’t have cracked open that can during my back swing.”

“I know I was late to work today, but the neighbor’s dog was barking all night and the snooze button was made too close to the off button on my alarm clock.”

Regional biases aren’t an excuse for lousy voting. If you cannot stay up and watch a guy from Southern California or Oregon play at 1 a.m., you probably need a new line of work. Or a Red Bull (shameless attempt at free product, please?).

If it’s a problem, it’s because the wrong people are voting, not because of anything else. When you vote for anything, you’re ideally supposed to gather all of the facts, weigh those, sprinkle in what you think is most important or a critical issue over what might not be, then pick your candidate, not look at who he represents or where he’s from.

And … basically, judging by politics and then seguing it into this … I’m spitting into a headwind.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.