Many paths can be taken to winning the Heisman Trophy

Jameis Winston has to fend off five contenders for the Heisman Trophy.

Make no mistake; the Heisman Trophy is no different than the Academy Awards in the way each highlights the best in their respective fields. Both Heisman and Oscar have political campaigns and numerous voters, with each being asked to determine whether “Argo” was better than “Zero Dark Thirty” or if Johnny Manziel was a better player than Manti Te’o last year. In some years, the answer is obvious. In others, not so much. 

This year is no different. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been the frontrunner, but I imagine that Heisman voters are not excited about giving the award to a young man after having to listen to his attorney’s repeated assertion that the sex was consensual between his client and an alleged victim of a sexual assault.

That being said, the Seminoles QB will probably still win. Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch was second in most experts’ projections, but last week’s loss to Bowling Green likely took him out of the running.

Texas A&M’s Manziel had a chance to be the second ever to repeat – Archie Griffin is the only one — but he finished the season with consecutive losses.

The only other player with a shot is Auburn’s Tre Mason, whose 304-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance in the SEC Championship win over Missouri has vaulted him into the race. It is unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

The Heisman uses virtually the same voting system from when the award began in 1935. A total of 928 voters (870 reporters, 57 past winners and one eligible fan vote) are allowed to rank their top three players for the Heisman. A first-place choice is worth three points, a second-place choice is worth two and a third-place choice is worth one.

In looking at the vote totals in each race over the past 30 years, the tenor of Heisman voters actually breaks down into four different types of awards. While there is no shame in how you win the Heisman, here is a breakdown of each award and its honorary name.

The Barry Sanders Trophy: This is the best way to win. Sanders is the quintessential example of a clear-cut winner. After rushing for 2,628 yards and averaging 7.6 yards a carry for Oklahoma State in 1988, Sanders won the award by more than 900 points in a finalist field that included UCLA’s Troy Aikman and USC’s Rodney Peete. 

Other recipients include: Tim Brown – Notre Dame (1987), Desmond Howard – Michigan (1991), Rashaan Salaam – Colorado (1994), Ricky Williams – Texas (1998), Ron Dayne – Wisconsin (1999) and Cam Newton – Auburn (2010).

The Matt Leinart Trophy: This is when the award goes to the best offensive player on an undefeated team heading into the national title game. It is named after Leinart because he is the only player in this category to win the trophy and the national championship, when USC routed Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl to close out the 2004 season.

Other recipients include: Vinny Testaverde – Miami, Fla. (1986), Gino Torretta – Miami, Fla. (1992), Reggie Bush – USC (2005) and Troy Smith – Ohio State (2006).

The Eric Crouch Trophy: Sometimes voters aren’t excited about that year’s winner. They want to give the trophy to the best player on the best team. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Many front-runners start the season on a national championship contender, but a team comes along and exposes his mortality.

Such was the case with Nebraska’s Crouch, who entered the final game of the 2001 season 11-0, but was walloped 62-36 by Colorado. Nebraska became the first team to not win its conference division but play for the national title. Crouch beat Florida’s Rex Grossman by 72 points to win the Heisman. No one outside of the state of Nebraska was excited. 

Other recipients include: Bo Jackson – Auburn (1985), Andre Ware – Houston (1989),  Danny Wuerffel – Florida (1996), Chris Weinke – Florida State (2000), Jason White – Oklahoma (2003) and Robert Griffin III – Baylor (2011).

The Charles Woodson Trophy: The most controversial of the four awards is named after its most polarizing selection. Peyton Manning started the 1997 season as the overwhelming favorite, but Tennessee lost for the third year in a row to Florida. While he was still leading in the final weeks, voters began to gravitate to Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson, who had intercepted 8 passes, broke up 15 more and scored 4 touchdowns — including a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State.

Woodson was awesome, but Georgia’s Champ Bailey had even better stats the next year and, like so many great defensive players, was not even a finalist. In 1997, voters were looking for a fresh face in an uninspiring race and that happens more often than we realize.

Other recipients include: Doug Flutie – Boston College (1984), Ty Detmer – BYU (1990), Carson Palmer – USC (2002), Tim Tebow – Florida (2007), Sam Bradford – Oklahoma (2008), Mark Ingram – Alabama (2009) and Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M (2012).

If Mason comes from out of nowhere to win the Heisman Saturday – and he does have 1,621 yards with an Auburn-record 22 touchdowns for the year – then he will be a recipient of the Woodson. If Winston wins, he could fall into any of the three categories. Only time will tell which one it is.