Heisman Forecast: If Winston doesn’t win trophy, who will?

One of the oddest Heisman Trophy races in recent memory is moving toward only one possible conclusion: Jameis Winston winning.

Whatever doubts remained were brushed aside with Thursday’s announcement that the Florida State quarterback will not be charged in the sexual assault investigation. Considering the worthiness of the other contenders, we could be looking at one of the largest margins of victory in the award’s history, one that potentially rival Troy Smith in 2006 when he won 91.3 percent of the first-place votes.

But there is the chance that the situation could still wind up hurting Winston. Voters have been able to submit their ballots for more than a week, and while the hope would be that they would wait until closer to the Dec. 9 deadline — which is when I’ll make my decision — some of the 900-plus votes have assuredly already been cast.

So what if? What if those early votes — or those who may pass on Winston because he was implicated in this at all — have a big enough of a sway to keep Winston from either a landslide or winning the award altogether? Who else could win?

Herewith, a look at the players outside of Winston who have the best chance to hoist the trophy on Dec. 14 in Times Square, why they could win and why the couldn’t (listed in order of probability). But before we begin, here is how the voting would likely go if the season were to end today.

1. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State, RS Fr.
2. Jordan Lynch, QB Northern Illinois, RS Sr.
3. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama, RS Sr.

As always, these insights aren’t a look into my official ballot, but how based on long-held unwritten rules and voting trends, things should shake out.

THE OTHERS

· AJ McCarron, QB Alabama, RS Sr.

The entire push behind McCarron was his being the embodiment of the Crimson Tide’s run toward another perfect season and a third consecutive championship.

That’s all but out the window after a loss to Auburn that kept Alabama out of the SEC title game, but McCarron remains a factor because he does still embody something voters can get behind — especially those looking to get around the Winston mess.

McCarron remains the safe pick. His numbers, 2,676 yards passing and 26 TDs, are nowhere near the averages that we’ve expected out of QBs in this era (4,500 total yards and 48 TDs), but if character comes into the equation, McCarron will be lauded as the winner the Heisman needs.

Furthering his cause, the loss to Auburn wasn’t on him. McCarron threw for 277 yards and three TDs, including a 99-yarder that in that instance looked like his Heisman moment.

That defeat was the last impression McCarron left voters with, meaning he would likely finish third, with Lynch second. Alabama is in the same voting region (South) as Florida State, making it difficult for McCarron to carry those votes. But if there is an anti-Winston sentiment, especially in his own backyard, McCarron would seem to be the most logical choice.

It ultimately could see him challenge for the award ahead of a player who is battling perceptions in …

· Jordan Lynch, QB Northern Illinois RS Sr.

Lynch could make for an interesting argument, not only by putting the Huskies in a second straight BCS game, but he stands just 245 rushing yards from becoming the first player in history with 2,000 on the ground and through the air. That should get him a seat in New York — the MAC’s first since Chad Pennington in 1999 — and he has an opportunity to make a statement in the conference’s title game against Bowling Green on Friday night.

That last chance to impress voters is something that no leading candidate outside of Winston can boast.

But what’s playing against Lynch is whom he plays for.

No player from a non-BCS conference school has won since Ty Detmer in 1990. San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk has the only top-two finish in the 23 years post-Detmer and while Hawaii’s Colt Brennan was third in 2007, he received just five percent of the first-place votes that year.

As surprising as Manziel’s win was last season in ending the stigma surrounding first-year players, a player from outside the sport’s power structure winning would be even more stunning.

· Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State, Jr.

Can voters get around the missed games if Miller gets the Buckeyes into the BCS title game?

The preseason favorite fell out of the picture after he missed two entire games and played in just one series in another and as we’ve discussed before, no player in the modern era has ever won after missing more than one game and that last happened in 1993 with Charlie Ward.

“I know he missed some games. Seems like six years ago that he hurt his knee,” coach Urban Meyer said. “But I think he’s Heisman worthy.”

He has been impressive since returning to the lineup with 2,360 yards of offense and 27 total TDs, including at least 133 yards passing and 153 rushing in his last three games. A similar performance against No. 10 Michigan State — which boasts the nation’s top-ranked defense — in the Big Ten title game could further his case.

Even if he can’t get enough support to win, Miller’s candidacy gaining traction again could have a major impact on this race. Both he and Lynch are in the Midwest Region and they could finish 1-2, which would subsequently take away votes from Winston, McCarron, etc.

· Andre Williams, RB Boston College, Sr.

With 2,100-plus rushing yards, history, in one form, is on Williams’ side.

He’s ninth on the single-season list (2,102) with a bowl game to play, but he’s sixth among BCS-conference players, and four of those ahead of him — Barry Sanders (2,628), Marcus Allen (2,342), Mike Rozier (2,148) and Ricky Williams (2,124) — all won Heismans in those seasons. If he hits his average of 175.2 yards per in the Eagles’ bowl game, Williams could wind up fourth all-time.

But history is also playing against Williams in other ways.

That 2,000-yard mark isn’t what it once was, with the last four players to reach the milestone missing the ceremony. The closest anyone has come since Ricky Williams’ victory in 1998 was Larry Johnson, who was third.

Then there are Boston College’s five losses, which would be the most of any winner since 1956, when Paul Hornung won despite Notre Dame’s 2-8 record. You have to go back to 1969 in Oklahoma’s Steve Owens, whose team had a 6-4 mark, to find the last recipient who had less wins than Boston College’s seven.

At the very least, Williams should to very well in the North East region, where he could finish behind Winston, who those voters get to see in ACC play.

· Ka’Deem Carey, RB Arizona, Jr.

Second in the nation to Williams in yards per game (156.0) and fifth in rushing yards (1,716) despite sitting out the first game of the season, Carey has run for at least 100 yards in an FBS-best 15 consecutive games.

While Washington’s Bishop Sankey leads the Pac-12 with 1,775 yards, it was Carey who was the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. With Oregon’s Marcus Mariota stumbling, he has emerged as the West’s best chance

Had he not been suspended against Northern Illinois we may be talking about two 2,000-yard rushers. But he’s 386 yards behind Williams and has just seven less carries than Williams does.

That’s the rub against him (along with, like Williams, Carey plays for a team with five losses). While Carey could finish in the top two or three out West, expecting more may be too much.