Heisman Forecast: For Winston another crucial game awaits

October 30, 2013

A year ago, Geno Smith was the Heisman Trophy favorite as we reached the season's midpoint -- but we all know how that turned out. Even the player who took the lead from him, Collin Klein, didn't leave Times Square in December with the 25-pound chunk of history in hand. 

The point here is that while it looks like the trophy is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's to lose more so than it's anyone else's to win, nothing is certain.

Which is why Saturday looms so large for Florida State's Jameis Winston.

We've already seen the redshirt freshman thrive in the spotlight, torching then-No. 3 Clemson, and he'll get his second opportunity at another marquee win Saturday against seventh-ranked Miami. Oh, and while Winston takes center stage the other top candidates in this race -- Mariota, Alabama's AJ McCarron and Baylor's Bryce Petty -- are all off and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is playing 1-6 UTEP.

The spotlight this week is, without question, on Winston. But it's more about his positioning himself than it is about him threatening Mariota.

Mariota would likely have to trip up for Winston to jump into the lead and considering Oregon faces No. 6 Stanford on Nov. 7, that is a possibility. That's why it's even more crucial that Winston dominate Miami; it may be his last real opportunity to make a major statement in this race.

The Seminoles are on course to make the ACC Championship Game, which would be a final message to voters. But the remaining regular-season schedule includes just one team with a winning record, reeling Florida, along with 4-4 Wake Forest, 3-4 Syracuse and 1-7 Idaho.

The victory at Clemson was paramount in announcing Winston as a legitimate threat for the trophy. A second top-10 win, something no other candidate can boast, could make him an unquestioned No. 2 and put him in line to take over the lead with the slightest hiccup for Mariota, or at the very least give us a compelling final weeks of this race.

Before we dive into the players who are rising and falling in the race, here's a look at the Forecaster's in-progress ballot:

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, RS Soph.
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State, RS Fr.
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas &M, RS Soph.

Now, on with the judginess ...

If this Heisman race were a 1980s teen rom-com, Mariota, Winston, Manziel and Petty would be the cheerleaders everyone can't help but ogle. McCarron? He'd be that bookish girl with beauty hidden behind a set of glasses and pulled-back hair. Basically, while the other candidates are captivating, McCarron is the steady hand at the controls of the nation's clear No. 1 team and that could make him the most logical choice should others stumble in the last month-plus of the season. None of this is to degrade what the redshirt senior has been doing of late, throwing for 980 yards and four TDs the last four games with a 70.7 completion percentage. He also has the advantage of being able to sit back while Winston plays Miami, Mariota takes on Stanford and Petty faces Oklahoma and see what happens before he and the Crimson Tide host No. 13 LSU on Nov. 9.

The numbers will most certainly be there, with Petty on pace for 4,205 yards, 30 touchdowns and a 219.0 pass efficiency rating. Those yard would be the third-highest for a winner since 1990, trailing only Sam Bradford (4,720) and Petty's former teammate, Robert Griffin III (4,293) and the efficiency rating a record, smashing Russell Wilson's 191.7 from 2011. The question with Petty though, is whether Baylor's dominance is overshadowing him? The Bears have played in six games decided by 31 or more points, with the other a 10-point win over Kansas State. While Petty did throw a 54-yard TD for the go-ahead points in the fourth quarter of that game, the Wildcats are 3-4 and 1-3 in the Big 12, so it wasn't exactly a Heisman moment. But Petty is the upswing with Baylor rising to sixth in the BCS Standings and a monster slate of three straight ranked opponents, beginning on Nov. 7 vs. No. 10 Oklahoma. That's a stretch that could give us the defining performance Petty's narrative is lacking.

Carey holds the nation's longest streak with 10 straight 100-yard games dating back to last season, a stretch in which he's averaged 183.8 yards per and has 20 total TDs. That run could go deep into November with the Wildcats not facing a rush defense ranked higher than 70th until they take on Oregon (25th) on Nov. 23. That should give Carey, already the FBS leader at 153.3 ypg, at least a shot at wrestling the rushing yards lead away from Western Kentucky's Anthony Andrews, who has 256 more yards than Carey's 924, but has played in two more games. It's an intriguing chase given that Carey led the nation with 1,979 yards a year ago and since 1970, only two players have won back-to-back rushing titles -- Iowa State's Troy Davis (1995-96) and Texas' Ricky Williams (1997-98) -- both of whom were invited to New York, with Williams winning in '98. Would a repeat be enough to be a finalist? Without a Pac-12 title game berth it seems unlikely, but Carey's numbers could make for a strong argument.

Sean Mannion had season lows in yards (271) and touchdowns (one) in Oregon State's loss to Stanford. (Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)

A week ago, Mannion made the Forecaster's short list of likely winners, but that was based largely on the slate of spotlight games that were before him. He failed to capitalize on the first of those with season lows in yards (271) and touchdowns (one) in the loss to Stanford. Mannion's 3,263 yards give him a 398-yard lead in the FBS passing king race and with a regular-season slate that finishes with USC (30th vs. the pass), Arizona State (22nd), Washington (36th) and Oregon (62nd), it would be no surprise to see him hold onto that title. But unless he can put up monster numbers vs. the Ducks, it looks like the Beavers' voting drought will continue as they haven't had a player finish in the top 10 since Terry Baker's win in 1962.

His hopes already fleeting, Boyd needed to bounce back in a big way -- and it didn't happen. Coming off a horrendous night against Florida State he had a respectable 304 yards to go along with a TD and an interception vs. Maryland, but that's a team that Winston torched for 393 yards and five scores. Had he put up big numbers against the Terrapins, Boyd could have made things interesting. He would have had chances to bolster his stats vs. Virginia (64th-ranked D), Georgia Tech (54th vs. the pass) and FCS squad Citadel and had another marquee opponent with No. 15 South Carolina in the regular-season finale. But at this point it seems unlikely that Boyd can be a factor in this race.

He continues to lead the nation with 9.46 yards per carry, an impressive total that comes despite 60 players having more carries than Gordon's 107. But those numbers have come with the No. 22 Badgers facing just one of the Big Ten's top rush defenses -- five of which are in the top 19 percent in FBS -- and the one unit they did see, Ohio State (sixth in the country), held Gordon to 74 yards. Iowa, which is ranked 24th, has allowed just one back, the Buckeyes' Carlos Hyde, to go over 100 yards. It also held Northern Illinois, fourth in rushing overall, to 163 yards and limited QB Jordan Lynch to 56. A trip to Iowa City could very well result in Gordon's second sub-100 yard game of the year.