Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By CORY McCARTNEY  |  Last updated 11/13/13
It can be seen as the beauty of the award or what makes it so maddening to follow, but the past is everything when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. It's the basis by which races are scrutinized and players' prospects held up or cast aside. With less than four weeks to go in this chase history will loom large, because we voters could be forced to decide which bit of it we want to repeat itself. Florida State's Jameis Winston has positioned himself to become the second redshirt freshman winner in as many years. Then there's the growing possibility that Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel could do the seemingly impossible and join Archie Griffin as the only-time recipients. There's also the bids to follow history with Baylor's Bryce Petty and Alabama's AJ McCarron, who are both trying to deliver their school's second all-time wins and both of who remain major factors in this race (so too is Oregon's Marcus Mariota, though he may have too much ground to make up now, which we'll discuss later). But the debate between Winston (the current leader) and Manziel (the defending winner) is too juicy and too meaningful to ignore right now. It also cuts to the core of the award, answering a question that's all about interpretation: what does "the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity" mean to voters right now? From this voter's perspective, John Heisman gave in to the Downtown Athletic Club's plan to single out an individual player -- and have his name grace it -- believing it was a testament to the team to have a player win. It's about being truly transcendent, and with that approach in mind is how I've filled out my ballot over the years. If statistics are the defining factor, the race is over. Manziel is second in the nation at 392.4 yards per game, he's on pace for more passing yards than he had in his winning season (3,706) and his 31 touchdowns are already an increase over last year's 26. No player has scored more points (234) and he's third in pass efficiency (186.9). There's little denying he's college football's most entertaining and most dominant player. If you were shelling out your last dime to see someone play live, you just know Manziel would be worth it. But ultimately, what has come of Manziel's gaudy stats? Was he able to get A&M into the title race and keep it there? Blame his defense, but part of winning a Heisman is taking a team and lifting it to the next level, Winston is the surest bet. The Seminole has thrown for 2,661 yards and an ACC freshman record 26 TDs, while also running for 157 yards and three scores and sits second in the nation in efficiency (192.2) and in no small part to Winston's play, Florida State is in line to play for a national championship. While the last six years have seen three players who did not make BCS bowls claim the award in Tim Tebow (2007), Robert Griffin III ('11) and Manziel, this postseason system has overwhelmingly been ruled by BCS-bound players, winning 11 times (counting Reggie Bush's vacated victory) in 15 years. Tebow, Griffin and Manziel can be seen as moving toward awarding the best player and not the top choice on a team that's been at the forefront of the seasons' narrative, but those wins were as much about those seasons as the players' greatness. Tebow and Griffin took the vote in years when a player on a title-game team didn't make the top two and Manziel was competing with a strictly defensive player (Notre Dame's Manti Te'o), which has never won. With a clear and impressive contender on a team in the BCS title hunt -- a perspective that could boost McCarron and Petty down the stretch should others falter -- Winston is the one with history on his side. That's a notion that a year ago would have seem blasphemous for a redshirt freshman and there in lies the irony of this race for Manziel. If it's Winston that blocks him from trophy No. 2, it will be due to Johnny Football blazing that trail for him. Before we look at the players who are rising and falling in this race, here's a look at how the contenders would stack up if the voting were to take place today: 1. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State, RS Fr. 2. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M, RS Soph. 3. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon, RS Soph. ON THE RISE 1. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama, RS Sr. McCarron opened his November push in efficient, though not staggering fashion, throwing for 179 yards to go with three TDs in the 21-point romp of LSU. In a week in which Mariota stumbled and Winston faced a lackluster opponent (Wake Forest), McCarron didn't own the spotlight, but he still helped keep the Crimson Tide in line for the title game, which is the backbone of his campaign. Also working in his favor is that with Auburn continuing its impressive turnaround, Alabama could wind up with a top-10 opponent in the Iron Bowl; no other candidate faces an opponent ranked higher than the No. 7 Tigers in the final weeks of the regular season. 2. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor, RS Jr. He kicked off a pivotal three-game stretch for his candidacy, and the Bears' title hopes, by totaling five TDs vs. Oklahoma (three passing and two rushing) despite his lowest yardage total of the season (249). Petty took over the game, but it wasn't exactly the Heisman Moment his campaign needs. Still, he remains the nation's most efficient passer (210.6) and has two ranked opponents remaining -- No. 12 Oklahoma State and No. 23 Texas -- against which to further state his case. As the Bears remain undefeated, Petty will continue to trend upward. 3. Ka'Deem Carey, RB Arizona, Jr. He's now run for at least 100 yards in 12 consecutive games, including eight this season in running for 152.6 rushing yards per game (second in FBS) and 1,221 yards (fourth). This week he should only build on those numbers, as he'll face FBS' 83rd-ranked rush defense in Washington State, which already allowed 192 yards to Oregon's Byron Marshall. The Wildcats are basically out of the Pac-12 South race and chance are Carey's season will end Nov. 30, more than a week before votes are due, denying him a final chance to impress pollsters. But if a running back is going to be a factor, it looks to be Carey. FALL GUYS 1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon, RS Soph. On a stage in which he could have laid claim to the trophy, Mariota had his worst game of the season. Stanford held him to minus-16 yards rushing, the first time in his Ducks career that he had finished in negative yards, and he also fumbled in the loss. Without some serious help from the Cardinal's upcoming opponents, Oregon won't play for a Pac-12 crown, hurting Mariota's chance of a comeback, as they won't face a ranked opponent the rest of the season. If there is one thing working in his favor, it may be the logjam of players in other voting regions. Manziel has Petty in the Southwest, while the South is the deepest of all regions, boasting Winston, McCarron and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Manziel, in playing in the SEC, will certainly be a factor with that voting populace. But the reality is that Mariota has gone from the clear favorite to a long shot. 2. Lache Seastrunk, RB Baylor, RS Jr. He was already fighting for attention while Petty put up big numbers amid the Bears' run up the rankings, then Seastrunk saw his campaign come to a screeching halt in the biggest game in program history. He suffered a groin injury in the first half against Oklahoma and while he returned, he ended the night with 19 yards on six carries. Further dropping his stock, third-string tailback Shock Linwood impressed with Seastrunk sidelined, racking up 182 yards on 23 carries, including 97 after contact. Ultimately, it was only hurting Baylor having two contenders considering in the last 30 years, only one recognized winner, Nebraska's Mike Rozier (1983), has had a teammate finish in the top five. The Bears needed a single candidate to emerge and it's clearly Petty. 3. Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin, RS Soph. In two weeks he's gone from a budding contender in a Midwest voting region ripe for the taking to all but out of the race. Dance partner James White has overshadowed Gordon of late, running for 279 and four scores the last two games, while Gordon has 148 yards and no TDs. Once the nation's leader in rushing yards and yards per carry, he's now slipped to sixth and fourth, respectively, in those categories with 1,160 yards and an 8.1 average. Any chance of getting New York has passed him by.
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