Friday, November 8, 2013

Now we can... about the so-called Heisman Trophy race and feel like it is actually time to be doing so.

I have been out of town a good chunk of the last few weeks and decided not to spend my home time wiling away on the computer. Which explains why I haven't published anything in a while. Tonight, however, I am in the mood to sort through my two cents about the Heisman candidates at the same time I am watching one of them take some lumps on TV.

Like most everyone else in America, I think there are three evenly matched horses in this year's race, and I think nobody outside of those three has a chance. They are all quarterbacks and here are my thoughts about them:

Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Right now his Ducks are trailing Stanford 20-0 early in the third quarter. But of course, it is not his fault that a receiver fumbled yards from the goal line, nor is it his fault that the Ducks' defense can not stop Stanford from eating the clock with long, time-consuming, run-dominated drives.

The bottom line is that we are two-thirds of the way through the season and Mariota still hasn't thrown an interception while leading his team to an 8-0 record and #2 national ranking. He has completed 64 percent of his passes, is averaging more than 10 yards per attempt, and has accounted for 29 touchdowns (20 passing and 9 rushing). And those stats are in spite of the fact that Mariota often sits in the second half because his team is so far ahead.

The knock on Mariota is that he has played a weaker schedule than the next two players I am about to name. The upside is that he can make up for that because the remainder of Oregon's schedule is tougher than it has been so far.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The defending Heisman winner has had a spectacular season, so why shouldn't he repeat? In many ways he has played even better than he did last year despite the fact that everyone is gunning for him with a passion, and in my opinion this says something very positive about his focus and character -- two traits that are supposed to be extremely important to Heisman voters.

Manziel's 72.5 completion percentage and 26 touchdown passes surpass everyone on this list, and his 10.39 yards per attempt is a full quarter-yard better than Mariota's. On top of that Manziel has 8 rushing TD's and averages more than 66 yards per game on the ground. But perhaps most importantly, he led his Aggies to 42 points against Alabama -- a team that has yielded only 36 points to its other seven opponents combined. The Aggies are 7-2 and nationally ranked, but if he was not on their roster they would probably be no better than 3-6

How can he not be the leading contender? I want to scream. But there is no denying this detraction: He threw a pair of picks in each of A&M's two losses; and in both of those games, the picks led to more points that the eventual margins of defeat.

Jameis Winston, Florida State
No freshman QB has stormed the sporting world and captured America's attention this way since -- well, since last year, when Manziel's ad libbing and precision passing and Tarkentonesque scrambles resulted in him being the first-ever frosh to win the Heisman.

Now, in 2013, Jameis Winston's is burning through record books and opposing defenses while making practically no mistakes whatsoever. He has thrown for 24 TD's against only 6 INT's. His yards per attempt is an eye-popping 11.8, which exceeds by more than a full yard either Manziel's or Mariota's. Winston's 51-14 evisceration of then-#3 Clemson a few weeks back was arguably the greatest quarterbacking performance since Ty Detmer single-handedly led BYU over Miami 22 years ago -- a performance which led directly to Detmer winning the 1991 Heisman.

The argument against Winston is that he has not played against the same caliber defenses that Manziel has faced in the SEC, or that Mariota has faced in the Pac-12. But that argument is somewhat thin because your average ACC defense this season is not far behind this season's average SEC or Pac-12 defense, and may be on par. And when you look at his maestro performance against Clemson, and remember that Clemson's defense was highly touted and has played very strong in every other game  -- who cares?

So what do I think? 

I believe Mariota deserves to be considered, but I also believe he is the third best of this trio. Between Manziel and Winston, I believe Manziel should be considered the most valuable player to his team, but I also believe Winston gets the nod for best player in the country. This is largely because of Manziel's interceptions against Alabama and Auburn that I mentioned were the only detractions on his resume.

And perhaps most importantly, I feel compelled to mention that Winston gets my nod only by a hair -- and that a third of the season is left to play, which means that right now my nod is very tentative indeed.

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