Heisman Trophy thoughts

West Palm Beach - Joe Girvan's 2013 Heisman Manifesto

Surreal.  How else to describe the season of college football's most outstanding player?  Before we tell the story though, we need to lay some ground rules.  Here is what the first page of the online ballot says: 

"The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award is presented each year to the Outstanding College Football Player in the United States."

That's it.  The only other instruction is that candidates must be students of an accredited college or university, and in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA Student-Athlete.  Oh sure, you can track down the Heisman Trust mission statement and find this:  "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."  When it comes time to vote, however, the very simple instructions we are given do not include the words "character" nor "integrity."  As a voter, I take solace in that.  Let's be honest -- I do not know what these young men are like away from the football field.  It is not possible to make informed character decisions on each of the candidates, as I watch them play football on my TV.  If the NCAA, or one of its member institutions, decides to suspend a player for misconduct, that changes things.  Otherwise, who am I to sit in judgment?  We are not electing a Pope, people, we are voting for the most outstanding college football player in the United States. 

The Heisman is an annual award.  That means only this season matters.  I don't care if a player was all-world last year, or fourth string.  Only the 2013 season counts.  Finally, we are splitting hairs among the very best players in the country.  While I am extremely confident in my first choice, the second and third spots could have gone to any number of deserving candidates.  Chances are you will disagree with my selections.  I am not right, and you are not wrong.  So let the debate begin…

Honorable mentions:  AJ McCarron, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater,  Andre Williams, Ka'Deem Carey, Marcus Mariota, Tre Mason, Jordan Lynch, Braxton Miller, and Carlos Hyde. 

A note on Jordan Lynch:  He is one heck of a player, but piled up numbers against lackluster competition.  Just imagine what Johnny Manziel would have done against Northern Illinois' schedule.  Now think about Lynch versus Texas A&M's opponents. I think we're done here.

A note on AJ McCarron:  Consider this – if Alabama had beaten Auburn, McCarron might have had a puncher's chance of winning the Heisman.  Instead, a loss that ended with a bizarre special teams touchdown killed those hopes.  That tells you his candidacy was more about Alabama's team success, than McCarron's individual prowess.  Some people want to make this a Lifetime Achievement Award after his three tremendous seasons.  It's not.  Good player, but not one of the top three in the country this year. 

The three players on my ballot are all quarterbacks.  That should not surprise you, it is the most important position in sports.  They are the only players ranked among the nation's top ten in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and passing efficiency.  Each is also a threat to run.

Third place - Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

By the numbers:  270-391, 3,732 yards, 69.1%, 33 TD, 13 INT, 686 yards rushing, 8 rush TDs

National ranks:  9 th in passing yards, 6 th in passing TDs, 4 th in passing efficiency,  6 th in points responsible for.  Texas A&M was the SEC's highest-scoring offense, and 6 th in the nation, at 43.6 points per game.

At his best, Manziel could easily be considered the most outstanding player in the country for a second-straight year.  We often hear about the "eye test."  Manziel passed it week after week, leaving me shaking my head and asking, "how did he do that?!"  Against Nick Saban's two-time defending national champs, Johnny Football racked up 562 yards of total offense and five touchdowns.  It was the second most total yards in SEC history, and he did it against one of the best defenses in the country.  Manziel is the consensus First-Team All-SEC quarterback, not McCarron.  There was inconsistency, however, and Manziel bears varying degrees of responsibility for the Aggies' four losses.  I talked about penalizing players who are suspended for misconduct, and Manziel was.  It was only a half, and he was still the most important player on the field that day, but it is part of my overall thought process.

Second place - Bryce Petty, Baylor

By the numbers:  220-356, 3,844 yards, 61.8%, 30 TD, 2 INT, 192 yards rushing, 11 rush TDs.

National ranks:  7 th in passing yards, 9 th in passing TDs, 2 nd in passing efficiency,  6 th in points responsible for.  Baylor had the #1 in scoring offense in the country, at 53.3 ppg.  The Bears won a school-record 11 games, and their first Big 12 championship. 

Petty is the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.  He led Baylor to unprecedented heights, and that is saying something,

just a couple years after fellow Bear Robert Griffin III won the Heisman.  Petty is the engine that made Baylor's up-tempo offense go.  This is where some of you will scream, "He's a product of the system!"  Yep, he sure is.  By the way, every football player is a product of his system.  I am not going to penalize Petty for running his system at a high level, any more than I would Boston College's Andre Williams, or Arizona St.'s Ka'Deem Carey, who ranked 1-2 in the country for most carries.  Some will knock Baylor's schedule.  The reality is the Bears faced four defenses which ranked in the nation's top 50 in both total defense and scoring defense.  That is the same number the eventual winner of this award faced this season.  Petty only has one loss on his resume, and it came on the road, against a very good Oklahoma St. team.  In that loss, Petty threw for 359 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Auburn's Tre Mason is the Flavor of the Month right now, and deservedly so, but for purposes of this discussion, I'll take Petty's season-long consistency over Mason's late-season surge.    

First place - Jameis Winston, Florida St.

By the numbers:   237-349, 3,820 yards, 67.9%, 38 TD, 10 INT, 193 yards rushing, 4 rush TDs.

National ranks:  8 th in passing yards, 2 nd in passing TDs, 1 st  in passing efficiency,  4 th in points responsible for.  The Seminoles had the second-highest scoring offense in the country at 53.0 ppg.  FSU is 13-0, ranked #1, and will play Auburn for the National Championship.

As a voter, this is simply a question of whether you are going to penalize Winston for being the subject of a sexual assault investigation.  As the vote totals will reveal, there is little question he is the most outstanding college football player in the country this year.  Winston led the Seminoles to an undefeated regular season, and a spot in the National Championship game.  He is the ACC Player of the Year.  If you are into so-called "Heisman moments," Winston has a highlight reel full of them.  His patience, poise, and leadership ability are uncommon for a redshirt freshman.  There is no doubt Winston has outstanding weapons at his disposal, but didn't first-round NFL draft pick EJ Manuel have most of them last year?  You can question FSU's strength of schedule, but not the results.  The Seminoles led the nation in margin of victory, winning by an average – an average! – of 42.3 ppg. 

The United States of America has the best judicial system in the world.  It is far from perfect, but it is the best.  Jameis Winston was not arrested, nor charged with a crime.  He was not suspended by Florida State at any time.  I am not paid to collect evidence, nor interview suspects.  All I can do is trust the decisions made by those in law enforcement.  Mistakes are sometimes made, and perhaps they were in this case.  Unfortunately, I don't know and neither do you.  What I do know is this:  Winston was a student of an accredited university, and in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA Student-Athlete.

Some of my fellow Heisman voters will choose to play the role of morality police, and penalize Winston.  I would love to know what evidence they have, that the police and Tallahassee State Attorney's office didn't.  They will pass judgment because of an accusation, while assuming from the comfort of their couches that other candidates are of high moral fiber, as they individually define what that is.  I find this irresponsible.     

So there it is, my 2013 Heisman Trophy Ballot – Winston, Petty, Manziel.  It was a season unlike any other.  For Jameis Winston, it must have been surreal.

Joe Girvan is the weekday sports anchor for ESPN 106.3 on WPTV and Fox 29.  He has been a Heisman voter since 2002.  You can email Joe at JGirvan@ESPNWestPalm.com , and follow him on Twitter @JoeGirvan1063. 


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