Pros and Cons of Each 2013 Heisman Candidate
Halfway through the month of November, we've reached the point in the Heisman race where dark-horse candidates no longer exist. For the few players with a hat still in the ring, it's all about strengthening their overall resumes.
It's easy to look at a player's statistics and compare them against somebody else's, but the Heisman Trophy merits a little more discussion than looking at box scores. Make no mistake, numbers are incredibly important, but there are plenty of current players capable of putting up eye-popping stats.
Beyond what a player does well, it's also important to look at his weaknesses and determine how they stack up against those of another candidate. For the purposes of this discussion, we're not going to list "doesn't play in the fourth quarter very often" as a weakness. It's a cheap way of trying to hide a compliment, and many of the top candidates face that situation every week from blowouts.
Remember, too, that this isn't about who might be the best player in the NFL, so a quality like arm strength doesn't hold much weight.
Now let's take a look at the pros and cons of the top five Heisman Trophy candidates, per ESPN's Heisman Watch.
All stats via ESPN.
No. 5) AJ McCarron, Alabama
AJ McCarron is the perfect quarterback for Alabama, and there probably isn't another guy in the country coach Nick Saban would rather have leading his team. He never gets flustered, he knows the offense inside and out, and he rarely makes bad decisions.
While wins can't be attributed solely to the quarterback of the team, the fact remains that McCarron is closing in on what would be Alabama's third straight appearance in the BCS title game.
The senior signal-caller may very well exit college football with one of the greatest resumes in NCAA history.
His accuracy on short-to-medium throws is typically on point, and he shines brightest in the clutch when his team needs to put together a scoring drive. On the season, McCarron has 2,228 yards passing and 21 touchdowns with just five interceptions.
McCarron's glistening resume is thanks in large part to one of the best defenses in the country. The Crimson Tide are barely giving up 10 points per game this season, so McCarron's task of winning games is made significantly easier.
His statistics, while solid, are less than impressive compared to the other top candidates. He doesn't throw for a ton of yardage, and he rarely has those career-defining "wow" moments.
Fair or not, he's also part of an offense that doesn't need him to do it all.
While other top quarterbacks are basically required to carry their teams to victory, McCarron has the best stable of backs in the country to go along with an incredible receiving corps.
It's a chicken-egg argument when you talk about AJ McCarron's success. The question becomes: Does the offense look good because of McCarron, or does he look good because of the talent surrounding him?
No. 4) Bryce Petty, Baylor
There's a lot to love about Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, starting with the fact that he's a first-year starter following in the footsteps of Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, and he's absolutely tearing it up. Petty has 24 touchdown passes and just one interception to go along with nearly 3,000 yards through the air.
In the age of dual-threat players, he doesn't have the yardage on the ground to compare with Johnny Manziel or Marcus Mariota, but he does have 10 rushing touchdowns, which is more than either player.
Petty is completing more than 65 percent of his passes as well.
Petty thrives in an offense that allows him to chuck it all over the place, and he rarely misses an open receiver deep down the field, which has led to a ton of big plays. He doesn't make mistakes, as evidenced by his lone interception, and he has the all-important trait of being "poised." It's an overused word, but it's critically important for any offensive leader during key moments of games.
Much like AJ McCarron may get critiqued for playing in an offense that doesn't utilize his arm very often, Petty gets dinged a bit for playing in an exceptionally pass-happy offense.
He's very accurate, but you don't often see a deep pass fall into the arms of a guy who is closely guarded. Does that hurt him? It might damage his NFL prospects slightly, but it's nitpicking in the Heisman race.
If he were putting up these big numbers for a program that didn't play in a BCS conference, he might be docked a few points. But Baylor plays in the Big 12, so being a "system quarterback" doesn't matter as much.
What does matter, however, is how few opportunities Petty has against a quality defense. What Baylor is doing in averaging over 60 points per game is remarkable no matter how you slice it, but there are no Alabamas or Stanfords on the schedule. Aside from maybe the win over Oklahoma, the Bears' biggest game is arguably Saturday at Oklahoma State. But the Cowboys don't present any major challenges on defense.
Is it fair to judge a candidate on who he doesn't face? Probably not, but it's the only reason Bryce Petty isn't a clear front-runner at this point.
The narrative may change if Baylor continues to roll through the toughest part of its schedule, but people need to see Petty continue to excel against good teams.
No. 3) Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Let's begin with the biggest pro of any candidate in the race: Marcus Mariota hasn't thrown a single interception this season.
Part of this can be attributed to luck, as quarterbacks are bound to have at least a few tipped passes go to the interception. But that does say everything you need to know about his decision-making.
As noted by ESPN's Mark Schlabach, the last time a quarterback threw at least 150 passes and went an entire season without a pick was in 1991 (by Virginia's Matt Blundin).
Mariota has 25 touchdowns through the air and 2,819 yards passing. He also has nearly 500 yards on the ground to go along with nine rushing touchdowns. The numbers sparkle in an era where big stats are pretty much a necessity for Heisman candidates.
His accuracy sits at just over 64 percent, but he's completed over 70 percent of his passes in four out of the last five games. In his worst game of the season, he still threw for 250 yards and two scores against Stanford.
Unlike the two previous candidates, Mariota has a loss on his resume. The Ducks fell to the Cardinal, and while a number of factors played a large role in the defeat, Mariota didn't play very well for the first three quarters.
When you add in the fact that Stanford has perhaps the best defense Oregon will face all season and that the game was a nationally televised, prime-time matchup on a Thursday night, well, it was a huge blow to Mariota's chances.
With so many incredible dual-threat QBs around, you have to go deeper into the book than the cover page and start to look at what someone did against quality competition.
In terms of his ability, there isn't much you can complain about. He still has to learn how to handle the blitz a little better, but that's more of an NFL trait than something Heisman voters will look at.
While he played relatively well against a good UCLA team, the lone loss stings and is Marcus Mariota's biggest failing in the Heisman race. And it's a much bigger blemish than the ones you'll see on the resumes of McCarron, Petty or Jameis Winston.
No. 2) Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel has the most interesting resume of any Heisman candidate, but there's no denying his playmaking abilities. He's one of the most unique players in the game because he is as elusive as it gets in the pocket.
He makes the kind of plays that stick with you for weeks.
On the season, Manziel has 3,313 yards passing with 31 touchdowns. On the ground, he has 611 yards to go along with another eight scores. He's also completing 73 percent of his throws.
The biggest thing going for Manziel right now is his stat sheet, where you'll find five games in which he produced over 400 yards of total offense. Against Alabama, Manziel accounted for 562 yards and five touchdowns in the close, 49-42 loss. Outside of that, you'll notice Nick Saban's team hasn't allowed more than 17 all season, and only three other teams scored 10 points or more against the Crimson Tide.
Manziel, more than anyone else, is the guy you don't want to miss on Saturdays. Considering all of that, it gives him a strong chance to take home his second straight Heisman Trophy.
The negative aspects of Johnny Manziel's Heisman candidacy can be summed up pretty quickly: The Aggies have two losses and Manziel has thrown 11 interceptions.
While the super sophomore may produce more electrifying moments than anyone else, he's also made more bad decisions than any other player on this list. And although he doesn't have a very good defense to back him up, losses are losses for the QB.
Even against Alabama, Manziel had a pass picked off in the Tide end zone, negating potential points off the board. Against Mississippi State this past weekend, he had three interceptions.
The losses don't look nearly as bad when you take into account the kind of performances Manziel had, but he has five more picks than McCarron, Petty and Mariota combined, and turnovers are a sure way to lose favor with Heisman voters.
Johnny Football will get a chance to make two final statements at LSU and at Missouri, but with another loss or more interceptions, his chances of winning the award will be slim.
No. 1) Jameis Winston, Florida State
Jameis Winston has taken the college football world by storm in 2013. The first-year starter has led the Florida State Seminoles to an undefeated season thus far, with zero wins coming by fewer than 14 points.
Winston has thrown for 2,938 yards and 28 touchdowns, and he's completing more than 70 percent of his passes—simply remarkable for a redshirt freshman.
The biggest thing going for Winston is that he's on a team that is simply dominating opponents. Against then-No. 3 Clemson, he threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns and led his squad to the 51-14 victory on the road. The Tigers hadn't lost before that contest, and they haven't lost since.
Winston may not have one particular trait that stands out above the rest, but he does everything really well. He is accurate throwing down the field and can escape in the pocket when things break down. He's one of the most mature, poised quarterbacks this game has seen, and he has yet to make a play that has seriously hurt his team.
His seven interceptions are probably the one part of his resume that doesn't jump off the page, and he's only rushed for 145 yards.
Against Miami, Winston had a shaky first half in which he threw a pair of bad interceptions on the big stage, which might linger a bit in the minds of some. But those mistakes came in a 41-14 win, so they probably don't hurt him as much as it might others.
As with Petty, one con might be Florida State's schedule. Winston hasn't had to face off against a great defense, and the final two games of the season are against Idaho (1-9) and Florida (4-6). The Gators can be pesky on defense, but Will Muschamp's team is a shell of itself from even a year ago.
But this can also be spun in a positive way, because Winston managed to shine in the one major test the 'Noles did have at Clemson.
If there's one thing Jameis Winston must avoid, it's any sort of mediocre performance the rest of the way. In what looks like a tight race, he can't afford to underwhelm against bad teams.