On Monday, six finalists — the most since 1994 — were invited to New York for this weekend’s Heisman Trophy ceremony (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN). Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite to win, especially since a sexual assault complaint against him has been closed without charges being filed. But if Winston doesn’t win, who has the best chance to take home the trophy? Here’s a ranking of the finalists.
1. Jameis Winston, Florida State QB
Last year, Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman, and now it’s likely there will be back-to-back freshman winners. In fact, the award is trending rather young. Four of the past six winners have been underclassmen. Winston is the best player on the No. 1 team in the country. His NCAA-leading 190.1 passer rating is more than 10 points higher than any other quarterback’s. He’s thrown 38 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, and has averaged an NCAA-high 10.9 yards per pass attempt.
2. Tre Mason, Auburn RB
No one had a better Heisman moment than Mason, who rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries in Auburn’s SEC title game win over Missouri. This season, Auburn faced five of the other six SEC teams currently in the top 25. In each of those games (against some of the top defenses in the country), Mason rushed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown. The junior running back has been at his best, against the best competition in the best conference for a team that will play for the BCS national championship.
3. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois QB
Lynch has several things against him, with the biggest being he plays in the MAC and was unable to complete an undefeated season with the loss to Bowling Green in the conference title game. But he also may have the best stats. Lynch became just the fifth quarterback in FBS history to pass for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season, and three of the previous four (Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel) went on to win the Heisman. The senior quarterback is also second in the country in rushing (1,881 yards).
4. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M QB
Last year, Manziel had that signature win, beating eventual national champion Alabama. This year, the Aggies lost all four games against ranked opponents. Manziel was also a much more dynamic rusher a year ago, scoring 21 touchdowns on the ground in 2012 compared with just eight this year. But the sophomore quarterback has evolved into a much better passer. He ranks ninth in passing yards (3,732), sixth in passing touchdowns (33), fourth in yards per attempt (9.5) and fourth in passer rating (170.4).
5. Andre Williams, Boston College RB
The nation’s leading rusher (2,102 yards) made a late Heisman charge by rushing for 897 yards and six touchdowns in a three-game stretch. That’s an average of 299 rushing yards per game. His bid for four straight 250-yard games ended when he was injured during the Eagles’ final game of the season against Syracuse. It’s been an impressive year for the senior running back, but he didn’t perform at his best in some of Boston College’s biggest games of the season, rushing for just 38 yards vs. USC and 70 against Clemson (both Eagles losses).
6. AJ McCarron, Alabama QB
The senior quarterback has won two national championships and is 36-3 as a starter. If the Heisman were an award for career achievements, McCarron would get the nod. But he simply hasn’t been the best player in the country this season. His stats are nice (26 passing touchdowns, five interceptions), but they don’t compare to the other candidates’. The one thing McCarron had going for him was being a winner, but he lost the biggest game of the season to rival Auburn, which ended Alabama’s title chances and his Heisman hopes.