Football

Heisman voters wait on Winston as race muddles

Heisman Trophy voters were emailed a ballot on Monday.

It's not due back for two weeks. Good thing, because it's going to take some time to sort this out. A Heisman race that not long ago seemed well-defined has been muddled in so many ways. Not the least of which is a sexual assault investigation involving Jameis Winston, the Florida State star who would otherwise be the clear front-runner after the Heisman stock of several contenders crashed last weekend.

"Last week was a seismic one, and shook up the landscape," Heisman voter Charles Davis of Fox Sports said. Even with potential criminal charges hanging over Winston, online sports book Bovada has him as the favorite to win the award at 1-2 odds, meaning if you bet $200 on him to win the Heisman you'd win only $100. Though the odds that he wins it are not as good as they were last week.

Many Heisman voters say they are taking a wait-and-see approach on Winston's legal issues. The state attorney in Tallahassee, Fla., has said a decision on whether to charge Winston with anything is unlikely to be reached this week, but maybe next.

"It can't be forgotten that Winston's constitutional rights supersede whatever privileges afforded him as an exceptional college football quarterback," said Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press. "Heisman voters must let the investigation play itself out for as long as possible before rendering judgment."

Winston and No. 2 Florida State play Florida on Saturday, and then the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Dec. 7. He leads the nation in passer efficiency rating (194.5) and has thrown for 3,163 yards and 32 touchdowns.

"Obviously, strictly as a player, he's a leading contender," said Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. "But I don't want to prejudge his legal situation one way or the other. The presumption of innocence that he has legally ought to apply in terms of his Heisman chances. I just hope there's a resolution before I have to vote."

Votes from the 928-member Heisman electorate are due by Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. EST. The winner is announced Dec. 14. Meanwhile, the stage is set for AJ McCarron to make a late push. The Alabama quarterback could have two more chances to display his talents, starting Saturday at Auburn. Win that and it's on to the Southeastern Conference title game for the Crimson Tide.

Braxton Miller, No. 3 Ohio State's dual-threat quarterback, is in a similar situation. He gets Michigan on Saturday, and then No. 11 Michigan State the week after for the Big Ten title. While voters have cooled on Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman last year, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty — all of whom had below-average performances in losing efforts last Saturday — they're warming up to Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and Boston College running back Andre Williams.

"I was probably leaning toward Johnny Manziel until this past weekend," said Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss. "Earlier in the year I thought it was Marcus Mariota's to lose. So right now I'm certainly looking for other candidates, and a guy like Alabama's AJ McCarron probably has a better candidacy now than he did just a couple weeks ago."

McCarron is the second choice on Bovada's board at 2-1, making a huge move after being 13-2 last week. There doesn't seem to be a massive groundswell of support for the senior with two national championship rings.

It's been more of a steadily growing appreciation for his consistent production. A cover story in Sports Illustrated last week didn't hurt him, either. And, of course, he's now facing more pushback from skeptics.

"I get it that Baylor, A&M and Oregon lost and many have moved up AJ McCarron, but it's not a lifetime achievement award," said Robert Cessna of the Bryan-College Station (Texas) Eagle. "I don't know if he's even the best player on the team."

Winston, McCarron and Manziel were announced as the finalists for the Maxwell player of the year award on Monday. After McCarron on Bovada's board comes Williams, the first major college player to rush for 2,000 yards since 2008, and Miller at 15-1.

Carr and Manziel are 20-1. Lynch comes in at 28-1. Petty and Mariota are off the board, which doesn't necessarily mean they can't get back on it. Williams, Miller, Carr and Lynch were off the board last week.

Maybe this week Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd or Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater can re-emerge, or Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey and the Wildcats can follow their upset of No. 12 Oregon with another against No. 13 Arizona State.

"Saturday was a ballot-buster for me, no question," said Joshua Kendall of The State in Columbia, S.C. "I'm back to square one unless there is something before square one, in which case I am there."

Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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