The Manhattan news conference Friday before Saturday night's Heisman Trophy Award ceremony was more notable for who wasn't present than who attended. Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the presumptive favorite, was in Baltimore Friday night to accept the Johnny Unitas Award as the top quarterback, and 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston was not among the three finalists.
Winston led Florida State to a second consecutive undefeated season and a semifinal berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff against Mariota and Oregon in the Rose Bowl, but his off-the-field issues might have contributed to his fall in the estimation of Heisman voters. Winston is awaiting results of an FSU inquiry into year-old allegations of sexual assault, and he appeared in an off-color Twitter post and was accused of stealing crab legs from a grocery since winning the award.
The two finalists who were present Friday, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, declined to speculate on how the character issue affected this year's vote but acknowledged the impact on Winston.
"I think character is really important in everything," said Cooper, the winner of the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the top college receiver with 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. "I don't know if that's why Jameis didn't make the top three or not. But character is important in anything."
Gordon made it to New York as winner of the Doak Walker Award as the top running back after rushing for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns. Asked about Winston's absence, Gordon said he'd leave any message up to the voters but added, "He's probably not here because of off-the-field issues, but I think he's a great player.
"I'm a fan, to be honest. I think at the next level he's going to be a great quarterback. When he gets hot, he's almost unstoppable. He's got some off-the-field issues, but he can get that corrected."
All three finalists are juniors who are expected to go high in the NFL draft, but only Gordon has announced his plan to enter the draft. "Let's be honest," Gordon said of his recent admission. "I think everyone knew I was going to leave."
Of course, the Jets figure to have a top-five pick, but while Gordon expressed his appreciation for New York, he knows running backs aren't valued as highly as they once were in the pass-oriented NFL.
"The draft is crazy," Gordon said. "It depends on how they view players from now until the draft. It'd be nice if [the Jets pick him], but every running back, they don't know where they're going to go. We'll be sitting there waiting until our names get called."
Cooper isn't looking that far down the road because his next challenge is a CFP semifinal against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but he said he is proud to be among the Heisman finalists because only two wide receivers -- Tim Brown and Desmond Howard -- ever have won the award.
"It means a lot," Cooper said. "I'm honored to be here where only a few are chosen."