Alabama's AJ McCarron drops back to pass against the Georgia...

Alabama's AJ McCarron drops back to pass against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half of the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. (Dec. 1, 2012) Credit: Getty

It's rare to see the Heisman Trophy race in such flux. For a while, it was all about Johnny Manziel, then it was about Marcus Mariota, then about Jameis Winston. At this point, it's anybody's race. If integrity and character weren't factors in the voting, Winston would probably win in a walk. But his legal problems opened the door for two to three other players. A.J. McCarron, who bested Manziel in a head-to-head matchup, will likely benefit the most from Winston's legal woes. Manziel shouldn't be counted out, but a home loss to Alabama and his interception total (13) make it an uphill climb.

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State, Fr.: His numbers (3,163,yds, 32 TDs, 7 INT; 126 yds rushing, 3TDs) are above reproach. So is his ability to perform in a big game. He threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score against Clemson. After a rough first half against Miami, Winston recovered in the second half, finishing with 325 yards and a touchdown. His now-mounting legal issues are sure to cloud his candidacy for the Heisman, but recent unscientific polls suggest he still is the favorite. Dominant performances against Florida and in the ACC title game could be enough to put him over the top and overshadow his legal promising, assuming he isn’t charged with sexual assault. If he is charged before Heisman votes are due (Dec. 9), it could be game over for him.

A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama, Sr.: There should be no mystery why it took so long for McCarron to become a serious Heisman contender: he plays for Alabama. The theory among some observers is that any decent QB can be successful in Nick Saban’s system. We beg to differ. McCarron (2,399 yds, 23 TDs, 5 INTs) is about as efficient as they come. He’s also a clutch player. McCarron completed 20 of 29 passes for 334 yards and 4 TDs in an early-season win at Texas A&M. Alabama overcame a 14-0 deficit in that game. He completed 70 percent of his passes and tossed 3 TDs against LSU. He faltered a bit against Mississippi State, tossing two INTs and completing just 56 percent of his passes, but everyone is allowed one mediocre game. A big performance against Auburn this weekend should cement his status as a finalist.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M, So.: Manziel’s numbers (3,537 yds passing, 32 TDs, 13 INTs, 665 yds rushing, 8 TDs) certainly make him worthy of consideration again. But four multi-interception games, including a 3 INT performance in a win against Mississippi State and several off-the-field issues will cost him some first-place votes. His most recent display in a 34-10 loss to LSU (16-for-41 passing, 224 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) might have sealed his fate.

Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois, Sr.: Lynch has come on strong the last few weeks. He can thank his team’s climb in the BCS standings for that. He broke his own FBS single-game rushing record for quarterbacks with 321 yards in a 33-14 win over Western Michigan. Lynch has 2,457 yards passing, 22 TDs and 5 INT and has run for 1,755 yards and 20 scores. Lynch’s biggest problem, other than not playing for a major conference team, is the level of competition. The Huskies do have one quality win over a decent Iowa team, but that is about it. Lynch will have to put forth a Herculean effort in the MAAC title game to convince voters.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson, Sr.: What is there NOT to like about Boyd. He can pass (3,248 yds, 29 Tds, 7 INT) and he can run (268 yds, 8 TDs). A so-so performance against Florida State (17-for-37 passing, 156 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) put him behind the eight ball and he has yet to fully recover from that. Boyd has arguably been the best QB in November, throwing for 1,005 yards, 12 TDs and 2 INTs in three games.

Andre Williams, RB, Boston College, Sr.: Williams has run for 2,073 yards and 16 TDs. He ran for 263 yards and 4 TDs against Maryland and an ACC-record 339 yards and 2 TDs against NC State. The problem: Williams had his worse games against the top competition. He had just 38 yards in a 35-7 loss at USC and 70 yards in a 24-14 loss to Clemson.

Other contenders…
Ka’deem Carey, RB, Arizona, Jr: Ran for 206 yards and four touchdowns in Arizona’s upset of Oregon.

Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor, Jr: Petty (3,351 yds, 26 TDs, 1 INT) climbed the Heisman ladder fast, but faded after a 49-17 loss at Oklahoma State.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, So.: Many believed the Heisman was Mariota’s to lose. It was until losses at Stanford and Arizona.

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