Te'o, Bush Scandals May Make AJ McCarron More Appealing to Heisman Voters

After two scandals involving a former Heisman Trophy winner (Reggie Bush) and a runner-up (Manti Te'o) in recent years, Heisman voters this year may be hesitant to vote for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has been accused of raping a Florida State student.

Before the start of the 2013 college football season, A.J. McCarron, the quarterback who has led Alabama to back-to-back titles in addition to dating a former Miss Alabama, went under the radar because of last year's Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's off-the-field actions. McCarron was emphasizing how he tries to never do anything to tarnish his last name while Manziel was allegedly getting kicked out of the Manning Passing Camp after failing to show up after a night of alleged partying. 

And during the 2013 college football campaign, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston's stats have overshadowed McCarron's steady performance while Winston was cruising to a Heisman Trophy win and a potential battle with McCarron's Crimson Tide in the national title game. 

But after revelations surfaced two weeks ago that Winston has been accused of raping a student, the spotlight this weekend and perhaps the next is now on McCarron, who is emerging as a strong Heisman Trophy contender and has been compared to a polished exhibit at the Smithsonian while Manziel was likened to brilliant graffiti art

McCarron's image may be of more importance as Winston's case continues to get uglier. And after Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty literally stumbled last week in Stillwater in a loss to Oklahoma State and Oregon's Marcus Mariota played his way out of contention in a loss at Arizona, the Heisman race seems to be between Winston and McCarron, with Boston College running back Andre Williams and Manziel with outside chances.

McCarron's odds of taking home the storied hardware at the Downtown Athletic Club may get even better if voters believe that character still matters and put more of an emphasis on it. 

The Heisman Trust's mission statement reads as follows, with "integrity" mentioned twice:

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. Our goal through these charitable endeavors is for the Heisman Trophy to symbolize the fostering of a sense of community responsibility and service to our youth, especially those disadvantaged or afflicted. All assets of the Trust beyond the expense of maintaining the annual presentation of the Heisman Memorial Trophy are reserved for such charitable causes. The Trustees, who all serve pro bono, are guided by a devotion to college football and are committed to community service and the valued tradition which the Trophy represents.

USC gave back Reggie Bush's 2005 Heisman Trophy in 2010, and Bush, in an unprecedented move, gave his back as well after the NCAA determined that Bush's parents received improper benefits, making Bush ineligible during that latter part of that campaign. The NCAA found that Bush also received some benefits--like free hotel rooms, which led to stiff sanctions against USC as well. There was plenty of sanctimony to go around, to say the least. 

And last year, the Heisman Trust may have been saved some extreme embarrassment after Johnny Manziel won the award over Manti Te'o, who finished second in the balloting in part because of the good press that he was getting over what was later revealed to be a hoax story about how his fake girlfriend died during the season.  

Neither Te'o nor Bush were accused of something as serious as rape, though. 

Prosecutors have indicated they will not decide on whether to charge Winston for another two weeks, which means voters may be voting with the case still open. In addition, the Tallahassee Police Department has been accused of threatening the alleged victim if she went forward against Winston, with the victim's parents claiming that police told her that her life would be made "miserable." Winston's attorney has conceded that the open case will hurt his client's chances at the Heisman, and the the quarterback has also had an incident in which Winston and his teammates were almost evicted from their housing complex after shooting it up with BB guns. He has been accused of stealing soda at Burger King in ketchup and water cups.

A small sample of voters said they would consider Winston, though, even if his case is still open while they cast their ballot. But ever since those revelations surfaced two weeks ago, Winston has been losing votes in surveys conducted by USA Today and ESPN, with McCarron placing second and third, respectively. Boston College's Andre Williams is also a strong contender, but he may be hurt by his lack of name recognition. Manziel has also had a stellar season, but his lackluster performance last week at LSU may have sealed his fate, especially in light of his offseason problems after photographs emerged of him signing autographs for an autograph broker. Manziel had to sit out for a half in the team's first game because of some technicalities. 

Winston is of course innocent until proven guilty and deserves every benefit of the doubt that had been afforded to Manziel, but there is no doubt voters will be leery of potentially voting for a candidate who may have to embarrassingly give back his award--or have it taken from him, which would tarnish the award, the Heisman Trust, and the sport. 

"We have a longstanding policy not to comment on hypothetical situations," Heisman Trophy coordinator Tim Henning told ESPN. "Any discussion of a potential revote would have to be made by the Heisman Trophy trust. At the end of the day, the trust makes all decisions to anything pertaining to the Heisman."

Heisman voters may not want to take that risk by voting for Winston and instead award the honor to McCarron, the Alabama field general who embodies "the pursuit of excellence with integrity."

McCarron seems like a quarterback who can keep his head when everyone is losing theirs, who can talk with crowds and keep his virtue and walk with kings without losing the common touch. The type of gunslinger who"can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same."

McCarron's does not have a "signature moment" like Manziel's incredible sandlot-style touchdown pass in Texas A&M's 29-24 upset over Alabama last year, but he has had two moments that may have been just as significant--and they were against Manziel's Aggies earlier this year. 

Down 14-0 in one of the most hostile road environments to Manziel's Texas A&M, McCarron calmly rallied Alabama back on a scoring drive to cut the lead to 14-7, which perhaps saved Alabama's season. And after Texas A&M mounted a furious comeback, cutting Alabama's lead to 42-35 in the fourth quarter, McCarron calmly led Alabama back down the field, went to the sidelines to change plays, and then calmly ran his play, a play-action fake for a five-yard touchdown pass to Jalston Fowler that was eerily reminiscent of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy's pass to Roy Upchurch in the 2009 Iron Bowl. 

"I think A.J.'s probably the most underrated player in college football. People talk about statistics all the time, and maybe his statistics are not what somebody else's are. But really what you should equate things with are production, performance, efficiency, consistency and winning," Saban recently said on ESPN's College GameDay. "That's really what it's all about. He's done that better than I think anybody in college football."

Whether McCarron's the most underrated player in college football is up for debate, but McCarron's girlfriend--like the beating Alabama put on Notre Dame last year in the national title game--is real.

If the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the "most outstanding" player, McCarron may not be at the top of list. But the quarterback from humble origins in Mobile, Alabama has emphatically made the case that he may be college football's most valuable player while embodying the "intangibles" on and off the field that the Heisman Trust--and the NCAA--purportedly values. And stories like the one featured in the video below about McCarron's relationship with a cancer survivor definitely do not hurt in that regard. 

McCarron now has potentially two games to burnish his image on the field to voters--and a country--that will have their eyes on him. Should he win the Iron Bowl on Saturday and the SEC title game the following week, the Heisman may be his to lose.


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