|Bob Leverone / Associated Press|
|Florida State's Jameis Winston could become the second straight redshirt freshman to win the Heisman.|
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Auburn tailback Tre Mason and Boston College tailback Andre Williams have been invited to the Heisman Trophy awards presentation.
The trophy will be handed out Saturday night, and Winston is considered a lock to win. He would be the second consecutive redshirt freshman to take home the honor.
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In addition, Winston would be the third Florida quarterback to win, following Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000. Winston has set NCAA single-season freshman records for passing yards (3,820) and TD passes (38); his 38 touchdown passes are also a single-season ACC record.
This is the first time since 1994 and only the second time in Heisman history that there are six finalists -- there were three finalists in 2012, five in 2011 and four in 2010 -- but it's probably because the margin between second and sixth place is so tight.
Going into Monday, the final day of voting for the award, the question was who, other than Winston and Lynch, was going to be invited to the ceremony. With this many finalists, the overriding question becomes who will finish second to Winston.
Winston is the quarterback of the team ranked No. 1 in the nation, a team that is unbeaten and will play for the national title. He has played well every week and hasn't had anything remotely resembling bad game.
If season-long excellence matters, Lynch should finish second. Unfortunately for him, his worst game came in his last game -- a loss to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. Lynch has a chance to set an NCAA record in NIU's bowl game: He has rushed for 1,881 yards, which is a FBS single-season record for a quarterback, and is trying to become the first player in NCAA history, at any level, to have 2,000 rushing yards and 2,000 passing yards in the same season. Putting up those numbers means he has had sustained excellence this season. Yes, he plays in the MAC, and, yes, he plays against "lesser" competition. The flipside: He's not exactly surrounded by a ton of talent at NIU, especially compared with the other finalists.
If you want to reward career excellence, McCarron is your man. That would be the only reason he finishes second. He is not even the best player on Alabama's offense, and his stats pale in comparison to the other finalists. McCarron, a senior, has thrown for 2,676 yards and 26 touchdowns this season.
If sheer stats are your thing, Williams should finish second. He is the nation's leading rusher and has had five 200-yard games and nine 100-yard performances this season. A senior, he is just the 15th player in FBS history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, and the first in the FBS ranks since UConn's Donald Brown in 2008. But he did it for a 7-5 team. You can say a Heisman winner shouldn't come from a 7-5 team, but take Williams off BC, and the Eagles are 3-9 and sitting at home this bowl season.
If late-season heroics wow you, Mason should finish second. He is 10th in the nation in rushing, thanks to a surge in the past five games. He had 868 yards and 13 TDs in that span, including an epic 304-yard, four-TD performance in the SEC title game that propelled Auburn into the national championship game.
Mason, a junior, is 10th in the nation at 124.7 rushing yards per game. He has had eight 100-yard games this season, including five in a row to end the regular season. He is tied for third nationally with 22 rushing TDs, but his yards-per-carry average of 5.7 is just seventh among the top-10 rushers.
And if you like theatrics both on the ground and in the air -- not to mention off the field -- Manziel should finish second. Texas A&M isn't as good as it was last season, when it finished 11-2, but it's not Manziel's fault. A&M's defense is awful, which has forced Manziel to take more chances than he should. He was good for at least one highlight-reel play every game, but he also faded down the stretch, perhaps an indication he was worn out from having to do so much.
Manziel, a sophomore, is bidding to become just the second player to win back-to-back Heismans, joining former Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin (1974-75). Manziel is tied for sixth nationally with 33 TD passes and is third nationally in total offense (368.2 yards per game).
Winston will win Saturday night, probably by one of the largest margins in Heisman history, but there's a good chance the point difference between the second- and sixth-place finishers will be historically tight.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.