Once Florida state attorney Willie Meggs said there wasn’t evidence to support charges of sexual battery against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, it became strictly an on-field race again. There was never much doubt in my mind whether Winston would and should win that vote, and he did … with 668 first-place votes and by the fifth-largest margin in Heisman history.
Voting Nos. 2 and 3? That was hard. The list of candidates with arguments for and against was long.
So, why not pick the running back that toted Auburn to an amazing turnaround and the quarterback who put Alabama in position to stop it?
After a season that saw the Heisman race change weekly, and even within games, my eighth Heisman ballot had Winston No. 1, Auburn’s Tre Mason No. 2 and Alabama’s AJ McCarron No. 3.
But I was tempted to include reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and had him atop my list for weeks.
I considered Andre Williams, Boston College’s 2,000-yard running back.
I considered quarterback Jordan Lynch, who put up incredible numbers and came within one victory of leading Northern Illinois to a second straight Bowl Championship Series bowl.
All were finalists and deservedly so, but voters can only vote for three. That the Heisman Trust named six finalists speaks to the difficulty voters around the country had in choosing the Nos. 2 and 3, if not No. 1.
It was that kind of year. My fingernails wore out my already-exposed scalp.
I went into each of the season’s latter weeks with an idea, only to see my ideas blown up on the field.
When I saw Manziel put up 562 total yards and throw for five touchdowns against Alabama, he became my early leader. I needed convincing that he wasn’t still the best player in college football, never mind his reality-show offseason.
Though Manziel remained the biggest reason why Texas A&M held relevance and status as a must-see team, he faded with pedestrian performances late against LSU and Missouri.
Winston kept putting up big numbers as Florida State trucked opponent after opponent.
For a moment, McCarron edged his way into parity with Winston with two big passes from his own end zone in the Iron Bowl. The first bomb to Amari Cooper resulted in a missed field goal, but McCarron’s 99-yard touchdown heave to Cooper put Alabama up 28-21 in the fourth quarter of the most relevant game of the regular season.
It felt like a Heisman moment for McCarron, who was always a tempting candidate because of Alabama’s two national titles with him as starting quarterback and his efficiency in those championship seasons and games. He was plenty efficient this season.
In fairness, McCarron wasn’t on the field when it all went wrong for Alabama in Jordan-Hare Stadium. He could only watch from the bench as converted cornerback Cyrus Jones bit up on Auburn’s game-tying touchdown pass and as Alabama lined up for the would-be winning field goal with a second left.
McCarron is Foster’s holder, but Alabama coach Nick Saban sent Adam Griffith out for the 57-yard attempt. Punter Cody Mandell is Griffith’s holder, so McCarron had a sideline seat as Auburn’s Chris Davis returned the miss 109 yards for college football’s play of the year.
McCarron wound up watching at home as Auburn beat Missouri for the SEC title, but he deserved to be a finalist. He deserved a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Though winning the Maxwell Award as college football’s top player was recognition aplenty, his career and season deserved acknowledgement on the Heisman stage. That’s why he’s on my ballot.
Meanwhile, Auburn has made one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football history, going from 3-9 in 2012 to 12-1 and playing the final Bowl Championship Series title Jan. 6 in Pasadena. Considering Auburn’s offensive numbers, someone warranted a New York trip.
But whom to pick? The mutually dependent nature of Auburn’s signature read-option play means that Mason’s running opens possibilities for quarterback Nick Marshall, and Marshall’s running opens possibilities for Mason.
Defenses must pick between the two, and Auburn rushed for a combined 841 yards against Alabama and Missouri, the SEC’s top two defenses against the run.
Mason broke the tie on the field, rushing for an SEC Championship Game-record 304 yards and four touchdowns as Auburn beat Missouri 59-42. He’s the SEC’s leading rusher and offensive player of the year, with five of his eight 100-yard games coming against ranked teams.
Mason is also Auburn’s one constant. Even as the Tigers suffered their worst season in 60 years in 2012, he rushed for 1,002 yards. He did it without Marshall, who was still in junior college.
It’s hard to argue against Mason’s trip to New York. Since his team went farther than McCarron’s -- Mason rushed for 164 yards and a score in the Iron Bowl -- he got the No. 2 spot on my ballot. McCarron got No. 3.
May next year’s choices be more clear.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.