Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 4, 2013

Jameis Winston investigation clouds Heisman voting

Tom Lindley
Associated Press

Montgomery, AL — The 12-game regular season once again won't provide clear answers as to the best teams in college football - nor will it settle who should win the Heisman Trophy.

On the field, No. 1 Florida State's quarterback Jameis Winston is outstanding. It’s an off-the-field criminal investigation that has Heisman voters wondering what to do with their ballots to pick the season's best player.

The person with the potential to be the biggest game-changer is Willie Meggs, the state attorney in Florida, who will determine whether to pursue criminal charges after investigating a sexual assault complaint involving Winston.

Should an indictment be handed up, Winston, in all likelihood, would be suspended from the team. Florida State policy states that student-athletes charged with a felony “will not be permitted to represent FSU Athletics in game competition until such time as the charge is resolved and all court, university and athletics department conditions for reinstatement have been met.”

Answers to the questions of when or if charges are forthcoming rest with Meggs - as they should.

On the sporting side of the discussion, things remain dicey. Heisman voters have until Dec. 9 to submit their ballots. Without some decision from Meggs or a grand jury, the question is whether suspicion surrounding Winston’s actions will be a factor in Heisman voting.

Furthermore, if Winston is suspended, should Florida State play for a national championship when the player who led the team to an undefeated regular season and probable Atlantic Coast Conference championship on the sidelines?

In fairness to Winston, even if he is charged, he still should be considered innocent until proven guilty. At the same time, seeing a person charged or even under suspicion of having committed a serious crime accept an honor like the Heisman Trophy on national television Dec. 14 is disconcerting.

So what’s a voter to do?

Adding to the dilemma is a situation where no other candidate has stepped up to challenge Winston as a serious Heisman contender.

Last year's winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, was poised to make a run as a repeat winner until the Aggies dropped back-to-back games to end the regular season.

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was moving into the favorite’s spot until Auburn all but ended the Crimson Tide’s dream of a third consecutive national championship in last weekend's Iron Bowl.

Boston College running back Andre Williams, who ranked first in the NCAA in rushing, saw his dreams squashed when he was injured in a loss to Syracuse, a game in which he picked up just 28 yards.

The uncertainty in Heisman voting parallels the larger question of who should play for a national championship on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.

Winston's Florida State and Ohio State are both undefeated, and they rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the most recent BCS standings. But arguments can be made that neither should play for a national championship.

Fans and pundits are still clearing their heads following the series of heart-stoppers on Rivalry Weekend. The conference championships next weekend may provide a little more clarity.

What to make of Florida State, for example, is open to debate.

People complain that Ohio State’s schedule was soft, which is true. But the Buckeyes' schedule ranked 61st compared to Florida State’s No. 66 in Jeff Sagarin’s computerized rankings. The Seminoles play Duke in Saturday's ACC championship.

The possibility of a BCS championship game without a Southeastern Conference team has many in the South howling - and with good reason. SEC teams have won the past seven national titles, and three of league’s teams are ranked in the Top Five.

No one seems more upset than Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, who said it would be “un-American” if a one-loss SEC team is left out of the championship. That seems like a position unlikely to gain much support outside the Heart of Dixie, but it's an observation, nonetheless, with some merit.

Thank goodness this is the last year for the BCS, which will be replaced by a four-team playoff next year. How much more interesting it would be to have a showdown that paired, say, Florida State vs. Alabama and Ohio State vs. Auburn, with the winners meeting the following weekend for the national championship.

It’s best when the top teams and the most outstanding players take to the field and settle it between the goal posts. Unfortunately that won’t be the case this year.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.