A year ago, I wrote a Bleacher Report article about the still-open Heisman Trophy race, which eventually crowned the first-ever freshman winner in Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Nearly a year to the day, we’re in a similar predicament. And with the Heisman Trophy ceremony just three weeks away, the current front-runners cannot afford to slip up.
Right now, some pundits put Manziel and Florida State QB Jameis Winston ahead of the pack. Winston, the projected leader at the moment, is at home this week against Idaho. Not a tough game by any means, but while the Seminoles should leave with a win, Winston has to put up big numbers to maintain his position. Meanwhile, Manziel and the Aggies travel to Baton Rouge to face #22 LSU. For Johnny Football, this week is crucial for a few reasons: a big game will keep him alive in the race and look much better when compared to last year’s performance against the Tigers (no touchdowns, three interceptions, and his lowest completion percentage to date).
But this week’s focus should be on Baylor QB Bryce Petty, as he leads his #4 Baylor Bears into Stillwater to face #10 Oklahoma State. Petty is currently third in a majority Heisman polls, but could certainly rise with a win this week. The knock against Petty earlier in the season was that his 16 touchdowns and one interception came against lackluster competition. The expectation was that their current three-game stretch — facing Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and OK State — would force a bad game or two and take him out of the race completely. But instead, he’s amassed six more touchdown passes without a pick.
The great thing about this week’s game is the ABC primetime treatment it will receive. Baylor’s big game against Oklahoma was a Thursday night game on Fox Sports 1, but lost the national focus once Stanford-Oregon started at 9pm. There is another Top 25 matchup starting fifteen minutes prior this week (Missouri-Ole Miss), but a great game should still garner enough attention to really put him in the thick of the Heisman race.
Another story to watch this week will be the the middle of the BCS standings. Why? Because two unbeatens (#15 Fresno State and #16 Northern Illinois) are vying for a BCS bowl berth. Northern Illinois took care of their end on Wednesday night, taking care of 7-3 Toledo on the road. Fresno State is at home against New Mexico tomorrow and should cruise. In fact, both teams should end the regular season undefeated, putting them in play for a BCS bowl. Should one of them finish at #12 or higher in the final BCS standings, they will receive an automatic berth.
Should they finish lower than #12 but at #16 or higher, the attention then shifts to the BCS conferences (referred to as AQ’s – automatic qualifiers). In this case, they would need to finish ahead of one of the conference champions. And with the American Conference (formerly the Big East) still considered a BCS conference and their current highest teams ranked #18 in the BCS, there’s a good chance of one of them earning a spot. Should that somehow go awry, they’ll need help from either the ACC, the Big Ten, or the Pac-12 which is highly unlikely.
*Wednesday Night* #16 Northern Illinois vs. Toledo, 8pm (ESPN 2)
Northern Illinois keeps its BCS hopes alive with a 35-17, while QB Jordan Lynch remains in the Heisman discussion.
#13 Michigan State vs. Northwestern, 12pm (ESPN)
This is one to watch re: non-AQ BCS berths. Michigan State has a two-game division lead and a loss could still put them against Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship.
#20 Oklahoma vs. Kansas State, 12pm (Fox Sports 1)
The Sooners certainly don’t get any favors to end the season. After a tough K-State matchup, they travel to Oklahoma State next week.
Cincinnati vs. Houston, 12pm (ESPNews)
If American football is more your style, try this out.
#5 Oregon vs. Arizona, 3:30pm (ABC/ESPN 2)
Marcus Mariota and Oregon may be out of the national title hunt, but they’re still fifth in the BCS. Arizona has performed admirably at home against the Pac-12’s best,
#12 Texas A&M vs. #22 LSU, 3:30pm (CBS)
The stakes are high for Manziel and his repeat Heisman hopes. Les Miles’s squad will come in ready to play.
#19 Wisconsin vs. #25 Minnesota, 3:30pm (ESPN)
Big Ten football may not be as popular as it used to be outside of Ohio State, but this should be a good game between two overlooked teams.
New Mexico vs. #15 Fresno State, 4pm (ESPNNEWS)
For most, it will be their first glimpse at QB Derek Carr and Fresno State. The Lobos aren’t the strongest squad, but better late than never to see them in action.
#17 Arizona State vs. #14 UCLA, 7pm (Fox)
For first place in the Pac-12 South and a possible meeting with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.
#8 Missouri vs. #24 Ole Miss, 7:45pm (ESPN)
One look at their record and you may write them off, but Ole Miss is one of the more dangerous teams in the SEC. Missouri better come prepared.
#4 Baylor vs. #10 Oklahoma State, 8pm (ABC)
Though their offense is phenomenal, Baylor’s defense is playing great football as well. Can the Cowboys offense outscore such a well-rounded team? Conversely, can the Bears win in Stillwater for the first time since 1939? I can’t wait to find out.