By now, the cat’s pretty much out of the bag: Jameis Winston is going to win the Heisman Trophy this coming Saturday.
For those who like to follow the ins and outs of the Heisman, though, the question now is: What will the margin look like? Will the Florida State freshman take home the trophy in a landslide of epic proportions or will the race be a little closer, reflecting the fact that there are six finalists in New York for the ceremony?
Let’s first throw out the idea that this race is going to be close. It won’t. The six finalists merely reflect the lack of a consensus challenger to Winston. The way the Heisman Trust decides who is named a finalist is based on the distribution of the vote totals. They always start with a minimum of three finalists. If there is not a significant drop off from the point total of the third-place finisher to that of the fourth-place finisher, then a fourth finalist is added. The same rule is applied to the gap between fourth and fifth. If they are in the same ballpark, then a fifth finalist is named. This year, there was not much of a gap between the fifth and sixth-place finishers, so we have six.
But to figure out the extent of Winston’s winning margin, one first needs to have an idea of what some past Heisman votes looked like. Here are the biggest landslides in Heisman history:
Smith’s total might be the most relevant in this discussion since the number of voters in 2006 (924) is about the same as it is now (928), whereas in Simpson’s day there were 1,200. Smith also holds the record for highest percentage of first-place votes claimed as his 801 first-place votes were 86 percent of the total first-place votes received. Simpson’s 855 first-place votes remains the overall record, but it was from a larger pool of voters.
So can Winston approach Smith’s level of support? Or will his result look more like Cam Newton’s, whose 729 first-place votes in 2010 is fourth all-time in Heisman history ? Voters that year either voted Newton first, or left him off the ballot altogether — he was missing from 119 ballots — which is why his margin of victory is only 11th-best in Heisman history. Or perhaps Winston’s coming landslide will be impressive, but not among the top 10.
A peek at the Heisman regions might provide a clue.
There are six Heisman voting regions: The Far West, the Mid-West, the Southwest, the South, the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. There are 145 media members in each region (with 57 former Heisman winners scattered nationally). It’s a safe assumption that Winston will win every one of these regions. But what kind of support will the other finalists get?
It makes sense that Andre Williams will finish second in the Northeast. Johnny Manziel will do well in the Southwest and South. Much of AJ McCarron’s support will come in the South, as will Tre Mason’s. Jordan Lynch should fare well in the Mid-West.
It stands to reason that the fewest first-place votes for Winston will come in the South, since there are three other candidates vying for votes who either come from or play in that region. If McCarron, Manziel and Mason combine to take away just 40 of the 145 votes in that region — a seemingly valid proposition — that automatically reduces Winston’s potential first place vote total to 887.
For Winston’s first-place vote total to drop to Newtonian range, then, he would have to lose a combined 150 or so first-place votes in the remaining five regions. Can the other five finalists average 30 first-place votes per region in the those regions, comprising 725 ballots? That’s merely an average of six first-place votes per region for each player.
I think they will do so, especially when you consider that there remains a handful of voters who will leave Winston off their ballots due to the accusations that were made against him. When you also keep in mind that — based on recent history — around 900 ballots out of the 928 will be returned, it makes Winston’s chances of scoring an epic landslide less likely.
Will the vote be a runaway for Winston? Yes. But based on these deductions, it’s probably not going to be among the top 10 landslides in Heisman history.