NEW YORK — If Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston walks off with the Heisman Trophy tonight, he will have won it over an impressive group of finalists.
Winston is the favorite to win the trophy awarded annually to the nation's most outstanding college football player. After passing for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, he is poised to become only the second freshman to win.
For the Bessemer, Ala., native, the chance to have his name etched among the game's all-time elite players is an opportunity to pay homage to those who have helped him get this far.
"It will be an honor," he said. "If that happens, just to look in the stands and see my family and my coach. … 'Hey, I made you happy, I made you proud.' It's not really for me, it's for my teammates. My teammates, they're going to like that because my teammates want me to get it. My family, of course they want me to get it. It's more about them than me."
Six finalists will be in New York, the largest field since 1994. Among them is a 2,000-yard rusher (Andre Williams of Boston College), a two-time national championship starting quarterback (AJ McCarron of Alabama), and the reigning Heisman winner (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel) who last year became the first freshman to win the award.
"Of course it made me feel good," McCarron said of being a finalist. "I kind of smiled, proved a lot of people wrong. But I also feel like I earned it and I deserve it. I mean, if you look at the three years of me starting, I'll put my numbers up with anybody in the country — consistent. "
No one is more surprised to be among the invited than Williams. With 2,102 yards he is the first 2,000-yard rusher in NCAA Division I-A since UConn's Donald Brown had 2,083 in 2008. "It's really kind of surreal," Williams said. "It seems fake to me."
For Manziel, who is pondering whether to return for his junior season, the possibility of having the award presented to another redshirt freshman is "a neat deal."
As a Heisman winner, Manziel had the opportunity and the right to vote for himself. He said he tried to be objective: "I am allowed to vote for myself, but I did not vote for myself in first or second place."
For Winston, the ceremony is the latest event in an eventful month. On Dec. 5 the State Attorney's Office in Tallahassee completed an investigation into a sexual assault complaint and concluded there was not enough evidence to charge Winston. The allegations caused many to question whether Winston should win the award if the matter wasn't concluded. Winston maintained his innocence, and his play on the field never wavered as he led the Seminoles to the ACC title two days after the state attorney's announcement.
"I knew I did nothing wrong," Winston, 19, said Friday. "I knew I could respect the process and I'd eventually be vindicated. It was more about me being silent for my family because I didn't want to put my family in those situations."
Coach Jimbo Fisher has not lobbied for Winston but said if he could make a compelling case.
"I think when you talk about the Heisman, you talk about great players," Fisher said. "I define great players like this: It's a great performance over a long period of time and the consistency which you play with, and I think the thing that he has done from start to finish, he's been consistent throughout the year. … I don't know if anybody in America has done that more so than he has. … So from that standpoint I think Jameis is definitely out in front of that category."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.