Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, left, and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, both Heisman Trophy finalist, laugh as they poses with the trophy at a press conference, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014, in New York. The award is to be presented Saturday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
BY RALPH D. RUSSO, AP COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER
NEW YORK (AP) — It was just two guys talking football and posing for pictures with a big bronze trophy.
The day before the Heisman Trophy presentation, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper answered questions about their sensational seasons, their coaches, their chances to upset Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and win college football’s most famous individual award and who might win the national championship.
Cooper wisely passed on making a prediction about how the top-ranked Crimson Tide will do in the College Football Playoff against Ohio State.
Gordon, however, said Friday he’s leaning toward `Bama. So much for Big Ten solidarity.
That was about as close to a scandal as you will find at this year’s Heisman ceremony, a welcome departure from recent years for many fans and voters.
“You hate to think the guy you’re voting for might have done something awful in his personal life away from football,” said Kyle Ringo, a Heisman voter who works for the Boulder Daily Camera in Colorado.
Whether character should count in Heisman voting has been a hot topic in three of the last four years.
Not so much this time around as Mariota, Gordon and Cooper have steered clear of serious public missteps.
“I think character is really important in everything,” Cooper said.
Last season, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman in a landslide, a little more than a week after a Florida prosecutor decided not to charge him with sexual assault. Winston was accused of rape by female Florida State student.
This year Winston was cited for shoplifting in the offseason and suspended for a game in September for shouting an obscene internet meme in a campus cafeteria.
“Once those events happened, I decided to exclude him this year,” said Gene Frenette, of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.
Winston’s numbers have fallen off in his sophomore season, he has 17 interceptions in 13 games compared to 10 in 14 last year, but he also has guided the Seminoles to another unbeaten regular season and a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Oregon and Mariota.
“He’s probably not here because of the off-the-field issues,” Gordon said about Winston before praising the quarterback’s play.
In 2012, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel came to the Heisman presentation with a preseason arrest on his record that nearly got him thrown off the team before he could become Johnny Football.
Two years before that, Auburn’s Cam Newton was asked if he thought he would get to keep the Heisman at the news conference following his victory. The NCAA had investigated Newton’s recruitment, found his father had tried to peddle his son’s commitment for money, but cleared the quarterback of any wrongdoing.
“The lack of any off-the-field stuff did make (voting) much easier and I think better for college football in general,” said voter Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News.
A few more things to know before the Heisman Trophy is awarded Saturday night for the 80th time.
MARIOTA VICTORY TOUR
Mariota was not in New York on Friday afternoon because he was picking up another trophy. The junior was in Baltimore for the presentation of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Mariota also has won the Davey O’Brien (best quarterback) and two other player of the awards (Maxwell and Walter Camp)
The last player to win the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp in the same season was Newton in 2010. Before that you would have to go back to the late 1990s when Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne did it in 1999 and Texas running back Ricky Williams did it in 1998.
Cooper is the first wide receiver to be a finalist for the Heisman since Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. The last receiver to win was Desmond Howard in 1999.
“I can say it surprises me,” Cooper said. “A lot of receivers have had a lot of success since then, like (Texas Tech’s Michael) Crabtree. I think it all depends on what team you play for. Your team’s record, A lot of things go into that.”
Wisconsin is always loaded at running back and frequently spread carries around. This season, Gordon was the guy with 309 carries.
The junior, who has already said he plans to enter the NFL draft in April, said he prepared in the offseason for the increased workload and it’s paying off.
“Feeling a lot better than I thought I would,” he said. “I got 21 carries in the South Carolina game last year and felt like I couldn’t move for two weeks.”
Actually, it was a career-high 25 in the bowl game against the Gamecocks, a total he has matched or surpassed eight times this season.