The candidates (left to right): Manti Te’o, Collin Klein and Johnny Manziel,
When Robert Griffin III accepted the Heisman Trophy one year ago. USC’s junior quarterback Matt Barkley’s name was all but etched on to the 2012 edition of college football’s most revered award.
But in football — as in life — dreams are potentially interrupted and even dashed. Tonight in New York, three candidates will wait to hear one name called. A name that will be placed among college football’s immortals. Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o and Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein are each unique in their own way. This evening, one of them becomes even more rare.
I would love to see Johnny Manziel win the award simply because no freshman has ever done so. It may also be the reason he will not win it. Hershel Walker had solid cases for winning the award as a freshman and sophomore. Instead, he finished second years behind George Rogers and Marcus Allen, respectively. Walker finally won the award his junior season.
If Manziel were to win tonight, where does he go from here? His 4,600 yards are the single-season record for offensive production in the SEC — surpassing recent winners Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. Manziel is only the fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in a single season.
The legend of Johnny Football was born on November 10th in a 29-24 victory over then-No. 1 Alabama. Manziel accounted for 345 of A&M’s 418 total yards. The Aggies were not shook by the star-power in the SEC, finishing a surprising 10-2. In A&M’s two losses, Manziel had a total of 536 yards against LSU and Florida — teams that place a heavy emphasis on defense.
Manziel’s ability to break down a defense has become eye candy to the voters as shown in past Heisman winners Tebow, Newton and Griffin. Manziel cut loose in college football’s best conference as a redshirt freshman.
That has to count for something.
Collin Klein is Kansas State’s best chance at winning the Heisman since signal caller Michael Bishop finished second to Ricky Williams in 1998. If Klein finishes second in this year’s voting, consider it a miracle. Klein became a Heisman favorite when Geno Smith’s season to a drastic turn downward and the Wildcats began their climb up the BCS ladder.
What wasn’t a miracle was Klein’s play and the Wildcats became relevant in the BCS title picture because of Klein. No one expected a trio of candidates like this. Optimus Klein, as he is called, transformed a middle of the pack team into a conference champion and BCS participant. The Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in the Big 12. Klein took those preseason lemons and made some pretty good tasting lemonade and led the Wildcats to an 11-1 record (8-1 Big 12).
After the heartbreaking loss to Baylor, Kansas State would remain BCS eligible if they defeated Texas in the Big 12 Championship. Klein shook off a rough first half and led two scoring drives in the third quarter and ran for two more scores in the fourth quarter — giving the Wildcats a 42-24 win over the Longhorns and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. Klein finished the game with 184 yards passing and 103 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Klein’s season totals were 3,380 all-purpose yards and 37 touchdowns.
If the Heisman Trophy is based on the best player in college football regardless of position, Manti Te’o is the man. Te’o has led the revival of Notre Dame football. Te’o isn’t blessed with the advantage of breathtaking highlight reels like his counterparts Manziel and Klein. Instead, he is the inspiring leader behind the magical Fightin’ Irish run. A run that could end in an undefeated season and a BCS Championship.
The 2012 season has been a test of Te’o’s faith. On September 11, 2012, Te’o lost his grandmother and girlfriend in a matter of hours. Notre Dame played Michigan the day of Te’o’s girlfriend’s funeral. In that game Te’o intercepted two Michigan passes in a Fightin’ Irish victory. The University of Notre Dame has embraced this young man and he in return has rewarded them with a glimpse into their historic past. His quest to become the first defensive player to win the award since Charles Woodson in 1997 and the first exclusive defensive player to win the award seems secondary when measured to the Irish’s ultimate goal.
Te’o led Notre Dame with 103 tackles and seven interceptions. His seven picks tied him for second in the nation — unheard of for a linebacker. Te’o was the inspirational leader on a defense that was first in scoring defense — allowing 10.3 points per contest, fourth against the rush and sixth in total defense.
The influence of Te’o and the Notre Dame defense was felt in memorable goal line stands against Stanford and USC. Against Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford and Oklahoma Te’o racked up 42 tackles and 3 interceptions. Those four teams combined for 35 points. Each had their worst offensive game of the season vs. the Irish. Notre Dame, of course, won all four games.
I expect Manti Te’o to win the Heisman Trophy tonight. If not, maybe the award should be given exclusively to offensive players.