The Blitz: Reality of Manziel's Heisman hopes

Johnny Manziel beat 'Bama. But freshmen face a tough reality in the Heisman race. Plus, more Blitz.

“My God, a freshman.”

It was part of the famous call by Larry Munson during Herschel Walker’s coming out party 32 years ago, but it could have been bouncing off the airwaves out of Tuscaloosa on Saturday as Johnny Manziel danced, dazzled and dominated in Texas A&M’s stunning victory over then-No. 1 Alabama.

Consider it the latest chapter in the ever-expanding legend of Johnny Football.

The Aggies quarterback leads the nation in total offense (3,794 yards) and the SEC in rushing yards (1,014), touchdowns (15) and points responsible for (19.8 per game) and now boasts a signature win no other player can match. But was it enough to thrust the redshirt freshman into the front of the Heisman Trophy race?

In a word, no.

We Heisman voters are slow to change. It took 53 years for the first wide receiver to win, 66 before a primarily defensive player hoisted the award and 76 until a sophomore broke through.

But a freshman?

It remains one of the final hurdles, and might be the most daunting, for the trophy. Walker was sensational in 1980 and was fifth. Adrian Peterson could only finish second to Matt Leinart in 2004, the highest finish ever for the class.

The Heisman is no lifetime achievement award, but name recognition and a track record have long been staples of any campaign, allowing upperclassmen to have the leg up. It’s how Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, despite trailing Manziel in nearly every major statistical category, can be atop everyone’s list (see below for my ballot) while Manziel’s best hope is getting invited to New York for the ceremony.

There are some interesting points to ponder. If Klein does falter, considering the short list of contenders also includes a player who strictly plays defense (Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o) and a player on a team facing a postseason ban (Ohio State’s Braxton Miller), Manziel could gain a bigger following. Plus, with the South’s other top contender, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, suffering a blow to his candidacy, Manziel could see a bump in the SEC’s home region.

Ultimately, Manziel has performed in the only place that should matter in any campaign to be dubbed the most outstanding player in college football, and you’ll hear plenty of talking heads tell you that should be enough. But the fact is common sense and the Heisman Trophy rarely go hand-in-hand. It remains an award forged by politics and history.

Johnny Football may well leave College Station with a Heisman. But it won’t likely be this season. Not as a freshman.

Big Ten losing out on a big payday

Every year since 2005 and 11 times in the 14 years of the BCS, the Big Ten has placed two teams in the big-money bowls. It’s a consistency that has literally paid off, with the conference averaging nearly $30 million a year to divide among its membership, including $28.4 million last year.

That massive payday won’t be coming this season.

Ohio State’s miscalculation to take a self-imposed bowl ban this season instead of last will wind up costing the conference millions as the Big Ten will likely receive only one BCS bowl berth, its guaranteed spot in the Rose Bowl. Add in that Penn State (6-4) is ineligible because of its own sanctions, and the conference currently has five teams who have hit the six-win minimum to reach the postseason. With tie-ins with seven non-BCS bowls, it’s clear the league is going to feel the impact in its collective pocketbooks it if can’t fill those spots.

The impact goes beyond money.

For a conference that has suffered losses to Ball State, Central Michigan, Navy and Virginia, BCS bowls against BCS foes often offer a chance to repair an image. Having its best team, the Buckeyes, have their season end on Nov. 24 won’t do anything to rebuild the Big Ten’s reputation.

Money. Respect. The Big Ten is losing out on a chance at seizing both of them this bowl season.

Heisman Watching (a ballot in progress)

1. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State, Sr.: He continues to put the Wildcats on his back and has a team that was ranked No. 22 in the preseason, in line to play for a national championship. With 31 total touchdowns, he’s closing on a second straight year of at least 10 TDs through the air and 20 on the ground. The only other players to do that in the BCS era — Eric Crouch, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton — are all Heisman winners.

2. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, Fr.: The statistics were already too good to ignore, and when you throw in the victory at Tuscaloosa, Manziel becomes a major player in this race. Along with his age, the Aggies’ schedule won’t do him any favors, if history is our guide. The last four Heisman winners have all played on the final weekend of the season, taking advantage of that last chance to impress voters, and Manziel’s last game before the voting will likely be Nov. 24.

3. RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon, Sr.: A hand injury cost him a shot at truly trying to follow up the previous week’s 321-yard performance as Barner finished with 65 yards. He returned to the field after his hand was taped up but lost his Pac-12 rushing lead to Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey. As the poster boy of the high-octane Ducks, Barner is poised to threaten LaMichael James, who has the school's highest Heisman finish ever for Oregon after coming in third in 2010.

Ups and downs

Up: Georgia

While the SEC West remains unresolved, the Bulldogs punched their ticket to Atlanta in resounding fashion — and further strengthened the notion that Gene Chizik’s days in Auburn are likely numbered — with the first shutout in the series since 1976. In the past three games, Georgia’s defense has allowed an average of 248 yards and 6.3 points.

Down: Texas Tech

The Red Raiders staved off Kansas in two overtimes, but the only thing anyone’s talking about, and deservedly so, is coach Tommy Tuberville slapping the headset and hat off of graduate assistant Kevin Oliver. Even worse, for Tuberville, it was captured on television. Is it enough to cost Tuberville his job? Remember, this is a school that’s already dismissed Mike Leach and Billy Gillespie for putting students in harm’s way. This one will be worth watching.

Up: Wisconsin

This preseason, a return to the Big Ten title game is what we expected out of the Badgers. Technically it’s coming courtesy of Ohio State’s ineligibility, but Wisconsin is on its way back to Indianapolis and Montee Ball continued his march toward history, passing Ricky Williams for second on the career touchdowns list. With two regular-season games to play, he needs two scores to break Travis Prentice’s record of 78.

Down: Louisville

Fighting for respect in the polls and from the computers, the Cardinals did themselves no favors, suffering their first loss, courtesy of a Syracuse team that came in below .500. The Big East hasn’t put a team into the BCS Championship Game since 2002. Though Louisville was a long shot, anyway, this made certain the conference is once again completely out of the conversation.

Up: Stanford

It’s clear David Shaw made the right move in going to quarterback Kevin Hogan. In two games Hogan has completed 76 percent of his passes for 438 yards, five touchdowns and run for an additional 97 yards. Even better, he has helped Stanford remain in control of its destiny in the Pac-12 title race. Now all the Cardinal needs is a win over Oregon — on the road — to take sole possession of the North Division lead.

Down: Miami

The Hurricanes no longer have the inside track to the ACC Coastal title, though they’re still tied for the division lead at 5-5, 4-3 (insert your quip on just how strange the conference has been this season here) and until it’s resolved, the possibility of another self-imposed bowl ban hangs over this team. But on a bright note, freshman Duke Johnson continues to dazzle, racking up 368 all-purpose yards.

Telling stats

523.8 — Average yards allowed by West Virginia in its six Big 12 games. Only Baylor, Arizona and Idaho have been worse among FBS teams this season.

300; 5 — Arizona’s Ka’eem Carey became the second Pac-12 player in as many weeks, joining Barner, to run for at least 300 yards and five touchdowns in a game, torching Colorado for 366 yards and five scores.

118; 1,085 — The points and yards Georgia Tech and North Carolina combined for in the Yellow Jackets’ 68-50 win. It was the highest-scoring game in ACC history, surpassing the 110 points set by Virginia in its win over Tulane in 1968.

They said it

"That's proof that it's college football — any team can lose at any time. We just don't want to be that team."
— Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o on Alabama losing to Texas A&M. Te'o's third-ranked Irish are 10-0 for the first time since 1993.

“I don't know. I’m hurtin’ because of the game and the kids and they played their tails off. There’s a lot of negativity. That comes with the territory.”
— Derek Dooley on his job security after Tennessee's four-overtime loss to Missouri. The Volunteers are 0-6 in the SEC and have won once in the past 14 league games.

"We're not going to get that call here. We're not going to get that call ever actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. . . . It's us against the world and we're not going to get those calls in these types of games."
— Penn State QB Matt McGloin on officials' call that tight end Matt Lehman fumbled the ball into the end zone before breaking the plane in a 32-23 loss to Nebraska. The call was confirmed on video review.

Crystal ball

Wisconsin at Ohio State

The Buckeyes will be looking to leave little doubt who’s the Leaders Division’s best team, even if the Badgers will be the ones playing for a trip to the Rose Bowl. While Wisconsin boasts the Big Ten’s top rush defense (103.4 yards per game), Ohio State has been rolling ever since Carlos Hyde emerged as a complement to the dynamic Braxton Miller, averaging 288 yards. Expect that duo to stay hot against the Badgers.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24

No. 13 Stanford at No. 2 Oregon

Did Cal give the Cardinal a blueprint for beating the Ducks? Oregon blew out the Bears, but Cal dominated the line of scrimmage, outrushing the Ducks 236-180. Now, Chip Kelly and Co. have to face the Pac-12’s top rush defense in Stanford. And when you add in that the Ducks’ injury-riddled defensive line has to stop 1,000-yard rusher, Stepfan Taylor, it could spell an upset. But with quarterback Marcus Mariota on fire — the past two weeks he has thrown for 681 yards, 10 TDs and zero interceptions, along with 138 rushing yards — Oregon won’t be derailed.

Prediction: Oregon 44, Stanford 31

No. 18 USC at No. 17 UCLA

The Pac-12 South title is on the line in the Battle of Los Angeles. Although the Trojans have been a major disappointment this season, a BCS bowl remains a real possibility if they can beat their rivals for the 14th time in 15 years. UCLA has come on, but the pass defense remains worrisome, allowing 315 yards to Arizona State and 457 vs. Washington State. That unit will be in for more trouble against Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee.

Prediction: USC 38, UCLA 30

Send feedback on our
new story page