Who earned my Heisman Trophy vote?

As Jason White once told me, everywhere you go after receiving the
Heisman Trophy, it follows you. Everywhere you go, the 2003 recipient
said, you’re introduced as a Heisman winner.

It’s a fraternity
with a lineage that includes Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker and Roger
Staubach. It includes Archie Griffin and Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson.

Call
it an overblown beauty pageant or part of the hype machine, but it’s
still heady stuff. No one can deny that the Heisman Trophy is an
American icon.

So what goes into voting for the award? A wild
campaign in which we’ve seen the favorite roll switch from Matt Barkley
to Geno Smith, Collin Klein and then Johnny Manziel, has been whittled
down to three finalists. Here’s how I stacked up Manziel, Collin Klein
and Manti Te’o — all of whom comprised my ballot – and why I voted the
way I did.

The Finalists

QB Collin Klein, Kansas State, Sr.
Stats: 180 of 272 passing for 2,490 yards, 15 TDs and seven INTs; 194 rushes for 890 yards and 22 TDs

Why Klein:
As the QB of a team that’s headed to a BCS bowl after leading the
Wildcats to their first Big 12 title since 2003 – in the era, eight
winners have come from that group – Klein is the more classic contender.
He also has those traditional tent poles of a candidacy with preseason
buzz and name recognition with voters.

It may speak to his
following that there are only three finalists, which is based on the
biggest natural break in voting. With older voters unwilling to make
history by voting for a freshman or a strictly defensive player, neither
of which have ever won, Klein is the safest choice.

Why not: He’s
been steady, totaling 37 touchdowns and had seven games with at least
one TD rushing and one passing. But he hasn’t been spectacular and faded
down the stretch, throwing five interceptions over the last three games
with a 55.2 completion percentage.

While he has wins against
five Top 25 teams – the most of any finalist — it hurts his case that
his marquee win against West Virginia, in which he racked up 364 yards
and seven TDs, lost its luster after a nose dive that saw the
Mountaineers finish 7-5.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, Fr.
Stats: 273 of 400 passing for 3,419 yards, 24 TDs and eight INTs; 184 rushes for 1,181 yards and 19 TDs

Why Manziel: Freshman or not, Manziel was simply the most captivating player of the season.

He
set SEC and freshman records with 4,600 yards of offense — 419 more
than Tim Tebow when he won in ’07 and 273 more than ’10 winner Cam
Newton – and delivered the definitive Heisman moment of 2012 in beating
Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Texas A&M’s year-long policy of not
allowing him to talk to reporters only helped to boost the Legend of
Johnny Football and when the school shrewdly decided to let him talk
after the regular season was completed, it created a media storm that no
other player on this list could match.

Why not: If voters
wouldn’t back Herschel Walker (third in 1980), Michael Vick (third in
’99) and Adrian Peterson (second ’03), will they be willing to get
behind Manziel?

There will be some who simply won’t put him on
their ballot because of his age, which leads into the biggest intrigue
surrounding Saturday night’s ceremony. If Manziel was anything but a
freshman, this has the potential to be one of the biggest runaways in
the award’s history, but the older voters could make this closer than it
should be.

Also if you’re looking for any blemishes on Manziel’s
resume, he did struggle against the rest of the SEC powers, throwing
zero TDs vs. Florida and three picks with no scores vs. LSU, both of
which were losses.

LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, Sr.
Stats: 103 tackles, seven interceptions and 11 passes defended

Why Te’o:
He’s the heart and soul of a defense that carried the Fighting Irish to
their first BCS Championship Game appearance, a unit that’s allowed
just 10.3 points per game, which is tied for first in the nation. Plus,
his seven interceptions, the most for any non-defensive back, are more
than 16 FBS teams.

The attention surrounding Notre Dame’s return
to relevance only helps. He also carries the weight of one of the most
heartbreaking and telling backstories of the season, leading the Irish
to a win over the-No. 10 Michigan State just days after the deaths of
his grandmother and girlfriend.

Why not: Like Manziel, there’s a stigma surrounding what Te’o represents.

Hugh
Green has the highest finish ever for a pure defender at second in 1980
– Charles Woodson won in 1997 but was a punt returner and wide receiver
along with his defensive back duties – and in the years since no one
has been better than fourth, which Brian Bosworth (1986), Steve Emtman
(1991) and Ndamukong Suh (2009) all hit.

Then there’s the fact
that Te’o’s stats weren’t overwhelming as he ranked 59th in total
tackles and in the month of November didn’t have one double-digit tackle
game.

My Ballot

First: Manziel
Second: Te’o
Third: Klein

I
made my bid for history and if the voting goes as my ballot did, it
would mark the first time in the award’s 78-years that an upperclassman
QB or running back wasn’t among the top two in voting.

The
freshman/older voters debate will loom large until we see the final
points total, but since Tebow’s win in ’07 the trend has been toward
awarding the best player, not just the most visible player on a team in
the national title hunt.

I expect that trend to continue with Manziel, who will deliver, quite literally, a win for the ages.