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.