As Jason White once told me, everywhere you go after receiving the Heisman Trophy, it follows you. You’re always, the 2003 recipient said, 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.
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So what goes into voting for the award? A wild campaign in which we’ve seen the favorite role 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 in ’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 then-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 didn’t have one double-digit tackle game in the month of November.
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.