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History will happen Saturday night. If the media punditry is correct, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel will become the first freshman ever to win the Heisman trophy.
It’s a remarkable achievement and one well deserving. It’s also somewhat surprising. There was little talk of Manziel pushing for the Heisman as late as early November. Most dismissed him because of his freshman status, and he hadn’t had a Heisman-worthy game.
That all changed on a Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Against then No. 1 Alabama, Manziel threw for 2 touchdowns, 253 yards, and ran for 92. His play was good enough to lead Texas A&M to a stunning 29-24 victory. The winning performance thrust him up Heisman rankings and the legend begun.
Still, even the win against Alabama wasn’t enough to make Manziel the outright frontrunner. He needed help. Help he got when Baylor upset No. 1 Kansas State just one week later in a primetime game on ESPN. The win basically knocked QB Collin Klein out of the Heisman race as well as Kansas State out of the national championship picture.
That game (more than any) brings to question the Heisman process. Obviously, the season must play out before the consensus forms an opinion, but the significant shift in opinion after just one game was abrupt to say the least. Some would say comical.
Klein was the overwhelming Heisman frontrunner. We gave him the benefit of the doubt because he was the best player on the No. 1 ranked team in college football. That same logic that so many Heisman voters were willing to accept at the expense of Manziel applies to Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o today.
He cemented his status as a frontrunner following 11 tackles, 1 sack, and a game-clinching interception against Oklahoma. He’s a future first-round pick, and most importantly, the best player on the No. 1 ranked team in the country. Under most circumstances, a player with those descriptions ends up as a shoe-in for the Heisman. Te’o plays defense, however, and that’s a Heisman no-no.
It’s unfortunate but it does call to question the barriers that remain in the way for many aspiring Heisman candidates. By all accounts, Te’o’s season was outstanding. He had over 100 tackles and a resounding 7 interceptions. In comparison, Charles Woodson won the Heisman with 8 interceptions. He was a defensive back, though, and his contributions on offense and as a return man enhanced his credentials. That lack of versatility may cost Te’o in the end. He didn’t lineup as fullback or play tight end. He’s a full-fledged defensive player and the closest to be within a grasp of the Heisman trophy.
My intent is not to overshadow Johnny Football. He’s a worthy recipient. His 4,600 total yards (1,181 rushing) and 43 touchdowns (19 rushing) merits recognition. However, he’s winning the award based on the reaction to one game.
For what it’s worth, his performances against LSU and Florida weren’t exactly satisfactory. He threw 3 interceptions against LSU, and failed to record a passing touchdown in either contest. The Aggies didn‘t win either game.
There’s a valid argument that Te’o offered more consistency throughout the course of the season. Defensive players don’t regularly touch the ball, but Te’o’s influence reached far and wide. He registered double-digit tackles or an interception in 10 games this season.
Perhaps the Alabama game is enough to set Manziel apart, but a landslide isn’t happening. On Saturday, Manziel walks into New York as the favorite, but unlike the last two Heisman winning quarterbacks from the SEC (Tim Tebow & Cam Newton), his victory will be a squeaker. As the first freshman winner, he’s breaking barriers and setting new standards.
That’s good progress, but part of me believes they're breaking the wrong barrier.