By: Joe Curci
» More Columns
Saturday will mark the 78th Heisman Trophy ceremony right here in New York City. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel are the three finalists.
One will take home college football’s highest individual honor, inviting much scrutiny and debate. But that’s just the way we like it.
Collin Klein had a fantastic season leading the Wildcats to an 11-1 season and into a highly anticipated matchup against Pac 12 powerhouse Oregon in the Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl.
Klein first threw his name in the running on Oct. 20 at West Virginia, where he threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another four in a 55-14 blowout win. On the season he accounted for 37 touchdowns (22 rush, 15 pass) 2,490 passing yards and 890 rushing yards.
Unfortunately for Klein his worst game came on a day where he needed to shine the most. Sitting at 10-0, the Wildcats lost at Baylor 52-24 and Klein was less than stellar throwing three picks, and was sacked twice. The loss put an end to Kansas State’s hopes at playing in the BCS National Championship Game. In the last three games of the season Klein threw five of his seven interceptions, but that should not diminish what was a great season, and one deserving of third place in this year’s Heisman voting.
There is no question that Manti Te’o has had a tremendous season. It’s not hard to root for this guy. He has done everything right in his four years in South Bend, and is a guy that you want to see do well each and every game. He has overcome tragedy, and he has been a rock in the No. 1 defense in the country. Te’o has been the leader on and off the field for a Notre Dame team that has not lost a game this season, and his leadership has been well-documented along the way.
The question that many analysts and fans are asking is if a true defensive player is worthy of the sports most prestigious award. Although Te’o has put up huge numbers, I am not convinced that he is the sole reason for the level of success the Irish have had this year. To me it takes eleven guys playing as one unit to become a great defense, and that is what Brian Kelly and his staff have done such a great job of this season with Notre Dame. Now it’s not to say that Te’o hasn’t been great or been the best player on that defense. To me Te’o has had a Heisman worthy season, but not a Heisman winning season.
In 2011 Texas A&M finished with a 7-6 record, including a win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl over Northwestern. They were led by a quarterback that many thought would be tough to replace. Ryan Tannehill threw for almost 4,000 yards, completed over 60 percent of his passes, and threw 29 touchdowns in his senior year. The season could have been different for the Aggies, but they lost close games to Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Kansas State and Texas in their final season in the Big 12. In those four losses the Aggies lost by a combined total of just 10 points. This season things would be much more difficult. Out was the tough Big 12 schedule and in was the grueling world of the SEC. Plug in a red-shirt freshman at quarterback and many A&M fans would have signed up for 7-6.
What they got was Johnny Manziel.
The season got off to a rough start for Manziel and the Aggies as they had their first game postponed. So in stead of opening against Louisiana Tech, the Aggies would open their season against the Florida Gators. The Gators took the game 20-17 thanks to a strong second half from Mike Gillislee, but Manziel was more than serviceable completing 76 percent of his passes, rushing for a touchdown, and did not turn the ball over.
After tasting defeat against the Florida, Manziel wouldn’t get discouraged. The Aggies rolled off five consecutive wins in which Manziel threw 14 touchdown passes and ran for another nine; 23 touchdowns in five games. After coming back down to earth against LSU, Manziel heated up again winning impressive games at Auburn and at Mississippi State. The three game SEC tour for Manziel and Co. would end up in Tuscaloosa, where the 7-2 Aggies would face off against the undefeated, defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Cue the dramatic “Heisman moment” music.
Manziel and the Aggies came out hot, red hot. Before you knew it the score was 20-0. This was common because Alabama typically got of to great starts, but in this game it was A&M up 20-0. As expected Alabama roared back into the game, but it was Manziel finding Malcome Kennedy for a 24-yard touchdown strike that proved to be enough. At the end of the game Manziel finished with 253 passing yards and two touchdowns. He added 92 yards on the ground. A&M won 29-24 leaving Alabama fans in shock, and in those 60 minutes Johnny Manziel became “Johnny Football.”
In the last two games, Johnny Football added another 10 touchdowns to an impressive season stat line. He finished with over 3,400 yards through the air, almost 1,200 yards on the ground and 43 total touchdowns. Add in the team’s 10-2 record in its first year as a member of the SEC and many would agree the season has been great for this red-shirt freshman. A season well deserving of Heisman attention.
And for the guy who wears No. 2 in honor of Derek Jeter, it’s only fitting that he’ll be in the city where Jeter is on top to take his place at the helm of this years college football class.
Follow Joe Curci on Twitter @JoeyBaboots
Should Johnny Football become Johnny Heisman? Be heard in the comments below…