Johnny Football, Heisman WinnerJohnny Football. Johnny Heis-Manziel. Whatever you want to call the Texas A&M freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel will be the winner of the Heisman Trophy this season.
Thanks to the play of Manziel, who has amassed a total of 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns, the 10-2 Aggies are ranked No. 9 in the BCS poll and head into postseason play with their first double-digit win season since 1998—doing so in their first season in the SEC no less.
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The redshirted Manziel also became the first freshman quarterback in FBS history with 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
Mattering perhaps more than anything else in the Heisman race is timing. Texas A&M’s upset of No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on the strength of Manziel’s great performance put the freshman on everyone’s radar. Yet it was the very next week that catapulted him to the forefront of the Heisman discussion.
Kansas State’s Collin Klein was the runaway favorite and everything Heisman voters traditionally love. A senior. A quarterback. Fantastic numbers. Undefeated team. Championship bound. A great personal story to boot.
Then, for the second straight week, the No. 1 team falls as the Wildcats get demolished by Baylor. If Kansas State wins that game, Klein wins the Heisman, plain and simple. Fast forward to now, Klein may not even finish third in the voting, much less contend for the trophy. His only glimmer of hope at this point is to put up a Geno Smith-versus-Baylor game in which he explodes for nearly 600 yards and seven or eight touchdowns against Texas this week.
Speaking of Smith—who is a Heisman afterthought now—the West Virginia quarterback, and the Mountaineers in general, peaked too soon. Bad timing. The Heisman Trophy is not won in September and October.
But what if Texas A&M’s losses to either LSU or Florida came after the Alabama victory? The radiance of Johnny Football would have certainly lost much of its luster and his Heisman would have been lost with it. Timing is everything.
The moniker “Johnny Football” undoubtedly helps his cause as the buzz factor is also a big part of the Heisman race. The cachet and appeal of the name is so simple yet simultaneously preternatural, like something straight out of a Pixar movie. Everyone just seems to love saying, “Johnny Football.”
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Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin’s rules forbidding freshmen from talking to the media has only enhanced the mystique and aura around what is now becoming “The Legend of Johnny Football.” Despite Manziel being permitted to break the silence to take part in an hour-long teleconference today (pictured here), his status as college football’s most recent rockstar has been cemented.
In his first season, Manziel has already broke Cam Newton’s SEC single-season total offense record of 4,327 yards set in 2010. Manziel has 4,600 yards, capped off by a great regular season finale against fellow SEC newcomer Missouri in which he racked up a total of 439 yards and five touchdowns. Again, timing.
History is on Manziel’s side. Newton won the Heisman the year he bested Tim Tebow’s SEC mark while Tebow won the award when he set the record in 2007.
Although he would be the first freshman to win, Manziel would not be the youngest. Mark Ingram will still retain that distinction. Manziel turns 20 two days before the trophy presentation, while Ingram was 19 when he won in 2009.
However, Manziel being a freshman is not the only anomaly in this year’s Heisman race. For the first time since 1997 winner Charles Woodson, a primarily defensive player is legitimately contending for the award.
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Though unlike Woodson—who also garnered votes based on his playmaking ability on special teams and also on offense—Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has done it all on defense and is Manziel’s closest and only competition. Te’o is second in the country with seven interceptions (Woodson had eight when he won) and led the Irish to an undefeated regular season, a championship birth, and the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. A great season for Te’o, but he’ll ultimately finish second to Manziel.
Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and USC’s Marqise Lee could also be invited but have no realistic shot at winning—though one of these two could finish in front of Klein.
If the Buckeyes were not facing the sanctions they are, Miller’s Heisman credentials would probably be given more weight, even though the penalties levied against the team aren’t supposed to affect individual accolades. Likewise, had the Trojans not been so overwhelmingly disappointing this season, Lee would surely be a bigger factor in the race as he displayed some of the most dominant individual performances in the country many times this year.
Only three or four of these players will be invited, but, ultimately, 2012 will be the year of Johnny Football.
1. Johnny Manziel, QB/Texas A&M
2. Manti Te’o, LB/Notre Dame
3. Braxton Miller, QB/Ohio State
4. Collin Klein, QB/Kansas State
5. Marqise Lee, WR/USC
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