The winner of the 2012 Heisman Memorial Trophy will be announced Saturday evening, bringing closure to what has been one of the craziest campaigns the most prestigious individual trophy in college football — and arguably in all of sports — has seen in some time.
The only question now is whether there’s one more more surprise in the works in what has been a season full of them.
Of the three finalists, Texas A&M freshman QB Johnny Manziel appears to be the consensus favorite, but only barely over Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein rounding out the field and by now considered little more than an outside shot.
But who knows what might happen when the winner is finally announced Saturday on ESPN? After all, the 2012 college football season will be remembered as one of the most unpredictable in several years, with the race for the Heisman just as up and down as the season itself.
Back in August, USC quarterback Matt Barkley was considered the frontrunner alongside the likes of Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, a previous finalist, and fellow QBs Denard Robinson of Michigan and Landry Jones of Oklahoma. All four, however, quickly faded from the discussion, as West Virginia QB Geno Smith pushed his way to the top of the field.
By early November, Klein had replaced Smith as the clear frontrunner, but that quickly changed when the Wildcats fell hard to Baylor, knocking them from the top spot in the BCS standings and ending any hopes of a national title bid. This year’s Heisman watch was so unforgiving that one poor outing from the stellar senior at an inopportune time threw the race wide open.
By mid November, numerous names had edged their way into consideration, with Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, Ohio State QB Braxton Miller and USC receiver Marquise Lee all performing at a Heisman level. Ultimately, however, none of them could match the case for two names above all others — Manziel and Te’o.
Manziel, known affectionately as Johnny Football, was thrust into the Heisman spotlight after leading Texas A&M to a memorable victory over then No. 1 Alabama, introducing himself with a bang to a public that knew little or nothing about him as recently as October, while Te’o has gradually stated his case by consistently putting out quality performances rather than that one golden “Heisman moment” so many of the voters seem to look for, as well as the immeasurable team leadership and infectious inspiration he brings to the Irish.
If, as expected, the award goes to either Manziel or T’eo, it will be a major first for the prestigious club of previous Heisman winners. Never in its 77-year history has a freshman nor a pure defensive player ever won the award.
And that on its own would be a worthy conclusion to one of the most intriguing Heisman races in some time.