The 2012 Heisman Trophy race has been an interesting one, and now that the regular season rapidly approaches its end, the most prestigious award in college football may wind up in the hands of an unorthodox recipient.
Traditionally–in the past quarter-century, anyway–the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to an upperclassman quarterback.
Only nine times in the past 25 years has the award gone to any position but quarterback, and until Tim Tebow finally shattered the upperclassman barrier in 2007–setting up a three-year run of sophomore winners in Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Mark Ingram–no underclassman had ever been awarded the Heisman.
Only once in its entire history that dates back to 1935 has the Heisman ever been awarded to a defensive player (DB Charles Woodson, Michigan, 1997). Only twice in its history has it gone to a wide receiver (Tim Brown, Notre Dame, 1987 and Desmond Howard, Michigan, 1991).
Since three of the four leading candidates for the 2012 Heisman Trophy will defy overwhelming odds if they receive the award, this year’s ceremony will be one to watch.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, QB, Freshman
Full disclosure: I graduated from Texas A&M, so I’m terribly biased in favor of Manziel for the Heisman. I started wondering about his Heisman buzz way back in October but never dreamed that he’d be a serious contender in 2012. After all, freshmen just don’t win the Heisman.
But now look at him. He has guided the Aggies to a completely unexpected 10-2 record in their inaugural season in the SEC, including a jaw-dropping win on the road against No. 1 Alabama, and he has piled up 3,419 passing yards, 1,181 rushing yards, and 43 total touchdowns. The kid averaged 284.9 passing yards and 98.4 rushing yards per game. In the SEC. As a freshman.
The Aggies’ two losses: a three-point loss against No. 4 Florida (11-1) in Manziel’s first-ever college football game, and a five-point loss to No. 7 LSU (10-2). Not exactly anything to hang his head about.
But will that be enough for Heisman voters to give the trophy to a freshman for the first time in history?
Johnny Football for the Heisman!
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, LB, Senior
Manti Te’o doesn’t have the “freshman” stigma to overcome, nor does he have to justify any of his team’s losses–because Notre Dame is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Te’o’s “problem” is that he’s a linebacker.
The defensive volcano out of Punahou High School in Laie, Hawaii, has piled up 103 total tackles, 52 of which are solo and 5.5 of which are for a loss. Add to that impressive tackle total 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hurries, seven interceptions, two fumble recoveries, 11 passes defensed, and a partridge in a pear tree, and you’ve got a guy who deserves some serious Heisman attention.
But how do you compare stats like those against stats of a quarterback? Can Te’o become just the second defensive player–and the first linebacker–to win the Heisman Trophy?
Marquise Lee, USC, WR, Sophomore
Lee already has two strikes against him: He’s an underclassman, and he’s not a quarterback.
Still, he pulled down 112 receptions for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns; plus he returned 28 kickoffs for 802 yards and an additional score. Averaging 140 receiving yards per game will get a guy noticed for the Heisman Trophy. So will putting up 16 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona.
The third strike against him, however, may be USC’s 7-5 record and the fact that the Trojans lost to every serious contender they faced this year.
Can Lee defy the odds and become just the fourth sophomore and the third wide receiver to ever win the Heisman Trophy?
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State, Senior
Klein is the boring choice, in terms of him being a senior quarterback–exactly the type of player that Heisman voters tend to flock to. The No. 6 Wildcats are 10-1 and face Texas on Dec. 1, but that one loss was a doozy.
Baylor slapped Klein and K-State up one side of the field and down the other all night in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 17, throwing a serious cog in Klein’s plans to waltz across the stage with the Heisman in his hands.
In that 52-24 embarrassment, Klein threw three interceptions–doubling his combined total for the entire season up to that point. He could only find 39 yards of rushing room on 17 carries. He barely completed half of his passes and couldn’t find his way to 300 passing yards, despite 50 throws.
Suddenly his 2,306 passing yards, 787 rushing yards, and 34 total touchdowns aren’t quite so impressive, especially compared to Manziel’s numbers and the Aggies’ five-game winning streak against much more difficult competition to close out the season.
But Klein isn’t a freshman. Or a linebacker. Or a wide receiver. So unless he completely tanks against the Longhorns, who have a subpar defense, Klein has the history of the Heisman voters on his side.
And that’s a shame.