Inside SI's Heisman Trophy ballots
The freshman stigma hung over Johnny Manziel's head all season, but in the end even the most traditional Heisman voter could not ignore the numbers Manziel put up for Texas A&M. Manziel broke Cam Newton's SEC record for total offense with 4,600 yards in 12 games (it took Newton 14) while also becoming the first freshman to produce a 3,000-yard passing/1,000-yard rushing season. Manziel also accounted for 69.4 percent of the Aggies' offense as a freshman. If anything, his freshman standing should add to his credentials, not detract from them. Say what you will about Collin Klein and Manti Te'o, who each had fantastic seasons. But it's difficult to watch Manziel and not be convinced that he's the country's most outstanding player. If this keeps up, this won't be Manziel's only Heisman.
Te'o has been a saint during Notre Dame's miracle season. He is the best player on the nation's top scoring defense and has been an inspiration for all in overcoming the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend during a 24-hour period in September. Unfortunately, Te'o won't win the Heisman Trophy, but he embodies everything the award's winner should be both on and
It was a ridiculously difficult call, but in the end I went with Manziel, because in the end, where would the Aggies have been without him? Certainly not 10-2. Do they rally from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to win at Ole Miss? Probably not. Do they knock off No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa? Absolutely not. That Manziel accomplished what he did as a redshirt freshman playing in the toughest conference in college football is all the more remarkable.
This is probably the least comfortable I've ever been with my ballot, as there are several others (Collin Klein, Jadeveon Clowney, Jarvis Jones, Tavon Austin) who were no less outstanding than these three. But it's hard to argue with Manziel's numbers (4,600 total yards), and while others faltered down the stretch, Johnny Football rose to the occasion at Alabama. Te'o was terrific all season but particularly in Notre Dame's biggest games (Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma). Lee's season (112 catches, 1,680 receiving yards, 2,588 all-purpose yards) was just absurd, and if not for a down game in his finale against Notre Dame I may have wound up voting him No. 1.
We hear a lot about Heisman barriers, but the truth is that they keep melting away. Tim Tebow bulldozed through the sophomore roadblock in 2007, and Robert Griffin III erased the unofficial "best player on the best team" requirement last year. Now it's Manziel's turn to overcome what had been an insurmountable freshman blockade. Manziel's college class is irrelevant; what matters is that he electrified a team, a conference and the viewing public. He turned an average Big 12 team into an elite SEC West team (admittedly with the help of great coaches and linemen). He passes the stats test and the eye test. The Heisman is supposed to go the nation's best player, simple as that. Voters have complicated the process with misplaced and misguided emphasis, and it took something as all consuming as Johnny Football Fever to lift that veil. And hey, it probably doesn't hurt that other main choice is a defense-only player, another lame longtime Heisman no-no.
The fact that Manziel is a redshirt freshman played no role whatsoever in my decision. He was the most dominant, valuable and exciting player in the nation, period. Manziel's performance in Texas A&M's upset of Alabama was a defining moment and he made plays in that game that the Crimson Tide are still seeing in their dreams. Te'o had a remarkable season by any measure and he did all a defensive player could possibly do to win the Heisman, but simply put: Manziel was better. At one point the award was Klein's to lose -- and he lost it. This was actually one of the easiest Heisman decisions in years. Johnny Football stood head and shoulders above the rest.
This one was tough for me. I'm always the one who says voters should consider other positions besides quarterback and tailback, and Manti Te'o is a phenomenal example of a defensive player who affects the game in a myriad of ways. But I can't ignore how dominant Johnny Manziel was this season. I never thought I'd see Cam Newton's SEC total offense record broken, and Manziel broke it in two fewer games. If I were drafting a college football team using only the stats from this season, Manziel would be the first pick. So he gets my vote as the most outstanding player.
It comes down to this: A freshman broke the SEC record for total yards in a season, a record that was held most recently by Cam Newton, who broke Tim Tebow's mark, with both of them doing it in Heisman-winning seasons. A freshman. That's the most remarkable individual achievement of the year, and it's why Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel received my first-place Heisman vote by just a hair over Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, with Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein a somewhat distant third. It was irrelevant to me that Manziel is a freshman and Te'o a senior, or that one plays offense and the other defense. Te'o was outstanding, the key player on an undefeated team, but Manziel tore through the toughest conference in the nation against defenses geared to stop him, and upset then-No. 1 Alabama in the process. It's almost impossible to top that.