Record-setting freshman Johnny Manziel tops final Heisman Watch
The votes are in. The résumés are final. And it looks as though Heisman history is about to be made.
Plenty of characters played memorable roles in this season's Heisman race. USC quarterback Matt Barkley began the season as the presumptive favorite before eventually becoming the biggest name on an otherwise disappointing Trojans squad; Geno Smith's video-game-like stats turned the West Virginia passer into the Heisman favorite before a Week 7 loss to Kansas State sent the senior tumbling from contention; Collin Klein's K-State team upended Smith's Mountaineers to all but assure Klein's lock on the trophy until a stunning loss to Baylor.
But the brightest star played in College Station. Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel has been the story of the season, and ever since the Aggies upset No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, Johnny Football has been the Heisman leader. On Dec. 8, Manziel is poised to become the first freshman to take home the award in its 78-year history.
Expectedly, supporters of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o flooded the Watchman's inbox with passionate testimonials, and there are arguments to be made for Teo's candidacy. The senior finished the season ranked second in the country with seven interceptions, all from the middle linebacker position, and led the unbeaten, BCS-bound Irish in tackles (103), passes broken up (11) and fumble recoveries (2).
But how important was Te'o to Notre Dame's defense when compared to other defensive players who attracted Heisman chatter? In one game less than Te'o, Georgia's Jarvis Jones bested the Irish linebacker with a whopping 11 more sacks (12.5) and 17 more tackles for loss (22.5) in helping the Bulldogs reach the SEC title game. Likewise, in 11 games South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney overshadowed Te'o in those same categories (21.5 TFLs and 13 sacks) on a 10-2 Gamecocks squad. Unfortunately for Te'o, it's difficult to quantify his highly touted intangibles, and the statistical gap between Te'o and players like Jones and Clowney is not wide enough to coronate Te'o as the Heisman winner.
In contrast, no one can deny Manziel's importance to the Texas A&M offense.
That's where the eye test was the true game-changer in this Heisman race. Fair or not, Manziel had more opportunities to impress because of his role as an offensive player. The quarterback touches the ball on every play, and Manziel consistently dazzled with his dual-threat repertoire while putting up tremendous stats against SEC competition. The freshman's 4,600 total offensive yards broke Cam Newton's SEC record of 4,327 yards set during Newton's own Heisman-winning season in 2010. Manziel became the first freshman and fifth player ever to register a 3,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing season. Perhaps most impressively, Manziel accounted for 69.4 percent of the Aggies' offense, a higher percentage than the last three Heisman-winning quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III, Newton and Sam Bradford.
And keep in mind: Manziel did this all with a new coach, a new system and a new conference. Even with the Notre Dame brand in tow, Te'o never wowed on defense more than Manziel did on offense. And that's what will define the freshman's victory.
Before jumping into the Watchman's ballot,