Can a freshman win the Heisman Trophy?
That's the question after Johnny Manziel's age-defying performance in No. 15 Texas A&M's Week 11 upset of No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The boy wonder helped kick the top-ranked Crimson Tide from the ranks of the unbeaten and likely spoiled Alabama's BCS title hopes along the way. More importantly in terms of his Heisman prospects, the upset gave Manziel a résumé-boosting signature win voters won't soon forget.
The redshirt freshman is on pace to surpass 3,000 passing yards, 1,000 rushing yards and 40 combined touchdowns. But despite the eye-popping stats against largely SEC competition, the fact remains: No freshman has ever won the Heisman. In fact, only five freshmen have ever finished in the top 10 in voting. Adrian Peterson's 2004 campaign was the most successful, as he finished second to USC's Matt Leinart by 328 votes.
It's worth noting that the Heisman vote has skewed younger in recent years, however. Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win when he claimed the Heisman in 2007, and two other second-year players, Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram, immediately followed Tebow. Even during Cam Newton's landslide win in 2010, sophomores Andrew Luck and LaMichael James rounded out the top three in voting.
Still, the futility of freshmen is hard to ignore. Manziel will have to overcome that history in order to hoist the hardware in December.
Before we dive into this week's rankings, here's a reminder of where the race stood last week.
Last week: 12-of-21 passing for 145 yards and one interception; 15 rushes for 50 yards and one touchdown in a 23-10 win over TCU.
Season (10 games): 145-of-208 passing for 2,020 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions; 154 rushes for 748 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Optimus Klein wasn't the unstoppable machine we've grown used to seeing, but the Heisman favorite still managed to come through when it counted. One week after suffering an apparent head injury against Oklahoma State, Klein struggled at times against TCU, throwing his third interception of the season and putting up his least efficient passing performance (105.6) of the year. But Klein still ran for two scores, setting up his first touchdown run with a 62-yard pass in the first quarter. And with the Wildcats taking over the top spot in the BCS standings, Klein's trip to New York is now all but certain.
Next up: Saturday at Baylor
Last week: 24-of-31 passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns; 18 rushes for 92 yards in a 29-24 win at No. 1 Alabama.
Season (10 games): 227-of-336 passing for 2,780 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions; 156 rushes for 1,014 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Manziel's showing against Alabama had an impact on two fronts: Not only did the freshman launch himself into serious Heisman consideration, but his Aggies simultaneously halted the hopes of Alabama's AJ McCarron, who threw his first two interceptions of the season, including the game-sealing pick at the Tide's two-yard-line with 1:42 remaining. Manziel showed little hesitation against the then-BCS leaders, willing A&M to a 20-point lead in the first quarter against the country's top scoring defense and becoming only the second freshman quarterback to upset a top-ranked team on the road.
Next up: Saturday vs. Sam Houston State
Last week: 20 rushes for 65 yards; three catches for 35 yards in a 59-17 win over Cal.
Season (10 games): 199 rushes for 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns; 18 catches for 219 yards and one touchdown.
Watchman's take: One week removed from his dominant performance against USC, Barner stumbled in comparison against Cal. The Bears held Barner to 65 yards and no touchdowns, even knocking the senior out of the game briefly with an apparent wrist injury. But the Ducks continued to dominate anyway, thanks largely to quarterback Marcus Mariota's six touchdown passes. A forgettable outing wasn't enough to completely sour Barner's Heisman hopes, but with so many potent weapons on Oregon's offense, the senior can't afford to disappear in the box score.
Next up: Saturday vs. Stanford
Last week: Five tackles and one interception in a 21-6 win over Boston College.
Season (10 games): 92 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
Watchman's take: For the second straight week, Te'o came away from a Notre Dame victory without a major highlight. But the undefeated Irish continued their surge with their best start since 1993, so Te'o remains in the race. The senior finished third on the Irish with a measly five tackles, his lowest output of the season, but the Irish defense played to its billing by keeping the Eagles out of the end zone. Te'o did pick off BC quarterback Chase Rettig with 5:25 remaining in the game, giving him six interceptions on the year, a Notre Dame record for a linebacker. If Te'o stands a chance at Heisman contention, he needs to live up to his game-changing reputation in two weeks when the Irish travel to USC.
Next up: Saturday vs. Wake Forest
Last week: 10 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown; six rushes for 66 yards in a 38-17 win over Arizona State.
Season (10 games): 98 catches for 1,447 yards and 13 touchdowns; 10 rushes for 110 yards.
Watchman's take: Lee jumped into the top five after notching his seventh 100-yard receiving game of the season. Against the Sun Devils, Lee caught an 80-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and added 66 rushing yards for USC, which scored 24 unanswered points in the second half. The sophomore leads the nation with 1,447 receiving yards, and his 227 all-purpose yards against ASU nearly outgained the Sun Devils' entire 250 yards of offense. Still, these late-season numbers might not be enough to help Lee contend with Heisman history: Only two wide receivers -- Tim Brown in 1987 and Desmond Howard in 1991 -- have ever taken home the trophy.
Next up: Saturday at No. 18 UCLA
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Alabama quarterback McCarron and Oregon quarterback Mariota all missed the cut this week.
Johnny Football fever has taken over the SI office. The Texas A&M freshman made his way onto all but two SI ballots, unseating Te'o as runner-up but falling short of overtaking Klein. If SI's voting is any indication, Manziel might be able to overcome the freshman curse if he can maintain momentum.
1. Kansas State QB Collin Klein -- 9 (9 first-place votes)2. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel -- 8 (1)3. Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o -- 54. Oregon RB Kenjon Barner -- 45. USC WR Marqise Lee -- 2T6. Georgia LB Jarvis Jones -- 1T6. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller -- 1
Against Arizona State, USC's Lee registered his seventh double-digit reception game of 2012. (Landov)
Johnny Football recovered his own near-fumble in the red zone before hitting a wide-open Ryan Swope for a 10-yard touchdown early against Alabama:
Alabama's defense is feeling Manziel's impact on the stat sheet: