It's nearly time for closing arguments in the Heisman Trophy race.
Week 13 marked the end of the regular season for several Heisman candidates, and while the trophy recognizes a season's body of work, recent history shows how a Heisman hopeful's final moments on the field can have a powerful impact with voters.
Last season's race was a perfect example. Robert Griffin III's four-touchdown performance in Baylor's 2011 finale against Texas helped him surpass Trent Richardson and Andrew Luck to become the Bears' first Heisman winner. It didn't matter that Griffin played for a three-loss squad that failed to reach a BCS bowl; he made a memorable impression at the perfect time.
Some of this season's contenders did as well. After a few subpar outings, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o came through when it mattered most, intercepting his seventh pass of the season as the Irish stuffed USC in prime time to earn a spot in the BCS championship game. The clutch showing makes the senior a near-lock to earn a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist. Former frontrunner Collin Klein, meanwhile, will get the Heisman stage nearly to himself in Week 14 when Kansas State closes the regular season against Texas.
It may not matter, though: The buzz surrounding Johnny Manziel appears to be swallowing every other candidate. Manziel continued to bolster his Heisman credentials with a five-touchdown game against Missouri in Texas A&M's season finale, helping the Aggies wrap their first 10-win season since 1998. Much like RGIII last year, Johnny Football has managed to captivate the nation despite not playing for the crystal football.
During Saturday's Notre Dame-USC telecast, ESPN's Brent Musburger touched on the only real remaining threat to Manziel's candidacy: "There are some voters," Musberger said, "who will not, under any circumstances, vote for a freshman." Can longtime Heisman traditionalists convince themselves to cast their vote for a first-year player? Some voters lean toward upperclassmen because they believe freshmen will have Heisman chances later in their careers. With his season complete as Championship Weekend looms, Manziel won't have any more chances to win over voters this year, but after a historic season he may already have the race won.
Before we get into this week's rankings, here's a look at how things stood after last week.
Last week: 32-of-44 passing for 372 yards, three touchdowns and one interception; 12 rushes for 67 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-29 win over Missouri.
Season (12 games): 273-of-400 passing for 3,419 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions; 184 rushes for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Remember when SEC fans gawked at the idea of Texas A&M competing in their precious conference? Manziel has made people believe not only in the Aggies, but in his worth as a legitimate frontrunner in the Heisman race. Manziel shook off a leg injury in the first quarter against Missouri to set a new SEC record for total yards in a single season (4,600). The two players he passed on the list? Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, both of whom won the Heisman Trophy in their record-breaking season. Barring an extraordinary effort from Klein in Kansas State's final game, Manziel will likely repeat that history.
Next up: Season complete
Last week: Five tackles and one interception in a 22-14 victory over USC.
Season (12 games): 103 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, seven interceptions, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
Watchman's take: Notre Dame's epic goal-line stand in the fourth quarter against USC helped culminate a season's worth of defensive dominance by Te'o and the Irish. With his late interception of Trojans' quarterback Max Wittek, Te'o finished the year with more picks than all but one player in the country (Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas). Thanks in part to Te'o, the Irish allowed the fewest offensive touchdowns (10) of any team in the country on their way to earning a berth in the BCS title game. With his regular season complete, the senior's best hope is that traditional voters will spurn Manziel's youthful surge in favor of a more seasoned veteran. Of course, those same voters would have to overlook the fact that Te'o plays defense.
Next up: Season complete
Last week: Idle
Season (11 games): 172-of-258 passing for 2,306 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions; 171 yards for 787 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: With K-State on a bye in Week 13, most of the chatter surrounding Klein focused on his prior two outings, when he struggled in the wake of a reported concussion. But the senior has a chance to change that narrative in this week's season finale against Texas. The Longhorns have the Big 12's worst rush defense, while Klein is second among all players with 20 rushing scores. It will be Klein's last shot to upstage Johnny Football; Texas helped RGIII climb to Heisman glory last season, so perhaps Kansas State's star can do the same against the 'Horns.
Next up: Saturday vs. No. 23 Texas
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, USC receiver Marqise Lee and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner all missed the rankings this week.
SI's voters continue to look past Manziel's freshman stigma. The Texas A&M quarterback topped our office ballot once again, taking all but one first-place vote (Te'o garnered the final nod). Klein was a distant third coming off his bye week.
1. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel -- 10 (9)2. Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o -- 9 (1)3. Kansas State QB Collin Klein -- 4T4. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller -- 2T4. Georgia LB Jarvis Jones -- 2T4. USC WR Marqise Lee -- 2Oregon RB Kenjon Barner -- 1
SI's voters: Senior writers Thayer Evans, Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, Phil Taylor; senior editors Mark Godich, Jim Gorant, Mallory Rubin, BJ Schecter; associate producers Zac Ellis and Ben Glicksman.
Manziel punched in five touchdowns against Missouri, including two on the ground. (Getty Images)
A Johnny Football touchdown after a scramble? Of course.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is campaigning hard for his star linebacker: