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
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.
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: