Heisman Musings

By Hamilton King

This Saturday night, December 8, 2012, college football’s greatest individual honor will be awarded.  The Heisman Trophy celebrates on field excellence, individual achievement, and a players overall contribution to making his team better.  It is essentially the NCAA MVP award.  Last year it was awarded to Robert Griffin III.  Winning the award not only means you were that years most outstanding player, but it also places you in an elite football fraternity, which has been highlighted by Nissan’s Heisman House advertising campaign.

The three finalists for the 2012 Heisman Trophy are Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Kansas State’s Collin Klein, and Texas A&M’s freshmen sensation Johnny Manziel.  Of these players two are quarterbacks and two are seniors.  What is unusual is that Johnny Manziel or “Johnny Football” is a red-shirt freshman, and a freshman has never won the award.  In fact, only three underclassmen have ever been recognized as Heisman Trophy winners.  Tim Tebow broke the trend of upper classmen in 2007, followed by Sam Bradford in 2008, and then Mark Ingram in 2009.  However, the best a first year player has ever finished is second, which was Adrian Peterson in 2004.

For many years underclassmen were considered an afterthought to win the Heisman Trophy.  Entrenched voters thought that the award should only go to juniors or seniors who had displayed a body of work throughout their college career.  For this reason Georgia’s Herschel Walker was robbed of the award after his record-breaking freshmen campaign, which was highlighted by a National Championship.  In 1980, Herschel rushed for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns on only 274 attempts.  Though Herschel put together an impressive campaign, the trophy was awarded to George Rogers, who was a senior at South Carolina.  However, Herschel eventually won the trophy in 1982 and remains the only player in NCAA history to finish top three in the Heisman voting for all three of his collegiate years.  So will 2012 be the year that a freshman breaks through and wins the Heisman?

For much of the year, the answer would have been a sure no, but then November 10th happened.  Johnny Manziel and the Aggies walked into Tuscaloosa and defeated the number 1 ranked Crimson Tide.  Manziel led the way with 253 yards through the air with two touchdowns and added another 92 yards on the ground.  Not only did he post an impressive stat line, but he also had his Heisman moment.  That play alone, along with his catchy nickname that the media loves, may be enough to win him this year’s trophy.  However, Johnny Football faces stiff competition from both “Optimus Klein” and Te’o.  For much of the year it looked like the trophy had all but been awarded to Klein, and then #1 KSU got rolled by Baylor 52-24 and Klein threw three picks.

The wildcard in this year’s Heisman race is definitely Manti Te’o, who is the unquestioned leader of Notre Dame’s undefeated team.  Manti has all the traits of a Heisman winner.  He’s got the catchy name, media hype, he plays for a national title contender, and he’s a senior.  Manti has had a great season and his seven interceptions by a linebacker are almost unheard of, but is it enough to win?  Only one primarily defensive player has ever won the Heisman and that was Charles Woodson in 1997.  Woodson was aided by his returning kicks in winning the award and was able to beat out Peyton Manning.  Manti has a lot going for him, including racking up six major awards at the annual college football award ceremony, however, the years most sought after trophy has yet to be decided.

Honestly, I don’t have a favorite in the race, and I believe all the finalists are extremely deserving of the honor.  If I had a ballot, I would vote Manziel #1, Te’o #2, and Klein #3, and that is exactly how I think the voting will turn out.

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