By Timothy Threadcraft / @shadcraft21
Seems just about every year, there’s an upstart Heisman candidate that seems to captivate America’s interest for a few fleeting moments. Last year it was RG3. Safe to say that turned out pretty well.
Before that, there were plenty of ‘gamers,’ vying for our hearts. Denard Robinson, Christian Ponder, Terrelle Pryor, Tate Forcier, hell, even Jevan Snead were Heisman contenders and projected first-round picks at one point in time. Some hits (Tebow, RG3, Russell Wilson), even more misses. What makes Johnny Football any different?
Well, every year, there seems to be players who just stand head and shoulders above their peers, regardless of the talent around them. This year, the biggest new name is undoubtedly Mr. Johnny Football, Johnny Manziel.
To offer a bit of perspective, Manziel has accounted for more yardage than Tim Tebow and Cam Newton in the years they won the Heisman.
Not only did he put up these numbers in his first year on campus, it was Texas A&M’s inaugural season in the SEC. At SEC media days, his coach Kevin Sumlin pretty much fielded 20 different variations of the question “how are you gonna deal with getting blown out by the LSUs and Alabamas of the world?” The resiliency he’s shown in twelve games is astounding.
For instance, on 3rd down passing situations in his best game of the year in Tuscaloosa, Manziel converted 10/12 first downs, completing 8/10 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. He converted two huge first downs on the ground as well, keeping the Tide on their toes all night.
Even though he got somewhat stonewalled late against Florida and LSU, keep in mind, these are two of the best defenses in the nation. His coming-of-age showing against the Tide was essentially a masterpiece.
The narrative of leading a program hovering around the cusp of greatness over the top is one that Manziel shares with a few fabulous freshman, including college football legends like Herschel Walker, Michael Vick, and Adrian Peterson. While Manziel has made some special things happen, he wasn’t able to lead his team to an undefeated season like these three did, and they were STILL snubbed for the Heisman.
Every year, the objective of the award is questioned. Is it the best player on the best team in the nation? The guy with the best performance? The best story? Ay, there’s the rub. Manti Te’o has brought it in every single game. I’ve got nothing but respect for the guy. But if we really want to split hairs, let’s pick a random linebacker’s stat line from the year 2006 that went unnoticed, and compare him with Te’o:
Manti Te’o 2012 Stats: 103 tackles, 52 solo, 51 assts, TFL, 5.5, 1.5 Sacks, 7 INTs, 1 fumble recovery
Tony Taylor UGA LB, 2006 stats: 96 tackles, 65 solo, 31 assts, 7.5 TFL, 3 Sacks, 7 INTs, 3 fumble recoveries
Second Team ALL-SEC.
Nobody can deny Manziel’s individual performance. Lost in the stats, is the fact that he’s a couple of bad second halves away from having the Aggies in the national title picture. Fair enough.
The ‘best player on the best team’ argument will all but ensure that Manti Te’o wins the award. He’s had an amazing season at one of the nation’s most prestigious programs, and he’s been in the center of plenty of Heisman moments, relevant to the national title chase. He also has the most inspiring story of each of the finalists. When it all boils down, I can’t say that he doesn’t deserve the Heisman. Many cite the Heisman’s history of being biased towards offensive players.
But when you put it that way, consider the winners of the past, as well as recent winners.
George Rogers’ Gamecocks lost four games in 1980, while Herschel and the Dawgs won the national title. In 1999, Vick led VaTech to an undefeated season and national title berth, but fell just short to one of the last great FSU teams. Fair enough, but voting takes place before the national title game. Ron Dayne’s Wisconsin squad had already lost twice before then! Oh, and Tim Tebow’s ground-breaking sophomore year Heisman? He and the Gators lost four games that year.
Purple Jesus and the Sooners followed suit in 2004. In fact, Matt Leinart may be the only clear-cut winner of all of these awards-in-dispute. And even then, he had a future Heisman winner to help him out in Reggie Bush. Tebow’s team had a disappointing year, but he set records with the help of explosive playmakers like Percy Harvin. Can anyone TRULY name Manziel’s right-hand man?
What candidates like George Rogers, Herschel Walker, Ron Dayne, Adrian Peterson, and Michael Vick have in common were that they were guys who shouldered the load for the rest of their team. Johnny Manziel fits both molds, because while he has NFL-caliber teammates on his offense, he took a squad that went 7-6 last year to the brink of the BCS conversation in his first year. In the same vein, we can look at RG3’s performance last year. Some talent is just undeniable.
Maybe it’s just something in that Texas water.