The Heisman Trust encourages us voters to keep their ballots secret after we submit them. I presume this is to boost television ratings for the award’s selection show Saturday night, hoping to preserve the drama.
Well, you can find out the winner then. But you can get my reasoning for my vote now. And if someone wants to calculate the winner based on people who made their votes public, so be it.
I’ve had a Heisman vote for four years now. My picks have been Stanford’s Toby Gerhart (he was second to Alabama’s Mark Ingram), Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. The Ingram/Gerhart was about as tough as it came with making a choice from a field of fairly indistinguishable players. Until this year.
Honestly, I could have voted for any of the following players on this list and felt good about it … and bad. Everybody has strong points and weaknesses, more so, it seems, than in past seasons. Newton was a no-brainer. Griffin was about as obvious. There was no cinch this year.
I’ll list some other players I considered in no particular order before getting to my top three:
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson, 251-377, 66.6%, 3,550 yards, 34 TD, 492 rushing yards, 9 TD
Those numbers, once again, are phenomenal. He was responsible for 262 points this year, tops in the nation and ahead of someone who will appear very high on this list. Boyd, who was the ACC Player of the Year, had a more efficient 2012 than 2011, if that is possible. But the award isn’t purely about numbers. It’s about performance in big spots. And it’s noticeable that among Boyd’s worst games were Florida State (a loss) and South Carolina (a loss). Accounting for eight touchdowns against N.C. State is one thing, but when you throw for only 183 yards with two picks against a top-flight defense like the Gamecocks the following week, that matters. Especially for a team that played against meager competition the rest of the year.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, 50 tackles, 21.5 TFL, 13 sacks, 5 QBH, 2 FF
I went back and forth on whether or not to put him in my final three or a different defensive player. This much I know: there’s not a defensive player in the country that you have to account for on every play quite like Clowney (unless it’s the next guy on the list). He led the nation in sacks and was second in tackles for a loss. Only a true sophomore, he’ll be one to watch in 2013.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia, 77 tackles, 22.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks, 33 QBH, 1 INT, 7 FF, 2 FR
This is the other defensive player to be feared. He led the country in TFLs, was second in sacks and had 33 quarterback hurries. Look at all the forced fumbles he had. He disrupted things, which is what defense is all about these days. What hurt his cause was that he missed a couple games with injuries, but you could make an argument that he’s a better player than the defensive guy who did make it into my top-three, and I’d be hard-pressed to make a rebuttal.
Marquise Lee, WR, Southern California, 112 receptions, 1,680 yards, 14 TD
If you have a 16-catch, 345-yard game, then yeah, you’re a pretty good receiver. And it’s tough for receivers to make headway in Heisman voting. Quarterbacks usually get all the credit. But Lee is an exception. USC’s 7-5 record didn’t help his cause. I don’t like making this a team award, and I try to avoid that. But I’ll admit the Trojans’ sub-par record factored somewhat into my decision to keep him out of the top three.
Here’s my top three:
3. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, 103 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 7 INT
Defensive players continue to make headway on my ballot. I didn’t vote for Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh a few years ago and have come to regret it. Tyrann Mathieu was second on my ballot last year, and despite his troubles, I don’t regret that. Te’o is a great defensive player on a great team. He’s unquestionably the leader of a top-notch defense on the No. 1 team in the country. I don’t know if a linebacker has ever had seven interceptions in a season. And, not that this matters, but he’s got an inspirational back story this year.
My problem with Te’o, and this goes back to the team thing: is he getting all the credit for Notre Dame’s strong defense? He’s a big part of it, no doubt. But are we elevating his status because he happens to play for the No. 1 team in the country? I wrestled with this third spot for a while. I’m still not convinced that Te’o is a better pick here than Clowney or Jones (and I’d probably be making the reverse argument if either one of those two were here). I think a defensive player will win this award some day and I’m not against voting for one to do so. But I don’t think Te’o was the one to do it.
2. Collin Klein, Kansas State, 180-272, 66.2%, 2,490 yards, 15 TD, 890 yards, 22 TD
Sometimes you can be distracted by all the pretty stats that players put up. From a sheer numbers standpoint, West Virginia’s Gene Smith would be tough to beat out of the Big 12, having played similar competition to Klein. But Klein guided his team to an 11-1 record. Again, I’m not going to say team success is a huge factor on my ballot, but it is something of a consideration. (And if we are talking about stats, 22 rushing touchdowns for a quarterback is pretty good.)
Klein was a huge reason Kansas State was in the national championship conversation for most of the season. He is that offense. It revolves around his hard-nosed running and efficient, though not statistically eye-popping, passing. That Baylor loss, in which he uncharacteristically had to throw it 50 times and had three picks, hurt his chances. But for what KSU wanted to do all season — run the ball, control the clock, play tough defense and win — Klein was the perfect fit.
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, 273-400, 68.3%, 3,419 yards, 24 TD, 1,181 rushing yards, 19 TD
I had no reservations about voting for a freshman. I had no reservations about voting for a player whose team is not going to the BCS. And I had no reservations about voting for somebody with a nickname as lame as Johnny Football. In the end, I simply thought Manziel had the best season of anybody in the country. And that’s what we’re voting for.
When Tebow won the award, he accounted for 3,970 yards and 51 touchdowns. When Newton won the award, he had 3,998 yards and 49 touchdowns. Manziel, as a true freshman, has 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns. Those numbers stack up favorably. He led the SEC in rushing and total offense and was third in passing. His 383.3 yards per game of total offense was second nationally to Baylor’s Nick Florence. And while the other players on this list did it in the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC, where defense is optional (and usually non-existent), he did it in a league that’s been a breeding ground for future NFL defensive stars.
Like every candidate this year, he’s not perfect. He didn’t play great in the second half against Florida in September and threw three picks against LSU in October. Texas A&M lost both contests. But it won the rest, including a defining 29-24 win at No. 1 Alabama, when he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 92 more yards. The Crimson Tide, remember, had the No. 1 defense in the country and will be playing in the BCS title game.
Like Griffin last year, Manziel elevated his team higher than preseason expectations. When the Aggies made the move to the SEC this year, many predicted doom and gloom. They could never keep up with the speed and athleticism in the mighty SEC. Well, now the question is if the SEC can keep up with Manziel. And when you’re doing that in the unquestioned toughest conference in the country, you’ve earned my vote.