The terrific performance by Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel — now known around the country as “Johnny Football” — in Saturday’s stunning upset of defending national champion Alabama has thrust Manziel squarely into the Heisman Trophy race.
But Manziel has work to do to catch favorite Collin Klein, the quarterback of unbeaten Kansas State.
Against the Tide’s top-ranked defense, Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns while adding 92 yards on 18 rushes as A&M got only its second-ever win against the country’s No. 1 team. He now leads all freshmen in passing yards (2,780 yards), completions per game (22.7), total offense (379.4 yards per game) and points responsibility (19.8). He leads the SEC in rushing yards (1,014) and rushing scores (15).
Manziel joins former Missouri star Brad Smith as the only freshmen in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in a single season. Manziel should smash Smith’s numbers of 1,029 yards rushing and 2,333 passing yards set in 2002. With 220 passing yards in this Saturday’s game against FCS team Sam Houston State, Manziel will become the fifth player and first freshman in FBS history to reach 1,000 rushing yards and 3,000 passing yards in a season. The biggest name of the previous four was Texas’ Vince Young in 2005.
Only one player from Texas A&M has won the Heisman: running back John David Crow in 1957. Manziel has skyrocketed to the second-favorite on Bovada at 5-2. After a certain win versus Sam Houston State, A&M closes the regular season at home against Missouri.
Klein has been the favorite ever since he totally outplayed former betting favorite Geno Smith of West Virginia in KSU’s 55-14 win in Morgantown on Oct. 20. Smith, incidentally, no longer is a betting option, with WVU on a four-game losing streak. Klein remains the 2-5 favorite at the book, but his lead has shrunk. Klein has tailed off a bit in the past two games with no touchdown passes, one interception and 390 total passing yards. He does have three rushing scores. Overall, Klein has thrown for 2,020 yards and 12 scores and rushed for 748 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Where Klein has the edge is that Kansas State is No. 1 in the BCS standings and should play for the national championship by winning out at Baylor and at home against Texas, while A&M has two losses. Manziel also has had to face three teams ranked in the top five nationally in total defense in Alabama, LSU and Florida. KSU hasn’t had to face a defense anywhere near as good as that SEC trio. No Kansas State player has ever won the Heisman.
Should the ‘Cats lose one of their final two regular-season games, and Texas will be a big test, Manziel likely will leapfrog Klein because the Aggies are unlikely to lose. Most experts think that Baylor’s Robert Griffin III won last year’s Heisman only after closing with a few big wins. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Texas helped a player from the hated Aggies win this year’s Heisman?
Southern Cal sophomore receiver Marqise Lee is the 8-1 third-favorite for the Heisman. He leads the nation with 98 catches for 1,447 yards and is third with 13 touchdowns. Lee is the favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top receiver in the country. Lee’s teammate, quarterback Matt Barkley, was the preseason betting favorite to win the Heisman.
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o are each at 10-1. Barner has 199 carries for 1,360 yards (6.8 yards per carry) with 19 touchdowns. However, Barner was held to 65 yards on 20 carries with no touchdowns in last week’s win over Cal, which likely killed his Heisman chances. Te’o is the heart and soul of third-ranked Notre Dame and has 92 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions and two fumble recoveries on the season. The senior will no doubt have an emotional home finale Saturday against Wake Forest.
Rounding out the betting options is Ohio State sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller at 30-1. With the Buckeyes ineligible for any postseason play, voters are likely to punish Miller. He will be an early favorite next season with Manziel, Lee and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.