Johnny Manziel Enters Heisman Conversation – Who Is The Current Frontrunner?

A headline in a Dallas paper leading up to Saturday’s Texas A&M-Alabama game proclaimed the following regarding Aggies QB Johnny Manziel:

Johnny Manziel’s chances of winning the Heisman – Not good, unless he beats Alabama…

Well, Johnny Manziel – just beat Alabama.



Johnny Manziel celebrates with teammates after he led Texas A&M to a stunning victory over then-#1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. (Image credit: Dave Martin / AP via

Never mind that he is a redshirt freshman, and not even allowed to talk to the media per policy by the TAM-U SID. He has won at the very least a trip to New York to celebrate his 20th birthday (or 22nd birthday according to his allegedly phony Louisiana I.D.) as a Heisman finalist.

He is certain to have taken the seat of Bama QB A.J. McCarron at the dinner table. That is the floor of his Heisman chances right now.

Incidentally, Manziel does interact in the social media world via Twitter. He was at 20,000 followers pre-visit to Tuscaloosa. As of Sunday morning, he has ballooned to 41,000+ followers, and climbing.

And a word of warning for when the muzzle is finally taken off Manziel: on his Twitter introduction he quotes Tim Tebow, who is quoting Proverbs. So get ready for that.

But Manziel has done much more than throw his hat in the ring as a mere Heisman contender. In fact I now have him as a major contender.

Consider the following between Manziel and the other established 2012 Heisman contenders.

Collin Klein

The established frontrunner for the last month had an okay game at TCU, going 12-21 for 145 yards and a couple TDs on the ground.

K-State remained undefeated, and with the Bama loss obviously moves deeper into BCS title game consideration.

But it was not the OMG! performance Manziel pulled against the mighty Crimson Tide.

Kenjon Barner

The Oregon running back hurt his wrist early in the Ducks late-night game at California. He did return, but wound up producing sub-par numbers (20 carries, 65 yards).

You could also argue that Oregon QB Marcus Mariota played himself into Heisman consideration by throwing for 377 yards and 6 TD’s v. Cal, playing much of the game with an injured left shoulder.

What hurts Mariota’s candidacy is that Oregon hasn’t had that game where they are tested, that two impact players on one team ends up splitting the vote, and games like Oregon v. Cal get played late at night east coast time.

Incidentally, as a prep player, Johnny Manziel originally had committed to Oregon – ouch.

Manti Te’o

To have a legit shot of winning the Heisman, a defensive player has to have a gimmick.

In 1997, for example, not only was Charles Woodson an elite defensive player, but he also moonlighted on offense and returns, and Michigan eventually won a share of the National Championship.

If Te’o was attending most other schools, he would just be a stud linebacker being projected as a high NFL draft choice. But playing for Notre Dame, Te’o’s game is heavily exposed to a national audience on a weekly basis. And since his team remains undefeated, although I wouldn’t like the Irish’s chances against Bama and many other teams.

There is also the human interest angle, with a pair of personal tragedies Te’o endured early in the season. He remains in the conversation.

Braxton Miller

Ohio State quarterback has rushed for 1,166 yards/13 TD’s, and also has Buckeyes 10-0 record going for him. In normal years that would get Braxton a long ways towards New York. But Ohio State is somewhat under the radar this year due to being ineligible for post-season play and the B1G Ten championship. Miller’s completion percentage (57%), also puts him behind the likes of Klein and Manziel.

Back to Johnny Football

Now, to put what Manziel did at Bryant-Denny Stadium into context.

Manziel went 24 for 31 for 253 yards and 2 TDs through the air. He also had 18 carries for 92 yards and two scores on the ground.

During the third quarter, CBS revealed its results for SEC Player of the Year in an on-line poll. Manziel was leading with over 50% of the vote – which was announced during the third quarter. The first quarter alone, when Manziel led A&M to three scoring drives, was enough alone to vault him to the top of Heisman contention.

Another factoid: since freshman eligibility was restored in 1972 – no freshman (true or redshirt) quarterback had ever beaten a top ranked team on the road.

After bobbling a snap, and then scrambling before throwing the touchdown to put TAM-U ahead 14-0, Gary Danielson made an interesting link between Manziel and 1990 Heisman winner and fellow San Antonio-area product Ty Detmer.

Detmer’s road to the Heisman in ‘90 had some similar links.

BYU opened that season by defeating a number one ranked team, defeating the then-feared Miami Hurricanes. But that was a home game in a season opener, as opposed to beating Alabama late in the season, on the road.

Detmer went on to post video-game like numbers against the rest of the Western Athletic Conference for the remainder of that season, and in a pre-internet/pre-social media world, the momentum of that first game back in early September was enough to carry Ty to the Heisman.

Finally, I should note that Manziel was having a phenomenal season before Alabama. Earlier in the season Johnny broke the SEC’s single game total offense record by racking up 557 yards v. Arkansas. Two weeks later he accounted for 576 yards against Louisiana Tech.


Who Is The Current Heisman Frontrunner?

So how does the Heisman race now break down as of November 11, with three weeks remaining in the regular season?

Kenjon Barner may get some west coast votes, but like other recent Oregon running backs will not jump to the head of the class. Manti Te’o remains an intriguing wild card candidate with the Notre Dame label, but I do not see him getting the nod over Collin Klein, and now Manziel.

Collin Klein was the unquestioned front-runner before Manziel led the upset of Bama, and in other analyses I’m seeing many still have him ranked number one. Manziel also does not get much more of a chance to make a final argument. Had TAM-U won at LSU or versus Florida earlier in the year, then the Aggies would be in line for appearing in the SEC Championship game. As it stands now, Manziel only has games versus FCS foe Sam Houston State and a home game versus Missouri to close the season.

I love stats as much as anyone, and Collin Klein’s 70% completion percentage and 19 rushing TDs are impressive, but Manziel is at 67.6% with 18 passing TDs (v Klein’s 12) and 15 TDs on the ground plus over 1,000 rushing yards.

Klein has a nice win at Oklahoma and an undefeated record, but Johnny Football took down Alabama.

And then there is the regional voting breakdown. Klein will continue to get national support, but I feel Manziel will now not only carry the SEC region, but also the state of Texas and other areas in A&M’s old Big XII geographical footprint. Don’t tell Karl Rove this, but that may just get Manziel over the top, even with his late entry into the race.

What might hurt is Manziel landing into legal trouble over the summer, obviously most of that has been forgotten and A&M obviously reinstated him – but if it comes to between him and Klein, than could also serve as a tie-breaker with some voters.

My vote right now goes to Johnny, what do you think?

Who do you think is the current Heisman Trophy frontrunner?

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About Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.


  1. Ty Sefton might just nail it after all. He made a pretty solid case almost a month ago and the J-Man has only supported the proposition!

  2. Franklin P. says:

    If the Heisman is not a
    “Life-time Achievement Award,” why not give it to the player that has been the most outstanding in any particular year; ignore the year of college the player is in. Next year, God forbid, he might sustain an injury in the off-season, and he might never be able to play again. He might not be as fortunate as Hershel Walker was.

  3. Ed Stack Sr says:

    The Heisman should NEVER be awarded based on one game! The players performance throughout the entire season should be the criteria used to award the trophy. A one game show is simply not the barometer of a players overall performance!

  4. The most important stat is 10-0 vs 8-2…….How do you know that K-State would not beat Alabama??? I assume Alabama is not as great as you are making them out to be…so that now you think that Manziel is that great…just opinions that Alabama wasa sooooo great….duh

  5. Remember how great of a Heisman player Geno Smith was???…you guys don’t have a clue. Remember USC preseason #1 get a grip man, you just sell newspapers. You wouldn’t know talent if it stood in front of you. And see how many fools vote your way?? Now you guys are hero makers…what B.S. Klein is the real deal and if you and other fools don’t see it then you voted for Obama…

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