Heisman Race 2012: Power Ranking Importance of Each Contender to Their Team

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2012

Heisman Race 2012: Power Ranking Importance of Each Contender to Their Team

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    A Heisman Trophy winner must do more than simply produce. He must be invaluable, transcend his team and stand out from every other elite player in the country.

    Being the most important player on your team shouldn't seal anyone's Heisman bid, but it must play a factor. Take Robert Griffin III off of Baylor's team last season, and what did you have? Not a whole lot, and that has to be taken into consideration each and every year.

    The following five slides don't lay out the trophy's contenders in order, but they do gauge who means the most to their squad. Some players fit so seamlessly into a dynamic system that the team would barely blink without them. Others are the team, doing anything and everything to earn a win every Saturday.

    Let's power rank the importance of my top five Heisman Trophy contenders to their teams.

5. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon

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    Barner is amazing, but Oregon would be more than fine without him. Okay, maybe the Ducks would only score 45 points per game as opposed to 54.8, but come on.

    Speed is Oregon's game, and it has plenty of it. Whether it be Barner, De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall or even Kenny Bassett, the Ducks have more speed than anyone. Losing Barner from that mix would hurt, but it definitely wouldn't be devastating.

    The Ducks run the ball. Factoring in the stable of backs that I already mentioned, plus dual-threat quarterback Marcus Mariota, the assets are endless when it comes to Oregon's ground game. Barner's 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns have played a huge role in that, but they would be able to replace him.

    Some may even consider Thomas the more dynamic player as it is. That doesn't mean Barner should be snubbed for Heisman consideration, but the Ducks' system makes him more expendable than others might be.

4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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    Lee is easily the nation's best receiver, and he proves that every week, but Southern California would still pitch the ball around with ease without him.

    How could any quarterback struggle with Lee and Robert Woods terrorizing opponents on the outside? Even if Lee were gone, Woods, Nelson Agholor and tight end Xavier Grimble would form a nasty trio for opposing secondaries to stop.

    That's not discounting Lee's ability. He adds a big-play element that very few players could. Hauling in nearly 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns isn't easy, no matter what offensive scheme you play in.

    Part of this is because of the Trojans' Pac-12 schedule. It's a competitive conference, but defense can be tough to come by. Barkley and Co. would still find seams through the air, even if Lee's home-run presence wasn't around to break games open.

    He's one of this year's great dark horse candidates for the Heisman, based mostly on his position, but he's a rare must-watch player week in and week out.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

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    Klein, as of right now, should win the trophy, but that doesn't mean he's the most important to his team.

    I know, I know, he embodies Bill Snyder's blue-collar style of play. He doesn't run around you; he runs over you. He doesn't play pretty, but he does all the little things.

    Without him, Kansas State would still be a very good team though. Perhaps the Wildcats wouldn't be undefeated, but Snyder would have his boys ready to win. This is still a very stingy defense, and John Hubert is an electric running back.

    But that doesn't mean Klein isn't important. He's an absolute treat to watch, a throwback to the old school. Rather than dazzle fans with his elite speed, he wows them with his passion and heart for the game. He's a bull in the china closet, a wrecking ball swinging directly at the defense, waiting for it to show the smallest crack.

    There's no doubt that Klein should be the front-runner right now. He has 31 total touchdowns, and he plays for the No. 1 team in the nation. Barring a major statistical difference, the top team's best player deserves the nod in a close call.

    Two other contenders are more vital to their team here, but it's definitely splitting hairs. Blame my faith in Snyder.

2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Just say the name Johnny Football to a college enthusiast anymore, and that person will crane his neck toward you with a twinkle in his eye.

    This kid is that good, and he's a very real Heisman contender despite being only a redshirt freshman.

    Putting Manziel ahead of Collin Klein was tough, but Kansas State's defense is a bit better than the Aggies' unit. Klein has just a bit more help, giving Johnny Football the nod here.

    If you take Manziel off of the Aggies team, you have Ben Malena and Mike Evans to lead the way. Nothing against those two, but Texas A&M wouldn't have a prayer in the rugged SEC. Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel would still manhandle defensive fronts, but the Aggies would struggle to score.

    After Manziel's performance against Alabama in Tuscaloosa—in which he has 345 total yards and two touchdowns—he's the No. 2 contender to win the actual trophy. Klein still gets the nod, but it's not by much.

    Every once in awhile a young player captivates the nation. Manziel has done that, leading the Aggies to a 6-0 road record behind his 33 total touchdowns. He's a true game-changer, and his team feeds off of the production that he provides.

1. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame

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    Te'o shouldn't win the Heisman Trophy, but it's impossible to miss how much he means to this Notre Dame team.

    As long as the Fighting Irish are in the BCS National Championship race, don't expect Te'o's name to disappear from any list of contenders. It seems insane to think that a linebacker could vie for the nation's most esteemed honor, but it's happening, and it's deserved.

    Not only does Te'o have 92 tackles through 10 games, but his emotional play is the basis for everything that Notre Dame stands for. He fights, claws and scratches his way for everything, daring opposing teams to take his BCS dreams away from him.

    He's a leader, and that stands for a lot. Without him, Notre Dame's defense wouldn't just be missing its best player; it would be missing its backbone.

    Te'o has had over 10 tackles in six games. He also has six interceptions. His sound tackling and instincts for the position make him one of the best linebackers college football has seen in a long time.

    Considering him the trophy's top contender is going a bit far, but there is no player who is more important to his team.