Grading the Defining Play of the Season for Each Heisman Trophy Candidate

Randy ChambersAnalyst INovember 13, 2012

COLLEGE STATION, TX - SEPTEMBER 08:  Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on September 8, 2012 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

To win the Heisman Trophy you need many things to go your way.

Of course, your team has to be relevant and winning games. You have to have the sexy statistics that show you have been on top of your game the entire season. A guy that is well-known and likable to the college football world is also a must. But on top of that, the Heisman winner also needs to have that Heisman moment.

With so many teams and players in this sport, the guy who walks away with the hardware has to have that moment that makes him stand out. That one performance or play after which everybody believes he is the right person that should win the prestigious award.

Cam Newton had his in a run against LSU, Robert Griffin III knocked off Oklahoma and threw the game-winning touchdown pass, Desmond Howard returned a punt 91 yards against rival Ohio State, and of course, there was the Doug Flutie play that upset Miami fans everywhere.

Plays like this will be remembered forever by the college football community and are one of the first things brought up when talking about Heisman Trophy winners. The defining play and the award go perfectly together, and a winner without that one moment will always be missing something.

As we get closer to announcing the Heisman winner in 2012, here are those Heisman moments for each candidate this season.


Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Manziel is a freshman quarterback who was playing his first game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. While many young players cave in to the pressure of playing such a dominant defense, the first-year signal-caller didn't blink an eye.

When the pocket was collapsing, Manziel ended up running into his own player, nearly fumbling the ball and having the play turn into a disaster. Instead, the freshman secured the ball, stayed calm and had the presence of mind to keep his eyes down field and find the open man for a touchdown.

These types of things just don't happen every day against an Alabama defense. When I first saw the play, I had to rewind it a few times and show anybody and everybody that would take a peak. After seeing it countless times, I am still impressed that all of this was done by a guy who was playing only the 10th game of his college career.

Grade: A (When you pull a play off like this against an Alabama defense, you have to receive the highest grade.)


Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame

Heisman winners make big plays against the top teams, and that is what Te'o did for the Irish. Already heading into Oklahoma as considerable underdogs, the senior linebacker stepped up on the defensive side of the ball and made a game-changing play.

Linebacker Dan Fox was able to jar the ball loose from Sooners wide receiver Jalen Saunders. And right when you think that the play is going to be over with, Te'o comes flying into the screen and intercepts the pass in a play that you would usually only see in movies. Te'o has had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and this play shows it more than ever.

Some may say there is a little luck involved with this play, but sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. The athleticism and awareness shown on this play is off the charts and a reason why NFL scouts are drooling over what they are witnessing.

Grade: A (This was truly an amazing play that wasn't really expected. To be able to dive out of nowhere and prevent the ball from touching the ground to secure an interception is really something.)


Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

If there was an MVP award in college football, Collin Klein would be the overwhelming favorite. He is responsible for everything that goes on with the Wildcats offense and he has come through every time for Kansas State this season.

But after getting hurt in the game against Oklahoma State, everybody was asking, will Klein play in the game against TCU?

Oh, he played, and he had his longest run of the season with a 34-yard touchdown against the Horned Frogs that really put the game out of reach in the third quarter. The senior was actually looking to throw the ball, but saw how his blocks were set up beautifully. He was able to make two defenders dive and miss, and then the rest is history, as he capped the play with a lunge into the end zone.

A play like this shows just how valuable he is to this team and just how dangerous he is to the opponent.

Grade: B (While the play is Klein's longest run of the season, we have to give a bunch of credit to his blockers as well. The play also took place when the Wildcats had a comfortable lead, which is why this doesn't receive the highest grade possible.)


Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon

Some performances are just so incredible that you just can't pick one play. This happens to be the case with Ducks running back Kenjon Barner who set school rushing records with 321 yards against the USC Trojans. The five touchdowns he scored in the game also tied a Pac-12 single-game record.

The senior running back averaged over eight yards a carry and scored on plays of 27, five, nine, five and 22 yards. In the most impressive victory of the Ducks season, it seemed like Barner would have been able to beat USC by himself if he didn't want to share the ball with the rest of his explosive teammates.

Even when considering all the points scored under head coach Chip Kelly's recent Ducks teams, I'm not sure we have ever seen a performance quite like this from an Oregon player.

Grade: A (Barner broke a school record and scored five touchdowns in one game. Nothing else needs to be said about this performance.)


Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

It was only the third game of the season, it was an early game and many people may not have been paying attention. With Ohio State on a bowl ban and the game taking place against Cal, you probably were more interested in watching Seinfeld reruns at the time.

But the juke and the display of footwork the sophomore put on the Bears in the first quarter was priceless. If a 55-yard touchdown wasn't impressive enough, the move he put on Alex Logan (No. 6) of California would have had me questioning if football was truly the right sport for me.

After he left a Cal player picking up his ankles, Miller turned on the afterburners and showed that he is a man playing against boys. This play may not receive a ton of attention, but it is easily one of the more impressive runs of the 2012 season.

Grade: B (Wonderful display of athleticism, but it did take place against a Cal defense that is ranked 10th in the Pac-12.)


Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Before we talk about the performance, Marqise Lee is without question the most talented receiver in the country, will be taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft and will become a dominant player at the next level. So while it may seem like Arizona is not playing good coverage and simply doesn't have good defenders, it is important to know that Lee is just that good.

The sophomore had one of the greatest performances ever by a receiver, hauling in 16 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats. Lee now holds the Pac-12 record for the most receiving yards in a single game and showed that he is just on another level over anybody else in the country.

His height, speed, route running and sure hands will almost guarantee he is a top-10 pick in the NFL. And although this is the only Heisman moment that resulted in a loss, you surely can't blame Lee for the lack of effort or production in the outcome.

Grade: A (Anytime you break an offensive record in the Pac-12, you are doing something spectacular.)


AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama

Alabama was down by a field goal with only a minute left, on the brink of losing its first game of the season. That's when the coaching staff decided to hit an aggressive LSU defense with a screen play that resulted in a 28-yard touchdown pass to freshman T.J. Yeldon.

The junior quarterback did a terrific job of selling the play by holding onto the ball until the last minute and keeping his eyes down field. He then threw it over an LSU defender's head and let his speedy running back do the rest.

This was a memorable play not only because Alabama won the game, but it will always be remembered for McCarron showing a little more emotion than we are used to seeing from football players.

Overall, it was just a remarkable play when you factor in all of the circumstances.

Grade: B (You can argue that Yeldon did most of the work. Still, a great all-around play and has to receive a high mark for the pressure situation.)


These are the seven Heisman moments that will be remembered from all of the top candidates for 2012. One of these plays will be associated with college football forever, as this year's Heisman trophy will be presented to one of these lucky players.


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