Handicapping the Still-Open 2012 Heisman Trophy Field

Christopher WilliamsContributor IINovember 23, 2012

Handicapping the Still-Open 2012 Heisman Trophy Field

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    Like 2011, this year's Heisman race will likely come down to the finish. 

    With only two weeks until the Heisman Trophy presentation, the race is still up for grabs. Many different players are fighting for it.

    Since the first week, we've seen our share of Heisman front-runners fall by the wayside and eventually bow out of the race. Think of guys like Le'Veon Bell, Matt Barkley and Geno Smith. All were the consensus favorites at one point, but they're nowhere to be found on this list. 

    Let's take a look at the six players with the best shot at winning it all next month (in no particular order).

     

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QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

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    Resume strengths: Manziel has 4,161 total yards and 38 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Of those stats, 1,114 of those yards and 17 of the touchdowns have come on the ground. His signature moment of the 2012 season is upsetting No. 1 ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa two weekends ago. 

    Manziel is a beneficiary of conference realignment. On the surface, his stats are great but don't look Heisman-worthy. But playing well in the SEC gives players a boost in the eyes of the voters. If the Aggies were still in the Big 12, Manziel likely wouldn't be at the top.

    Why he won't win: Though he may have a slight lead in the race, Manziel isn't without flaws. While the Alabama game was huge, Texas A&M has two losses on the season to Florida and LSU. Like Alabama, both are in the Top 10, but Manziel scored only one touchdown and threw three interceptions in these losses.

    His redshirt freshman status could also hurt his Heisman stock. No freshman has ever won the Heisman and voters could be wary of making him the first.

    Another possible hindrance is Manziel's summertime arrest. He was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to identify and possessing a false ID after an altercation outside of a nightclub last June. Character concerns usually aren't a huge deal, but they certainly look bad when compared to other Heisman candidates.

    Trending: Upwards. In awards races (especially wide-open ones), it's important to peak at the right time. Manziel is two weeks removed from one of the biggest performances in college football this season and hasn't slowed yet.

    Next game: The Aggies will close the season at home against Missouri tomorrow night. All Manziel can do is continue his great play and hope that none of the other candidates have a career night. If he does so, he should hear his name called in New York City next month.

LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

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    Resume strengths: Notre Dame is undefeated and their senior linebacker is the heart of one of the country's best defenses. They're tied with Alabama for the fewest points allowed per game at 10.1 and are at or near the top in nearly every other defensive category.

    Te'o's best individual stats have come in Notre Dame's biggest games. His very best performance was his performance against Oklahoma on October 27, where he recorded 11 tackles, one sack and one interception.

    The most improved aspect of Te'o's game has been the interceptions. Prior to this season, he had never intercepted a pass. Now his six picks on the season are the second-most in the nation; no other linebacker has more than four. 

    Manti Te'o's hardships have largely driven his Heisman bid as well. In early September, he endured the death of his grandmother and girlfriend within six hours of one another. He responded by having two of his best games this season.

    Why he won't win: It's not impossible to win a Heisman as a defensive player, but it may be impossible to win without scoring a touchdown. Since 2000, only two defensive players have finished in the top five of Heisman voting.

    What helps Te'o is that they were both recent (Ndamukong Suh in 2009 and Tyrann Mathieu last season). Suh finished in fourth, but with 161 first-place votes, in part because of his 4.5 sack destruction of Colt McCoy in the Big 12 Championship game. Tyrann Mathieu finished fifth in the voting, but scored four touchdowns (two punt returns, two fumble returns), with his last punt return coming in the SEC Championship game. 

    In short, defensive players must finish the season strong and be offensive just to have a chance at winning the Heisman. 

    Trending: Slightly downwards. Te'o has just 18 tackles, a half-sack and an interception in his last three games. Those are solid numbers, but they're not increasing his Heisman stock. So at this point, they're riding on the fumes of his resilience in the face of tragedy and Notre Dame's 11-0 record.

    It's a strong foundation for Te'o (as Notre Dame is favored to win their finale and he likely won't commit any crimes between now and December 8), but he needs more.

    Next game: In case you didn't know, Notre Dame will go into the Coliseum to face USC tomorrow night. Te'o needs a serious impact game to move to the front. Something to the tune of 10+ tackles and a sack/forced fumble/pick-six would do wonders.

QB Collin Klein, Kansas State

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    Resume strengths: Collin Klein has thrown for 2,308 yards with 14 touchdowns to only six interceptions. But Klein's best numbers have been made with his feet, rushing for 787 yards and 20 touchdowns. He's led his team to a 10-1 record and a possible Big 12 Championship.

    His Heisman moment came against West Virginia on October 20, going 19-for-21 for 323 yards and seven total touchdowns (three passing, four rushing).

    Why he won't win: Simply put, all of his momentum has halted. His rushing numbers have gone down and his team, Kansas State, is fresh off a 52-24 upset drubbing by the 5-5 Baylor Bears. In that game, Klein scored three total touchdowns, but was held to only 39 yards on the ground and threw three interceptions. The interceptions look even worse coming from a quarterback who has put up just average numbers through the air.

    Trending: Downwards. Collin Klein was believed to be the leader of the Heisman pack before Manziel's career game. But since that week, he played a decent game against TCU before putting up his worst performance last week against Baylor. Klein probably wishes that K-State had a 12th regular season game to play.

    Next game: The Wildcats face No. 16 Texas in the Big 12 Championship next Saturday. It goes without saying that Klein needs a West Virginia-type game (and a win) to get back into the thick of things.

WR Marqise Lee, USC

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    Resume strengths: Before the the season, USC receiver Robert Woods was thought to be the primary target of Matt Barkley. But it's Marqise Lee who has been the Trojans' most dangerous threat on offense; his 107 catches and 1,605 receiving yards lead the nation. He has scored 15 touchdowns, including one by kick return.

    His quarterback Matt Barkley has had a less than stellar senior season, but Lee has put up career numbers. The team is 7-4, but Lee has had some of his best receiving days in those losses. (Did I mention that he's only a sophomore?)

    Why he won't win: Like Manti Te'o, Lee is also at a positional disadvantage. Quarterbacks are always in the Heisman discussion, but their supporting cast rarely gets the same love. Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, who finished second in 2003, receivers have a hard time finishing above fifth in Heisman voting. 

    Trending: Upwards. Lee hasn't gone under 100 yards receiving since October 13 and has over 150 in his last four games. USC is 1-3 during this stretch, but it's not because of Lee. 

    Next game: Marqise Lee will also be playing in that Notre Dame-USC game tomorrow night. Another 150 yard receiving day and a win would do wonders for him, considering that he'll be catching balls from Barkley's injury replacement Max Wittek. 

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois

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    Resume strengths: In case you didn't know, Jordan Lynch is having a pretty notable season for the Huskies of Northern Illinois. He's thrown for 2,582 yards and 22 touchdowns to just four interceptions. 

    But his rushing numbers are among the best in the country. He's top ten in both rushing yards (1,504) and touchdowns (16), and his yards are the third-best at any position. He's gone over 100 yards rushing in every game but one. He's led his team to a 10-1 record on the season.

    Why he won't win: His talent is undeniable, but not only is he doing his damage in the MAC, he also isn't the household name that guys like Manziel and Te'o are. The numbers check out, but for players in lesser-known conferences to have a shot to win, their teams have to be unbeaten. Even more heartbreaking for Lynch is that the Huskies' lone loss to Iowa was by only one point.

    Trending: Upwards. Lynch threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns, while running for over 160 in a win against 9-3 Toledo last week. That win clinched the Huskies' ticket to the MAC Championship. Outside of the loss to Iowa, Lynch hasn't had an off game.

    Next game: The MAC Championship game against No. 23 Kent State. With more eyes on him, Lynch can help his case with a big win—and some big statistics.

QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State

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    Resume strengths: Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play, but Braxton Miller has still put up good numbers for the Buckeyes. His 1,850 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes are Heisman-worthy when coupled with his 1,214 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. 

    Why he won't win: The Buckeyes aren't eligible. The record checks out, but it would take an unspectacular season from the entire nation for a player on a bowl-ineligible team to win the Heisman. His stats should garner him some votes and a top ten finish, but I'd be surprised if they get him any first-place votes.

    Trending: Even. He had 299 total yards and three touchdowns against Illinois two weeks ago, but his 145 yards and no touchdowns against Wisconsin last weekend don't help his case.

    Next game: The Buckeyes play their biggest game of the year against rival Michigan tomorrow. At this point (and with no postseason games), Miller's realistically playing for a top five finish. At best.