The Heisman Trophy is Johnny Manziel's to lose this coming December as the sensational redshirt freshman concluded the regular season with 4,600 yards and countless highlights.
But Notre Dame's perfect season also gives stud linebacker Manti Te'o a reason to believe he could win the sport's most coveted individual award. And No. 1 dark-horse candidate Collin Klein is still in the hunt as well thanks to his impressive season at the helm for Kansas State.
Here, we make the best case for the three leading Heisman contenders in 2012.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, QB
The redshirt freshman racked up 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns in 12 games this season, all while leading the Aggies to a 10-2 record in their first season as a member of the top conference in college football.
This tweet from ESPN's Numbers Never Lie shows what sort of company Manziel is in this year:
Johnny Manziel set a single-season SEC record with 4,600 yards this year. He passed 2007 Tebow and 2010 Cam Newton today. #JohnnyFootball— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) November 25, 2012
In addition to his eye-popping numbers, Manziel is the only quarterback to slay Alabama this season, and he did it in Tuscaloosa.
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB
Manti Te'o is the anchor and leader for the Irish's No. 1-ranked defense. His team is 12-0 this season and is headed to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
The senior linebacker leads the team in tackles with 103, and he's tied for second in the country with seven interceptions. Notre Dame's senior associate athletics director, John Heisler, put Te'o's statistical accomplishments into perspective with this tweet:
That puts Manti Te'o at 100 tackles this season -- he's only 2nd ND player to record 100 or more in three straight seasons (also Bob Crable)— John Heisler (@NDHeisler) November 25, 2012
Manti Te'o's interception gives him 7 for the season--equals most interceptions by any FBS LB since 2001— John Heisler (@NDHeisler) November 25, 2012
Te'o is no doubt a high character player and a leader by example. Even as someone who doesn't touch the ball on every play, it's hard to argue that Te'o hasn't earned the Heisman Trophy this season.
Collin Klein, Kansas State, QB
The Kansas State senior has more than 3,000 total yards and 34 total touchdowns with one game left to play against Texas. Klein used both his legs and arms to lead the Wildcats to a 10-0 start and their first ever No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings.
He's averaging nearly nine yards per pass attempt and more than 4.5 yards per carry this season, and he has Kansas State one win away from its first Big 12 Conference title since 2003.
College football columnist Matt Zemek makes a great point via Twitter about Klein's entire body of work:
If Collin Klein's this much of an afterthought in the Heisman race, it should be a November-only award, then. I thought it was a 12-gm award— Matt Zemek (@MattZemek_CFN) November 25, 2012
Like Manziel and Te'o, you can easily argue that Klein is the best player on one of the nation's best teams.
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