Heisman Watch 2012: Which Players Will Make Most Ballots?
The 2012 Heisman Trophy race has failed to produce a runaway winner. Every time it looked like one player might start to pull away from the pack, whether it be Geno Smith or Collin Klein, they would fade back to the pack.
It gives Heisman voters a lot of options and just as much flexibility when filling out their ballots. Don't be surprised if that causes a spread-out vote, leading to a very close race between a handful of candidates once the dust settles.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel are the candidates with the most buzz right now. Players hoping to leapfrog that duo in the voters' minds better make a major impact this weekend, but not all of them will get that chance.
Let's take a look at Te'o, Manziel and the other top contenders for the Heisman that should appear on the most ballots when they are tallied up next week.
1. Manti Te'o
Even the most diehard Notre Dame supporters probably struggled to believe the Fighting Irish could run the table and make the national title game before the season began. However, thanks to a dominant Manti Te'o-led defense, that's exactly what happened.
He finished the regular season with 103 tackles, seven interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks. His outstanding performances on a weekly basis helped the Irish finish second in the nation in scoring defense at just 10 points per game.
While his stats are certainly impressive and worthy of strong Heisman consideration, his role as an emotional leader for the nation's top-ranked team is just as important. He pushed his teammates over the finish line in tight games, including a three-overtime thriller against Pittsburgh.
2. Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel has made a strong bid to become the first freshman to win the Heisman. "Johnny Football" wasn't even on the radar when the season began, but his stock began to skyrocket after a monster game against Arkansas in late September.
Manziel capped the regular season with 10 touchdowns over the final two games. His final numbers are astounding. He accounted for 4,600 yards of total offense to go along with 24 passing and 19 rushing touchdowns. He threw just eight interceptions.
The dynamic Aggies QB also had the always important "Heisman moment." He led his team to an upset victory over Alabama, thanks to 20 points in the first quarter against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. Momentum is on his side.
3. Collin Klein
Three weeks ago, Collin Klein was seemingly in the Heisman driver's seat. His Kansas State Wildcats were undefeated and ranked No. 1. However, after they lost to Baylor, Klein slid down the ladder a couple of notches.
He does get one more chance to shine, though. The Wildcats take on No. 18 Texas on Saturday night. If Klein can put together a monster performance in a big Kansas State victory, it should at least cause voters to think twice before filling out their final ballot.
As it stands now, Klein has thrown for over 2,300 yards and rushed for nearly 800 more. Add in 34 touchdowns, and he's undoubtedly one of the most valuable players in the country. He must take advantage of his last opportunity to prove that.
4. Marqise Lee
If the Heisman was awarded purely based on talent, Marqise Lee would likely win. Every time he steps on the field, he makes a couple of plays that demand multiple looks on replay. Alas, USC's struggles have a negative impact on his candidacy.
Just look at some of his astonishing games, though. He made 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona. That's a full season for a lot of college wideouts. He also had 12 grabs for 192 against Utah and 12 for 157 in a high-profile game with Oregon.
Only a sophomore, Lee will return next season with a chance to make another run at the award. Some voters are going to reward him for his huge numbers this season, but most likely not enough of them. He needs the Trojans to improve next year, so he has more chances to shine.
5. Braxton Miller
Braxton Miller is an interesting case. Ohio State's dual-threat sophomore quarterback led the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season. It might have been the quietest unbeaten record in history, though, because sanctions didn't allow them to be in the BCS conversation.
Miller made big strides as a passer in his second season, completing 58 percent of his passes for over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also rushed for almost 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Not quite on a Manziel level, but still rock-solid.
If the Buckeyes were playing in the Big Ten Championship Game this weekend with a chance to earn a shot at Notre Dame, Miller would be a stronger candidate. Instead, he'll likely have to settle for a top-five finish. Still a nice accomplishment.