Bowl Projections 2012: Breaking Down How Heisman Trophy Finalists Will Fare
Johnny Manziel became the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, cementing a journey that saw him begin as a semi-known player who barely won a preseason position battle and end as the single best player in college football.
But with a Cotton Bowl appearance still in the offing, will he be able to build on that momentum and continue his brilliant play versus Oklahoma? And what about Collin Klein and Manti Te'o, the latter of whom will be playing for a trophy far more important than the Heisman on Jan. 7?
We have a little less than a month remaining before we find out. It's wholly possible that the Heisman result will adversely affect one's play as it is to spur brilliance. In the meantime, let's have some fun and speculate.
Here is a look at projections for how all three Heisman finalists will fare in their respective bowl games.
Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M—Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma)
Fresh off hoisting the bronze statue on Saturday night, Manziel will face an Oklahoma defense that's entirely impossible to predict. The Sooners gave up 24.2 points per contest, which is a middling 42nd in the nation, but those numbers were irreparably altered by a three-game span where the defense fell off a proverbial cliff.
Starting with a Nov. 10 win against Baylor through an overtime thriller on Nov. 24 versus Oklahoma State, the Sooners gave up a whopping 43.7 points per game. In the other nine games, Oklahoma was consistently stout, giving up only 17.6 points per contest.
With over a month to prepare, it's likely that Bob Stoops will dial up his best defensive scheme to stop Manziel. However, the Aggies' dual-threat attack should be too much for the Sooners to contain.
However, Manziel may not wind up being the star of the show. Facing tough top-flight passing attacks against Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Oklahoma was able to make stops, but was burned by the team's running backs.
That means Ben Malena could be in store for a career day. Still, recent history tells us not to count out Johnny Football. The Cotton Bowl won't be the best game of his career, but anything less than 300 total yards and a couple of scores would be a shock.
Collin Klein (QB, Kansas State—Fiesta Bowl vs. Oregon)
Despite being spectacular, putting up absurdly gaudy numbers was never Klein's calling card as a Heisman candidate. He put up 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns, both stats wholly worthy of his nomination, but it was his importance to Kansas State's ascent to national prominence that meant more than anything.
Offensively, Klein and John Hubert are essentially running a two-man yardage show. The offensive line has been fantastic all season and Chris Harper is there to catch passes, but without that two-headed duo, the Wildcats may not even be in a bowl game.
In the Fiesta Bowl, Klein will take on a solid Oregon defense, but one that certainly isn't impenetrable. The Ducks gave up 381.8 yards per game during the regular season, which was only sixth in the Pac-12.
With Oregon's offense averaging over 50 points per game in 2012, it'll be imperative that Klein takes advantage of those deficiencies. Kansas State's defense will be doing back-flips if it can hold the Ducks to less than 30 points, so four touchdowns could be the bare minimum performance level.
Manti Te'o (LB, Notre Dame—BCS National Championship Game vs. Alabama)
Though it's not impossible to predict an individual defender's performance, it's infinitely easier to project on the offensive side of the ball. How Alabama chooses to block and how the Irish scheme for the Crimson Tide's offense pretty much predicates how Te'o fares.
It's wholly possible that Te'o winds up with five tackles and plays the best game of his life by attracting double teams and freeing up other defenders. On the stat sheet, it would look like he no-showed the biggest game of his career, but film would show otherwise.
It's also equally possible that Te'o winds up with 15 tackles, but only does so because the remainder of his team didn't play up to par.
The only thing we can project for sure is that Nick Saban will start his film watching session with the defense, focusing on Te'o first. As the team's captain and middle linebacker, he affects the team not only as an emotional leader but also as the man responsible for making read adjustments.
One may not be able to put an exact numerical value on the Notre Dame linebacker, but Te'o will wreak havoc in ways most casual observers won't notice.
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