With a nationwide audience watching on ESPN and about 2,000 attending the live ceremony at the Best Buy Theater on Times Square in New York, the winner of the 78th Heisman Memorial Trophy will be announced Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET).
There has been even more than the usual debate and conjecture over this year’s finalists — Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
Klein, a senior who was on the Heisman Watch list when the season began, led Kansas State to its first Big 12 title since 2003 as he threw for 2,495 yards, ran for 895 yards and accounted for 37 touchdowns.
Manziel is a freshman whose startling statistics demanded attention and validated his nickname, Johnny Football. He amassed 4,600 yards of total offense and accounted for 43 touchdowns as he helped A&M demand respect as a newcomer in the Southeastern Conference, especially after beating top ranked Alabama.
Te’o is the acknowledged leader of top-ranked, undefeated Notre Dame. He was dominant all season while collecting 103 tackles and grabbing seven interceptions. Te’o was at his best when he was needed the most, such as during an historic goal line stand against USC.
Most surveys indicate that the battle is really between Manziel and Te’o, which is especially dramatic because the award has never been won by either a freshman or a linebacker.
The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award in college football, ostensibly given to the most outstanding college football player in the country as determined by a vote of 928 selectors. The selectors include 870 journalists, divided by regional sections, and former Heisman winners, of which there are 57 this year. There is also an allowance for one (1) vote representing the fans.
The criteria for determining the most appropriate winner is both vague and specific. It is open to wide interpretation and many selectors admit openly that they are biased. Many cite the need to show appropriate attention to their local stars they know so as to properly balance the overall totals from the various sections.
To this bias, add this ambiguous mandate that selectors are supposed to consider (courtesy Heisman.com):
“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. …”
So, it is left to the voters to determine their own parameters and this year’s finalists are putting a strain on traditional voting patterns.
Manziel is considered a favorite according to public opinion surveys done by various media. However, there is no telling how many voters believe there is some unwritten rule that a freshman should not win this prestigious award.
He has the vocal backing of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who, as a freshman at Oklahoma, finished second in Heisman voting in 2004 to USC quarterback Matt Leinart.
“Hopefully, they don’t rob him like they did me,” said Peterson, who lost by 328 votes.
However, Te’o has a large following because he not only is a leader on an undefeated team, but that team is Notre Dame — always good for hype in all regions of the country. And of the 14 Heisman’s awarded during the BCS era — including the one USC runner Reggie Bush had to return — nine were won by a player whose team played for the BCS championship.
Still, being a linebacker does not, historically, work in Te’o’s favor. In the last 25 years, winners included 16 quarterbacks, two receivers, and one cornerback.
Klein best fits the profile of a Heisman winner, but he seems to be getting the least public support.