The top 10 Heisman moments of 2012

With the three finalists named and Heisman week upon us, it’s time to look back at how we got here.

There were a lot of twists and turns in this year’s race. Here are the 10 most important Heisman moments of 2012:

10. Montee Ball bottled up by Oregon State

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball finished fourth in the Heisman vote after an amazing 2011 season and he entered 2012 as one of the front runners for the award. Much was also expected of the Badgers as a team, but an upset loss at Oregon State in the season’s second week in which Ball rushed for just 61 yards on 15 carries effectively spoiled his Heisman chances. While Ball ended up with 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season, he never got back in the Heisman conversation.

9. Kenjon Barner piles up record yardage against USC

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner rushed for a school-and-USC-opponent-record 321 yards and scored five touchdowns in the Ducks’ 62-51 win over the Trojans in the Coliseum in early November. The brilliant performance led to a Barner Heisman boomlet that later subsided, but for a a couple weeks it looked like the Duck standout was headed to New York.

8. AJ McCarron leads comeback against LSU

Down 17-14 to LSU with about a minute-and-a-half left in the game, McCarron calmly led the Crimson Tide on a 72-yard drive, culminating in his 28-yard touchdown pass to TJ Yeldon with 51 seconds left to play. The 21-17 win over the Tigers turned out to be crucial, as the Tide would get knocked off one week later.

7. Marqise Lee’s herculean effort against Arizona

While USC’s 39-36 loss to the Wildcats effectively squashed its national title hopes, Lee emerged from this game as a bonafide Heisman contender after notching a Pac-12-record 345 receiving yards to go with 469 all-purpose yards.

6. Manziel goes crazy against Louisiana Tech

This late night thriller transfixed the college football world as Texas A&M held off the Bulldogs, 59-57. A little-known freshman named Johnny Manziel made quite an impression on those who tuned in, as he threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for 181 and three more scores and accumulated an SEC single-game record of 576 yards of total offense. Yes, this was the game that put him on the Heisman radar.

5. Matt Barkley knocked out of Heisman race by Stanford

Barkley was the strong front runner for the Heisman entering the season. He had all the ingredients you look for in a Heisman candidate, but they couldn’t prevent Stanford from shocking the Trojans, 21-14, in Palo Alto in the third week of the season. The loss effectively ended Barkley’s Heisman hopes and USC never quite recovered, as the preseason No. 1 team finished a disappointing 7-5.

4. Geno Smith throws eight touchdowns against Baylor

The most exciting game of the season’s first half saw West Virginia defeat Baylor in a shootout for the ages, 70-63. The Mountaineers needed every one of Geno Smith’s remarkable eight touchdown passes to get the win. Smith’s statline — 45 of 51 for 656 yards — helped ignite his Heisman campaign and he finished up September as the front runner for the trophy.

3. Baylor shocks Klein and K-State

Collin Klein’s march to the Heisman Trophy, and Kansas State’s run at the national title, was upended in one fell swoop as unheralded Baylor blew the doors off of the No. 2 and 10-0 Wildcats, 52-24. Klein threw three interceptions and rushed for just 39 yards in his worst game of the season. If not for this huge upset, Klein would be the favorite to win the Heisman on Saturday.

2. Te’o’s interception seals the deal against Oklahoma

If there was one calling card for Irish linebacker Manti Te’o this season, it was his remarkable interception total. The senior plucked seven passes from the air this year, which tied him for second nationally in the category. But no pick made more of an impact or was more impressive than his diving scoop of a fourth quarter Landry Jones pass that helped Notre Dame seal its biggest win of the year. How impressive was Te’o that day? Impressive enough that all four of the sports writers with Heisman votes at The Oklahoman — the state’s largest newspaper– ended up putting Te’o atop their ballots.

1. Manziel leads monumental upset of Alabama

Before Nov. 10, college football observers knew that Johnny Manziel was an exciting-to-watch freshman with good production and a cool nickname. But they weren’t sure if he was ever going to amount to much. After he led Texas A&M to an exhilirating 29-24 upset win over No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, they started to realize that he was for real. The freshman looked like a crafty veteran, going 24 of 31 for 253 yards and two touchdowns passing while adding another 92 yards on the ground. His improvisational style made the vaunted Tide defense look silly at times. At season’s end, nothing gave Manziel’s SEC-record 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns more context that his performance against Alabama. In effect, by knocking off the Tide, he made himself a viable Heisman candidate…the most viable candidate, as it turns out.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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17 Responses to The top 10 Heisman moments of 2012

  1. steve frickey December 4, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    You have left any positive highlights out for Klein when he has a season full of heisman highlights available to you. WHY?????

    Your campaign is unfair as Klein did more against many more quality teams than Manziel did. Check their records against the top teams that they faced. Not just one game for each of them. ONE GAME does not make a good Heisman canidate. Manziel only had one good quarter against Alabama. The ND LB did more this season than Manziel did…Manziel would be an average QB in the big XII this year. RGIII had three losses last season…and Klein beat him. No QB in the history of Texas FB has ever beaten them three years in a row…Klein did. Klein is the only QB to ever have double digit TDs passing and running in two consecutive seasons w/over 20 running and 10 passing. Why is excitement the main criteria for excellence??? For me substance trumps show any day. I think most coaches will agree.

    The media sells hype for athletes just like for politicians…

    • James December 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

      This is just absurd. The article is about Heisman moments, and unfortunately for Klein, his was a negative. The notion that Manziel had only one good quarter is beyond ignorant. Please, take your own advice and check his stats game over game.

      The top teams that Klein faced were “top” in record alone. The defenses for those teams nearly all hovered in the sub-50 rankings. The losses for Manziel were to teams with top 10 defenses, and even then, his personal statistics were still respectable and the games still winnable at the end.

      Klein’s downfall was that he threw 3 interceptions and had a horrific game against, literally, the worst defense in the country. The blowout loss didn’t help either. It’s excusable against a top tier team, but not someone ranked 119.

  2. Peter December 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Steve, I think the focus was on the most vivid memory of the candidates from the season in the eyes of Heisman voters. He could have listed Klein’s dismantling of West Virginia, but the inability to keep KSU in the game in Waco took him out of the running faster than any particular game put him in the running. Yes, it’s all hype-driven, and one event can spike or plummet the hype very quickly, whether deserved or not. The fact that Carey at Arizona started getting hype when he ran for about 350 against horrendous Colorado pretty much tells the story.

    • WildWillie December 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

      Somebody likes the PAC XII.

      Bias is a funny thing. I clouds one’s ability to recognize the truth, even when it slaps them in the face.

      Collin Klein wins the Heisman trophy in a world in which people are honest with themselves and everyone around them. Unfortunately that world doesn’t exist.

      Everytime you post an article such as this you kill a unicorn.

  3. Scott December 4, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    Klein did more against better teams? Seriously?

    First, Klein has almost a thousand yards less passing than Manziel, 6 less total TDs, almost 300 less yards rushing and Manziel sat out over a game and a half worth of time b/c of blowouts.

    Second, Klein played against 6 of the bottom 20 passing defenses in the nation, and he only won 5 of those games. The West Virginia squad Klein “carved” up, 119th out of 120, not to mention they’d just gotten their butts handed to them the previous week by a average Tech team.

    You seriously think only one good quarter out of Manziel is why he has 300 more yards offense for the season than Cam Newton’s record in two fewer games?

    • WildWillie December 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      Johnny Manziel faced FOUR teams with winning records and went 2-2.

      Klein played a round-robin-schedule in a 10 team league with NINE teams going to bowl games.

      End of story.

      Thanks for playing.

      • Tom December 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

        Not end of story – A&M faced only 4 teams with LOSING records in 2012, and in fact had the #1 ranked hardest schedule this year according to Phil Steele. Johnny Manziel has faced the current No. 1, 5, and 9 ranked defenses, and still ranks 2nd nationally in total offense with 383.3 yards per game. If you took the time to watch Manziel play, you would know who deserves the Heisman – Johnny Football.

        End of story.

    • Terry December 4, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

      You really need to check your “facts”. If you did, you would find that Johnny Football had fewer wins against BCS teams with winning records (2), than he does arrests as a nineteen year old (3), and that he has more criminal offenses in those arrests (6), than he does touchdowns (5) against BCS teams with winning records. In other words, he is a perfect fit for the SEC. But hey, didn’t he tear it up against Sam Houston State, South Carolina State, SMU, Auburn, and Arkansas!!

      • Tom December 5, 2012 at 8:46 am #

        I guess it’s REALLY going to tear you up when Manziel wins the Heisman then.

      • Sam December 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

        If you wanna bring his arrest record to play that’s a low blow. Do you know how many athletes, famous people, politicians have negative publicity, arrests, drug issues etc. manziels “record” was from the same night. I guess the majority of these “famous” people don’t deserve the awards or credibility they worked hard for.

      • Matt December 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

        You know what’s funny about this comment, A&N was told by the majority of people, news articles, and every team in the big 12 that they couldn’t compete in the SEC. Some teams such as Arkansas had a terrible year but that hasn’t been the case in the past, AND they held their own in every game they lost, and in those loses, none were runaway games or losing to teams ranked 119. A&M has room to grow, but let’s face it, they DID compete, held their own and proved all of us wrong. Suck it up and give credit where due. He had a much better record and it only for better as the season went on.

  4. 2fleas December 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    Don’t forget that Manziel wasn’t in the game to pad his stats during most of the season.

    • jwill December 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      Neither did Klein, geniuses. There were at least 5 games he got pulled in the 3rd or 4th quarter because they were winning by so much our because he got hurt against Oklahoma state.

      • jwill December 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

        Texas tech, west Virginia, Oklahoma state, Miami, Missouri state, and ku he was pulled in the 3rd or 4th quarter

    • Terry December 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      You mean like Missouri, in the fourth quarter while his team was up 49 – 10?

      • Terry December 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

        Manziel, not Klein


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