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.