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Notre Dame, Texas A&M and the Heisman

Two schools with vastly different Heisman traditions go head to head on Saturday.

Notre Dame, of course, is the all-time Heisman leader for points scored in the Heisman vote and its seven trophies ties it with Ohio State (and, technically, USC) for the school with the most Heisman wins.

Texas A&M’s history with the award is a bit more modest, as the Aggies are ranked 11th among SEC schools for Heisman points scored.

However, in the last 25 years, the difference between the two programs has not been that great. The Irish haven’t had a Heisman winners since Tim Brown in 1987 and Manti Te’o is just the third Notre Dame finalist in that span.

The most recent Irish finalist was Brady Quinn in 2006. The quarterback entered the year as the Heisman favorite and he responded with 3,246 passing yards and 37 touchdowns that season. But blowout losses to Michigan and USC soured voters on Quinn and Ohio State’s Troy Smith ran away with the Heisman. Quinn finished a distant third to Smith, with Arkansas running back Darren McFadden sandwiched between.

Quinn also finished fourth in 2005, behind Reggie Bush, Vince Young and Matt Leinart, but he was not one of the finalists in New York. Of course, with that year’s award vacated, perhaps this is the year that shall not be named.

Before Quinn, you have to go all the way back to 1992 to find a Notre Dame player who shows up in the Heisman vote. Tailback Reggie Brooks finished fifth that year behind Gino Torretta thanks to a 1,458-yard, 13-touchdown season.

In 1990, junior wide receiver Raghib Ismail was the Heisman runner up to BYU’s Ty Detmer. Ismail was one of the most electrifying players in college football history and he acquitted himself quite well in the final vote, finishing 305 votes behind Detmer while finishing second in every region but one. ‘The Rocket’ rushed for 537 yards, caught 33 passes for 699 more and was extremely dangerous as a return man. A 9-3 Irish record and the record-breaking exploits of Detmer was perhaps what did him in.

Brown’s 1987 Heisman triumph was also due to an effective all-around game. Brown easily beat out Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson and Holy Cross two-way player Gordie Lockbaum to win his school’s record (at the time) seventh trophy. The Irish were just 8-3 in the regular season but were much improved in their second year under Lou Holtz. A couple punt return touchdowns against Michigan State in game two set the tone for his campaign and elevated him to front runner status. Brown caught 39 passes for 846 yards at his primary position, but he also performed well as a running back and return man. Still, his seven total touchdowns put him on the low end of modern Heisman production.

Notre Dame’s Heisman history before 1987 is too rich and varied to recount here. Suffice it to say that the Irish dominated the 1940s and 1950s, producing three winners in the former, two in the latter and plenty of candidates. The day Notre Dame hits a renewed level of offensive proficiency, we’re likely to see more trophies emerge from this storied program.

Texas A&M’s tradition with the Heisman is a bit more sparse to say the least.

The first Aggie to show up in the Heisman vote was running back John Kimbrough, who finished second to Tom Harmon in 1940. There wasn’t another A&M player in the final tally until running back John David Crow won the trophy in 1957 under coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.

Crow was one of the legendary players of the 1950s. He won the trophy despite missing almost three full games that year. He rushed for 562 yards and six touchdowns, caught two passes and threw five touchdown passes. On defense, he had five interceptions. He won the Heisman handily over Alex Karras of Iowa and Walter Kowalczyk of Michigan State. Crow was the only player to win a Heisman for Bryant.

Texas A&M didn’t have a player place in the Heisman vote again until 1990, when tailback Darren Lewis tied for eighth after rushing for 1,795 yards and 20 touchdowns. The next year, dual-threat quarterback Bucky Richardson finished 10th.

Since Richardson, no Aggies have been a factor in the Heisman, which makes Johnny Manziel’s run at the trophy all the more special.

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Q & A with Pittsburgh Panther great Hugh Green

Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green is one of the greatest defensive players in college football history.

Though undersized for a defensive end at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Green dominated during his four years at Pitt. In his first game as a 1977 freshman, he had 11 tackles, a blocked punt and two sacks againt eventual national champion Notre Dame. By his senior season, he was an absolute terror, totaling 123 tackles, 17 sacks, four fumble recoveries and six pass breakups.

In that 1980 senior campaign, Green finished a strong second in the Heisman vote to South Carolina running back George Rogers. It’s the best finish ever by a pure defender in Heisman history.

I caught up with Green, a native of Natchez, Miss., over the phone on Thursday and talked with him about his Heisman experience, his playing days and what he thinks of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s run at the trophy:

Did you have any Heisman expectations heading into that senior year?

“Yes, very much so, because of the year we had the previous season. We had started campaigning in the summer leading up into it. During that period of time in college football, the focus had shifted more toward defense. The dominant players coming out back then were all defensive players — guys like Kenny Easley and Ronnie Lott. So those kinds of players were getting a lot of attention. But there were some timing issues that year for us that affected things. We played Penn State after the Heisman vote was due and that was one of the large problems I had to overcome.”

As the season went on, did you think you had a chance?

“I knew I had a chance because of the type of year I had and the year that our team had. My wish back then was that we’d get a chance to play against some the individuals I was in competition with. They made the selection and I still had a game to play, so that was a bad omen.”

Was there a lot of pressure on you to perform week in and week out to keep pace with your Heisman competition or were you just out there having fun?

“We were just having fun. We were the No. 1 defense in the country. I felt very good about it. The way we played defense, it was fun. They weren’t as adept as they are now about hyping the Heisman race.”

What did opposing teams do to minimize your impact?

“They did all kinds of stuff. Our coordinator who was Foge Fazio and we had been together all those years — Jimmy Johnson was my defensive coordinator when I was a freshman and sophomore. We designed all kinds of schemes where we’d put me where teams couldn’t account for me. I had one key ingredient, though, and that was I had a guy on the other side of me named Ricky Jackson who was a very good and impressive player. That minimized what teams could do. They had a choice, either run to me or run to Ricky and they chose Ricky.”

How did you find out that you didn’t win the Heisman?

“Our PR department kept us up on what was happening. It wasn’t like today where they take the top three or four players and take you to New York. My inkling was that I could win because I had basically won every major trophy in the country. I had scooped up everything. I was the AP and UPI player of the year. But the more I learned about the history of the award and who they catered to, the thinking about it became more evident. Again, defenses were dominant at that time. Players would go into a game and totally control it. But people back then didn’t know or have the capability of thinking about defensive players controlling the game. They’ve matured and grown into it now, I think.”

Has there been any defensive player since you played who you thought should’ve won the Heisman? What do you look for when it comes to defensive stats?

“One who comes to mind is Ndamukong Suh. He was dominant and controlling and constantly beating double teams.

“Everybody loves the sack monsters, the guys who make interceptions. I look for a player who changes the offensive game plan. It’s like when they put eight in the box to stop a running back or quarterback.”

Do you want just any defensive player to eventually win the Heisman or do you want him to be a guy who is better than you were?

“I would like a guy to be better than me. I want him to be a complete player, someone who understands the game, who studies well, who knows tendecncies and dictates the game. If a defensive player dictates not just one game, but every game, then that creates the scenario where he has a chance to win. It’s just like with an offensive player who dictates the game. All the rules have changed now to make it more productive for offenses. Defenses keep catching up and then they have to switch again. With all these shotguns and triple options, I don’t know if any current defensive player has put himself in position to be a player who can dictate the game.

Do you think it’s going to take an out-of-this-world statistical year for a defender to win it, or do you think it’ll just happen because of a fluke?

“I think it’s going to happen by fluke. Right now the Heisman winner is the guy who has the best year, not who has the best career. That’s the difference from before. The voters recognize that one year now whereas when I was around it was all about showing consistency and being recognized for that. Back then, you had the Bob Hope All-American Show, the AP All-Americans, the Walter Camp team and I could depend on seeing those exact individuals who had had a great year showing up the next year.”

It’s been a while since I’ve thought about the Bob Hope All-American Show. What was it like to take part in it?

Dealing with Mr. Hope was a complete pleasure. Especially after you came there more than once. A lot of people thought he was inept, but he was sharp. He knew things that you didn’t think he knew, which meant he watched you play. We’d do a skit and if it got messed up, Mr. Hope would do a completely different comment or joke off the cuff. He was the cream of the crop.”

Do any current players remind you of you?

When you go out and talk about comparing between then and now, it’s a totally different thing. I see guys go to camp now and two or three days in, they pull a hamstring. I immediately think that the guy did nothing during the summer time, which shows the lack of seriousness to his game. And technique-wise you have bigger guys who are better athletes than back then, guys who are 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds who run a 4.3. There are guys who are flat out athletes who just run to the ball. With us, it was about mastering the game. It was an art. That’s the separation from then and now. A lot of guys are pure athletes but don’t have any knowledge of the game. That disappoints me. I want to see a guy who is a master of the game, who knows how to set a tackle up, who knows what to do and knows what the offense is doing to him.

What do you think of Manti Te’o?

“I think he’s an incredible athlete. He’s the ringleader of a great defense. Everything he does, such as how he makes his checks makes me think he really understands the game, and that he studies film and his opponents a lot. That’s very rare. Still, I would’ve like to have seen him have that same kind of productivity his junior, sophomore and freshman years.”

Does he deserve Heisman?

“I think he controls the game. I think he’s worthy. We’ll see if the scenario works out. I wish Te’o could be in a different situation because people really don’t recognize defenders and their talents enough. If they did, I think he would win the Heisman.”

What do you think of Jadeveon Clowney? If Te’o doesn’t win, do you think he has a chance next year?

“I like that kid. I like his motor. It’s very fast. He has some help on his defense. They’ll put him in position to continue his success and it’s good that he’s at South Caolina and in the SEC, which has been branded as the best conference. I feel if he has the type of year next year that he’s been having this year, I’d think he’d be in line to do what we’ve talked about and could convince people that an outright defensive player deserves it.”

Do you think the Hugh Green of 1980 could play today?

“I could play the same role but it would have to be under a very smart, aggressive defensive coordinator who knew what he had. I was a technician. I was smarter than I looked. I knew how to play blocks. I could walk into a defense and not know the scheme and still be able to play the run. That was because of being a technician and knowing the fundamentals of foootball.”

Did you go to Pitt because of that 1976 national title?

“Yeah. A lot of teams thought the SEC would have everything wrapped up with me. I recently talked to Barry Switzer and he asked if he recruited me and I told him he didn’t. Everyone thought i was too small. But our scheme of defense changed everyone’s mind. It doesn’t make a difference what size you are, it’s what’s inside of you. But if I hadn’t gone to Pitt, I had put in my mind that I would stay in state of Mississippi. I would’ve gone to Mississippi State.”

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Kansas State and the Heisman

The Heisman and Kansas State don’t have much of a past together.

For a while it looked like Wildcats senior quarterback Collin Klein might change that. He led the HeismanPundit/ Heisman Straw Poll for four weeks from mid-October until mid-November. If not for his team’s 52-24 debacle at Baylor, Klein would be giving the trophy its first kiss from a Kansas State player on Saturday.

Before Klein, the pickings are slim to find a Wildcat in any Manhattan other than the one in Kansas.

Back in 2003, running back Darren Sproles rushed for 1,948 yards, scored 17 touchdowns and led the Wildcats to a 35-7 smashing of No. 1 Oklahoma, led by eventual Heisman winner Jason White, in the Big 12 title game. That was enough to entice six voters to put Sproles on top of their ballots. He did get a healthy smattering of seconds and thirds for a total of 101 points, enabling him to place fifth behind White (1,628), Larry Fitzgerald (1,552), Eli Manning (619) and Chris Perry (566), but he was not invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

The closest a Wildcat has come to winning the Heisman was 1998. Only, not really. Quarterback Michael Bishop threw for 2,844 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 748 yards and 14 scores, to lead K-State to an 11-2 record. Bishop was the runner up that year in the Heisman vote to Ricky Williams of Texas. But Williams’ 2,355 points was 1,563 points ahead of Bishop’s total of 792, which means that, technically, Sproles in 2003 was 36 points closer to White’s winning total.

Other than Bishop and Sproles, you have to go back to 1970 to find another Kansas State Wildcat in the Heisman conversation.

Lynn Dickey was a senior quarterback for the Wildcats that year. He threw for 2,163 yards as K-State went 6-5. For his efforts, he received six first-place votes and finished 10th in the final tally, well behind winner Jim Plunkett of Stanford. He went on to star for the Green Bay Packers.

Kansas State is ranked eighth in the Big 12 in HeismanPundit’s ranking of the top Heisman programs, which measures the total impact of schools in Heisman history.

If Bill Snyder can keep his program chugging along at it current rate, it’s only a matter of time before a Wildcat makes it to New York and comes back with the school’s first Heisman.

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Heisman by the Jersey Numbers

When the Heisman winner takes the stage on Saturday he’ll be wearing a neatly-tailored suit and smile, a far cry from the team logo and jersey number with which we’ve come to identify him.

This year the three finalists all share one thing in common, a single-digit uniform number. For the first time since the Heisman presentation ceremony began in 1981 there will be no double-digit jersey represented.

Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who dons No. 2, hopes to become the third player to wear the number and win the Heisman. Charles Woodson was the first player to win wearing 2 back in 1997. Cameron Newton of Auburn won the award just three years ago with the same number.

If Manti Te’o wins the Heisman, he will be the eighth Notre Dame player to do so and the second to win it wearing No. 5. Quarterback Paul Hornung won the award in 1956 wearing 5 and was just the second player to win the award donning a single-digit uniform.

In 2005, USC’s Reggie Bush was awarded the Heisman and his No. 5 jersey was hung next to the six other Trojan Heisman winners on the peristyle steps of the Coliseum. Bush’s Heisman was vacated in 2010, so a Te’o win would mean that only Notre Dame players will have won the Heisman wearing the No. 5.

Te’o would also continue (or begin) a precedent for primarily defensive Heisman winners wearing single digit numbers.

Should Collin Klein shock the world and win the Heisman, he would become the fifth player to win the award with the jersey number seven. John Huarte of Norte Dame won in 1964, Pat Sullivan of Auburn in 1971, Danny Wuerffel of Florida won in 1996 and Eric Crouch of Nebraska won in 2001, all wearing the No. 7.

Whoever wins the award will become the 11th player to wear a single-digit jersey and win the Heisman (but just tenth on record, with Bush’s vacated). In the first 62 years of the trophy, just four players wore single-digit jerseys and won the award. Since 1996, seven Heismans have been awarded to players in single-digit jerseys. On Saturday an eighth will join the exclusive club.

And that’s all you probably care to know about Heisman winners and their jersey numbers.

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Johnny Manziel and the rise of the Super Quarterback

In 2003, Oklahoma quarterback Jason White wowed the college football world by throwing 40 touchdown passes on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy.

The pure craziness of that number — 40 touchdown passes! — along with his 3,744 passing yards impressed Heisman voters so much, he was able to overcome the campaign of an extraordinary sophomore receiver named Larry Fitzgerald, not to mention the ignominy of Oklahoma’s 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game.

“(The 40 touchdowns), combined with his completion percentage and record, makes White not only the most deserving player this season, but possibly the most impressive Heisman quarterback in the past 10 years,” declared Sports Illustrated a few days before White picked up his trophy.

Flash forward almost a decade. In 2012, 40 touchdown passes by a quarterback barely raises an eyebrow.

We have entered the era of the “Super Quarterback”. Simply put, the old pocket-oriented passing systems that enabled average talents like White to pile up big numbers are almost extinct. Looking back, their production appears almost quaint compared to the statistics we see today. Cutting-edge variations on the spread offense featuring physical phenoms with unique tools who can squeeze every possible advantage out of these schemes are now dominating college football. The proof is in the numbers, the wins and the championships.

But it’s especially true with regards to the Heisman Trophy.

The most elite of these elite athletes are winning the Heisman of late by producing numbers previously not seen before in college football. They are winning despite having the kind of disadvantages that have historically squelched Heisman campaigns. And they are doing it sooner in their careers than most ever thought imaginable.

It didn’t start with Johnny Football.

* * *
In 2005, Vince Young became the first player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. He crossed that barrier in the 2006 Rose Bowl against USC in a seminal performance that marked the genesis of the “Super Quarterback”. For the first time, an elite physical talent running a rudimentary spread scheme for one of the sport’s powers was cut loose on the college football world. The result was a slap in the face to conventional football minds as Young, a quarterback with a throwing motion better suited for a javelin than a pigskin, simply used his superior athletic skills to lead his team to the national title. His dominance was best exemplified by the way he glided effortlessly for the winning touchdown with 19 seconds remaining to beat the mighty Trojans. When the dust settled that year, Young had 4,086 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns to his credit. At the time, it seemed like a season for the ages. But compared to what’s happened since, Young was just a piker. He may have invented fire, but he didn’t bring it to the people.
That was up to Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow.

The marriage of Meyer’s spread offense and Tebow’s rare skill-set worked so well that Tebow, a first-time starter who entered his sophomore season as a bit of a novelty, accumulated 4,181 yards of total offense and 55 touchdowns. He became the first sophomore to win the Heisman and he did so just 25 games into his college career even while his Florida team finished a rather pedestrian 9-3 in the regular season.

In another era, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Tebow would’ve been a fullback or a tight end. A few years earlier, he would’ve struggled to find success as a quarterback in a standard college football offense, just as he struggles now in the NFL. But in Meyer’s scheme, the entire offense ran through him. That Florida team ran 848 plays in 2007 and Tebow was responsible for 560 of them. That he had the stamina and the durability to last through an entire season playing at such a high level is a testament to his freakish physical ability and competitive nature.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford also appeared on the scene in 2007 and he led the nation in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman under the tutelage of offensive coordinators Kevin Sumlin and Kevin Wilson (Tebow was second to Bradford in efficiency that year). The next season, playing in an Air-Raid style offense that emphasized a fast tempo, Bradford accounted for 4,767 yards of total offense and matched Tebow from the year before by passing and running for 55 touchdowns (50 of them came through the air). Bradford again led the nation in passing efficiency and became the second sophomore in a row to win the Heisman Trophy. His team made it to the BCS national title game, where it fell to Tebow’s Florida squad.

Bradford later went on to become the first pick in the 2010 NFL draft.

That fall, a double-transfer by way of Florida and Blinn Junior College named Cameron Newton showed up at Auburn and racked up 4,327 yards of total offense and 50 combined touchdowns while leading the Tigers to the national title. He became the first double-transfer in history to win the Heisman Trophy and he did so in a landslide despite zero fanfare entering the season. Newton’s rare combination of size, speed, strength, athleticism, arm strength, running ability and accuracy was fully exploited by Auburn offensive coordinator (now head coach) Gus Malzahn. Newton ran 543 plays while leading the SEC in rushing and topping the nation in passing efficiency.

Newton also went on to become the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

In 2011, Robert Griffin III, a former world-class track hurdler, exploded in Art Briles’ Baylor offense for 4,992 yards of total offense and 47 touchdowns while leading his team to its best record since 1980 and a top 15 ranking in the polls. Griffin III was awarded his school’s first Heisman Trophy, beating out Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who had entered the season as a heavy favorite to win the trophy. Griffin ran an amazing 581 plays and broke the NCAA passing efficiency mark while making Baylor football relevant for the first time in a generation. He went on to become the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?

The four Heisman-winning quarterbacks since 2007 have averaged 4,566 yards of total offense and 52 touchdowns on 552 plays. Each of them played for offensive innovators who ran a version of the spread. Each won the Heisman despite historic obstacles and each had profound impacts on their school’s success before going on to become first-round picks in the NFL draft.

This year, Johnny Manziel is the latest iteration of the “Super Quarterback” phenomenon. Like the others, he’s a unique talent featured in a juiced-up spread attack that enables him to put up remarkable statistics. Through 12 games, he’s run 584 plays for an SEC-record 4,600 yard of total offense and 43 total touchdowns — numbers that are right in line with those of recent Super Quarterbacks. He led his team to a 10-2 record in its first go-around in the SEC, it’s best season since 1998. Along the way, he managed to lead the SEC in rushing and direct an upset of the nation’s No. 1 team.

And he’s about to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy? Shouldn’t it be obvious by now why that’s the case?

Keep in mind that the five previous Heisman-winning quarterbacks before Tebow — Troy Smith, Matt Leinart, White, Carson Palmer and Eric Crouch — averaged 3,237 yards of total offense and 34 touchdowns on 453 plays. The five since — if you include Manziel — are averaging nearly 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns more per season.

The trend is unmistakeable.

But how did we get here?

* * *
 “The Heisman Trophy tends to be a mirror for what’s going on in football more generally,” said Chris Brown, the creator of, a site dedicated to analysis of football strategy.

According to Brown, the rise of the Super Quarterback reflects a sea-change in how current offenses are designed and the players they emphasize. From 1972 to 1983, for instance, a running back won the Heisman Trophy every single year. The best athlete on a team was usually the tailback and because of the dominant, downhill running systems of that era — the Wishbone, the I-bone, the Power I — we saw dominant performances from that position.

Offenses started to feature the quarterback more in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that we began to see great athletes play the position with regularity. Michael Vick of Virginia Tech was one of the best early examples and he finished third in the Heisman vote as a freshman in 1999 despite modest numbers by today’s standards.

“Vick was clearly as talented as some of these later guys have been,” Brown said. “But he just played in a very different offense. Tech didn’t do zone reads. It was pretty much pro style with the option sprinkled in and some bootleg.”

Frank Beamer gave Vick just 299 plays that year. Eight years later, Tebow was running nearly twice that number in Meyer’s offense.

“By the time you got to Vince Young or Tebow, you really wanted to feature those guys,” said Brown. “Offenses run through the quarterback nowadays. It’s a natural reflection of what’s going on at all the levels. Unless you are Albama or LSU with an elite defense, you’re in some kind of offense that is going to be spread based with a quarterback.”

The development of quarterbacks at the Pop Warner and high school levels also influences this trend. Kids who 20 years ago might’ve been relegated to playing defensive end or receiver because of their athleticism are instead being taught how to play quarterback. They’re hiring private coaches and learning how to throw the ball properly and read defenses. By the time they get to college, many are ready to shine. College coaches are responding by building offenses specifically designed to showcase their talents.

“Recruits are finding good fits at schools where they can be featured,” said Brown. “If you’re Urban Meyer, you can tell a guy like Tebow that he’ll be featured in all kinds of ways and that his skills will be utilized.”

The success of these offenses creates a feedback loop, with coaches finding more ways to get the most out of their elite quarterbacks, which then attracts the next wave of elite quarterbacks who then take these offenses to even higher levels.

Brown notes that what Tebow did at Florida and what Griffin III did at Baylor was significantly more evolved.

“We quickly moved to a world where instead of a guy like Tebow being the centerpiece, you had Griffin III operating at 100 miles-per-hour with package plays,” said Brown. “His coaches trusted him to run the show on the field. He’s cerebrally in control of the whole game. It’s going to be tough to get much better than him.”

So what’s the next step in this quarterback evolution? Brown isn’t sure if there is one, but he does see some downside to the current trend.

“The risks are that, as a team, your entire offense goes through one guy,” said Brown. “If that player has a bad day, you lose. The reason he’s winning the Heisman is that your whole team revolves around how he plays, but that’s why Nick Saban does not use that strategy. He doesn’t want to win or lose based on how his quarterback plays.”

Ironic, then, that Alabama’s one loss this season was to a team that utilized that very strategy. There’s obviously a ton of spread quarterbacks out there, but not all of them are good enough to single-handedly beat elite teams like the Crimson Tide. Not all of them are good enough to revive a program and win the Heisman as a freshman.

These days, it takes a Super Quarterback.

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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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Heismancast for Heisman Week

Here I am talking Heisman on the Podcast with Eye on College Football blogger and podcaster extraordinaire, Chip Patterson.

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