Johnny Manziel’s used to putting up ridiculous numbers. Being a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M, he sat out last year, meaning the last time he’d played before this season was 2010, his senior season of high school. Here’s what he did then. To call those video game stats is almost an insult to the realism of video games – 74 total touchdowns? Over 5,000 combined yards passing and rushing? He wasn’t a five-star prospect, but the numbers suggested A&M had a potential gem on its hands.
But nothing suggested that anything Manziel’s done this year was remotely possible. While he’s not exactly replicating his high school numbers (and it’s worth noting that no one on the major college level has ever posted numbers anything like what Manziel did in high school), he’s filling up stat lines with stunning regularity – and, of course, leading A&M to wins while he’s at it. Wins like the one they got last Saturday on the road against then-No. 1 Alabama, in which Manziel passed for 253 yards and ran for 92 more, or the Arkansas blowout where he passed for 453 yards and ran for 104. He’s even got that tailor-made cult hero nickname, “Johnny Football.”
What he’s done has been about as impressive as anything anyone’s done in the country. And it has more and more people wondering: has Manziel actually been the best player in America? Could he – gasp – win the Heisman as a redshirt freshman? And the answer to that question you’d have been laughed out of the room for asking three months ago is…
Yes, he can.
Look at the numbers: through 10 games, he’s thrown for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns, and run for 1,014 and 15 scores. A&M has two regular season games left: against Sam Houston State (should be a blowout, Manziel will likely put up huge numbers while he’s in the game but possibly play only a half) and Missouri (more competitive, but A&M will be a heavy favorite). If all goes well, A&M will finish 10-2, and Manziel will easily surpass 3,000 yards passing, while possibly rushing for over 1,200 as well. He even has an outside shot at reaching both 20 passing and rushing TDs. And he’ll have done all this against the vaunted SEC.
So wouldn’t you know it – Johnny Football’s right near the top of Heisman lists as we speak. He’s the No. 2 guy both here and here. He’s going to be in this race to the very end and is a virtual lock to travel to New York for the ceremony unless he and/or his team completely implode over the next couple weeks. It’s a remarkable accomplishment no matter what happens. But for Manziel to actually win the Heisman, something out of his control has to happen:
Kansas State has to lose.
Because while Manziel looks to be second in the Heisman running, certainly giving him a shot to win, he’ll only become the frontrunner if the current clubhouse leader, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, stumbles – or even if he plays well but his team loses a game. If A&M finishes 10-2, that’s more than enough team success for the Heisman voters to be comfortable casting their ballots for him. Robert Griffin III won after Baylor went 9-3 in the regular season last year, after all.
But if Kansas State finishes 12-0, makes the national title game, and Klein keeps running over defenders and into the end zone at prodigious rates (19 rushing touchdowns through 10 games) while remaining an efficient passer (70 percent completion rate, 12 touchdowns, three picks), he’s winning the Heisman. And it’d be hard to argue his selection; he’s been superb. Plus, he’s a senior. This is his last go-round, and Manziel could have as many as three more chances to win. Whether it should be on or not, that’ll be a factor. KSU’s final two regular season games are against Baylor and Texas. They could lose one of them… but they probably won’t.
So the smart money’s still on Klein to win – we’d say that, all things considered, there’s at least a 75 percent chance of that happening. Johnny Football will most likely have to wait his turn. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what he’s done, which is no less than produce one of the greatest freshman seasons a college football player has ever had. And if he doesn’t win it this year, he stands a very good chance of winning one by the time his days in College Station are done. And if he does manage to become the first Aggie in over a half-century to win college football’s top individual honor: well, if his family thinks they have to trademark “Johnny Football” now…
Getty photo, by Mike Zarrilli, Klein photo via