Heisman watch: ‘Johnny Football’ or Notre Dame’s secret weapon?

Tom Karol Contributor
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With more than one month before the NCAA football championship game, speculation this week has centered on the Heisman Trophy, which annually recognizes the single most outstanding player. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

The three most likely winners are Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o and Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein.

Sports journalists choose the winners.

There are 870 media voters, including 145 from each of six geographic regions. The actual ballots include a space for electors to designate three individuals for the Heisman Trophy. The first choice on an elector’s ballot receives three points in the overall voting tabulation, the second receives two points and the third choice receives one.

Each of the 57 Heisman winners also has a vote, and one vote comes from the public at large, bringing the total vote count for the 2012 Heisman race to 928.

Compared to college football players in general, the three front-runners are integrity-filled Eagle Scouts. (Note that Manti Te’o was an actual Eagle Scout.) And a lack of misdemeanors off the field doesn’t always translate to great football performance.

In other words, “outstanding” is in the eye of the beholder.

But most prognosticators, including sports journalists, see a contest between Manziel’s remarkable individual statistics — 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns — and Te’o’s leadership as Notre Dame returned to glory as the number one-ranked team.

“Johnny Football” Manziel had a terrific year as a quarterback on the way to a 10-2 record and the 9th spot in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Despote being a freshman, he ranked 8th in completion percentage (68.3%), 16th in passing yards (3,419) and 16th in quarterback ratings (155.9).

Manti Te’o’s statistics are impressive as well. But while his interception total puts him in a second-place tie among linebackers, Te’o has teammates with more sacks than he does.

Te’o is not a stats guy, however. He’s a leader of Notre Dame’s most potent weapon: its nation-leader defense. The pre-season unranked team fought off an impossibly hard schedule and withstood numerous ranked opponents to advance to the national championship game.

No one who follows Notre Dame football believes the team could have pulled it off without Te’o.

And Texas A&M fans know that Johnny Football was the spark that lit a football bonfire this year.

What do sportswriters think? We’ll find out Saturday.

(Editor’s note: Initially, this article incorrectly reported that Manziel was charged with a DUI in the off-season. The actual charges were a series of misdemeanors over a fight and a fake ID)