Johnny Heis-Manzeil? It Won't Be Easy

Mike Zarrilli

Johnny Manziel is in the Heisman race for sure, but it won't be easy for him to win it.

Can Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy? Let's start with a blind comparison, shall we? Here are four quarterbacks having great seasons. Which would you choose as your Heisman winner?

Category Player A Player B Player C Player D
Games (no I-AA) 9 9 10 10
Comp-Att (Pct) 126-180 (70.0%) 212-316 (67.1%) 124-218 (56.9%) 168-269 (62.5%)
Pass Yards 1,856 2,606 1,753 2,368
Yards/Att 10.31 8.25 8.04 8.80
Pass Efficiency 171.61 148.23 140.12 159.93
TDs (TD Pct) 10 (5.56%) 15 (4.75%) 14 (6.42%) 21 (7.81%)
INTs (INT Pct) 3 (1.67%) 6 (1.90%) 6 (2.75%) 3 (1.12%)
Sacks Taken (Yds Lost) 8 (-53) 19 (-114) 18 (-98) 7 (-33)
Carries 133 129 166 197
Rush Yards 752 1050 1,264 1,477
Yds/Carry 5.65 8.14 7.61 7.50
Rush TDs 19 13 13 13
Total TDs 29 28 27 34
Total Yards/Play 7.96 7.63 7.26 8.06
Fumbles (Lost) 2 (1) 2 (2) 7 (2) 6 (5)
Passes 20+ Yards (Pct) 33 (18.33%) 40 (12.66%) 25 (11.47%) 35 (13.01%)
Runs 10+ Yards (Pct) 25 (18.80%) 28 (21.71%) 43 (25.90%) 44 (22.34%)
Top 25 Defenses Played 1 3 3 0

I removed all stats accrued against I-AA competition. I also pulled sacks out of the rushing totals and put them into their own category. I stayed away from per-game stats because these players' teams have varying styles and different preferred tempos. Finally, "Top 25 Defenses" are the top 25 defenses according to yards per play allowed, and again, I-AA stats aren't included in that determination. Category leaders are in bold.

Player D leads most categories, but he also hasn't played any top 25 defenses. Player A leads a few others and appears particularly explosive through the air, but he isn't asked to throw as often as the other three. Player B racked up the most passing yards and has the highest yards per carry rate, which is impressive given the three good defenses played. Player C doesn't lead anything other than explosiveness on the ground, where a full quarter of his carries go for at least 10 yards, but he's still having a great season and has also faced some good defenses.

Have you made up your mind yet who you're picking? I hope so, because here come the spoilers.

Player A is Collin Klein. Player B is Johnny Manziel. Player C is Braxton Miller. Player D is Northern Illinois's Jordan Lynch. The latter two were more red herrings than anything else, though I suspect Miller would be a top contender if Ohio State was postseason eligible.

That note on Miller is the perfect summation of why Manziel's Heisman campaign is an uphill climb. For better or worse (and I vote worse), Heisman voters really care a lot whether a player's team is in the national championship race or not. They've awarded the statuette to guys on teams out of the race recently, with Tim Tebow in 2007 and Robert Griffin III last year, but the national championship game participants did not have singular superstars on offense those years. Klein has the big advantage there.

Plus while a sophomore won the Heisman three straight years from 2007-09, seniority counts. Klein, being a senior, has that big advantage over Manziel too. Johnny Football has been in school the same amount of time that Tebow and Mark Ingram had been when they took home their awards, but it doesn't matter. The "FR" by his name is still a big obstacle.

Of course, Manziel does have a couple of things going for him. He was spectacular in knocking off the No. 1 team, and Alabama was more of an entrenched No. 1 than we usually have. He shredded a Nick Saban defense, for heaven's sake. That doesn't often happen. Plus, the stats above are what I think are the most fair for comparison, but they're not what most people use. Looking just at raw stats, Manziel is second nationally in total yardage. To date, he has accounted for over 1,000 more total yards than Klein has. His per game averages in passing yards and rushing yards are both ahead of Klein's. He runs a lot more plays per game due to Kevin Sumlin's uptempo style, and so he benefits in standard comparisons as a result.

Perhaps what will hold Manziel back the most is that his season is done as far as marquee opponents go. A&M has Sam Houston State and the disappointing Missouri left to go. Kansas State has Baylor, who plays no defense whatsoever, and then what is likely to be a nine-win Texas team that can't defend the run on December 1. Klein will rack up big numbers in those games most likely, and the games will feel big thanks to their national title implications. The fact that Klein gets to play a week later than Manziel should not be underestimated either. Any voters that don't turn in their ballots early will watch Klein play unopposed by Manziel on the critical last weekend.

Manziel is in the thick of the race, and a loss by Kansas State would help him out tremendously. Of course, there's still Kenjon Barner out there from Oregon who enjoys many of the same advantages that Klein does. It's not impossible for Johnny Football to become the first freshman to win the award, but I wouldn't bet on it right now.

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