Johnny Manziel Shows Why Johnny Manziel Won't Win the Heisman

Mike Stobe

Recent events probably have disqualified Johnny Manziel from repeating as Heisman winner. He probably wouldn't have won it anyway.

Johnny Manziel won't win the Heisman Trophy again.

For one thing, there has only been one repeat winner. The weight of history goes against him on that alone. Furthermore, there will be a noticeable chunk of voters turned off to him based on his offseason of celebrity, even though that has nothing to do with his play on the field. He also could easily miss some time in the early season if the NCAA doesn't formally clear him in the autographs controversy, and with as stat-driven as the award has become, he probably can't miss a game or two's worth of production and still repeat.

Putting all of that aside, Manziel's win last year exemplifies why he's not going to win it again.

The explosion of media coverage and attention has altered the dynamic of the most famous individual award in sports. Novelty has become a characteristic of award winners in recent years. Troy Smith in 2006 was the last time one of the heavy preseason favorites won the trophy, and Reggie Bush the year before was the last time the single consensus favorite got it.

To demonstrate this trend, I looked at Heisman winners since 1974. I then looked at the combined number of rushes, passes, and receptions they had before the season in which they won the Heisman. I eliminated the receivers and Charles Woodson because the award is mostly a quarterback and running back award, and their numbers are out of line with the rest. They're the exceptions.

Here is how the trend looks through that span:


Click here to see chart. The red line is the five-year moving average.

For a while, there was a mix of experienced and not-so-experienced winners. Starting with Danny Wuerffel in 1996 and ending with Carson Palmer in 2002, there was a run of very well established players who had a lot of snaps under their belts before winning the award. Palmer's 1,253 plays (mostly passes) are the tops of anyone on this list. From '74 to '02, the average pre-Heisman campaign touches for quarterbacks and running backs was 606, and the median was 551. Only three players from those positions won the thing with under 300 rushes, passes, and/or receptions to their name.

Jason White in 2003 is where the trend really turned. He only had 149 passes and 59 runs before his award-winning season. Smith in '06 barely made it above the prior era's median with 580 plays, and even Bush only had 292 prior to winning his award.

In 2007 Tim Tebow broke the underclassman barrier, leading to three consecutive sophomores winning the statuette. Tebow, of course, was well-known thanks to his supporting role on the 2006 national champion, but he still hadn't started a game before his winning season. Sam Bradford barely, if at all, received serious Heisman consideration before the season. Mark Ingram in 2009 came from nowhere in a Heisman context, as he didn't appear on any preseason watch lists. And if Ingram came from nowhere, Cam Newton really came from nowhere the next year with just 21 rushes and 10 passes of garbage time on his ledger.

The giant spike in 2011 is Robert Griffin, the exception that proves the rule. He had the second-most touches on this list with 1,141, but he did it in relative obscurity at Baylor. He didn't gain any fame outside of the real football hard cores until late in his junior year. He made Heisman Pundit's unordered list of 22 players to watch for 2011, but he wasn't high on ESPN's preseason list and didn't appear on Sports Illustrated's list at all. Despite all of those plays to his name, not many people watched Baylor prior to 2011. He still had an air of freshness to him.

That brings us to Manziel in 2012. He didn't nail down the starting job until fall camp. Though Newton came close, Johnny Football has the only actual goose egg on the list. If it wasn't clear before, being a hot new face matters a lot to Heisman voters these days. He's the epitome of the new trend of Heisman winners being less well known than ever, and about the only way anyone can surpass him in that regard is if a backup takes over for a starter in Game 1 and then goes on to win the award.

From White's win through Manziel's, the average combined rushes, passes, and receptions before players' award-winning seasons was 333 with a median of 250. The average is just over half of the prior average, and the median is just under half of the old median. Whereas three of the previous 25 quarterback/running back winners had fewer than 300 stat-generating plays to their name, six of the last ten have had fewer than 300. Two of the last three players had basically or literally no game experience before their Heisman seasons.

Manziel is no longer an exciting new name. He's old hat. He's yesterday's news. If he plays, he'll probably put up another brilliant season with spectacular numbers. However thanks to his great play last year, those numbers probably won't surpass his past work by much if they do at all. It will be very difficult for him to captivate the nation when it's already tired of hearing about him. He also now has a combined 635 rushes and passes, a number that exceeds all but Griffin's tally among the pre-Heisman marks of winners 2003-present.

No one exemplifies Manziel's hopeless Heisman repeat chances than Manziel himself. He'll probably get an invitation to New York if he plays the year and Texas A&M has a good season, but don't count on him winning the award again.

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