|The Heisman pose seems to come naturally to Johnny Manziel (US Presswire)|
Rules are made to be broken.
That's the moral of this year's Heisman race.
For 78 years we've seen clear patterns of behavior develop among the voters who select the annual winner of the prestigious trophy. One of the tried and true notions is that there remains a deeply ingrained bias against freshmen players.
Yet, this year might see that bias swept away -- Temporarily? Permanently? We don't know -- by a combination of two things: (1) The remarkable season produced by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and (2) The dearth of viable alternatives to his candidacy.
Mind you, I think that voters would still prefer not to vote for a freshman, but as I explain here, they may have no choice in the matter.
This takes nothing away from the accomplishments of the amazing Johnny Football, who has thrown for 3,047 yards and 21 touchdowns (with 7 interceptions) and rushed for 1,014 yards and 17 scores while leading the Aggies to the brink of their first double-digit-win season since 1998.
But stumbles by Matt Barkley, Montee Ball, Geno Smith, Collin Klein and a host of better-known contenders paved the way for Manziel -- perhaps the game's most intriguing freshman since Herschel Walker -- to steal the spotlight.
As a result, this race enters uncharted waters. Manziel is now the favorite in this Heisman race, the favorite to make history, the favorite to accomplish something that's never been done.
He must successfully close out his season by beating Missouri on Saturday and then hold on for one more week while other candidates get their licks in against more high-profile competition.
But those other candidates are now chasing him. Something big must happen to derail this even bigger thing from taking place.
Time for this week's Heisman Watch.
Remember that the goal of this Watch is not just to track who is playing well from week to week. This is not a college football version of Kasey Casem's Top 40. The goal here is to figure out who will ultimately win the trophy. We take a long view of the race, factoring in not only individual performance but also schedule, team success and the historical voting trends of the Heisman electorate.
These are the players who currently stand the best chance of actually winning the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
Keep in mind that some players not listed here will undoubtedly finish in the top 10 of the final Heisman voting. That's all well and good, but this Watch does not exist to gauge their prospects.
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- The big question remains: Will his remarkable 3,000/1,000 season and upset win over Alabama be enough to overcome his freshman status and his team's two losses? Right now, it's looking like it'll be enough to carry him through, especially with most of his competition falling by the wayside in the past couple weeks. If he finishes strong against Missouri, it's going to be awfully tough to stop him from becoming his school's first Heisman winner since John David Crow in 1957.
2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State -- It's tempting to count Klein out of the race following his perfomance in K-State's rout at the hands of a mediocre Baylor team. But if Klein can bounce back in a big way against Texas two Saturdays from now and remind voters why he was at the top of their ballots for so long, then he's got a chance to squeeze out a narrow victory. Klein's Heisman hopes were so intricately tied to the narrative of his team making an unlikely march to the BCS title game that a lot of the air has been let out of his candidacy as a result of the loss to Baylor. But while no one expected the Wildcats to go 12-0, they weren't expected to go 11-1 either. Voters still might see that as a worthy accomplishment and reward him accordingly.
Others to watch: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame; Marqise Lee, USC; Braxton Miller, Ohio State