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The Final Heisman Watch of 2012

By Chris Huston | College Football Writer
Johnny Manziel will be presented the Heisman next Saturday (US Presswire)

All the games have been played.

That means the outcome of the race for the 2012 Heisman Trophy is now in the hands of the voters.

All ballots must be in by 5 p.m. ET on Monday. One hour after that deadline passes, the Heisman Trust will announce the 2012 Heisman finalists.

If recent history is any guide, as much as 80 percent or more of the Heisman electorate waited until Saturday's games were completed before making their selections.

It certainly has been a roller-coaster ride.

USC's Matt Barkley entered the season as the player with the best chance of winning the trophy. But his hopes died in Palo Alto as Stanford upset the No. 1 Trojans and tore away the compelling narrative underpinning Barkley's candidacy.

Wisconsin's Montee Ball, last year's fourth-place finisher, got off to a rough start to the season and was out of contention by the end of September.

Michigan's Denard Robinson met the cold, hard reality of the Alabama defense and never gained traction in the race. Neither did the wildly inconsistent Landry Jones of Oklahoma.

Two players started out as mid-level candidates but exited the season's first month as unlikely leaders in the quest for the trophy. West Virginia's Geno Smith threw 25 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his team's first six games and surged to the top of the pack. But the Mountaineers collapsed, and so did Smith's candidacy as his numbers fell back to earth.

Stepping into the void was Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and, for a while, it looked like he would bulldoze his way to the Heisman. But, for the second year in a row, Baylor had an impact on the final outcome, destroying Klein's chances by whipping the Wildcats in the season's 12th week.

With so many established candidates swept away, voters turned in a radically different direction.

Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel first pinged on the radar after a wild Saturday night game against Louisiana Tech in mid-October. The quarterback threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns as the Aggies won in dramatic fashion, 59-57. His SEC-record 576 yards of total offense came just a couple weeks after he went for 557 yards against Arkansas.

As a result, the concept of Manziel as a Heisman candidate started to take root. But while Manziel had the nickname (Johnny Football), the production and the exciting style of play, he had yet to put it all together against a high-level foe. A rough outing against then-No. 6 LSU seemed to put an end to his hopes, especially with Klein taking control of the race and the emergence of more palatable contenders like Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and USC's Marqise Lee.

But everything changed starting Nov. 10.

No. 1 Alabama, the elusive White Whale no one seemed able to kill, was finally harpooned by the Aggie Ahab. Manziel threw for 253 and two touchdowns and ran for 92 yards, at times making the vaunted Tide defense look silly, as Texas A&M beat Bama in Tuscaloosa, 29-24. Suddenly, the very impressive numbers put up by Manziel had context. If he could do that against Alabama, he could do it against any team.

One week later, Kansas State fell to Baylor. That left Manziel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as the only remaining viable alternatives.

Voters would prefer not to choose a freshman. After all, a freshman has never won the Heisman in the 78 years of the award. But given the choice between an electrifying freshman who has led his team to a 10-2 record while beating the No. 1 team and setting the SEC total offense record in the process and a defensive player on the No. 1 team whose value and impact is much harder to quantify, the voters will go with the record-setting, crazy-legged freshman with the catchy nickname every time.

And that's where we are now. Here's how the race should end up:

The Winner

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- He's about to become the first freshman to win the Heisman, a truly remarkable accomplishment. His 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns, combined with his landmark upset of Alabama, a whirling-dervish style of play and A&M's best record since 1998 are what put him over the top.

The Rest

2. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame -- He made a good run at it, but Te'o is set to join Hugh Green of Pittsburgh in 1980 as the highest-finishing pure defender in Heisman history. His 103 tackles and seven interceptions are impressive but not enough to overcome the record-setting numbers put up by Manziel.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State -- If not for the debacle against Baylor, he'd be entering the ceremony as the favorite. Kansas State needed every one of his 2,490 passing yards, 890 rushing yards and combined 37 touchdowns to win the Big 12 title for the first time since 2003.

4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State -- He led the Buckeyes to an undefeated season, setting himself up to perhaps be the Heisman front-runner for 2013. If Ohio State was not on probation, he might've been able to make more of a case for himself by playing in the Big Ten title game.

5. Marqise Lee, WR, USC -- The probable winner of the Biletnikoff Award proved to be one of the best all-purpose players in the country and was the bright spot for an otherwise disappointing team.

6. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon -- He rushed for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns and, if not for a late-season slump and a loss to Stanford, he might've been a Heisman finalist.

7. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama -- The nation's pass efficiency leader has the Tide on the brink of its second straight national title. More than a few voters will take notice.

8. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois -- He set the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback and led the nation with 4,733 yards of total offense (to go with 43 touchdowns). Truly a remarkable player who should be more of a factor in next year's race.

9. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- The future NFL top pick tied for the lead nationally in sacks (13) and was second in tackles for loss (21.5).

10. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia -- The one-time Heisman leader still finished with a pretty good season, throwing a nation-best 40 touchdown passes against just six interceptions.

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