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Senior College Football Columnist

Heisman Ballot: Secret's out -- another vote for Johnny Football

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If this is my final Heisman ballot, I go out with my head held high.

The Heisman Trust has been urging voters since August to keep our ballots secret. The implication is that we will lose our votes if we make them public. That is a radical change in procedure and tradition.

It is also, of course, absurd. Heisman speculation is part of the process. No, it's part of college football tradition.

I write this column each year explaining who I voted for and why. No one gets hurt. Ratings don't slide. It is a conversation piece, probably nothing more. College athletics needs more transparency, not less. In a world where the NCAA conducts clandestine investigations, voting coaches are allowed to rig the BCS and Heisman folks themselves aren't sure who they're awarding (see: Reggie Bush) it's time to take a stand.

I refuse to hide my ballot so a television show may be programmed. That's what this is about, isn't it? I refuse to help hype the Heisman broadcast by keeping some small bit of mystery intact. Yes, there's that. We usually know way in advance who is going to win because of various straw polls and analysts.

Thank goodness for HeismanPundit.com.

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So why in the name of Beano Cook should we keep our ballots secret? When the Heisman favorite hasn't been allowed to talk for most of the season, something is wrong. When locker rooms across the country are closed to the media, something is wrong. This is part of the student-athlete experience denied to these kids. They're trusted with game plans playing in the most hostile stadiums in the country but they can't answer simple how-does-it-feel questions?

Shameful. We, the media, aren't the problem. A culture of secrecy is the problem. Football is king and if simple transparency gets in the way, it is road kill on the way to a conference or national championship. Schools don't realize that media coverage promotes their product. The Heisman Trust should realize season-long speculation promotes their product too.

Instead, the most pristine, respected award in this country is taking a step behind a curtain to conduct its business. Trust us, they say. Sorry, that one hasn't made sense since Watergate.

The public wants more information, not less. It's why we care that a college football playoff may be worth north of $600 million per year. Thank goodness we have only one more season of the coaches hiding all but their final ballots in the coaches poll. That won't change the fact that the NCAA is fighting to seal documents that could damage the credibility of its enforcement process.

The biggest story of the season is arguably the Big Ten's secret dealings with Maryland and Rutgers. Wonder how the ACC and Big East felt about that? Which conference is next to be ripped asunder?

Secrecy is good for national security. It's terrible for promoting college football, naming the nation's best player and hyping a television broadcast.

If my ballot is taken away, I suspect I will not be alone. The Heisman won't miss me, but it will miss some big-name media members who give the Heisman process a lot of credibility.

I love the Heisman ceremony, process and season-long buildup because I love college football. The Trust has to decide whether it wants to take some of that love away.

My Heisman ballot ...

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: I keep hearing from critics about Johnny Football's inconsistency.

What? He is this year's Cam Newton because he has legs, he creates plays and -- oh yeah -- he beat Cammy Cam Cam's SEC total offense record. Have we lost our minds? Two years ago, despite all the controversy, Newton was still being called one of the best players of all time.

Manziel. Beat. Newton's. Numbers. As a redshirt freshman. Johnny Football also broke the SEC's 43-year-old single-game total offense record. Twice. His only losses are by a total of eight points to two top-10 teams (LSU, Florida).

This is Johnny Football's world and we're only living in it. The first redshirt freshman in history wins the Heisman. By a landslide.

2. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame: The Heisman could use a good spit shine. Teo is the polish.

In the past three years, Bush has had to give his trophy back, allegations followed Newton to the podium and the Heisman Trust invited a finalist who had been suspended for a game for alleged synthetic marijuana use (Tyrann Mathieu).

Let's just say they're not going to be embarrassed if the first defensive player in 15 years wins the award. Te'o could be all our sons. He will go down as one of the most-loved favorite sons in Notre Dame history.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: His story is incredible. His impact was the difference in the Big 12 title (shared with Oklahoma), K-State's third such title in 99 years.

CKMVP made the quarterback power and quarterback draw the staple for Bill Snyder's offense. Defenses knew it was coming and they still couldn't stop it. If there was an award for total hits absorbed, Klein would win it in a runaway. All of it added to Snyder's legend and Kansas State's excellence. The isolated school two hours west of Kansas City is a Top 25 power under Snyder. It isn't ending anytime soon.

Can't wait to see Klein's replacement, Daniel Sams. He's actually more athletic than the Heisman finalist ahead of him.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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