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National Columnist

Hey Heisman voters, don't move goalposts on Johnny Manziel

There's an idea out there that's only a thought, nothing that has taken root and grown yet, but it's there. It's planted in the minds of Heisman voters. It's about Johnny Manziel and the 2013 Heisman Trophy -- the one up for grabs this season -- and it needs to be pulled from the ground like the weed that it is. It needs to be destroyed.

The idea, I mean.

And the idea is this: Heisman voters will, and even should, hold Manziel's infamous offseason against him.

That's the thought. That's the weed. And what this weed is not, I assure you, is a straw man. I read it in this story here that assumes "there will be a noticeable chunk of voters turned off based on his offseason of celebrity," and I heard an actual Heisman voter on ESPN Radio, Brad Edwards, tell Ryen Russillo this week that Manziel's offseason has been a repellant for voters. Factor in the ex-Heisman element -- past winners (and voters) Tim Brown and Ricky Williams weighing in on the Summer of Johnny -- and there appears to be the very real possibility that Manziel's Heisman odds are dimming.

Which, actually, they are. The online betting site Bovada recently handicapped the 2013 Heisman race and had Manziel at 15-to-1, putting him ninth in the field. Odds are tricky things that are meant to entice bettors, and Manziel's uncertain eligibility is a factor in those odds. But still, that's another example of the growing sentiment -- like a field of weeds! -- that Manziel's best and maybe only Heisman days are behind him.

And if he misses half the season because of those autograph allegations, that's the way it should be. But let's say Johnny Hancock misses the first two games, but returns for Alabama on Sept. 14 and the rest of the season. That would be 10 games before Heisman votes are due, 11 if Texas A&M reaches the SEC title game. You telling me Manziel couldn't prove he's the best player in America in 10 or 11 games? All but two of them against SEC defenses?

Are you telling me Manziel can't win the Heisman if he can't pad his stats against Rice and Sam Houston State?

Are you telling me that?

Don't tell me any of the other stuff, either, about what Manziel's hedonistic offseason should do to the mindset of Heisman voters, even if the Heisman's mission statement says the trophy "recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." That final word, integrity, is a killer. It can mean whatever the voter wants it to mean -- which means this: If the voter doesn't like the way Manziel partied like a rock star, that voter can hide behind the integrity clause and vote for someone else.

To me, "integrity" is a slippery slope that gives voters way too much leeway when in fact it ought to be pretty easily measured: Did the player have enough integrity to stay academically capable, legally available and NCAA eligible? Then he has enough integrity to win the Heisman.

Jadeveon Clowney could end this debate by himself, of course. Pretty sure the South Carolina defensive end is the best NFL prospect in the country, maybe the best NFL prospect in several years. Does that equate to being the country's best college football player? It could, yes. And if Clowney deserves to win the Heisman, more power to him. Or to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Alabama's AJ McCarron, Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Georgia's Aaron Murray. Lots of great players coming back to college football this season.

Manziel should have the same chance as all of them, but I'm telling you, this kudzu could spread. Edwards, the Heisman voter, was telling Russillo the other day that to get his vote, Manziel would have to put up similar numbers to last season -- and also have nobody else be in the same vicinity, candidate-wise.

The second part, I get. But the first part? Manziel would have to put up similar numbers to last season? Listen, only one player in college football history has had the numbers Manziel put up last season, and that player's name is Johnny Manziel. To say, "Do it again, or else," is absurd.

Remember in 2010 when Cam Newton posted video-game numbers by passing for 2,854 yards and rushing for 1,473? That gave him an SEC record 4,327 yards of total offense.

Manziel broke that record by damn near a thousand yards.

He threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns, rushed for 1,410 yards and 21 TDs, and became the first player in NCAA history to surpass 5,000 yards of offense and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. He also was the first player at the FBS level to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in a game three different times in his career. And he did that over the course of six weeks.

But that's where the bar is? Do it again, you partying rapscallion, or forget winning the Heisman?

Please. This is stupid, and if anyone has the credibility to say it's stupid, it's me. For one, I'm stupid. For another, I dislike who Manziel has shown himself to be, off the field, as much as anyone. Even wrote as much right here, where I pointed out that there are two versions of this Johnny Manziel person: There's the guy we see in games. And there's the guy we see everywhere else.

And only one of them should be judged by Heisman voters.

 
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