From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Johnny Manziel and Manti Te'o are in position to make Heisman Trophy history.Manziel, the redshirt freshman quarterback from Texas A&M, and Te'o, Notre Dame's star linebacker, along with Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, were invited Monday to attend the Heisman presentation ceremony.Manziel is the favorite to win college football's most famous player of the year award on Saturday night in Manhattan. He would be the first freshman to win the Heisman and the first Texas A&M player since halfback John David Crow won the school's only Heisman in 1957."I'm overwhelmed by this tremendous honor of representing Texas A&M, the 12th Man and all my teammates in New York," Manziel said in a statement. "This is a dream come true for me, and I know it's a credit to all my coaches and teammates. I definitely wouldn't be a Heisman finalist without my teammates and coaches."Three sophomores have won the award (Tim Tebow in 2007, Sam Bradford in 2008 and Mark Ingram in 2009), but the best a first-year player has ever done is second.Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma finished second to Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004. Peterson was a true freshman. As a redshirt freshman, Manziel attended A&M last year and practiced with the team but did not play.Michael Vick of Virginia Tech came in third in 1999 as a redshirt freshman and Herschel Walker was a true freshman for Georgia in 1980 when he finished third in the Heisman balloting.Nicknamed Johnny Football, Manziel quickly became a national sensation this season, putting up huge numbers in first-year Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's spread offense. He led the 10th-ranked Aggies to a 10-2 record in their first season in the Southeastern Conference.With a knack for improvisation, Manziel racked up an SEC-record 4,600 yards of total offense, including 1,181 rushing to lead the conference. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Manziel zoomed to the front of the Heisman race on Nov. 10, when he passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 92 yards as the Aggies upset then-No. 1 Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa.Manziel and Texas A&M will play No. 12 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.Te'o is trying to become the first defense-only player to win the Heisman. The Fighting Irish have seven Heisman winners, tied for the most with Ohio State and Southern California, but none since Tim Brown in 1987.Te'o became the face of the No. 1 team in the country and leader of a defense that has been the toughest to score upon in the nation. The senior intercepted seven passes, second-most in the country and tops for a linebacker. He also led the Fighting Irish with 103 tackles, and earlier Monday won the Butkus Award as country's best linebacker.Te'o and the Irish face No. 2 Alabama in the BCS championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami.Klein would be the first player from Kansas State to win the Heisman."I'm just honored with this opportunity that the Lord has provided me here at K-State," Klein said in a statement. "I'm so proud to represent K-State in this because I feel like my road is very synonymous and in line with the K-State way. It has been a process, it has been a journey. There have been a lot of ups and downs, as well as a lot of hard times and growing pains through it. I'm just very proud to represent the K-State family and our heart and spirit in this environment."He seemed to be the front-runner for several weeks until Manziel's late push. When Klein threw three interceptions in the Wildcats' late-season loss to Baylor, Manziel moved to the front of the race.Klein is a multitalented quarterback like Manziel, but with a different approach. The 6-5, 226-pound senior is a bullish runner who scored 22 touchdowns and threw for 15 more, while leading the seventh-ranked Wildcats (11-1) to the Big 12 title. Earlier in the day, Klein won the Johnny Unitas Award given to the top upperclassman quarterback in the nation.Klein will finish his Kansas State career against No. 5 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
“We’re a blue-collar team…”
Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers
“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”
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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.
“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”
“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”
The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.
“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”
“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.
Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.
“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”
The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro.
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What predictions did Tom E. Curran get right? What predictions did he get wrong? Find out in the preview/review of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Raiders