Heisman Hopefuls - NBC Sports

Heisman Hopefuls
December 4, 2012, 1:12 am

Previous ranking: 1

2011 Heisman voting: Not in Top 10.

2012 stats: 12 games, 273 of 400 passing, 3,419 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs; 184 rushes, 1,181 yards, 19 TDs.

Last game (59-29 victory vs. Missouri, 11/24): Manziel put the finishing touches on what should be a historic Heisman victory.

He completed 32-of-44 passes for 372 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. He also ran it 12 times for 67 yards and two more scores.

The only drama in this one was when Manziel went to the turf clutching his knee after he was tackled on a run late in the first quarter. But Johnny Football returned four plays later with a knee brace and went on to dominate the game and add to his legend.

Season recap: Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III each came from out of nowhere to win the Heisman the past two years, but Manziel came from left of left field. Nobody had him on their preseason Heisman Watch list, and there was no reason to. He did not play a snap last season on a team that was under a new head coach in Kevin Sumlin who had just moved into the toughest conference in the country.

But this was a perfect Heisman storm. As favorite after favorite fell by the wayside, A&M found copious amounts of unexpected success and Manziel led an 11th-week upset of No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He finished with 4,600 yards of total offense to set a SEC record, eclipsing the numbers of former Heisman winners Tim Tebow (2007) and Newton (2010) during Saturday's win. Saturday also marked the sixth time this season Manziel had at least two rushing and two passing TDs in a game, tying Tebow for the most such games since 2000. No other FBS quarterback has done it more than three times this season.

Leading A&M to its first 10-win season since 1998, collecting a truckload of records and playing the game's most prominent position with great flair should make Manziel the first freshman to win the Heisman in the 78-year history of the award.

Bowl game: No. 10 Texas A&M will play in the Cotton Bowl against No. 12 Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 4.

Next season: Manziel will clearly be a marked man and be besieged by questions if he can become only the second player to be a repeat Heisman winner. That will already make the season much harder. He will have 13 starters back, a non-taxing nonconference schedule and just one major road test at LSU. The one sure thing is, like this season, he will be fun to watch.

2. Manti Te'o - Notre Dame, LB, Sr.

Previous ranking: 2

2011 Heisman voting: Not in Top 10.

2012 stats: 12 games, 103 tackles, 52 solo; 5.5 tackles for loss, 7 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, 6 passes defensed, 4 quarterback hits, 2 fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks.

Last game (22-13 victory at USC, 11/24): Te'o led a defense that twice faced a first-and-goal from inside its own 5 in the fourth quarter with Notre Dame's national championship hopes hanging in the balance and each time the Irish held, limiting the Trojans to a total of three points.

It was a perfect microcosm of Notre Dame's season and the role the defense played in achieving a 12-0 record.

Te'o finished with 5 tackles and his seventh interception of the season.

Season recap: For an award that has been vastly dominated by offensive players, Te'o was on the outside looking in to start. But he was the emotional and spiritual leader on a defense that finished sixth in the country and was the reason Notre Dame finished the regular season unbeaten. By recording over 100 tackles for the third straight year, Te'o played his way into the race. There is little doubt Notre Dame's high-profile assisted his Heisman hopes, but there is also no doubt he earned his spot as a Heisman finalist.

Bowl game: Notre Dame will play in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 in Miami against Alabama.

Next season: Barring anything unforeseen, Te'o should be a first-round pick in next April's NFL Draft. Inside linebacker is not considered a glamour position in the NFL, but Te'o has shown he has the ability to be on the field for all three downs and is capable in pass coverage. He will be a valuable addition to a team, quite possibly in the top 10 of the draft.

3. Collin Klein - Kansas St., QB, Sr.

Previous ranking: 3

2011 Heisman voting: Not in top 10.

2012 stats: 12 games, 180 of 272 passing, 2,490 yards, 15 TDs, 7 INTs; 194 rushes, 890 yards, 22 TDs.

Last game (42-24 victory vs. Texas, 12/1): Klein had the Heisman stage all to himself and put on a solid performance. But everyone understood he needed to be otherworldly to have a chance to steal the statue.

Nonetheless he completed 8-of-14 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown and ran it 23 times for 103 yards and two more scores. A fitting end to a memorable senior season.

Season recap: Klein was the Heisman frontrunner for much of the season, and it was a season to remember. He led the Wildcats to just their third conference championship in 117 years of football, the 12 wins matched a team season record and also tied Oklahoma's Big 12 mark and he finished with 37 total touchdowns But timing was his biggest liability. He had a season-low 39 yards rushing and a season-high 3 interceptions in a Nov. 17 loss at Baylor which, at the time, had the worst-ranked defense in the country. In a fickle and fluid Heisman race, it proved to be too much for him to overcome.

Bowl game: No. 7 Kansas State will play in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 5 Oregon in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 3.

Next season: Klein does not have the preferred throwing motion that NFL teams crave, so his future as a quarterback in the NFL is uncertain. But there is little doubt he can play football and should be an asset on somebody's NFL roster.