2012 Heisman watch: Johnny Manziel projected to make history

Scott Halleran

Although the official announcement won't come until Saturday night, Johnny Manziel is projected to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Johnny Manziel, Manti Te'o, and Collin Klein will descend on the New York Marriott Marquis Saturday night for the 78th Heisman Trophy ceremony. While the build-up and hype characterize a toss-up between Manziel and Te'o, the freshman quarterback from Texas A&M is projected to win the vote in convincing fashion. Te'o is said to be the closest competitor for college football's most prestigious award, but most projections have Manziel making history and becoming the first freshman to capture the Heisman.

The straw poll designed by Chis Huston of Heisman Pundit and CBSSports.com produced a comfortable win for Manziel. The folks at StiffArmTrophy.com, who work to collect votes that have been informally revealed or published, are also calling it for Manziel, who's dominating the early returns. And then there are the odds makers who have Manziel as a 1/12 favorite (with Te'o at 3/1).

Manziel burst onto the scene in the Aggies' inaugural season in the SEC, finishing with 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air and 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. The diminutive "Johnny Football" was a perfect match for Kevin Sumlin's offense, and the redshirt freshman broke the SEC total offense record on the way to a 10-2 season. Sumlin does not permit freshman to talk to the media, so off-the-field, Manziel was quiet and in the background throughout the fall. Of course on the field, he tore through SEC defenses, including a captivating performance in the upset win over Alabama that pushed his national profile to the next level and began the Heisman campaign in earnest. With the season over, Sumlin relaxed that rule and Manziel has done some interviews in the build-up to what looks to be a history-making Saturday night in New York.

A win for Te'o would also make history, as no purely defensive player has ever won the award. The senior from Hawaii was the unquestioned leader of an undefeated Notre Dame team that will play for the national title in January. He had 103 total tackles and 1.5 sacks for one of the nation's elite defenses, a unit most responsible for the Fighting Irish's remarkable season. Te'o has been the big winner in the round of awards preceding the Heisman, already claiming the Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi, Camp, Bednarik, and Maxwell awards. That impressive sweep has some thinking Te'o could be the upset winner of the big prize on Saturday, but the early returns and projections say otherwise.

With three weeks remaining in the season, Klein was thought to be the frontrunner for the Heisman. But then No. 1 Kansas State was blown out by Baylor, and his candidacy took a big hit. With that loss coming just one week after Manziel's performance in Tuscaloosa, the A&M quarterback gained all the momentum in the season's final stretch. Bill Snyder's team went on an incredible run in 2012, and Klein was largely responsible for their 11-1 record. The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year finished with 2,490 passing yards and 15 touchdowns and added 890 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. At 25/1, Klein has the longest odds among the three finalists.

Manziel, on the other hand, appears poised to become the first ever freshman and just the second Texas A&M player to win the Heisman. The official announcement will be made a little before 9 p.m. Saturday night on ESPN.

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