Johnny Manziel has essentially clinched the Heisman
The race for the 2012 Heisman Trophy has reached the moment of truth.
Anyone still entertaining notions of Heisman dark horses or late-breaking runs at the trophy is merely trolling for internet traffic at this point.
The race is over and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is going to win.
Yes, he is a freshman. Yes, he is still going to win.
Maybe we shouldn't think twice about how radical this concept is on the surface. After all, college football is in an era of tumult, with conference realignment and the pending playoff changing the way we think about the game. Old traditions are being thrown out the window and the information age has given us social media tools to cover it in real time. The news cycle last minutes these days, not hours.
So, in this brave new world, why not a freshman for Heisman?
Especially when that freshman has done the things that Manziel has done. In any given season, a player who runs and throws for a combined 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns while leading his team to a 10-2 record in a major conference should win the Heisman, shouldn't he?
Of course it all depends on the circumstances. And Manziel is fortunate that the field arrayed against him this season couldn't come through. Well-known players like Matt Barkley, Montee Ball, Denard Robinson, Landry Jones and others never captured the imagination of the Heisman electorate. Upstarts like Geno Smith and Collin Klein couldn't sustain themselves under the glare of the spotlight.
And so, a little-known first-year player from a small town in Texas has risen to the occasion, gaining notoriety by knocking off No. 1 Alabama and piling up record stats in the nation's premier conference. That he's been unavailable to media for the entire season makes his ascension to the top of the Heisman race all the more crazy.
But make no mistake. This is happening.
Time will tell what impact this will have on Manziel's career going forward. The inclination by many will be to predict more Heismans for him in the future. He'll have to deal with those lofty expectations and the resulting backlash that will arise when or if he never wins another. Many will say that he peaked early and try to denigrate him for that.
What they'll forget is that it's a remarkable accomplishment to win a Heisman even once. Forget that he's a freshman for a moment. A lot of things have to go right to win it even as a fifth-year senior.
The Heisman winner is almost always the player who best captures the spirit of a particular season. Based on how 2012 has gone so far, it shouldn't be that shocking that Manziel is poised to become the first freshman to take home the trophy.
Normally, this Heisman Watch would list the players with the best chance of winning. Since we've already called the race for Manziel, we'll just list the order of how we think the vote will wind up.
1. Johnny Manziel
2. Manti Te'o
3. Collin Klein
4. Braxton Miller
5. Marqise Lee
6. AJ McCarron
7. Kenjon Barner
8. Marcus Mariota
9. Montee Ball
10. Jadeveon Clowney