Heisman trophy Patrick Finley: Texas A&M's Manziel earns respect as frosh

2012-12-08T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:34:32Z Heisman trophy Patrick Finley: Texas A&M's Manziel earns respect as froshPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 08, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Johnny Manziel should win the Heisman Trophy today for a thousand reasons.

Individual performance? Texas A&M's quarterback racked up 4,600 total yards in his magical freshman year, topping Cam Newton's 2010 Heisman-winning totals in two fewer games.

Manziel's 383.3 total yards per game is more than 41 TEAMS can claim.

He threw for 3,419 yards and rushed for 1,181, the first freshman and the fifth player ever to top 3,000 and 1,000 in a season.

Team performance? He took the No. 10 Aggies (26-25 the previous four seasons) to a 10-2 record. Their losses came to Florida, which finished No. 4 in The Associated Press Poll, and LSU, which finished ninth.

Best win of the year? He's got that, too - a 29-24 victory against then-No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Do you know how many teams, since 2008, have won road games in Tuscaloosa?

Three: Auburn in 2010, LSU in 2011 and this year's Aggies.

The first two played for the national title. Auburn won it, and Newton took home the Heisman. LSU lost the title game, but claimed a Heisman finalist.

But what compels me the most about Manziel's case has nothing to do with his stats, or the fact he'd become the first freshman to win the 78-year-old award.

Or that he went the entire regular season without conducting an interview.

Or that his "Johnny Football" nickname is one of the all-time greats.

Or that - true story - he rescued a kitten in front of the Aggies' stadium.

Manziel is a transformative figure in college football - better than USC wideout Marqise Lee or undefeated Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, my second and third choices - because he managed to navigate the great storyline of his era: conference realignment.

In 12 games, Texas A&M acquired what no other league-jumping team has been able to earn: respect amongst its new peers.

For all the financial gains made by schools switching leagues, their on-field performance has been as ugly as the beach scene from "Saving Private Ryan."

The past two seasons, seven teams other than Texas A&M have moved to new Bowl Championship Series conferences: Nebraska, Colorado and Utah in 2011, and TCU, West Virginia, Missouri and Temple this season.

In their first seasons in their new leagues, they combined to go 43-43.

In conference play, their records were 23-37.

That 38 percent clip is bad enough to, over time, get every single one of their coaches fired.

Each was recruited to its new league because of its attractiveness. Yet only Nebraska hasn't been unequivocally overmatched.

The Cornhuskers were the only team with a winning first-year conference record, at 5-3 in 2011.

Nebraska boasted one more victory this season, then lost 70-31 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

(And the Badgers finished third in their own division!)

Utah and Colorado combined to win only one-quarter of 24 games in Year 2 of the Pac-12.

The Buffaloes fired their coach. Temple's coach took a new job. Missouri's offensive coordinator quit.

The Aggies, meanwhile, are whistling on their way to the Jan. 4 Cotton Bowl against 10-2 Oklahoma, the most compelling contest this side of the title game.

In the next two years, a whopping 12 teams - and growing - will join one of the six major BCS conferences.

Every single one will be praying for its own Johnny Football.

Ryan's top 3

• 1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

• 2. Marqise Lee, WR,USC

• 3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Pat's top 3

• 1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

• 2. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

• 3. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

Heisman Trophy

• When: 6 p.m. today

• TV: ESPN

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