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How 2012 Heisman Trophy Voting Will Change the Face of the Award Forever

Dec 8, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel kisses the 2012 Heisman Trophy after a press conference at the Marriott Marquis in downtown New York City.  Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
Adam KramerNational College Football Lead WriterDecember 8, 2012

“Whoever wins, there’s going to be history on every front.”

ESPN’s Chris Fowler—your GameDay skipper and Heisman emcee—shared those words with the audience shortly after the coverage kicked in. Fifty-two minutes of awkward interviews, video highlights you’ve already seen and plenty of “Oh, he put on a lot of weight” moments gave way to eight minutes of Heisman news.

In those final eight minutes on Saturday night, we learned that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel had won the Heisman. This was not a surprise, not by any means, and the week lacked suspense overall.

Manziel was actually a 1/25 favorite to win the award (bet $25 to win $1) on the online sportsbook Bovada.lv when the ceremony began—yes, you can bet on such events—and the experts were absolutely spot on here. His 3,419 yards passing yards, 1,181 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns proved to be enough to impress those holding a ballot.

It wasn’t a blowout, but Manziel’s 2,029 points bested Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second with 1,706 points overall. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein—the third finalist in New York City—finished with 894 points. In terms of first-place votes, Manziel finished with 474 overall, topping Te’o’s 321 and Klein’s 60.

It played to form, although the results and potential impacting events are far from it. Manziel is the first freshman to ever win the Heisman, which could bring about a welcomed revolution.

History was made, just like it always is when it comes to a new Heisman winner, but this is something grander in scale. An award so rich in tradition—to a frustrating degree, really—has suddenly been turned on its side. The game has changed. 

There are voters out there who left Manziel off their ballot simply because of his age. This is nothing new, and it’s plagued the younger players trying their luck at this giant hunk of bronze forever. A freshman can’t win the Heisman; forget about the numbers, record and prerequisites.

Former Oklahoma running back and current NFL juggernaut Adrian Peterson knows this routine well. His superb season as a freshman in 2004, a year where he ran for 1,925 yards and basically rewrote the freshman-running-back record book, was good for a second-place finish in the Heisman.

USC quarterback Matt Leinart took home the hardware that season, and the dinosaur voters prevailed. Now, “dinosaur” doesn’t necessarily have to reflect the age of some of these voters—although in some instances, it certainly does apply—but more of a mindset. An incorrect, ancient mindset that appears to be under attack.

In fact, those fighting this change might as well wave the white flag. Change is here.

Johnny Manziel’s superb season signifies a new era in college football. We’re in an offensive era, and terms like “tempo,” “system” and “spread” are no longer used for the gimmick teams. Freshman no longer wait their turn, and elite talents will hit the field early whether they're ready or not.

“Traditional” college football is much harder to come by, and it’s rare to see an offense that still mirrors the classic pro-style attacks you grew up watching. This, of course, is unfortunate news for Nick Saban, who likes the game just how it is, thank you very much.

The Heisman results from this year reflect just that, and it’s not just Johnny Football shattering these barriers. Manti Te’o’s second-place finish will go a long way in showcasing pure defensive players for this award. 

The term “pure” applies to those players who won’t catch passes on offense or have a role returning kicks or punts on special teams. It’s been nearly impossible for them to get true momentum when it comes to winning the award because oftentimes, the stat sheet can’t be filled enough.

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh saw this scenario unfold in 2009, and his fourth-place finish in the Heisman showcased just that. Suh had one of the greatest defensive seasons I have ever witnessed, and he would’ve gotten my vote, for what it’s worth.

Te’o, however, has pushed the defensive players a step closer to the forefront. 

Te'o had the second-most first-place votes for a Heisman runner up.

— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) December 9, 2012

 

His 321 first-place votes are the second most when it comes to runners-up, which says a lot about his season and perhaps how we should view and value the nation’s premier defensive players in terms of the Heisman.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finished sixth in the Heisman this year, by the way. Perhaps he’s the next defensive player in the line to not just contend for this award, but be given podium honors as well. After watching him the past few seasons, I wouldn’t doubt it.

Whoever wins, and we have a full offseason to analyze the Heisman landscape going forward, things will be different. Our outlook on this award will never be the same thanks to Johnny Manziel’s conquest and Manti Te’o’s impressive second-place showing.

And although it was an uneventful evening on the Heisman front, the history made is perhaps just a part of history in the making. 

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