LITTLE ROCK — Seven-digit password and secret ballot number in hand, this Heisman Trophy voter is undecided and admittedly biased.
The list of viable candidates is down to three and only Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is still on the campaign trail. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o made their final, impressive push for votes on Saturday. Both have baggage that is no fault of their own — Manziel because he is a freshman and Te’o because he does not play offense.
Overwhelmingly behind Cam Newton in 2010 and solidly in Robert Griffin III’s corner last year, the Heisman electorate is splintered with a higher-than-normal undecided percentage less than a week from election day.
The voters’ focus narrowed when fringe candidates Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Marqise Lee of Southern Cal were blah — politicians do blah-blah-blah — in their final push for votes. Boyd completed less than 50 percent and threw two interceptions in a loss to short-handed South Carolina and Lee managed only five catches for 75 yards in a loss to No. 1 Notre Dame.
Shaped by his performance against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, my concept of Klein was as a superior leader with average speed and average arm. Despite that, he was so good during the Wildcats’ 10-0 start that he was my solid No. 1 until a 52-24 loss to Baylor.
That night, he threw three interceptions and barely averaged two yards per carry. At one point, he had four straight attempts in close and failed to score, a particularly damaging development considering Baylor had given up 35 or more in losing five of its previous six.
In Klein’s favor is that his finale is against a Texas team that is not adept at tackling.
Manziel, who burst onto the national scene when he rang up a tidy 557 yards total offense vs. Arkansas, has stats that should make him a shoo-in. Think Cam Newton and Tim Tebow and then know that Manziel is the first player in the history of the Southeastern Conference to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 yards in one season.
The only blip on his resume occurred when LSU refused to let him outside the pocket and he threw 56 times — a dozen more than in any other game. That day, his 17 carries netted only 27 yards and his completion percentage was 51.8.
The mobile quarterback has changed the game and Manziel did have two spring practices at College Station, but it never crossed my mind that he could put up Big 12-like numbers in the SEC.
Still, there is that freshman thing and Manziel will have other chances to win the Heisman over Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Notre Dame’s strong-armed Everett Colson, and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. Herschel Walker and Michael Vick finished third in the Heisman balloting as freshmen and Adrian Peterson was second in 2004. Each of those three played on unbeaten teams that competed in the national championship game and Notre Dame’s 12-0 could tip the scales to Te’o.
A senior, he has numbers, a touching human interest story, and the shillelagh-toting leprechaun on his side. The first Notre Dame player since Bob Crable to record 100 tackles in a season, Te’o’s grandmother and girlfriend died within a few hours of each other in September, but he never missed a practice. Adding to the lore, he supposedly told his teammates, “They’re not going to score,” on each of USC’S 10 snaps inside the Irish 5 and the Trojans did not get into the end zone.
A self-proclaimed independent voter, the check mark went to Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller and Democratic Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1968. With that pedigree, I could be convinced to vote for a linebacker or a freshman.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.