MIAMI (Reuters) - Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is in line to become the first ‘freshman’ winner of the Heisman Trophy when the annual award for the top player in college football is made on Saturday.
Manziel, nicknamed “Johnny Football”, is one of three players to be invited to Saturday’s ceremony, along with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te‘o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.
Wednesday’s final installment of the Scripps Heisman Poll, which has accurately indicated the winner for 21 off the past 25 years, placed Manziel in the top spot.
The trophy was won last year by Robert Griffin III, who went on to be taken as the number two pick in the 2012 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins.
The previous year’s winner Cam Newton, another quarterback, was taken as the number one overall pick by the Carolina Panthers and enjoyed a hugely successful rookie year in the NFL.
Up until Florida quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman in 2007, no sophomore had won the award but Manziel could go one better if he wins after his first season.
The Texan finished the regular season with 3,419 passing yards and 1,181 rushing yards to set a new total offense record for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) of 4,600 yards in 12 games.
Manziel also broke the record for total offense in a game, originally set by Archie Mannning, father of Peyton and Eli, back in 1969, when he accumulated 557 yards against Arkansas and he then bettered it with 567 yards against Louisiana Tech.
“It’s so surreal for me to be even be able to be mentioned for the Heisman Trophy,” Manziel said recently when asked about the award.
Manziel sat out football (redshirted) for his first year at college as the ‘Aggies’ already had Ryan Tannehill, now the starting quarterback with the Miami Dolphins.
While there is some debate over whether a redshirt freshman should be given the award, Tannehill believes Manziel has proven his worth.
“Look at the numbers. The numbers he has put up are outstanding. He’s surpassed Cam Newton and Tim Tebow who both won the Heisman in the years that they set the SEC record for yards in a season,” he said.
“Plus the fact of the game changing players he can make. He went to Alabama when they were ranked number one and had an upset victory there,” added Tannehill.
The biggest threat to Manziel comes from Te‘o who has been outstanding for Notre Dame as they enjoyed a 12-0 record and moved to number one in the nation, earning a shot at the title against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Miami on January 7.
Hawaiian Te‘o made 52 solo tackles and assisted on a further 51 in his senior year and he has a total of 427 total tackles from his four year collegiate career.
Unlike Manziel, who has at least one more year left before he can enter the draft and will likely wait more, Te‘o is expected to be a first round pick in the 2013 class.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury