How the Schedule Won Johnny Manziel the Heisman Trophy

By Curt Popejoy
Johnny Manziel
Spruce Durden-US Presswire

Last night, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. History was made in his selection. So, why am I so lukewarm about the whole thing? Maybe it was because this crop of athletes didn’t jump off the screen at me on Saturdays. Maybe it’s because none of them really had much in the way of personality or that larger than life persona that often accompanies a winner. Or maybe it’s because I have been so beaten over the head about these candidates I just can’t root for any of them. Or maybe it was because the rationale for their selection is so skewed it challenges my sensibilities.

And please understand that as I write this. Nothing I am going to discuss here is about being pro or con any of these candidates. I will not discuss statistics or team rankings. These are all very fluid and subjective numbers that a person can manipulate to serve their needs. Both sides just spew numbers and claim theirs are somehow more important. Whoopee.

I am paraphrasing the great Mark Twain; “there are liars, damn liars, and statistics”. All season we saw players fall in and out of contention based largely on numbers, but also based on WHEN they played good or WHEN they did not. I find this incredibly fascinating when you think about it. We all hammer the polls for doing this very thing with our favorite teams, but it’s acceptable here? Oh, and I am removing Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o for this little hypothetical because his team never lost and that is sort of what this is all about.

The timeline of candidates went something line this. In the preseason and the start of the season USC quarterback Matt Barkley was the guy. Team was ranked number 1 and he was the golden boy. But we soon found out, and by soon I mean September 15th that this team wasn’t as good as most thought and Barkley fell way off the Heisman map.

But there to take up the cause was West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.  And until mid-October he did a great job being the front runner, putting up video game type numbers. And then the Mountaineers fell to Earth and no one has seen Smith since.

At this point who was the Heisman leader was a cause for great speculation Manziel already had an ugly loss to Florida back in September but no one seemed to care, and he was gaining momentum. But Kansas State Quarterback Collin Klein was the golden boy. The Wildcats were undefeated and Klein was really taking control. There was literally no other candidate even close. Manziel fell back further as he lost in October on another very mediocre performance against LSU. Another important note; at this point in the season Barkley only had 1 loss but for whatever reason was still not back into the discussion.

So, from now until mid-November  all anyone wanted to talk about what Klein and what color tie he would wear when he accepted his award. Then on November 17th Klein losses to Baylor in a game that he struggled and doubts started to rise in pundits on Klein. 1 loss, 1 bad game.

It also hurt him that the week before Manziel went into Alabama and beat the Crimson Tide. While it’s debatable just how good a game he had, the fact remains that they won, and it propelled him to the top of everyone’s Heisman short list and the rest as they say, is history.

But was it really how Klein and Manziel played or when they played that really mattered? I would argue the latter. In fact, I would go so far as to say if you flipped the Florida and Alabama games for Manziel on the schedule, he’s not even a finalist. Likewise, you flip the Baylor and Oklahoma games around, Klein wins in a landslide. And I am not alone in this thinking. Last night as I listed to the radio broadcast of the Heisman, expert after expert pointed to the schedule as a major factor in what was ultimately Manziel’s win.

This is the sort of thing that continues to de-value the Heisman Trophy for me. I have no problem with Manziel or Klein winning or losing the award, but the criteria for even become a finalist should not be when you play teams on your schedule. The body of work as a whole  should determine who wins or loses, but a Baylor loss in November and an Alabama win in November were more important than the every other game combined? It’s a farce.

I saw Manziel and Klein play at least 7 or 8 games each this year. both were remarkable players who brought college football fans so much excitement. But an argument made for or against either of these players is based largely on schedule and as I re-read the criteria for the Heisman, that really doesn’t figure into the equation.

Don’t forget to come find me on Twitter @nfldraftboard and tell me how Klein got the shaft or how I just hate Manziel.

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