COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Johnny Manziel certainly has the statistics worthy of a Heisman Trophy winner. He plays in the powerful Southeastern Conference. He has a signature win — all things Heisman voters typically look for.
The only question is whether the voters will give the award to a freshman for the first time.
Adrian Peterson, star running back for the Vikings and the only freshman to finish second in voting, is hoping the jinx ends Saturday night.
Hopefully they don't rob him like they did me, Peterson, who lost by 328 votes to junior Matt Leinart in 2004, said in an interview with The Associated Press. I hope he wins.
Manziel may a favorite this year, but who knows? Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o are the other finalists and both can make strong cases, too. But neither caught the attention of the fans quite like Johnny Football, who led the Aggies to an upset of off No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Manziel accumulated 4,600 yards of total offense in 12 games to break the Southeastern Conference record for total yards in a season. The record was previously held by 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton, who needed 14 games to pile up 4,327 yards.
The Aggies, who went 10-2 in their first season in the SEC after moving from the Big 12, certainly hope Manziel is the one to finally break the freshman curse (Manziel is a redshirt freshman, not a true freshman).
On a website the school created to promote Manziel for the award, they point out that he's different than many freshman. Manziel enrolled in college in January 2010 and will be a junior academically this spring. He turns 20 today, making him older than Mark Ingram was when he took home the Heisman as a sophomore in 2009.
He would also be just the second Aggie to win the award and the first since John David Crow in 1957. Crow got a push from his famous coach before the voting was done that season.
If John David Crow doesn't win the Heisman Trophy, then-A&M coach Paul Bear Bryant said, they ought to stop giving it.
Crow got a good laugh this week when asked if he believed the same was true of Manziel.
I don't have near the audience that coach Bryant had, he said, still chuckling. I'm not sure how big that would go over.
Then the 77-year-old former halfback got serious.
He is very, very deserving, Crow said. I don't care what age he is, whether he is right-handed or left-handed, wears a 17 shoe or nine shoe, he is very, very deserving of being named the outstanding player in college this year.
Manziel's whirlwind season had a modest beginning with him having to beat out two other quarterbacks to win the starting position in mid-August.
As his numbers grew, so did the legend of Johnny Football, a nickname Aggies bestowed him with as he settled in at College Station. When the Aggies beat the defending champion Crimson Tide on national television behind an outstanding performance by Manziel, the phrase seemed to be everywhere.
It's a name that still amuses him.
I don't know if I really see it as a legend, he said. It's more of a folk tale, I guess.
His numbers alone seem like the stuff of some exaggerated Texas football folk tale. He has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for 1,181 yards and 19 more scores to become the first freshman, first SEC player and fifth player overall to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.
But his eye-popping numbers don't tell the whole story. The improvisation is what really sets him apart. Manziel has a knack for evading defenders, staying on his feet and finishing plays that seem impossible. Kind of like Robert Griffin III, the Baylor star who won the Heisman last year. Or Fran Tarkenton, another wizard at avoiding defenders.
I don't think there's many people in this world that could do some of the things he did, Crow said. He was born to run around back there — at least it looks that way to me.
Manziel was so disappointed when he came out of spring practice as a backup that he enlisted the help of quarterback guru George Whitfield to refine his skills this summer. He spent a week at Whitfield Athletix in San Diego, training up to five hours a day with Whitfield, who has worked with scores of players including Newton, Vince Young and Andrew Luck.
Whitfield was struck by Manziel's competitiveness and his desire to soak up every bit of knowledge that the coach had for not just him, but all of the quarterbacks in training.