You could certainly argue for other players. For instance, if you're going to pick Manti Te'o as a Heisman candidate, why not Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones? What about wide receiver Marqise Lee? All-purpose dynamo Tavon Austin? Or even underdog Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch?
But that's an argument for another day. Here, we'll talk about the three players picked to go to New York.
Argument For: Simply put: the numbers. Manziel threw for 3,419 yards, rushed for 1,181 yards and had 43 combined touchdowns. Along the way, he captivated the nation with his dynamic and swashbuckling brand of play, all while leading Texas A&M to a sterling 10-2 record in the SEC. He even had his so-called Heisman moment, leading the Aggies over then top-ranked Alabama.
Argument Against: Manziel struggled in Texas A&M's two losses, specifically in the second half. Texas A&M moved the ball at will early in both games, but Florida and LSU made defensive adjustments that shut down Manziel, and by extension, the Aggie offense. Texas A&M scored zero second-half points in losing to Florida. And the Aggies were held scoreless from the 7:24 mark in the second quarter until there was 1:17 left in the game in losing to LSU, with Manziel throwing three interceptions. Manziel scored one total touchdown in those two games.
Bogus Argument Against: He's a freshman. Honestly, who cares? If he's the best player in college football, then he deserves the award. Period.
Argument For: Klein led Kansas State to an 11-1 record, pacing a squad that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 to within one game of the BCS National Title game. Klein's team had less talent than Manziel's, and still finished with a better record. And Klein performed better in games against ranked teams than Manziel did. Some of Manziel's statistical advantage comes because he played in more than 100 more plays than Klein did.
Argument Against: Klein didn't play against as many top defenses as Manziel did, and Klein didn't put up the numbers that Manziel did. As a matter of fact, they really weren't close. Klein passed for fewer yards (2,490), rushed for fewer yards (890) and had fewer combined touchdowns (37). And where was Klein against Baylor? Sure, he had more than 300 total yards and three touchdowns, but he also had three interceptions.
Bogus Argument Against: Klein wasn't as dynamic or exciting. So what? Kansas State won this year because the coaches repeatedly put the ball in Klein's hands and asked him to not just make plays, but also be steady and not give the ball up. And except for one game, he did just that.
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Argument For: Potentially the best player in college football, regardless of position. Anchored an outstanding defense that pushed Notre Dame into the BCS National Title game. Only one of the candidates with an undefeated record. Was a monster against both the run and the pass, impacting games even when teams went out of their way to stop him from doing so. Never made fewer than five tackles in a contest, and in each of his two five-tackle games, he also had an interception.
Argument Against: It is nearly impossible to truly gauge a lone defensive player's impact. Teams run away from you? There's no stat to prove it. And was Te'o really the best player even on his own defense? Many argue that defensive end Stephon Tuitt, an All-American in his own right, had just as much of an impact on the front so, even
Bogus Argument Against: He doesn't have the stats. Sure he does. Whenever a defender is a Heisman candidate, people want said candidate to have 140 tackles or 20 tackles for loss or something absurd like that. But what about Te'o's seven interceptions? They are almost twice as many as the next linebacker (two other linebackers have four). That's the most of any linebacker since 2000. Add in his 103 stops and 5.5 tackles for loss, and he shows plenty of balance.
This is such a tough choice. If you're dead-set on picking an offensive player, do you go for Manziel's numbers or Klein's performances against ranked teams and more wins? Even if you're more open-minded, how do you factor in Te'o's impact on the country's lone undefeated team?
I've admired all three candidates over the course of this season. And I fall into the second category. I was for Charles Woodson winning the Heisman, and would have voted for Oklahoma safety Roy Williams and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in their seasons. For that same reason, it doesn't bother me in the least that Manziel is a freshman.
Having said all that, here would be my ballot (in order): Te'o, Manziel, Klein.
Heisman winners don't have to be perfect (RG3 wasn't a year ago). But with both Manziel and Klein, you can point to them having struggles that cost their teams a game (in Manziel's case, games). Sure, a Heisman winner can lose a game. But you don't ever want them to be a contributing cause to said loss.
But even beyond that, Te'o has simply been the best football player that I've seen this year, a dominant force against the run who also happens to be an elite pass defender. That versatility has helped the Fighting Irish field one of the nation's best defenses, and helped to catapult Notre Dame into the title game. And for those reasons, Te'o would be my Heisman selection.
Disagree with me? That's fine. Here's the good news: you really can't go wrong with any of the three finalists. Whoever finishes Saturday night holding the Heisman Memorial Trophy will have earned it.