LITTLE ROCK — Flat lining at 35-14, Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy chances were resuscitated 33 minutes later.
Nearing Clarksville when Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri returned an interception off Manziel for 73 yards and a 21-point lead, I promised the driver that the Texas A&M quarterback had as much chance of repeating as South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney did of becoming only the second defensive player to win the statue. We had agreed that Clowney’s projection as the first pick in the NFL draft was not remotely related to the Heisman and that if Manti Te’o couldn’t clutch the trophy with the weight of Notre Dame behind him, Clowney was not going to win.
Critical of those who confidently discern the outcome of a 60-minute game after only five minutes, I was guilty of a rush to judgment on Manziel. His three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, part of 562 yards vs. the genius of Nick Saban, kept him in the Heisman conversation. He also benefited because other front-runners were either on the sideline or treading water.
With the pressbox windows open after Arkansas’ 24-3 victory over Southern Mississippi, tailgaters near the Broyles Athletic Complex could be heard reacting to Manziel’s magic, particularly his completion to Edward Pope that followed a 25-yard retreat. Eventually, that play might epitomize what polarizes Heisman voters.
Manziel backers will marvel at his escapability and cite the completion. Naysayers will quickly move past his scrambling and focus on a rainbow that was somehow complete in the middle of three defenders.
Watching the replay, he got away with a desperate heave.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was my Heisman favorite in January, and I felt even better about the pick after Miller hooked up with a highly regarded instructor of quarterbacks. Miller’s 3,400 yards running and throwing and his 28 touchdowns in 2012 launched his 2013 Heisman campaign, but he missed part of the San Diego State game with an injury, sat out California last week, and won’t be needed vs. Florida A&M this week. As a result, Miller’s 285 yards total offense is about half what Manziel compiled against Alabama and he is playing catch up.
Elsewhere, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater were the victims of a Catch-22 on Saturday. Mariota had a career-high 459 yards passing, but the numbers were viewed with skepticism because they were compiled against an inept Tennessee. On the flip side, Bridgewater had only 285 yards and the question was why not more against lowly Kentucky. Louisville’s weak schedule will continue to work against Bridgewater.
Previously slighted because he is at Alabama, quarterback A.J. McCarron is finally being given serious consideration although his numbers will be dwarfed by those of others. His four touchdown passes against A&M were duly noted, but equally important were his completions during time-consuming drives in the fourth quarter.
The hot newcomer to the Heisman conjecture is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has completed 40-of-45 in two games. Know that any competent quarterback could have put up big numbers vs. Pittsburgh’s secondary. Next month, Winston and the Seminoles take on Clemson. If the Tigers don’t slow him down, Miami and-or Florida will.
Florida State could be the opponent that solidifies a trip to New York for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. The _Tigers were idle last week and Boyd’s 18-of-30 in the season-opening victory over Georgia is old news, but he should do well tonight against North Carolina State. Also idle last week was Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and running back Todd Gurley who can make a case against LSU on Sept. 28.
Through October, there will be a flavor of the week for the Heisman. The statue will be won or lost during big games in November, particularly Mariota vs. Stanford, Manziel vs. LSU, Boyd vs. South Carolina, maybe even Miller vs. Michigan.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.