Johnny Manziel wins Heisman Trophy, forty years after freshmen were granted eligibility
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel earned that distinction Saturday, when he was presented college football’s highest individual honor in New York.
Before the season began, I wrote about the NCAA’s 1972 rule changes that granted football and men’s basketball freshmen eligibility.
It should be noted that before the changes, players weren’t eligible to redshirt as freshmen, meaning Manziel would’ve probably been a true sophomore this year under pre-1972 rules.
But still, that any freshman — true or redshirt — won the Heisman is a significant step toward getting rid of preconceived notions and unwritten standards that have kept very deserving players from winning it.
Another big step this year to that end was Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o finishing as the Heisman runner-up. Only one primarily defensive player — Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 — has ever won the Heisman, but he also played some on offense and returned punts.
Te’o would’ve been the first pure defender to become a Heisman winner.
USC quarterback Matt Leinart was quite worthy of the Heisman Trophy in 2004 — and he proved it with his strong performance in the 2005 Orange Bowl rout of Oklahoma — but there is certainly a case to be made that Sooners running back Adrian Peterson was the nation’s “most outstanding player.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops talked a couple weeks ago about defensive players and freshmen as Heisman candidates.
“I don’t think there’s any question each should have the opportunity,” Stoops said of Manziel and Te’o.
“We had that situation with Adrian Peterson being a freshman and he came so close to it. A player is a player. It shouldn’t matter what age he is, and the other is a defensive guy. Being a long-time defensive guy coming up in coaching, I’ve never understood it. I think Te’o for Notre Dame is absolutely deserving when you look at — usually they talk about the quarterback or running back on the best team in the country or whoever had the best record. Usually they have a better chance of winning it than anyone.
“(Notre Dame is) known for their defense, and he’s the quarterback of their defense, and he’s got six or seven interceptions and he’s been the guy all year. He’s been their guy and I don’t think there’s any question he’s a guy that should have a great opportunity to win it.”
When the Sooners and Texas A&M kick off at Jan. 4’s Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma will become the first team since Florida in 1993 to face the top-three Heisman finalists in the same season.
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