Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel sat applauding and smiling as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o collected award after award Thursday night.
But the award both players really wanted won't be handed out until Saturday night. The Heisman Trophy is the pinnacle of college football awards. It's an elite fraternity that trumps any other award and immortalizes the winner.
Many predict that winner will be Manziel.
It's hard to believe that five months ago, the most many knew about Manziel was that he was arrested after a bar fight for carrying a couple fake IDs and took a mugshot with his shirt off. He wasn't Texas A&M's starter yet. He was embroiled in a preseason battle with Jameill Showers, Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis, and his trouble with the law didn't sit well with coach Kevin Sumlin.
But Manziel overcame his early issues, was named the starter and immediately changed Texas A&M's fortunes. No one expected much from the Aggies this season. They had a new coach, a new system, a new quarterback and a new league — the most difficult league in all of college football.
But none of that seemed to faze Manziel, who started making plays on the field that freshmen shouldn't make. His escapability while still keeping his eyes downfield and either running for a first down or finding a teammate in the end zone was uncanny, and when he pulled those same feats against No. 1 Alabama, the nation sat up and took notice.
Manziel is a freshman, who has defied the odds. He doesn't seem to know that there's an order to things; that freshmen aren't supposed to be that good. That beating the nation's best teams in the best conference takes years of seasoning.
So why would he know that he's not supposed to win the Heisman Trophy?
No freshman has ever won the Heisman. A couple have come close — and they were great college players — but voters always picked a more senior player to pick up the bronze statue.
That could be the case Saturday.
Te'o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein are both seniors and both have had tremendous seasons. Klein was the frontrunner for the award until Manziel beat Alabama and Klein's numbers started to slip. Te'o's numbers also slipped during the second half of the season, but his leadership helped propel Notre Dame to its first national championship appearance since 1988. The importance of his presence on the field can't be understated.
But Manziel brings a certain type of energy to the game. When he's playing, people want to watch. And despite not speaking most of the season, he's quite eloquent and honest when talking about his journey this year.
"This season has been incredibly surreal and beyond my wildest imagination," Manziel said.
"[The Heisman Trophy] something you dream about, sitting there creating all these video games when you're a kid and putting up crazy numbers. It's something you can only sit back and dream about. It's the biggest award in college football."
And it should go to the biggest star in college football.
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