With a nationwide audience watching on ESPN and about 2,000 attending the live ceremony at the Best Buy Theater on Times Square in New York, the winner of the 78th Heisman Memorial Trophy will be announced Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET).
There has been even more than the usual debate and conjecture over this year's finalists -- Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
Klein, a senior who was on the Heisman Watch list when the season began, led Kansas State to its first Big 12 title since 2003 as he threw for 2,495 yards, ran for 895 yards and accounted for 37 touchdowns.
Manziel is a freshman whose startling statistics demanded attention and validated his nickname, Johnny Football. He amassed 4,600 yards of total offense and accounted for 43 touchdowns as he helped A&M demand respect as a newcomer in the Southeastern Conference, especially after beating top ranked Alabama.
Te'o is the acknowledged leader of top-ranked, undefeated Notre Dame. He was dominant all season while collecting 103 tackles and grabbing seven interceptions. Te'o was at his best when he was needed the most, such as during an historic goal line stand against USC.
Most surveys indicate that the battle is really between Manziel and Te'o, which is especially dramatic because the award has never been won by either a freshman or a linebacker.
The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award in college football, ostensibly given to the most outstanding college football player in the country as determined by a vote of 928 selectors. The selectors include 870 journalists, divided by regional sections, and former Heisman winners, of which there are 57 this year. There is also an allowance for one (1) vote representing the fans.
The criteria for determining the most appropriate winner is both vague and specific. It is open to wide interpretation and many selectors admit openly that they are biased. Many cite the need to show appropriate attention to their local stars they know so as to properly balance the overall totals from the various sections.
To this bias, add this ambiguous mandate that selectors are supposed to consider (courtesy Heisman.com):
"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. ... "
So, it is left to the voters to determine their own parameters and this year's finalists are putting a strain on traditional voting patterns.
Manziel is considered a favorite according to public opinion surveys done by various media. However, there is no telling how many voters believe there is some unwritten rule that a freshman should not win this prestigious award.
He has the vocal backing of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who, as a freshman at Oklahoma, finished second in Heisman voting in 2004 to USC quarterback Matt Leinart.
"Hopefully, they don't rob him like they did me," said Peterson, who lost by 328 votes.
However, Te'o has a large following because he not only is a leader on an undefeated team, but that team is Notre Dame -- always good for hype in all regions of the country. And of the 14 Heisman's awarded during the BCS era -- including the one USC runner Reggie Bush had to return -- nine were won by a player whose team played for the BCS championship.
Still, being a linebacker does not, historically, work in Te'o's favor. In the last 25 years, winners included 16 quarterbacks, two receivers, and one cornerback.
Klein best fits the profile of a Heisman winner, but he seems to be getting the least public support.
Here is a closer look at the Heisman Finalists:
Collin Klein, 6-5, 226, Kansas State, quarterback, Senior: According to NFLDraftScout.com, "If you combined Tim Tebow and Ryan Tannehill, the result might be something similar to Klein, a former wide receiver who is basically a tailback in the Wildcat's zone-read offense. . . Klein's ability as a passer isn't NFL quality right now, but he is the type of player who puts his teammates on his back and wills his team to victory. While it is doubtful that he will be a first round pick like the aforementioned Tebow and Tannehill, Klein will have a pro future in some capacity." Klein guided the Wildcats to their 10th 10-win season in school history and a 7-1 mark in Big 12 play. He accounted for 34 touchdowns to rank 11th in the nation on touchdowns accounted for and tops among quarterbacks with 20 rushing scores. He is the only quarterback from a BCS school to rush for at least 20 touchdowns and pass for at least 10 touchdowns in multiple seasons. In 11 games, Klein completed 172-of-258 passes for 2,306 yards and 14 touchdowns while totaling 787 rushing yards on 171 attempts. He ranks 10th in school history in passing yardage and touchdowns, while he is tied for eighth in completions. His season pass efficiency rating of 155.00 ranks third in school history.
Johnny Manziel, 6-1, 200, Texas A&M, quarterback, Freshman: After Ryan Tannehill was drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins, there was no heir apparent for his quarterback spot at A&M. Manziel, from Tivy High in Kerrville Texas, originally committed to Oregon, where his run/pass talents were a fit for the Ducks fast-paced offense. But he opted for the three-hour drive to College Station over 31 hours to Eugene. He redshirted at A&M in 2010 and began this year as one of three players battling for the starting QB job. Early in the season, teammates and fans hatched the nickname "Johnny Football" and it gained national attention against Arkansas when he totaled 557 total yards to break Archie Manning's 43-year old SEC single game record (540 yards). He broke that record two games later against Louisiana Tech. Manziel soared into Heisman contention when he led the Aggies to a 29-24 upset over No. 1 ranked Alabama with 345 totals yards and two touchdown passes. On Nov. 24, Manziel injured his knee in the first quarter against Missouri, but returned with a knee brace, gained 439 yards total offens, with three touchdown passes and two TD runs. He broke the single season record for offensive production in the SEC with 4600 yards, surpassing Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, notable recent Heisman Trophy winners. He also became the first freshman and only the fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3000 and rush for 1000 yards in a season. Manziel won the Davey O'Brien award as top QB in the nation on December 6th, his 20th birthday.
Manti Te'o, 6-2, 255, Notre Dame, Linebacker, Senior: Considered by many to be a surefire first-round pick after his junior season, Te'o surprised many when he decided to put the NFL on hold and return to the Irish for the 2012 season. Te'o wound up leading the Fighting Irish in tackles (103) for a third consecutive year and added seven interceptions to help Notre Dame to an undefeated season, a No. 1 ranking and a date with Alabama in the BCS championship game. Te'o was honored three times at the 22nd Home Depot College Football Awards show Thursday night at Disney World, including the Maxwell Award for the nation's most outstanding player. Te'o won six major awards this year, including the Bednarik Award for top defensive player and the Walter Camp Foundation player of the year award on Thursday. He became the first defensive player to win the Maxwell Award since 1980, ending a string of nine straight quarterbacks. He also won the Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award. Te'o emerged as a defensive leader in 2010 as a sophomore, leading the team with a career-best 133 tackles. He again led the Irish defense in tackles in 2011 as a junior with 128 stops, adding 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks and earning All-American honors.