For weeks, Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein was considered such a runaway favorite in the Heisman Trophy race that national experts wondered what it would take for someone else to win the award.
Today, some of those same experts think he is chasing a freshman and a linebacker.
Thats what one loss and an off night can do.
I fully expected Kansas State to beat Baylor and beat Texas, and I thought Collin Klein was going to win, said Chris Huston, who tracks the Heisman race for CBS Sports and created HeismanPundit.com. It was just a situation where that didnt happen. At this point, he is more likely to finish second. Johnny Manziel is the new favorite.
Manziel, Texas A&Ms freshman quarterback, moved past Klein in Hustons mind thanks to the combination of the Aggies stunning victory at Alabama two weeks ago and the Wildcats surprising defeat at Baylor seven days later.
Manziels finest moment was followed by Kleins worst game. Voters took notice. Klein fell to third and failed to receive a first-place vote in Hustons latest projection. ESPN dropped him to third as well, but he received one first-place vote in that poll. Some still have him on top. Others are voting him as low as fifth.
The last week greatly harmed (Kleins) campaign, said college football expert Joe Tessitore, who monitors the Heisman race for ESPN. Its the same thing that has happened all season. Everyone thinks weve found the guy who is going to win the Heisman, and then everything falls apart.
The battle isnt over, though. Klein, Manziel and fellow contender Manti Teo, a linebacker at Notre Dame, will all play one more game before the award is announced on Dec. 8 in New York.
That gives Klein two weeks to impress voters. Texas A&M plays Missouri on Saturday and Notre Dame faces USC the same day. Their closing arguments will come this weekend. Klein benefits from going last with K-States final game Dec. 1 against Texas.
If the Tigers and Trojans pull upsets, the award may be Kleins to lose again. If the Aggies and Fighting Irish hold serve, he gets a showcase game to prove himself one more time.
You want to have the last at-bat, Tessitore said. In recent years that has been a pretty big factor with Robert Griffin III last year and Mark Ingram and Cam Newton, though he was a runaway winner. Having that last chance really does help, but he needs to do something special that day.
No matter the scenario, Kleins main focus wont be on improving his Heisman chances.
It would be a tremendous honor, Klein said of winning the award. Right now, especially with where we are at and everything with what weve got on the line with Texas and our very next game, we cant be thinking about anything else other than that we just need to make sure we practice well to beat Texas.
Those who tune in to see him play, though, will want to see a statement.
Unless Johnny Manziel screws up this weekend, Collin Klein will need to come out against Texas and have an incredible game, Huston said. If he is really good or the stars align somehow to give Kansas State a berth in the title game, he could still win. But the odds say Manziel will probably hold on.
Why? There are two main reasons:
First, Manziels poor games came earlier than Kleins. Texas A&Ms two losses came in the season opener against Florida and a month ago to LSU. Voters have had time to forget about those setbacks and focus on his signature performance at Alabama. Klein hasnt truly impressed voters since leading K-State to a big lead over Oklahoma State three weeks ago. Much like in the Top 25 polls, timing matters.
Second, Kleins stats are not on par with Manziels. Through 11 games, Klein has thrown for 2,306 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 787 yards and 17 touchdowns. Manziel, while benefiting from a higher-tempo offense and nearly 100 more pass attempts, has thrown for 3,047 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 1,114 yards and 17 touchdowns. When K-State was undefeated, those statistical differences didnt carry as much weight. Now they do.
As long as Kansas State was headed for the title game, that gave voters a metric to gauge what Kleins production meant, Huston said. It meant he was leading his team to a very unlikely run at a national title. It was a trump card. But when you take that trump card away, it mostly becomes a look at numbers, and Manziels numbers are better.
Klein does still hold one key advantage over Manziel and Teo, though. He is a senior at a recognizable position. A freshman has never won the Heisman Trophy, and only three Herschel Walker, Adrian Peterson and Michael Vick have been finalists. That, along with not speaking to the media all season and a preseason arrest, could hurt Manziels chances.
Defensive players also rarely make it to New York. Only Charles Woodson won the award in 1997, but he also played receiver and returned kicks. Teo is strictly a linebacker.
Voters would have to go against historical tendencies to choose either over Klein.
Of course, many believed that would hurt Tim Tebows chances of winning in 2007, but he became the first sophomore to win the award.
They dont want to vote for a freshman, but if they have to they will, Huston said. Especially a freshman with amazing numbers and a cool nickname fresh off a win over Alabama.
For now, it looks like the award belongs to Manziel. But Teo and Klein still have chances to claim it.
Anything can happen. Remember how the Heisman race looked last weekend?
Who is to say Collin Klein cant win this thing? Tessitore said. Things change every week in this sport.