By: George Jones
NEW YORK (RNN) – A wide-open race for the Heisman Memorial Trophy just a short time ago has come down to three players.
Kansas State's Collin Klein and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are two quarterbacks who have held the reins of powerhouse offenses and pushed their teams to unexpected heights this season.
Manti Te'o is a dominant linebacker for Notre Dame who has overcome all types of odds on his way to a Heisman ceremony invitation, historically a rare feat for defensive players.
Depending on who you ask, however, the race for the trophy has been a one-man show for quite some time.
Manziel's win would not come as a surprise to many fans or members of the media. He was the prohibitive favorite for the award immediately after Klein and Kansas State were routed by underdog Baylor on Nov. 17.
The way "Johnny Football" dismantled Alabama's defense and gave the Crimson Tide their only loss so far put Manziel squarely in Heisman conversation. But his body of work before that started discussions that he could become the first freshman ever to win college football's most coveted award.
He dazzled spectators and dizzied defenses with his scrambling ability and backed that up with the ability to make good reads and throw a variety of different passes either from the pocket or while on the run.
The Texas native became the first freshman and the fourth player ever to throw for at least 3,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000 in a single season. He has gained exactly 4,600 yards (3,419 passing, 1,181 rushing) and also broke the SEC record for total offense Auburn's Cam Newton set in 2010 when he won the Heisman.
More importantly, the Aggies now have 10 wins and a shot for one more in their first year as members of the SEC, the premier conference in college football.
The overall success of the team combined with the unlikelihood of Manziel's personal accomplishments made him a clear favorite in many people's minds.
Te'o is the most unlikely choice to win the Heisman. No recipient has ever primarily played defense without some type of role as a ball handler, whether as an offensive specialist or kick returner.
He was the lynchpin for a Notre Dame team that returned to glory with a 12-0 record, a No. 1 ranking for the first time in 24 years and a spot in the BCS National Championship game. Notre Dame's last Associated Press No. 1 ranking in 1988 was also the last year the Fighting Irish won a national title.
The senior inside linebacker from Hawaii led the team with 103 total tackles and had the second-most interceptions in the nation with seven. He is the only linebacker in the top 20 in the country in interceptions.
But his importance to his team and place in the Heisman discussion was about more than numbers. Te'o was the cornerstone for the resurgence of one of college football's most historic and prestigious programs.
Te'o won the sentiment of many fans and football writers when America learned that he had lost his grandmother and girlfriend, who was battling leukemia, in the same day. Just days after the devastating news, he played one of his best games of the season in a 20-3 win over Michigan State.
The Fighting Irish were only three games into their season, but Heisman buzz had started.
Klein, a Colorado native, was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this season. He was leading Kansas State in what looked like a cakewalk through the Big 12 schedule toward a potential spot in the BCS title game.
And then the Wildcats made a trip to Waco, TX. They lost to Baylor by four touchdowns, and Klein threw three interceptions during that game.
It appeared Kansas State had lost its chance at its first national championship and its first Heisman winner in one night.
Despite that, it was obvious Klein was the engine that made the offense run. He has 2,490 passing yards and 890 rushing yards, just two yards shy of the team's leading rusher, tailback John Hubert. He has 22 rushing touchdowns and 15 passing touchdowns.
He is following up a junior season during which he passed for 1,918 yards, rushed for 1,141 yards and had 40 total touchdowns. His 27 rushing touchdowns tied former Heisman winner Ricky Williams for the most ever by a Big 12 player.
All three Heisman finalists won other individual awards earlier this week.
Te'o took home the Maxwell Award given to the nation's most outstanding player, which Manziel and Klein were also finalists for. Te'o was the first defensive player to win the Maxwell Award since 1980.
Te'o also won the Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year Award, Lombardi Award, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy.
Manziel won the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, beating out Klein and Ohio State sophomore Braxton Miller.
Klein won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
All three players will finish their seasons with the opportunity to lead their teams to victories in high-profile bowl games.
Kansas State and Oregon will face off in a battle of explosive offenses Jan. 3 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Texas A&M plays former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4.
Notre Dame ends its season in the BCS National Championship game against Alabama on Jan. 7.