Monday, December 3, 2012

Collin Klein And The Heisman

Johnny Manziel is a tremendously exciting player, all the more so because this is his first year as a starter.

That doesn't mean he deserves the Heisman.

Before we get into the weeds, I should back up a second.  I've never really been that taken by the Heisman hype, which has transformed an award for being the best player in college football into a simple popularity contest for the best (SEC) player each year.  In fact, I generally view the Heisman with a pretty fair amount of disdain precisely because it isn't much more than a beauty pageant for quarterbacks.  Next year I'll probably be back to disdain, but with Collin Klein being deeply in the mix this year, I couldn't help it.  If nothing else, it's a tremendous benefit in terms of PR for future recruiting at a relatively unknown (and undesired) university like Kansas State.  Personally, I also believe that Klein is a one-in-a-million person who is extremely unlikely to let an award of that magnitude change who he is.

So, the top three candidates are Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Collin Klein of K-State, and Manti Te'o of Notre Dame.  Most of the analysis I've seen has Te'o in a distant third place, and it's really hard to compare a linebacker with two quarterbacks, so while it's clear he's the heart of a beast of a terrific defense, it seems unlikely he's going to win.  Thus, I'm going to focus on Manziel and Klein.

Manziel is the frontrunner at the moment.  If you ask me, it's mostly because he destroyed a handful of no-name teams to pad his stats, combined with one singular moment of greatness (beating #1 Alabama).  Oh, and he's in the SEC.  Remember, anything and everything college football-related is colored by a gigantic favoritism toward the SEC (don't believe me? ask me next year and I'll prove it to you on any late Saturday night E-SEC-PN highlights broadcast).  As I mentioned before, he's a great player and will certainly be in New York for future Heisman ceremonies, but let's look at some numbers and see what we see about this year.

Here's one great workup of some data.  Here are what I believe are some of the more salient points, though the distinct differences between the two teams' styles do muddy the waters a bit:

In-Conference Production
Klein was masterful in Big 12 play for the second straight season. He has scored 16 of his 20 rushing touchdowns in league play, including huge road performances at West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State and TCU. He avenged both losses to Oklahoma schools last fall with big showings against the Sooners and Cowboys. Manziel has been much more up and down in SEC play. He had a huge performance against Alabama and Mississippi State, struggled against Florida, LSU and somewhat against Ole Miss while torching bad teams like Arkansas, Auburn and Missouri. Manziel’s out-of-conference numbers are much more inflated than Klein’s. Of Manziel’s 43 total touchdowns, 22 came in four games against South Carolina State, Sam Houston State, SMU and Louisiana Tech. 

Offensive System
Kevin Sumlin’s ... Texas A&M offense ran 959 plays (11th nationally) for an average of 6.9 yards per play (5th nationally). Bill Snyder’s offense is totally different, ranking 120th nationally with only 712 plays. However, the Wildcats have been equally effective at 6.4 yards per play (19th nationally). Both offenses have produced at a similar rate all year, so that means Klein has produced his stats on 247 fewer offensive snaps. 

Supporting Cast
This one is no contest. Manziel has an infinitely better supporting cast than Klein at Kansas State. Texas A&M has an average national team recruiting ranking of 20.3 over the last four classes and has finished no lower than 27th (2011) in the team rankings. Kansas State has an average national team ranking of 70.1 over the same span. The best class Manhattan has seen in four years was 2012’s 58th-rated class. With two potential first-round picks blocking for him, multiple five-star tailbacks, and a senior All-SEC wide receiver at his disposal, Manziel has by far the best supporting cast of the two. And it’s really not even close.

Off-the-Field Character
This is a small factor but Klein is one of the most respected, most upstanding young people this game has ever seen. He is Tim Tebow off of the field as well as Tebow in the huddle and locker room. Manziel was arrested this summer for getting into a fight with a 47-year old man and carrying multiple false IDs. Is Manziel simply a young kid enjoying the trappings of young fame (SEE: Halloween pictures)? Of course, but Klein would never get into a fight with someone nearly 30 years older than himself.

“Johnny Football” versus “Optimus Klein.” I am sorry, but this one isn’t even close. Johnny Football is one of the lamest, most unimaginative nicknames I have ever heard. And as a kid who grew up loving the Transformers, my vote goes to Klein. This one is easy and heavily in favor of the Kansas State Wildcat. It's a good thing a nickname has absolutely nothing to do with the Heisman.

I just liked that last one, so I had to include it.  :)

This article makes the argument that the SEC schedule Manziel faced was significantly more difficult than the Big 12 slate that Klein took down.  It depends on where you look for this stat, but I like Sagarin's rating because it includes some additional details that I think are key.  The bottom line is that K-State played the 19th most difficult schedule while TAM had the 27th.  Some will argue that TAM faced more ranked teams, but that depends on whether you're looking at final rankings now or rankings at the time the game was played.  Sagarin helps clear this up by indicating the teams' records against opponents that are currently ranked in the top 10 and in the top 30.  It's no contest:

KSU - 1-0 vs Top 10 / 6-1 vs Top 30
TAM - 1-1 vs Top 10 / 1-2 vs Top 30

No one in their right mind would call this result anything other than a harder road for K-State and Klein.  In fact, the Big 12 may not have a team in the championship game, but the vaunted SEC has only one more team with a single loss on the year (Alabama and Florida).  The SEC has six of the top ten spots, but four of those have two losses.  Ranked #11, Oklahoma provides a second BCS team for the Big 12.  It's clear that the SEC is a bit more top-heavy than the Big 12, but what percentage of the SEC is playing in a bowl game?  65%.  The Big 12, on the other hand, are coming in at 90%, as only Kansas failed to become bowl eligible.  I'd be curious to know how many coaches would prefer a schedule comprised of half cupcakes and half monsters as opposed to a top-to-bottom slate of teams that could all beat you on any given day.  Given the rigors of having to face quality opponent after quality opponent throughout the entire season, I think that Klein's march through the Big 12 is easily more impressive than Manziel's sporadic trek through the SEC, all the more so if the analysis above about the talent levels of the two teams is true.

On that point, though, I don't think it is.  Remember, this is the first year TAM is in the SEC, and I'm pretty sure that E-SEC-PN wouldn't be singing their personnel praises quite so much if they had remained in the Big 12.  But that's awfully hard to compare, so I'm not going to belabor it.

Anyway, here's another way to compare the two candidates - how do they perform when the stakes are high?  How do they perform against their best opponents?  That one is pretty clear, too, and the broadcast team flashed up a graphic during K-State's pounding of Texas that illustrated precisely this question:

In games vs. BCS conference teams with winning records: 
Collin Klein has a 7-1 record, 25 total TDs, 6 turnovers 
Johnny Manziel has a 2-2 record, 5 TDs, 5 turnovers
Another no-brainer.

And what about over the course of the player's career, and in historical terms?  Get this:
Between that first game [against Texas], and this last game, Klein has found time to start a total of 24 other Wildcat games compiling career numbers and records of: 
• 45 rushing touchdowns … a KSU record and fourth in Big 12 history 
• Sixth player in Big 12 history with 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards 
• Posted 21 wins as a starter quarterback, just one shy of the school record of 22 by Ell Roberson and Michael Bishop 
• Rushed for 2,352 yards, fourth in KSU history only behind Sproles, Roberson and Thomas 
• Passed for 4,389 yards, seventh in KSU history 
• Owns a national-high of passing for at least one score and rushing for at least one score in 16 games since 2011 
In the BCS era, Klein is the only quarterback to rush for at least 20 TDs and pass for at least 10 TDs in more than one season 
That last one is the biggest - Klein is the only QB in college football history to do that.  That kind of top-level production over the course of two years is the sort of thing that makes the best football player in college football.

What about Manziel?  Well, he did set the SEC total yardage record at 4,600 yards this year.  That's impressive...but, once again, if he had remained in the Big 12, the record would have been over 5,700, far out of his reach (yet another reason to doubt the mantra that the SEC is vastly superior).  But whatever.  He can have that record in the conference with subpar offenses.  Congrats.

The bottom line is that both QBs were great.  But, if you look objectively at the body of work, Klein's track record is significantly more impressive.  Those who take their significance from things like the Heisman Popularity Contest just don't think Klein is the sexy pick, nor is K-State.  Sure, it makes for a nice story, but when you really boil it down they're looking for anyone else to give the hardware to, especially someone from the SEC.  The real question is whether or not there are enough voters who are outside the SEC and the state of Texas.  I have no idea, but we'll know in a few days.  For the sake of Klein and the Purple nation, I truly hope so.  If not, well, I'll happily settle for a Fiesta Bowl win over the Oregon Ducks as a consolation prize (more on that in the next few days).  :)

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