Heisman finalist: Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Key stats: 3,732 passing yards, 69.1 percent completion rate, 33 touchdown passes; 686 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns.

Why he made it to NYC: Even though Manziel might not have had the best season of everyone in the race, he is still considered by many -- including opposing coaches -- to be the best player in college football. He's the most difficult to game plan for and hardest to defend because of his ability to keep a play alive with his feet, whether he's throwing the ball downfield or tucking it away to run. As a passer, he was better this year than he was last year when he won the Heisman. His passing yardage, completion percentage and touchdown passes were all up. His rushing totals were down; some of that was by design, some of that was his own doing trying to become a more patient passer and some of that had to do with his health, which deteriorated as the season concluded. Sure, Texas A&M was 8-4, which fell below the Aggies' lofty preseason expectations, but who knows what Texas A&M's record would have been this year without Manziel. He's still college football's most valuable player. Look at it this way: If you were building a team for this season and had the chance to choose your players, playground-pickup-basketball-style, it's hard to argue against a healthy Manziel being the first one picked.

Heisman moment: In all honesty, Manziel had his opportunity for a Heisman moment in the final two games, when the Aggies still had a chance at a BCS bowl. Had he gone into Death Valley and had a great performance against LSU and followed it with another at Missouri in back-to-back road victories to close out the season, he might be neck-and-neck with Jameis Winston or possibly even the favorite to win. In the spirit of actually trying to pick one from this season from Manziel, I would say it came in the 49-42 loss to Alabama on Sept. 14. Manziel threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 98 yards against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart's defense. Manziel wasn't mistake-free (he threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown) but the Aggies don't stay in the game without Manziel [and Mike Evans]. You could make an argument for his performance in the 41-38 road win over Ole Miss, but the Rebels finished 7-5. Hard to have a Heisman moment against a team with that kind of record.