Klein has another chance to impress for Heisman
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Hays Daily News
Conventional wisdom has it that with one sub-par performance against Baylor his last time out, Collin Klein's Heisman Trophy candidacy came crashing down along with Kansas State's national championship hopes.
Texas-A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, a.k.a Johnny Football, is the new media darling and suddenly the odds-on favorite to take home the award on Dec. 8.
But that has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm for Klein in the K-State camp, where their senior quarterback is preparing to lead the No. 7-ranked Wildcats one last time at Snyder Family Stadium in their 7 p.m. regular-season finale against Texas.
"Collin Klein is a tremendous person and he definitely exemplifies what it means to be a representative of a Heisman candidate," said linebacker Arthur Brown, a fellow senior and co-captain. "I feel like his play, his character off the field, transcends and his play on the field and that's why he's such a tremendous athlete."
Klein, who has helped the Wildcats -- picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll -- to the brink of a league title and a flirtation with the national championship game, was the popular pick as long as his team kept winning. But three interceptions and a 52-24 loss at Baylor was a major blow to his candidacy, especially after Manziel had led A&M to an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama the week before.
Senior Chris Harper, Klein's favorite target, begs to differ.
"Everybody's looking at his last game," Harper said of Klein, who still threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns, plus rushed for another against the Bears. "He's had 10 games previous to that where he played crazy -- played awesome.
"If they want to look at games where teams lost games, they're acting like the Manziel dude hasn't lost any games. You've got to be fair in what you're going to do. You can't be biased because he's an SEC guy."
Harper acknowledged Manziel, who has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns, plus rushed for 1,181 and 19 more scores, has some eye-opening numbers. And he doesn't disqualify him for being a freshman.
"You're playing big-boy football, it doesn't matter how old you are," he said.
But he'll take his own guy every time.
"He's broken all these records and he's had one of the most prolific careers that anybody's ever had, so how can you not make a case for him," he said of Klein, who has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,306 yards and 14 touchdowns with a quarterback rating nearly identical to Manziel's, plus run for 787 yards and 20 TDs. "He's done it with what everybody says is a bunch of hodge-podge type players.
"I'll be a hodge-podge player for him. I don't care. I think he deserves it and I don't think anybody else deserves it more than him."
Manziel, who plays in a hurry-up offense, also has 155 more rushing and passing attempts than Klein, who leads a much more deliberate Wildcat attack.
Both Manziel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who lead Klein in ESPN's Heisman watch poll, have completed their regular seasons. Klein has one last chance to make his case against Texas with a Big 12 title and BCS bowl bid on the line.
But K-State coach Bill Snyder said the Heisman is the least of his, or Klein's concern, at the moment.
"I would love for him to play extremely well," Snyder said. "But I'm like Collin. If he can play well, he wants to play well for his team and provide them with the opportunity to be successful.
"That's one of the things that makes him such a significant and wonderful young guy. He cares about other things than himself."
In Snyder's eyes, team success tends to beget individual honors.
"Would he like to win it? I'm sure he would," he said. "But we all know that's in somebody else's hands.
"Do I want him to play well? Of course I do. I want him to play as well as he possibly can. Always do, always have."
Klein himself has done his best to deflect the Heisman hype all season, but acknowledged that it is difficult.
"It's there, but at this point it still doesn't matter and it's insignificant from where we are at as a team and what we've got on our plate this week," Klein said. "It's hard to get away from that kind of stuff, especially in this day and age with all the social media.
"Everything is around, but it's just a matter of being the best I possibly can be and we possibly can be and stay focused on what we're doing this week and go from there. All that after-the-season stuff will take care of itself."
Harper wondered aloud what Klein has left to prove in his final statement.
"I don't know what he has to do," he said. "Go out there and throw for a thousand (yards) or something?
"I just think if he plays like he's been playing all season, he'll be fine. In my vote he should get it."