Long before he became the face of band-aids and bloody elbows, Collin Klein was just another quarterback earning his first-career start.
Little was known about the clean-cut, fresh-faced Ron Prince recruit from Loveland, Colo., but on this night three years ago, the sophomore not only introduced himself to Kansas State fans, but also the rest of the nation when he kicked the door down and demanded everybody learn his name, especially the Texas Longhorns.
With 127 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the 39-14 win over Texas that night, the Klein era was born.
Though he would only play in two more games that season, the unconventional 6-foot-5 deceptively nimble QB offered a glimpse of what was to come.
While impressive, the idea of Klein eventually becoming a Heisman frontrunner, let alone even a candidate, would probably have been scoffed at.
This Saturday, Klein will come full circle when he faces Texas for the last time in his career and with much on the line.
The circumstances will be very different from the first time Klein took the Longhorns on the guided tour, up and down Wagner Field. A win over Texas would give the No. 6 Wildcats their first 11-win season in eight years, their second Big 12 championship and a guaranteed spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
And if Klein can provide another Herculean performance like he did three years ago and so many times since, he might just have another shot at the Heisman Trophy after all. It’ll take a win and a really big game to do it.
Klein led the Heisman race for at least six weeks until K-State’s untimely loss at Baylor 10 days ago. The senior dazzled week after week until he suffered a concussion against Oklahoma State. He was shaky in the Wildcats’ 23-10 win over TCU the following week and then had the worst game of his season in the loss to the Bears.
Was the loss to the Bears — ending the Wildcats’ national title chances — coupled by his three interceptions enough to knock Klein from the Heisman elite?
Right now, it appears so, as hype for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel continues to grow and Manti Te’o leads the charge for undefeated and No. 1 Notre Dame.
As we enter Week 12, there are just three legitimate candidates remaining — Manziel, Te’o and Klein. All three are great players, but really only two are deserving of the Heisman.
Manziel, or Johnny Football, is a one-hit wonder — his team’s win over Alabama. I’ve never seen one player get so much mileage from a single win. Sure, the season numbers are there, but he did it against a top-heavy SEC. His best games were against the league’s bottom feeders and a pair of FCS teams, while completely disappearing in losses to Florida and LSU.
Against three teams ranked in the BCS Top 25, Manziel has averaged 294 yards of offense with just three touchdowns and three interceptions. Against nine unranked opponents, Manziel is averaging 413 yards per game with 40 touchdowns and five interceptions. Enough said right?
But there’s more to Manziel than just great games against bad teams and his deceiving SEC-record 4,600 total yards of offense this season.
There’s that arrest record as well. If Manziel gets credit for the SEC record, then he should also take credit for his other record, the one stemming from a bar fight this last June when he was arrested for disorderly conduct, failure to identify and for using a fake ID. I mean, seriously, his father has to bribe his son with cars to be a “model citizen.”
Te’o, on the other hand, is a stud on and off the field. He’s consistently great and anchors an Irish defense that got Notre Dame into the title game. But he’s a linebacker and no linebacker has ever won the Heisman, just as no freshman has ever won the award.
Klein is the total package. He has the numbers with 3,093 yards of total offense and 34 touchdowns. He has the wins — seven against bowl-eligible teams with one game to go. And while the thing he’s high on is character, Klein doesn’t need mommy and daddy to buy him cars for being a good person.
His two-year track record is unmatched in today’s game with 74 total touchdowns and 6,152 yards of total offense, while going 20-4 as a starter.
Klein is the model of consistency on and off the field. His message is the same week in and week out and he’s mowed through a Big 12 that has nine of its 10 teams going to a bowl this season.
Nobody should win or lose the Heisman after one game. Just as Manziel has benefited from his one big win over Alabama, Klein has seemingly lost the Heisman after one loss to a Baylor team that is the ninth-best in the conference and yet has the nation’s No. 2 total offense.
But if that’s going to be the criteria used going forward, I offer you Saturday night’s regular season finale against Texas — two days before the Heisman votes are due.
The table is set. It’s senior night, on national TV, with the conference title and Fiesta Bowl up for grabs. And if Klein has another — yes another — Heisman moment in him, it might be enough to put the fat lady on ice and take back his rightful place as Heisman front- runner.