When it comes to the Heisman Trophy race, timing can be just as important as touchdowns. Look no further than Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein for an example of how a bad game at the wrong time can totally alter the chase for the most prestigious individual award in college football.
Entering Week 12 of the 2012 season, Klein had been atop the Heisman Pundit straw poll for the better part of a month and his team was on track for the BCS national championship game. A few weeks earlier, Klein had outdueled fellow contender Geno Smith in a 55-14 blowout at West Virginia, sending Smith's candidacy down the drain. In Week 12, Klein put his own bid in jeopardy in a prime time 52-24 loss to Baylor which included three picks. Coming one week after a loss by Alabama cleared the way for a BCS title shot, the loss not only damaged K-State's title hopes but it allowed Johnny Manziel, who had orchestrated Texas A&M's upset of Alabama, to vault Klein in the Heisman polls.
An emerging SEC sensation, Johnny Football has a 3-INT game on his resume but the timing has proven a bit more fortuitous related to Klein's meltdown versus Baylor. Manziel and the Aggies' offense were halted by LSU in Week 8. The redshirt freshman threw three interceptions without throwing for a single score. Manziel -- entering the game as the league's leading rusher -- was held to just 27 rushing yards, his lowest of the entire season. Luckily for Manziel, he had plenty of time to bounce back from this dismal showing.
Like Manziel, the third finalist for the 78th Heisman Trophy, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, had time to make up for his least impressive outing of the season. On the way to posting his third consecutive season with 100-plus tackles, Te'o struggled against Pitt along with the rest of the Irish in Week 10. Notre Dame allowed the Panthers to rack up 20 points through three quarters before rallying for a win in triple overtime.
"It was ugly at times, beautiful at times," Te'o told reporters after the game. "It's college football."
At most times, the three Heisman finalists have performed beautifully but it is the timing of their ugliest moments that may ultimately prove decisive. Manziel bounced back from his loss to LSU with his memorable game in Tuscaloosa just a few weeks later. Te'o and the Irish survived Pitt and would go on to clinch a spot in the BCS title game thanks in part to a memorable goal line stand against USC. Klein would get some measure of redemption with a big performance against Texas, but he may not have had enough time to eradicate memories of his struggles against Baylor.
In a close race, one misstep can prove just as influential as a game-winning performance. Which player's low moment likely proved the costliest? When it comes to the Heisman Trophy, should a bad game late in the season be considered more than one earlier?