Any way you slice it, the "Johnny Manziel for Heisman" story (covered ad nauseum in this space over the last few days) is one of the most unlikely sports stories certainly of this calendar year and perhaps in the history of college football.
Lightly recruited, undersized redshirt freshman quarterback emerges from three way training camp battle to become the starter under a brand new head coach to shatter Cam Netwon's SEC record for total yardage and win the Heisman Trophy.
Yeah, it's a bit of a reach, huh? And yet, here we are, ten days away from the crowning of "Johnny Football."
Vegas will give you a line on anything if they think they can get the right amount of action, and obviously the Heisman Trophy is no different. When you look back at the wagering big board for the Heisman before the season started, it's easy to forgive Vegas for leaving out Johnny Manziel.
We all left out Johnny Manziel!
The mind boggling thing isn't the omission of Johnny Manziel, it's the omission of quite possibly every eventual Heisman finalist in the 2012 class.
There was actually a wager before the season in a certain, ahem, corner of the wagering universe where you could get the four Heisman favorites listed below (Barkley, Robinson, Ball, Landry Jones) at even money against everybody else in the field. That wager always feels like kind of a lay up at the time, the thought process going something like this -- "Are you kidding me? I get quarterbacks off of three, count 'em THREE, top 10 teams AND a running back who is going to break the all-time record for career touchdowns? Where do I sign up?"
Then you realize that the last three years (at least), the Heisman winner has been someone WAY off of the radar at the beginning of the season -- Mark Ingram from Alabama (2009), Cam Newton (2010), and Robert Griffin III (2011) -- and taking the field is actually a much safer bet. This season if you took the field against the "Fab Four," you'd have been laughing before the calendar even flipped to September, and what would the odds have been that the list below contained NO FINALISTS?? Would that even have been on the board??
For the record, my prediction on the finalists for the Heisman are Manziel, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. Outside chance that Braxton Miller of Ohio State gets an invite as well.
Hard to believe, but NONE of them were even "bet-able" at the beginning of the season.
So let's go back and take a look at the entire list of available candidates on whom you could wager as of June 16, 2012 and when they were functionally removed from contention, with my comments below (courtesy of bovada.lv):
Matt Barkley (QB USC) 7/2 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 15 The prohibitive preseason favorite, Barkley's campaign took a standing 8 count after a 20-41, 254 yard, two pick, no touchdown loss to Stanford, and then counted out for good when he turned into an interception machine down the stretch (nine INT's in his last four games).
Denard Robinson (QB Michigan) 5/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 1 Pretty much by halftime of the season opener against Alabama, a 41-14 drubbing in which Robinson threw two picks and rushed for 27 yards. A four interception 13-6 loss to Notre Dame was salt in the wound.
Montee Ball (RB Wisconsin) 5/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 8 A pedestrian 15 carry, 61 yard game in a 10-7 loss to Oregon State, which looked like a much worse loss at the time. Ball wound up with decent numbers (nearly 1,600 yards) on a very average 7-5 Wisconsin team.
Landry Jones (QB Oklahoma) 13/2 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 22 Jones had a couple of soul crushing turnovers in a home loss to Kansas State, and wound up taking until the Sooners' eight game of the season to eclipse the 400 yard mark in a game.
So if you're keeping track, if you had bet on one of the "Fab Four" to win the Heisman, your wager was dead by the end of Week Four! GAMBLING!!
Geno Smith (QB West Virginia) 7/1 ELIMINATED: OCTOBER 20 Smith had built up enough cachet with Heisman pundits in the first five weeks of the season that a 49-14 loss to Texas Tech in his sixth game didn't totally derail his campaign. However, a home loss (55-14 final score) the following week to Kansas State knocked him out for good.
Marcus Lattimore (RB South Carolina) 10/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 22 Three straight sub 100 yard games in Weeks Two through Four ended Lattimore's Heisman consideration. A brutal, stomach turning knee injury ended his season on October 27.
A.J. McCarron (QB Alabama) 15/1 ELIMINATED: NOVEMBER 10 The top rated passer in all of college football, McCarron's calling card all season long up until the A&M game was (a) his team's undefeated record and (b) his INT-less season heading into the A&M game. Both went up in smoke that Saturday -- 2 picks in a 29-24 loss.
Tajh Boyd (QB Clemson) 20/1 ELIMINATED: NOVEMBER 24 Boyd went 11 of 24 for 183 yards with two interceptions in a 27-17 loss to rival South Carolina, Clemson's only real chance to make a statement in 2012 other than their loss to Florida State.
Taylor Martinez (QB Nebraska) 20/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 8 You could argue that Martinez eliminates himself a little bit every time he unveils that girlish throwing motion of his, but functionally he was done after a Week Two loss to UCLA.
De'Anthony Thomas (RB Oregon) 25/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 29 Thomas was eliminated, by and large, because everyone began to realize that his teammate Kenjon Barner was a better player.
Rex Burkhead (RB Nebraska) 25/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 1 Three carries, 68 yards against Southern Miss, and from there the season has been marred by injury after injury.
Aaron Murray (QB Georgia) 35/1 ELIMINATED: OCTOBER 6 Georgia's only loss of the season was a 35-7 drubbing at the hands of South Carolina, a game in which Murray went 11 of 31 for 109 yards. And yet, here they are, one game away from the national title. SEC! SEC! SEC!
Robert Woods (WR USC) 35/1 ELIMINATED: OCTOBER 4 That was officially the day (38-28 win over Utah) where everyone kind of conceded that we had the wrong USC wide receiver in the Heisman mix at the start of the season as Marqise Lee went 12 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown.
Tyler Wilson (QB Arkansas) 35/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 8 Wilson left the Louisiana-Monroe game with an injury in the second half, and ULM proceeded to storm back and win in overtime, the first salvo from the football gods in what would become a 4-8 debacle for the Razorbacks.
Sammy Watkins (WR Clemson) 40/1 ELIMINATED: AUGUST 4 That would be the date that Watkins was suspended for the first two games for drug related charges. It's hard to win the Heisman from the stands serving time for smoking weed, and if anyone knows that, it would be....
Tyrann Mathieu (CB LSU) 50/1 ELIMINATED: AUGUST 10 That would be the date that the "Honey Badger" (a 2011 finalist who actually did overcome a one game suspension that season to get the trip to New York) was kicked off of the LSU football team for yet another (but not his last!) run-in with the chronic.
Keith Price (QB Washington) 50/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 8 The Huskies went to Baton Rouge and got their heads handed to them, 41-3. Price went 17 for 36 for 157 yards with a pick.
Giovani Bernard (RB North Carolina) 55/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 15 Missed his second of two games with an injury, which for a guy playing on a team destined to lose at least four games was just too much. Still wound up with a solid season (1228 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Isaiah Crowell (RB Georgia) 60/1 ELIMINATED: JUNE 29 Crowell was arrested on gun charges and dismissed from the Bulldog team. SEC! SEC! SEC!
James Franklin (QB Missouri) 75/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 8 Franklin had a statistically solid game (269 yards passing) in a 41-20 loss to Georgia. He missed the following week, a 24-20 comeback win over Arizona State, and that was pretty much all she wrote.
Kenny Stills (WR Oklahoma) 75/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 22 The same Kansas State loss that eliminated Landry Jones also ended any faint hope Stills had of riding alongside Jones to New York, a la Jason White and Adrian Peterson as Sooner Heisman finalists in 2004.
Malcolm Brown (RB Texas) 75/1 ELIMINATED: SEPTEMBER 8 Two carries, five yards in a win over New Mexico. Not really totally sure why Brown was even on the board, to be honest.
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Henry Josey (RB Missouri) 80/1 ELIMINATED: AUGUST 27 That would be the day that Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel announced that Josey would be taking a medical redshirt for 2012 so that he could preserve two seasons of eligibility beginning in 2013.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.