On Saturday, I will join millions of viewers watching the Heisman Trophy award presentation (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) to see which player the voters have anointed as the best in college football. Although I don't have an official vote for the honor, after watching countless hours of college football this season, I can't help but weigh in on my top candidates for the award. Here are six guys I believe are worthy of the trophy (though only the top three were invited to the actual ceremony in New York as official finalists):
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: "Johnny Football" took the college football world by storm with a spontaneous playing style that evokes memories of Doug Flutie and Fran Tarkenton. Manziel shattered the SEC's single-season mark for total offense (4,600 yards from scrimmage), while transforming the Aggies into one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country. Most impressively, he totaled 43 combined touchdowns and put together a reel of splash plays that have made him a must-see playmaker in the minds of coaches, scouts and fans.
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame: The best defensive player on college football's top defense certainly deserves recognition. Te'o has produced nine takeaways (seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries) this season, while showcasing a game built on instincts, awareness and physicality. When I've studied Te'o closely on tape and in person, I've been impressed with his anticipation, toughness and hustle. He flows to the ball with a relentless desire to punish ball carriers and receivers at every turn. With Te'o also displaying the ability to create turnovers against the run or pass, he is certainly worthy of walking away with the hardware on Saturday night.
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein is not as flashy as some of the dual-threat quarterbacks making noise across the country, but few signal-callers do more with less than the Kansas State star. Klein has accounted for 69 percent of the Wildcats' offense and scored 37 combined touchdowns. Those numbers reflect his dominance as a one-man wrecking crew and suggest that the team's run to the Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl are largely due to him.
Breer: NFL comparison for Te'o?
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: It's unfortunate the Buckeyes are ineligible for national championship consideration because Miller's chances for claiming the Heisman would certainly increase with the spotlight. However, observers shouldn't ignore Miller's contributions to Ohio State's unbeaten season. He passed for 2,039 yards with 15 touchdowns against only six picks, and rushed for 1,271 yards with 13 scores. Those numbers are not necessarily eye-popping, but consider the fact that he scored at least two touchdowns in 10 contests and recorded six 100-yard rushing games.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC: It is not common for a wide receiver to seriously contend for this honor, but Lee's spectacular season makes him a viable candidate for this award. Lee finished second in the country with 1,680 receiving yards and ranked third in touchdown catches with 14. While those numbers are certainly impressive, it was his eight 100-yard games that stood out to me. Lee routinely got open against various brackets and double teams and came up with explosive plays despite opponents paying special attention to him. Although USC's disappointing record (7-5) and underachievement makes it impossible to give Lee the award, he should be recognized as one of the top players in college football.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: I know defensive players aren't normally considered for this award, but someone should recognize Clowney for his talent and immense impact on the Gamecocks' defense this season. The super sophomore registered 13 sacks this season, while absolutely wreaking havoc on the SEC with his unique combination of size, athleticism and speed. Clowney repeatedly took over games with his phenomenal rush skills and kept the Gamecocks in the hunt for the SEC East crown with his exceptional play. I think offensive coordinators around the SEC will quickly tell anyone that Clowney is the most dominant player on the field whenever he steps between the lines.
And the winner is:Manziel.
From my notebook
» Nevada's Duke Williams has garnered a lot of national attention as one of the top safeties in the draft, but scouts on the West Coast are touting him as the best of the bunch. I had an NFC South scout tell me that he rated Williams ahead of USC's T.J. McDonald and Fresno State's Phillip Thomas. He called Williams a "big-time football player" with outstanding instincts, awareness and toughness, and said he should be an immediate difference maker for any team that drafts him. When I asked the scout why others haven't touted Williams as a blue-chip guy, he said that lack of name recognition is likely keeping scouts from putting a high grade on him. While I don't believe that will ultimately play a role in Williams' final evaluation, I do believe he could experience a meteoric rise up the charts when scouts finally see him play in postseason all-star games.
» Florida State quarterack E.J. Manuel will be one of the most intriguing prospects to watch over the next few months, based on my conversations with scouts around the league. He is regarded as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the draft; scouts can't rave enough about his immense skill. An NFC West scout told me he believes Manuel has all the physical tools (size, athleticism and arm strength). He compared him to Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger athletically and views him as a possible franchise-caliber quarterback in the right system. Although the scout cited concerns about Manuel's ability to read the entire field and work through multiple progressions, he said that the recent trend of coaches willing to adapt to the talents of their quarterback could make the Seminole a solid option on the second day of the draft.
» Scouts are not allowed to officially weigh in on underclassmen, but Florida's Sharrif Floyd has certainly caught the attention of evaluators across the league. The 6-foot-3, 303-pound defensive tackle is viewed as an ideal interior playmaker at the next level, according to an AFC executive who has studied Floyd from afar. Hr was impressed with Floyd's combination of size, strength and power and loved his ability to make plays against the run or pass. That exec also said that it's hard to find interior defenders with that kind of ability.