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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making the Case: Johnny Football for Heisman

Manziel rushed for 92 yards and threw for 253 against Alabama. He completed 15 of his first 16 passes and had 200 yards of offense at the half. That’s really good, but just how good is it?

The NEPA (Net Expected Points Added) converts a player’s performance into points based on how many more (or fewer) points the typical team could expect to score on that drive after each play1. Johnny Manziel scored a 15.6 against Alabama. This means he was a little over two touchdowns better than what you could expect from a typical college football player against a typical defense.

But Alabama is far from typical. Manziel's 15.6 NEPA is the best individual performance against Alabama this season. Only LSU’s Mettenberger has managed double digits against the Tide. In fact, Manziel's was the best performance against Alabama by a quarterback since 2008 (Tebow had a NEPA of 16.4 and Brian Johnson a 15.9). That includes Cam Newton's performance in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Johnny Football is second nationally in NEPA this season behind only Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois. Lynch is having an incredible season, but Manziel plays in the SEC, not the MAC. Manziel's opponents have allowed only 4.0 points per game to QBs versus 8.1 for Lynch. Johnny Manziel has the largest differential in the nation between his per game NEPA and his opponent's per game NEPA allowed, and it would be larger if Johnny Football was always playing all four quarters.

The player with the highest NEPA while playing in a BCS conference has won the Heisman three of the last four seasons: RGIII, Cam Newton and Sam Bradford. Tebow finished second to Graham Harrell in 2007 and Mark Ingram was second among BCS conference running backs (behind Toby Gerhart; the 2009 BCS NEPA leader was Jerrod Johnson, but the Aggies were 6-7). Manziel will need to hold off Seth Doege and Nick Florence to claim the 2012 NEPA championship like his Heisman predecessors, but like Harrell in 2007, Doege and Florence are not legitimate Heisman candidates.

And Johnny Football's performance is comparable statistically to past Heisman winners. Manziel is only .3 points per game behind Cam Newton’s Heisman-winning pace. He will need a NEPA of 19 against Sam Houston State to pass Newton, so the biggest challenge will be staying in the game long enough to rack up the numbers.

While Klein, Barner and Lee are having outstanding seasons, Manziel has better accumulated stats and the best individual performance on the biggest stage this season. So if Manziel is college football’s most outstanding player statistically, all that could hold him back are contextual factors. He’s a freshman on a two loss team – and Tebow was a sophomore on a four loss team and had a NEPA just a point and a half per game better than Manziel’s. Plus, who else does this on a regular basis?

1 the "Net" in NEPA means that it considers not only the points the offense can expect to score on that drive but the points the opponent can expect to score on their next possession, so field position is important, too.

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