Settle It: Who deserves to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy?

Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o (5) is greeted by the Notre Dame student section as he enters the field for warmups against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-0. (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

Since 1935, the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to a college football player who has done far more throughout a long season than merely put up gaudy stats. It is one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports. The trophy has been bestowed annually to the man who meant more to the heart and soul of that player’s respective team than any other on the field. The 2012 winner will be presented on Saturday night. A season ago, Robert Griffin III came out of nowhere to lead his Baylor Bears to a 10-3 record and more importantly, the program’s first bowl win since 1992. He would win the Heisman, over favorite Andrew Luck of Stanford, despite the better overall record of the Cardinal.

The 2012 college football season has drawn to a close. The statistics, and the wins, have been compiled. The suits have been measured, the interviews have been given and countless autographs have been signed.

After a season loaded with the unexpected twists and turns we have come to expect each and every year, three young men have tumbled out of the season-long spin cycle and onto the New York City stage.

Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel was never supposed to be under the bright lights of Broadway. After spending his first year on campus as a scout-team wide receiver, Manziel was handed the reins of the offense by first year coach Kevin Sumlin only weeks before the Aggies’ opening game against Florida.

Manziel and Texas A&M would lose that game, 20-17, but he and his teammates would only lose once more all season long. As Manziel led the program from a six-win 2011 campaign in the Big 12 to a 10-win 2012 season in the SEC, the dual-threat dynamo was no longer Johnny Manziel, but a quickly growing Texas legend: Johnny Football.

Johnny Football completed 273-of-400 passing attempts for a 68.3 completion percentage, 3,419 yards and 24 scores. He also rushed for 1,181 yards on 184 rushing attempts — a 6.4 yards per carry average against several of the nation’s premier defensive fronts. His 19 touchdowns on the ground gave him 43 on the season.

Lest we forget, his 4,600 total yards are an SEC record — better than Tim Tebow. Better than Cam Newton. Better than everybody to have ever played in the nation’s premier football conference.

Not to be outdone, two seniors have waited far longer for their time in the limelight.

Collin Klein has led the ‘Cats to an 11-1 record and Fiesta Bowl birth. (Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE)

In 2010, the Kansas State Wildcats finished 7-6, losing to Syracuse, 36-34, in the Pinstripe Bowl. That same season, Collin Klein took 76 rushes for 432 yards, but was only afforded 18 passing attempts, of which he completed 11.

Two years later, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Klein finally put his stamp on not only the K-State program, but the nation. No long was the heart and soul of the Wildcats known simply as ‘Collin’, but the monstrous runner and vastly improved passer took the Big 12 by storm as ‘Optimus Klein’.

Optimus was a Heisman favorite prior to the kickoff of the 2012 college football season, and the team captain did not disappoint.

Klein tossed 272 pass attempts, completing 180 of them, for a 66.2 completion percentage, 2,495 yards and 15 touchdowns. Like a demolition derby car, Klein took his lickins’, but he just kept on tickin': On 194 rushing attempts, Klein rumbled for 895 yards and 22 more scores.

His Kansas State ‘Cats earned a share of the Big 12 title en route to a stellar 11-1 finish to the regular season. The program spent a week as the nation’s No. 1-overall team, a first in its history, and Klein was largely the reason why.

As for No. 1 rankings, however, look no further than one of the nation’s most decorated football programs.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished its 2012 campaign as the nation’s only bowl-eligible undefeated team, a first for the Golden Domers since 1988.

Back then, in the era of VCRs and music videos on MTV, the Irish were considered the class of the nation. Today, with Hulu Plus and Twitter dominating the entertainment landscape, Notre Dame has returned to national prominence by going old-school.

By going with defense.

Senior linebacker Manti Te’o decided to bypass the NFL Draft  in order to put his stamp on his school’s record books and he has largely succeeded. With seven interceptions, Te’o set the Notre Dame linebacker record for picks recorded in a single season. Along with those seven takeaways, Te’o also recovered a fumble. That gives Te’o eight of his team’s 23 takeaways on the season, or a robust 34.8 percent on the nation’s No. 1-overall ranked defense.

Te’o’s dominance has translated into several postseason awards, including the Walter Camp, the Bednarik and the Maxwell, among others.

However, for some players, dominance does not at all equate to transcendence.

Manti Te’o is a Hawaiian Mormon that has earned the love and respect of thousands of Midwestern Catholics.

With his response to the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend in the same week, Te’o earned the respect of an entire nation.

Are Te’o’s numbers, captaincy and transcendence enough to become the first defensive player to win the Trophy since Charles Woodson in 1997?

Optimus Klein posted a stellar senior year himself, and has his team poised for its BCS Fiesta Bowl matchup with Oregon.

Both seniors will share the New York City stage with the legend himself, Johnny Football. Should he earn the votes, Manziel will be the first freshman in college football history to win the Trophy. Will his spectacular numbers and mind-boggling scrambles against the best defenses be enough to overcome his age and inexperience?

The Heisman voters will have their say on Saturday night, but beforehand, we here at Gamedayr Nation will have ours.

[poll id=”58″]

Latest from around Gamedayr >> Heisman voter Mike Huguenin weighs in on who he thinks should win it