Johnny Manziel’s Heisman coronation capped a wild year of college football in 2012 filled with twists, turns and unexpected results.
Perhaps we should have known 2012 would be different from previous years when Alabama helped start things off with a familiar opponent (LSU) and a different result (a 21-0 rout on the arm of a quarterback ) in the BCS Championship Game.
As 2012 comes to a close, Athlon will count down the top individual performances in each major sport from the year, culminating with a full list of the top 50 performances of the year.
We start today with the top 10 individual performances in college football for 2012:
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel
1. Nov. 10: Johnny Manziel’s Heisman moment
Alabama wasn’t invincible after all. In a game that propelled Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy, Manziel stunned No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the Tide’s first defeat since LSU during the 2011 regular season. Manziel broke off miracle runs and bobbled a snap only to turn it into a touchdown pass early in building a three-score lead in the first quarter. Alabama crawled back into the game, but Manziel finished 24 of 31 for 253 yards with two touchdowns in the 29-24 win. He also rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries.
2. Oct. 10: Jarvis Jones’ party in Jacksonville
The Georgia linebacker took over a handful of games this season, but few were as impressive -- and important to the Bulldogs’ season -- as his effort against Florida. Jones finished with 13 tackles, three sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss in the 17-9 win over the Gators, which ended up clinching the SEC East for the Bulldogs. One of his two forced fumbles poked the ball away from Gators tight end Jordan Reed in the red zone, ending Florida’s final scoring chance.
3. Sept. 22: Manti Te’o’s grief and joy
The same week Te’o’s grandmother and girlfriend died, the Notre Dame linebacker had his best game of the season against Michigan. Te’o finished with eight tackles and intercepted Michigan’s Denard Robinson twice.
Update: Deadspin reports Te'o's girlfriend was a hoax
4. Jan. 9: McCarron manages Mathieu
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was derided as a “game manager” all too often in 2011-12, but he proved the skeptics wrong by turning in the most critical individual performance in a 21-0 handling of LSU in the BCS Championship Game. McCarron’s 23-of-34 showing for 234 yards came seemingly from nowhere as the Alabama quarterback picked on Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and the Tigers secondary.
5. Nov. 18: Tavon Austin’s switcheroo
West Virginia struggled to run the ball all year, so against Oklahoma, Dana Holgorsen changed his approach: He asked his best athlete to start running the ball. Tavon Austin responded to his first day at tailback with 344 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. With 146 yards on kickoff returns and 82 receiving yards, Austin finished with 572 all-purpose yards, only six yards short of the FBS record in the 50-49 loss.
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner
6. Nov. 3: Kenjon Barner rips USC
Barner didn’t set a Pac-12 record (that would have been Ka’Deem Carey’s 366 yards against Colorado), but his 321 yards against USC was record-breaking nonetheless. Barner rushed for a school record and a record for a USC opponent with his 300-yard game against the Trojans which included five touchdowns in the 62-51 win. Being from Riverside, Calif., only added to Barner’s excitement (and USC’s misery).
7. Sept. 29: West Virginia’s Big 12 welcome
Bash the Baylor defense if you must, but what Geno Smith did at the end of September would have been impressive in a summer 7-on-7. Smith threw more touchdown passes (eight) than he did incomplete passes (six) that day against the Bears in West Virginia’s first game as a Big 12 team. Smith completed 45 of 51 passes for a school-record 656 yards that day.
8. Jan. 4: Geno Smith’s record-setting Orange Bowl
Sorting through Geno Smith’s best games can be challenge, but his performance of the Orange Bowl set the tone for the start of the 2012 season. Smith was 32 of 43 for 407 yards with six touchdown passes, a record for any bowl game, in the 70-33 rout of Clemson.
9. Nov. 24: Clowney’s party in the Clemson backfield
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been a nightmare for every quarterback he’s faced, but none more than Tajh Boyd in the final regular season game of 2012. Clowney recorded a career-high 4.5 sacks to give him a South Carolina season record (13) in the 27-17 win over the rival Tigers.
10. Oct. 13: Quinton Patton hits blackjack
The Louisiana Tech receiver with the creative awards campaign had little trouble getting open against Texas A&M. Patton caught 21 passes for 233 yards with four touchdowns in the 59-57 loss to the Aggies. Patton was the first 20-catch receiver since Oct. 10, 2009.
Sept. 29: Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert passed for 516 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 108 yards in a 56-49 win over Akron.
Oct. 27: USC receiver Marqise Lee caught 16 passes for 345 yards with two touchdowns in a 39-36 loss to Arizona. Lee finished the game with 469 all-purpose yards.
Nov. 10: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards with five touchdowns on 25 carries in a 56-31 win over Colorado.
Nov. 17: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd accounted for eight touchdowns (five passing three rushing) in a 62-48 win over NC State.
Nov. 17: Temple running back Montel Harris rushed for 351 yards with seven touchdowns on 36 carries in a 63-32 win over Army.