It really was no surprise that Notre Dame football’s star senior linebacker Manti Te’o was named as a Heisman finalist.
After all, he’s been the most dynamic player on arguably the best defense in college football all season. For 2012, Te’o has racked up quite a resume. Notre Dame is 12-0 and going to the BCS National Game for the first time in the BCS era. He’s had signature wins against big programs – Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Stanford, and USC. The first four were ranked when the Irish faced them; USC was the pre-season #1 team but had stumbled to a 7-4 record and was unranked when they played Notre Dame.
Individually, Teo’s numbers are rather eye popping for a college linebacker. 101 total tackles, 4 passes defended, 1.5 sacks, and 7 interceptions (the first 7 of his career). He showed up huge in the games against Stanford (helping make that controversial goal line stand to win the game in OT), posted 12 tackles against Michigan State, 8 tackles and 2 interceptions against Michigan, and 11 tackles and game-ending interception against Oklahoma.
There is no doubt Te’o is the best defensive player in college football. He should win a litany of awards: Names like Nagurski, Butkus, Bednarik, and Lott could all be tied to the young man from Hawaii once college football award season is done. However, one name not attached to Te’o is the one that matters the most: Heisman.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. If I were a Heisman voter (obviously I am not) I would put Te’o at the top of my ballot and not give it a second thought. But the voters (and the public) aren’t awed by defensive stats like they are others. The single biggest hurdle for Te’o’s “Mant-eisman” campaign is the position he plays.
To put it another way – he’s not a quarterback.
I whole heartedly agree with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s assessment that if Te’o doesn’t win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award and be done with the pretense. In my honest opinion, Te’o is unquestionably the best player in college football this year. But I know that the people who make that decision – that’s up to the press and the former Heisman winners. Ok, and one vote for the public, to make us feel like our opinion actually matters – won’t put a linebacker ahead of a quarterback for the trophy.
Here’s how I expect the vote to go:
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
The reason that Manziel will win the Heisman over Te’o are numerous, and in all fairness, valid. He’s scored 43 total touchdowns, thrown for 3,419 yards, and rushed for another 1,181. He’s notched wins over (at the time) #23 Louisiana Tech, #15 Mississippi State, and most impressive of all #1 Alabama. His only losses were against LSU (now #8 in the BCS rankings) and LSU (#3). His team’s opponents have a combined record of 88-56 (.611). And he plays in the SEC.
Even with Johnny Football being a redshirt freshman, those are numbers that won’t be overlooked by the voters. And maybe they shouldn’t be.
Klein is another story, though. There is no reason why he should finish ahead of Te’o in the voting. His numbers pale in comparison to Manziel’s, and they came against a much weaker slate of opponents (total W/L record is 74-69, or .517). If he does finish ahead of Te’o, there needs to be a total re-work of the award.
With all that being said, though, I maintain that Te’o should – but won’t – win the Heisman. He’s the best player on the best team in the nation, and is a transcendent defensive talent the likes of which we will never see again.
The way I see, Te’o would need some major “luck o’ the Irish” to pull off the upset. But I’m fairly certain that if it came down to it, he’d rather save that luck for winning the national championship.
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