By Dennis Glade
Washington Times Herald
This year’s Heisman Trophy presentation will be a groundbreaking moment for college football. The two front runners for college football’s most prestigious award are Notre Dame senior linebacker Mani Te’o and Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel. Te’o should win, but the award will likely slip through his fingertips, because of the archaic thinking that a quarterback or running back must win the award.
Entering this season Te’o was a well respected linebacker on a mediocre team that would likely be a mid to late first round pick in next April’s NFL Draft. What Te’o did with his senior year is nothing short of amazing, he has put together one of finest defensive seasons in recent memory. In leading the Notre Dame defense, which is the nation’s best, Te’o has been in the middle of every big play the Irish defense has made this season. Every time No. 1 Notre Dame went up against a team that was considered to be a bad offensive matchup for the Irish, Te’o imposed his will and led his teammates to victory.
Te’o began his Heisman campaign Sept. 22 when the Irish hosted rival and then No. 18 Michigan in South Bend. Nobody thought the Irish could slow down Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson, yet Te’o intercepted the Michigan quarterback twice, Notre Dame won 13-6.
Two weeks later, Notre Dame had cracked the top 10 when Stanford came to South Bend, the defining moment of the game was when Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor couldn’t break through the Irish front seven at the goal line in the overtime as the Irish prevailed 20-13.
Another two weeks later, the Irish traveled to Norman, Okla. to battle Oklahoma. Again, the Irish were heavy underdogs, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops hadn’t lost two home games in his tenure at Oklahoma. Didn’t matter. In what was Te’o’s vintage Heisman moment, the senior lineback intercepted Landry Jones with a diving interception where he basically stood on his head to maintain control of his fifth interception of the season. Notre Dame won 30-13. Finally, three weeks later with the Irish traveling cross country to put an exclamation point on a 12-0 regular season, Te’o intercepted his seventh pass of the season, and the Irish defense would not allow the USC offense into the end zone as the Trojan offense wasted time valuable time at the end of the fourth quarter trying to run it in through Te’o as the Irish won 22-13.
The game was the highest rated college football game of the year, even bested the LSU/Alabama tilt in Baton Rouge. The whole country was watching, and yet Te’o is considered a heavy underdog to Manziel for the award. The most impressive aspect of Te’o’s season is that he literally could not slip up once or his team would suffer. The Irish offense wasn’t very good, so the defense was so important. Te’o should win, because he never slipped, Manziel did, twice.
Manziel has had one of most dominant seasons in college football history. His 4,600 total yards are more than Tim Tebow’s 2007 Heisman season and Cam Newton’s 2010 Heisman campaign. Manziel hasn’t been flawless the way Newton was in 2010. He, like Newton beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The rhetoric behind Manziel’s 29-24 win against then No. 1 Alabama has reached all time crazy levels. Yes he jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead against one of the nations second best defenses, but Texas A&M managed just nine points in the next three quarters, holding on for a 29-24 victory. If Alabama quarterback converted its final pass for a touchdown and Alabama stayed No. 1 would the hype around Johnny Football be the same? Not a chance.
To win the Heisman you need to be utterly flawless for an entire season, and Manziel hasn’t been. Against Florida in September, Manziel managed only 173 passing yards on 30 attempts, 60 rush yards and only one touchdown, a 20-17 loss.
On Oct. 20, Manziel threw three interceptions, completed only 51 percent of his passes, and managed only 27 rush yards on 17 carries in the 24-19 loss. Both losses were to conference opponents at home. Yes, Manziel played in the presumptive best conference in the country, the SEC, but Te’o played a stacked schedule as well. Yes, beating Alabama was Manziel’s Heisman moment, but one could argue that he should have been taken out of the running after his three interception performance against LSU. You heard, ‘well he’s a freshman’. That is true, but you can’t have it both ways. The Alabama victory was fantastic, but if the LSU defense could tackle on Alabama’s final drive the week before, the Crimson Tide wouldn’t have been No.1 and therefore minimizing the major upset.
Te’o is a defensive player and that will cost him the award. Only one defensive player has ever won the award, Charles Woodson beat out Peyton Manning in 1997. Woodson was a cornerback. Leon Hart played both sides in 1949 at Notre Dame. No freshman has ever won the award, but the tide is turning in favor of Manziel.
If the voters will finally vote for a freshman for the Heisman, why not a defensive player that led his team to a 12-0 record? College football is changing, but not that much. Manziel will win, but Te’o should.