We are mere days away from the 2012 Heisman Trophy announcement, and the controversy over whether or not a defensive player should win continues to mount.
And it's not just any defensive player. It's Manti Te'o, who is being heralded as the most deserving defensive candidate for the prestigious award, maybe ever.
Earlier this week, the three finalists were announced: Te'o, Texas A&M golden boy Johnny Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who essentially has no shot considering the two guys he's up against.
This contest will certainly come down to Te'o and Manziel. The star linebacker versus the star quarterback. It comes down to which one of them has had a bigger impact on his team—and on college football—in 2012.
And for the most part, the majority is still claiming that Te'o, although clearly the best defensive player in college football, is still not Heisman-worthy.
Most of that is because of what Manziel accomplished this season. The redshirt freshman threw for 3,419 yards and rushed for another 1,181 this season to shatter Cam Newton's SEC single-season record. Manziel's numbers, the pundits love to point out, are better than Newton's and Tim Tebow's—both former Heisman winners.
But there was no Manti Te'o when Newton and Tebow were up for the award.
First, the facts as far as Te'o is concerned: According to ESPN.com's Tobin Petitpas, his seven interceptions in 2012 are tied for the second-most in football, and they are three more than any other linebacker.
Overall, including his two fumble recoveries, he has nine takeaways, which are the most in the nation. His defense hasn't allowed a touchdown drive over 75 yards in 2012. He, of course, built that defense over the last four years in South Bend.
Is Te'o the one throwing the ball? No—but look at the scores of Notre Dame's games this season. Look at how close some of them have been. It may be harder to discern just based on the stats, but Te'o's tackles and takeaways have won just as many games for the Irish as Manziel's touchdown passes have won for the Aggies.
And though the hype for Johnny Football has reached a fever pitch of late, perhaps it's a bit overstated—or so say Stephen Barry and Danny McShane of the South Bend Tribune. Manziel is easy to root for: His stats are right there in front of your face, he's fun to watch and seems like a nice kid.
Plus, he's the only QB in football who managed to take down Alabama this season.
But according to the Tribune, Manziel didn't fare so well against some of the better teams in the nation. In fact, they write, 38 of his 43 TDs came against teams that went 42-52 overall. Not so impressive.
On top of that, he had three chances to shock the world with huge wins in 2012—against Alabama, Florida and LSU—and only capitalized on one of them.
Shouldn't the best quarterback in college football—the clear Heisman winner—be able to beat the best of the best and avoid making critical mistakes?
Barry and McShane write:
If you like iPads, prepackaged lunches and letting other people form your opinions, then read no further. The hype is right and so are you. Johnny Manziel is the best ... ever. Period. Just look at his stats. If, however, you're a real American, choose your own bedtime, or are a self-respecting, duty-bearing Heisman trophy voter, please keep reading. Manziel is not the best ever. He's not even the best this year. Just look at his stats.
ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna originally placed Johnny Manziel first, ahead of Te'o, on his Heisman Watch. Now, after reading the Heisman Trust Mission Statement (which was shoved at him by a multitude of Notre Dame fans), he's taking it back. Now, he's saying that maybe Te'o does deserve the award after all.
Te'o's numbers may not jump off the page week to week, but he has risen to the occasion whenever it has mattered most. … Over and over, Notre Dame fans (and even some non-Notre Dame fans), you have been pressing for me for answers, wondering how I could not have Te'o as my Heisman choice. Over and over, I have struggled to come up with a good response. Why not Te'o for Heisman? Why not, indeed.
If Fortuna can be turned into a believer, maybe some of the Heisman voters can be too.