Manti Te’o – The Only Logical Choice for the Heisman

Quick – who is the greatest football player of all time?

The question is probably the most ridiculous question in all of sports. As dumb and fruitless as many comparisons might be already, how could you possibly compare players that play completely different positions, or even play on opposite sides of the ball?

Was Dick Butkis better than John Elway? How could you possibly know?

Can you really judge whether a QB is more valuable than a LB? What is the criteria?

The best argument I’ve ever heard for the so-called “Greatest Football Player in NFL History” was actually made for a player that probably didn’t even make your top 5 – Jerry Rice.

Last summer, Shannon Sharpe opined that Rice was the greatest for one reason: nobody else came close to his dominance over his peers at his position.

The argument was simple.  Maybe you think Joe Montana was better than John Elway…but by how much? 0.3%? 0.03%? Whatever the differential, you could make a rational argument either way.

But when it comes to wide receivers, Jerry Rice is the clear cut choice. He finishes 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the argument. Maybe you think that Randy Moss was the second greatest receiver the game has ever seen. But is he even half as good as Rice?

Of course, this leads us to the “How valuable can a WR really be?” argument that is completely valid and clouds the discussion even more. Can you really compare WRs and RBs? Or QBs and Free Safeties?  It’s just too difficult.

And that’s why the NCAA has seemingly 8,000 different awards – so that players can be judged against others who play their same position for the chance to receive post-season hardware.

But we still have a Heisman Trophy.

As irrelevant as some consider it these days, it’s still far and away the most prestigious award a college athlete can receive. And there are three candidates who will vie for this year’s trophy tomorrow night.

As you already know, defensive players don’t win the Heisman Trophy. Some even joke that they should just change the name of the award to “The Most Statistically Impressive QB or RB on the Most Hyped Team in America” Trophy or something similar.

Yet, here sits Manti Te’o – a defensive stalwart among skill players at the award ceremony. And despite the rarity of a defensive win, Te’o not only deserves to be at the party, but he should absolutely win this season’s award.


Manti Te’o has led Notre Dame’s dominant defense in 2012. (Image credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE via

According to the Heisman Trust,

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

With no disrespect to Collin Klein and Johnny Football – two men who appear to possess great character in and of themselves – neither of them come close to matching what Manti Te’o has accomplished this season.

Te’o would have undoubtedly been a high draft pick last year had he chosen to leave school early, but he chose to finish what he started: he wanted to graduate and lead a team that he thought had the chance to be great.

Pundits predicted Notre Dame to barely finish above .500, and Vegas had their over/under for wins at 8 coming into the season. Nobody outside of South Bend expected greatness from the Golden Domers this season – nobody except for Manti Te’o.

Not only has he led his team on a pursuit of excellence, but he has also exhibited enormous amounts of integrity, diligence, perseverance, and hard work. Whether he was losing 20 pounds so that he could gain speed for this year, or pushing through unbelievable difficulties as two of his closest friends and family members died within 24 hours of each other, Te’o has truly lived up to the criteria that the Heisman Trophy claims to embody.

Of course, you might be thinking, “We can’t just give him the award because he’s gone through some difficult things this year.” You would be right.

Fortunately for Te’o, there are several other reasons to vote for him.

Statistical Argument

Teo’s numbers don’t necessarily blow you away like certain past Heisman Trophy winners. In fact, several people are trying to argue that his numbers actually are not that statistically impressive this season.

A friend of mine even joked:

“So LB Manti Te’o is a Heisman finalist being ranked 56th in the country in tackles, NOT in the top 100 in tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks on the season…but he does have those 7 INTs. I guess that puts him over the top…..I feel bad for LB Phillip Steward at Houston who in 2011 had 14 more tackles than Te’o, 9.5 more sacks, but only 6 INTs on the year…guess someone should’ve told him he only needed 1 more to be a Heisman finalist…….oh, and transfer to ND.”

Ignoring the fact that Steward played on a Houston defense that finished outside of the top 40 in nearly every single statistical category, a closer look at what Te’o has done this year shows that he’s been, statistically, quite incredible.

While it’s true that he’s not in the top 50 in tackles, that list is actually littered with players who play on terrible defenses. Take Marvin Burdette, #2 on the list. He plays for UAB, which ranks 110th in total defense this year in college football. It makes sense: bad defenses are on the field more, and therefore, their players have more opportunities to make good tackles.

A quick look at the best defenses in the country verifies this. There are only two players on the nation’s top 5 defenses (Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, Rutgers, and BYU) that even made the top 100 in tackles – and of course one of them is Manti Te’o.

Good defenses are typically balanced, with many guys sharing the load for tackles, sacks, and interceptions. And yet, on the best defense in the country, Te’o has proven himself to be a standout.

Once you add in the interceptions – Te’o ranks 2nd with 7 and no other non-defensive back is even in the top 22 – Te’o’s season looks better and better.

And remember, he’s not putting up crazy numbers on a bad unit.  He’s been a man among other men in 2012 – there is no way to say otherwise.

Lack of Competitor’s Argument

Johnny Manziel and Collin Klein have had good seasons this year as well – but you could hardly say they have stood out.

Sure, they rank 2nd and 11th, respectively, in points accounted for; and considering Manziel posted those numbers in the tough SEC, his stats are particularly impressive. However, neither player has had a good enough year to blow every one else out of the water.

For a defensive player to actually win the Heisman, a lot of things would have to fall his way.

In 1997, not only did Charles Woodson have a great season, but for one reason or another, nobody wanted to vote for Peyton Manning – the only other player that had a Heisman-worthy resume. Again, as good as Woodson was, there is no way he would have won it last season had he gone head to head with RG3.

This year would be the perfect year for a defensive standout to win the Heisman.

As much as people are trying to shove Johnny Football down our throats, the fact is that 90% of the country had no idea who he even was before the Aggies beat Alabama. While it’s true that people have come on late to win a Heisman, it seems weird that a guy who was talked about for three weeks would actually be more deserving than Te’o – a guy who has dominated headlines all year and has never laid an egg in a big game.

When Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin won their Heismans, they blew everyone else out of the water statistically. When Mark Ingram, Sam Bradford, and Troy Smith won, they combined statistical excellence with competitive greatness as well.

Neither Manziel or Klein separated himself enough from the rest of the pack to mandate that he win the award. The fact that Manti Te’o’s team is playing for the national championship clinches the argument for him.

Winning Argument

At the end of the day, most football arguments, fair or not, come down to winning.

Most people consider Tom Brady to be better than Peyton Manning for one reason – he has more rings.  Now, whether it’s fair to compare football players this way when, at the very most, a player only plays 45% of every game doesn’t really matter.

But most people agree: winning can be traced back to leadership, and leaders win.

If that’s the case, there is no possible way you can argue for Klein or Manziel over Te’o. As soon as Kansas State made headlines this year and Klein made the cover of SI…they got trounced by a mediocre Baylor team.

As good as Manziel’s numbers have been – and again they’ve been good, NOT great this season (Tim Tebow had 12 more TDs, a better QB Rating, and more yards per attempt in his Heisman Campaign than Johnny Football this year), he has played rather poorly in both of Texas A&M’s losses this year.  After a so-so performance in the team’s loss against Florida (his first game ever), Manziel seemed to be riding high coming into his game against LSU.  Unfortunately, he threw three picks, scored ZERO TDs, and pretty much cost the Aggies the game.  Texas A&M lost by 5 at home in a game they absolutely would have won had Manziel even played average football.

For anyone else, that one game would have ended his Heisman candidacy.  The Aggies’ season was finished in mid-October.  All that was left for them to do was pad stats for their exciting Freshman QB.

Meanwhile, Te’o and his Notre Dame defense answered every call:

  • In week 3, they went on the road and held a top 10 team without a TD.
  • The next week, they kept their bitter rival Michigan out of the end zone as well.
  • A neutral field domination of the Miami Hurricanes followed.
  • Then, they held one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, as well as what many consider to be college football’s hottest team right now, to without an offensive TD.  And who was in the middle of every rush in the Irish’s game clinching goal line stand?  That’s right, Manti Te’o.

Four tests, four A+’s.  On the national stage.  Holding Oklahoma to only 13 points on the road was icing on the cake. A road win at USC to finish the year added the cherry.

You might not like Notre Dame. You might think they are over-rated. You could think they are over-hyped.

You very well might think that Alabama will crush them.

But one thing is for sure: Manti Te’o is the Heisman Winner for 2012.  Nobody else really comes close.

About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.


  1. Strong arguments, and I’d be down with defensive player winning the award.

    Exit polls say it will be Johnny Football though…


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