The Notre Dame Fighting Irish pulled off the improbable, capping off their fantastic run this year with a 22-13 win over the USC Trojans on Saturday night. The win gave the Irish their first undefeated season in the Brian Kelly Era, and came to the surprise of almost every college football fan, whether they reside inside or outside of South Bend.
There have been no shortage of contributors to the season that the Irish have had. Their defense is as strong as they come, and the offense has come a long way in the past few weeks as well. But if you’re looking for the team’s most valuable player, there’s no one more valuable to this year’s team than Manti Te’o.
Many threw Te’o's name into the ring as a Heisman Trophy contender heading into the season, but no one thought it would actually be a serious bid for the top award. Sure, perhaps a trip to New York City as a finalist, but few likely expected him to be part of the 1-2 punch of Heisman contenders.
As of right now, one has to believe that it’s between Te’o and Texas A&M freshman sensation Johnny Manziel. There’s no doubt that what Manziel has done this year has been special. He’s been a blast to watch. And as a freshman, no less. But Manti Te’o absolutely deserves to become the first defensive player since Charles Woodson to take home the Heisman.
Te’o is a finalist for several awards this college football season, but the Heisman would be the ultimate stamp on a legendary career at Notre Dame. His numbers certainly indicate that he’s earned it, especially if you stack them up against the likes of Woodson and his Heisman in ’97 at Michigan.
Woodson had 44 tackles and eight interceptions that year. Compared to Woodson, Te’o has over 100 tackles and seven picks. Obviously, they lined up at different positions on defense, and Woodson was a player in the return game in his college days, but it’s a limited sample space to consider when you’re looking at defensive Heisman winners.
The Heisman Trophy has become something of a quarterback award, not like the NFL MVP. It’s not a hard trend to see, given that they put up the most eye-popping statistics, especially when you look at a guy like Johnny Football or Collin Klein. But the award this season absolutely deserves to go to Manti Te’o.
Te’o has been the heart and soul of one of the nation’s top defenses. He’s the best player on the top-ranked team in the land. His numbers, his penchant for stepping up in the big moments, and his character on and off the field should all but lock up the Heisman Trophy for Manti Te’o.