There aren’t too many things that ESPN host Skip Bayless says that I agree with, but his piece this week on how Manti Te’o should win the Heisman actually made a lot of sense. In today’s football world defense is a lost art. It seems like the majority of teams in college football could spread the field and rack up passing numbers at will. School passing yardage records are shattered all over the country every time you blink. That’s the reason that makes Te’o's 2012 season all the more impressive.
Te’o is the undisputed leader of a team that is ranked number one in the nation. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish may not even be ranked without the phenomenal play of their defense. The Irish rank 76th in the country in points for and have scored 30-plus points in just four games all season. Notre Dame also has two victories when they failed to score at least 20 points.
Te’o's play has been so consistent all year. He never had a bad game and totaled 101 tackles while finishing second in the nation with seven interceptions. Four of those seven picks came in the final six games, when the Irish faced the most pressure to continue their undefeated campaign.
Te’o is an every down inside linebacker and will be no doubt a top five pick in the NFL Draft next spring. He has the size to devastate opponents and can also cover the tight end. Playing the position he plays will of course draw comparisons to Ray Lewis, but he reminds me more of a Patrick Willis. With an athletic upside and knowledge of reading an offense, Te’o has a good chance to be even better than the San Francisco 49ers standout.
The main competition for Te’o is Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel, who rekindled our love affair with Tecmo Bowl this season. While Manziel had a Heisman defining victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Aggies have losses from earlier in the year to the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers. Both are top ten teams so that’s nothing to be ashamed of. If the trophy was handed out for the last month and a half of the season, then I say Manziel wins hands down, but Te’o's consistency from start to finish puts him ahead.
Manziel’s 43 total touchdowns and 4600 combined yards are outstanding, but he touches the ball every play and is the focal point of the Texas A&M offense. By no means am I trying to downplay his accomplishments, but Te’o's dominance over every offense on a number one ranked undefeated team really stands out. Not to worry Manziel fans, he will probably be collecting multiple Heisman’s before his time is done in college football.
The last and only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman was Charles Woodson in 1997 with the Michigan Wolverines. Although Woodson did play special teams, his main contribution was at corner and he had eight interceptions during that season. Te’o has seven playing at linebacker.
With all the adversity Te’o has faced in 2012, his Heisman campaign is all the more impressive. With the way offensive football is headed, it would be hard to imagine any other defensive player having a shot to win the Heisman in the foreseeable future. Or ever, for that matter. Te’o may be old school defensive football supporters last shot at bragging rights.
I’m not sure if defense still wins championships anymore in football, but this year Te’o should sure win the Heisman.
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