The 2012 Heisman candidates display the double-edged sword in college football.
In one corner, you have Johnny "Football" Manziel, a freshman quarterback from Texas A&M. In the other, Manti Te'o, senior linebacker from Notre Dame.
The words, "freshman" and "linebacker" are a few of the taboo words that don't go with the Heisman trophy. Both are worthy of the award, and come Saturday night in New York City, a freshman or a linebacker will win college football's most prestigious prize.
While these taboos reign in college football, why don't we take a look at the top two finalist, shall we?
Out of the gate, Manziel is the clear favorite. Everyone can tell you that the Heisman favors offensive players, mainly at the quarterback, running back and receiver position. Johnny football has the numbers that should make him a clear favorite, other than the bias against defensive players. 3,419 yards passing, 1,181 rushing yards, 43 touchdowns. Those numbers would make anyone with a vote put him at number one. His biggest game that put him on the map for Heisman was against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. If voters can get over the "he's a freshman" debate, he should win.
The Aggies were brand new to the SEC in 2012, and many might have predicted them to suffer the same fate as West Virginia did in their inaugural season in the Big XII.
In their first game against an SEC opponent, Texas A&M fell to Florida. Later in the season, they lost a one score game against LSU. It was the Alabama game that showed the conference that the Aggies could run with the big dogs. It was the also the beginning of Johnny Football. I think many can agree that Manziel has a nice resume for the Heisman. A date in the Cotton Bowl awaits him and his team. He might be bringing some hardware with him to Dallas.
The finalist with the odds stacked higher against him is Manti Te'o. Only one true defensive players has won the Heisman. Charles Woodson from Michigan won it back in 1997. Woodson helped his Heisman stock by returning kicks and playing receiver at times.
Te'o has had a season to remember. He is the most decorated Notre Dame player in the last 25 years. The passing of his gandmother and girlfriend on the same day back early in the season tested his faith and proved to be inspiration for him and his team. Having some of his best games when the Irish defeated Michigan State and Michigan. Te'o had a key interception against the Spartans and two off Denard Robinson. Seven interceptions, 101 total tackles. It's a shame that some don't consider defensive stats official. No wonder defensive players never win the Heisman.
The inspirational story is nice, but why should Te'o stand a chance against a great offensive talent like Manziel? Well, look at it this way. Notre Dame has not had a great defense in a long time. The Irish have invested in high scoring offense and a "hold them off" defense with their previous coaches, especially under Charlie Weis. Two goal-line stands and key interceptions have made Te'o one of the best players in the game, and have awaken the echoes of past defenses. As Dan Patrick stated on his radio show Monday when he unveiled his ballot, if Te'o wins the Heisman, it can be seen as an award for the entire defensive unit.
Te'o made his recruitment trip to Notre Dame back in 2008 when the Irish lost to lowly Syracuse in a stadium that still had snow in the stands after a snowstorm from earlier in the week. Both Manti and I were there. That's why I know about the snow in the bleachers. Even after that disaster, it was faith and other reasons that brought him to Notre Dame over Southern California. Fast forward to his senior year, he decides to stay one more season. Without him, the Irish might not be on their way to Miami for the national championship game.
An argument can be made for why one should be favored over another. Some have already voiced their opinion saying Manziel should win because it's hard for a defensive player like Te'o to win. Others are taking the underdog in Manti. Either way, an uncommon player will take the stage in Manhattan and join other greats in one of the most exclusive clubs in collegiate sports. For Manziel, it could be the first of a few. For Te'o, it's the chance to be a rare member of the club.