The dust of the college football season, and more specifically the Heisman race, has more or less settled at this point with the exception of two players. Many less worthy candidates have been brushed aside by poor performance, team failure, or both. Those who are left are, of course, "Johnny Football" Manziel of Texas A&M and our own Manti Te'o. Let's take a deeper look at their candidacies.
Notre Dame senior Manti Te'o is the unquestioned leader - on both sides of the ball - of the #1 team in the country. He is also the captain and, as middle linebacker, essentially the quarterback of the #1 defense in the country; while the defense's success is certainly attributable to many superlative individual efforts, Te'o's leadership and talent is a large reason why it has been as good as it has. As a unit, that defense leads the country in scoring defense versus FBS opponents and scoring defense versus ranked opponents, holding its opponents collectively to 19.2 points per game below their scoring averages, and has been the primary reason that Notre Dame climbed from unranked to #1 with a 12-0 regular season. Individually, Te'o leads the nation in takeaways with nine; his seven interceptions are good for second in the nation overall, which is exceptional for a middle linebacker and the most for any FBS linebacker in 12 years (and the last linebacker to have that many, Rice's Dan Dawson in 2000, was a 219-lb. hybrid who participated in the NFL combine as a safety - not a linebacker in the conventional sense).
Te'o has played his best on the biggest stages this season: In the first critical road test for the Irish against then-#10 Michigan State, he had a pass broken up, tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery in support of a dominating defensive performance that effectively killed the Heisman candidacy of Le'veon Bell. Against rival and then-#18 Michigan he recorded a tackle for loss and two interceptions of former Heisman candidate Denard Robinson, and hurried Robinson and a halfback into two others. In an overtime win against current #8 Stanford, he recorded 11 tackles and was instrumental in the overtime goal line stand that sealed the game. On the road against current #11 Oklahoma, he had two tackles for loss, one an early drive-killing sack, and a late game-clinching interception of Landry Jones, another former Heisman candidate. In the regular season finale against hated rival and preseason #1 USC, he set the tone for the second half with yet another momentum-changing interception while dropping into coverage on Heisman candidate Marqise Lee. He is only the second player in the illustrious history of Notre Dame to record over 100 tackles in three consecutive seasons. He currently stands third in Notre Dame history in tackles, behind only legends Bob Crable and Bob Golic. His personal story of class, integrity, and perseverance has been well-documented; he has handled the tragic loss of family with uncommon grace and has inspired countless people inside and outside the Notre Dame family through the quality of his character in ways that go far beyond the game of football.
Texas A&M's redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel has done an admirable job helping #9 Texas A&M to an inaugural SEC season that has exceeded the expectations of many while providing an exciting highlight reel and impressive statistical totals. The single event that catapulted "Johnny Football" into the Heisman conversation was Texas A&M's stunning upset of Alabama, a remarkable achievement indeed. However, one game is not enough to support a Heisman candidacy in itself, and when you apply some scrutiny to Manziel's season it does not stand up as it must to prove he is the best college football player in the nation this year. The Alabama upset aside, Texas A&M's schedule has not been all that impressive - against the three currently-ranked teams on it, Texas A&M is 1-2. The AP recap of the loss to then-#24 (and current #3) Florida in week 2 had this to say of Manziel's performance in a game Texas A&M lost by a field goal: "Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel threw for 173 yards and ran for 60 more, but he couldn't move A&M's offense after halftime." The AP recap of the loss to then-#6 (and current #7) LSU in week 7 included this summary of Manziel's performance: "[Manziel] completed 29-of-56 passes for 276 yards and also threw three interceptions. He was also the league's leading rusher coming into the game and was held to 27 yards on 17 carries." Three interceptions in a game Texas A&M lost by five points.
Just as significant as poor performance against good teams is that a good portion of Manziel's gaudy individual stats came against poor teams. Against FCS opponents South Carolina State and Sam Houston State, Manziel was 29/40 passing for 441 yards, 6 touchdowns and 1 interception, while he had 24 carries for 178 yards and 4 touchdowns. Further, in a 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech and its last-ranked FBS defense, he went 24/40 passing for 395 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception along with 19 carries for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Putting all that together: Against Texas A&M's three weakest defensive opponents Manziel threw for 836 yards (10.5 yards per attempt), 9 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions while running for 359 yards (8.3 yards per carry) and 7 touchdowns. In Texas A&M's three toughest games, however, he threw for 702 yards (at a paltry 6.0 yards per attempt), 2 touchdowns, and three interceptions, while running for 179 yards (at 3.4 yards per carry) and 1 touchdown. He feasted on soft opponents and, in two out of three chances on the big stage, wilted. Nationally, he ranks only 18th in passer rating. And in an unfortunate display of Heisman pandering, he attempted an extra point against FCS Sam Houston State when Texas A&M was up 40-0. He missed, appropriately. As for career performance, clearly as a redshirt freshman his career only consists of this season. Finally, while denigrating another's character is a bit too unseemly in a debate like this, it is fair to note that perhaps nobody in football is of better character and integrity than Manti Te'o - and certainly not Johnny Manziel, as nice a guy as he may be.
If you vote based on who has a more exciting highlight reel, the arguable choice is Manziel (depending on your philosophical opinion of offense vs. defense).
If you vote based on who has the catchier nickname, the clear choice is Manziel.
If you vote based on who the best player on the best team is, the clear choice is Te'o.
If you vote based on who has had the best individual performances in the biggest games, the clear choice is Te'o.
If you vote based on who has had a better career, the clear choice is Te'o.
If you vote based on who best exemplifies the official criterion of the award - "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity" - the clear choice is Te'o.
I would like to see Johnny football face Jadeveon Clowney
He is a good player, but hands down Jaydaveon Clowney from USC (The University of South Carolina) is far better.
Go Johnny Go!!! Have you really seen him play!!! He is absolutely amazing!!!!!!!!!!!