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Owens: Te’o earned the Heisman over Manziel in season’s biggest moments (Nov. 30)

Andrew Owens | Friday, November 30, 2012

When the Heisman Trophy is awarded in 10 days, yet another quarterback will probably step to the podium and be honored as college football’s most outstanding player.

But, like many before him, Johnny Manziel won’t be deserving of the award.

Yes, he is college football’s greatest offensive player, but he isn’t college football’s greatest player.

As Irish coach Brian Kelly said at USC on Saturday, the award should undergo a name change if Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o doesn’t take home the hardware.

“If a guy like Manti Te’o’s not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award and just give it to the offensive player every year and let’s just cut to the chase,” Kelly said. “He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week.

“If the Heisman Trophy is what it is, I just don’t know how Manti Te’o is left out of that conversation.”

Ever since Texas A&M toppled then-unbeaten Alabama, there hasn’t even been much of a conversation. Voters are so quick to sling their support behind an offensive player that the best remaining option is a freshman quarterback from a 10-2 football team.

This isn’t an attempt to diminish a wildly successful freshman year from ‘Johnny Football,’ the game’s hottest name during November.

The biggest knock on Manziel is that he failed to impress against elite opponents more times than not. His performance at Alabama – 24-of-31 for 345 total yards and two touchdowns – will go down in Aggie lore, as it should.

It was a Heisman moment against the top-ranked scoring defense, but the problem is the rest of his résumé doesn’t shout, “Heisman!”

Outside of Alabama, Texas A&M has played two elite opponents this season. In his first collegiate start, Manziel totaled 233 yards and a rushing touchdown at home against Florida.
In the Aggies’ second home loss of the season, Johnny Football completed only 29 of 56 passes for 276 yards and three interceptions against LSU. The Tiger defense also curtailed Manziel’s rushing attack, holding him to 27 yards on 17 carries. His average yards per pass – 4.9 – and yards per rush – 1.6 – just didn’t cut it.

Color me underwhelmed.

Thirteen of his 24 passing touchdowns came in four non-conference games against Southern Methodist, South Carolina State, Sam Houston State and Louisiana Tech. In SEC play, he hurled 11 touchdowns to six interceptions – not exactly the type of digits you see out of Heisman hopefuls. Even 19 total rushing touchdowns aren’t enough to make up for that.

Te’o, on the other end, has played at a high level each week and saved his best performances for the biggest stage. He recorded two interceptions with a heavy heart under the lights against Michigan as the Irish rendered Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson useless en route to surrendering just six points.

In October, Te’o led the charge in the first of several noteworthy goal-line stands this season to secure a 20-13 win against Stanford. The Cardinal, who can win the Pac-12 with a win this weekend, failed to reach the end zone on offense.

Two weeks later, he clinched a victory over Oklahoma with a late interception of Sooners quarterback Landry Jones and added another in the season finale against USC, not to mention another legendary goal-line stand.

Watching the Irish play, you see the impact Te’o has on his teammates. Without him, Notre Dame still has an excellent defense, but not an elite defense. Not a national-championship caliber defense. Certainly not a legendary defense.

Voters: This is a call to throw conventional wisdom out the window. The Heisman winner need not be another quarterback. If the award stays true to its description, it will go to a defensive player this season.

It will go to Manti Te’o.

Contact Andrew Owens at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.