The Heisman Criteria: The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.
Big Game Performance: Manti Te’o had is biggest games against the best opponents on the schedule with key interceptions and stops against Stanford, USC, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Michigan, in the latter Te’o intercepted Michigan twice and caused two more interceptions with pressure, easily the difference in a tight game. Or as SI noted
“One week after Te’o played remarkably well under the most depressing of circumstances — the death of his girlfriend and grandmother within 24-hour span before the Irish’s game against Michigan State — the Notre Dame community donned tens of thousands of leis to honor his resiliency. Te’o responded with a virtuoso performance in the No. 11 Irish’s 13-6 victory over No. 18 Michigan, as he intercepted two Denard Robinson passes and helped force two others with his disruptive pressure in the backfield.”
Te’o's 7 interceptions are the highest number of interceptions by a linebacker of the last twelve years. To give you an idea of how remarkable an achievement that is, there isn’t one other linebacker in the top 20 in interceptions and the next closest linebacker has just 4 interceptions. Te’o is tied for the lead in takeaways nationally (interceptions and fumbles recovered) with 9 (the other two leaders are defensive backs). Additionally, there isn’t a linebacker on record who has 7 interceptions and 100 tackles in a year (at least that we can find.) While some may look at Te’o's lack of sacks and/or tackles for loss, it’s important to note that he was asked to play a completely different role this year. When asked to play that role last year he had 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Those are outside linebacker numbers from the middle linebacker position. Ironically, pass coverage was supposed to be his one weakness coming into this year. Te’o played against many early Heisman candidates… who weren’t candidates after they played Notre Dame including Bell, Robinson, Taylor, Lee and Jones. If the criteria is “outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity“, it’s hard to argue any player has been more “outstanding while exhibiting the pursuit of excellence with integrity”, than Manti Te’o.
Manziel has had a very good season, but relative to his counterparts, not outstanding. He’s 14th in passing yards, 18th in passing efficiency, 8th in completion percentage, 16th in YPA and 24th in TDs. To give you an idea of his relative performance, he is only 4th in his own conference in passing efficiency rating. If you count just FBS schools, which I would argue any voter should, Manziel has only 18 passing TDs vs. 7 interceptions. As Manor98 noted, 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 6.0 yards per attempt), 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while running for 179 yards (at 3.4 yards per carry) and 1 touchdown. 36 of Manziel’s 43 touchdowns came against the 7 weakest teams on the schedule, which means he scored 7 touchdowns total against the best 5 teams or 1.4 per game.
If you’re looking for the outstanding player who best exhibits the pursuit of excellence the integrity, the argument should end right here. Even Notre Dame detractors have held Te’o up as a shining example of college football excellence. Beyond the heartbreaking story of his play after two tragedies in one week, Te’o has an unblemished record and has turned down millions to come back for the Notre Dame experience. Even the normally anti-ND Jim Rome, had this to say:
“Manti likes to say, “What makes you a man is what you do when the storm comes.” I asked him what he meant by that. And normally, when someone tells me it’s not about the money, it’s about one thing…the money. But not with Manti Te’o. I’ll say it again, that was without question, one of the most moving, inspiring conversations I have ever had with an athlete.”
Manziel will likely become a fine leader as he showcased against Alabama, but he’s still growing and learning. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Manziel was jailed this summer in a fight and there was some concern about his eligibility coming into the season.
Te’o’s Notre Dame accomplished its first undefeated season in 24 years based on a defense quarterbacked by Teo. ND is currently 2nd in the country in scoring (1st against FBS schools,) 1st in Red Zone defense defense, has held 8 of 12 opponents to their lowest totals of the year (and all below their averages,) and has inspired goal line play that helped turn at least three close games. This all happened against what was largely viewed as the hardest schedule in the country, one causing many writers to pen ND’s obituary before the season began.
Texas A&M, at 10-2, has a fine record, but they’re just 1-2 against opponents in the top 25. Two of their wins came against schools that don’t play in the FBS, so they’re 8-2 against FBS schools. They accomplished a remarkable feat by knocking off #1 Alabama, but their other performances and Manziel’s were lacking against other top teams. Outside of three top teams, Texas A&M played just two other FBS school with a winning record and one of those was the aforementioned Louisiana Tech.
The Bottom Line
Te‘o embodies the very definition of the Heisman criteria, perhaps as much as any finalist in the last decade. I leave the final words to coach Kelly, “If a guy like Manti Te’o is not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award… just give it to the offensive player every year, and let’s just cut to the chase. He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week.”