The biggest reason that a pure defender has never won the Heisman trophy is simply that, as one player on an 11-person defense that the offense is trying to attack, there simply aren't enough highlight reel moments to catch the nation's attention to garner the highest award in college football.
I would argue that the Heisman Trophy, in this day of media hype and the lightning fast media cycle, has come to represent not the mission as laid out in the Heisman Trust, but has instead become an offensive MVP award - generally given to the most impressive offensive performer on one of the elite teams in college football.
The tragedy that touched our hearts put Manti Te'o on the Heisman map, and a 4 turnover performance against Michigan cemented him as a legitimate contender - a legitimate Heisman moment.
But as the best player on the best defense in the country, all subsequent teams have tried desperately to find a way to take him out of the game. Despite this, he has continued to perform on a week-in, week-out basis.
The list of Heisman "frontrunners" this year has been comical.
Preseason, senior Matt Barkley was poised to win the Heisman trophy - the 5th year QB on the preseason #1 team in the country clearly had the inside lane. A loss in week 3 to Stanford started a downward spiral for the Trojans, and effectively ended Barkley's Heisman hopes.
Luckily, Geno Smith burst onto the scene with video-game-like numbers at the beginning of the season. But then he got crushed by Texas Tech 49-14, looking terrible in the process, and a new candidate needed to be found.
Enter Optimus Klein, the senior QB beast from Kansas State. Impressive offensive numbers and an improving ranking put him into contention. Kenjon Barner's performance for Oregon also got him into the mix as well. Even A.J. McCarron was briefly mentioned before being laughed away.
Then down went 'Bama. A punky little freshman with a catchy nickname - "Johnny Football" - Johnny Manziel stepped into a crowded race with an amazing Heisman moment in Tuscaloosa. He benefits, however, from already having lost two home games in which he was largely ineffective. In those two home losses, he scored no points in the second half against Florida, and threw a whopping THREE interceptions to choke away the game against LSU. Had he been in the spotlight sooner, either of those losses would have knocked him down a few wrungs, and the two combined would have put him out altogether.
But, as they say, timing is everything.
Once the dust settled from a crazy week 12, where Kansas State got destroyed by Baylor and Stanford knocked off the fancy Oregon offense by grinding it out on defense, the Heisman race suddenly got very scary for Notre Dame haters.
All of the traditional options for the Heisman trophy were effectively gone. Braxton Miller didn't show enough against a weak schedule on a bowl-ineligible team to get into the mix. Klein is still impressive looking, but was non-competitive against Baylor. And now they're left with Johnny Manziel as the only alternative.
Let's compare the two according to the Heisman's own standards:
Outstanding college football player? Both, check.
Performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity? Hmm...
Johnny Football was more like Johnny Fisticuffs this offseason, getting busted for a drunken brawl and charged with a pair of misdemeanors (including having not one, but two fake IDs).
Te'os faith and commitment to service are unimpeacheable. Lest you think that's all just media bias remember this - Te'o is up for (and arguably leading) the OTHER Heisman this year as well - the academic one called the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to the outstanding scholar-athlete in football.
Edge? Clearly, Te'o.
What else did they say about the Heisman? Oh, right.
"Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work."
Perseverence? There's a reason no freshman has ever won the Heisman Trophy. This is an award that is given to the greatest player in college football. If Johnny Football is really that good, he'll have three more chances to prove that he can withstand ALL of the trials of a college football season - not just being in the right place at the right time when the other offensive weapons choked away their shot. Is it inconceivable that a freshman could win it? No. But Manziel hasn't even showed he can hold together for a full season, much less a career.
Simply put, one upset of a really good Alabama team and some gaudy offensive numbers should not be enough to vault Johnny Football over the one player who has shown up, week in and week out, for his entire college career and took that game to another level this season. Te'o passed on the NFL money to come back to Notre Dame because his faith told him he wasn't finished yet.
Standing at #1 in the country and headed to the National Championship - built on the back of HIS defense - to me, this shouldn't even be an argument. How many times has Notre Dame's defense, and often Manti Te'o in particular, risen to the occasion against quality opponents?
Pick a "Heisman Moment":
Michigan State (the week two of his loved ones passed away):
Michigan (the day of his girlfriend's funeral):
Stanford (the goal-line stand that saved the season):
at Oklahoma (the game-clinching interception and posterized sack of Jones):
Southern Cal (two goal-line stands to secure a spot in the title game):
If the Heisman voters have any respect left for what has long been the most prestigious award in sports, they will give it to the one man who has earned it.
Below are the particulars:
Heisman Memorial Trust Criteria:
"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work."
University of Notre Dame (12-0)
BCS: #1 AP: #1 Coaches: #1
6' 2", 255 lbs.
Laie, HI • Punahou HS
103 Total Tackles (leads team), 5.5 Tackles for loss, 7 interceptions (leads team, #2 FBS, #1 FBS by LB, T-#4 Notre Dame All-time, #1 Notre Dame All-time by LB), 2 fumbles recovered (leads team), 11 total passes defensed (leads team), 1.5 sacks
427 Total Tackles (#3 Notre Dame All-time), 34 Tackles for loss, 7 interceptions (#1 by LB Notre Dame All-time), 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recovered, 17 total passes defensed, 8.5 sacks
All-purpose yards: 28, Michigan, Sep 22, 2012
Interceptions: 2, Michigan, Sep 22, 2012
Long interception return: 28, Michigan, Sep 22, 2012
Tackles: 21, Stanford, Sep 25, 2010 (8-13) #6 All-time at Notre Dame
Sacks: 2.0, at Purdue, Oct. 1, 2011 (2-0)
Tackles for loss: 3.0, at Purdue, Oct. 1, 2011 (3-0)
Fumbles forced: 1, vs Florida State, Dec 29, 2011 ; Michigan, Sep 11, 2010
Fumbles recovered: 1, vs Navy, Sep 01, 2012 ; at Michigan State, Sep 15, 2012
Pass breakups: 2, at Michigan State, Sep 15, 2012
Team Statistics (2012):
Scoring Defense: 10.33 points/game (2nd in FBS)
Total Defense: 287.25 yards/game (6th in FBS)
Rushing Defense: 1109 yds, 92.42 yds/gm (5th in FBS)
Passing Defense: 2338 yds, 194.83 yds/gm (22nd in FBS)
Red Zone Defense: 0.67 Opponent Red Zone Percentage (5th in FBS)
Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 2 (1st in FBS)
First Downs Defense: 16.08 FD/game (7th in FBS)
Third Down Defense: 34.55% 3rd down percentage (26th in FBS)
Fourth Down Defense: 31.25% 4th down percentage (T-12th in FBS)
Individual Awards and Achievements:
Finalist, Maxwell Award, College Player of the Year
Finalist, Chuck Bednarik Award presented by Cracker Barrel, College Defensive Player of the Year
Finalist, Bronco Nagurski Trophy, Top NCAA Defensive Football Player
Finalist, The Collegiate Butkus Award, Top Collegiate Linebacker
Finalist, Rotary Lombardi Award, Top Collegiate Lineman
Finalist, The William V. Campbell Trophy, endowed by HealthSouth, Premier Football Scholar-athlete
Semi-finalist, The Lott IMPACT Trophy, Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year
Semi-finalist, The Lott IMPACT Trophy, Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year
Winner, Walter Camp Football Foundation Defensive Player of the Week, week ending 9/16/12
Winner, Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, Week Three (at Michigan State)
Winner, Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, Week Four (vs. Michigan)
Winner, Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, Week Eight (vs. Stanford)
- Only 2nd player in history of Lott Award to win three times in one season (J.J. Watt, Wisconsin, 2010)
Consensus Preseason First Team All-American
First Team, 2012 Phil Steele Preseason All-American
First Team, 2012 CBS Sports Preseason All-American
First Team, 2012 Sporting News Preseason All-American
First Team, 2012 ESPN Preseason All-American
2011:Winner, Notre Dame's Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year
Finalist, The Collegiate Butkus Award, Top Collegiate Lineman
Semifinalist, Chuck Bednarik Award, College Defensive Player of the Year
Semifinalist, Rotary Liombardi Award, Top Collegiate Lineman
Quarterfinalist, Lott IMPACY Trophy, Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year
Consensus Second-Team All-American
Second Team, 2011 Associated Press All-American TeamSecond Team, 2011 Walter Camp Football Foundation All-American Team
Second Team, 2011 SI.com All-American Team
Second Team, 2011 Rivals.com All-American Team
Second Team, 2011 Phil Steele All-American Team
Game 1: vs. Navy (Dublin, Ireland)
Te'o had 8 total tackles (4 solo) 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception in a 50-10 blowout win for the preseason NR/#24 Irish over unranked Navy in the opener.
Game 2: vs. Purdue (Notre Dame, IN)
Te'o had 10 total tackles (2 solo), and 1 quarterback hurry in the home opener for the Irish, a 20-17 win over Purdue.
Game 3: at #10 Michigan State (East Lansing, MI)
Early this week, Te'o found out that his girlfriend and grandmother had both passed away within hours of each other. Keeping a promise he made to his girlfriend, he stayed with his team throughout this tragedy.
Te'o had 12 total tackles (7 solo, 1 tackle for loss), a fumble recovery and 2 pass breakups in the first true road game against a top 10 team, a convincing and emotional 20-3 win for the Irish that garnered Te'o Defensive Player of the Week honors by both the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Lott IMPACT Trophy committee.
Game 4: vs. #18/#17 Michigan (Notre Dame, IN)
Te'o had 8 total tackles (3 solo, 1 tackle for loss), 2 interceptions and 2 quarterback hurries (both of which led to Denard Robinson interceptions) in a 13-7 win over #18/#17 Michigan at home. This 4 turnover performance (which led to 10 of Notre Dame's 13 points) earned Te'o his second straight Lott IMPACT Defensive Player of the Week Award.
The win propelled the Irish into the AP top ten for the first time since
Game 5: vs. Miami (FL) (Chicago, IL)
Te'o had 10 total tackles (8 solo) and a pass breakup in a 41-3 blowout of Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Game 6: vs. #17 Stanford (Notre Dame, IN)
College Gameday was on campus for this matchup in primetime between two ranked opponents. Te'o had 11 total tackles (3 solo) and orchestrated a game-winning goal-line stand to beat #17 Stanford (currently ranked #8 in BCS) 17-13 in overtime. The win pushes the Irish into the top 5 in the first set of BCS rankings announced this season.
Game 7: vs. BYU (Notre Dame, IN)
Te'o had 10 total tackles (6 solo), a quarterback hurry and a key early interception in beating BYU 17-14 to remain perfect on the season.
Game 8: at #8 Oklahoma (Norman, OK)
Te'o had 11 total tackles (6 solo),, a big sack of Landry Jones and a game-clinching interception late in the game as the #5 Fighting Irish knock off #8 Oklahoma in Norman, the first time that Bob Stoops had lost twice at home in the same season.
Game 9: vs. Pitt (Notre Dame, IN)
The defense struggled to contain a rushing attack for the first time all season, giving up their second (and final) rushing touchdown of the season to Ray Graham. Te'o had 7 total tackles (3 solo, 1 tackle for loss) a pass breakup and split a sack with Stephon Tuitt late in the 4th quarter to help push the game into overtime.
Game 10: at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Te'o had 5 total tackles (4 solo) and an interception in the 4th quarter as the Irish cruise past Boston College 20-6 to get to 10-0 for the first time since 1993.
Game 11: vs. Wake Forest (Notre Dame, IN)
Arguably his quietest game, Te'o had 6 total tackles (3 solo) as he led the defense to their first and only shutout of the season, a 38-0 drubbing of the overmatched Demon Deacons.
Game 12: at Southern Cal (Los Angeles, CA)
Te'o closed out his Heisman bid in typical fashion, tallying 5 total tackles (3 solo), an interception early in the third quarter that set the tone for the second half and leading not one, but TWO goal line stands in the 4th quarter under the lights in the Coliseum. Te'o and the defense overcame an anemic red zone offense and sent Notre Dame to their first BCS National Championship game.