Amid the revelry of Notre Dame's first-ever bid to a BCS Championship was a question that's persisted for months, regarding if it's actually possible for a linebacker to win the Heisman Trophy. Manti Te'o has built as impressive a résumé as any defensive player in recent history, but despite being the backbone of a defense that led its team to a 12-0 record and national title shot, he's either second or third in most polls.
"If a guy like Manti Te'o's not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award," coach Brian Kelly said Saturday. "Just give it to the offensive player every year and let's just cut to the chase."
That offensive player this year is Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, a dynamic redshirt freshman quarterback who's accounted for 4,600 yards of offense and 43 touchdowns for the 10-2 Aggies. It's tough to argue with those numbers, especially with Manziel playing in the SEC.
"It’s something that you dream about as a kid," Manziel said on a teleconference Monday. "When you’re sitting there playing all these NCAA games when you’re a kid, and you create a player and you win the Heisman as a freshman because you just put up crazy numbers, it’s something that you can only sit back and dream about."
As long as a quarterback, running back or wide receiver is putting up monster numbers in a power conference, a defensive player -- one who doesn't play special teams -- is a longshot to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel's electrifying style of play has captured attention nationwide, and with one week of games remaining, he's the frontrunner to be handed the Heisman in New York Dec. 8 -- even if he doesn't want to admit it.
"I don’t know if that’s the case," Manziel said of leading the Heisman chase. "I feel like that situation, it’ll play itself out, and whatever’s meant to be will happen. ... I think that the Heisman and all the other awards like that, they’ll play themselves out."
The award doesn't go to the best player on the nation's best team. It's not a most valuable player award, it's a best player award with plenty of wiggle room for team success.
Te'o may be the best player in the country, but there's really no comparing tackles to touchdowns. It's the same debate baseball goes through when a pitcher emerges as the most valuable player -- and hey, Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011.
But it's much more difficult to quantify a single player's defensive impact than that of a quarterback, running back or wide receiver, all of whom rack up yards, touchdowns and time on highlight reels. Te'o's seven interceptions are the most by an FBS linebacker in a dozen years, and are the second-highest total in college football's top division. He has 103 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, 5 1/2 tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries.
That's an impressive line, but likely not enough to win the Heisman. But Te'o's largest goal of the season is still on the table.
"I wanted to go to the National Championship, and now I am," Te'o said. "If I win, that's going to be a great honor for my family, but if I don't, I'm just glad we're going to Miami."