The Heisman Memorial Trust Mission Statement begins with the line "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."
I have watched four week's worth of college football games, sat through hours of highlights, and scoured hundreds of box scores.
After all of that, in a season full of upsets, beat-downs, and nail-biters, I have come to one conclusion— Manti Te'o is the best college football player in the country.
He is not the best quarterback or running back on the nation's best team, however, those are not qualifications for the Heisman Trophy. He is a middle linebacker and the catalyst for Notre Dame's best start since 2002. The Irish are 4-0 on the back of Te'o's leadership and strong defensive play.
Saturday night, we watched Notre Dame hand Michigan its second loss of the season. During Michigan's first loss against Alabama, the Crimson Tide used a full team effort to blow the Wolverines out.
The loss to Notre Dame, with all due respect to the rest of the Notre Dame players, had more to do with Te'o's presence than anything else. If he's not on the field, the Irish don't win that game.
Te'o's stat line was not overly impressive, but it was solid: eight tackles, two INTs. What the box score won't tell you was how many times Te'o altered a play just by being near it, making Denard Robinson look to other, less desirable options when he was in a bind.
Manti Te'o has turned in four consecutive performances this season with similar results. No other player at any position has turned in four consistently dominant performances.
If the Heisman Trophy is truly an individual award, Manti Te'o needs to be at the top of the list of leading candidates.
We saw a similar situation unfold during the 2009 college football season when Ndamukong Suh spent the year terrorizing offenses on his way to leading Nebraska within seconds of a Big 12 Championship.
That season, every time the Heisman Trophy was talked about on television or radio, Suh's name was mentioned. Many of the people who mentioned his name were Heisman voters, adamant that they would vote for Suh based on the fact that he was the best player in college football.
Then, on the night of the award presentation, it was Alabama running back Mark Ingram, the best player on the nation's best team, who left New York City with the award instead of Ndamukong Suh, the best player in the nation.
There are no signs that Manti Te'o's performances won't continue. As long as they do, Heisman voters are going to find it difficult to ignore his results and vote for anyone else.
Perhaps 2012 will be the first time since Charles Woodson won the award in 1997 that voters ignore hype and recent trends and a primarily defensive player is rightfully crowned college football's most outstanding player.
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