Manti Te’o should, without a doubt, be the Heisman Tropher winner. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker is the best defensive player on the nation’s top-ranked team, pending a win in the BCS Championship Game.
Anything short of the biggest honor in the game would be not only disappointing, but it would be insulting as well.
Not just to Manti Te’o and everything he’s done this season.
It’s insulting to the game itself. College football is a great sport where the best in the country battle for their respective schools with the hopes of someday playing on Sundays.
Somewhere along the line, offense—the quarterback and running back positions specifically—has become larger than the game.
Dominant defensive performances and those who act them out have become afterthoughts. They don’t make the highlight reels for touching the ball every play and turning heads with their game-winning drives.
They do the dirty work, the behind-the-scenes grind that helps define their team week in and week out.
It’s those unsung heroes on the defensive side of the ball that are forgotten when the Heisman vote goes down each season and is presented in New York.
But this season there should be some consideration due to the emergence of a player with as much national exposure as anyone. Te’o’s talents were on display each week as no one could miss any of the Irish’s nationally televised games, unless they chose to.
Is there anyone else in college football that exudes confidence and inspires his teammates like the leader of the unbeaten Irish? He sets the tone. He embodies everything that this award was intended to be.
His seven interceptions are tied for the most in college football—not just for linebackers—overall.
Jim Rome didn’t give Te’o his endorsement, but he made a telling statement about the senior linebacker on Twitter following the team clinching its trip to the BCS title game (via Twitter):
Manti will probably end up with the Jungle interview of the year.One of the most profound convo's I've ever had with an athlete.— Jim Rome (@jimrome) November 25, 2012
What’s the debate, then?
A defensive player hasn’t won the Heisman Trophy since Charles Woodson in 1997. He was also a dynamic punt returner for the Michigan Wolverines that season.
Looking a little deeper, there have only been four defensive players who have EVER won the award. None of them were purely defensive players and the three not named Woodson did it on or before 1961.
Quarterbacks and running backs have been winning this award and overshadowing other incredible performances along the way.
It’s time to make a statement in college football. A statement that says defense still matters.
Te’o’s already made his case, we’ll see what happens in December when it’s all said and done.