The 2012 Heisman Trophy watch has officially begun. The top two front-runners are gardening a heated debate amongst fans and students, and has brought back memories of the great baseball debate between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for MVP.
Johnny Manziel, better known as "Johnny Football," has taken college football by storm. The 19-year-old freshman quarterback from Texas A&M has broken six SEC records, including Cam Newton's total yards record in two fewer games (Manziel sat with the Aggies up in blowout wins) and three school records.
Manziel has been named as a finalist to every major offensive college football award, including the Maxwell, Walter Camp, Davey O'Brien and Manning Award.
Last season, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck won both the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards for player of the year and the best college player in the United States, but he lost the Heisman Trophy to Robert Griffin III from Baylor. This year, Manziel has a shot to sweep the major awards just as Cam Newton did back in 2010.
Standing in Manziel's way is the heart and soul of the undefeated No. 1 team in the country, Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o.
Te'o's story has been one of sadness, heartbreak and redemption. Back on Sept. 11, Te'o suffered two tragic losses when both his grandmother and his girlfriend passed away in a span of less than six hours.
Te'o played four days later against No. 10 Michigan State and posted a dozen tackles as the Irish won on the road, 20-3. On the season, Te'o has 103 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks and seven interceptions. At No. 2 in the country, he's the only linebacker ranked in the top 15 in interceptions.
The Irish are a perfect 12-0 and have solidified their spot in the national championship game in January. No doubt, Te'o and his leadership and defensive play have keyed Notre Dame's amazing run.
But is it worthy of a Heisman Trophy? What about Manziel? Despite his eye-opening stats, is Manziel worthy of the Heisman Trophy award as a freshman?
Yes and no, and here's why.
Despite Manziel's record-breaking season, the Aggies played against four top schools—LSU, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State—for a 2-2 record. Collectively, Manziel was 106-of-153 for 1,013 yards passing, 308 yards rushing, two touchdown passes (both against Alabama), three interceptions (all against LSU) and three rushing touchdowns.
Against lesser competition, both in and out of the SEC, Manziel was untouchable. Six total touchdowns against SMU and Louisiana Tech, five against South Carolina State, Sam Houston State, Missouri and Auburn (in a 63-21 win) and four against Arkansas.
Of Manziel's 43 touchdowns (24 passing and 19 rushing), only five came against the top ranked teams in the SEC.
On the other hand, the argument for Te'o winning the Heisman is that the Irish are undefeated at No. 1 overall in the country, and for the first time ever, they lead the BCS rankings. They are a shoo-in for the national title game against either Alabama or Georgia.
Te'o was the leader of a defense that held No. 17 Stanford to 13 points, No. 10 Michigan State to a single field goal and No. 18 Michigan to 13 points, and then went on the road to Norman, Okla., and held the No. 8-ranked Sooners to just 13 points and a measly 15 yards rushing. This is the same Oklahoma squad that two weeks prior ran for 343 yards against Texas.
Against the four ranked schools that Te'o faced, his stat line read 42 tackles, one sack and three interceptions.
Put simply, Manti Te'o is the best player on the best team in the nation.
The last and only time a primary defensive player won the Heisman Trophy award was back in 1997, when cornerback Charles Woodson helped lead the Michigan Wolverines to an undefeated season and a share of the national championship.
That same season, Woodson won the Bronko Nagurski Award for college football's defensive player of the year. Te'o is a finalist and almost a lock to win the award.
Te'o is also a finalist for the Maxwell Award for college player of the year, along with Johnny Manziel.
Those who argue against Te'o winning argue that despite the undefeated ranking, other linebackers have put more impressive stats together and have never won or even been nominated for the Heisman Trophy.
For example, in his final season at Texas A&M, Dat Nguyen posted 147 tackles, forced four fumbles and intercepted another two in helping lead the Aggies to their first and only Big 12 title and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. Nguyen was awarded as the Nation's top lineman and defensive player of the year, yet wasn't even mentioned in the Heisman race.
Others will argue that Te'o was swept up and overhyped by the media, yet each and every time the Irish were faced with a ranked opponent, Te'o and the defense answered the call.
They say every Heisman winner has their "Heisman moment"; for Manziel, it was the upset win over No. 1 ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa. For Te'o, it may have been his interception against No. 8 Oklahoma to help seal the biggest win on the year for the Irish.
In the end, Manziel may very well win this award. He has put up the numbers to back up his performance on the year, but this also has to be said that Manziel was never taken into serious consideration as a finalist until he beat Alabama and only after Kansas State lost.
All of a sudden, within hours, Collin Klein from Kansas State was out of the running and Manziel became the front-runner.
With the season all but over and only conference title games left to play before the bowl games, the voters and fans have brought up strong arguments for both Manziel and Te'o.
One cannot go wrong with either player, but in the end, Te'o is simply the best player on the best team in the nation, and that should be enough to push him to the Heisman Trophy.