Heisman Candidates 2012: Nation's Top Honor Will Only Have 2 Real Finalists

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24:  Linebacker Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates his teams 22-13 victory over the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Don't let anyone fool you; Johnny Manziel and Manti Te'o are the only two real candidates for the Heisman Trophy this season.

Both players could make cases for the honor but not anyone else. Guys like Collin Klein, Marqise Lee and Kenjon Barner have all had excellent seasons, but they haven't brought that special quality to the table that separates Heisman Trophy winners from the rest.

It's not even really that close either.

Manziel dominated the best conference in the country, averaging around 373 yards and three touchdowns in eight SEC games this year. He walked into Tuscaloosa and defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide, and he's led Texas A&M to a perfect road record as a redshirt freshman.

Kevin Sumlin's offense is tailor-made for a guy with his skill set. He's quick, athletic, smart and has an above-average arm. The Aggies have two losses, but those losses came by a combined eight points versus two top-five teams.

Giving him the award over Te'o would be difficult to argue, although giving it to Notre Dame's linebacker could hardly be considered a disappointment.

Te'o has 100-plus tackles and seven interceptions, but he's more than that. He's the backbone of the nation's No. 1 team. The Fighting Irish rally around him because he consistently leads by example.

It's hard to imagine a linebacker winning this award, but, if any player ever has, Te'o deserves it. He's led goal-line stands, intercepted critical passes and provided a steady presence at the center of the nation's top-ranked defense.

Throw his position out of the window. That counts for something.

I tend to lean toward Manziel, but I also admit that it's out of tradition.

A linebacker winning the Heisman? You must be crazy.

But it's really not this year—Te'o has carried the Irish. His influence has steered the ship for Brian Kelly's team, and his teammates have drawn on that.

Heisman voters can't go wrong this year, unless the award is given to someone other than Manziel or Te'o. That seems highly unlikely, but it must be stated.

It's a two-man battle—college football's best defensive player versus college football's most exciting talent. Everyone else is on the outside looking in.