With the Maxwell and Walter Camp Player of the Year awards already sitting on his trophy case, Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o undoubtedly comes into Saturday's Heisman Trophy ceremony as the overwhelming favorite.
One problem: Te'o shouldn't have won either the Maxwell or Camp award and isn't the most deserving of the Heisman trophy.
Instead, that distinction should go to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Many believe that the Aggies freshman signal-caller is the most deserving, but too often use misguided arguments to back up their case.
First and foremost, those who want to pound on their proverbial desk and use the stats alone obviously need to hop off the crazy pills. Te'o recorded over 100 tackles on the season and picked off seven passes, which is tied for second in the FBS and is three more than any other linebacker in the country.
Still, the argument for Manziel over Te'o begins and ends with individual on-field impact. If the Heisman is an individual award, which we're consistently told that it is, there is little question that Manziel means more to Texas A&M than Te'o does to Notre Dame.
The freshman phenom threw for 3,419 yards with 24 touchdowns against eight interceptions while completing 68.3 percent of his passes and playing in the most difficult conference in the nation. Perhaps even more impressively, Manziel was Texas A&M's leading rusher as well, gaining 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.
At times, he was single-handedly carrying a squad that was supposed to finish in the back half of the SEC. That was especially true in the Aggies' thrilling upset of then-No. 1 Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
On the other hand, attributing Notre Dame's brilliance defensively this season to the overwhelming dominance of Te'o would be a catastrophic miscalculation.
A Heisman for Te'o would ignore defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who recorded 12 sacks this season as a pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme. It would also fail to recognize the top-notch play of Prince Shembo and Dan Fox alongside Te'o in the linebacking corps.
Though great and perhaps the best "leader" in the nation, Te'o is essentially acting as the figurehead representative of a Notre Dame defense that will lead the team into the BCS National Championship game.
Granted, you could say quarterbacks win individual awards catalyzed by team brilliance all the time. In 2006, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was considered the unquestioned leader of his team and led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 regular season and national championship game berth.
He also won the Heisman despite accounting for just 2,746 yards and 31 touchdowns. In that awards chase, Smith beat out Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, both of whom were far superior candidates based on their individual merit.
In fact, the Buckeyes signal-caller got 86.7 percent of the first-place votes, which is the second most in FBS history—all simply because the undefeated narrative influenced voters into undeservedly aggrandizing his performance.
What happened in the national championship game? Ohio State got blown off the field by Florida and Smith's Heisman is something we've decided to chalk up as a historical anomaly.
Te'o is a far superior player to Smith, but the similarities are jarring. Awarding him with the Heisman would be recognizing the Irish's season as a team, not Te'o's as an individual player.
Some may also want to argue that Te'o deserves the Heisman simply because he's a senior and Manziel is a freshman. Can we also hit the permanent stop button on that asinine justification?
Nothing in this world is guaranteed—especially for football players. Every time Manziel drops back, he's one unfortunate hit away from an injury that could fundamentally alter who he is as a quarterback.
If someone is most deserving, you give him the award—regardless of his age. End of discussion.
Manziel was that player in 2012 and deserves to be hoisting the bronze statue on Saturday.