LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu finished a distant fifth place in the Heisman Trophy voting this season. The fact that he was even considered was an accomplishment, though, and he will legitimize his candidacy against Alabama in the National Championship game.
As has always been the case, defensive players face a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the Heisman. In fact, the only defensive player ever to win the Heisman was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997, and he was similar to Mathieu in a lot of ways.
Mathieu faced stiff competition for the award, though, so it wasn't surprising to see him fall short. With that said, many questioned whether the aptly-nicknamed "Honey Badger" should have ever received Heisman consideration over a player like USC quarterback Matt Barkley in the first place.
All you have to do is look at Mathieu's full body of work, however, and the answer is clear. Not only has Mathieu been the driving force of the best secondary in the league with 71 tackles, five forced fumbles and two interceptions, but like Woodson, he has been a major contributor on special teams as well.
It is fair to say that no player in the college game was more effective, electric and dangerous on punt returns than Mathieu this season. Not only did he average an impressive 13 yards per return, but he took two punts to the house and provided countless highlight-reel run backs.
Because of the profound impact he has on two of the game's three phases, his presence will very much be felt against Alabama. Not only will he be key in stopping quarterback AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide's passing game, but he will be a major factor in what is sure to be an intense battle for field position.
In a game that will feature countless defensive stars, Mathieu is the one that is sure to shine brightest. He is far from the biggest or most physically-intimidating player, but his pure speed and skill are undeniable, and he will need to come up huge in what is sure to be a defensive slugfest.
It isn't often that a National Championship team is anchored by a defensive player, but that would seem to be the case for LSU. If the defense isn't at its best against Alabama, then the Tigers will fall short, and much of that falls on Mathieu's shoulders.
Mathieu may not have won the Heisman and he may not have ultimately deserved it either. You can argue, however, that no player in college football has a more complete impact on a game than Mathieu, and that much will be abundantly clear on Jan. 9.