Heisman defense

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Last updated: 12/05/2012 3:24 PM
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Football
On the Defensive About Heisman Candidates
By Tony Gerdeman

Three Heisman Trophy finalists were announced Monday night, as Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o were all invited to attend Saturday night's Heisman ceremony.

Manziel, a redshirt freshman, threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 1,181 yards and 19 more touchdowns. He has had a season for the ages. Numbers like that, on a top ten team, should guarantee him the award this season.

Klein, the relative grizzled veteran, has been worthy as well, throwing for 2,490 yards and running for 890 more, all the while keeping his team in the national title picture. He was the leader on a team full of guys who couldn't get a sniff on the teams they were belittling. Lesser players have been Heisman finalists before him.

Te'o, however, makes this list simply by default. Statistically, he ranks second in the nation with seven interceptions, but just 56th in the nation in tackles (103).

Why "by default"? Over the last 10 years, the team ranked #1 in the final regular season AP poll has had a Heisman finalist eight times, and it's happened every year since 2008.

Basically, when looking for someone to vote for, the first thing that voters do is look at the offensive stars of the top-ranked teams. Unfortunately, Notre Dame didn't have anybody on offense worthy of such attention, and so voters turned to the Irish defense.

In other words, if Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson wasn't so average for most of the season, Te'o wouldn't be a Heisman candidate, it would be Golson.

Remember when Ohio State's Troy Smith won the Heisman in 2006? That year Buckeyes middle linebacker James Laurinaitis had better numbers than Te'o, and even had five interceptions. He didn't receive a single Heisman vote. Why? Because the #1 Buckeyes had an offensive candidate.

That's not to say that Te'o hasn't made some big plays, because he has. His seven interceptions are immediately cited when somebody questions his tackle numbers, and for good reason. Interceptions are shiny, after all.

His two interceptions against Michigan made him a household name even more than he had already been. But as the Irish showed in that game, intercepting a Michigan quarterback wasn't exactly difficult.

Of Te'o's seven interceptions, only two were in Notre Dame territory, and none closer than the 27-yard line, so it's not like he stopped a sure touchdown drive. Both of those interceptions were then turned into Notre Dame punts, by the way.

In fact, four of his seven interceptions led to Notre Dame punts. The Irish converted his seven turnovers into just 13 points.

Over the weeks, I have been critical of Te'o's candidacy and have spent too much time on Twitter comparing Te'o to Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. I only do this to compare Te'o's numbers to Shazier's, who is not any type of award candidate and was recently voted a second-team All-Big Ten player by the Big Ten's coaches.

Shazier forced just two turnovers this season. One was an interception return for a touchdown against Penn State, and the other was a forced fumble against Wisconsin inside the one-foot line. In essence, Shazier's two turnovers were worth 14 points to the Buckeyes, and they meant more to Ohio State than Te'o's seven meant to Notre Dame.

Te'o has all kinds of defenders, citing the fact that he has low tackle numbers because the Notre Dame defense isn't on the field as much as most defenses, and that's true. But since when is lack of production a legitimate defense for an award based in most part on statistics?

There are a ton of statistics from Shazier that I can give you that dwarf Te'o's, but the detractors will simply go back to Notre Dame's low number of defensive snaps.

I could cite the fact that Shazier finished with 13 more tackles than Te'o, or 11.5 more tackles for loss, or 3.5 more sacks, or three more forced fumbles, but I won't.

Instead, I'll give you a stat that isn't based on number of snaps. Manti Te'o's average tackle took place after 5.1 yards had already been gained by the opponent. Ryan Shazier's average tackle took place after 4.3 yards had already been gained, and that's including a tackle 74 yards down the field against Nebraska as Shazier tracked down receiver Kenny Bell.

Over the second half of the season, Shazier cut that number down to just 2.4 yards. Te'o allowed more than twice that over the course of 12 games.

Simply, Shazier made more plays, and made them closer to the line of scrimmage than Te'o, and yet nobody (including myself) is saying Shazier should be a Heisman contender.

People point to the fact that Notre Dame is undefeated and Te'o is the leader of the defense. How is that different than Shazier?

Being a leader doesn't make you a Heisman candidate, you also have to produce numbers that are well above average. Te'o hasn't done that.

Yes, he has seven interceptions. Go talk to the Thorpe Award committee.

Normally, I'd be all for a defensive finalist, but this is just a desperate attempt by voters to seem hip.

It's like your parents allowing you to throw a house party and then stocking the fridge with O'Doul's.

Or the time last year when you wanted to start listening to punk music, so you went out and bought the new Green Day album.

Many voters, desperate to find somebody to vote for after West Virginia's Geno Smith tanked, decided to do something that they thought would be anti-establishment, and they turned their attention to a defensive player. The problem is they only opened their mind to the one player stuffed down their throats by the establishment.

If Johnny Manziel had never fallen into the voters' laps, then Manti Te'o would be walking out of the Downtown Athletic Club carrying the Heisman Trophy.

I care more about the idea of the Heisman Trophy than I do for the actual award itself. I would like for it to mean more, but voters will just never let that happen.

I would like to see all positions opened up to the possibility of winning this award, but if this is how it's going to be done, you can count me out.

Voters didn't open their minds to a defensive player, they opened their minds to the best player on the best team. That's not an open mind, that's the very definition of a closed mind.

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