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HeIsManti or Johnny Football: An incredibly biased opinion

Nov 28, 2012, 6:01 PM EST

Manti Te'o, Stephon Tuitt

Having a blog that covers Notre Dame football stump for an Irish player’s Heisman candidacy is pretty transparent. And lame. So I’ll spare you some of the usual rhetoric that comes with this type of column. Do I think Manti Te’o should win the Heisman Trophy? Yes. Do I think he deserves it? Yes. Do I have much to support this argument? Not really.

All that being said, let’s do this anyway. Just because it’s that time of year, and we should at least have this play out for a bit.

As of yesterday, The HeismanPundit-CBSSports.com Heisman Straw Poll had Johnny Manziel with a significant lead over Manti Te’o, in essentially a two-horse race. The redshirt freshman quarterback, who has been branded perfectly with the “Johnny Football” moniker has lost two games, but owns the upset of the year with his victory over Alabama. Besides a highlight reel that includes some terrific sandlot skills, Manziel is also putting up stats that compare favorably to Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III (or at least so says a Texas A&M blog). Add to that the 30,000 watt megaphone that is the SEC and a cool Techmo Bowl themed viral video, and I can’t say I blame anybody if Manziel is holding college football’s most prestigious award.

Manziel seems to have captured the hearts and minds of many voters already. And while I’m basically the old man on the front porch in this scenario, here are a few things that I can’t seem to shake.

***

1. Manziel’s game against LSU was historically bad.

Sure, Manziel gets credit for beating Alabama, and rightfully so. But he should get equal blame for his game against LSU. Here’s a quick look at his numbers: 29 of 56 for 276 yards. 0 TD, 3 INT. 17 rushes for 27 yards. That’s one butt-ugly stat line, and might be the most historically terrible game any Heisman winner played in their crowning season. Let’s go back over the last ten years and look at the quarterbacks who won the trophy.

Heisman winning QBs worst regular season games
Carson Palmer, 2002: 18 of 46 for 186 yards. 1 TD, 0 INT (27-20 loss to Kansas St.)
Jason White, 2003: 27 of 50 for 298 yards. 0 TD, 2 INT (35-7 loss to Kansas St.)
Matt Leinart, 2004: 24 of 43 for 217 yards. 2 TD, 1 INT (38-0 victory over Washington)
Troy Smith, 2006: 12 of 22 for 115 yards. 1 TD, 2 INT (28-6 victory over Penn State)
Tim Tebow, 2007: 12 of 26 for 158 yards. 2 TD, 1 INT. 16 carries for 67 yards, 1 TD (28-24 L to LSU)
Sam Bradford, 2008: 13 of 32 for 255 yards. 3 TD, 0 INT. (58-25 victory over Kansas St.)
Cam Newton, 2010: 10 of 16 for 86 yards. 28 carries for 217 yards, 2 TD. (24-17 victory over LSU)
Robert Griffin III, 2011: 33 of 50 for 425 yards. 1 TD, 2 INT. (59-24 loss to Oklahoma State)

Stack Manziel’s afternoon against LSU up — one of his two losses — and it’s not even close. That’s the worst game that any Heisman quarterback of the last decade has played, with Jason White’s defeat in the Big 12 championship game — a game where many votes had already been cast — a distant second.

What’s the linebacker equivalent of that stat line? His defense giving up 50 points and getting run on for 300 yards?

2. How great are Manziel’s stats when adjusted for the system and the era?

Guys like Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas are penalized for being largely system players. Barner has 1,856 yards from scrimmage and sat on the sideline for most fourth quarters. Thomas is one of the game’s most electric all-purpose players. But because they’re playing in Chip Kelly’s offensive juggernaut, they’re largely relegated to the gimmick status.

Consider Manziel and the system he’s in. Just as Gus Malzahn was able to show, Kevin Sumlin has reminded SEC purists that up-tempo, spread, aerial attacks work in big-boy leagues, too. But compare Manziel’s numbers to the ones that Case Keenum put up at Houston, and you start to notice that maybe Manziel isn’t all that trenscendent, but merely a whole lot of fun to watch as a scrambler.

Manziel’s 24 touchdown passes? They’re exactly half of the total Case Keenum put up in 2011, when he finished 7th in Heisman voting, even though he threw for 5,631 yards and 48 touchdowns at Houston. Manziel’s numbers in a Sumlin-run offense pale in comparison to any of Keenum’s seasons, and really match up closer to David Piland’s, Keenum’s understudy, who threw for 24 touchdowns after Keenum was injured in 2010.

There doesn’t seem to be much mention of system when you look at Manziel, but he’s essentially the prototype system quarterback. While the legend of Johnny Football will sell a truckload of t-shirts in College Station, don’t expect the NFL to beat the door down for a wispy quarterback that’s six-foot tall on his tip-toes with arm strength even Tommy Rees would chuckle at.

3. Trout vs. Cabrera? That might not have anything on Johnny Football vs. HeIsManti.

The internet was up in arms over the American League MVP race this fall, when Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera hit for the Triple Crown, but was thought by many new-school baseball minds to have put up the inferior season when compared to Anaheim Angels centerfielder Mike Trout. While Cabrera won traditionalists over with the first Triple Crown in 45 years — leading the league in home runs, batting, average, and runs-batted-in — his old-school statistical dominance wasn’t as impressive as the impact the Angels rookie had on his team.

Comparing Te’o and Manziel give you some of the same dilemmas. In Te’o, the Heisman voters would have to break a number of molds if they were to crown him this year’s winner. Even Charles Woodson, the only other defensive player to win the award, moonlighted as a receiver and impacted the game as a return man. Yet Te’o is a linebacker, plain and simple. While he had more interceptions than any cornerback in the country, he spends his time in the trenches, just as likely to take on a guard than drop into coverage.

From an old-school/new-school perspective, Te’o and Manziel also strike an interesting fit. In many ways, Te’o should be the epitome of an old-school favorite, with his defensive status on one of the nation’s best units on the country’s only 12-0 national title contender. Yet new-school stat-heads should love what Te’o does even more than the traditionalists, with his mesmerizing mix of productivity and forced turnovers largely unseen for a player of his position.

Simply put, seasons like Manziel’s happen a whole lot more than seasons like Te’os. One is happening with another diminutive quarterback in DeKalb, where Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch is putting up stats that are almost a mirror-image of Manziel’s.

One of baseball’s best statistics is WAR, or Wins-Above-Replacement. Put simply, how many wins does player X add to the team over an average replacement? No doubt, Manziel has added a tremendous spark to the Aggies’ offense and given Kevin Sumlin a terrific triggerman in his first SEC season. But we’ve seen what Sumlin quarterbacks look like, and they didn’t put up numbers all that different from Manziel’s (more often, they were better). Meanwhile, for those of us that have watched the last decade of middle linebacker play in South Bend, I think we can all safely say that Te’o’s production over the last few guys manning the spot has been a transcendent change.

***

In the end, it’s only a trophy. The Heisman has gone into the hands of some of the greatest athletes ever to play football, and ended up with winners who would never see the field in the NFL. It’s part of what makes the award so wonderful. There’s little question which direction Te’o is headed in even without the statue.

So while I don’t expect this to change any voters minds, one final statement:

Jjust because we all enjoy being swept up in Johnny Football mania, doesn’t mean he’s the country’s best player.

***

  1. glowplugv - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:06 AM

    Coach Kelly stated it correctly. If you don’t give the award to Manti, then is should just be renamed the Heisman Award for the Best Offensive Player. Defense wins games and makes teams winners and is supported by facts. That they consider a freshman who had some good games over the portfolio that Manti built over the last 4 years and leadership that brings to the team is down right a shame.

  2. smithc1ag01 - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    The Heisman is a subjective award based on the opinions of the folks that have won in the past and the decisions of writers who have covered the CFB season.

    Rhetoric is what it’s all about. There are no “rules” or quantifiable standards that make someone a Heisman winner.

    Stats and game films go a long way in the eyes of voters, but the voters are still going to make subjective decisions.

    I hope that the decide for Manzeil, but they could just as easily decide for Teo. The whole award is about bias. . .

  3. dgbk - Nov 29, 2012 at 2:00 AM

    manti te’o will be the next ty detmer.

    • mayo1010 - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      hey nimrod dgbk….Detmer was a QB and Manti is a middle linebacker. Do you expect Manti to play QB in the NFL? Detmer was the 230th pick in the 1992 draft and Manti will be a top 15 pick in the 1st round. However Detmer did play 14 NFL seasons, Manti would gladly be like him in that respect. So the next time you want to talk out of your ass maybe you should burp and save us all your pain.

  4. cdeluca495 - Nov 29, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    Only two heisman trophy winners were NOT consensus all americans(Weinke and Crouch). Teo will be a consensus all american. Johnny football is not this year, having been left off the AFCA all american team. It’s a no brainer. If you’re not an all american, you’re not worthy of the award.

  5. dinklespiel - Nov 29, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    The Heis isn’t given for what a guy does during his college Career, nor is it given to him for what he does in the Pros after he graduates. It is given for the most outstanding player in college THIS year.

    And anybody who has watched Johnny play has had several ” that was amazing moments”, when all you can say about Te’o is he is a hard worker, did make a lot of tackles, but no record setter, and intercepted 7 passes, only half a record setter.

    • alsatiannd - Nov 29, 2012 at 11:30 AM

      Especially the two games Manziel lost. Total disappearing act.

    • mayo1010 - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM

      i guarantee you 7 int’s for a middle linebacker is a record (if not, it’s damn close). 14 is the record for a DB.

    • danconcarne - Nov 29, 2012 at 6:06 PM

      I’m sure Landry Jones wasn’t thinking “wow, that was amazing” when Te’o showed blitz, let Jones change the play and still slipped through untouched and laid him out.

    • nudeman - Nov 29, 2012 at 7:26 PM

      He really has had about 3 or 4 great games with Alabama being the best.
      He’s also had a couple stinkers.
      I don’t think T’eo has even had a mediocre game. 12 solid performances

      I’m on record as saying I don’t give a fig about the Heisman, but the PR machines that are pumping Manziel up are irritating.

      Maybe TX will secede before it’s announced and we’ll be done with him

      Give the award then let’s get back to football

  6. yaketyyacc - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    you are right Keith. You a Notre Dame blogger and moi an ND graduate, sure are biased. But our bias is not for just an ND player, but for a young man that has been an example of good character, presents a great work ethic, and whose life has touched all of ours. Such an individual contributes not only to college football, but to a right way of living. Add to this the statistics which pale when confronted with his person, and you have exactly the player that stands for what the Heisman is all about. If Manti T’eo were playiing for Texas A&M, I still would be the first to say he not only should win the Heisman, but is the Heisman.

  7. norcalirish - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    This is actually gonna be a bellwether vote—go with the flashy kid with character issues or the old school reliable (and less flashy) good guy. It’s like Captain America vs Iron Man. Kinda.

    Cap should win, hands down, but we live in a Starkian society—so who knows. I’ll say this tho—I think it’s gonna be close.

    I’m interested to know how this will impact ND Cap loses… think it will add a chip on the shoulder or just be water under the bridge?

  8. norcalirish - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    *if

  9. millersirish1986 - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    Keith,
    The biggest knock on manti is where he ranks in tackles and tfls. This question could be for anyone but i was wondering because the irish offense is leading the nation in drives over 5 mins and have had numerous drives lasting in the 8-9 min area, is it possible to break down how many tackles manti gets per minute that he is on the field? I brought this up on a CFT board but dont have the numbers but i would feel that those numbers would be on mantis’ side. Compare them to say jarvis jones out of georgia. Thx to whoever comments. GO IRISH!!!

  10. millersirish1986 - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    I know his sack numbers aren’t high but im sure the percentage of how much hes asked to blitz compared to how many sacks, hurries and knockdowns he has is more then likely pretty solid. These, i think would give the IRISH/MANTI nation its most compelling arguements. Again GO IRISH!!!

  11. joeschu - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    I want him to win it, badly. I want it for him, and I want it for ND. He is clearly a deserving candidate and, in my biased mind, the clear winner.

    Here’s the seed of a thought:
    If he doesn’t win it, that man is going to be even more on a mission to blast a hole in the ESSS EEEE SEEE on 1/7/2013.

    Heismanti!

  12. kiopta1 - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    It is very easy to measure an offensive player’s performance. Seems like nobody even try’s to understand a D-player’s. I remember when Woodson won it…and everyone says it was for his returns and receptions…but what I remember most is how he could shut down sections of the field…an ability that can’t be measured in stats like yards and tds. Now Manziel has had a great year but how many of his supposed amazing stats came from weak competition and late in games when games were already won/lost? What are his stats against the top comp he played against? Where would he have been in the media’s mind if he didn’t win that one game against Bama? I would just hate to see this guy become a Firework…bright and loud for a few months then its all over.

  13. dapperdanirish - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    At one point this season, sinister had me believing he was actually an objective opinion that differed because he was not an Irish fan. I think he’s pretty much removed all doubt at this point. If you want people to continue NOT taking you and your comments seriously, just keep doing what you’re doing. Why DO you care so much about what’s going on at a program you claim to not be a fan of? Wouldn’t it be more fun to follow a mediocre Michigan team with a one trick pony offense?

  14. kiopta1 - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    Yeah Manti isn’t asked to blitz the QB often at all at MLB. That is a primary job of Jarvis at OLB. Teo is the QB of the D and stops the run and covers the pass from the middle. He also seems to spy and his instincts on the direction of a play are amazing.

  15. kiopta1 - Nov 29, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    Dapper,

    People only troll what they care about. Unless they have severe social/mental issues.

  16. 60sdomer - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    One way to measure the performance of a defensive player is to ask the question, what would ND’s record be this year without Manti? 10-2? 9-3? How many of those last goal line stands would have been successful without his efforts and inspiration? He, and he alone, is responsible for turning this group of young men from a team into a family that, in his words, “watches each others backs.” I’ve been watching ND football since Oklahoma’s 47-game streak was broken, and I’ve never seen anyone like him before, and that includes three Heisman winners. If Manti doesn’t deserve the Heisman, then the trophy stands for nothing.

  17. oldestguard - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Top ranked team in college football, undefeated, led by their Defense with some of the top stats / category rankings in the country. Not on any radar or hype bandwagon at start of season and then EARNS it’s way to the top beating every challenge that is laid before it.

    The unquestioned leader of this Defense both physically and spiritually is their man in the middle who has put this program on his broad shoulders and willed it back to the top of College football.

    There are many great players every year, there are few legends that will endure like Manti Te’o

  18. 1historian - Nov 29, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    This award started out in 1934 known as the Downtown Athletic Club Award. At some point it became known as the Heisman Trophy.

    It should be noted that it is named after the man – John Heisman – who in October of 1916 coached Georgia Tech to the single worst defeat of another team in college football history. Georgia Tech defeated Cumberland College by the score of 222-0.

    Let me repeat – John Heisman was the Georgia Tech coach on the day Georgia Tech defeated Cumberland College 222-0. For that reason alone I don’t think it is any great honor to win it. Add to that the full out publicity assault by the world class Notre Dame publicity machine, aided and abetted by legions of grads, current students and ND wannabes, and the current atmosphere that seems to want to canonize this fine young man, and the cumulative effect to a grumpy old cynic like me is disquieting.

    To sum up – I hope someone else wins the damn trophy and I hope ND wins the National Championship.

  19. 1historian - Nov 29, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    That first thumbs up is mine. Let the thumbs down begin.

    I’m sure Manti Te’o is a fine young man – a credit to his family and to the university. I’m equally sure that there are a whole lot of people out there like him who labor under incredibly difficult circumstances that no one notices.

    • nudeman - Nov 29, 2012 at 2:37 PM

      Not from me. Thumbs up

      I have commented here before, to a torrent of boos, that I think the deification of Manti is over the top. He’s a great player, a very fine young man and a leader of men and he will be missed next year. But I think that Manti himself is probably a little embarrassed at the non stop attention he’s received, as he seems like a humble, team-first kinda’ guy.

  20. grikes - Nov 29, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Where is Nate Silver when you need him? Putting all stats and the class standing aside, I’m interested to see how the horse race of this thing plays out, because I think Manti has a real chance to win a squeaker. I think he’ll be the 2nd place choice for the voters who vote for Johnny Football, but what about the voters who don’t believe a freshman should ever be considered for the award? Do they leave him off the ballot all together? If so, even if not all of them vote him first, he may be able to close the gap. That, coupled with the first place votes he gets could put him over the top. Or not. I’ve been watching too much Morning Joe.

  21. bernhtp - Nov 29, 2012 at 7:59 PM

    A well deserved award and another great press conference by Manti:

  22. joewilliesshnoz - Nov 29, 2012 at 9:00 PM

    You gotta be kidding me . . .

  23. ndfaithful - Nov 29, 2012 at 10:21 PM

    Maybe all this talk about Johnny FakeID Football losing to Florida and LSU is overdone. I mean, he only played like crap in one of those two games. In the other, he played well enough to keep the game close and lose respectably.

    I mean seriously!? What can you expect? It’s not like he could rally his team to keep the other team from scoring when they’re 6 inches from the goal line. It’s not like he could do that in more than one game. I mean really! What’s he going to do, keep them undefeated while having impeccable integrity? Oh wait, there is one guy that did that….

    hang on, I’ll be back later…

    • whitethronejudgement - Dec 2, 2012 at 10:10 AM

      And all the Irish players have never tasted alcohol or done anything wrong in their sainted lives? Give me a break! Look, I love football, good football. Let the voters vote. They don’t read these puny blogs. All the big-time programs do things they shouldn’t. They just don’t get caught.

      • ndfaithful - Dec 3, 2012 at 10:55 PM

        Ok, just for the record, I never claimed that all the Irish players are perfect saints.

        Nor would I agree that “tasted alcohol”, as you put it, is anywhere close to what a freshman with multiple fake ID’s that get’s drunk and arrested in a bar fight does. There’s your Johnny football…

        And I’ve already gone on record to say that I wouldn’t back an Irish player with a history to Johnny Fake ID Football.

        Johnny Fake ID is a great ball player. And from the sounds of it, he’d be a good guy to cover your back if you were in a rowdy bar with a bunch of guys with fake ID’s. He’s probably a lot of fun at a party. Better send somebody else to get the beer though.

        I doubt very much that Manti was cruising around with a bunch of fake ID’s and avoiding the cops when he was a freshman.

        Integrity still matters to me. It’s a shame you gave up on it somewhere along the way and convinced yourself that it doesn’t matter.

  24. ocon171 - Nov 30, 2012 at 12:50 AM

    Planned illegal drinking? how big are you note dame nerds? who the hell doesn’t drink before 21. I work in the judicial system and think its BS you can’t drink at 18. you can be drafted but can’t have a beer? pathetic argument to go along with all your other pathetic anti Johny football arguments. I knew you were out of touch with reality but that not bad

    • whitethronejudgement - Dec 2, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      With you on that, ocon. A lot don’t drink but, how many don’t do other things slightly distasteful when in college? I don’t drink. I am often reminded of the sorrows caused by people that can’t handle it. For all have, and, fallen short. Just a thought.

  25. fnc111 - Nov 30, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    Gimme a break dude. Have you seen the schedule this kid played? Honestly, how tough is it to put up numbers in a system like A&M’s when you play South Carolina State, Sam Houston State, Mizzou, Arkansas, La Tech, and Auburn? I’m not too convinced about Bama. The awful LSU QB had his best game of the year versus them.

    It’s clear if Manti was playing for Ohio State, Michigan or USC he would win the award going away. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s about politics. If you go 6-6 as a team and two of those wins come against 1-AA teams you are not allowed to play in a bowl game. So I say….If you want to be eligible for the Heisman you can’t be arrested five months before the award is handed out and all your stats from the 1-AA games are not counted. The Heisman has become a joke and no ND player will ever win it again. They will always get blocked. Rece Davis will be happy because he can keep bringing up how long it’s been still.

    • whitethronejudgement - Dec 2, 2012 at 9:46 AM

      Let’s see. There were how many top 25 or even former top 25 teams on the Irish schedule this year?

      • ndfaithful - Dec 3, 2012 at 11:04 PM

        are you kidding, or are you just a moron?

        ND has defeated Stanford, Oklahoma, and Michigan. They’re ALL still in the top 20 in the BCS standings. Additionally, they beat Michigan State when they were ranked 10th. ND has probably beaten more bowl teams this year than any team in the country. And they never played any girl’s schools or community colleges like A&M did. ND beat the PAC 12 champion AND the Big 12 champion. Everytime they turned around they were playing a top 20 team and often on the road.

        Manziel put up video game numbers. He’s good. And he also played a couple of patsies to get there. He led his team to defeat in two of their three biggest games.

        I think this vote is a no-brainer. Many of the no-brain people have proven it with their comments here.

        Manti is the only choice.

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