Skip to content

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.

***

Latest Posts
  1. Notre Dame football players: Why I’m Thankful

    Nov 27, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

    Luke Massa, Kyle Brindza Luke Massa, Kyle Brindza

    With the Irish heading to Southern California to try and finish the regular season with a much-needed eighth victory, seniors Austin Collinsworth, Kyle Brindza, Cam McDaniel and Christian Lombard look back on a football career that’s now ending.

  2. And in that corner… The USC Trojans

    Nov 26, 2014, 12:10 PM EST

    The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football might not have the shine of previous years, but it doesn’t make it any less important. Both Notre Dame and USC will enter the Coliseum desperate for a victory.

  3. Secondary depth chart reaches red-line status

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:47 AM EST

    Michigan v Notre Dame Michigan v Notre Dame

    A one-armed man. Two guys sentenced to a year in the house. And a parolee. Sounds like the cast list for a new cop drama. But that’s the safety depth chart entering the final Saturday of the regular season.

  4. Kyle McCarthy: Blessed with ND football during cancer fight

    Nov 25, 2014, 7:38 PM EST

    Washington v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Throughout the ups and downs of the football season, one thing was a constant in graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy’s first season of coaching. A life or death battle with cancer.

  5. Irish defense loses Jones, Tranquill for season

    Nov 25, 2014, 2:59 PM EST

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Notre Dame v Syracuse

    The hits just keep coming for Notre Dame’s defense. On Tuesday, Brian Kelly confirmed that defensive tackle Jarron Jones would be lost for the season. He also announced that safety Drue Tranquill tore his ACL, ending the freshman safety’s season as well.

  6. The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Louisville

    Nov 24, 2014, 2:24 PM EST

    Brian Kelly Brian Kelly

    The Irish exited Notre Dame Stadium for the last time in 2014. And for the second-straight week they sang the alma mater after a defeat, taking another step backwards from a home-field advantage Brian Kelly and the Irish had quietly built over the past few seasons.

    Let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly of Notre Dame’s 31-28 loss to Louisville.

  7. Young defensive front up for another challenge against USC

    Nov 24, 2014, 10:42 AM EST

    Jacob Matuska, Reggie Bonnafon Jacob Matuska, Reggie Bonnafon

    It appears that Notre Dame’s already youthful defensive line is going to be getting even younger on Saturday. After losing Jarron Jones essentially on the first play of Saturday’s 31-28 loss to Louisville, a Sunday MRI will determine the severity of the injury and whether he can play again this season.

  8. Five things we learned: Louisville 31, Notre Dame 28

    Nov 22, 2014, 8:40 PM EST

    Austin Collinsworth, Joe Schmidt Austin Collinsworth, Joe Schmidt

    Kyle Brindza stared down his spot. Envisioned making the kick. Took a final deep breath before waiting for the snap.

    And then he missed it.

  9. Live chat — Notre Dame vs. Louisville

    Nov 22, 2014, 3:15 PM EST

    Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

    How will the regular season end for the Irish? Let’s talk about it here during the home finale from Notre Dame Stadium.

  10. Mailbag: Still steaming mad about last week

    Nov 22, 2014, 12:33 PM EST

    New Mailbox

    With the questions (understandably) a little bit more filled with frustration than usual, it seems more than a few of you are searching for answers to last week’s loss still. Let’s answer a few mailbag questions before the game.

  11. Former Irish greats talk about their favorite Notre Dame memories

    Nov 22, 2014, 10:42 AM EST

    Washington v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With Senior Day a perfect time to look back, some former Notre Dame football greats are looking back at their time with the Irish. And they’re doing it in a pretty cool way.

  12. Pregame Six Pack: Battling Louisville in Senior sendoff

    Nov 21, 2014, 4:31 PM EST

    Notre Dame v Arizona State Getty Images

    And just like that, Notre Dame’s season is nearly over. While losing three of four games has dampened the spirits of fans and detoured the team’s postseason hopes, the Irish will play their final game at home on Saturday, a senior sendoff in Notre Dame Stadium for a large group with a still-to-be-determined future.

  13. After unexplainable loss, can Irish rally again?

    Nov 20, 2014, 2:21 PM EST

    BYU v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Few memories are shorter collectively than football fans. Every mistake is magnified in the prism of “now,” with the devastation of a difficult to understand loss like last weekend’s to Northwestern consistently taking dead aim at the foundation of a football program, regardless of its stability.

  14. Louisville Mailbag: Now Open

    Nov 19, 2014, 11:07 PM EST

    New Mailbox

    Send your questions in below. Or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  15. And in that corner… The Louisville Cardinal

    Nov 19, 2014, 9:30 AM EST

    DeVante Parker, Tyler Hunter DeVante Parker, Tyler Hunter

    Another Saturday, another football game for Notre Dame. And because of last weekend’s loss to Northwestern, the Irish face what now feels like a must-win game on Senior Day.

    Mark Ennis gets us ready for the Louisville Cardinals.

  16. Kyle McCarthy announces he’s cancer free

    Nov 19, 2014, 12:02 AM EST

    Washington v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Notre Dame graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy took to Twitter to share the good news that he’s been given a cancer-free diagnosis. The former Irish captain had been battling an undisclosed type of cancer since earlier this year, staying with the team throughout surgery and multiple treatments.

  17. BK: “We’re going to fight through this rough spot”

    Nov 18, 2014, 4:40 PM EST

    Purdue v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Brian Kelly met with the media this afternoon, a few days into preparation for Louisville. While there were certainly questions about how the Irish were going to challenge a Cardinals team with some really exceptional personnel on both sides of the ball, the focus was mostly on the guys inside Notre Dame’s locker room.

  18. The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Northwestern

    Nov 17, 2014, 1:22 PM EST

    Will Fuller, Nick VanHoose Will Fuller, Nick VanHoose

    A little less than 48 hours after Notre Dame’s loss to Northwestern, it doesn’t seem like too many people are over it. So let’s dispense with the introductions and pull the band-aid.

    Here’s the good, bad and ugly from Saturday’s disastrous 43-40 loss to the Wildcats.

  19. Former Irish back Jonas Gray has monster game for Patriots

    Nov 17, 2014, 10:46 AM EST

    Jonas Gray Navy

    Jonas Gray became the NFL’s overnight sensation. It only took three long years for him to get there. The former Irish back dominated in a breakthrough game for the Patriots.

  20. Kelly talks failed two-point play, moving on to Louisville

    Nov 16, 2014, 4:06 PM EST

    Brian Kelly Brian Kelly

    As you might have noticed, Notre Dame lost to Northwestern yesterday. And that’s got more than a few people unhappy. Brian Kelly talked about moving forward on his Sunday teleconference.