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MORRISSEY: No ‘D’ in Heisman for Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o

Notre Dame v USC

Notre Dame v USC

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Whom do you think should win the Heisman Trophy?

Updated: December 28, 2012 6:25AM

For a guy who preaches the importance of focus, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly isn’t averse to allowing his gaze to wander on occasion.

A few weeks ago, he veered from his stated mission of controlling what he can control and politicked for the Fighting Irish as the No. 1 team in the nation. At the time, Notre Dame was ranked third in the BCS standings. Then Miracle Saturday arrived, with No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon losing and USC quarterback Matt Barkley, the leader of the Irish’s next opponent, going down with a shoulder injury. All hallelujah broke loose at the Grotto on Notre Dame’s campus that night.

Now Kelly is pushing linebacker Manti Te’o for the Heisman Trophy, arguing that if the award continues to do an end-around on defensive players, the people at the Heisman Trust might as well get it over with and hand it out exclusively to offensive players.

“He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week,” Kelly said.

Bless the coach for his passion, but the award should go to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who plays that evil quarterback position. We’ll get to Manziel in a moment.

Kelly gets credit for backing his guy, but that’s about it. Life is unfair, and the Heisman is even more unfair. If Kelly thinks defensive players are at a disadvantage in the voting, what about offensive linemen? You could be the best right guard the world has ever seen, and Heisman voters would rather watch infomercials than watch you play. That’s the nature of the beast. If you’re a defensive tackle, forget it. Ask Ndamukong Suh, a once-in-a-generation player who finished fourth in the 2009 Heisman voting behind Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart and Colt McCoy.

There are two problems with Kelly’s pro-Te’o argument. One is that Manziel is having a historic year. He’s the only freshman in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season. Only five FBS quarterbacks have done that. He should get extra points, not demerits for accomplishing that as a lowly redshirt freshman.

The other problem with Kelly’s push is that Te’o isn’t the best defensive player in the country, let alone the best overall player in the country. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, the top defender in the Southeastern Conference, is better than Te’o. So is South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. Better player, better name.

Te’o is a wonderful story — a Mormon kid from Hawaii who goes to the very-Catholic University of Notre Dame, comes back for his senior year rather than enter the NFL draft and is the best player on a defense that fuels the Irish to a spot in the national title game. His grandmother and girlfriend die over a 24-hour span in September, yet he soldiers on.

Broadcasters and writers have fallen over each other to tell Te’o’s tale. Off the field, he is known for his big heart and charity work. On the field, he has 103 tackles and seven interceptions, the latter a huge number for a linebacker. He’s also the emotional leader of the team, the guy who tries to make everyone else better.

And it doesn’t hurt that he’s the opposite of camera-shy. He’s not in Derek Jeter’s category in knowing when the red light is on, but he’s working on it. Put it all together, and you have a media-savvy candidate who plays for the most famous college football program in America.

Kelly’s argument that defensive players don’t have a legitimate shot at the Heisman can be extended to candidates who don’t have the PR machine behind them that Te’o does at Notre Dame. Would he be getting all this Heisman hype if he played for an undefeated UCLA team? Probably not.

In other words, whatever points Te’o is losing because of the Heisman’s historic snubbing of defensive players, he’s gaining just as many for playing for the top-ranked Irish, who have produced seven Heisman Trophy winners.

No, I’d say everything is fair here. And on that level playing field, Manziel stands out a little more.

If we know one thing about the Heisman Trophy, it’s that it doesn’t always go to the best player in the country. The award’s history is littered with players who were fine college players who washed out in the pros. Rashaan Salaam? Gino Torretta?

If Kelly really wants to help Te’o, maybe he should stop trying to help him win the Heisman.

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