Dienhart: Give the Heisman to Johnny Football

When it comes to Heisman races, this one is a yawner. And do you know why that’s funny? Because the 78th Heisman ceremony will be historic.

On Saturday night in New York City, we may see the first freshman win the honor in Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. We also could see the first true defensive player win it in Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. (Kansas State’s Collin Klein is the other finalist, but he has no shot and is along for the ride. Enjoy it, kid. Bring a camera, too.)

I suspect the voting will be close between the two clear front-runners. In fact, it could be the closest Heisman race ever. The closest thus far was in 2009, when Alabama’s Mark Ingram finished a scant 28 points ahead of Stanford’s Toby Gerhart.

Still, despite all of that, I’m not jazzed up like I have been for other Heisman ceremonies of recent vintage. There seems to be a true “superstar” quality missing from the field. There’s no Herschel Walker, no Bo Jackson, no Ricky Williams, no Carson Palmer, no Sam Bradford, no Tim Tebow, no RG3. But, again, there could be some drama.

Heisman voting is broken down into six regions: far west; mid-atlantic; midwest; northeast; south; southwest. I think Manziel could take the far west, south and southwest. Te’o figures to take the northeast, midwest and mid-atlantic. What will be the difference?

Nov 17, 2012; College Station, TX, USA;  Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) yells at Sam Houston State Bearkats defensive back Kenneth Jenkins (32) during the first half at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE.Credit: US PRESSWIRE


Some voters will backlash against the notion that a freshman never should win the Heisman. Many also felt a sophomore never should win it—then Tebow shattered that notion in 2007, which set off a three-year run of sophomore winners.

And any player from Notre Dame is polarizing. You either love or hate the Fighting Irish. But you never ignore them. If Te’o wins, he would be the first senior to take the honor since Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006.

Me? I voted for Manziel No. 1; Te’o No. 2; Ohio State’s Braxton Miller No. 3.

I am not overly enthused by my choice of Manziel. It almost is by default, honestly. But no one else seemed like a better option when I pressed the button on my ballot.

Te’o? Was he truly a dominant defensive player? No. Not like Pitt’s Hugh Green was in 1980 or even Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska in 2009, among others. The only arguments I hear for Te’o go thusly: “He’s the heart and soul of a great Fighting Irish defense on a Notre Dame team that is unbeaten and playing for the national title.”

That’s it? THAT makes him college football’s most outstanding player for 2012?

Not a chance. Te’o’s candidacy seems to be more sizzle than substance. Turn on the tape, show me something special–seven interceptions, 103 tackles, 11 passes broken up. There isn’t enough on Te’o’s resume to merit inclusion in this exclusive Heisman club.

I suspect Te’o’s candidacy is fueled by his emotional backstory—and that should have no bearing on the Heisman. But I’m sure it does.

Look, Te’o is very good, but he wasn’t a game-changer or difference maker who altered game plans. Heck, was he even the best linebacker in America in 2012? I tend to think Georgia’s Jarvis Jones was.

But, as with most things Notre Dame, hype takes over and “legends” are built quickly.

Compare all of that to Manziel. Pop in the tape and watch this kid. The words that come to my mind reviewing clips are: game-changer … difference-maker … sensational … special.

Manziel is coming off a historically great season in the nation’s best conference, the SEC. And he set a single-season SEC standard for total yards with 4,600. And, again, he did it in the big, bad SEC, home of the best players, best coaches, best tailgates, best cheerleaders and best defenses in the galaxy.

The fact Manziel did it as redshirt freshman makes his feats even more remarkable and enhances his resume. I flat-out guarantee that if Manziel was a senior—or played at Notre Dame–this race wouldn’t even be close.

And you want a signature, Heisman moment? None was bigger or better than Manziel waltzing into Tuscaloosa to play No. 1 Alabama and pantsing Nick Saban and his ferocious Crimson Tide defense. Last guy to do that was Cam Newton, whose single-season total offense record succumbed to Manziel.

Want more? Manziel accounted for 69.4 percent of the A&M offense, a higher percentage than the last three Heisman- quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III, Newton and Bradford.

Case closed.

Give the Heisman to Johnny Football.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (9 Comments)
Rex on 12/5/2012 @ 4:12pm EDT Said:

If you don’t think Te’o is even the best defensive player in the nation (I agree with you), why did you give him a 2nd place vote?

Phil F on 12/5/2012 @ 4:25pm EDT Said:


D Walker on 12/5/2012 @ 4:47pm EDT Said:

Best run down I’ve seen in the same article of why Johnny Football should be the winner, and why Te’o shouldn’t even be mentioned. Well done.

Lucia Ganapes Cundy on 12/5/2012 @ 6:55pm EDT Said:

The Heisman is about “the outstanding player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” It is a mixture of traits, not just one thing. Where does everybody get this “best player” idea? Was the actual mission statement on the ballot instructions?

I personally have two problems with Manziel, both of which relate to the integrity portion of the mission statement.

The first is his arrest in June for assault and presenting a false ID. That shows a lack of respect for his victim, himself, his family, and his University. Not appropriate Heisman candidate behavior, let alone what one expects from a winner who is then supposed to represent the Heisman Trust in its many charitable and community missions now and for the rest of his life.

Second, I was actually disgusted when Manziel attempted, and missed, a PAT on 11/17 vs Sam Houston State. After his shanked kick, he returned to the sidelines, laughing heartily, exhibiting a lack of respect for his own kickers, for his team, the opposing team, and the game.

Te’o should win. Whether he does or not will reflect not on him, but on the voters.

K. John on 12/5/2012 @ 7:14pm EDT Said:

The Heisman is garbage and has been fro twenty years. There are only two candidates for this award, and one has been black balled. Regardless of who gets this sham of an award, Mike Mauti is the real winner. He is the top linebacker in the country and maybe the top defensive player. Only his team-mate Jordan Hill is close and would be the choice if he played as well throughout the year as he did late when he was unblockable despite being double teamed or held on every single play. GIve it to #42 or #47, they are the top two defensive players in the country, the top players at their respective positions by a large margin (Gerald Hodges is the number two linebacker) and the only deserving candidates.

Doug on 12/5/2012 @ 7:28pm EDT Said:

K.John, totally agree, the heisman is a complete joke, It’s supposed to be about the individual, but if you have a great year and play on a crappy team you can’t win it, and that is wrong.

eyemsayin on 12/6/2012 @ 5:43am EDT Said:

Why is this guy called Johnny Football.

Rex on 12/6/2012 @ 3:26pm EDT Said:

The Heisman is about “the outstanding player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” I agree, and that fits Johnny Manziel to a “T”. He played the game with integrity. He didn’t cheat at the game or anything else. He made a stupid decision back in June. He paid the price for it, and he has addressed it in the media. But that incident had nothing to do with his “performance” on the field.

John on 12/6/2012 @ 3:32pm EDT Said:

In one breath, you go from saying there is no true “superstar” in the field to fawning over Manziel as “game-changer,” “difference maker,” “sensational,” and “special.” Way to contradict yourself.

You don’t see substance in Te’o? NFL experts would disagree.