Notre Dame's Manti Te'o has been receiving lots of Heisman love while Michael Mauti has received none despite similar, outstanding seasons. Adam and Dan debate who is more deserving of Heisman attention.
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Adam: Michael Mauti Deserves The Heisman
This past spring, Anthony Davis of Kentucky scored 14.2 points per game. For the basketball stat heads of the world (paging Eric, Tim and Chad…), ranked was just fifth on his own team in usage rate, ranked 52nd in points per-40 minutes (pace adjusted) out of the NCAA’s top 100 pro prospects last year, and despite being nearly seven feet tall, scored or was fouled on just 25 percent of his post-up plays. To put it mildly, Anthony Davis was not a statistical wonder.
Despite all that, Anthony Davis was still the consensus National Player of the Year.
Anthony Davis may not have been the most statistically impressive player, particularly on offense. But the reason Anthony Davis was the darling of awards season last year was simple – no matter how many points he scored, no matter how many rebounds he grabbed, no matter how many shots he blocked, he fundamentally changed the way teams attacked the basket. He altered game plans merely by being on the floor.
I recognize that basketball is not football, and I realize that a 6’10 athletic specimen isn’t the same as a college linebacker. Still, the reason why Anthony Davis was college basketball's national player of the year is the same reason that a defensive player should have a realistic chance at winning the Heisman Trophy in December.
Michael Mauti is college football’s finest player.
Mauti doesn’t lead the nation in interceptions. That’s Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas. Mauti doesn’t lead the nation in sacks. That’s Texas A&M Damontre Moore. Heck, Michael Mauti isn’t even the most athletic linebacker on his own team. That’s almost certainly Gerald Hodges.
Even so, Mauti’s mere presence on the field fundamentally changes the game. He’s fantastic in every facet – he can get to the quarterback on a blitz, stretch a running back to the outside and make the tackle for a loss, and cover tight ends and receivers in the middle of the field. Teams game plan to avoid him. Opposing coaches mention him by name in their weekly press conference.
"I recruited him really hard at Florida and loved him as a high school athlete," he said. "When I was at ESPN, I went up and talked to him. He's a tough guy, a leader. I love his family. He's playing his tail off after a knee injury. He's got that type of [leadership] personality."
Meyer touched on Mauti’s most enduring quality – his leadership. Like Manti Te’o, Mauti means more to his team than simply statistics and on the field effectiveness. For Te’o, it’s his personal story and tragic losses that have made him and his exceptional play a compelling story. For Mauti, the story is different – perhaps further reaching. As the walls came tumbling down around Penn State’s football program, when players were lured away with national championship promises and Hollywood dreams, Michael Mauti fought to keep the program his father and brother helped build alive.
We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy.
There are plenty of offensive players with gaudy statistics in leagues where defense is optional. But Manti Te’o and Michael Mauti are the anchors of two of the most impressive defenses in country. It’s time for a defensive player to be recognized for his achievements. In any other year, Te’o is a deserving candidate. His story is gut wrenching and compelling, and his performance on the field has been exceptional. And yet, there remains a better candidate for college football’s most recognizable honor. The Heisman Trophy is given yearly by the Downtown Athletic Club to college football’s "most outstanding player." For all that he’s done on the field, and certainly all that he’s done beyond it to forge his own legacy, it’s hard for me to find a player more deserving of that moniker than #42.
Dan: The Case For Manti Te'o
Let me preface my argument by saying that neither of these players should receive considerable Heisman hype. They are both fine defensive players, yes, but neither has taken over game-after-game like Ndamakong Suh did in 2010 when he was named a Heisman finalist or Charles Woodson did in 1997 when he was the last mainly-defensive player to win the award (Woodson was also one of the greatest kick return specialists I've ever seen in college football which is also part of the reason he won the Heisman that year).
In my eyes, the Heisman selection comes down to one interconnected aspect: a supreme individual performance for a team that supremely excels because of it.
The Notre Dame defense has been dominant this year. And it has needed to be considering the struggles or "ball-control gameplan" that their offense has exhibited throughout the season. The Irish rank second in FBS in scoring defense (9.43 points per game) and sixth in total defense (280.71 yards per game) compared to Penn State's 13th- and 22nd- rankings in both categories.
Now, take a look at the Notre Dame defense. You're going to have to because there are no other recognizable names on the roster (OK, maybe you know about Bennett Jackson, but that's about it). Te'o leads the team in tackles and the next closest teammates trails him by 29. He ranks third in the nation and first on the team with four interceptions. He has outperformed his teammates during every game this season and it really hasn't been close. He is the lynchpin of the most dominant defense in America outside of Alabama.
Now, yes, Mauti has very similar numbers, almost identical, in fact, I understand that. But if you took him out of the Penn State defense and replaced him with Mike Hull, would you truly see a noticeable difference? The Penn State defense is stacked with future NFL players like Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill, Deion Barnes, Adrian Amos, maybe Hull, maybe Glenn Carson, etc. Add that to the fact that Hull might be more athletic than Mauti, Penn State would still have a top-tier defense without The Mullet. As I said above, you take Manti Te'o out of the Notre Dame defense and I believe it is a vastly different, fairly more inferior unit.
Finally, you take into account each team's records and rankings right now. If Notre Dame doesn't have the defense it does right now and they have to rely on Everett Golson and Tommy Rees (...eesh) and the Fighting Irish offense to lead the football team, they are not the fifth-ranked team in the nation. Hell, they don't even win five games. On the other hand, replace Mike Mauti with a Mike Hull, the defense doesn't miss a beat, the offense continues to fire on all cylinders and Penn State is still on the cusp of winning the Leaders Division of the Big Ten.
Don't let the story of Michael Mauti and these resurgent Nittany Lions cloud judgement on where recognition for on-the-field performance belongs. If there was some sort of Roberto Clemente Award in college football to give, something where you can honor on-the-field performance with fighting hardships or doing good off-the-field, hands down, Michael Mauti is the winner this year (although Te'o did lose his grandma and girlfriend in a span of 24 hours and then went on to play maybe his best game of the season...), but that is not how the Heisman is voted on.
And because of all of that, if you had to choose between the two (which you shouldn't because neither is a dynamical player that changes everything about a football game), I would take Te'o over Mauti according to my definition of a Heisman Trophy winner.
Now please don't run me off of BSD with pitchforks and torches and please don't hurt me, Mike Mauti.
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