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Simply indispensible

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A friend of mine, a rapid and often irrational Notre Dame fan, emailed me recently lamenting the fact that the Irish’s Manti Te’o didn’t win the 2012 Heisman Trophy – and that I did not cast my vote for the stalwart linebacker.

“Since Manti didn't win it I think they should just change the mission statement of the Heisman,” he wrote. “It should be, ‘The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the quarterback or running back with the most inflated statistics and highlights, as well as the candidate that ESPN promotes the most. Citizenship is no longer an issue with the Heisman and defensive players are no longer eligible.’”

“The Heisman was supposed to be about integrity. (Heisman winner Johnny)Manziel has had several run-ins with the law. I no longer have an interest in the Heisman Trophy. It is a joke and has been since 1990.

“Thanks to you and your ilk for ruining what was once a prestigious award.”

I tried not to take his complaints too personally (since he’s kind of kooky anyway). Actually, we agree on several of the same issues in regards to how the Heisman is won – and lost. I’ve always argued that statistics should just be one of the factors that go into the naming of “The most outstanding college football player in the United States.” Hype from the four-letter network, and their nauseating love affair with all things SEC-related, is hard to stomach and very much a factor in the voting. And while we’d all like to see citizenship be a larger part of the equation, it’s not and probably never will be.

That being said, my friend’s complaint about a defensive player not being eligible is overblown. Like Ndamukong Suh three years ago, Te’o had an extraordinary season and deserves numerous accolades. He was, however, involved in less than two dozen plays per game on average. As our colleague Joe Williams pointed out back in 1997 when Charles Woodson won the Heisman over the more deserving Peyton Manning, a quarterback is far more integral to his team’s success because he touches the ball on every play. Remove a defensive player like Woodson, Suh or Te’o from the lineup, and their team would most certainly feel the effect. But remove Manning, Eric Crouch, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow or many other standout quarterbacks from their respective line-ups and watch those teams’ tumble down the standings.

I call it the “indispensible” factor, and it’s how I make my Heisman selection each year. Which player has the most impact on his good-to-great team, and how would that team fair without him? As I told my friend, take Te’o out of the Notre Dame line-up, and they’d have probably lost a game along the way, but they’d still be a great team. That’s why even though I hope Te’o becomes a Denver Bronco, I could not cast my Heisman vote for him (nor did I for Suh, for the record.)

I cast my vote this season for Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein. I did so because the criteria I set for my vote 15 years ago remains in place. He was the most indispensible player on a great team this season. He had outstanding stats and several big game wins, too.
Klein didn’t win because he had one bad game all season for a team that went 11-1 and won the Big 12. Conversely, Manziel won because he had one great game in a big moment. Conveniently, the voters seemed able to brush over Texas A&M’s two ugly home losses. Against Florida, the freshman QB was very pedestrian, throwing for 173 yards and rushing for 60. Hardly Heisman stats. In a home loss to LSU, the Heisman winner rushed for 27 yards and threw three interceptions. H

is Aggies were never a factor in the SEC title race.

Emotionally, my disappointment is that the state of Colorado and the city of Loveland would have gotten some well deserved love nationally for turning out the 2012 winner. That would have been cool. As a voter, my disappointment centers on the fact that Manziel won, and Klein lost because of a single game, not the entire season and body of work.
My criteria stands: Colin Klein – not Johnny Manziel or Manti Te’o – was the single most impactful player on a team that was in contention for the national championship. To me, that makes him the most outstanding player in the country.

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