If Johnny Manziel didn't set so many Southeastern Conference records this season, I might have voted for Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o for the Heisman Trophy.
In the end, I went with the best player, having the best season, in the best conference, but don't think I didn't weigh my top three names for a long time. Te'o may be the best overall player in the country, and he'll get to prove it against the second-best team in the country when No. 2 Alabama takes on the top-ranked Fighting Irish in the BCS national championship Jan. 7. I believe Manziel is the best player in the country after setting SEC records with 4,600 yards of total offense.
Manziel led Texas A&M to a 10-2 record and a 6-2 record in the SEC, the toughest conference in the country. He became the first freshman in the league's history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for another 1,000. He scored or accounted for 43 touchdowns, and helped the Aggies beat what I believe is the best overall team in the country, Alabama, 29-24.
Te'o's season can't be measured in statistics. He doesn't lead the nation in any of them, except heart, which goes a long way for a defense that is undefeated and No. 1 in the BCS. Te'o had a season-high 12 tackles in Notre Dame's 20-3 win over Michigan State in the third game of the season. He has seven interceptions and 1.5 sacks, which don't make your eyebrows raise that much, but watch him play. Offenses seem to adjust to him more than he to them.
That's respect. His story also shows some of his resilience, overcoming the loss of his girlfriend to leukemia and his grandmother before the Michigan State game. No wonder he had a season-high 12 tackles.
"In the worst week of his life, he played, perhaps, his best game ever," Yahoo! Sports writer Dan Wetzel said.
Te'o earned more points in the Heisman voting than any other purely defensive player. Michigan's Charles Woodson, who won the 1997 Heisman, returned punts, caught passes, and made big plays almost every week, as far as timely interceptions or touchdown receptions when the Wolverines needed them. Te'o won the Maxwell Award, which goes to the player of the year, the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player and the Walter Camp Foundation player of the year award.
Marqise Lee, USC's wide receiver who I voted third, averaged 140 yards a game receiving for a disappointing Trojans squad. Lee caught 16 passes for 345 yards and two scores in a loss at Arizona, and reached 100 yards or more receiving in eight of USC's 12 games. That's incredible for a college receiver, even in USC's offense, with the Trojans' talent.