This time it will be different. No, it won’t.
A couple weeks ago it was Jarvis Jones who was going to challenge for the Heisman, and now it’s Manti Te’o who has taken up the mantle for the defensive side of the ball. I can’t count how many times I get asked about the Heisman chances of various defensive players. But let’s keep it simple: Pure defenders can’t win the Heisman.
It’s not that there’s an official rule against it, or some sort of bias. It’s really just a reflection of human nature. Voters naturally gravitate toward seeking as much tangible information about a player as possible. And if you play offense, there are several stats categories available to accurately gauge your impact on the field. It’s a little murkier for the defense. We know Geno Smith is second nationally in pass efficiency, and we know exactly how many touchdowns he has accounted for and how he helps his team win. Meanwhile, Te’o is one of 15 players with three interceptions on the season, and he is tied for 39th nationally in tackles.
Ah, you say, but the stats don’t tell the whole story about his impact! Well, that’s exactly my point. The stats don’t tell the whole story with defenders, and most of the voters are reliant on stats and numbers to help them make a decision. Unless a Heisman voter watches every Notre Dame game in its entirety, he won’t have a full understanding of Te’o’s impact. He won’t see it in the box score the way he will with Smith, or some other offensive player.
This doesn’t take into account other factors, like how offenses find ways to scheme around defenders, thus lessening their impact on a game. Defenders don’t control their own destiny when it comes to production. The greatest cover corner in the history of the world can’t defend a pass against a team that never throws his way.
We have awards for defensive players. The Heisman is not one of them.