Manti Teo didnt win the Heisman Trophy this year, but he may have cracked the door open for a purely-defensive player to win college footballs most prestigious honor down the road.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has already received some way-too-early Heisman chatter for 2013 after finishing sixth in 2012. Clowney received four first-place votes and garnered 61 points, more than NIUs Jordan Lynch and Oregons Kenjon Barner.
The sophomores 13 sacks were tied for the most in the nation, and hell return to a strong South Carolina squad next year as hes ineligible for the NFL Draft until after his junior season. Hes regarded as the most dominant force on a defensive line in college football, and has already garnered significant national attention.
Perhaps Teos finish showed some unconvinced voters that its not a sin to vote for a defensive player.
MORE: Dr. Saturday: Will a defensive player ever win the Heisman? Well, what about next year?
Teo garnered more second-place votes than all but one Heisman runner-up, and only finished about 300 points behind a guy who set the SEC record for all-purpose yards in 2012. That seems like good news for Clowney, given the willingness to vote for Teo, who didnt play a lick of offense or special teams.
But Notre Dame went undefeated with a top-ranked defense. That had just as much to do with his Heisman Trophy candidacy than his on-field play -- which, interceptions aside, wasnt as statistically eye-popping as youd expect from a middle linebacker in the running for a Heisman.
Without my team, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate, Teo said earlier. If we weren't 12 and 0, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. So without my team and their help, I wouldn't be going to New York.
Offensive players can put up monster numbers on teams with multiple losses (like Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III) and win the award. Defensive players, however dominant, dont have that luxury -- Hugh Greens Pittsburgh team went 11-1 in 1980 while Alex Karras Iowa squad went 7-1-1 in 1957, and theyre the only two other purely-defensive players to finish second -- so Clowneys chances hinge just as much on his on-field performance as South Carolinas record.
South Carolina avoids Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in 2013 and draws Florida and Clemson at home. A road date against Georgia and a potential SEC title game look like the Gamecocks two biggest tests away from Columbia, but obviously plenty can change between now and next fall.
After Manziel was announced as the Heisman winner, plenty Teo supporters took to Twitter to argue that if Teo cant win the honor, no defensive player could. Teo built the strongest case a defensive player had for the Heisman in over three decades, maybe ever.
Itll be tough for Clowney to equal that. If he can, though, perhaps Teos 2012 finish will help Clowney in 2013.