Historic Heisman? Te'o deserving, but past not on his side

938917.png

Historic Heisman? Te'o deserving, but past not on his side

Manti Te'o's Heisman bid started as a pipe dream in mid-September, when the linebacker received plenty of national attention for his outstanding performances against Michigan State and Michigan while dealing with a devastating tragedy.

A month later, Te'o's Heisman chances became legitimate when he intercepted Landry Jones in Norman, sealing Notre Dame's biggest win in nearly two decades. And after Notre Dame beat USC to finish its first undefeated regular season in 24 years, the argument became loud and clear:

If Te'o doesn't get the Heisman Trophy, no defensive player ever will.

"If a guy like Manti Te'o's not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award," coach Brian Kelly said in Los Angeles. "Just give it to the offensive player every year and let's just cut to the chase."

On Thursday, Te'o broke Charles Woodson's record for most awards won in a single season. In winning the Maxwell Award -- Te'o's sixth -- he topped Woodson's five won in 1997. One of those awards won by Woodson was the Heisman Trophy, although Te'o is hardly a slam dunk to to win college football's most prestigious honor.

Te'o earned an invite to the Heisman presentation in New York as one of three finalists, meaning he'll be the first defensive player who didn't play offense or special teams to have a top-three Heisman finish since Pittsburgh's Hugh Green in 1980. A handful of defense-only players have finished in the top four -- most recently, Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh -- while Alex Karras and Green are the only two defenders to finish in the top three without playing on offense.

Woodson is heralded as the last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, but his bid was aided by his explosive returning ability and moonlighting as a receiver. Te'o doesn't have any of that -- his impact comes only on the defensive side of the ball.

And it's a been a huge impact, one that has propelled Notre Dame to an undefeated season and bid in the BCS Championship. Te'o has 103 tackles and seven interceptions, the latter of which is the highest total compiled by an FBS linebacker in a dozen years. He's the emotional leader of a defense allowing 10.3 points per game, the lowest average in the nation. And Te'o's done it all while being a high-character guy, one who's as upstanding of a human being as you'll ever meet.

So what doesn't make him Heisman Trophy material?

It's exactly about what Te'o is lacking, it's about what Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel has done. It's Manziel -- not Cam Newton, not Tim Tebow -- who holds the SEC record for total offense, racking up 4,600 yards in his redshirt freshman campaign. With a new coach and new quarterback, Texas A&M actually wound up averaging more points per game this year against fearsome SEC defenses than they did last year against the Swiss cheese defenses of the Big 12, and that was with Ryan Tannehill as the team's quarterback.

The last few weeks have turned into ugly attack campaigns, with those in College Station and South Bend digging to find any reason, however small, to discount the other candidate (in this analogy, then, that makes Collin Klein the Green Party rep). Yes, Manziel didn't play well against Florida and LSU. But Te'o was stymied by Pittsburgh, a game which Notre Dame wound up winning thanks to a few big breaks.

It's Michael Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera all over again, with each grenade thrown making the debate more polarizing.

"That's definitely somebody that's of Heisman material," Te'o said of Manziel. "I'm a real big fan."

Manziel is a deserving candidate. So is Te'o. But only one can win the award -- and all signs point to Manziel -- so that begs another question: why not just split the Heisman Trophy into two categories, one for offense and one for defense?

It's a tricky concept, given the history of the Heisman Trophy. It's arguably the most prestigious and recognizable award in American sports, one that pre-dates baseball's Cy Young Award by 21 years. It'd take a lot of convincing for two players to be welcomed into the Heisman fraternity each year, for two players to strike the pose instead of one.

But it's rare for a defensive player to have the kind of national impact and appeal of Te'o in 2012. Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers pepper highlight reels and YouTube clips. A mundane touchdown will get more play than a run-of-the-mill interception, sack or fumble recovery. That's why it's much easier to identify the nation's top offensive players than defensive players, unless a defender has a gargantuan season like Te'o in 2012 or Suh in 2009.

The idea of a defensive Heisman won't be realized anytime soon, if ever. And even if it is installed down the road, it won't help Te'o this year.

In a situation where there are multiple deserving candidates, one will get snubbed. This year, that guy is likely to be Te'o, and he just so happens to play defense. And while there's no doubt Te'o wants to win the Heisman, he has a chance to play for an even bigger honor -- one Manziel doesn't have a chance to get this year.

"You ask any Heisman winner that wasn't a national champion what they would rather be, and I think they would rather be the latter, a national champion," Te'o said last month. "So that's what I want. I'd rather be holding a crystal ball than a bronze statue."

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

As White Sox bats heat up, Todd Frazier feeling like himself after bumpy start to 2017

Three games do not a comeback make, but Todd Frazier is feeling like his normal self again.

Frazier’s been battling a host of health-related issues since the start of 2017, including injuries to his finger and oblique that hampered him in the spring and most recently a bout with the flu that cost him six of eight games and saw him lose 10 pounds.

But the last three games have been more like it for Frazier, as the White Sox third baseman has gone 4-for-12 with five RBIs, four runs scored, three doubles and a pair of walks. In Tuesday’s win over the visiting Kansas City Royals, Frazier had a pair of doubles, matching his total from his previous 12 games.

“It was weird to start off with the finger on something weird that happened last year and that turned into a cast. And then the oblique. It has been a crazy ride,” Frazier said after Tuesday’s game. “That’s why this game you’ve got to work your butt off in the offseason and be ready now, and I feel like I’m getting back to where I need to be.

“I feel fine. I’m good. I’m trying to lift as much as I can. Maybe a little soreness from lifting trying to gain some muscle and some weight back. Trying to eat as much as I can too as well.”

The time off would be enough to knock someone off their game, but Frazier — who posted career lows with a .225 batting average and .302 on-base percentage last season — was still looking to heat up after struggling to produce through the season’s first few weeks. In his first 10 games, the veteran third baseman slashed just .091/.189/.212 with just three hits and one RBI.

So Frazier has been studying up. The entire White Sox lineup has feasted in the first two games of the current series against the Royals, combining for 22 runs on 29 hits. But Frazier credited his personal success to some of the work he’s been doing.

“Just doing my homework,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just trying to go back and understand what I did in the other years  that made me hit the ball better. Talk to the coaches. At the end of the day, it’s mental, that’s all it is. You’ve been hitting for all these years now, just got to understand to focus.

“We see these pitchers a lot. People always told me, ‘You’ve got the upper hand, you see these guys all the time.’ So let’s start figuring out what they’re throwing.”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Tuesday night, Frazier served as the White Sox designated hitter, the second time he’s been in the lineup but not in the field this season, matching the number of times he played DH in 2016, his first year with an American League team.

While it presented a change of pace, Frazier had a positive review of something he hasn’t done very often.

“I liked it. Every once and a while I think you need a day like that,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys that can do it. It was good to get Matt (Davidson) in there at third base, get his body going a little bit out in the field a little bit more. It’s like, ‘You got a day off, you’re DH’ing.’ Not really. You’ve got to keep the body moving, keep staying loose. It worked out well for everybody.

“I did a little heavy lifting in the legs the day before, and Rick (Renteria) didn’t even know about that. I was a little sore, and I was like, ‘Good, I got a little DH spot today,’ which was great for me, and now I can focus on defense, as well.”

In baseball, fortunes can change on a daily basis, so who knows if this will be the start of a surge for Frazier or just a brief spike in a long season. But if the White Sox can get Frazier and the rest of the lineup to keep hitting like they have the past few games, it could mean big things.

“Everybody focused and prepared,” Frazier explained when asked about the big run totals in the last few games. “I think the little things, guys getting here earlier, guys wanting to get out there and take extra work, and the focus and determination that we’ve got going right now is pretty nice. Nobody’s trying to do too much.

“You see our plate approach, you see guys hustling out balls. You watch guys like Avi Garcia, he’s got two big infield singles for him. At the end of the year, you look back at some things like that, a guy hits a one-hopper to second base and beats out a ball. That takes your average from .250 to .260 if you get three or four of those. Examples: Leury Garcia beating out a ground ball, getting a play overturned because of hustle. We don’t lack that this year, and I think that’s something big that we’re working on.

“Win, lose or draw, we’re going to give 100 percent. We know we’ve got Rick Renteria coming in here telling us ‘Nobody’s feeling sorry for you. So pick yourself up. We’re professionals. We’re White Sox.’ I think that’s what we’re going by right now.”

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Ryan Pace focusing on 'best player available,' at No. 3: Could that be Deshaun Watson?

Last month, Ryan Pace described his day-before-the-draft press conference as being one of the “hardest” he does all year.

With only a little over 24 hours until the Bears go on the clock with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft, the third-year Bears general manager wasn’t tipping his hand while answering the media’s questions on Wednesday.

One of Pace’s overarching points, though, was that the Bears have to focus on taking the best player available at No. 3 Thursday night. Pace said the Bears have three players targeted for that spot, and what the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers do ahead of them won’t impact their decision.

What also won’t impact the Bears’ decision is the need to draft a quarterback.

“I think you get yourself into trouble if you’re not sticking with our philosophy of best player available,” Pace said. “When you start trying to manufacture things or create things, that’s when teams get into dangerous water. I think if we just stay with guys we have a consensus on and best player available we’ll be in good shape.”

Plenty of draft observers — ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, NFL Network’s Mike Manock, CBS Sports’ Rob Rang — don’t have a quarterback in the top three of their respective “big boards,” which are headlined by the likes of Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and/or Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, among a few others.

But what if the Bears’ consensus is that a quarterback is a top-three player?

Over the last few months, Pace has consistently touted intangibles as being of prominent importance when evaluating a quarterback. At the combine in Indianapolis, he pointed to Drew Brees taking Purdue — a perennial Big Ten bottom-feeder — to a Rose Bowl. Pace, of course, knows Brees’ NFL success well having watched him in New Orleans before becoming the Bears’ general manager. 

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]

There’s one quarterback in this year’s draft class that could have those intangibles to be considered at No. 3: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. 

Before Watson took over as a full-time starter in 2015, Clemson established itself as a perennial Orange Bowl contender that’d win 10 or 11 games a year. But Watson took Clemson to a different level, going 28-2 and reaching the College Football Playoff title game in 2015 (a loss to Alabama) and 2016 (a win over Alabama). 

“It's big with every position, the intangibles,” Pace said. ‘That's what I continue to stress to our guys right now, because you can get enamored with these physical qualities or these traits. There's enough good players where we don't need to change our standards.

“I really like our locker room right now. I really like the vibe right now in that locker room with the guys that we have here, it feels good, and I want to continue to add to that vibe and add to that excitement. It's up to me to impress that to our scouts and to our coaches that, hey, we've got to make sure we're adding the right kinds of guys, the right kinds of intangibles to our room.”

If Watson isn’t among the team’s consensus top three, he could fit into one of the “clouds” Pace talked about if the Bears trade down into the middle or later part of the first round. But trading down (or back into the first round) carries risk if the Bears believe Watson could be a franchise-changing quarterback. The No. 3 pick is the highest the Bears have had since the early 1970s, and it’s a position the team hardly wants to be in again.

Pace, of course, wasn’t going to reveal much the day before he and the Bears make a critically-important selection. The Bears know who they want, and Thursday night, so will everyone else.

“There’s been so much that’s come into this since August, so you’ve just trust what your eyes see and don’t over-think it,” Pace said. “Trust your conviction and trust your instincts and trust your gut.

“You can get into trouble right now if you’re up there watching additional tape and doing all that; I think you can over-scout players. By now we’ve got enough opinions. We’ve met with enough players. We’ve been through the Combine and been through the Pro Days and seen players play live. At this point we feel good. I don’t think we’re in a situation where we’re overthinking anything.”