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Mormon athlete, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o one of two Heisman favorites, analysts say

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 27 2012 2:40 p.m. MST

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o  during walks off the field following an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Michael Conroy, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o during walks off the field following an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Michael Conroy, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

One plays for a national title contender. The other upset one.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel are favorites to walk away with this year's Heisman Trophy, according to national analysts.

Those analysts are more divided, however, on which of the two should win it.

"After watching Manziel start to finish in five games this season (Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, Alabama and Missouri), I'm ready to say he'll win two of the next three Heismans, at least," ESPN's Skip Bayless wrote Tuesday. "But he shouldn't win this year's. Te'o should, and it shouldn't be close."

USA Today has been posting a weekly survey of 37 Heisman voters throughout the season. Their most recent ballot, published Monday, tabs Manziel as the favorite.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o  during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Michael Conroy, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Michael Conroy, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"While it's true that no freshman has ever won the Heisman Trophy," USA Today's Eddie Timanus wrote, "it's also arguable that the game has never seen a freshman quite like the guy who has the nickname 'Johnny Football.'"

Manziel wasn't mentioned as a leading Heisman candidate until Nov. 10, when the Aggies upset then-No. 1 Alabama. In that game, Manziel completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 92 yards.

But while Manziel's Aggies are out of the national-title picture (and Alabama is back in it), Te'o's Fighting Irish have already booked a berth in the championship game after an undefeated regular season.

Defensive players face an uphill battle in Heisman voting; since 1961, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson is the only defender to win, and he had an extra advantage as a kick returner.

But Te'o's resume is strong: 103 tackles, seven interceptions, 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss while leading one of the best defenses in the country.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel passes during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Missouri, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in College Station, Texas. A&M defeated Missouri 59-29. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel) (Dave Einsel, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel passes during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Missouri, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in College Station, Texas. A&M defeated Missouri 59-29. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel) (Dave Einsel, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"Considering Te'o is the best player on the No. 1 team in the country, he might have a decent shot at winning the award," SB Nation's Avinash Kunnath wrote Sunday.

Still, most experts concede that Manziel has the inside track, especially after breaking former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's single-season record for yardage.

"After 13 weeks of action, the winner is clear, and voters don’t need any more time to think about it," ESPN's Edward Aschoff wrote Tuesday. "It was Johnny Manziel a week ago. It’s Johnny Manziel today. And it should be Johnny Manziel when the Heisman Trophy is presented on Dec. 8."

Other Heisman candidates include Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and USC wide receiver Marqise Lee.

Email: lshumway@desnews.com; Twitter: TheShums

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