Final Heisman argument at hand for Georgia’s Jarvis Jones

semerson@macon.comNovember 29, 2012 

ATHENS -- Naturally, people watch what their peers do. So, naturally, star linebackers watch how other star linebackers are doing.

So it was that Manti Te’o, the Heisman darling at Notre Dame, was asked Thursday about a player named Jarvis Jones at Georgia.

“I’ve never met Jarvis. At least not yet,” Te’o said. “But I’ve watched him play.”

And Te’o will watch him play again Saturday in the SEC championship, which is shaping up to be not only Georgia’s biggest game in three decades, but the chance for Jones to have his biggest moment.

The last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997. But, this year, Te’o is virtually certain to be a finalist, and oddsmakers have him second behind prohibitive favorite Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. But Jones isn’t being mentioned much, despite stats that rival Te’o, and his team also being in the running for a national championship.

Chris Huston, who runs the web site Heismanpundit.com, has a simple answer for why Te’o is getting more Heisman mention than Jones.

“Because he plays for Notre Dame,” Huston said. “That’s basically it. If Manti Te’o played for Kansas State, he’d be Arthur Brown (another star linebacker who isn’t getting Heisman mention). He symbolizes this return to glory for Notre Dame. He’s this empty vessel that people are pouring their (credit) for Notre Dame into.”

The Fighting Irish are unbeaten and await the winner of the Georgia-Alabama game in the BCS championship. Te’o is the unquestioned heart of a Notre Dame defense that ranks sixth nationally. He is tied for third nationally with seven interceptions and has 103 tackles. Jones has just one interception and 71 tackles.

But, otherwise, Jones has Te’o beat statistically: sacks (10.5 for Jones, 1.5 for Te’o), tackles-for-loss (19.5 for Jones, 5.5 for Te’o), forced fumbles (six for Jones, none for Te’o) and quarterback pressures (30 for Jones, four for Te’o).

Jones and Te’o are likely to meet a few times next week. Both are finalists for the various awards -- Butkus, Bednarik, Nagurski -- that go to linebackers and defensive players. But Jones shrugged off a question about whether he has thought about joining Te’o in New York.

“I just think about the stuff that I can control, and that’s Alabama right now,” Jones said.

Lobbying isn’t Jones’ thing. Georgia has also shied from pushing Jones -- or quarterback Aaron Murray -- for the Heisman, although full-fledged campaigns were rare this year. Kansas State sent out bandages with images of quarterback Collin Klein on them. But Texas A&M hasn’t hyped Manziel.

There’s still a ray of hope for Jones. Huston, who also serves as a Heisman analyst for CBSsports.com, estimates that if the past few years are any indication, about 80 percent of voters will wait until after championship weekend to cast ballot. The voting closes at 5 p.m. on Monday.

Huston doesn’t think Jones can actually win the Heisman “unless he has a game for the ages” on Saturday. But getting into the top five is a possibility.

“I live on the West Coast, so he’s someone who used to be at USC, he’s got some name recognition out here,” Huston said. “But that’s the thing, it does boil down to name recognition.”

He pointed to Te’o and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

“It’s just hard to stick out in that group,” Huston said. “I think (Jones) is very well respected as a defensive player. But when you get to that Heisman level, it’s a whole different story.”

Jones got some Heisman hype earlier this season after a monster game at Missouri. But even as he continued to play well, a few factors hurt his candidacy, compared to Te’o:

• Jones missed two games because of injuries: Florida Atlantic (groin) and Kentucky (shoulder). Those could have been a chance to pad stats against inferior opponents.

• Georgia was pummeled at South Carolina, which Huston said caused the Bulldogs to fall out of the national spotlight.

“They had that lull,” Huston said. “And now that they’re back, unfortunately that vacuum has been filled by Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o.”

Te’o, much like Jones, doesn’t issue many flashy soundbites. But he was asked Thursday about watching the SEC championship game and analyzing the opponent he will face Jan. 7 in Miami. Specifically, he was asked about the fellow linebackers: Jones and Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, also expected to be a consensus All-American.

“I know about Jarvis Jones. I’ve seen C.J. Mosley play in the national championship last year. Both are incredible players,” Te’o said. “They’re big playmakers for their team. And they continue to make big plays. I know when they line up against each other this weekend it’s gonna be something we’ll all look forward to watching. They’re definitely big playmakers. Their teams are both lucky to have both.”

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