Posted: Wednesday November 28, 2012 2:33PM ; Updated: Thursday November 29, 2012 9:59AM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

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Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel has led Texas A&M to a 10-2 record while racking up 4,600 yards of total offense.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Can you honestly say that there are not at least 10 other quarterbacks who could take Johnny Manziel's spot and still lead Texas A&M to a 10-2 record? There is no way you could substitute Manti Te'o with any other player in the country and still have an undefeated Irish team. If voters watched games instead of highlights, the Heisman race would be no contest.
-- Mike Rodriguez, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Hey Stewart, do us a favor and post all of Manti Te'o's stats and explain again why he's on your Heisman ballot. So he's got a lot of picks, which is strange for his position -- what about all those other stats they put linebackers on the field for? You know, tackles, TFLs, sacks, forced fumbles and what-not?
-- Dave, Atlanta

And there, in a nutshell, is why it's so difficult for a defensive player to win the Heisman.

I vehemently disagree with Mike's notion that Manziel is so easily replaceable. The guy makes plays no other quarterback in the country can make, and few could have pulled off what he did that Saturday in Tuscaloosa. I suppose it's possible A&M could plug in, say, Marcus Mariota and still go 10-2, but I'm not going to cast my ballot based on a hypothetical fantasy. I'm dealing with reality, where Manziel has quantifiable, highly impressive stats. My one hang-up (and why I haven't made any final decisions) is his four-turnover performance in A&M's second-biggest game, against LSU. But that's a high standard to hold against someone, especially seeing as no quarterback all season excelled against the Tigers' defense.

Meanwhile, I've received many missives from Notre Dame fans lobbying on behalf of Te'o, and almost none of them cited statistics. Te'o's are very good (103 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions), but, other than the interceptions, they're not otherworldly for a middle linebacker. With Te'o, we're being asked to focus almost entirely on his intangibles -- his leadership, his integrity, his perseverance -- and his impact on Notre Dame's undefeated season. I get that. I've watched him closely in person, and there's no denying his importance to that team. But no one can definitively say he's had a greater impact on the Irish's national title bid than, for example, Jarvis Jones (10.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss) has had on Georgia's. Manziel's 4,600 yards of offense, on the other hand, speak for themselves.

I have a hard time getting behind any of the mid-majors in the Top 25. Kent State lost to 2-10 Kentucky by 33 points, Northern Illinois lost to a terrible Iowa team, Utah State lost to 7-5 Wisconsin, Boise to 6-6 Michigan State and San Jose State lost its two toughest games (Stanford and Utah State). Why do any of them deserve to be ranked over a 9-3 major-conference team?
-- Kyle, Memphis

There's certainly no equivalent this year to Boise State beating Georgia or Virginia Tech, and unfortunately, those early-season games are all we really have to go by (save for Kent State's Oct. 27 win over Rutgers) in speculating how these teams stack up nationally. Still, I think those early results can be a bit deceiving. Northern Illinois lost to Iowa by one point three months ago. Clearly, the Huskies got better from there (that was Jordan Lynch's first career start), and the Hawkeyes sure seemed to get worse. The outcome would probably be much different today. But is No. 19 NIU (11-1) better than No. 21 Michigan (8-4)? I doubt it. And my man crush for Dri Archer notwithstanding, it requires some serious suspension of disbelief to think the same squad that lost 47-14 to the SEC's worst team is now the 17th-best team in the country.

On the other hand, I think you're shortchanging Utah State and my SJSU Spartans. The Aggies are legitimately good defensively, ranking 11th nationally in the schedule-adjusted yards per play stats on ThePowerRank.com. They lost by two points at Wisconsin and 6-3 at BYU while defeating both 10-2 San Jose State (49-27) and 9-3 Louisiana Tech (48-41). They're a Top 25 team. The Spartans are probably appropriately on the fence, but if you're going to give weight to opening-week performances like NIU's, you have to commend SJSU for losing by a field goal at Stanford. I would take either of those two teams over Boise State this year.

As a lifelong resident of 29 years, how about those Spartans?!
-- Charles, San Jose

As a 14-month resident of the town bordering San Jose, I could not be prouder. Unfortunately, I must reluctantly confess I never made it to a game.

The Big 12 has shown amazing depth this year with 90 percent of its teams now bowl eligible, but the league will have nothing to show for it because, for the third year in a row, it will not compete for a national championship. If the Big 12 is trying to establish itself as the second-best conference behind the SEC, shouldn't it start getting to the national championship game more often?
-- Jason, Ankeny, Iowa

Well, for the past two years, the only thing the Big 12's teams have done wrong is lose late in the season. If Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State on Oct. 18 last year instead of Nov. 18, it would have played LSU instead of Alabama. Kansas State would have had a tougher time overcoming a blowout loss to Baylor, regardless of the timing, but that result showcased the conference's depth more than anything else. Baylor may be the league's eighth-best team this year (it's hard to say, because the standings are pretty jumbled), and it's capable of blowing out a potential top-five league champion. The SEC's eighth-best team this year is Mississippi State or Vanderbilt. They're not putting a scare into K-State if the teams met.

Ultimately, though, we judge conferences by the teams at the top, and no other conference comes close this year to the SEC's big six.

As a lifelong Colorado Buff fan I just want to say to you, Stewart, dang it, why did you have to be so right?!
-- Matt, Denver

Thanks for bringing up a rare moment of prophecy on my part. But more importantly, if Embree's hire was so blatantly misguided that a sportswriter could see it from 2,000 miles away (I still lived in New York then), why couldn't AD Mike Bohn see it? And better still, why is Bohn -- who also hired Dan Hawkins, and who on Monday staged a tremendously awkward exit press conference -- now getting a shot at a third coaching search? It sure seems there should be more tangible accountability for the AD than an Internet coaching grades column.

Why do you hate the Big Ten if you are an alumnus? Why can't you write articles as intelligent as Andy Staples? Why are you still around?
-- John, Camp Hill, Pa.

To your first point, it's only fair seeing as I already hate every other conference. To your second point, did you mean to say Andy writes more intelligently? To your third point, I'm just sticking around to see how this whole realignment thing plays out. So you're stuck with me for ... a really long time.

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