As you may have noticed, we’ve devoted a lot of attention to Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili over the past few days on The Sports Blog and in the pages of The Chronicle—so much, in fact, that spelling his vowel-infested name has become a matter of habit. We feel that his on-field performance, however, merited such praise. David Cutcliffe has made it no secret that he thinks Tauiliili should be a first-team All-American recipient. We’re not sure we’re quite ready to go that far yet, but we do think the senior deserves the bevy of accolades he’s sure to haul in.
With that said, it was somewhat surprising to see that Tauiliili wasn’t even the leading vote-getter at his own position when the All-ACC teams were announced Monday, and, further, that the ACC Sports Journal, a more reputable voting team, placed Tauiliili third at his position, behind Boston College’s Mark Herzlich and Wake Forest’s Aaron Curry. Cutcliffe repeatedly touted Tauiliili for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, and it would be impossible to fathom the linebacker taking home that prize when he’s not even the top player at his own position.
Which brings us to the question: Were we wrong in beating the Tauiliili drum so heavily, or were the voters wrong in not paying Tauiliili enough respect?
It’s obvious that Duke’s final record didn’t help Tauiliili’s case, but perhaps it should have: He was the heart of a defense that wasn’t as bad as the Blue Devils’ record indicates, and he certainly wasn’t surrounded with the type of talent that Herzlich, Curry or any other defensive honoree enjoyed. It’s true that Vincent Rey had a solid season at linebacker with Tauiliili, but Tauiliili made sure that offenses didn’t direct the action away from him and target some of Duke’s more vulnerable spots. Effort shouldn’t play a role in this decision, but progress might be relevant, and Tauiliili got better as he had more time to buy into Cutcliffe’s system. Case in point: his career performance in his last game, when he posted 20 tackles and an interception.
Statistics are, of course, pertinent to this discussion, and we were not surprised to see that Tauiliili’s numbers are equal to those of his counterparts. The key numbers:
The statistics seem to elevate Herzlich and Tauiliili above Curry, but it still begs the question if Herzlich deserved the eight more votes that he received. The most significant statistical differences between the two players can be found in tackles and interceptions. Tauiliili’s 42 more tackles is a staggering total, and it speaks to his ability as a middle linebacker to survey the field, chase down runners and immerse himself in action. Herzlich’s six interceptions—coupled with his seven pass blocks and three sacks—show that he’s a different type of linebacker than Tauiliili is. He can drop back and anticipate the quarterback’s passing lane, or he can simply rush the line and nab the passer himself.
And then there’s the ultimate statistical difference: Boston College has nine wins and could be in a BCS bowl come January, while Duke lost its last five games and will watch the ACC championship on television. That’s where Herzlich may have distinguished himself even from Tauiliili—or at least what voters may have based their ballots on.
Either way, it’s a relatively moot discussion. Both players were honored equally for fine seasons, and Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith, as the only unanimous selection to the first team, seems to be the frontrunner for Player of the Year. We always love a good debate, though, so if you feel strongly for any of the candidates, feel free to drop a comment below and we will, as Cutcliffe would say, chirp right back.