If history is any indication, odds are stacked against a defensive player winning the Heisman Trophy Award, but look for one standout to be in attendance at the Downtown Athletic Club in early-December. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are undefeated thanks in part to the stellar play of senior linebacker Manti Te’o. The productive Te’o is one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy candidate and his outstanding defensive play is beginning to separate him from offensive players, a couple of whom are quarterbacks that have been inconsistent of late.
In seven games, Te’o has registered 69 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. Te’o had 10 tackles, a half-tackle for loss and one interception in Notre Dame’s 17-14 win over the BYU Cougars, a team that he considered before signing with the Irish. The Notre Dame linebacker turned in his third straight double-digit tackle performance as the Irish outlasted BYU.
Te’o is helping to keep the Irish undefeated and Notre Dame continuing to win and staying perfect will only help his Heisman cause. A defensive player winning the Heisman Trophy is quite rare. Charles Woodson, a former linebacker for the Michigan Wolverines, remains the only defensive player to win the Heisman. A cornerback who occasionally lined up at wide receiver and returned punts, Woodson beat Heisman favorite Peyton Manning of the Tennessee Volunteers for the 1997 award.
Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein is the new favorite for this year’s Heisman. In seven games, Klein has completed 98-of-139 passes for 1,397 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. The Kansas State field general has also rushed 110 times for 551 yards and 14 touchdowns. After becoming a frontrunner for the award in the first half of the regular-season, West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith has faltered in losses each of the last two weeks. Smith’s troubles has allowed both Te’o and Klein to move up in the Heisman race.
Te’o has a chance to help keep the Irish undefeated and help his chances at winning the Heisman at the same time but he’ll face plenty of resistance. Notre Dame will visit the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday and later in the season venture to Southern California for a showdown with the Southern California Trojans. The Pittsburgh Panthers, Boston College Eagles and Wake Forest Demon Deacons will offer Te’o and the Irish additional tests here in the second half of the regular-season.