Where Does Manti Te'o Rank Among Notre Dame's 20 All-Time Best Defensive Players

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJune 14, 2012

Where Does Manti Te'o Rank Among Notre Dame's 20 All-Time Best Defensive Players

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    We recently put together a Top 10 list of the most important players on the 2012 Notre Dame roster. Those players will be key to a successful Notre Dame season and will play a big part as the Irish take on one of the more difficult schedules in recent memory.

    One of the top players heading into the year is linebacker Manti Te'o. He has led the team in tackles the last two seasons, is one of the more experienced players on the roster and is a leader on and off the field for this defense.

    He has without question proved his worth over the years, but is he an all-time great for a program that has produced countless remarkable football players?

    With Te'o preparing for his senior season, here is where he ranks right now among the top 20 defensive players of all-time for Notre Dame.

20. Bobby Taylor

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    Bobby Taylor was a key defender for Lou Holtz's team during the early 1990s. He played three seasons and started a total of 28 games. As a senior in 1994, Taylor became a Consensus All-American and was named the Defensive Player of the Year. He finished his career with five interceptions and helped this Irish team win three bowl games in four years.

19. George Connor

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    George Connor played two seasons at Holy Cross, spent two years in the Navy and then came back in 1946 and gave Notre Dame two great seasons. He played both the offensive and defensive tackle positions and was a key contributor on the 1946 and 1947 undefeated national championship teams.

    He is the first winner of the Outland Trophy in college football history and was an All-American. He is considered one of the top linemen in college football and is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame

18. Pat Terrell

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    The last time Notre Dame won a national championship was in 1988. You can thank safety Pat Terrell for the Irish even being allowed to participate in the big game.

    The closet match-up of the season came against the No. 1 ranked Miami Hurricanes. Jimmy Johnson's club was an extra point away from tying the game up and likely sending it into overtime. Instead, the Hurricanes decided to go for the two-point conversion and try to win the game with less than a minute left. Steve Walsh threw the ball into the end zone and it was Terrell who batted the pass down in the air, giving the Irish the victory and help sealing an undefeated season and national championship. (You can see the clip here)

    Terrell finished his career with eight interceptions.

17. Manti Te'o

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    Manti Te'o is probably the best linebacker in college football today and will likely be a first round pick in next year's NFL draft. He has been an absolute beast for the Irish over the years and has a great chance to build on his already historic legacy.

    Te'o is only one of 10 players that has over 300 career tackles in Notre Dame history. He has led the Irish in tackles the last two seasons and finished fourth on the list in 2009. He is currently eighth all-time in Notre Dame history in tackles. He also has 28.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles.

    There hasn't been a lot of team success with Te'o on the roster, but that has nothing to do with this guy. He is a class act on and off the field, and could continue to move up this list with another fabulous season.

    Being No. 17 has nothing to do with Te'o; it is the fact that there are a ton of great players that have played for this program over the years.

16. Jeff Burris

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    As we move further down the list, you will see several players that have played more than one position and possibly even both sides of the ball; Jeff Burris is one of those guys. From 1990-1993, Burris played running back, special teams and defensive back for the Irish.

    He was a consensus All-America pick in 1993 and often played more minutes than any other player on the team. He finished his career with 89 tackles, 10 interceptions and 14 passes broken-up. On offense, he had 139 total yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. And on special teams, Burris had 419 total yards and returned a punt for a touchdown.

    Burris did a little bit of everything and is a huge reason the Irish won all three bowl games back in those years.

15. Michael Stonebreaker

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    Michael Stonebreaker was a first-team All-American in both 1988 and 1990. He finished third in the voting for the Butkus Award and was Notre Dame's leading tackler in 1990 with 95. He finished his career with 220 tackles, five interceptions, five sacks, two fumble recoveries and eight passes broken up.

    Stonebreaker was a tough-nosed player, who went on to the NFL Europe and became a World Bowl Champion and a First-team All-World League in 1995.

14. Nick Rassas

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    Nick Rassas stepped on the field as a walk-on and quickly earned his keep during 1963-1965. He started two seasons at safety and finished his career with seven interceptions, including one being ran back for a touchdown. Rassas was also a great punt returner, running back three for touchdowns in 1965, which is still tied with Allen Rossum and Tim Brown as a Notre Dame single-season record.

    Rassas was a consensus All-American in 1965 and finished his career with 102 total tackles.

13. Wayne Millner

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    Wayne Millner played both the offensive and defensive side of the ball in the mid-1930s. Today he would be known as a playmaker. During a game against undefeated Army in 1933, it was Millner's blocked punt and touchdown that ended up winning the game for the Irish.

    He also caught the game-winning touchdown to knock off undefeated Ohio State in 1935.

    He was a two-time All-American at Notre Dame and is a member of the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

12. Paul Hornung

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    Paul Hornung was another all-around player who played in the mid-1950s. He played quarterback, safety, running back and fullback. In 1956, Hornung became the first player in college football history to win the Heisman on a losing team. He intercepted two passes and threw for two touchdowns to knock off undefeated Navy in 1955, when he became a consensus All-American.

    Hornung finished his career with 10 interceptions, over 1,000 rushing yards, over 1,600 passing yards and over 700 special team return yards.

11. Luther Bradley

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    Luther Bradley played defensive back for the Irish from 1973-1977. He was an All-America pick in 1977 and was a key part to those national championship teams in 1973 and 1977. Bradley had a nose for the football, as he is still Notre Dame's career interception leader with a ridiculous 17 picks. He also has the second-longest interception return for a touchdown of 99 yards, which came in 1975, in a victory over Purdue.

    Bradley finished his career with 153 tackles, 27 broken up passes and two blocked kicks.

10. Todd Lyght

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    Todd Lyght is widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in school history. He played from 1987-1990 and was a two-time All-American in 1989 and 1990. He made solid contributions to the national championship team in 1988.

    Lyght was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 1989 and became a captain in 1990. He finished his career with 11 interceptions, 20.5 passes defended and 161 tackles.

9. Johnny Lattner

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    Johnny Lattner is another player who played all three sides of the ball. He quickly became a two-time consensus All-American, won the 1953 Heisman trophy and helped lead the Irish to a 6-1 record against top-10 teams in the early 1950s.

    Lattner rushed for over 1,700 yards throughout his career, recovered eight fumbles, intercepted 13 passes and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. He did a little bit of everything throughout his career, and that is why he won the Maxwell Award in 1952 and 1953 and is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

8. Bob Golic

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    Bob Golic was a monster at the linebacker position and a huge reason the Irish won a national championship in 1977. He finished that year with three interceptions, five broken up passes and 146 tackles. He was also a first-team All-American in both 1977 and 1978.

    Golic finished his career with 479 tackles, six interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

7. Jim Martin

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    Jim Martin played on those Irish teams during the late 1940s that did not lose a football game. (From 1946 to 1949, Notre Dame finished with a 36-0-2 record). He played both sides of the ball for a team that won three national championships and he became a first-team All-American in 1949.

    In 1995, Martin became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

6. Jim Lynch

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    Jim Lynch was a tough player in 1964-1966 and was the captain of the national championship team in 1966. That was the same season he won the Maxwell Award and became a first-team All-American. He finished his career with 255 tackles, five interceptions and six defended passes.

    Lynch became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

5. Alan Page

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    Alan Page was a three-year starter from 1964-1966 at the defensive end position. He is best known for his sure tackling and pass-rushing skills, and those came quite handy as he played a big role in the 1966 national championship team. That was the same season Page become an All-American as well.

    Page was nearly unstoppable to block and finished his career with 134 tackles and four fumble recoveries.

    He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.

4. Leon Hart

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    Leon Hart played both sides of the ball for Notre Dame during the 1946-1949 seasons and has quite an impressive resume. He never lost a collegiate game, as the Irish put together a combined 36-0-2 record during that time and won three national championships. He is also one of only two linemen to ever win the Heisman Trophy, which he accomplished in 1949. 

    Hart and Cam Newton are also the only players to win a national championship, a Heisman Trophy and become the first overall pick in the NFL draft in one year.

    Hart is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and should be considered one of the greatest Notre Dame players of all-time.

3. Chris Zorich

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    Chris Zorich came to South Bend as a linebacker, but ended up transitioning to the nose guard position. It paid off quickly, as he was a member of the 1988 national championship team. He was a consensus All-American pick in the 1989 and 1990 seasons, along with being a finalist for the Lombardi Award.

    Zorich also earned the Orange Bowl Defensive MVP his senior season and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

2. Bob Crable

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    Bob Crable has to be one of the best linebackers to ever play college football. He played from 1979-1981 and in that time, he racked up an unbelievable 521 tackles, which is still a Notre Dame record to this day and may never be broken. He also has the most tackles in a season with 187, and the most tackles in a game with 26, which is tied for the NCAA record.

    Crable was a two-time consensus All-American and without question should be considered one of the greatest Notre Dame players of all-time.

1. Ross Browner

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    Ross Browner was a four-year starter at defensive end for the Irish, from 1973-1977. He helped lead Notre Dame to a 39-7 record in that time, including two national championships. He was a two-time All-American, 1977 UPI Lineman of the year and also won the Lombardi Trophy, along with the Maxwell Award.

    In 1977, Browner finished fifth in the Heisman voting and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. He finished his career with eight fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks and 340 tackles, which was a Notre Dame record at that time.