Notre Dame Football: Breaking Down Heisman Candidacy of Manti Te'o

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 06:  Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish calls defensive signals against the Miami Hurricanes at Soldier Field on October 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Notre Dame defeated Miami 41-3.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Defensive players do not usually have a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. This year, Manti Te'o is an exception.

The award is supposed to go to the best player in college football, and few have a better claim than the Notre Dame linebacker. Te'o has been the heart and soul of one of the best defenses in the nation and is the primary reason that the Irish have been off to such a good start.

After six games, Notre Dame has a perfect 6-0 record and continues to move up the rankings after starting the year unranked in the AP Poll. Usually, a team this good will have an elite player on offense to carry the load. This just has not been the case.

The Irish continue to flip between quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Everett Golson, with Rees usually coming in late in a "closer" role. Running backs Cierre Wood, George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick have also been shuffled in different spots.

As a result, the offensive performance leaves a lot to be desired. The unit is 69th in the nation in points per game and No. 76 in yards per game. They have won all of their games despite not scoring more than 20 points in four of them.

If it was not for the outstanding defense, Notre Dame would be borderline irrelevant.

That defense is currently trailing only Alabama in points allowed at 8.7 per game. They have not allowed an offensive touchdown in four games, despite facing three ranked teams in that time. 

Leading the charge on the defense is Te'o, who is arguably the best defender in the nation. He has a team-high 59 tackles, 22 more than Zeke Motta for second. He has forced turnovers with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, which already makes an outstanding year for a linebacker.

Finally, he has shown his versatility in the passing game by leading the team with six passes defended. The senior really does it all for this elite defense.

It usually takes a lot for a defensive player to get noticed for the Heisman. Tyrann Mathieu of LSU was a finalist last year after making big plays on the top team in the country. Like Notre Dame, the Tigers also did not have anyone stand out on the offensive end. 

While Te'o does not have the scoring plays of Mathieu or even Heisman winner Charles Woodson, he can disrupt the opposing offense as much as anyone in the nation, similar to Ndamukong Suh when he was invited to New York City.

Also working in the linebacker's favor is the lack of top candidates from around the country. Projected favorites Matt Barkley and Geno Smith have both disappeared in bad losses.

Dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller is having a great year for Ohio State, but voters might be turned off by the fact that the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason, like Barkley last season.

If Notre Dame continues to win, it will be tough to discredit Te'o's Heisman run. He has proven his skill in his career with over 120 tackles in each of the last two years, and he is easily the best part of a Top-10 team.

The future pro has also played his best when the team needed him the most, with two interceptions against Michigan and a big tackle on the goal-line stand against Stanford in overtime.

At the very least, Te'o should be invited as a finalist at the end of the year event. With a big second half, he should take home the hardware.