And with Notre Dame remaining perfect through seven games, the star Fighting Irish linebacker is a rightful Heisman candidate in 2012.
Versus BYU on Saturday, Te'o and the defense held the Cougars scoreless in the second half and he recorded a fourth interception on the year. Entering the contest Te'o had recorded 59 tackles and six defended passes.
In recording 10 tackles against the Cougars, Te'o's leadership and impact paid extreme dividends for Brian Kelly's defense. BYU had minimal success in the intermediate passing game because of Te'o's middle presence, which ultimately allowed the pass rush to apply more pressure (four sacks).
In addition, the Cougar's blocking schemes were geared toward him and that freed up other front seven defenders to make plays. In turn, BYU managed only 66 rushing yards on 25 attempts.
The flip side of that coin is continually getting Theo Riddick and the offense possessions and mostly with solid field position. BYU recorded just six first downs in the second half.
All that said, let's check out why Te'o is a legit Heisman hopeful and what must happen for him to win it.
Standout Defender is a Rare Competitive Advantage
Whenever a defensive player is considered a Heisman candidate, he must be a consistently reliable playmaker.
This entails tackles, creating/forcing turnovers and not allowing the opposing offense to win the field position battle. As a linebacker, Te'o has the luxury of accumulating interceptions/defending passes and making tackles all over the field.
On any defense, the leading tacklers are mostly inside linebackers and opportunities to record picks come around quite often. We also see inside linebackers play everywhere across the field. You don't get that kind of playmaking width from any other position since Te'o's directly in the midst of everything.
One final area where Te'o has an edge playing defense is the game's evolution. We're seeing so many pass-heavy offenses and few defenses capable of slowing that explosiveness down. Also, because of that pass-heavy philosophy offenses normally see fewer defenders in the box against the run.
Well, Notre Dame is impressively well-versed against the pass and run. So it's no surprise Te'o stands out, because the Irish field one of the nation's top defenses in all aspects.
Collegiate Consistency Has Impacted 2012 Exposure
For a defensive player to also become a Heisman candidate, a strong resume must be built from years prior. This is mainly due to offensive players garnering even more recognition in the offense-oriented movement, and the Heisman Trophy going to all offensive players except for Charles Woodson.
Fortunately, Te'o's consistency has been done emphatically well by recording 63 tackles as a freshman, 133 as a sophomore and 128 last year. His ability to defend the pass continues to improve as evidence of the four picks, and entering 2012 Te'o had 28.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
What that tells us is Te'o not sitting back and waiting to make tackles five or six yards downfield. He's either stuffing the run at the line, refusing to allow hardly any yards after the catch and using his football IQ to disrupt screens, draws and checkdowns.
Throughout his career at Notre Dame Te'o has simply dominated all over the field and that has led to increased exposure and expectations in 2012. And thus far he has gone above the hype.
Who gets your Heisman vote right now?
Importance of the Schedule and Perfection
A tough schedule and a perfect record play right into the hands of any Heisman Trophy candidate.
Considering that the Irish are 7-0 and have wins over solid teams such as Michigan (5-2) and Stanford (5-2) the remainder is set up nicely. After all, the Wolverines only other loss is to Alabama and the Cardinal was ranked No. 17 when playing at South Bend.
Great challengers ahead are the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman and then the USC Trojans at the Coliseum. Entering this weekend the Sooners ranked No. 9 in the BCS and USC was No. 10. However, with No. 7 South Carolina losing both schools can be expected to move up.
And provided the Irish get a victory over Oklahoma and USC remains perfect as well, that final matchup could potentially feature two Top 5 BCS teams. In short, if the Irish remain perfect Te'o will be a Heisman finalist on a national title contending team.
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