Why Oklahoma Will Make or Break Manti Te'o's Heisman Campaign

Randy ChambersAnalyst IOctober 23, 2012

Sep 22, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o (5) celebrates after an interception in the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o really has a chance to win this year’s Heisman Trophy, especially if he continues to play well this weekend.

Before it started off as a possibility, but nobody outside of South Bend really believed the senior had a shot at the award. I'm not even sure many Irish fans thought he was going to be given a fair shot.

After all, with players such as Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and De'Anthony Thomas lighting up the scoreboard, what are a few tackles and a couple of interceptions going to do?

There has only been one defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy award in the history of college football and that was Charles Woodson back in 1997. But even the star cornerback did more than play defense; he also scored touchdowns as a punt returner and wide receiver, the season he won it.

The odds were certainly stacked against the player who is used to overcoming adversity. Most recently, losing his grandmother and girlfriend in the same week and still playing in the Michigan State game, where he finished with seven tackles, two broken up passes and a fumble recovery. 

But it is the game against Oklahoma that will certainly make all of the difference in whether Te'o will just receive an invite to New York or if he actually has a chance to become just the second defensive player to win it.

The game against the Sooners is widely considered the first true test for this Notre Dame team. Sure, already knocking down Michigan and Michigan State has to count for something, but with both the Spartans and Wolverines not playing up to par, many don't consider that a marquee win this year.

A trip to Oklahoma is the first true road game for this squad and a victory over the Top 10 program would mean everything for those Heisman hopes.

Te'o is more concerned about a win to keep those BCS National Championship hopes alive, according to Guerin Emig of Tulsa World, but wins over ranked teams go far in winning individual awards as well.

First, I've got to keep winning. That's the main thing. You've just got to keep winning. He has said. I just want to win, to be honest with you. And if my play during those games of winning helps me win the Heisman, so be it.

Although West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has produced video game numbers through the first seven games, two losses have quickly removed the senior from the leaderboard to the end of the line.

According to ESPN, Te'o is second on the Heisman list at the moment, with Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein having a slight advantage.

On the year, Te'o leads the team with 69 tackles, has four interceptions and is averaging over 10 tackles a game against ranked opponents. The senior from Honolulu, HI has been the spark to this defensive unit that is responsible for Notre Dame's 7-0 start and Top Five spot in the BCS rankings.

He comes up with every big play for this squad, including earning his Heisman moment a few weeks ago against Stanford, stopping running back Stepfan Taylor right in his tracks. He also produced 10 tackles and an interception in last week's close victory over BYU.

Oklahoma has an offense that has produced a combined 115 points in the last two games and is easily the most balanced offense this Notre Dame defense will face so far this season. This is going to require the best defensive performance we have seen from this unit and is going to take tremendous leadership from the middle linebacker.

If Notre Dame is going to continue on the road of being an undefeated team, it will continue to be led by the defense, which is led by Te'o. A victory this weekend, and Notre Dame isn't just a serious national championship contender, but the school may end up producing its eighth Heisman winner in the history of Notre Dame football.