If you ask any college football fan in the country who the best player is right now, you are sure to hear many names pop up in that conversation. You will likely hear several players that play on the offensive side of the ball, but the talks truly don’t begin until somebody mentions Manti Te'o of Notre Dame and Jarvis Jones of Georgia.
Both linebackers have carried their respective football teams to success this season, but things could have looked a little different had they chosen a different path.
Both of these talented football players could have easily been playing for Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans.
Imagine how that would look.
After Jones injured his neck as a freshman for USC, many doctors would not clear him to resume his football career. The linebacker received a second and third opinion and found out he could, in fact, play football again. That is when he decided to transfer from USC and ended up playing football in the SEC for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The story with Te'o isn't as interesting, but according to Rivals.com, he was heavily recruited by the Trojans when he was still pondering on where he should play football. Of course, he decided to pick Notre Dame instead, but USC was actually one of the five schools that he made an official visit to. And being from Laie, Hawaii, it could have been an easy choice for him, as he would have been much closer to home and loved ones.
So what if it wasn't for a neck injury and Notre Dame not being in the picture? What if Jones didn't get injured and Te'o wanted to stay on the West Coast? What if USC actually had itself not only the top two linebackers in the game of football, but two of the top players in the entire country?
Well, let's try to figure this whole thing out.
Introducing the best linebacker tandem arguably in the history of college football, Te'o on the inside and Jones on the outside.
Um, can you say game over?
Seriously, with the offense that the Trojans have, really, the only question mark with this team is the defensive side of the ball. USC is currently ranked sixth in the Pac-12, allowing 366 total yards a game, and couldn't slow down a snail with arthritis when it played Arizona last weekend.
Having Te'o and Jones on the field at the same time would be absolutely scary, and even explosive offensive teams in the Pac-12 couldn't figure a way around it. Jones would simply power his way through those finesse offensive lines, and Te'o would blanket whichever little receiver you want to send his way.
The quarterback either eats the sack and loses his teeth, or he throws one of the many interceptions in the direction of Te'o. Either way, the play is over and USC goes on to win a game on the defensive side of the ball for a change.
If Te'o and Jones are able to make their defensive units that much better on their current teams, joining forces in USC would have made things that much easier. It gives the Trojans an actual true pass-rusher in Jones, as getting after the quarterback is a weakness for this current USC club.
It also removes two of the Trojans' starting linebackers who are very young and show that in their play at times. And most importantly, it would allow veteran players such as T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and shutdown corner Nickell Robey to just focus on playing in the secondary.
USC, of course, wouldn't have accomplished anything in the first two years because of a postseason bowl ban, but would have actually lived up to the expectations set out for them before this season started.
The Trojans would have had the defense to match the offense, likely have run the table this year and, at the very least, competed with one of the SEC teams that made it to the BCS National Championship Game.
Lane Kiffin would have actually won something as a head coach, USC would have seriously competed for its 12 national championship, and college football would have seen one of the scariest linebacker tandems in the history of college football.
If only this were the path that was chosen.
The Bulldogs would have not reached the SEC Championship Game last season, as the best player on the defensive side of the ball has been removed. Last year, Jones finished with 70 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and racked up 13.5 sacks. He was constantly making plays for this team and keeping his struggling squad in games.
In fact, he even rose to the occasion last year, as he produced five of his sacks in games that were decided by one possession. This season, he has picked up exactly where he has left off, as he has produced 8.5 sacks and 32 tackles. Keep in mind, those numbers are while he missed two games due to injury.
Georgia is a defensive team that is nowhere near what it was last season and wouldn't have been as good as it was last year without Jones.
See how the dominoes begin to fall in place?
We are talking about the best outside linebacker in all of college football, somebody who constantly makes plays in the backfield and someone who seems unblockable even to SEC offensive linemen.
Not only would the defense not be the same, Georgia would have lost quite a few games this year and last, which isn't great news for the head coach. Mark Richt was already on the hot seat last season after losing two quick games to Boise State and South Carolina. There is no way this club wins 10 straight and reaches the SEC Championship, and it would be insane to believe Georgia would be where it is at today in the BCS rankings without Jones.
Richt would be on the unemployment line, Georgia would still be searching for a new head coach and the Bulldogs would still be that disappointing team in the SEC that hasn't had a double-digit winning season since 2008.
Remember the fire Brian Kelly chants that were taking place during his second season in South Bend?
You can fire those back up again.
Te'o is now working on his third straight season of leading Notre Dame in tackles. He has five interceptions this year alone and seems to always be in the right place at the right moment to make a game-changing play for the Irish. There is a reason everybody is pushing for him to be just the second Heisman Trophy winner in college football history.
He is not only a terrific football player on the field, but Coach Kelly calls him the best leader he has ever coached. Te'o is the one that keeps this team in check and leads by example. He is the one that put the NFL draft on hold last year because he had unfinished business and is the one who played a game just days after losing both his girlfriend and grandmother in the same week.
Where would Notre Dame be without him?
The same place they were before he arrived, struggling to reach bowl games and being laughed at by the rest of the college football world. Notre Dame simply doesn't have the offense this season (or last) to compete with some of the teams it has played this year, which has resulted in the defense to play out of its mind each and every week. The guy that is responsible for that effort is Te'o, as he makes those around him better.
Head coach Kelly would have likely been fired already due to insane pressure from the fans and media as the Irish settle for another Gator or Hawaii Bowl. It would have been their sixth head coaching change since Lou Holtz, and it would have likely set this program back many more years, as Notre Dame continues to live on the accomplishments achieved many years ago.
Did Te'o help save Notre Dame from falling off the map?
In a way, you can certainly say yes, he did.
Quick question that can be answered by anybody who is not an Irish fan.
Can you name one player on the defensive side of the ball for Notre Dame that doesn't wear No. 5?
I think my job is done here.