Heisman Race 2012: What It Will Take for Manti Te'o to Secure the Trophy

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Heisman Race 2012: What It Will Take for Manti Te'o to Secure the Trophy
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The Heisman Trophy has been awarded to a quarterback in 10 of the past 12 seasons. The other two, as well as the two prior to the run by quarterbacks, went to running backs.

Prior to all of those, we had the last defensive player to be celebrated at the Downtown Athletic Club, Charles Woodson in 1997. There were other winners that played on defense, but that was when it was common to play on both sides of the ball.

To say the odds are stacked highly against Manti Te'o is an understatement, but his play has demanded attention. This isn't an MVP award, although it commonly goes to a player that has done the most to help his team excel.

Either way, Te'o is in a good position.

He has been the dominant force on a powerful Notre Dame defense. The Irish have gone from an 8-5 team in 2011 to an 8-0 mark thus far in 2012, and they could make a national championship appearance.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Most importantly, Notre Dame is winning because of its defense. The Irish lack a dominant force on the offensive side of the ball, and the production from the unit has been modest at times.

If there is any defender worthy of winning the Heisman, it would seem that Te'o is it. He's clearly the best player on the side of the ball that is carrying the team to wins. 

Te'o is second in the ESPN expert's poll as of Oct. 30. Collin Klein has all 15 first-place votes, with nine of the second-place votes going to Te'o

So how can Klein be eclipsed?

The obvious would be for Klein and the third-place AJ McCarron to have a few rough outings down the stretch. But there are also a few things that can happen with Notre Dame's final outings.

The middle linebacker has already set a school record for interceptions at his position group with five. He's second in college football, trailing Phillip Thomas (who has seven as a safety for Fresno State).

In the final four games, Te'o needs to grab four more interceptions and take the interception lead for all of college football. Nine interceptions would also tie him with Texas A&M's Bill Sibley, who set the standard for linebackers in 1941.

Notre Dame must also keep winning. The leader of a 12-0 team is hard to ignore.

Perhaps the most important factor for Te'o, though, is a statement game against Notre Dame's archrival, USC. He needs to come out against the Trojans and pressure the quarterback in the backfield and in pass protection.

Te'o needs to be a force in rushing defense and be the clear difference-maker in finishing off a perfect regular season.

It will take that level of attention for voters to move off a flashy quarterback and hand the trophy to the most deserving player in 2012.

Colleagues that know me recognize I'm not a fan of Notre Dame football. A bit the opposite, actually.

But it is hard to not be a fan of Te'o. The star player opted to return to Notre Dame instead of entering the 2012 NFL draft, where he was expected to be a first-round selection. He embodies what is good about college football.

The Heisman Trophy may be a reach for a defender, but it would be a fitting end to a stellar collegiate career.

 

Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.

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