Notre Dame had a finalist for the Heisman Trophy last year—that being Manti Te’o—and the Fighting Irish will have another defensive player contend for the most coveted individual award in college sports this season.
Stephon Tuitt enters the 2013 campaign as one of the most impressive defensive linemen in the nation. Last year, he played in all 13 games for the Irish and finished the season with 47 tackles. He led the program in tackles for loss with 13 and sacks with 12—which was the 13th-most in the FBS, according to ESPN.
Tuitt’s season was overshadowed by Te’o, who was even more outstanding for Notre Dame throughout the year. But with the linebacker now in the National Football League, the spotlight should be on the program’s defensive end all season. Tuitt is already being considered one of the top players in the nation.
The watch lists for every award in college football are up on NCAA.com, and you’ll find Tuitt’s name on several of them. The defensive end is on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik Award, Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. There’s a chance he wins all four of those crowns this year.
It won’t be easy to win the Heisman this season, though, as there are many players who are bound to have impressive seasons. Johnny Manziel will likely be in the mix to win back-to-back trophies, and guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater and Braxton Miller could join the elite group as well.
But Tuitt has the talent and potential to play just as well as those aforementioned stars in 2013. B/R NFL draft expert Matt Miller already has him as one of the players expected to go in the top 10 of the 2014 draft:
In order for Tuitt to be a finalist for the Heisman this season, he’s again got to be among the leaders in sacks. His 12 from last year were great, but if he could end the upcoming season with around 14 or 15, that’d likely be enough to lead the nation. Forcing a couple of fumbles wouldn’t hurt his case either.
Tuitt is also going to need his team to play well. It’s going to be difficult to catch the attention of the country if Notre Dame doesn’t have a winning season. The Irish don’t have to make a second straight BCS National Championship Game, but ending the year with at least eight wins—a couple against ranked opponents—is vital.
It doesn’t seem likely that Tuitt would be among the finalists for the Heisman if the Irish only win a handful of games in 2013.
But if Notre Dame plays like it did a year ago, expect to see one of the top players on the team in contention for the Heisman. If all goes according to plan, that player will be Tuitt.
All statistics in this article were obtained via Notre Dame's official website for athletics unless otherwise noted.