Despite perfect record, Te'o behind Manziel for Heisman Trophy

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Despite perfect record, Te'o behind Manziel for Heisman Trophy

Amid the revelry of Notre Dame's first-ever bid to a BCS Championship was a question that's persisted for months, regarding if it's actually possible for a linebacker to win the Heisman Trophy. Manti Te'o has built as impressive a rsum as any defensive player in recent history, but despite being the backbone of a defense that led its team to a 12-0 record and national title shot, he's either second or third in most polls.

"If a guy like Manti Te'o's not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award," coach Brian Kelly said Saturday. "Just give it to the offensive player every year and let's just cut to the chase."

That offensive player this year is Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, a dynamic redshirt freshman quarterback who's accounted for 4,600 yards of offense and 43 touchdowns for the 10-2 Aggies. It's tough to argue with those numbers, especially with Manziel playing in the SEC.

"Its something that you dream about as a kid," Manziel said on a teleconference Monday. "When youre sitting there playing all these NCAA games when youre a kid, and you create a player and you win the Heisman as a freshman because you just put up crazy numbers, its something that you can only sit back and dream about."

As long as a quarterback, running back or wide receiver is putting up monster numbers in a power conference, a defensive player -- one who doesn't play special teams -- is a longshot to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel's electrifying style of play has captured attention nationwide, and with one week of games remaining, he's the frontrunner to be handed the Heisman in New York Dec. 8 -- even if he doesn't want to admit it.

"I dont know if thats the case," Manziel said of leading the Heisman chase. "I feel like that situation, itll play itself out, and whatevers meant to be will happen. ... I think that the Heisman and all the other awards like that, theyll play themselves out."

The award doesn't go to the best player on the nation's best team. It's not a most valuable player award, it's a best player award with plenty of wiggle room for team success.

Te'o may be the best player in the country, but there's really no comparing tackles to touchdowns. It's the same debate baseball goes through when a pitcher emerges as the most valuable player -- and hey, Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011.

But it's much more difficult to quantify a single player's defensive impact than that of a quarterback, running back or wide receiver, all of whom rack up yards, touchdowns and time on highlight reels. Te'o's seven interceptions are the most by an FBS linebacker in a dozen years, and are the second-highest total in college football's top division. He has 103 tackles, 1 12 sacks, 5 12 tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries.

That's an impressive line, but likely not enough to win the Heisman. But Te'o's largest goal of the season is still on the table.

"I wanted to go to the National Championship, and now I am," Te'o said. "If I win, that's going to be a great honor for my family, but if I don't, I'm just glad we're going to Miami."

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

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AP

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).