SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A month ago, Manti Teo began receiving some Heisman support after he emotionally led Notre Dame to a 13-6 win over Michigan. But that support was generally qualified with well, hes a linebacker, and defensive players dont win the Heisman Trophy. With a slew of quarterbacks racking up eye-popping stats, it didnt look like Teo had a realistic chance.
But theres been plenty of attrition among the early-season Heisman hopefuls and all of sudden, Teos rocketed to the top of the discussion. In HeismanPunditCBS Sports latest straw poll, Teo is No. 2 but well behind Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. ESPNs Heisman Watch has Klein and Teo at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, with Klein holding a similarly commanding lead.
If Kansas State runs the table -- which, if the Wildcats get by Texas Tech this weekend, they just might do -- itll be tough for anyone to top Klein, whos putting up Tim Tebow-like numbers in Manhattan.
But Notre Dames defense hasnt faltered, pacing the Irish to seven wins in seven games. Despite giving up a touchdown for the first time in 17 quarters against BYU on Saturday, Notre Dames still only one of two teams in the country averaging fewer than 10 points allowed (the other, of course, is Alabama).
Those defensive numbers -- and, by extension, Teos Heisman hopes -- will be put to the test this weekend against an Oklahoma offense thats racked up 156 points in its last three games. With the game nationally-televised in prime time, Teo has a chance to make his case with voters from coast to coast.
Teos stats are obviously part of the Heisman equation, but even if he only gets, say, five tackles, if Notre Dame shuts down OUs offense Teos chances will be boosted given hes regarded as the emotional leader of the Irish defense.
The guy is all over the field, and continues -- and I mean all over the field, pass coverage, breaking on the ball, setting our defense up, coach Brian Kelly gushed after Notre Dames win over BYU. It's not going to change. It's only going to continue to be the same kind of performance weekin and weekout, because he's so well prepared. Just glad he's on our team.
Its not like Teo has much competition among fellow defenders who are Heisman candidates -- a defensive player has only been invited to New York three times in the last 15 years, and two of those guys (Charles Woodson and Tyrann Mathieu -- Ndamukong Suh is the other) had impact on special teams.
Needless to say, if Teo were to go to New York as a Heisman finalist, itd be a rare occurrence. But with Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest following Oklahoma, Teos candidacy could gain plenty of steam leading up to Notre Dames season-ending date with USC in Los Angeles. With that much momentum, chances are Teo would be a finalist for the award no matter what happens at USC.
But for that momentum to materialize, Teo and Notre Dames defense will have to stop Oklahoma first.