It's extremely difficult for a defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy in modern college football, but head coach Brian Kelly says his No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish team won't try to sway voters by padding the stats of star linebacker Manti Te'o. When asked whether Te'o could see some snaps on offense to help push him past Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M or Collin Klein of Kansas State, coach Kelly told CSN-Chicago: "[Te'o] is going to play linebacker and that's it. If he can't win the Heisman at linebacker, then he can't win the Heisman."
Manziel and Klein have posted gaudy stats in high-scoring offenses, but ND sits at No. 1 in the polls and boasts the No. 1 scoring defense in the entire FBS (10.1 points allowed per game). Te'o leads the team in tackles and is tied for second in the FBS for total interceptions on the season, so his impact on the defensive end is clear. Teammates had lobbied for Te'o to build his resume by getting a few touches on offense - which is where voters typically look during the Heisman process - but Kelly shut that idea down and cited injury risk as an additional reason to avoid that approach.
If you are wondering whether Te'o can stand on his defensive accomplishments alone in his pursuit of the Heisman Trophy, here is a rundown of what the star defenders had accomplished (via Notre Dame Athletics):
- Team-high 98 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 6 interceptions, 4 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries
- Te'o has recorded six interceptions this year and is tied for second in the FBS in total interceptions
- Te'o has set a Notre Dame record for most interceptions in a season by a linebacker
- Only one FBS linebacker in the last 11 seasons has recorded more interceptions than the six tallied by Te'o
- Te'o has started 47 career games at Notre Dame, including 46 consecutive contests. That is the longest streak of any linebacker in the nation and fourth-longest of any defensive player in the country
- Only one player has recorded more takeaways this season than Te'o who has generated eight turnovers (six interceptions and two fumble recoveries)
- Te'o has played a role in 10 of the 21 turnovers forced by Notre Dame's defense (six interception, two fumble recoveries and hurried two passers on plays directly resulting in interceptions)
- Te'o leads the Irish with 98 tackles and is on pace to become only the second Notre Dame player to ever record at least 100 tackles in three seasons
- Leader of the defense ranked No. 1 in points allowed per game and No. 6 in yards allowed per game
Finally, here is Kate Sullivan's interview with Te'o from Nov. 13, via Notre Dame Athletics: