It may not be the Heisman Trophy, but Manti Te'o is nonetheless up for a prestigious award.
The Football Writers Association of America released five finalists for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, given annually to the nation's top defensive player, with Te'o joining South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner.
Clowney is an often-unblockable pass-rusher who has recorded 8 1/2 sacks this year going up against bruising SEC defensive lines often keying on the South Carolina sophomore. But Jones is generally regarded as the best defensive player in the SEC, racking up 10 1/2 sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception for the No. 5 Bulldogs.
Milliner helped Alabama's defense to plenty of success, although it's worth noting Nagurski voting closed Nov. 9 -- a day before Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Werner has terrorized ACC quarterbacks, collecting eight sacks and five quarterback hurries.
Te'o is the second Nagurski finalist in Notre Dame history, joining Shane Walton (2002) in that designation. While Te'o will admit all the award attention he's received is neat, the personal accolades are a secondary goal to the Irish senior captain.
"I think when my name is being tossed around as a national champion, that's what I'm looking for," Te'o said Wednesday. "You ask any Heisman winner that wasn't a national champion what they would rather be, and I think they would rather be the latter, a national champion.
"So that's what I want. I rather be holding a crystal ball than a bronze statue. That's just me."