LOS ANGELES -- It's extremely rare for a defense-only player to contend for the Heisman Trophy, let alone win it. But Manti Te'o's 2012 season has put him squarely in the discussion for college football's most prestigious honor, despite only taking snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
"It never crossed my mind, but we have a lot people that have opinions on that. That won't happen," coach Brian Kelly laughed when asked if Te'o could play some offense to boost his chances. "He 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."
Ndamukong Suh came closer than any other exclusively-defensive player to winning the Heisman in 2009, when the Nebraska defensive tackle finished fourth behind Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart and Colt McCoy. Te'o, though, is as high as second in Heisman polling, generally stuck behind Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
It's tough to argue with Manziel's pure stats -- 3,073 passing yards, 1,114 rushing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, 17 rushing touchdowns -- but Te'o's candidacy has been boosted by his status as the leader of the nation's No. 1 scoring defense.
There was some momentum among Notre Dame players to get Te'o some touches on offense, though, to try to push him past Manziel. But Kelly, who's staying out on the West Coast to recruit after Saturday's game, won't let it happen.
"That was out there, and certainly it was played up a little bit with some players in our program that wanted to volunteer that position for Manti after hearing the rumors of it," Kelly said. "But at no time did I even give it ‑‑ I put that guy at running back and he gets hurt? I'll be coming back from that recruiting trip. I won't get a chance to stay on the West Coast."