SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Doug Flutie knows the Heisman Trophy usually winds up in the hands of whatever quarterback puts up eye-popping numbers on a successful team. He won the award in 1984, leading Boston College to a 10-2 record with 3,454 yards and 27 touchdowns.
With that in mind, Manti Te'o's chances of winning the Heisman are slim -- not while West Virginia's Geno Smith, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Kansas State's Collin Klein are topping the polls. But that doesn't mean Te'o isn't a deserving candidate in the eyes of a former winner.
"From a Heisman standpoint, I think he deserves to be in the conversation," Flutie, now an analyst on NBC Sports' college football studio show, told CSNChicago.com on Saturday. "He may, if he continues to play the way he has, end up with a trip to New York. I really doubt -- it's just such a longshot for a defensive player to win it, (Charles) Woodson's the only one. It's tough because it's not glamorous, it's not flashy, you don't have the numbers to put up against everyone else."
Flutie's point about Te'o at least getting a trip to New York for the ceremony may be the Irish linebacker's best bet at recognition. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the last defensive player (who didn't make an impact on special teams, as LSU's Tyrann Mathieu did last year) to be named a finalist and head to New York, with that being in 2009 (Alabama RB Mark Ingram win the Heisman that year). Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk finished sixth in 2005, as did Miami's Warren Sapp in 1994, and FSU linebacker Marvin Jones was fourth in 1992.
Fellow NBC analyst and former wide receiver Hines Ward, though, pointed out that Notre Dame's defense is right up there with Alabama -- which probably will be No. 1 when the first BCS standings are released Sunday -- and Te'o is at the heart of it.
"He's an impact player. He's somebody that offensive coordinators, they spotlight him," Ward explained. "You gotta know where he's at at all times. He has to be held accountable because he will create havoc on that field either by pressuring the quarterback or get some turnovers. I think if anything, he's the emotional leader of that defense. I think everybody thrives off him."
As long as Notre Dame's defense continues its run of success -- the Irish haven't allowed a touchdown since Sept. 8 - -Te'o will continue to get Heisman recognition. Enough to win the award? Probably not. Neither Flutie nor Ward would go that far, and the same can be said for most everyone outside of the campus at Notre Dame.
But a trip to the Heisman ceremony would still be a special accomplishment for a defensive player, one that's a rarity in college football.