Notre Dame vs USC: Game of the Year Gives Manti Te'o One More Heisman Showcase

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterNovember 19, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 06:  Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish calls defensive signals against the Miami Hurricanes at Soldier Field on October 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Notre Dame defeated Miami 41-3.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Heisman.

What was once an almost-sure thing for Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is no longer. The door has been left open.

And Notre Dame's Manti Te'o has one last game to show why he should win college football's most prestigious award.

Not just any game, mind you, but the game that determines whether or not Notre Dame takes back its rightful place in college football and plays for a national championship. 

Not since 1997 has a primarily defensive player won the Heisman—Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won it 14 years ago. Notre Dame has seen one of its defensive players win the Heisman back in 1947, but Leon Hart played both on offense (tight end) and defense (end).

Te'o is an inside linebacker and his exceptional pass defense will certainly be felt by the USC Trojans. USC has struggled against better defensive teams this season but hasn't faced a top-notch defense like Notre Dame's sixth-ranked defense. 

Quarterback Matt Barkley will not be starting this game due to an injured shoulder suffered against UCLA last Saturday. Redshirt freshman Max Wittek will be making his first collegiate start against No. 1 Notre Dame. 

You almost feel sorry for the kid.

ESPN's College Gameday will be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to witness this almost sacrificial offering to the starving-to-earn-earn-the-nation's-respect Fighting Irish. 

Te'o has the perfect opportunity to make a final impression on Heisman voters who just received their voting instructions on Monday, the 19th. The timing is impeccable. 

In a rivalry game. On the road. A nationally televised primetime game. The most important game of the year for Notre Dame. The world—and its Heisman voters—will be watching. 

If Te'o has the kind of day we expect him to have, what better publicity can Notre Dame ask for than having Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard announce he'll be on their ballots? Perhaps even Mark May, a noted Irish curmudgeon, may endorse Te'o as well. 

What better way for Te'o to make his Heisman case than to get the one thing that has eluded him this season: a game-winning interception returned for a touchdown. The only thing missing from Te'o's resume is that true Heisman moment—it's certainly not a requirement to win the Heisman, but it does add to style points to an already outstanding season. 

And what a season Manti Te'o and his Fighting Irish have had.

Notre Dame having both a No. 1 ranking and a Heisman candidate playing defense is almost unbelievable—the Irish weren't even ranked in the preseason.

They've been the forgotten ones. Dismissed as a has-been that points to its academic standards as its saving grace.   

Notre Dame football is a storied program, but its recent lack of relevancy in college football has been a national punch line. Mediocre football, questionable coaching hires and failed expectations have been synonymous with Notre Dame football since it last won a national championship in 1998. 

But all of Notre Dame's fans' pent-up frustrations can finally be laid to rest this Saturday because 2012 appears to be the beginning of the resurgence of Notre Dame football. Because Manti Te'o could win the school's eighth Heisman which would give Notre Dame sole position of first place among schools with the most Heisman trophies.

Both Ohio State and Notre Dame have seven Heisman trophies in their war chests, but Ohio State has only had six players win the award—running back Archie Griffin won back-to-back Heismans in 1974 and 1975.

Te'o can be the definitive answer to which school has the most Heismans period.

Last December, Manti Te'o made the decision to come back and play for Notre Dame at the LOTT Trophy presentation ceremonies. “I’ll be coming back to Notre Dame," he told the attendees. 

Te'o could have gone pro but instead came back for his senior season and suffered some personal tragedies in the process.  Many questioned his decision. Right now, it looks like the perfect decision.

Te'o could win the Heisman and his team could be crowned BCS champions.   

The proverbial script has been written.

And the echoes have awoke.