Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te'o has been the driving force behind the Fighting Irish's unforgettable 12-0 season, and there's no way that his impact on Monday night's championship showdown with Alabama won't be felt one way or another.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist has recorded 42 more tackles than any other Notre Dame defender, and three more interceptions than any other linebacker in America this season. Without question, all eyes Monday night will be on Notre Dame's No. 5 on defense.
With kickoff on the horizon, it's time to project Manti Te'o's final stat line for the Fighting Irish's title clash with Alabama.
Te'o has led all Fighting Irish defenders in tackles over the past three seasons, recording 103 total in 2012. He began this season by recording double-digit tackles in six of Notre Dame's first eight games, but went on to record seven or fewer in the team's final four matchups.
Despite that fact, I believe Te'o will rack up at least 10 total tackles on Monday night. He doesn't have a choice does he?
This isn't Wake Forest or Boston College in November. Alabama's offense presents a real threat to Notre Dame's defense, and I expect the Irish's best defender to deliver, seeking out ball carriers and making it his mission to get them to the ground on the first attempt.
One Forced Fumble
Alabama is averaging roughly one lost fumble per game this season, but rarely gives the ball away through the air, with quarterback A.J. McCarron throwing just three interceptions all year. Therefore, I anticipate Te'o will force a fumble on Monday night.
He's created seven takeaways via interceptions this season, but I like him to change the game with a jarring hit on one of the Crimson Tide's running backs, the victim most likely being freshman back T.J. Yeldon.
Te'o hasn't forced a fumble yet this season, but he has twice during his college career at South Bend.
If any defender on the field is capable of forcing a turnover by himself, it's Te'o, and what better stage to record your first forced fumble of the year on than the BCS National Championship Game?
While Notre Dame's defense only ranks 24th in the nation this season in sacks, having racked up 33 in 12 games, Alabama's offense ranks a somewhat shocking 54th in sacks allowed, having surrendered 23 in 13 games.
Considering that the Irish are recording roughly three per game and the Crimson Tide is allowing close to two per game, look for Te'o to record his second full sack of the season vs. Alabama.
Te'o recorded five sacks last year as a junior, proving that it's not all that rare for him to get in on the quarterback in blitzing situations.
In the end, I believe Manti Te'o will conclude Monday night's high-stakes title clash with an impressive stat line by average linebacker standards, but a rather pedestrian one by Heisman finalist standards. Alabama's offense isn't the most explosive around, but it's certainly rugged.
Final Projection: 10 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble
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