The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.
Ten of the last 11 winners of this priceless award have been quarterbacks. And since 1950, only one time has a non-offensive skill player — e.g., quarterback, running back or wide receiver — claimed the historic award (Charles Woodson, 1997). Yes, the quarterback is the most important position on the field. Yes, few players touch the ball more than a workhorse running back. But just because big uglies, heavy-hitters and pass rushers don't often get the famed trip to Radio City Music Hall in New York City, it doesn't mean they don't deserve it.
So expect to see more than just signal callers, pass-catchers and tailbacks on Athlon Sports' conference-by-conference Heisman Contenders.
Notre Dame's Top 5 Heisman Trophy Contenders:
1. Manti Te’o, LB
The star middle linebacker turned down the NFL and could actually build upon his already solid resume. He is searching for his third straight 100-tackle season and has 28.5 career tackles for a loss. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and the Lott Trophy a year ago and is looking for even more in 2012. Expect an outstanding defensive front to make life easier for the talented tackler.
2. Cierre Wood, RB
The Irish running back rolled-up 1,102 yards rushing a year ago — the most by a South Bend tailback in over half-a-decade (1,267, Darius Walker). Without great quarterback play, Wood will easily the be the focal point of the offense, which could work both for and against the talented tailback. Jonas Gray has moved on, giving Wood the bulk of the touches, but defenses will be able to key on him should Brian Kelly not get improved quarterback play.
3. Tyler Eifert, TE
Fans could make the case that Eifert is the best tight end in the nation. Like Te’o, Eifert also turned down the NFL to return to Notre Dame. With Michael Floyd moving on to Sundays, Eifert is easily the top target in the Kelly passing attack and could improve on his 63-803-5 stat line from 2011. Tight ends also tend to be targeted more by young, inexperienced and “less-effective” quarterbacks as safety valves. And this one is the first-team preseason All-American for 2012.
4. Stephon Tuitt, DE
The 2011 defensive line class for Kelly was simply ridiculous and Tuitt is a huge part of it. He has a massive frame, huge upside and as much physical talent as any Irish defensive lineman in years. By the end of 2011, as only a freshman, Tuitt was transforming into the dominate player fans were expecting to see. The sky is the limit for this monster of prospect.
5. Theo Riddick, WR
Injuries and position uncertainty have caused Riddick’s career to take some unexpected turns. But his raw play-making ability and versatility should finally allow Riddick to achieve his breakout campaign in 2012. He isn’t the same player as Floyd but can be used in more ways by Kelly. Fans should expect to see No. 7 touching the ball in a variety of unique and entertaining ways this fall.
Other Names to Watch:
Zach Martin, OL
Louis Nix III, DL
TJ Jones, WR
Braxton Cave, C
Everett Gholson, QB
2012 Notre Dame Preview Content:
• Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview
• Notre Dame Fighting Irish Greatest Players Since 1967
• Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Predictions
• The Greatest Moments in Notre Dame Football History
• Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery
• Will Brian Kelly Lead Notre Dame to a BCS Bowl?
• Jokes About Notre Dame Rivals
-by Braden Gall