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Manti Te’o, Johnny Manziel and Collin Klein are Heisman Trophy finalists

Kansas State quarterback CollKlethrows during first half an NCAA college football game against Texas Saturday Dec. 1 2012 Manhattan Kan.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein throws during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Updated: December 3, 2012 5:45PM

The idea was so far-fetched, so unfathomable, that it didn’t even seem

feasible in a video game. So Manti Te’o — an inside linebacker since

his Pop Warner days — used to make himself a running back just so he’d

have a shot at a fictional Heisman Trophy.

Well, Te’o moved one step closer to the real thing on Monday, when he

was named one of just three finalists for college football’s most

coveted individual honor. Te’o — who is on a six-city awards tour this

week, which began Monday when he was named the winner of both the

Butkus Award (top linebacker) and Nagurski Award (top defensive

player) — will be in New York for Saturday’s ceremony in Times Square.

Te’o will be joined on stage by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel

and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

No strictly defensive player ever has won the Heisman — Michigan

cornerback Charles Woodson won in 1997, but he returned punts and

played wide receiver, as well. In order to become the first, Te’o will

have to overcome the frontrunner, Manziel, the redshirt freshman

phenom better known as Johnny Football.

Manziel — also trying to make history as the first freshman to win the

Heisman — rocketed into the national conversation when the Aggies

upset then-No. 1 Alabama three weeks ago, but he put up gaudy numbers

all year long. The dual-threat QB has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24

touchdowns (against eight interceptions) and has run for 1,181 yards

and 19 touchdowns. He broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total yards in

a season.

Te’o is tied for second in the nation in interceptions with seven —

the only linebacker with more than four — and is the undisputed leader

of the nation’s top scoring defense. He led two memorable goal-line

stands that helped the Irish stave off Stanford and USC.

Manziel is the favorite, but it’s not as clear-cut a race as it has

been in recent years. Irish coach Brian Kelly has been stumping hard

for Te’o, pointing out that the best and most important player on the

No. 1 team in the country deserves it most.

“If a guy like Manti Te’o is not going to win the Heisman, they should

just make it an offensive award and just give it to the offensive

player every year and just cut to the chase,” Kelly said following

Notre Dame’s season-finale victory over USC, a win that put the Irish

in the BCS championship game against Alabama. “He is the backbone of a

12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week. … If

the Heisman Trophy is what it is, I don’t know how Manti Te’o is left

out of that conversation.”

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