Manti Te'o finished the 2010 season, his second in South Bend, as already one of the most decorated linebackers in Notre Dame history. A former five-star recruit, Te'o finished his sophomore year with 133 tackles (good for 21st nationally), was a finalist for both the Butkus and Bednarik awards, was named a second-team All-American by CNN/SI, and, against Stanford, had managed 21 tackles. There was just one problem: He could've played a lot better.
"He had a lot of production he left on the table," Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who is also Te'o's position coach, recently recalled. Fortunately for both the Irish and their star linebacker, Te'o, as Diaco puts it, "longs to be coached." That offseason, Diaco put together a DVD from the season — a lowlight reel of sorts — and gave it to Te'o with an accompanying message: "If you really want to take the next step in your game, here are the 83 plays you will be able to make next year.” The response was, in hindsight, predictable. "He studied that thing," Diaco said. "He broke the film studying that thing."
There were puddles on the ground in New Orleans on Tuesday morning and the clouds were hanging low. It must have rained at some point late in the night, sometime after Alabama’s 21-0 win over LSU in the BCS Championship game. I had spent the night battling toward sleep against a constant loop of “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the awful cadence of rammer-jammer-yella-hammer. It was still ringing in my head in the morning as I clutched my coffee mug and stared at the still water on my neighbor’s roof. It can be a disheartening thing when the world outside so closely mirrors the world inside. You may call it the pathetic fallacy, but we Southerners are romantics; it’s in our nature to mold the humidity in our own images.
It was ferocious, it was kind of ugly, it was kinda, sorta, what we expected? Well, we expected a hard-fought game dominated by the defenses, but I'm not sure anyone expected LSU's offense, which had helped the team score 53, 41, and 42 in its last three games (each against SEC opponents), to simply liquefy under the heat of Nick Saban's defense. If there was a decisive factor in the game, it's arguable that it was the ineptness of LSU's offense more than anything else.