ATHENS -- Naturally, people watch what their peers do. So, naturally, star linebackers watch how other star linebackers are doing.
So it was that Manti Teo, the Heisman darling at Notre Dame, was asked Thursday about a player named Jarvis Jones at Georgia.
Ive never met Jarvis. At least not yet, Teo said. But Ive watched him play.
And Teo will watch him play again Saturday in the SEC championship, which is shaping up to be not only Georgias biggest game in three decades, but the chance for Jones to have his biggest moment.
The last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997. But, this year, Teo is virtually certain to be a finalist, and oddsmakers have him second behind prohibitive favorite Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. But Jones isnt being mentioned much, despite stats that rival Teo, and his team also being in the running for a national championship.
Chris Huston, who runs the web site Heismanpundit.com, has a simple answer for why Teo is getting more Heisman mention than Jones.
Because he plays for Notre Dame, Huston said. Thats basically it. If Manti Teo played for Kansas State, hed be Arthur Brown (another star linebacker who isnt getting Heisman mention). He symbolizes this return to glory for Notre Dame. Hes this empty vessel that people are pouring their (credit) for Notre Dame into.
The Fighting Irish are unbeaten and await the winner of the Georgia-Alabama game in the BCS championship. Teo is the unquestioned heart of a Notre Dame defense that ranks sixth nationally. He is tied for third nationally with seven interceptions and has 103 tackles. Jones has just one interception and 71 tackles.
But, otherwise, Jones has Teo beat statistically: sacks (10.5 for Jones, 1.5 for Teo), tackles-for-loss (19.5 for Jones, 5.5 for Teo), forced fumbles (six for Jones, none for Teo) and quarterback pressures (30 for Jones, four for Teo).
Jones and Teo are likely to meet a few times next week. Both are finalists for the various awards -- Butkus, Bednarik, Nagurski -- that go to linebackers and defensive players. But Jones shrugged off a question about whether he has thought about joining Teo in New York.
I just think about the stuff that I can control, and thats Alabama right now, Jones said.
Lobbying isnt Jones thing. Georgia has also shied from pushing Jones -- or quarterback Aaron Murray -- for the Heisman, although full-fledged campaigns were rare this year. Kansas State sent out bandages with images of quarterback Collin Klein on them. But Texas A&M hasnt hyped Manziel.
Theres still a ray of hope for Jones. Huston, who also serves as a Heisman analyst for CBSsports.com, estimates that if the past few years are any indication, about 80 percent of voters will wait until after championship weekend to cast ballot. The voting closes at 5 p.m. on Monday.
Huston doesnt think Jones can actually win the Heisman unless he has a game for the ages on Saturday. But getting into the top five is a possibility.
I live on the West Coast, so hes someone who used to be at USC, hes got some name recognition out here, Huston said. But thats the thing, it does boil down to name recognition.
He pointed to Teo and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Its just hard to stick out in that group, Huston said. I think (Jones) is very well respected as a defensive player. But when you get to that Heisman level, its a whole different story.
Jones got some Heisman hype earlier this season after a monster game at Missouri. But even as he continued to play well, a few factors hurt his candidacy, compared to Teo:
Jones missed two games because of injuries: Florida Atlantic (groin) and Kentucky (shoulder). Those could have been a chance to pad stats against inferior opponents.
Georgia was pummeled at South Carolina, which Huston said caused the Bulldogs to fall out of the national spotlight.
They had that lull, Huston said. And now that theyre back, unfortunately that vacuum has been filled by Johnny Manziel and Manti Teo.
Teo, much like Jones, doesnt issue many flashy soundbites. But he was asked Thursday about watching the SEC championship game and analyzing the opponent he will face Jan. 7 in Miami. Specifically, he was asked about the fellow linebackers: Jones and Alabamas C.J. Mosley, also expected to be a consensus All-American.
I know about Jarvis Jones. Ive seen C.J. Mosley play in the national championship last year. Both are incredible players, Teo said. Theyre big playmakers for their team. And they continue to make big plays. I know when they line up against each other this weekend its gonna be something well all look forward to watching. Theyre definitely big playmakers. Their teams are both lucky to have both.