- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Notre Dame came as close as it possibly could have to boasting its first Heisman Trophy winner in 25 years, as Manti Te'o's historic campaign came up just short. Here are the Irish players with the best chance to follow the linebacker's run, however unlikely holding up that stiff-arm trophy may be.
Stephon Tuitt, DE. As stated earlier, Tuitt is poised for a monster year. The 6-foot-6, 303-pound Georgia native has been consistently deemed by teammates as a "freak," an appropriate adjective for a player relatively new to football despite a 12-sack season for one of the best defenses in Notre Dame history. Expect him to take the next step and put up even bigger numbers in 2013, though South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney will likely dominate the national Heisman conversation from day one and give defensive players an even better chance at taking home the hardware a year after Te'o came as close as any of them in history (among one-way defensive players).
Everett Golson, QB. Despite first-year growing pains as a redshirt freshman, Golson made plenty of progress and became seasoned in a way few others have at his age. If he is to take the next step, fend off his quarterback challengers and become a consistent dual-threat QB who leads Notre Dame to another promising campaign, he will be in the spotlight more than anyone else on the Irish roster. Some already see him as a dark horse candidate.
Louis Nix, NG. Nix may be the best player returning to the Irish. And after passing up early entry to the draft, one more year of similar production to his 2012 output will make pro scouts fall in love with him even more. The only problem is his position, which is not conducive to the kind of big numbers that voters and everyone else have become accustomed to using in measuring one's impact. Still, look no further than the Nov. 3 Pitt game -- when Ray Graham rushed for 172 yards, the most against the Irish all season -- to see Nix's impact, as the redshirt sophomore was clearly not himself after being hampered by a virus that had kept him in the infirmary for two nights earlier in the week.
Notre Dame came as close as it possibly could have to boasting its first Heisman Trophy winner in 25 years, as Manti Te'o's historic campaign came up just short.