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Allen: Football hardware up for grabs (Nov. 28)

Chris Allen | Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Manti for Heisman.
It’s become a ubiquitous refrain on campus and in Notre Dame circles around the country. The Hawaiian linebacker has a real chance at taking home Notre Dame’s first Heisman Trophy since 1987. But the Guglielmino Athletics Complex should add a few pieces of hardware before awards season comes to a close. It’s about a lot more than just Manti Te’o.

Need somewhere to start? Look at the man who calls the plays Te’o executes, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. Diaco is one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, handed out annually to the nation’s top assistant coach. Diaco’s main competition comes from Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason,
Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. All three of those coaches had outstanding seasons, but the award should be no contest – it is Diaco who should walk away with the honor. Mason’s defense, an established unit coming into the season with more than a handful of top NFL prospects, allowed almost a touchdown more per game than Notre Dame’s 10.3 points per game average. The Cardinal unit ranks outside the top 10 in the country in scoring defense, and when the two defenses competed on the same field it was Diaco’s bunch who prevailed in an iconic goal-line stand.

Quinn’s defense ranked just behind Diaco’s in scoring defense, but bolstered its scoring average with games against FCS Jacksonville State and lowly Bowling Green. The Gators also allowed 20 points – the highest regulation point total allowed by Notre Dame all season – against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Kingsbury? He has worked all season with the main competition for Te’o in the Heisman race, Johnny Manziel, but his offense failed to produce enough in the Aggies’ two biggest home games – against Florida and LSU. That counts against Kingsbury and Manziel.

Diaco will almost certainly get phone calls from interested programs with head coaching vacancies this winter. How he proceeds is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: He has earned the Broyles Award in 2012.

Moving on from Diaco, Irish senior tight end Tyler Eifert should finally take home the Mackey Award in what will almost certainly be his final collegiate season. Eifert was a 2011 finalist for the Mackey, awarded to the nation’s best tight end, but lost out to Clemson’s Dwayne Allen. This season has been a down year for Eifert statistically, with good reason. Opposing defenses have been geared to stop Eifert through the air all season, forcing Everett Golson to beat them with an unproven receiving corps. Eifert’s numbers may not jump off the page (44 receptions, 624 yards, four touchdowns), and in fact they pale in comparison to those of fellow finalists Zach Ertz of Stanford and Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington, but voters will look at a more complete picture.

As the main weapon in a growing offense, Eifert toiled without hearing his name called as Golson matured. Yet nearly every time his number was called, the “sturdy tight end,” as Notre Dame Stadium PA announcer Mike Collins calls him, made a play for the Irish. He has been the most dominant receiver in the country on jump balls, and he outplayed Ertz head-to-head at Notre Dame Stadium. Numbers are part of the equation, but as is the case with the Heisman there is more to consider. Eifert should finally get his long-deserved Mackey Award.

It has been a magical season for the Irish on the field. The trophy cases of the Gug will soon display that magic for years to come. Whether or not Te’o claims college football’s ultimate prize is up for debate, but Diaco and Eifert will give Notre Dame fans something to cheer about while they wait.

Contact Chris Allen at callen@nd.edu The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.