SportsPulse: From AT&T Stadium, George Schroeder, Scott Keepfer and Mike Berardino give their one key matchup in the Cotton Bowl and prediction for the game.
METAIRIE, La. – Leave it to Manti Te’o to put the challenge facing Notre Dame in perspective as college football’s semifinal bowl games loom on Saturday.
Te’o was the marquee linebacker for the Fighting Irish the last time they were in contention for a national championship, when his then-undefeated team (12-0) was clobbered by Alabama six years ago in the Bowl Championship Series title game. He can relate to the Notre Dame players who head into the matchup against Clemson at AT&T Stadium as huge underdogs.
“Be short-sighted,” the former Heisman Trophy finalist told USA TODAY Sports. “Don’t worry about hoisting that (championship) trophy, because if you don’t take care of it now there will be no trophy to hold up. They’ve got to beat Clemson first. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my career, it’s to be short-sighted. You don’t even worry about the next quarter. It’s like, don’t worry about what happened on the past play or what’s going to happen on the next play. Keep taking them one at a time.”
Te’o, who became best known as the college football star who was “catfished” – falling for a fictitious girlfriend through an online relationship that proved to be a hoax – now finds himself in the middle of another run at a possible championship with the New Orleans Saints.
In this current situation, though, Te’o is deep in the background, buried on the bench behind emerging starting middle linebacker Alex Anzalone. While the Saints linebackers, including Demario Davis and A.J. Klein, have sparkled, Te’o hasn’t played since late October, deemed a healthy scratch after appearing in four games during the first half of the season. He still seems upbeat, stating optimism that his contributions will increase beyond the scout-team duty as the Saints proceed as the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Nonetheless, he’s kept tabs on his alma mater. He said he’s managed to watch the bulk of Notre Dame’s games this season.
“I love the way they play,” Te’o said. “They play complete football.”
He allowed himself a minute to reminisce about his senior year – at least the on-the-field moments that included a goal-line stand against Stanford, a showdown against Oklahoma and a triple-overtime thriller against Pitt. They entered the national championship game against Alabama with the nation’s No. 1 defense … and left with a 42-14 defeat.
“We got killed,” Te’o concluded. “But a lot of people don’t even get there. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it was a good experience for the program to not only understand what it takes to get there, but what it will take to win it. Coach (Brian) Kelly is still there, so he knows. He’s been exposed to that level. Now we need for these guys to take it another step forward.”