What a difference a game makes

5th-year senior safety Harrison Smith and junior linebacker Manti Te'o have been named to the Bronco Nagurski Award's pre-season Watch List.

Entering Game Five of his senior season, Irish safety-turned-linebacker-turned-safety-turned linebacker-turned-safety Harrison Smith had recorded 0 interceptions through 29 career games.

Nine games later, entering his fifth-year at the program, Smith has seven interceptions, ranks as the team's lone captain, and now as one of 87 players named to the Chuck Bednarik Watch List, honoring the nation's top defensive player at season's end.

Smith's 7 interceptions were the highest at the program since cornerback Shane Walton recorded the same in 2002. The 2011 captain captured three of those turnovers in the Sun Bowl blowout of Miami – the highest single-game total since Walton notched the same in a Kick-off Classic shut-out victory over Maryland in '02.

Walton finished as a finalist in the 2002 Nagurski voting; his third-place finish the highest in program history (dating back to the award's inauguration in 1993).

Smith is the only player in program history to total more than 200 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 15 pass breakups in a career. Joining him on the Nagurski pre-season list is junior linebacker Manti Te'o. Te'o' was named to the Chuck Bednarik Watch List on Tuesday – the award also recognizing the nation's top defensive player.

Alabama (5), Miami (4), Florida State (3), and Nebraska (3) are the only schools to place more than two players on the pre-season list.

Notre Dame will square off against just nine of the 87 Watch List members this fall; one, Maryland's hybrid LB/S Kenny Tate, is a first-time foe.

Michigan DT Mike Martin: The best player on a porous defensive unit last fall. A first-team All-Big 10 performer in 2010.

Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy: Recorded two tackles and a pass breakup in Week Three OT win vs. the Irish. Also nominated to the Bednarik and Outland Watch Lists this week.

Purdue DT Kawann Short: Posted four tackles including two for lost yardage with a sack vs. the Irish last season.

Pittsburgh DE Brandon Lindsey: Four tackles and a sack in 23-17 loss to ND last October. Finished with 10 sacks in 2010.

USC S T.J. McDonald: Second team All-Pac 10 performer recorded just one tackle prior to spraining his shoulder vs. Notre Dame in the Trojans 20-16 season-ending loss.

Maryland LB/S Kenny Tate: First-team All-ACC last fall and an All-America candidate this season. Tate is a sure-bet for the forthcoming Jim Thorpe Watch List, released on Monday.

Boston College LB Luke Kuechly: Has 28 tackles vs. the Irish over the last two seasons. A Butkus Award finalist in 2010.

Stanford S Delano Howell: Recorded team-best 12 tackles vs. Notre Dame last September.

Stanford LB Shayne Skov: Starred in Week Four blowout of Irish with eight tackles, including two for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

No Irish player has won the Nagurski (or Bednarik) Award since inception in 1993.

Players may be added or deleted from the lists throughout the season, with five finalists announced for the Nagurski Trophy on Nov. 17.

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