Manti Te'o Down To Three

In a development that will come as a grave disappointment to Cardinal fans dreaming of the seemingly impossible, Manti Te'o, the nation's #1-rated linebacker, a fine young man who had listed his five finalists as BYU, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame up to this point, has eliminated the Cardinal. Now he's down to three schools. Why didn't Stanford make the cut? Read on for the painful news.

Manti Te'o, the #1 linebacker in the nation, was taking out the trash when this reporter called. Perhaps the metaphor is too harsh – certainly the mild-mannered Te'o wouldn't describe his whittling five schools to three as such. But for two fanbases who were daydreaming of what havoc the Hawaii product could wreak in the middle of their defenses, the temptation will be great to feel as if they were discarded like yesterday's news.

The three lucky schools are UCLA, USC and Notre Dame. That, of course, leaves Stanford and BYU eliminated from Te'o's final five.

Te'o reports his decision to drop Stanford was tough.

"I actually called Coach [Andy] Buh and thanked him for everything, but respectfully declined that offer to Stanford," Te'o said. "It's a great school with a great campus and great coaches, but I just felt I was supposed to go somewhere else. It's nothing against Stanford, but I felt my college days were supposed to be spent at another college.

"It was a hard decision, but it was a decision that had to be made. Coach Buh was very professional about it and my relationship with him hasn't changed a bit because of it. But it was hard."

The Bootleg asked Te'o if he could identify the primary reasons he dropped Stanford. The response will surely upset a Stanford fanbase already sick of the topic in question.

"Coach Harbaugh. Going on my official visit, one of my biggest concerns was him applying for another job," Te'o explained. "But then he assured me that he wasn't going anywhere. I guess I just made the decision that it wasn't the place for me."

Harbaugh visited with Te'o on the Saturday of his visit, but left Sunday, flying to Pittsburgh to watch his brother John's Baltimore Ravens fall in the AFC Championship. Did that bother Te'o?

"Not at all. His brother is a big deal, and so I totally understood and didn't mind at all."

Te'o sounded sincere there, and he also sounded sincere when he said that Harbaugh's words alleviated any concerns about his departure.

"It was [a concern] going into my visit, but then he cleared it up," Te'o said. "He was going to stay, and so it wasn't a factor after that."

Stanford fans, then, are left with a head-scratcher. Te'o really did like Stanford – or else it wouldn't have made his final five. Unprompted, he mentioned Coach Harbaugh's flirtation with the NFL, but then insisted that Harbaugh reassured him to the point it was a non-issue. Yet Te'o offered no other criticisms of Stanford, going out of his way to repeatedly praise the University's academics and the campus' beauty.

Ultimately, Te'o speaks like a player too polite to say much of anything negative, so perhaps only he will know his real rationale for dropping Stanford. Maybe it was Coach Harbaugh's vacillation, or maybe it was something else he saw on his visit last weekend. Maybe, as he implied, it was just a gut feeling, or maybe he simply liked his three other finalists more.

Whatever the case, Stanford and BYU will continue their 2009 recruiting without Te'o, and Te'o will continue his deliberation without Stanford and BYU. He visits USC next weekend, and hopes to arrive at a decision shortly thereafter.

"I'll just do the same thing I've done," he said. "I'll sit down with my parents and list the pros and cons of each university. I'll look at it on paper, pray on it and hopefully come up with an opinion."

UCLA, USC and Notre Dame will eagerly await Te'o's eventual announcement, which he's said he'll make on National Signing Day.

But for BYU and for Stanford, the wait is over.

Manti T'eo is headed elsewhere.

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