Only two defensive players have won the Heisman Trophy in the 77-year history of the statue.

That's not to say that plenty of defenders haven't been considered for the honor over the past seven-plus decades. But it's still an uphill climb when trying to make a case for the bronze statue if you're not a running back or quarterback, which have combined to earn the award 70 times. Well, it's actually 69 times since Reggie Bush had his 2005 Heisman Trophy taken away for actions that put his school on probation.

Speaking of probation, it only makes sense to bring up Penn State. We already know the Nittany Lions won't get any postseason games from now through 2015 thanks to the sanctions handed down by the NCAA. But it doesn't mean the program can't bring in hardware from other places.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges is being considered for the Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player) while he and fellow linebacker Mike Mauti are both candidates for the Bednarik (best defensive player) and Butkus (top linebacker) awards. The duo has earned three Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors this fall.

Although the chances of winning it are stacked against him, Mauti should at the very least be in the conversation for one more award -- the Heisman Trophy.

Impressive numbers: All of the numbers are there. Through six games, Mauti has 57 total tackles (32 solo), 21/2 tackles for loss, 11/2 sacks, two forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and two interception returns for a total of 105 yards. Heading into the bye week, Penn State's defense ranked second in the Big Ten and 19th nationally in scoring defense and second in the conference and 18th nationally in turnover margin.

But the senior has meant more to the team than just numbers. Along with quarterback Matt McGloin and fullback Mike Zordich, Mauti was the driving force that kept the team together during all the turmoil it faced during the offseason. He has clearly been the leader on the field and is one of the most vocal players on the 2012 squad.

It's hard to think about what the Penn State defense would look like right now had Mauti opted to transfer like a handful of other talented players did. Sure, the Lions would still have standouts in Hodges and D-lineman Jordan Hill. But they wouldn't have the glue that's holding it all together in Mauti.

Making a case: For all those reasons and his impressive numbers, you can argue Mauti has done more for his program than what Heisman front-runners Geno Smith (West Virginia) or Matt Barkley (USC) have accomplished at quarterback.

Running back John Cappelletti is the only Penn State player to win the Heisman when he earned the trophy in 1973. The last Penn State defender to even be considered for it was linebacker Lavar Arrington in 1999. Arrington won the Bednarik and Butkus awards that year. But he finished ninth in voting for the Heisman.

At the very least, Mauti deserves similar recognition for the bronze statue.

-- Reach John Walk at jwalk@yorkdispatch.com.