Even before a season starts, universities erect billboards and create media strategies to announce to the world that they have an athlete worthy of the game's most prestigious trophy.
While touchdowns and tackles are still the determining factors, a good storyline helps.
And Te'o's heart-wrenching tale of determination in the face of two tragedies -- the death of his grandmother and his girlfriend within hours -- had all the elements.
It reached its apex on September 15 when he led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 thrashing of Michigan State. He credited the deaths in propelling him in the game in which he had 12 tackles, the most he had all season.
"I will be honest, throughout the game you are still thinking about it, but football allows me to be in a little realm, a little world that I know," he said afterward. "I can honor them by the way I played. It was for them, for my girl and my grandma, and for all my loved ones who have passed on."
Sports fans lapped it up. He was a hero with a halo.
Until, that is, the article appeared on Deadspin, the same site that in 2010 published explicit pictures allegedly sent by NFL quarterback Brett Favre to a New York Jets sideline host.
Now, he's the butt of jokes and the center of swirling questions about whether he or someone else is behind the hoax.
Deadspin said it had traced the hoax to a former classmate of the woman whose face appears in the Twitter profile of Te'o's alleged girlfriend.
The woman, according to Deadspin, had no knowledge of the hoax but said she recalled the classmate asking her to send him photos of herself similar to those used in the profile.
Te'o did not answer a call to his room at a Florida training facility, where he is preparing for the NFL combine.
CNN has not been able to locate the man Deadspin named in its article as being behind the hoax.
However, Te'o tried to clear up some of the speculation with a statement Wednesday.
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over several months I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," he said. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
But David Haugh, a Chicago Tribune sports columnist, said Te'o has more explaining to do.
"It doesn't add up. Obviously the explanation, it bears further explanation," Haugh said.
"I think you want to hear from Manti Te'o himself beyond the statement. Because if he is truly a victim of a cruel hoax, as Notre Dame put it, then he has nothing to hide."