Michael Floyd 3

Counting down the Irish: The top five


This is the fifth installment of “Counting down the Irish,” our annual ranking of the Top 25 players on Notre Dame’s roster. Click here for our ratings of players 25-2120-16, 15-11, and 10-6

It’s time to roll out our top five. As always, it’s been a fun exercise filled with different opinions, colorful comments, and our fair share of controversy. I’d like to remind our readers that I only asked people to participate that a) have a track record of providing good content and commentary on the Irish, and b) offer that content for free on the internet. (So be a little nicer to DMQ for his list, will you? He’s doing this out of the goodness of his Irish-obsessed heart.)

With less than a week to go before the Irish open preseason camp, we’re finally concluding our rankings. After looking at the comments, twitter action, and message-board threads, these rankings created quite a stir, and I actually think we’ve done a pretty good job putting this list together.

Here’s our Top 25 as it stands:

25. Taylor Dever (OT, Sr.)
24. Chris Watt (OG, Jr.)
23. Zeke Motta (S, Jr.)
22. Aaron Lynch (DE, Fr.)
21. Carlo Calabrese (LB, Jr.)
20. TJ Jones (WR, Soph.)
19. Louis Nix (NT, Soph.)
18. Braxston Cave (C, Sr.)
17. Tommy Rees (QB, Soph.)
16. Prince Shembo (OLB, Soph.)
15. Trevor Robinson (OG, Sr.)
14. Ethan Johnson (DE, Sr.)
13. Dayne Crist (QB, Sr.)
12. Tyler Eifert (TE, Jr.)
11. Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE, Sr.)
10. Robert Blanton (CB, Sr.)
9. David Ruffer (K, Sr.)
8. Theo Riddick (WR, Jr.)
7. Cierre Wood (RB, Jr.)
6. Darius Fleming (OLB, Sr.)

Now that we can put all the pieces together, here’s a look at our projected starting lineups (with player rankings in parenthesis):


DE: Kapron Lewis-Moore (11)
NT: Louis Nix (19) or Sean Cwynar (NR)
DE: Ethan Johnson (14)
OLB: Darius Fleming (6)
ILB: Carlo Calabrese (21)
ILB: Manti Te’o (2)
OLB: Prince Shembo (16) or Danny Spond (NR)
CB: Robert Blanton (10)
S: Harrison Smith (3)
S: Zeke Motta (23) or Jamoris Slaughter (NR)
CB: Gary Gray (5)


WR: TJ Jones (20)
WR: Theo Riddick (8)
LT: Zack Martin (4)
LG: Chris Watt (24)
C: Braxston Cave (18)
RG: Trevor Robinson (15)
RT: Taylor Dever (25)
QB: Dayne Crist (13) or Tommy Rees (17)
RB: Cierre Wood (7)
TE: Tyler Eifert (12)
WR: Michael Floyd (1)

Without further ado, here’s our top 25. Later tonight get our analysis together. Here’s the final rankings as selected by our panel:

Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com
DomerMQ of HerLoyalSons.com
Eric Murtaugh of OneFootDown.com
Matt Mattare of WeNeverGradute.com
Matt & CW of RakesofMallow.com


5. Gary Gray (CB, Sr.): Gray was an anchor on the short-side of the field for the Irish, a strong tackler who made a ton of plays in Bob Diaco’s new system. The third leading tackler on the team behind Manti Te’o and Harrison Smith, Gray tied for the team lead in passes broken up as well. Entering his senior season, there’s every reason to believe that another year in the system will only help Gray’s numbers, turning some of those pass breakups into interceptions.

Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 14th.

4. Zack Martin (LT, Jr.): Martin came out of obscurity to win the starting left tackle job and was named offensive lineman of the year at last season’s year-end award show. At 6-foot-4, 300-pounds, Martin isn’t the biggest guy on the offensive line, but Martin showed immediately what he could do on the field, making his first career start against Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, a 1st round draft pick and All-American. Martin played more snaps than any offensive lineman, starting two games at right tackle when Taylor Dever got injured. As he enters his second season in the starting lineup, Martin has the chance to become a standout offensive tackle, something the Irish haven’t had in a few years.

Highest ranking: 4th. Lowest ranking 9th.

3. Harrison Smith (S, Sr.): The fact that Smith finds himself ranked among the three best players on the roster is a huge credit to the reclamation work Chuck Martin did with the physically gifted, but incredibly inconsistent safety. After bouncing back and forth between safety and linebacker, Brian Kelly made it clear that if Smith were going to play, it’d be at safety. Harrison rewarded the coaching staff with a “lightbulb on” kind of season, as he put together a rock-solid 2010 season at safety, leading the Irish in interceptions, tying with Gray in pass breakups, and finishing second in tackles. It wasn’t a perfect season (and a gift from USC’s Ronald Johnson helped), but Smith is one of the best athletes on the field, and looks to be one of the premiere defensive backs in the country in 2011.

Highest ranking: 3rd. Lowest ranking: 7th.

2. Manti Te’o (ILB, Jr.): The Irish haven’t had this type of athlete at inside linebacker in decades, and Te’o gives the Irish their first chance at an All-American linebacker since Michael Stonebreaker roamed Notre Dame Stadium. Te’o’s 133 tackles led the Irish, his 9.5 TFLs were second, and his highlight reel of big hits gave the Irish one of college football’s best knockout artists. Leading the defense as a sophomore, Te’o still missed too many tackles and ran by more than a few plays, but as he enters his third season starting at inside linebacker, there’s every expectation that Te’o’s experience will allow his football IQ to match up with his tremendous physical gifts.

Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking: 2nd.

1. Michael Floyd (WR, Sr.): For the second season in a row, Michael Floyd tops this list. Only players with the loftiest expectations can consider 12 touchdowns and 1,025 yards a down season, but Floyd’s yards-per-catch were at an all-time low as the Irish transitioned to a new offense and broke in two new quarterbacks. Still, the offense went as No. 3 went, and Floyd was the heart of an Irish attack still learning its way. After making the decision to return to school for his degree and a senior season at Notre Dame, Floyd’s senior season is still in jeopardy after a drunk driving arrest. Settling both the legal and academic repercussions, Floyd seems on pace to rejoin the team during fall camp, but that decision lies in the hands of Brian Kelly.

Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest ranking: 3rd.


Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Keenan Reynolds, Justin Utopo, Cole Luke

Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame and Navy will do battle for the 89th straight season. But if you’re not in South Bend, or can’t park in front of a computer, we’ve got you covered.

NBC’s coverage of the Irish and Midshipmen features a pregame show on NBCSN and a postgame recap to follow. You can always watch on the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Here’s how to watch Navy vs. Notre Dame:

3:00 p.m. — Pregame Show (NBCSN)
3:30 p.m.  — Navy vs. Notre Dame (NBC)
7:00 p.m.  — Postgame Show (NBCSN)


With an HD feed, DVR capabilities and a bonus camera, logging in and watching from your tablet or mobile phone makes it easier than ever to catch Notre Dame on NBC.

Pregame Six Pack: Anchors await


Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Jazz Singer ended the silent film era. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And Notre Dame played Navy in football for the first time.

The Irish won that contest 19-6, and the two teams have played every year since then. So much has changed since that first game, yet the longest running intersectional rivalry is still rolling on, stronger now than maybe ever.

While the Irish’s four game winning streak has extended their already lopsided series lead (Notre Dame holds a 74-12-1 edge), the ledger is hardly what makes the game special. An annual David & Goliath matchup, both schools remain committed the game, part of the unique bond that exists between the two institutions.

So much of this week has been made about the mutual respect between the two programs. A 30-minute documentary aired earlier this week. Both teams will share part of their uniform—as will the coaches on the sidelines—a tip of their cap to the shared history (and nifty corporate synergy) between respected opponents once again doing battle.

But make no mistake: All the respect talk this week doesn’t make this a friendly Saturday.

There is no love lost between the Irish and the Midshipmen on the field.  So while both teams may honor the other by standing during their respective alma mater, this is a game that each team desperately wants to win.

After a rain-soaked weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a dry Saturday in South Bend. So let’s put away the rain panchos and get to the Pregame Six Pack.


After watching the Georgia Tech game from the sideline, Max Redfield steps back into the starting lineup. 

Drue Tranquill begins his recovery from ACL surgery today, as fearless as ever. And while Matthias Farley has shown some playmaking ability against option attacks, Brian Kelly confirmed that Max Redfield would stay in the starting lineup against Navy.

Redfield is coming off his most productive game as a college football player, making 14 tackles—including 11 solo stops—against Clemson. Now Redfield will step into the one-high safety role, while Elijah Shumate will take over for Tranquill in the box.

“He plays the role that Shu played. Shu played the role that Tranquill played,” Kelly said.

That means it’ll be Shumate running the alley and handling the pitch man. And Redfield will be asked to serve both as the last line of defense and also make a difference in the option game as well.

Just about everybody who watched Redfield last week saw a different player than the one who was largely ineffective against Virginia as he tried to play through a broken thumb. And Kelly talked Thursday evening a little bit about the journey Redfield has taken to get there.

“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” Kelly said. “He’s somebody that I think is looking at football through a different lens and understands that there are so many details to it… He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just maturing and developing at a pace that’s comfortable to him.”


DeShone Kizer did more than just survive at Clemson. Can his silver-lining performance trigger a more explosive offense?

With the game on the line and Hurricane Joaquin creating a relentless rain storm, nobody would’ve thought putting the game on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer would be Notre Dame’s best chance to win. Yet that’s what Brian Kelly did, and Kizer very nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Navy doesn’t play defense like Clemson. While the Midshipmen’s defense is vastly improved (they rank just one spot behind Notre Dame in total defense heading into Saturday’s contest), they’ll be in a physical mismatch for most of the day, relying on turnovers and stops to limit the Irish offense.

But after serving as the unexpected engine of Notre Dame’s comeback last Saturday, Kizer looks capable of doing more than just game managing, especially for an offense that’s averaged seven touchdowns a game against Navy the past four years.

“I just think when you get opportunities to play on the road, leading your team back in the fourth quarter, you gain more of an understanding of a quarterback who’s got to make plays,” Kelly said. “I think we knew he was the guy that could handle the moment, he certainly was able to do that… I think it just added on to the fact that we’ve got a quarterback that can help us win a championship.”


For as challenging as slowing down Navy’s option is every year, Notre Dame fans sometimes forget that Navy’s got to find a way to stop the Irish, too. 

As mentioned just before, Notre Dame is scoring 48.25 points against Navy during their four-game winning steak. And one of the biggest challenges that Navy faces is Brian Kelly the playcaller.

Earlier this week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo talked about what makes Kelly’s offense so good and why Notre Dame’s head coach is so difficult to stop.

“Coach Kelly, I’ve always admired the way he calls plays. Some play-callers bury their face in their call sheet, but he’s watching the game,” Niumatalolo said. “But if he sees something, he’s going to exploit it. He’s got a great feel for the game. We’ve got to be able to adjust. We’ve got some ideas of what we can do, but he’s going to adjust very quickly to us and we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Expect Kelly to try and get the ground game back rolling again after a difficult weekend at Clemson. And with veteran safety Kwazel Betrand likely lost for the year with after suffering a broken ankle against Air Force, the back end will be tested as well.

It’s a challenge at every level for Navy. And with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford keeping the offense moving, it’ll stress the Midshipmen like no other game on their schedule.


Even with one loss, Kelly still thinks Notre Dame controls their own destiny. 

Earlier this week, Brian Kelly hopped on SiriusXM radio with Stephen A. Smith. And while on Tuesday Kelly said he wasn’t sure if a one-loss team could get into the College Football Playoff, he sounded more confident that the Irish still controlled their own destiny when he was talking to Smith.

“After you lose, you’re going to take that bump. That’s really part of it,” Kelly said, sounding unworried about the slide to No. 15. “I think we have a really good football team. We did not play up to the level we’re capable of and you should fall considerably because of it.”

But Kelly thinks the Irish have a schedule in front of them that can allow them to step back into the race. And while it’s still way, way, way too soon to be wondering if the Irish have the schedule needed to qualify without a conference title game, Kelly seemed to think winning out would solve all of those problems. (Even with USC’s Thursday night loss to Washington.)

“The great part of it is that we’ve got a schedule in front of us that’ll allow us to control our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If we continue to play better football and we’re a better football team in November than we are right now, we’ve got a chance to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”



For Notre Dame to win, they need to slow down Navy’s option specialist, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Justin Thomas may have gotten all the preseason attention from Irish fans. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the more dangerous of the option trigger-men. The senior quarterback and leader of the Midshipmen will finish his college career as one of the most prolific players in college football history.

Reynolds has already scored nine touchdowns this season and his 73 career rushing touchdowns tied for second most in college football history, only four behind Montee Ball‘s record. At 25-11, his 25 wins as a starter are the most in Navy history, third most among active NCAA players.

Reynolds saw his first action as a freshman in 2012, thrown into action in Dublin after starting quarterback Trey Miller went down. Looking for his first victory against the Irish, Reynolds cherishes the opportunity to come to South Bend and fight for one.

“I’m excited. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a very, very good team. It’s the best team we’re going to see, they’re a Top 10 team in the country, even with a loss.”


This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best Navy team. And he knows it needs to play perfect to beat Notre Dame. 

During this week’s Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect documentary, we saw the large photo that hangs on the office wall of Ken Niumatalolo—the chaos and happiness of Midshipmen celebrating after they shocked Notre Dame in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak.

While Niumatalolo was just the offensive line coach at the time, he acknowledged just how important that victory was to his program.

“For us it was a great accomplishment. I have [the picture] up there because they’re hard to beat and it doesn’t come too often, so we had to relish that one time we beat them in 2007,” Niumatalolo said in the documentary. “A big part of that picture just shows the jubilation of years trying to get over the hump.”

If there was ever a Navy team that’s well positioned to make a shocking statement at Notre Dame Stadium again, it might be this team. Outside of sophomore right tackle Robert Lindsey and sophomore linebacker D.J. Palmore, every starter on Navy is an upperclassman.

The offensive line doesn’t have a man smaller than 275 pounds, a much larger unit than you’re used to from Navy’s standards. The entire backfield is seniors, led by Reynolds but tag-teamed with fullback Chris Swain and slotbacks Desmond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders.

Even with Reynolds and a veteran group of talent, this group knows it can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially in the turnover column.

“It’s priority each and every week. But especially this week,” Reynolds said. “We can’t give them any [turnovers]. They’re very very good on offense, we can’t put our defense in a bind by giving them a short field. We understand the importance of ball security this week and having zero turnovers.”

Defensively, Dale Pehrson has taken over for Buddy Green as defensive coordinator while Green recovers from offseason surgery. With a veteran front seven and some talent on the back end, this isn’t a hapless defense just hoping to capitalize on an Irish mistake, but rather a defense that Kelly said is befitting of a Top 25 team.

Still, it’ll take more than just Niumatalolo’s best team to beat Notre Dame—they’ll need the Irish to falter. But in the midst of a four-game losing streak against the Irish, expect Navy to empty their arsenal to do anything to get a win.

“We’ve had a hard time making the plays,” Niumatalolo said about the last four years. But this is our best defense that we’ve had. We’ll go in there and take a shot at them. They’re really good. Always have been.”