Skip to content

Counting down the Irish: 20-16

Jul 26, 2012, 4:57 PM EDT

Bennett Jackson 2

RECOUNT UPDATE: If there was any question whether I’ve been out of the finance game too long, your fearless leader messed up his Excel spreadsheet and jacked up the rankings. This changes a few of the players we’ve tallied and puts Zeke Motta in at No. 25. My sincere apologies.


Not surprisingly, the inclusion of quarterback Tommy Rees in the Top 25 rankled more than a few Irish fans ready to turn the page on the Rees era. I’ve spent a few thousand words talking about the pros and cons of Rees at quarterback and have no interest igniting that debate again.

Looking at our first five players, it’s worth noting that two back-up players are more highly regarded than incumbents. For football fans, the back-up quarterback is always the most popular. Apparently, that’s partially true for this panel as well.

If the first five names on this list were interesting, No. 20-16 are down right fascinating. Not one of the players has started a game. Only one is an upperclassmen eligibility wide. (Corrected because I messed up the math.) Yet if you were to look at the five names listed, you could argue these are five of the most important swing players on the roster. Get great seasons out of this group? Notre Dame should surprise some people. Don’t? It could be a long year.

Once again, here’s our voting panel:

Eric Hansen, South Bend Tribune @HansenSouthBend
John Walters, The Daily @jdubs88
John Vannie,
Eric Murtaugh, representing  @OneFootDown
Ryan Ritter, representing @HLS_NDtex
Keith Arnold,’s Inside the Irish @KeithArnoldNBC

Here’s the list as it stands:

IRISH 2012 Top 25
25. Zeke Motta (S, Sr.)
24. Tommy Rees (QB, Jr.)
23. Andrew Hendrix (QB, Jr.)
22. Davonte Neal (WR, Fr.)
21. TJ Jones (WR, Jr.)


20. Robby Toma (WR, Sr.) Ranking Toma ahead of Jones doesn’t make sense from a statistical point of view. Yet the senior slot receiver, whose best season has yet to yield 20 catches, saw lots of love by our voters, including two votes inside the top 15. Once thought of as just a throw in to help persuade high school teammate Manti Te’o to head to South Bend, Toma has made believers out of fans, players, and coaches, and is expected to hold down the slot receiver job during his final season in South Bend. Toma’s productivity, when given a chance, has always been among the best of the Irish receivers. He’s expected to get a lot of chances this season.

(Highest ranking: 11th. Lowest ranking: Unranked x 3)

19. Christian Lombard (OL, Jr.) It’s not a question of if Lombard is going to play, it’s a question of where. Lombard is the leader in the clubhouse at both right tackle and right guard, and the coaching staff seems comfortable with him at either spot. After sitting out his freshman year, Irish coaches were bullish enough on Lombard that they were fine letting tackle Matt Romine spend his final year of eligibility in Tulsa. Stuck behind veterans Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson last season, Lombard still logged minutes in all 13 games. He’s a big, physical, ready-to-play grinder that looks to be an anchor along the line for the next three seasons.

(Highest ranking: 12th. Lowest ranking: Unranked x 2)

18. Davaris Daniels (WR, So.) Expectations for Daniels are sky high, as reflected here. We’ve been told he’s talented enough and athletic enough to be a difference maker, but sitting out his freshman season means there had to have been some rough edges that needed to be worked on. Expected to help fill the void left by Michael Floyd, Daniels has the size and speed needed to be a No. 1 wide receiver. We’ve just got no idea if he’s got the ability yet. The Irish coaching staff are certainly hoping he does. With the Irish desperately in need of making some more big-chunk plays down the field, Daniels is a guy that looks to fit the bill.

(Highest ranking: 13th. Lowest ranking: 25th)

17. Troy Niklas (TE, So.) After a promising freshman season saw Niklas contribute at outside linebacker and occasionally along the defensive line, head coach Brian Kelly made probably the most ambitious personnel move in his tenure by switching the 6-foot-7, 252-pound sophomore to tight end, where he’ll add another intriguing athlete to a position group that’s awfully talented. Early reports on Niklas have all been mighty impressive, yet the one big question mark is his health. Niklas missed a few spring practices after what was thought to be a concussion. But after being checked by a specialist in Southern California, there’s confidence that those concussions might be a form of ocular migraine headaches, somewhat of a relief. Limitations in the spring mean Niklas will need to take advantage of fall camp if he’s going to be the weapon many believe he’ll be.

(Highest ranking: 11th. Lowest ranking: Unranked x 2)

16. Bennett Jackson (CB, Jr.) If there’s a player I think might be underrated on this list it’s Jackson. Taking over at the boundary cornerback position, the Irish coaching staff is incredibly high on the converted wide receiver, who showed some dynamic athleticism and tackling ability on special teams the past two seasons, and looked at home in limited minutes in the secondary. There may be plenty to worry about in the Irish secondary this year, but Jackson isn’t one. He’s still a raw prospect out on the edge that’s learning the intricacies of the position, but his combination of speed, athleticism and physicality has some believing the Irish have an elite talent at corner. A lingering shoulder injury is something to keep an eye on this fall.

(Highest ranking: 13th. Lowest ranking: 22nd)


  1. irish4006 - Jul 26, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    LOL on the opening paragraph. Debate or no debate, I love this site and thank you for the good work.

    Ishaq is so gifted physically, it will be sad if the mental/psychological side of things can’t be sorted out enough where he becomes the pass rushing monster he has the potential to be…

    • chisports14 - Jul 27, 2012 at 3:23 PM

      I just want to make it known that I will be on campus living around football players this upcoming season and have started a blog… tune in closer to the start of the season for the feeling on campus.

  2. bernhtp - Jul 26, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    I had Daniels and Jackson in the same group. I had Lombard in the next group down. Niklas missed my top-25 because of position change, concussions, and TE depth. I had Ishaq at #10 because he is physically a complete badass and his homesickness/attitude is reportedly now way better. We’ll see.

    This also means that Golson makes the top 15, which is good, but I hope that he makes the top 10 (assuming he starts) in the real world because it’s hard to imagine a great offense where the QB is not well in the top 10. We saw what happened when the QB didn’t make the top 30 last year.

  3. 04domergrad - Jul 26, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    It’s hard for me to get excited about another receiver “poised for a breakout season.” I’ve been let down too many times before. I hear Deion Walker looked great in the spring…

    Bennett Jackson might be the most important person on the Irish roster. With the strength of qbs on the slate this year, he’ll be relied on to shut down the opponent’s #1 receiver. And I think he might be up to the task. I’m hoping he becomes Robert Blanton 2.0.

    And Niklas, he could be the most intriguing player on the roster. On one hand, he could have 10 catches on the season and be a glorified tackle with a minimal impact on the season, OR he could be the gronk to eifert’s Hernandez (based on playing style, not production) and we could look back at him as the dynamic weapon nobody saw coming that catapulted our offense to the next level. Sitting out the spring game just added to the anticipation…

    • bernhtp - Jul 26, 2012 at 7:33 PM

      You’re right about Bennett Jackson. If he really is our top corner, he certainly needs to be in the top 20 or we’re in huge trouble.

      I was also intrigued about Niklas months ago, but I am skeptical that he can make a big difference at the TE position this year. Eifert’s among the best on the team, Koyak is a stud and has reportedly developed, and Welsh might be the best blocker among the TEs. Troy did play some TE in HS, but that’s not quite ND, and not now. The chronic concussion issue is also worrisome. With that said, Troy is an athletic stud. We need to somehow get him involved.

  4. nudeman - Jul 26, 2012 at 7:16 PM

    Lombard – No strong feeling one way or another. People seem high on him. OK.

    Daniels – I recall the Irish Ill. guys commenting on how painfully thin he is. A lot of wideouts are thin, but “painfully” so. Perhaps needs to keep drinking beer.

    Niklas – Still don’t understand the move to TE. Am sure he can handle it no prob. But TE is one of the strongest positions on the team and LB isn’t. Why take this great athlete and put him there? And while we’re at it, Tommy Rees … no, just kidding. You were all reaching for the thumbs down, admit it.

    Bennett Jackson – No strong feeling. Everyone seems to be high on him, so I guess I am now too. If he plays well we’ll only have one CB nicknamed “Toast”.

    Ishaq – Purely on potential. Has yet to show us much, unless you count the INT that Hendrix drilled right between the “1” and the “1” in BG game. I am always of leery of alleged big talents who have “motor” problems.

    Upcoming questions:
    1) How many who’ve never played a down will make the top 15? (so far, 2)
    2) Golson: Top 10 possible? I’m guessing #14
    3) Had he not been hurt, Chris Collinsworth: #23
    4) Doesn’t look like Carlo is gonna’ be here, but his people are on their way to see Keith
    5) Somehow, there should be a spot for Salvi.

    • ndfansince69 - Jul 27, 2012 at 12:35 PM

      I am with you on the Niklas move. I loved the idea of that big, athletic kid, punishing opposing offenses. I have heard (from someone I trust) that there may be some “toughness” issues with him. I don’t know if that was a factor or not. You would think he would have gotten another year to prove himself.

      • irishfb05 - Jul 27, 2012 at 2:37 PM

        Agree totally with you on the Niklas move. Makes no sense to move this freak of nature to 3rd string TE at best.

        On another note I am all for D. Neal moving to CB. I am a firm believer in putting your best athletes on defense. If he is as quick and smooth as everyone says he should be a very good corner. Our receiving corps is not elite but it is in much better shape then our secondary.

  5. kiopta1 - Jul 26, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    Of the new list I want to see Ishaq have the biggest year…him and maybe a wr. I just know that we need a great front 7.

    • nudeman - Jul 27, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      No WR jumps out at me as poised for a big year
      No big WR Spring or BG game, and QB is a problem for WR production
      If it’s EG or AH, they’ll play more of a smash mouth style to protect them
      If they play Rees, well … just watch

  6. masalaswag - Jul 26, 2012 at 9:54 PM

    Will Daniels be missing any time in relation to his alcohol citation?

    • bernhtp - Jul 26, 2012 at 10:42 PM


  7. smurphdoggy29 - Jul 26, 2012 at 11:04 PM

    OH Keith you trickster ! Messing up numbers *HA*

    I love Zeke Motta though and hope he is a major contributor, and of course am looking forward to where Slaughter winds up.

    Pass Catchers = EPIC season write it down.That is where Daniels will be lets just watch.

    Love Niklas too, and I have a sneaking suspicion on this guy. Thanks to Eifert and Koyack Troy may get many a “gash” opportunity that no defense is going to want to be a part of. Just a suspicion though.

    Bennett Jackson and the other CB’s. They are on scholarship for a reason AND and they will be serviceable. I am befuddled by a lack of faith in these guys. They will do fine, “shut down” corners ? No, yet they will do what is needed the majority of the time.

    On that happy note I want to leave with one nugget. In my humble opinion any football game played is won or lost, all other factors being equal, by whom controls the ball for the majority of the time and is judicious with said ball. So the Offensive line is THE key to any team. They get on the field for the majority of minutes in a given game and the team is judicious with the ball, winning follows. This results in making defenses, kicking, games, and special teams better. Leading as stated to winning. Offensive linemen should be ranked higher relatively speaking.

    GO Irish !
    Defeat Navy !
    Pray for those less fortunate
    See YOU in Dublin (Brazen Head, Keith’s buying *rumor on the street*)

    • waydomer - Jul 30, 2012 at 10:27 AM

      What you stated about ball control is totally opposite to Kelly’s philosophy. He doesn’t care who controls ball, he just wants to score points as fats as he can.

  8. mtflsmitty - Jul 26, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    Guys, come on! Remarks like, “We’re in deep trouble if player X isn’t in the top 20”, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m blown away by the consistent difference of opinion among the experts. Deltas of 10+ are common among the experts on nearly every player. It doesn’t make this exercise any less fun, but it certainly calls into question the validity of any of the rankings. To suggest that any of the rankings have some kind of material impact on the future is….just pretty funny.

    • bernhtp - Jul 27, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      What’s wrong with saying that key positions, like QB, need to be key contributors and thus high in the rankings for the team to have a good season? Which team is likely to have a better season: one where the top-5 includes the QB or the long snapper? The points here is simple and I am mystified by how this “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

      Much of the problem from last year was due to lack of performance in key positions, especially QB. Had the QB position performed in the top-10 instead of the (maybe) top 50, the win-loss tally would have been very different. Had the CBs, especially Gray, performed better, we also would have done far better (esp. Michigan) and he would have an NFL contract instead of a question mark.

      Whoever the QB is – the writers are clearly betting on Golson at this point – needs to perform at a high level for the team to do well against the demanding schedule. Ditto for other critical positions like CB.

  9. grattanstanford - Jul 26, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    Thought I would have seen Prince Shembo on this list by now, but his high ceiling and change of position apparently landed him in the top 15.

    Speaking of young men who live in the dorm I founded, Mr. Niklas is an absolute giant. I liked to picture him as a bruiser behind the defensive line and the switch to TE bothers me. Our TEs are the most talented group in the nation… why fix it if it ain’t “broke”? Guess I expect to see major special teams play for Niklas, who will manage to find a way to make an impact on the season.

  10. nudeman - Jul 26, 2012 at 11:47 PM

    You’re doing this just to piss me off, aren’t you? So Tommy Rees has moved UP?

    (Biting tongue, seething, reaching for martini glass, asks family to leave the room)

    • bodonnell1120 - Jul 27, 2012 at 7:26 AM

      “ND: 8th Red Zone Turnover (Leads FBS)” This about says it all…Im pretty sure Rees was responsible for most of them!

  11. bearcatirishfan - Jul 27, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Did anyone else catch the look on BK’s face on the sideline, I think that sums it all up.

  12. bearcatirishfan - Jul 27, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    Did anyone else catch the look on BK’s face on the sideline, pretty much says it all.

    • nudeman - Jul 27, 2012 at 10:48 AM

      2 questions for anyone who can answer them

      1) I’ve seen that clip 20 times and have tried to read BK’s lips.
      Can anyone tell what he says to Rees as he comes off the field?

      2) Many who were there have commented on Rees’ defeatist body language on the sidelines after that INT. Anybody know specifically what they were referring to?

      • dmac4real - Jul 27, 2012 at 11:54 AM

        “Thats the last throw youll ever make”

        I kid. I kid.

        • nudeman - Jul 27, 2012 at 12:12 PM

          Wouldn’t that be nice?

  13. chisports14 - Jul 27, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    I really wonder where Goody, Amir, GAIII (also Josh) and Kap land. I think those guys are the real movers on how our seasons ends up

    • nudeman - Jul 27, 2012 at 11:19 AM

      Not sure about Amir being on the list, given that he’s missed so much practice time. But he was good enough to be on his way to getting significant playing time as a Frosh at USC before getting hurt. He’s probably a top 25 talent for sure, but it’s never been explained what the criteria are for this list, so who knows?

      Goody: If we haven’t seen him yet I’m betting he didn’t make it

      GAIII: Top 10

      Josh: Talented but not top 25 yet

      Kap: No good feel for him

      • bernhtp - Jul 27, 2012 at 11:30 AM

        I would think that a healthy Amir would rank higher than GA3. Even with his injury, Carlisle was a far bigger contributor to USC at RB than Atkinson was at ND.

        Atkinson’s contribution was mainly as kick returner. Given the rule changes, I think it will be hard for him to have as big a contribution there this year.

        GA3 was mixed in the BG game. He showed amazing capability to break tackles and use his speed in the open field. However, he also put the ball on the turf over and over again.

      • chisports14 - Jul 27, 2012 at 2:48 PM

        My personal criteria would be you have 25 guys to choose from based on the idea there are 11 offensive, 11 defensive, and the 3 special teams guys starting.

        From that point I would rank the guys top to bottom 1-25. After that I would look at the guys who will still see significant time and can push there way into the top 25 bouncing guys out.

        Taking that into perspective I think of the 25 starters Kap and Goody are definitely in that 16-20 range and so even with backups bouncing guys down they should get a nod somewhere in this list… or at least by seasons end will have proven to be significant enough contributors to be somewhere on this list.

      • chisports14 - Jul 27, 2012 at 2:53 PM

        Also, I’m with bern about GAIII. I’m scared about his fumblitis. Cierre will be the premier back and kick returns will be scaled back this year… I find it hard to believe GAIII is going to be one of our best players.

        I do however believe in subsequent years after Cierre GAIII will be top 5

        • nudeman - Jul 27, 2012 at 3:09 PM

          I think there is too much being made of GAIII’s fumbling.
          Yes, he fumbled twice in the BG game. And if one wanted to be overly picky, they could say that projects to 20+ fumbles for the year.
          This was one game. More likely it’s an aberration than a predictor of the future for him.

      • bernhtp - Jul 27, 2012 at 9:03 PM

        Nude, given last year, too much cannot be made of turnovers. If I recall, GA3 wasn’t even hit on one of his fumbles; he just dropped it. His ball handling discipline appears poor and he needs to clean it up markedly before he is let onto the field in the fall.

        With that said, I am optimistic. It’s obvious what he needs to do and what the coaches will focus on. GA3 has a rare combination of speed and power. I hope and expect him to get up to the Jonas Gray level long before his senior year.

        Speaking of GA3, his only material contribution last year was as returner, but I’ve seen little discussion of the effects of rule changes there. The intent of the move for kickoffs from the 35 and touchback placement at the 25 is player safety because of less distance and consequent lower-speed collisions. What is unclear is how these new rules will be gamed. It will be easier to kick the ball into the end zone, but that motivation is mitigated by an extra 5 yards on the touchback placement. I expect teams with big legs to kick the ball very high, hope for the catch at the 5, and be much closer for a quick tackle due to the extra time and 5 yards up for the kick team. This might have a perversely opposite effect on player safety. I also expect more onside kicks. Kicking out of the endzone, very high kicks with tighter coverage, and onside kicks all seem to reduce the value of GA3 whose speed thrives on space.

        • nudeman - Jul 28, 2012 at 11:35 AM

          I realize the sensitive nature of turnovers for ND and no one has beat that drum louder than me.

          My point was NOT that turnovers are of little or no consequence.

          My point was that some are drawing sweeping conclusions from a very small sample size. It was one game. Maybe he has a ball security problem. Maybe he doesn’t. About all one can say right now is that it’s something to keep an eye on.

  14. fnc111 - Jul 27, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Rees has many positives to his game. Won’t lose to Maryland or Navy and makes the screen pass almost flawlessly.

    I dare the coaching staff to play TR every snap this season and guaranteed everyone will finally see what some of us already know. Let’s just say his record would be under .500 this season against this schedule. Why some people think he is Kellen Moore or Matt Barkley is beyond me. Just go back to the first three offensive possessions of the USC game last year and tell me again why you think he is so great.

    • nudeman - Jul 27, 2012 at 3:15 PM

      Who is this directed at?
      I honestly don’t see a lot of people anymore saying “Tommy Rees is so great”

  15. fnc111 - Jul 27, 2012 at 1:42 PM


    Carlisle had about 100 yards rushing for USC last year and most if that came against CU I believe. He wasn’t much of a factor in the run game for them nor was GA3 so I give the nod to the ladder because of his ability at returning kicks.

    Saw Niklas walk past our car last week. Freaking GIANT. I think the words out of my mouth were holy **** lol. By far the most imposing guy on the roster so to put him as third or fourth string TE is quite shocking.

    • bernhtp - Jul 27, 2012 at 2:55 PM

      I need to see the history again, but I recall him starting to make a significant contribution when he was injured. GA3 just didn’t play because of his low position on the depth chart, except in mop-up time with McDaniel.

  16. joeschu - Jul 27, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    This pretty much confirms that Kiel rec’ed votes, but didn’t get enough to make the list. Impressive that a early enrollee entry into a 4 way QB race gets votes in this sort of list (or total indictment of the other 3).

    • bernhtp - Jul 27, 2012 at 2:57 PM

      Neal made the list and he isn’t even an EE.

  17. 1historian - Jul 27, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    Coach Kelly;

    This is the year.

    This team is 5/8 YOUR recruits. IOW this team is 5/8 RKGs.

    Being afraid of Michigan, Michigan State, Okla-damn-homa and USC is no longer acceptable. KIt is tiome to make them afraid of

    • irishmurphy25 - Jul 27, 2012 at 7:57 PM

      I agree that there are no excuses but saying that the team is 5/8ths Kelly’s doesn’t actually give the real picture. Kelly now has 3 recruiting classes enrolled at ND, but the first one was quickly put together after Weis was fired and Kelly was hired, many of them were originally recruited by Weis and the ones Kelly was able to persuade to commit were recruited just two months before signing day. The next two classes are now Freshmen and Sophomores. 5th year Seniors, Seniors, and some Juniors (in other words, the upperclassmen) are all Weis recruits.

      All that being said, I don’t think the Irish should be afraid of anyone on the schedule. We can play with anyone, and while USC and OK would be upsets, we are good enough to play with them and everyone else. I think we can be really good this year as long as we have a productive QB and protect the ball.

  18. 1historian - Jul 27, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    It is time that they be afraid of US.

    It is time (past time?) that they look at the schedule and say ” S..t! We have to play Notre Dame next week.”

    You will (rightly) say we’re a year away. (Maybe you won’t.)


    You must remember just this one thing – We are Notre Dame.

    Good enbough is

    • nudeman - Jul 28, 2012 at 11:40 AM

      Correction: We are 1 year AND ONE QUARTERBACK away

  19. 1historian - Jul 27, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    Good enough is NOT good enough.

    And you KNEW THAT when you signed on.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!