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Counting down the Irish: 20-16

Aug 6, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT

USC v Notre Dame Getty Images

After presenting our first five players on the countdown, we move on to another group of players with high expectations. And while four others will certainly draw attention, we come to our annual exercise on evaluating the promise of Ishaq Williams.

Some (including quite a few of you in the comments below) have given up on Williams, the former five-star recruit who has yet to make an impact in the Irish defense. Others believe his senior season finally gives him a true opportunity to own a job and play a position where he’s a natural fit. However you come out on it, Williams is ranked lower today than he was in 2012, about what you’d expect after three seasons of data pointing to an underwhelming career (thus far) in South Bend.

Besides Williams, two sophomores make the list here, both coming off promising — though far from statistically dominant — seasons. It’s also time for the first running back to come off the board, with the panel all feeling pretty much the same way about the Irish’s leading returning rusher.

Counting down the Irish continues.


25. Will Fuller (WR, Soph.)
24. Joe Schmidt (LB, Sr.)
23. Chris Brown (WR, Jr.)
22. Jarrett Grace (LB, Sr.)
21. Malik Zaire (QB, Soph.)


20. Ishaq Williams (DE, Sr.): That Williams enters his senior season without making a true impact on Notre Dame’s roster is one of the few disappointments of the Brian Kelly era (at least of the players that stuck around). But before we shovel what’s left of the dirt onto Williams’ coffin, let’s finish the book.

No player had a tougher road into the starting lineup. Stuck behind NFL draft picks Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo, Williams saw the field right away as a freshman, forced to learn how to play linebacker after chasing down quarterbacks for much of his prep career in urban New York, not exactly a football haven.

Williams has all the physical tools you’d want and an NFL body. He’s also almost the perfect prototype for a strongside defensive end, and at 6-foot-5.5 and 271-pounds, he’s a monster. But we’re out of excuses, with Williams’ final shot at redemption allowing him to play every down in a defense that desperately needs him to perform well.

Count me among the few that hasn’t given up on him. Having erased the “five stars” that came next to his recruiting profile the moment he stepped on campus, if Williams has a productive final season in South Bend he’ll have a career on Sundays in front of him.

Highest Ranking: 15th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (three ballots).


19. Cole Luke (CB, Soph.): That Luke is rated so highly speaks to the promise he showed briefly as a freshman, playing in all 13 games of his freshman year and holding up just fine in coverage. But with Bennett Jackson gone to the NFL, Luke will need to prove he’s ready for a full-time job as a starting cornerback.

Playing in Brian VanGorder’s system will give us a much better idea of Luke’s top-end skills, playing a ton of man coverage after playing primarily zone under Bob Diaco. That’ll put Luke’s feet to the fire, and give us a true understanding as to whether Luke’s a solid Cover 2 cornerback or a guy that can lock down a receiver.

It’s too early in Luke’s career for this to be a make-or-break year. But players on the cusp — with a handful of unproven, but talented defenders on the Irish roster just like Luke — will determine whether the Notre Dame defense can hold up or fall short of expectations.

Highest Ranking: 14th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked: (two ballots).


18. Cam McDaniel (RB, Sr.): The first running back listed in our rankings, McDaniel is the Irish’s leading returning rusher. And while the senior has likely be passed in the depth chart by both Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, McDaniel doesn’t seem likely to give up any carries in his final year of eligibility easily.source: Getty Images

With an up-tempo offense and a quarterback who can run the zone-read, there should be carries for everyone to share. And if we’ve seen anything from McDaniel over his three seasons in South Bend, it’s that you should count him out at your own risk.

Last year, there wasn’t much explosiveness displayed when McDaniel carried the football. Now that he’s less likely to be carrying the load in short yardage or goal line situations, perhaps we can see some big play potential return to the native Texan.

McDaniel hasn’t been the weapon in the passing game that many expected early in his career. But if he’s a capable pass protector and can show solid hands, perhaps McDaniel can carve out his niche on third downs.

Highest Ranking: 9th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (Two ballots).


17. Jarron Jones (DT, Jr.): With about half the 2013 season remaining, Jones was working his way towards the bottom of the Irish roster, not into the Top 25. But a ravaged depth chart gave Jones the opportunity to slide into the nose guard job and resurrect his career. From November on, the Rochester-native went from near-forgotten man to centerpiece of the future, a credit to Jones acknowledging the lightbulb going on.

Jones looks the part of a massive run-stuffer on the interior, a big, strong and sturdy player who held his own while learning on the fly in place of an injured Louis Nix. While he’ll be the tip of the spear when the Irish go to three down linemen, Jones will spend most of his time next to Sheldon Day, taking on a single blocker and dominating a single gap.

Looking every bit the 315 pounds he’s listed at, Jones will play a key role in the Irish defense, freeing up Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt to get to the ball carrier and make plays. He’ll also have an opportunity to take advantage of his knack for making a big play, an impressive skill considering his relative lack of experience on the field.

Entering his junior season (though he has a fifth year of eligibility), Jones is the type of first-time starter you want in the trenches.

Highest Ranking: 11th. Lowest Ranking: Unranked (One ballot).

source: AP

16. Corey Robinson (WR, Soph.): That Robinson ranks ahead of both classmate Will Fuller and junior Chris Brown says quite a bit about the promise the lanky, velcro-handed wide receiver showed in his first season in South Bend. Robinson saw action in all 13 of Notre Dame’s games last year, starting three, with his best performance a three catch, 54 yard effort against the Big Ten Champs Michigan State.

A relatively modest season total of nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown make this ranking more about upside potential than what Robinson’s already accomplished. But entering his sophomore season, we’ve seen plenty of instances — even if they were only in practice videos — of Robinson making circus catches that make defensive backs look silly, something the 6-foot-5 receiver can do pretty easily.

He’ll need to show the ability to beat press coverage and get into his routes quickly. And Robinson also needs to take a step forward as a red zone threat, with a puzzling lack of opportunities presented in 2013 for jump balls. But the sky is the limit for the young receiver, and we’ve yet to hear a bad word about Robinson on or off the field during his time in South Bend.

The Irish coaching staff plucked Robinson out of relative obscurity when they offered the San Antonio native a scholarship. He’ll reward that projection in 2014 with a potentially big season on the horizon.

Highest Ranking: 13th. Lowest Ranking: 22nd.


The selection committee for the 2014 ND Top 25:

Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals)
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune (@TJamesNDI)
Chris Hine, Chicago Tribune (@ChristopherHine)
Team OFD, One Foot Down (@OneFootDown)
Ryan Ritter, Her Loyal Sons (@HLS_NDTex)
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago (@JJStankevitz)
John Walters, Medium Happy (@JDubs88)
John Vannie, ND Nation
Keith Arnold, NBC Sports (@KeithArnold)

  1. andy44teg - Aug 6, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    I can’t tell if that’s a video of Ishaq running or just a picture…..

    • nudeman - Aug 6, 2014 at 1:51 PM

      I think he’s trying to shake a pebble out of his shoe.

    • dickasman - Aug 6, 2014 at 2:06 PM

      Layoff! He’s my all time favorite Hebrew linebacker!

  2. johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    ESPN just reported that Alabama talent level is the best talent ever assembled in the history of CFB. In addition they made a comment that the only team historically that can compete with Bama would be USC.. SEC and USC – Top Dogs

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Aug 6, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      with his constant repetition of these non sequiturs, john g. is starting to take on a persona not unlike Lennie from “Of Mice and Men.”

      so, instead of responding in kind to this non-stop irrelevant commentary, I suggest that “tell me about the rabbits George” is a response better suited to john’s “contributions.”

      • bearcatirishfan - Aug 6, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        Ohhhhh. Does this story end with the collective “rest of us” standing behind John G next to a creek bed?

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 6, 2014 at 12:41 PM

      In other news, Walmart, Inc. is reporting that Walmart is the best place to buy stuff. In addition, the made a comment that the only other place historically that can compete with Walmart would be Super Walmart. Walmart and Super Walmart – Top Dogs

    • johngaltsmom - Aug 6, 2014 at 12:41 PM

      John, get away from that computer and come back to bed.

      • gbsk - Aug 6, 2014 at 7:45 PM

        It sounds like an invitation.

    • Keith Arnold - Aug 6, 2014 at 1:09 PM

      Remember that year where ESPN spent the entire bowl season comparing USC’s team to the rest of the great teams in college football history and they went out and lost the BCS championship to Vince Young?

      I do.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        Notre Dame should have beat USC and USC should have beat Texas…

    • heartofgoldandblue - Aug 6, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      No one here cares brah….Go “sword fight” with some other Trojan fans.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 1:57 PM

        Honestly ” brah ” what are you like 15 or are you just trying to be Patrick Swayze in Point break. Lay off the weed !

      • ndgoldandblue - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:14 PM

        “I’m gonna go to jail and I’ll pay, and Johnny Utah gets his guy. Right?”

      • mcirish27 - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:28 PM

        Swayze, RIP.

      • dwp1991 - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:30 PM

        Vaya Con Dios

      • johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 5:10 PM

        ndgoldandblue – GREAT ONE LOL

    • johngaltismyfriend - Aug 6, 2014 at 4:38 PM

      Saban has been scooping up tons of talent for the Tide for sure. And yet they still lost two games last year. How does that happen?
      Anyway, will you be joining me in World of Warcraft later John? Your dwarf alchemist is bad ass!

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 6, 2014 at 6:06 PM

        WTF is a dwarf alchemist

      • johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 7:01 PM

        I have no idea but I am sure dickass will know

  3. notredameirish1980 - Aug 6, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    Would that be the same USC praised by ESPN 2 seasons ago who went from No. 1 with a bullet to dead and buried in El Paso? Or perhaps the Crimson Tide currently surfing on a 2 game losing streak? The Exceptionally Stupid Prognostication Network would not be my first source for sports news.

  4. johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    You guys crack me up… Ok so can the Irish put up 30 points on Rice ?

    • dickasman - Aug 6, 2014 at 2:08 PM

      Did somebody say crack? WHERE? wHERE? Gimme someeee!

      • andy44teg - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:21 PM

        I knew dickasman was a closet homosexual! Just takes one Freudian slip!

    • irishmob89 - Aug 6, 2014 at 2:11 PM

      Mr. Arnold absolutely owned you John, just thought I would point that out……and yes, Notre Dame will put over 30 on Rice. The real question is, will U$C be able to put more than 7 on Washington State this time around? HAHA

      • johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 2:22 PM

        USC has a coach on par with Brian K and will start out recruiting just about everyone in the country. In 3 years they will be stacked with talent and they will have built up their depth.

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 6, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    Ishaq will have a breakout year, once he realizes this season is one prolonged job interview for the NFL. I expect big things out of McDaniel and Robinson, as well. The Little Admiral is my favorite receiver on the team.

    • nudeman - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:04 PM


      How did that work for Tuitt? Looked and played like he wanted to be anywhere else last year
      So I’d bet against it for Ishaq.

      • mcirish27 - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:33 PM

        Tuitt’s audition for Sundays took place in 2012. Had a fantastic year, was dubbed a potential 1st round pick and potentially dogged it in 2013. Right now all Ishaq has been dubbed is a potential college graduate…(which isn’t so bad, i guess). You can still bet against him but comparing this season to tuitt’s last year is apples and oranges.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 6, 2014 at 11:47 PM

        Yeah, really.

  6. heartofgoldandblue - Aug 6, 2014 at 1:52 PM

    As much as I like Cam…I hope his carries do drop a bit only to see more go to Folston and Bryant. I see TF and GB as the feature backs with Cam playing a bigger role in the passing game as an above average receiver and a capable, trustworthy blocker and hopefully we’ll be in a position for him to close out games. Hold on to the ball and get 1st downs.

  7. fnc111 - Aug 6, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    I’m pretty sure ’87 to ’93 ND teams could more than hang with a couple of programs that were pretty poor for two decades like Bama and SUC. Alabama just got great back in 2009. You want to talk historical? That was a historical dump USC took on the football field until Petey the Cheaty arrived.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 5:18 PM

      Pete Carol is a legend in College and in the NFL…. The PAC 12 is manufacturing TOP winning NFL Coaches. I think the PAC 12 might already be ahead of the SEC.

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 6, 2014 at 6:13 PM

        As much as it pains me to say, I think Pete is probably one of the great college coaches of our time, but the dude was paying players. Reggie Bush was compensated more in college than some of Pete’s assistant coaches.

        I think Pete coaches football the way you have to coach nowadays with the entitled kids coming out of high school, but he was dirty.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Aug 6, 2014 at 7:07 PM

        There is no doubt the guy was dirty, I am not saying he wasn’t but his body of work is simply jaw dropping good. First to win like he did at USC is unreal. What is sad is he didn’t have to pay a single player they had plenty of talent and they can get top recruiting classes every year. Second to be the first NFL coach to win a Super Bowl playing the spread is just insane. My hats off to him and like it or not players lay it on the line for him. The respect him and will do anything to win for PC. He flat out doesnt F around and he wins…

  8. blackirish23 - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    I expect big things from Robinson if he can gain the trust and make a connection with Golson. He runs great routs, doesn’t drop balls, and has the height to be a “go to” receiver on third and long (if a tight end doesn’t step up).

    As Keith pointed out, Robinson will have to do a better job of getting off the line of scrimmage and running through some blocks, but we’ve seen him do it in practice.

    Lastly, I think he can be our best receiving red zone threat. Davaris Daniels had too many moments last season where he just didn’t compete for the ball and we had some costly interceptions. Of course this can be attributed to his injuries, but at the very least Robinson needs to get some touches in the end zone this season.

    Those two receivers lined up on the same side of the field could be a nightmare for defenses. We’ll see, but I can hardly wait.

    Go Irish!!!

  9. rocket1988 - Aug 6, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    Remember when Bobby Boo-shay helped the Bulldogs win the Boy-burn Bowl

  10. mayo1010 - Aug 7, 2014 at 5:37 PM

    i’d like to know who left Jarron Jones unranked? I hope it was a mistake, if not, than that person should not be voting!!!

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