Michigan v Notre Dame

Counting down the Irish: Final grades, 10-6

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To read the rationale for our final rankings, see 25-2120-16, and 15-11. To see our preseason rankings, check out the Top 25

 

As we get into our Top 10, we begin to understand why the future is still rather bullish for Notre Dame. The five players listed below all have at least one season of eligibility remaining. That means that a group that performed more than admirably this season will be expected to do even more for the team in 2015. (The entire Top 10 has at least a year of eligibility remaining.)

How this group got here is an interesting contrast. One defensive back barely cracked the Top 40 in the preseason. One team captain saw his regular season cut short by injury. And one player’s struggles encapsulated an entire season.

Let’s get on to No. 10-6 in our final grade.

 

2014 IRISH TOP 25 FINAL GRADES

25. Christian Lombard (RT, GS)
24. Malik Zaire (QB, Soph.)
23. Romeo Okwara (DE, Jr.)
22. Drue Tranquill (S, Fr.)
21. Nyles Morgan (LB, Fr.)
20. Max Redfield (S, Soph.)
19. Steve Elmer (RG, Soph.)
18. Ben Koyack (TE, Sr.)
17. Elijah Shumate (S, Jr.)
16. Greg Bryant (RB, Soph.)
15. C.J. Prosise (WR, Jr.)
14. Isaac Rochell (DL, Soph.)
13. Nick Martin (C/LG, Sr.)
12. Cody Riggs (CB, GS)
11. Jarron Jones (DT, Jr.)

 

Matthias Farley
Matthias FarleyAP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File

 

10. Matthias Farley (DB, Sr.) That Matthias Farley checks in with a Top 10 ranking has to be one of the better reclamation stories of the Brian Kelly era. That the senior defensive back could find the field — let alone kick the dirt off of him after being buried this offseason (both on the depth chart and by the fanbase) — is a credit to the team’s best defensive playmaker.

Farley’s stat line is the team’s most complete. He’s the team’s fifth-leading tackler, even while playing a fraction of the snaps of the team’s other starters. He’s the co-leader in interceptions with four. His 6.5 TFLs leads the secondary, and is behind just Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell.

In a defensive system that’s predicated on big plays, Farley had a knack for creating them. After moving to cornerback during spring — and a nickel back spot few saw him playing with the preseason depth chart looking stacked — Farley was thrust into the starting job after KeiVarae Russell’s two-semester suspension hit and Cody Riggs was forced to stay outside.

He’s far from a perfect player, and Farley’s lack of elite athleticism and gambling tendencies still manage to see him on the wrong side of a big play occasionally. But few did more for the Irish in 2014, and Farley has cemented his role in the 2015 defense.

Preseason: Unranked (38th). Final: 10th.

 

Notre Dame v Florida State
Notre Dame v Florida StateStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

 

9. Corey Robinson (WR, Soph.): While the touchdown catch that didn’t count was likely the biggest play of the season, Robinson took a large step forward in his sophomore season. He finished second on the team with 40 catches, 539 yards and five touchdowns. He also made some of the biggest plays of the season, a critical fourth-down conversion against Florida State the most heroic.

Robinson was named an Academic All-American, the only true sophomore to do so in the country. He won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete award. He also continued to blossom as a receiver, adding elements to his game that made him a more valuable player thanks to his versatility.

Battling a broken thumb from preseason camp, Robinson’s stats were likely muted because of the struggles that injury put on his ability to catch the football. But even with a cast on his hand, he played 12 games — the team’s most reliable receiver from start to finish (even with a few uncharacteristic drops).

With two years left in the program, Robinson will pair with Will Fuller to create a duo the Irish haven’t seen since Golden Tate and Michael Floyd in 2015.

Preseason: 16th. Final: 9th.

 

Rice v Notre Dame
Rice v Notre DameJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

8. Sheldon Day (DT, Jr.): Widely acknowledged as Notre Dame’s best defensive lineman, Day put together a season that backs that claim, even if it wasn’t the breakout many expected from him. A shift inside in Brian VanGorder’s four-down system was a welcome change for the 6’2″, 285-pounder and had many expecting Day’s junior season to be one that landed him on the national stage.

But whether it was a lack of established talent around him or opponents focusing on slowing him down, Day didn’t break loose. That’s not to say his numbers weren’t good — his 7.5 TFLs were only less than Jaylon Smith, and done in just 10 games after a knee injury ended his regular season early.

Day seemed to lead the team in almost plays, an unmeasurable stat that’ll always end up disappointing in the end. He was productive, making 38 tackles and breaking up three passes, but his lone sack was far from the double-digit number some (read: me) thought possible.

Day received a draft grade from the NFL’s advisory board. It likely told him to stay in school, with the junior needing to prove he can stay healthy as well as live up to the praise the coaching staff has for him. That’ll have to take place in 2015, where he’ll again have sky-high expectations.

Preseason: 3rd. Final: 8th.

 

Notre Dame v Florida State
Notre Dame v Florida StateStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

 

7. Everett Golson (QB, Sr.): In many ways, Everett Golson’s 2014 season will be defined by 2015. If Golson remedies the turnovers that turned him from elite player to maddening one, it’ll be seen as a frustrating step on the learning curve. (Remember, before Jimmy Clausen’s sensational junior season, he threw 18 interceptions as a second-year player.) If he doesn’t, he’ll finish his career on the sidelines, a career that’ll need greater inspection for its historical context.

Golson’s struggles turning the football over forced Brian Kelly to reboot the quarterback position. For the Music City Bowl, that means playing both Golson and sophomore Malik Zaire. For the future, those ramifications are unknown. The leash he allowed his quarterback this season forces you to believe that Kelly still thinks Golson is his best option. But the head coach also knows a mistake-prone quarterback can’t be allowed to ruin a 2015 team that should be the best of his squads since arriving in South Bend.

When things are going well, few are as good as Golson. His arm strength is elite. His athleticism is near that level. He’s a capable runner, as his team-leading eight touchdown runs suggest. But Golson’s 22 turnovers in the season’s last nine games force all those things to the background, making 2015 a make or break year.

Preseason: 4th. Final: 7th.

 

Cole Luke, Adrian Flemming
Cole Luke, Adrian FlemmingAP Photo/Julio Cortez

 

6. Cole Luke (CB, Soph.): Notre Dame’s sophomore cornerback emerged in 2014, giving the Irish a cornerback capable of playing the man-to-man coverage that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder covets. As the team co-leader in interceptions, Luke’s season in place of KeiVarae Russell forced a lot on his young shoulders, with the Arizona native standing strong on a defense that crumbled around him.

Luke earned the praise of his head coach multiple times this season. That’s likely because Luke played well against a slate of receivers that had to be among the most challenging in college football. Week after week, Luke faced receivers that were among the elite in the college game. And more often than not, Luke acquitted himself well.

It wasn’t all pretty. The USC game will serve as sophomore game tape the same way KeiVarae Russell’s performance in Ann Arbor did after a disappointing game in 2013. But assuming Russell returns for next season, the Irish cornerback duo will be a strength, giving Notre Dame two cornerbacks that could be called No. 1s in just about any other program.

Preseason: 19th. Final: 6th.

Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

echoes
@NDFootball Twitter
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DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.

He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:

Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend

 

 

Notre Dame names 7 captains for 2017 team

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.

McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.

After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.

Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.

 

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.