In his two seasons in South Bend, Hunter Bivin has found himself shifting inside and out as he looks for a proper fit along the Irish offensive line. And even though he was manning the left tackle position during the Blue-Gold game—and wearing the familiar No. 70 jersey that Zack Martin wore during the most impressive offensive line career in Notre Dame history—Bivin’s game is still a work in progress.
Entering his junior season, Bivin’s career seems at a crossroads. While he’s technically No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ronnie Stanley, few think he’ll play over Alex Bars. And while he once projected as a potential heir apparent to Nick Martin at center, he now faces challengers young and old at that position as well.
There’s still three seasons of eligibility remaining in the Kentucky native’s career. Let’s dig into Bivin’s future, an important year for his development.
6’5.5″, 302 lbs.
Junior, No. 70, OL
Bivin was an elite recruit. Rivals ranked him a Top 250 prospect. 247 Sports saw him as one of the top offensive linemen, and players, in the country. He was an All-State performer in Kentucky, an Under Armour All-American, and played for the USA Team.
Bivin had offers from Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Michigan before choosing the Irish early in the process. Bivin was a starter on a state championship basketball team and also the state’s best shot putter.
Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2014): Made his Irish debut in the second half of a lopsided victory over Rice. Played in five games, including on special teams against Florida State.
WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEAR
After last spring, it looked like Bivin was on the trajectory to be the team’s next center. Or at least that’s what I thought.
When it’s all said and done, expect Bivin to be the Irish’s next starting center after Nick Martin. That it means he could wait two more seasons to see the starting lineup is a sign that everything went according to plan.
Athletically, Bivin has everything needed to be an elite college football player. And with no time constraints to see the field, Harry Hiestand can continue to mold Bivin to his liking, taking the athlete impressive enough to win state titles in basketball and shot put and turn him into a gifted player.
The battle up front will be one worth watching over the next few years, especially as Christian Lombard and Martin move on. But Bivin looks like the kind of player who has what it takes to win a starting job… even if it’s not right away.
With Bivin shifting outside during the spring, it’s hard to tell if that was a depth issue or where this coaching staff sees Bivin fitting. Either way, time to check the batteries on the Crystal Ball.
Bivin’s got everything you’d want—on paper—when it comes to an offensive line recruit. That said, it’s time for those qualities to translate to the field, something we haven’t seen yet.
It’s not necessarily fair to call Bivin an underachiever, especially when you want to have the type of depth Notre Dame has developed up front. It’s also worth noting that the two positions the Irish have worked Bivin have required some difficult playing time battles: Matt Hegarty just moved to Oregon and was inserted as the team’s starting center after he couldn’t beat out Nick Martin. And Ronnie Stanley will follow Zack Martin into the first round of the NFL Draft.
So let’s hold our breath a little bit longer.
For all the patience I called for just a few seconds ago, I’m thinking that Bivin’s time at Notre Dame will only come if things don’t go according to plans. At this point, I think it’s going to take an injury to get him into the lineup, and that he’s still better suited to play on the interior of the offensive line.
In the Blue-Gold game, Bivin gave up too much depth in pass protection as a tackle, going against a defensive line that isn’t exactly overflowing with pass rushers. And while he’s got the versatility and size to be a valuable program player for five seasons, I just don’t see him making the move to the starting lineup at any position other than center, and Tristen Hoge could be a more viable option in 2016—not to mention Sam Mustipher.
You don’t hit every recruiting victory out of the ball park. So while Bivin hasn’t progressed like some have expected, he’s a big, strong, athletic kid. And that’ll be useful sooner than later.