Counting down the Irish: Final grades, 10-6


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.



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.

Notre Dame will face South Carolina in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30


Notre Dame and South Carolina will meet for the first time in nearly 40 years in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Dec. 30 at 3:30 ET (ABC). The Irish and Gamecocks have not played since 1984, a South Carolina win in South Bend. That was part of Notre Dame’s struggles (going 12-11 in 1984 and 1985) that led to Lou Holtz being hired; Holtz, of course, went on to coach the Gamecocks for six seasons after he left the Irish.

Though the No. 21 Irish (8-4) finished the season strongly, including competing gamely at USC a week ago in a 38-27 loss, a driving storyline over the next month will be wondering if head coach Marcus Freeman can handle this bowl game better than the second half of the Fiesta Bowl faceplant last year in his first game as Notre Dame’s leader.

No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) enjoyed an even more impressive finish to the season, knocking both Tennessee and Clemson out of the College Football Playoff in its final two games of the season. Not that gambling spreads mean anything on the football field, but to give an idea how unexpected those two wins were, realize the Gamecocks were expected to lose them by a combined 37.5 points and instead won them by a combined 26 points.

There may be some rough parallels between South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer and Freeman, though Beamer is a year ahead in his head-coaching career.

Beamer was an unexpected hire in Columbia in 2021, never having been a head coach before and most recently the associate head coach and tight ends coach at Oklahoma for three seasons. The Gamecocks went 7-6 in his first year, his head-coaching inexperience perhaps rearing its head as they lost their first three games against Power-Five competition and four of their first five, the exception coming against worse-off Vanderbilt.

Thus, the surge to end the 2022 season stands out, particularly since it again took until October to notch a win against a Power-Five opponent, losing to both Arkansas and, more understandably, Georgia in September.

South Carolina found its most success this season through the air, led by former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. He averaged 230.5 yards per game and 7.9 yards per attempt while completing 66.6 percent of his passes. The Gamecocks managed just 123.3 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per attempt.

Their rushing defense is one of the worst in the country, which could play right into the Irish offensive strength. Opponents gained 0.194 expected points per rush attempt against South Carolina, the No. 123 ranking in the country, per

Notre Dame fell to Ohio State, 21-10, to open Freeman’s genuine tenure, a worthwhile loss though one quickly diminished when the Irish fell to Marshall just a week later. Of course, the Buckeyes’ relied on that season-opening win to successfully burgeon their Playoff résumé today.

The Irish already know they will be without both senior cornerback Cam Hart and junior quarterback Drew Pyne in the bowl game. Hart announced last week he will return for a fifth season at Notre Dame, but a shoulder injury will sideline him this month, while Pyne announced Friday he intends to enter the transfer portal, presumably when it officially opens tomorrow.

Star tight end Michael Mayer will almost certainly opt out of the bowl game, his top-20 draft stock assured, and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey could logically, as well.

Notre Dame nearly ended up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28, per reports. The ACC could place the Irish in any of three bowls, the top tier of ACC-affiliated bowls below the Orange Bowl, with some input from the bowls and from the University. That give-and-take seemingly delayed the announcement for a stretch of Sunday.

Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility


Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need


Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
Getty Images

Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter