Looking back at Notre Dame’s Playoff run in 2018, quarterback Ian Book’s impact on the season seems rather obvious. Hindsight will do that. Heading into the season, a dozen media members ranked Book at No. 29 in the annual “Counting Down the Irish” polling.
Book was behind then-freshman safety Houston Griffith (No. 26) and junior receiver Michael Young (No. 28). And even though Book went on to win eight games, setting the program record for completion percentage in a season, that was not the worst ranking in retrospect. He was the backup quarterback, and this exercise logically skews toward starters. It was a mistake, but an understandable one.
The greatest oversight involved a player who proceeded to lead Notre Dame with four interceptions and finished fourth in tackles with 67. Starting safety Jalen Elliott received one vote, a vote ranking Elliott as the No. 21 most-impactful player on the Irish roster which slotted him at No. 36 in the overall rankings.
The wisdom of crowds gets many things right, like ranking Te’von Coney and Jerry Tillery as Nos. 1 and 2, but it got Elliott’s placement wrong. Very wrong.
When considering this year’s results — gathered from 13 media members on the Irish football beat who were asked to ponder the subjective ways players contribute rather than purely objective stats — keep such mistakes in mind, particularly as looking at these Others Receiving Votes, those who finished outside the top 25. (The top 25 reveal will begin Monday.)
A few of these “others” warrant more attention than the rest …
— Last year, punter Tyler Newsome finished No. 24 while appearing on five ballots. Kicker Justin Yoon climbed to No. 21, named on 10 of 12 ballots. Nowadays, freshman punter Jay Bramblett was named on one ballot, in the No. 25 spot, and junior kicker Jonathan Doerer was ranked twice.
A failure to notice Bramblett this season could conceivably be explained away by a prolific offense minimizing a punter’s chances to impact a game. An early enrollee, his spring showing did not offer much encouragement, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly remains unconcerned.
“We really like his makeup,” Kelly said Friday, starting the preseason. “Did he punt it great? No, he didn’t punt it great in the spring game, but we like his makeup. We think he’s going to stand up to the environment in big games. That’s just the matter of repetition. We like his demeanor and his makeup. We think he’s going to be fine.”
Doerer, however, will be noticed, be it in a ho-hum good way or in a disastrous kicks out-of-bounds way. (Clearly the voters viewed “most-impactful” with a positive connotation, as intended, though the adjective itself could be argued as ambiguous.) Wayward kicks have been the theme with Doerer the last two years, but that gradual escalation is part of Kelly’s reasoning in continuing to endorse Doerer.
“Jonathan has had a really good build up and we have seen the kind of confidence build up that is necessary for us to feel confident moving into camp,” Kelly said. “He’s going to get a lot of work. We’re going to put him in a lot of situations. This is not a guy that has the veteran presence that the all-time leading kicker here at Notre Dame, Justin Yoon, had. … We feel like we’ve seen the kind of progress necessary for us to feel really confident that he’s going to be able to do the job for us.”
— With neither the kicker nor the punter taking up spots in the top 25, assuredly all 22 starters manage to, right? Wrong. In part because of the pending position competition, neither of the two frontrunners at Buck linebacker made it. Junior Jordan Genmark Heath stole just enough votes from sophomore Jack Lamb, but if combining the two, the position would have reached No. 25 and bumped off … well, wait for Monday for that.
— Similarly, only one true cornerback made the top 25, senior Troy Pride. The sophomore duo hoping to line up opposite Pride received nine votes spread across eight ballots. Ignoring the one vote for TaRiq Bracy a few spots behind Houston Griffith, combining the tallies would have moved the No. 2 cornerback into the top 25.
— Just after Lamb and Griffith comes another sophomore, one never in contention for a starting gig this spring, yet one who probably would have been in the top 25 if not for doubts about his September availability: receiver Kevin Austin (pictured at top).
“He’s still on our team,” Kelly said. “But it’s a day-to-day process with him.”
— The highest freshman? Safety Kyle Hamilton at No. 29, appearing on six ballots. No freshman cracked the top 25.
— 13 of last year’s top 25 are no longer on the Notre Dame roster, including the entire top 7. Largely as a result of such, no player in the 2018 top 25 fell off in this iteration.
— Before getting to the actual list, a sincere thank you to the 13 participants, listed below. Without them this series would obviously not exist, and they get little (read: nothing) out of it aside from perhaps some organized thoughts as the preseason commences. To each of that baker’s dozen, I will raise a drink this weekend.
Others receiving votes:
Sophomore linebacker Jack Lamb — 28 points, six ballots, high of No. 19.
Sophomore cornerback Houston Griffith — 27 points, six ballots, high of No. 20.
Sophomore receiver Kevin Austin — 19 points, four ballots, high of No. 11.
Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton — 18 points, six ballots, high of No. 18.
Junior kicker Jonathan Doerer — 12 points, two ballots, high of No. 16.
Junior defensive back Avery Davis — 11 points, one ballot, No. 15.
Sophomore linebacker Shayne Simon — 8 points, one ballot, No. 18.
Sophomore cornerback TaRiq Bracy — 6 points, three ballots, all at No. 24.
Senior defensive end Jamir Jones — 6 points, one ballot, No. 20.
Sophomore linebacker Bo Bauer — 5 points, one ballot, No. 21.
Freshman walk-on kicker Harrison Leonard — 5 points, one ballot, No. 21.
Junior linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath — 4 points, two ballots, high of No. 23.
Freshman defensive tackle Jacob Lacey — 4 points, two ballots, high of No. 23.
Sophomore receiver Joe Wilkins — 3 points, one ballot, No. 23.
Freshman running back Kyren Williams — 2 points, one ballot, No. 24.
Junior tight end Brock Wright — 2 points, two ballots, both at No. 25.
Freshman punter Jay Bramblett — 1 point, one ballot, No. 25.
Mike Berardino, Indianapolis Star
Michael Bryan, 18 Stripes
Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold Illustrated
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Ellen Geyer, The Observer
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Jack Leniart, Slap the Sign
Marek Mazurek, Fighting Irish Wire
Tim O’Malley, Irish Illustrated
Ryan Ritter, Her Loyal Sons
Pete Sampson, The Athletic
John Vannie, ND Nation
Josh Vowles, One Foot Down