Listed measurements: 6-foot-2 ¾, 230 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: A senior, Bauer has two seasons of eligibility remaining, thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.
Depth Chart: Bauer remains behind fifth-year linebacker Drew White in the usual defensive alignments, but that increasingly became a timeshare in 2020 as Bauer excelled more in passing-specific situations.
Recruiting: A four-star prospect and the No. 5 inside linebacker in the country, per rivals.com, as well as the No. 158 overall recruit, Bauer chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan State, Penn State and Vanderbilt. Given how notable a recruit he was, Bauer’s commitment 18 months ahead of his expected signing put a damper on the potential drama of the process.
CAREER TO DATE
Bauer has excelled in all sorts of special teams moments, to the extent that his own celebrating proved costly, and in situational spots on defense, but he has not yet found a regular role on defense.
His 2018 featured spot moments of special teams success, followed by being named the special teams MVP in 2019 while notching only 91 defensive snaps. That number finally skyrocketed in 2020, taking 275 defensive snaps, primarily in third-down duty.
2018: 12 games, 10 tackles.
2019: 7 games, 12 tackles.
2020: 12 games, 26 tackles including 4.5 for loss with one interception against Pittsburgh.
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
So many critics of NIL legislation got hung up on the concept of young men and women making their due profits, and thus missed the increased possibility of getting to know these young men and women beyond their respective competitions.
Increased exposure for Bauer, for example, will lead to an increase in exposure of his always-present hashtag, #BeADog. That is not some generic motivational catchphrase. Rather, it is a deep and personal reminder for Bauer.
It is the catchphrase embraced by his former high school classmate Ian Malesiewski, a wrestler who broke his neck while trying to qualify for an international competition.
Bauer could (and should) make money off his own name, image and likeness. He could (and should) also amplify the attention on Malesiewski’s advocacy for those with disabilities.
The idea of young men and women profiting from college sports should not so blind the short-sighted from recognizing these additional possibilities for good works.
Bauer has never been able to conceal either his emotions or his aggression on the field. He once celebrated so violently it resulted in an injury to himself. A few times he has bordered on or drawn penalties for questionable hits. In ways both flawed and earnest, Bauer is a throwback linebacker.
While playing for former Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea, Bauer had to keep track of myriad assignments and make instant decisions fitting within the complex scheme. Wholesale, Lea’s defense worked, as evidenced by just about every metric across the last three seasons, including two Playoff appearances.
But new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s emphasis on instincts and playing free may better fit Bauer, in particular.
“Coach Lea is a great coach and he asked of us to know a lot of different rules and be very detail-oriented, which is really important to our process, but sometimes it was difficult to play with your natural instincts,” Bauer said in late March, only a few weeks into learning Freeman’s system. “It was a really good time for me to be able to learn how to be a part of a unit and do one job. That was very important to my growth.
“I do think it might be easier this year to learn both (middle and weakside) positions. … It’s a bit easier because [Freeman] has been teaching it already, and there’s less complexity maybe in making calls and changing things right before the snap, more just knowing rules and how to execute at the end of the day.”
The challenge for Freeman, more than for Bauer but also for Bauer, becomes getting both Bauer and White onto the field at the same time. Linebacker was not a position of concern in 2020 for the Irish, even aside from Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but is also not a position of overwhelming confidence at the moment.
That both creates an opportunity for Bauer to force a shake-up and a lack of a need to do so.
Notre Dame does not yet know who will be its primary weakside linebacker; first it must figure out its primary rover. At first blush, neither would be Bauer. But he showed enough in 2020 to make that a possibility.
Bauer is fast enough to stick with most tight ends and running backs in coverage, while also aggressive enough to serve as an effective blitzer. Hence his third-down applicability last season. Continuing primarily in that role would give Bauer plenty of chances to impact in 2021. Third downs are, after all, obviously important.
And in “just” that role, Bauer would still have plenty of energy to make Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s life easier.
We define a “difference maker” as someone who demands and can beat a double team. @____bb52 wins vs a double here and shows relentless effort to get to the ball! #TechniqueTuesday ☘️😬 pic.twitter.com/JGwS4i4HRB
— Brian Polian (@BrianPolian) May 25, 2021
DOWN THE ROAD
Bauer may end up the rare player that actually capitalizes on the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. After a third year as the starter in 2021, White’s college time may be up (though he would still technically have one season of eligibility remaining). At that point, despite the influx in linebacker recruiting in the last cycle, Bauer should be White’s heir apparent.
In normal times, Bauer would not have that additional season of eligibility, but these are not normal times, particularly in how the NCAA is handling eligibility. Notre Dame may flinch at utilizing many years of pandemic exceptions, but a starting middle linebacker with Bauer’s experience and talent would be the type of case Freeman and Irish head coach Brian Kelly would have to consider.
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter