Five Thoughts On Our 25 Most Important Players Ranking
We don’t know when the 2020 season will start, or if it will start.
On time, mid-September, October, spring 2021 or nada until next fall. It’s a dart throw.
Whenever it does, we hope you’re better prepared for it after spending the past month reading our countdown of Notre Dame’s 25 most important players for this season (or 26, including an honorable mention).
Our staff of five each submitted ballots, and in Associated Press top 25 form, the 25 highest point totals made the list. We defined importance as what happens if a known commodity is taken away, or if a potential breakout player in line for a bigger role meets expectations.
Now that it’s done, I’ll share a few of my thoughts on the final product and some of my takeaways.
The Entire Offensive Line Deserved To Make It
If you’ve gone anywhere on the college football interwebs, praise about Notre Dame’s offensive line has been thrown at you. It has been called the best in the country by some.
Should that come true, the offensive line will be a core component of Notre Dame’s offensive success. The reason anyone might think so highly of it is because all five starters returned and Notre Dame has never had as much experience up front as it does now (114 combined starts).
The praise and lofty expectations are bestowed upon the five starters themselves. The Irish have pro talent on the line. The allure of experience and NFL potential at each spot is why many think a line that had an at times bumpy 2019 can make the jump to elite. Take, say, any two of the five starters out of the equation, and no one’s crowning the Irish as Joe Moore Award contenders.
That’s why I put all five on my ballot. My colleagues excluded some of them because of Josh Lugg’s presence, which I can understand even if I don’t think the same way. It’s not crazy. Lugg is a fine sixth man who filled in admirably last year at right tackle when Robert Hainsey was injured against Virginia Tech. If he had to play again, Notre Dame’s line wouldn’t sink.
But if Lugg were in the rotation now, would everyone expect as much out of Notre Dame’s line? I doubt it. That five-starter allure would be gone. Lugg started five games, but that’s still eight less than the least experienced member, Jarrett Patterson. I ultimately couldn’t knock down the guys who will actually be playing — and hopefully for Notre Dame delivering upon expectations — because their backup is good.
Had To Adhere To The Rules
We ran into a bizarre polling situation after votes arrived. Kicker Jonathan Doerer was on all five ballots — but finished 27th in points, with 13. Punter Jay Bramblett (14 points) was 26th despite appearing on two of five ballots. Kurt Hinish, who finished 25th, had 16 points and appeared on four of five ballots.
Doerer, though, was ranked between 22 and 25 on all ballots. (I ranked him 25th). Bramblett was No. 14 on one ballot, giving him 12 points off one vote alone, which nearly matched Doerer’s total. Hinish’s high ranking was 16. Even Isaiah Pryor (No. 24 with 20 points), was only on two of five ballots, but was 17th and 15th on them.
I was tempted to boot one the three above Doerer and include him, because we all thought he was one of the 25 most important. But not important enough, I guess. And if I made one exception, I’d have to justify not making countless others that would have been reasonable.
We Think Highly Of The Receivers
Tight end Tommy Tremble is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver, with 16 career catches. The pass-catching corps is light on experience, but not on ability. Tremble was our highest-rated of the group, at No. 6, but Branden Lenzy (No. 9), Kevin Austin (No. 12), Lawrence Keys III (No. 18) and Northwestern grad transfer Bennett Skowronek (No. 22) all made the list.
There’s not much clarity of the pecking order, but we clearly reached the conclusion the position will be a strength for the Irish. Austin, the likely ‘W’ receiver and Chase Claypool’s successor, is expected to be a focal point. Lenzy and his elite speed are due for a hefty bump in snaps, Keys’ has an opportunity in the slot to be more than an occasional flash and Skowronek is a proven target after catching 110 passes from 2018-19.
If there’s a game-changer in the group, it’s likely Austin or Lenzy. Collectively, our votes say we have more faith in it being Lenzy. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer. Austin has as much potential as anyone to be a top-five most important player at the end of the year.
Buck Linebacker Indeed Wide Open
Only Lou Somogyi and Todd Burlage included a candidate for the Buck linebacker spot in their top 25s — Lou ranked Jack Lamb No. 16, and Todd put Shayne Simon at No. 24.
I can only speak for me, but I did not include any of the contenders for Buck because anything I could say about Lamb, I felt I could say about Simon. The following graph reads like a logical projection for either one:
Lamb/Simon claiming the job and performing well would indeed be important to Notre Dame. Buck is a spot for one of the defense’s best playmakers. He is a former top-200 recruit who has flashed when on the field, but is coming off injury and have had limited snaps. He still has to go and prove he can handle a base defense role.
Ultimately, the lack of distinction and a clear frontrunner in the group made equal as candidates for the list. I’d either vote them both or vote neither, and electing both meant picking someone who was going to be a backup. I didn’t want to do that.
By The Numbers
Offensive players: 13
Defensive players: 12
By position: Quarterback (1), running back (2), wide receiver (4), tight end (1), offensive line (5), defensive line (4), linebacker (2), cornerback (3), safety (3)
Others receiving votes: eight. Only two of those eight were on multiple ballots.
The Top 25
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue & Gold Illustrated.
• Watch our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel
• Sign up for Blue & Gold's news alerts and daily newsletter
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Like us on Facebook.