There is ambivalence in preseason projections on whether 2017 will be a bounce-back year for Notre Dame on the gridiron. However, there is unanimity when it comes to the left side of the offensive line with fifth-year senior tackle Mike McGlinchey and senior guard Quenton Nelson, both team captains.
The two third-team Associated Press All-Americans from last year are far-and-away deemed the strength of the team on a line that returns four starters.
• Street & Smith's has both as first-team preseason All-Americans.
• Lindy’s ranked them the nation’s No. 7 “Dynamic Duo” in the country — the lone offensive linemen represented in their survey. Nelson made first-team preseason All-American while McGlinchey was on the second unit. The line collectively is ranked the third best nationally.
• Athlon has both as second-team All-Americans in the preseason.
• Phil Steele has Nelson as a preseason first-team pick and the Irish line No. 6 nationally.
Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand threw some caution to the wind when the duo received much adulation prior to last season.
“I don’t think either side has the world licked, to be honest with you,” Hiestand said at the time of comparing the left side with the right. “…It’s all got to get better. It will come in time.”
In 2017, it’s now or never for the left side.
Everything at Notre Dame has a Gold Standard. Here are the ones on the left side since the post-World War II era — and it’s no accident the Fighting Irish were champions or in championship contention that season. At the end of 2017, these can serve as a basis of comparison.
1. George Connor/Bill Fischer (1946-47) — This is one reason why these two teams are considered the greatest of all time. Left tackle Connor and left guard Fischer are both in the College Football Hall of Fame — and both won the Outland Trophy during their careers, with Connor the first such recipient.
2. Frank Varrichione/Ray Lemek (1953) — Head coach Frank Leahy’s final unbeaten team at Notre Dame featured this tandem on the left side. Five-time Pro pick and first-round choice Varrichione was at tackle. Future captain Lemek, who played nine years in the NFL and also made the Pro Bowl, was the guard.
3. Paul Seiler/Tom Regner (1966) — They were two of Notre Dame’s top three picks in the 1967 NFL Draft after helping the Irish to a national title. Left tackle Seiler was the first at No. 12, while Regner was third at No. 23. In between at No. 15 was nine-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Alan Page.
4. Andy Heck/Tim Ryan or Dean Brown/Tim Grunhard (1988) — This one gets extra credit because Notre Dame’s most recent national champions were able to flip both sides for specific situations (the positions were listed quick and strong side, as opposed to left and right).
First-round tackle pick Heck (a former tight end) and fifth-round selection/guard Ryan were often listed on the left side, but quite regularly — like on quarterback Tony Rice’s 65-yard touchdown run in the win at No. 2 USC in 1988 — the left side had 11-year pro and second-round guard Grunhard with tackle Brown on the left side.
5. Zack Martin/Chris Watt (2011-13) — This combination started three consecutive years on the left side, highlighted by advancing to the BCS Championship game in 2012. Martin already has been in the Pro Bowl three times in as many years (and All-Pro twice), while Watt, who has started eight NFL games despite being slowed by an injury, has moved to center and was recently picked up by the New Orleans Saints.
6. Ronnie Stanley/Nelson (2015) — They played only one year together, before Stanley became a first-round selection. The duo helped Notre Dame finish with more than 200 yards rushing (207.6) in a full season — bowl games included — for the first time since 1998 while keeping the Irish in Playoff conversation right until the final play of the regular season.