Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 15: Zeke Correll
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 15: Zeke Correll

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2021.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to help Irish reach that goal.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football junior center Zeke Correll
Correll is poised to start at center for the Irish. (Twitter@ZekeCorrell)

The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.

Next in the countdown is junior offensive lineman Zeke Correll, who collected 46 points in our poll. Correll won a tiebreaker with junior cornerback Cam Hart because he held the highest individual vote of the two.

Why Correll Is Ranked No. 15

Senior Jarrett Patterson might be the only regular starter returning from last year's offensive line, but Correll has a case for being just as important to Notre Dame in 2021.

Correll, after all, started two games for Patterson at center last year when Patterson was lost for the season because of a foot injury. Patterson wasn't able to practice in the spring after recovering from surgery, so Correll took over in the middle of the Irish offensive line.

Correll is expected to be the routine starter for Notre Dame at center going forward. Correll has bulked up from 270 pounds to 295 since he arrived in South Bend. He had an ankle injury of his own that sidelined him during the Syracuse game and ACC Championship Game against Clemson.

Staying healthy will be paramount for Correll this season. Notre Dame's offensive line had 114 combined starts going into last season. That number has dwindled to 32 this year, with Patterson owning 21 one of them. Correll only has the two starts under his belt, but he's being counted on to start every week this fall.

Correll’s Status Entering The Season

Correll is optimistically anticipating his opportunity. He spent his freshman year in 2019 in the weight room transforming his body. He only appeared in four games that year. He only played in two games last year before his two starts in the latter half of the season.

Though it may feel like Correll has been a mainstay on Notre Dame's offensive line because he's been around for a few years and has always had his name floating around the program in anticipation he’d soon be a regular starter, that has not come to fruition until now.

Correll has put in the work to be in this position. While biding his time as a freshman, he went against Notre Dame's top defensive unit as a member of the scout team. Then last year's reps against eventual national champion Alabama in the College Football Playoff will be valuable to build off going into this year.

“It’s been a long process, but it’s been very enjoyable,” Correll said in the spring. “Just being able to be with these guys every day and get after it with them is a lot of fun.”

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Correll is going to be sandwiched between two veteran offensive lineman, so a successful season for him would be being able to not look like the new guy. It's as simple as that.

Patterson will flank Correll at one guard spot and Marshall transfer Cain Madden will be next to him at the other. Patterson's history is well documented. He's the most experienced offensive lineman who has previously worn blue and gold. Madden, though, has started even more college games than Patterson — 31 to 21.

If Correll can gel with that pair and form a steady interior to Notre Dame's offensive line, then one of the things media and fans alike are weary of about the Irish heading into the season — the lack of chemistry along the line — could be a strength instead of a suspect unit.

It all depends on the man in the middle.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings

Patrick Engel: 23

Tyler Horka: 11

Mike Singer: 22

Todd Burlage: 15

Steve Downey: 13

Engel on his ranking: “Correll is still critical because he’s taking over a position that had consistently reliable play from Patterson the last two years. But at center, I don’t think he’s quite as important as tackles or the two experienced seniors (Patterson and Cain Madden) who could play guard. I also saw running back Chris Tyree and receiver Braden Lenzy, who I ranked 22nd and 20th, as more important to the offense’s success and search for explosiveness.”

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

No. 23: Drew Pyne

No. 22: Braden Lenzy

No. 21: Jayson Ademilola

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 19: Avery Davis

No. 18: Josh Lugg

No. 17: Houston Griffith

No. 16: Cam Hart

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