Notre Dame Summary & 2017 Preview: Offensive Line
Scholarship Players (14)
Listed after the class year is the years of eligibility remaining.
68 Mike McGlinchey (6-8, 312), 5th/1
72 Robert Hainsey (6-5, 292), Fr./4
Walk-on: Sam Bush (63, senior)
56 Quenton Nelson (6-5, 329), Sr./2
70 Hunter Bivin (6-6, 318), 5th/1
69 Aaron Banks (6-6, 310), Fr./4
53 Sam Mustipher (6-2 ½, 305), Sr./2
50 Parker Boudreaux (6-4, 288), So./4
Note: Junior Tristen Hoge, the backup to Mustipher last year while also working some at right guard, announced this month that he will transfer to Brigham Young University.
71 Alex Bars (6-6, 320), Sr./2
57 Trevor Ruhland (6-4, 303), Jr./3
Dillan Gibbons (6-4, 315), Fr./4
Walk-on: Logan Plantz (62, junior)
78 Tommy Kraemer (6-5 ½, 313), So./4
74 Liam Eichenberg (6-6, 294), So./4
67 Jimmy Byrne (6-4, 294), Sr./2
Joshua Lugg (6-6, 280), Fr./4
McGlinchey: 26 starts (12 in 2016)
Nelson: 23 starts (12 in 2016)
Bars: 14 starts (12 in 2016)
Mustipher: 12 starts (12 in 2016)
Bivin: 1 start (2016)
Among the 10 on-field assistants, Harry Hiestand has the second-longest tenure on the current staff as he enters his sixth season with the Fighting Irish, and 35th overall as a college or NFL assistant. While consistently attracting top recruits along the line with player development that has included first-round selections Zack Martin and Ronald Stanley and second-round choice Nick Martin, Hiestand’s affinity for the school also is sincere.
“I’m now responsible to continue them in the path that their parents started them on with doing the right things and being the best that they can be at everything that they do,” Hiestand said. “That’s a charge that I take very seriously. So every day it isn’t just about, ‘Can you get your head across that three technique?’ It’s about the effort you put forth in class, that you’re on time, that you’re meeting the responsibilities that you have as a student at Notre Dame and as an athlete. That’s what I tell them in recruiting, and that’s what they get when they get here. There are no surprises.”
The 2017 offensive line situation mirror’s 2015 in many ways.
• The 2015 line had four returning starters from its bowl game and 68 career starts. The 2017 edition also has four of the five starters returning, with 76 career starts in the books (last year it had only 27 entering the season).
• The 2015 edition had two top future NFL picks in left tackle Ronnie Stanley (first round) and center Nick Martin (second round).
This year potentially have two more in McGlinchey and Nelson, third-team Associated Press All-Americans last year who could have been high draft picks this past spring had they opted to turn pro.
• In 2015, two highly touted sophomores — Nelson and Bars — were battling for the one vacated position along the line (left guard). This year, two more similarly esteemed pair of sophomores — Kraemer and Eichenberg — have the competition at right tackle.
The 2015 offensive line was the strongest position group for the 10-3 team. Potentially, this year’s quintet could be as well.
Conspicuous Stat Needing Improvement
Notre Dame’s rushing average in 2016 dropped to 163.3 yards per game (80th in the country) and 4.5 yards per carry after averaging 207.6 (28th nationally) and 5.6, respectively, the year prior while finishing 10-3.
Raw numbers alone don’t always tell the story of a team’s efficiency and effectiveness. However, history does show that only one Fighting Irish team has ever finished in the AP Top 10 while rushing for less than 190 yards per game during the regular season: the 9-3 team in 2005 (No. 9) with a 147.1 figure.
In Notre Dame’s 12 games last season, the team with the better rushing total won 11 times. The lone excpetion was Virginia Tech’s 34-31 win last November when the Irish out-rushed the Hokies 200-152.
Potential Freshman Impact
No position in college football is more likely to redshirt a player than offensive line. In the nine seasons from 2008-16, 31 offensive line recruits have enrolled at Notre Dame and 29 were redshirted as freshmen. The two exceptions were Trevor Robinson (2008) and Steve Elmer (2013), who happened to be early entrants.
Among the four freshmen this year, left tackle Hainsey and left guard Banks were early entrants, and Hainsey especially demonstrated some advanced skills while working behind McGlinchey.
Still, with the volume and options along the line, the preference will be to redshirt all four again.
On Paper Pre-Season Rating Scale 1-10
1-2 — Near The Bottom In College Football
3-5 — Questions About Proven Ability, Game Experience & Depth
6-8 — Major Bowl Contender Level (6) to Major Bowl Winner (8)
9-10 — Football Playoff Level (9) To Champion (10)
Going into the 2017 campaign, the Notre Dame offensive line and linebacking corps appear to have the best combination of game experience, depth — although the departure of Hoge can't be undervalued — and potential star power on the team. When two of the offensive linemen (McGlinchey and Nelson) are considered among the three or four best at their position nationally, if not No. 1, that in of itself might push the rating up to an eight, especially with two other senior starters returning. The potential fifth starter, sophomore tackle Kraemer, arrived with the highest cumulative rating (No. 27) among four different recruiting services, of anyone on the 2017 Irish roster.
But like in basketball, offensive line play is not necessarily about who are the five best individuals, but which five work best in unison. Navy is Exhibit A: It’s not about pro talent for them, but understanding and functioning together in an effective system. If Notre Dame can do that after an underachieving campaign in 2016, there shouldn’t be any limit on how high this line can ascend as a group.