Stalwart or Legend?

Michael Floyd could make a run at several program receiving records by season's end; or shatter all of them should he return in 2011.

Last Saturday's contest between Notre Dame and Tulsa began, unfolded, and concluded in a manner similar to most over Michael Floyd's 26-game career with the Irish program.

The 6'3" 225-pound receiver started (his 25th such assignment), compiled reception yardage of 100 or greater (the 12th occurrence) and Notre Dame came out on the wrong side of the W/L ledger (the 13th Irish loss in which Floyd was involved).

The Irish have won just five of 12 games in which Floyd topped the 100-yard mark. Its not Floyd's fault, after all, Charlie Weis' Irish were 0-5 when both Golden Tate and Michael Floyd hit the 100-yard mark; 9-9 when one or both accomplished the feat.

(The inevitable regression to the mean when one relies solely on aerial assaults at Notre Dame is hardly Weis-ian in nature: Brian Kelly's 2010 Irish are currently 1-4 when an Irish player tops the 100-yard receiving mark, but that's a column for another day.)

Floyd's march toward the program's records and its legendary names continues amid his team's head-shaking defeats. The junior shook off an uneven start this fall to become what most envisioned entering the season: the team's best player. By a wide margin.

But the question, similar to that asked of quarterback Jimmy Clausen last season, remains: what will be Michael Floyd's legacy at Notre Dame?

Contemporary comparisons

My view of Golden Tate's remarkable 2009 season is well-documented on this website and in Irish Eyes Magazine. Suffice it to say, few offensive players performed at a higher level, as consistently, and/or when it mattered most as did the player I dubbed: Half-Man, Half Amazing. (For more on Tate and a Part II feature regarding other one-season standouts at the program, click the link contained within.)

Tate and 2006 graduate Jeff Samardzija own most of the program's relevant receiving records. The pair amassed their staggering numbers essentially over two seasons, as the former caught just 3 passes for 104 yards and a score as freshman (all in one game) while the man they called Shark became a household name during a 25-game run to excellence under his second head coach, Charlie Weis. (Samardzija had 24 receptions for 327 yards without a score under Tyrone Willingham in 2003-04).

The current Irish record books reflect the pair's individual greatness:

  • Career Receptions: Samardzija (1st with 179); Tate (3rd with 157); Floyd currently 5th with 147.
  • Career Receiving Yards: Tate (1st with 2,707); Samardzija (2nd with 2,593); Floyd currently 7th with 2,242.
  • Career Touchdown Receptions: Samardzija (1st with 27); Tate (2nd with 26); Floyd 3rd with 24.
  • Career 100-yard games: Tate (1st with 15); Samardzija (Tied for 4th with 9); Floyd currently 3rd with 12. Tom Gatewood (1969-71) remains 2nd with 13.

Floyd sits atop the charts in career receiving yards per game (86.2) with Tate a distance fourth, due largely to a freshman season in which he often played, but was largely uninvolved in the offense.

Likewise, Floyd is the only player in program history to notch 10+ receptions in three separate games. Floyd, Tate and Maurice Stovall (2002-05) are the only players to secure three (or more, in the case of the record-setting Stovall) touchdown receptions on multiple occasions.

Floyd has either topped 100 yards receiving or scored a touchdown in 12 of the last 15 games in which he's played, regardless of injury or circumstance. Save for the tail end of his freshman season in which he was either injured (vs. Navy) or recovering from injury (a spot appearance vs. Hawaii), that statistic can be extrapolated to 19 of the 24 games in which he's appeared.

The numbers are staggering. The talent is off the charts. The improvement…could be questioned. Floyd was a shooting star as a freshman and a force of nature prior to his collarbone injury last September. He proved productive but mortal and in some instances, flawed, upon his return and through the first half of 2010.

Still bothered by a hamstring injury but playing his best football of the season nonetheless, Floyd is the team's chief hope for what now appears to be a miracle scenario: two wins in three games to qualify for a bowl game and extend the 2010 season.

If the Irish fail to upset either Utah or USC, or to hold serve vs. Army (my God what has this football world come to!?), Brian Kelly's team won't receive the much-needed benefit of 15 practice sessions leading into the players' reward of a 13th game.

Just as relevant for those looking to the future, two losses over the next three contests could mark the end of #3 streaking down the sidelines in South Bend.

Perception is reality; and does the W trump the $?

How will Irish fans view Michael Floyd if he returns for his senior season? Conversely, how will he be remembered if he follows the lead of friends and former teammates Clausen and Tate and bolts for the riches of the NFL? (And those would be second-round riches at best; don't kid yourself with Floyd's injury history.)

The Notre Dame program of the past was about winning. Players such as Tom Clements (29 wins in 34 starts), Terry Hanratty (21 wins and a tie in 26), Tony Rice (a 28-3 mark) and even Kevin McDougal (11-1 in a stunning senior season) are revered by lifelong fans.

Clements, Hanratty and Rice share the honor of "Champion." McDougal owns a soft spot among the fan base because he took an underdog group to the precipice. Clausen, despite his more impressive accuracy, greater level of production, and a quartet of senior season comeback wins, will never escape a 16-18 career W-L record. His name among Irish fans elicits a more varied response than the program's now semi-annual coaching searches.

Wide receivers such as Tate and Samardzija and Tim Brown and Derrick Mayes – legends all – are viewed differently than the program's quarterbacks. But ask any Irish fan whom his favorite wide receiver – or more important – who the best player of the group was and you'll likely hear the name of a college football champion: Rocket Ismail.

Its highly unlikely Michael Floyd will leave Notre Dame a champion, but he could be part of the class that begins the program's next ascent.

Former stalwarts such as Steve Beuerlein, Milt Jackson, Mike Kovaleski, the late Wally Kleine, and yes, Tim Brown, are viewed by most in this equally adoring vein. They struggled through seasons of mediocrity; showed great improvement in the posthumously revered season of 1986, and in the case of Brown, brought the Irish closer to national prominence during a 1987 season that saw the Irish ascend to No. 7 in the 10th game of the regular season.

The Irish program of the present (and post-Holtz era) has had only individual greatness to reward: Autry Denson, Jarious Jackson, Julius Jones, Shane Walton, Justin Tuck, Brady Quinn, Samardzija and Stovall, Tate and Clausen, now Floyd…all tremendous talents and a collective joy to watch each Saturday afternoon regardless of the final outcome (or truth be told, until the final outcome.)

Floyd will have a spot in Irish lore regardless of his final placement on the program's receiving lists above. (Note: If he returns and remains upright next season, nearly every career receiving mark will be rendered out of reach from future Irish stars, regardless of the current regime's heavy reliance on the pass.)

The choice is his, and logic might dictate that he take whatever money is available and run. If he's a student of recent history he surely realizes the 2011 season could again be wrought with disappointment surrounding a program that now expects to lose.

But Floyd can't achieve legendary Irish status without the benefit of a fourth and final season. He'll be a statistical footnote; a source of wonder for future generations of Irish fans who'll see that name dotting nearly every relevant receiving list for decades. That new generation of fans will then wonder how a team with three premier record holders from the 2009 and 20010 seasons managed to lose far more often than it won over that span.

Michael Floyd can improve his stock, both professional and historical, with one more season in South Bend. He remains a championship level talent with the opportunity to aid a purported championship level coaching staff in its apparently staggering reclamation project.

There are myriad reasons to leave and (including a Notre Dame degree) just two or three to stay.

If recent history has taught this Irish fan/alum/writer anything, it's hope for the best, but expect the worst. Top Stories