Introduction and those that just missed the cut…
#2 – Center Braxston CaveThe 5th-year senior center ranks as Irisheyes.com's third best offensive lineman entering his final season, though such a ranking is admittedly an arbitrary exercise with no access to coach's film or frank discussion regarding the unit available.
So how can a unit's No. 3 rank ahead of all but one player on the roster on our list of Indispensable Irish?
Did you see the team play without him last year?
Cave started the season's first nine games (he was injured during the first half of the ninth game, a win at Wake Forest). Prior, the offensive front enjoyed a five-game streak without allowing a sack, produced more than 500 total yards of offense on four occasions, and helped the offense score a whopping 35 offensive touchdowns, with five of eight contests featuring better than 5.0 yards per carry.
Cave missed the remainder of the season with a broken foot. The Irish subsequently faced four foes against which they compiled fewer than 310 yards twice, punted an aggregate 26 times (26!) and yielded a whopping 12 sacks, never once breaking 4.6 yards per rush over the course of a contest.
There were other factors at play: RB Jonas Gray missed two of the four games Cave sat, and the final two rush defenses, Stanford and Florida State, were ranked among the nation's best (though Michigan State, USF, USC, and Pittsburgh were all among the Top 20 as well).
The major difference was Cave's absence, his experience, his power, his ability to cut defenders in space, his knowledge of the scheme, and his effort on every play.
Repeated penetration by opposing defenders through the heart of the Irish offensive front -- even against lowly, left-for-dead Maryland -- were a common theme as the Irish offense staggered to the finish line.
Cave was replaced by classmate Mike Golic, Jr., who'd never seen meaningful action until Cave suffered his injury in Winston-Salem, and the drop-off was severe (although Golic played his best that evening against the Demon Deacons).
Golic has purportedly improved with an off-season of conditioning and focus toward his first meaningful role: either starting right guard and backup center or the first man off the bench at three interior positions.
The culmination of Golic's five years at the program as the team's starting right guard would be a nice story, one far more enticing than watching the offense operate without Cave again.
And should the Irish debut a new quarterback this fall, Cave's presence in the middle, both physically and from a leadership standpoint, becomes mandatory.
1st 8 Games With CaveCave was injured during Game 9 at Wake Forest; it's thus not counted in either section. Games below in order include: USF, Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Air Force, USC, and Navy.
Sacks Allowed: 2, 0, 1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0
Yards per rush: 4.0, 6.0, 3.5, 5.6, 7.1, 9.1, 2.9, 5.2
Total Yards per game: 508, 513, 275, 398, 551, 560, 267, 442,
Punts by game: 5, 4, 4, 4, 2, 2, 4, 1
Offensive Touchdowns Scored: 3, 5, 3, 2, 5, 8, 1, 8
Final Four Games Without CaveGames were played vs. Maryland, Boston College, Stanford, and Florida State.
Sacks Allowed: 3, 0, 5, 4
Yards per rush: 4.6, 4.1, 1.8, 2.6
Total Yards per game: 508, 417, 309, 280
Punts each game: 4, 8, 7, 7
Offensive Touchdowns Scored: 5, 1, 2, 1