Position Rankings: 20-22

The conclusion of our series ranking Notre Dame's official positions includes a trio of special teams spots -- one featuring a rookie, the other an apprentice, and finally, a three-year thorn in the side of the program and its fans.

Click the links below for previously ranked position groups:

Top 3: Nose Guard, Defensive End, Boundary Linebacker

4-6: Field Linebacker, Tight End, Offensive Tackle

7-9: Wide and Slot Receiver, Field Cornerback, Boundary Safety

10 and 11: Inside Linebacker and Boundary Cornerback

12 and 13: Running Back and Field Safety

14 and 15: Kicker and Quarterback

16 and 17: Offensive Guard and Nickel

18 and 19: Kick Returner and Center

#20 -- Long Snapper

Redshirt-freshman Scott Daly

BCS Championship Level Starter? Maybe. As the No. 1 rated long-snapper in the 2013 recruiting cycle, Daly should theoretically be among the best in the nation once he gets his feet wet in from of 80,000-plus fans.

Proven Depth: None. Walk-on aid will be necessary as it was with Ryan Kavanagh ably backing Jordan Cowart in previous seasons. Daly backed Cowart last fall.

Theoretical Depth: The entire long-snapper breakdown is theoretically as Daly's never appeared in a college game. (The position's ranking shouldn't be #20, it should be "N/A" because we assume Daly will be fine at worst.)

Final Analysis: Irish long-snappers have made three tackles in punt coverage over the three-season Brian Kelly era. That's a sign of three things: a good punt (often the case last fall, graduated senior Ben Turk's best season in South Bend), an un-returnable punt (both good and bad), and a quality snap, because snaps too high or too low lead to poor punts/returns.

Daly could breeze through four seasons with but one or two punt snaps that raise fans' ire -- its his efforts on field goals and extra points that make his role crucial in the modern game, and for a team that enters Year Four of red zone struggles.

Daly's scholarship is just the second for a long-snapper in program history, the aforementioned Cowart's the first. He won't be perfect but his mistakes must be at a minimum (not to mention well-timed).

Assuming the staff finds a walk-on backup, the position is set for the foreseeable future.

#21 -- Punter

Junior kicker Kyle Brindza; 5th-year senior transfer Alex Wulfeck; freshman preferred walk-on Andrew Antognoli. 5th-year senior kicker Nick Tausch could punt in a pinch and senior walk-on Jude Rhodes is also available.

BCS Championship Level Starter? Not yet. Brindza is a relative rookie at the position who by his own admission rarely punted prior to the 2013 off-season since leaving high school.

Proven Depth: Not sure this exists anywhere in college football…though it might for Notre Dame. 5th-year transfer Alex Wulfeck, formerly of Wake Forest, will walk-on this fall to provide competition.

Theoretical Depth: A Semper Fidelis All-American selection last season, Antognoli was headed to Harvard before the Irish granted him preferred status. There's no reason he can't beat out Brindza this August. The same holds true for Wulfeck, who averaged 39.6 yards per punt in his Demon Deacons career where he began as a walk-on before earning scholarship status. He's eligible to punt one season in South Bend after sitting out his freshman year (2009) in Winston-Salem.

Final Analysis: Brindza's summer consists of a national camp tour with kicking coach Brandon Kornblue (formerly of the 1997 Michigan Wolverines). If Brindza's mechanics are on point, he'll likely win the job, though it might benefit the program more if Antognoli proves the better punter, allowing Brindza to concentrate on field goals and kick-offs over the next two seasons. Just don't tell that to Brindza.

"I've finally worked on the fundamentals of punting," he said in a spring interview. "I finally understand if I hit a bad punt why that happened, just like when I miss a field goal I know why it happened."

Wulfeck's speciality is directional punting, which means he could share the job with either Brindza or Antognoli pending situations and field position.

Brindza's kick-off depth suffered in both of his first two seasons (falling temperatures didn't help). Adding punting to his daily duties doesn't seem prudent. But four-year starter Ben Turk has moved on, and Brindza's high school past put him in the running for the job.

Kelly and his staff were creative in adding options/competition to the position for 2013. Now one (or two) of three major combatants has to earn the job and prove both consistent and clutch over a 13-game slate.

#LAST -- Punt Returner

Senior wide receiver T.J. Jones, senior safety Austin Collinsworth, junior running back Amir Carlisle, sophomore wide receiver C.J. Prosise, freshman running back Tarean Folston.

BCS Championship Level Starter? Notre Dame's blocking afforded since-transferred return man Davonte' Neal a whopping nine yards over the season's second half in 2012. So no, no. My goodness, no.

Proven Depth: The position has proven to be among the least productive in the nation since Game Two, 2010. (Kelly's first collegiate contest vs. Purdue in 2010 included a 38-yard punt return by Armando Allen. Allen later broke his wrist, effectively ending his duties in the return game.)

Not including one blocked punt by Robert Blanton that resulted in an Irish score (Utah, 2010), Notre Dame punt returners have managed an aggregate 158 yards on 50 punt returns. Over three regular seasons, those numbers drop to a comical 109 yards on 42 return attempts.

Theoretical Depth: Sure.

Final Analysis: Notre Dame returners have muffed/fumbled seven punts during the three-season Brian Kelly era. They have conversely, in 39 games, combined for just six returns of 10 yards or more.

28 of Kelly's 39 games as Notre Dame's head coach have yielded two punt return yards or fewer. The 2011 regular season produced three punt return yards. Total. Three. (Notre Dame had as many fumbled punts as yards gained that fall.)

Whether its Jones, Collinsworth, Carlisle, Prosise, Folston, a player-to-be-named later, Tim Brown, Gayle Sayers, Rocket Ismail, or Red Grange, Notre Dame's punt return game will remain as effective as the 10 players assigned to block for it. They don't, it's not.

Until proven otherwise, this is among the nation's worst football units.

Notre Dame qualified for the BCS Championship game last fall with the 116th ranked punt return unit in the nation. 11-2 Clemson and 11-2 Louisville struggled similarly (ranked 105th and 107th, respectively), while 2-10 Boston College had the nation's best average: 21.69 yards albeit on just 13 returns.

Nine of the nation's 21 best punt return units finished with at least 10 victories and likewise ranked among the nation's best teams: Stanford, Texas A&M, Florida, Oregon, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Northwestern, Florida State and Kansas State. Conversely, nine of the nation's top 20 punt return teams also finished with a W-L record of .500 or worse.

Punt return performance does not equate to season success, at least not like such tell-tale statistics as rush defense, yards-per-play differential, or turnover differential.

But "hidden yards" gleaned through the return game could help an offense that begins its season with a backup quarterback and a shaky history in the red zone.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories