Defensive LineI ranked them last, you certainly didn't rank them first.
No position group in the program -- perhaps in the nation -- was as wildly underrated entering the season as Mike Elston's Notre Dame defensive front. It thus seems fitting we begin our review of each Irish position group with the unit that fell at the tail end of most pre-season lists.
(Unintentionally omitted among the three individual categories highlighted below is junior nose tackle Jarron Jones, who not only ranks among the team's biggest surprises of 2014, but has performed well enough to be ranked as the team's eighth-best player through film reviews through seven contests.
Top player to date: Sheldon Day -- won't make any All-American teams, but he should. Golson is the team's most important player, but Day is 1B to Golson's 1A in terms of its best overall performer.
On the Rise: Isaac Rochell -- the sophomore is now firmly entrenched in the Irish Eyes Top 10 player list (at No. 9) measuring the entire season's contributions.
Sleeper for the final five: Freshman Andrew Trumbetti -- Has shown no signs of hitting the freshman wall and is expertly used by defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder as a standup pass-rusher. More big plays await.
Best game as a unit: Stanford -- Their collective efforts against Florida State announced the defensive line's presence to the rest of the college football world, but Notre Dame's front was the unit on the spot vs. Stanford, and it responded, limiting the Cardinal to 3.0 yards per play, just 47 rushing yards (its lowest total since 2006), and a meager 205 yards of total offense.
Most Difficult Outing North Carolina -- Rush lane integrity (containing a mobile quarterback) was at a Weis-ian level. The Irish yielded 132 rushing yards to quarterback Marquise Williams and sacked him just once on 41 pass attempts (the produced more than 300 yards and two scores).
Toughest Upcoming Test: Navy -- They'll either adhere to sound fundamentals and a week's worth of teachings, and, as a result, dominate due to superior size and speed, or they'll fail to perform the crucial first task and fail miserably as a result. I know what this unit will bring to the table at Arizona State and USC, but the Midshipmen represent the great unknown.
Crucial area for Improvement: The pass rush has been manufactured via the mad-scientist mind of VanGorder, not a natural ability to pressure the passer by a member of the front four. That could be an issue if the are matched on New Year's Weekend with one of the nation's four best teams.
Quote from the Coordinator: "I thought Sheldon had his best game as far as penetration goes," said VanGorder of Day's efforts vs. the Seminoles. "Jarron’s (Jones) had a number of good games and this game defines his development process. He’s getting better and better and he’s gotta keep committing to getting better. He’s can become a very, very important player. And he is an important player, but more of an impact, production player like he’s done in a number of games. I thought they both played outstanding."