Where There’s A Will…

The second of 20 predictions in our summer-long series projects a repeat effort by Notre Dame’s top touchdown producer.

Notre Dame’s last 35 football seasons have featured just six players to lead the program in scoring in consecutive campaigns. Three others, fullbacks Anthony Johnson and Marc Edwards, and tailback Julius Jones, also led their respective squads twice, but with a season lodged in between.

Back-to-back leaders include Golden Tate, Tony Fisher, Autry Denson (3), Jerome Bettis, Allen Pinkett (3) and Phil Carter. (Bettis and Carter are unofficial in this regard as bowl totals were not counted by the NCAA prior to the 2002 season, but they are here.)

Among both the repeat leaders and two-time leaders, only Tate wasn’t a running back, but he’ll have company on this illustrious list after 2015 when junior Will Fuller again paces head coach Brian Kelly’s squad in total touchdowns, just as he did last fall with a position record-tying 15.

In addition to Fuller, prime candidates for 2015 include:  

QB Malik Zaire: Notable touchdown scorers from the position’s recent past include Everett Golson’s eight last fall, plus his team-best six touchdowns in 2012, Jarious Jackson’s team-high seven in 1999, Rick Mirer’s nine in 1991, and Tony Rice’s nine in the championship season of 1988.

Zaire has played 1.5 halves and scored two touchdowns to date – consider him a lead-pipe lock for at least six scores when the Irish offense reaches first-and-goal inside the opponent’s 5-yard line this fall.
What Zaire does from 10 yards, 15 yards, and farther out will determine how many scores he’ll tally in 2015.

RB Tarean Folston: Scored seven touchdowns last season despite failing to hit pay dirt over the first five contests. Folston hit for three scores in 2013 as a true freshman and is one of three players in the Brian Kelly era to score at least 10 touchdowns prior to his junior season (Fuller 16; Cierre Wood 14).

If Notre Dame features its running game as expected, Folston could match his career touchdown total in 2015 – but that wouldn’t be enough to best Fuller in my estimation.

Slot/RB C.J. Prosise: The wildcard of the lot, Prosise could triple his total touches from last season when he caught 29 passes (54 targets) and carried the rock 10 times. Look for Prosise to score through the air, via the rush…and one in the return game in 2015.

If he emerges as the team’s short-yardage ‘back as posited by Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, Prosise could challenge Fuller for the scoring crown.  

Prosise hit pay dirt in the season opener, in Game #8 (Navy) and the bowl game last fall – each from at least 50 yards out.

W WR Corey Robinson: Targeted for 75 passes last season (40 receptions) Robinson scored five times, each on red zone catches to rank second behind Fuller, Folston, and Golson who scored seven red zone touchdowns apiece.

X Wide Receiver Will Fuller: Hit for 15 scores last fall, 14 courtesy the arm of the graduated, soon-to-be-elsewhere Golson. Fuller spread out his 15 trips to the end zone over 11 contests (Stanford and USC the exceptions; he dropped one vs. the Trojans).

Though Fuller is unlikely to dominate the passing affections of Zaire as much as he did Golson last fall (Fuller benefitted from 119 opportunities, the second-place finisher, Corey Robinson had 75), he’ll still garner most of Zaire’s attention.

Fuller is the team’s best offensive weapon – he led the Irish in receptions in excess of 40 yards (5), 30 yards (4 more), and 20 yards  (10 others) and ranks among the nation’s most underrated skill position players. Of his 15 scores, eight came from outside the red zone; seven inside.

The only person to stop Will Fuller last season was the man in his mirror. Regardless of the squad’s pending approach to offense, he remains the team’s best bet to make the most plays that produce points.

Prediction No. 2 shows a touchdown pecking order of Fuller, Zaire, Folston, Prosise, and, with Fuller scoring at least 12 times to lead the 2015 Irish.

Note: For a look at the first prediction in our summer series, click here.

A review of Notre Dame’s top touchdown producers dating back to the 1980 season. The list includes bowl game touchdowns, a statistic not recognized by the NCAA until 2002.

2014: WR Will Fuller 15
2013: WR TJ Jones 11
2012: QB Everett Golson 6
2011: RB Jonas Gray 12
2010: WR Michael Floyd 12
2009: WR Golden Tate 18
2008: WR Golden Tate 11
2007: RB Travis Thomas 5
2006: WR Rhema McKnight 15
2005: WR Jeff Samardzija 15
2004: TB Darius Walker 7
2003: TB Julius Jones 10
2002: TB Ryan Grant 9
2001: TB Julius Jones 7
*2000: TB Tony Fisher 10 (includes one Fiesta Bowl TD)
1999: TB Tony Fisher/QB Jarious Jackson 7
*1998: TB Autry Denson 18 (includes three Gator Bowl TD)
1997: TB Autry Denson 13
1996: TB Autry Denson 11 (includes two punt returns)
1995: FB Marc Edwards 12
*1994: WR Derrick Mayes 13 (includes two Orange Bowl TD)
*1993: FBs Ray Zellars and Marc Edwards 9 (both include a Cotton Bowl TD)
*1992: FB Jerome Bettis 15 (includes three Cotton Bowl TD)
*1991: FB Jerome Bettis 23 (includes three Sugar Bowl TD)
*1990: TB Ricky Watters 9 (includes one Orange Bowl TD)
*1989: FB Anthony Johnson 13 (includes two Orange Bowl TD)
1988: QB Tony Rice 9
1987: FB Anthony Johnson 11
1986: Flanker Tim Brown 9
1985: TB Allen Pinkett 11
*1984: TB Allen Pinkett 19 (includes an Aloha Bowl TD)
*1983: TB Allen Pinkett 20 (Includes two Liberty Bowl TD)
1982: FB Larry Moriarity 7
1981: TB Phil Carter 6
* 1980: TBs Jim Stone and Phil Carter 7 (Carter includes Sugar Bowl TD)


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