Bob Crable was a dominant middle linebacker for the Fighting Irish during a three-year stretch from 1979-81, including the middle year, 1980, in which Notre Dame’s defense held seven of 12 opponents to 10 points or less.
As Notre Dame was in the midst of a 64-9-1 run from 1988-93, wide receiver-turned-cornerback Todd Lyght was setting the tone on the back end of the defense while Frank Stams, Wes Pritchett, Chris Zorich, Ned Bolcar and Michael Stonebreaker were establishing the point of attack up front.
Raghib “Rocket” Ismail burst onto the scene during his freshman season in 1988, which, not surprisingly, was the last time Notre Dame claimed a national championship. There have been a lot of great players and unique personalities for the Fighting Irish before and since, but there has not been a faster, more dynamic game-breaking player with the football in his hands than the incomparable Ismail.
Crable, Ismail and Lyght were named this week to the 2016 ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
As a junior in 1980, Crable spearheaded one of the great defenses in Notre Dame history, earning him the first of two first-team UPI All-American selections. With his 154 tackles, Crable paced an Irish stop unit that finished No. 4 in total defense (213.2 ypg.), No. 8 in rush defense (109.8 ypg.), No. 8 in pass defense (103.6 ypg.) and No. 5 in scoring defense (10.1 ppg.). During a middle-of-the season, five-game stretch in ’80, the Irish allowed a combined nine points.
The arrival in 1981 of head coach Gerry Faust – Crable’s prep coach at Cincinnati Moeller High School – coincided with Crable’s final season in an Irish uniform before he was tabbed by the New York Jets in the first round (No. 23 overall). As a team, the Irish stumbled to 5-6 after the 1980 squad made a run at the national title with a 9-1-1 regular-season mark. Crable remained productive with his 167 tackles on a defense that allowed just 14.5 points per game.
• Argument against Hall of Fame: It’s difficult to state a case to the contrary, other than the sub-.500 record in Crable’s final season in a Notre Dame uniform, which had more to do with Faust’s inability to make the successful transition from high school to the collegiate level than anything Crable did or didn’t do. Crable was the best player on one of the greatest defenses in the history of Notre Dame and played Hall-of-Fame level football his other two seasons as well.
• Hall of Fame prediction: Yes
The Flint, Mich., product entered the starting lineup as a sophomore during Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship season when he led the team in tackles in the Fiesta Bowl victory over West Virginia. He became a star as a junior in ’89 when he snagged eight interceptions -- the most since Mike Townsend’s 10 in 1972 and the second most in Notre Dame single-season history -- on a 12-1 team that ran its winning streak to 23 games before falling at Miami in the regular-season finale.
As a senior in 1990, he was named one of four captains, was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, and was chosen as the fifth overall pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1991 NFL draft. Although NFL careers do not dictate one’s inclusion in the College Football Hall of Fame, Lyght’s is by far the best among these three. He finished with 37 career interceptions, a Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl ring (1999 in Super Bowl XXIV).
• Argument against Hall of Fame: After picking off eight passes as a junior in ’89, Lyght had just two interceptions and three passes broken up in ’90 on a defense that finished 90th nationally in yards allowed per game through the air (267.1, second worst in ND history) while falling from 12th in scoring defense to 50th (22.6 ppg.).
• Hall of Fame prediction: No
Ismail became a bona fide star as a sophomore in 1989 when he returned not one but two kickoffs for touchdowns against Bo Schembechler’s Michigan squad in the second game of the season, propelling the Irish to what eventually would become a 23-game winning streak. Ismail accounted for 1,628 all-purpose yards in 1989, and then topped that with another 1,723 yards in 1990.
Ismail finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1990 (behind BYU’s Ty Detmer) and was named the Walter Camp Player of the Year. He completed his collegiate career with 4,187 all-purpose yards, 22.0 yards per reception and five career kick returns for scores.
Often overlooked is Ismail’s contribution in the running game his final two seasons with the Irish when he added another 1,015 yards, a 7.7-yard rushing average, and five touchdowns, which does not include his 108 yards rushing in the 21-6 victory over Colorado in the first of two Orange Bowls.
How good was Ismail? He’s known for the brilliant plays that didn’t count as much as the ones that did. His 91-yard punt return for a touchdown against Colorado in the second straight Orange Bowl that was nullified due to a clipping penalty in his final game in an Irish uniform.
• Argument against Hall of Fame: Ismail hardly touched the football compared to most offensive skill position players considered for enshrinement. He only caught 71 passes in three seasons and scored a mere four touchdowns via the passing game, which means he scored more touchdowns on kickoff returns than he did as a receiver.
All told, Ismail had 15 career touchdowns, which is the same amount Irish receiver Will Fuller had last year. Additionally, he played just three seasons, opting to turn professional after his junior season, signing a four-year, $18.2 million deal with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
• Hall of Fame prediction: Yes