Irish Trio to take 10 Trips to Pay Dirt?

Prediction No. 17 in our summer series projects a program rarity: three Irish players scoring 10 touchdowns or more in the same season. In doing so, it includes Prediction No. 18 as well.

The last 40 football seasons have seen 22 members of the Notre Dame program visit enemy end zones on at least 10 occasions.

The majority have been running backs, 14, while eight receivers have accomplished the feat, including seven since the 2005 season and four during the five-season Brian Kelly era.

(Derrick Mayes was the first program pass-catcher to hit double digits, doing so 13 times as a junior in 1994.)

Below is a breakdown of Notre Dame’s 22 double-digit scorers – eight of whom turned the trick more than once in their collegiate careers. Junior wide receiver Will Fuller looks to join that illustrious group with 10-plus this fall after posting 15 last season.

I've included bowl statistics for every season below, though the NCAA didn’t do so until 2002.

-- Wayne Bullock (1974): 12, all rushing
-- Al Hunter (1976): 13, including 12 rushing
-- Vagas Ferguson (1979): 17, all rushing. The number remains an official program (rushing) record, tied by Allen Pinkett in 1984.
-- Allen Pinkett (1983-84-85): Including bowl games, a total of 20, 19, and 11 respectively.
-- Anthony Johnson (1987 and 1989): 11 and 13, respectively including two in the 1989 Orange Bowl.
-- Ricky Watters (1989): 10 regular season scores to lead the 12-1 Irish.
-- Jerome Bettis (1991 and 1992): Bettis scored 23 total (his official team record is 20), but the bruising sophomore added three in a Sugar Bowl victory. He scored 15 including three Cotton Bowl touchdowns in 1992.
-- Reggie Brooks (1992): Officially led the squad with 14 scores (13 rushing) though Bettis surpassed him with a sterling Cotton Bowl performance.
-- Derrick Mayes (1994): Scored 13 including two Fiesta Bowl touchdowns. No other ’94 Irish player hit pay dirt on more than four occasions.
-- Marc Edwards (1995-96): 12 touchdowns including an Orange Bowl plunge to lead the team. Edwards added 10 more in 1996.
-- Randy Kinder (1995): Hit pay dirt 10 times including 9 rushing scores.
-- Autry Denson (1996-97-98): Including the 1998 Gator Bowl, Denson produced 11, 13, and 18 touchdowns in his final three seasons.
-- Tony Fisher (2000): 10, including a Fiesta Bowl score in a 41-9 defeat
Julius Jones (2003): 10, which is remarkable considering he operated behind a hideous offensive line.
-- Jeff Samardzija (2005-06): Scored a team-high 15 in '05 and added 13 more in '06 including a fake field goal rushing score vs. Purdue.
-- Maurice Stovall (2005): Like Samardzija, hit for double digits with 11 touchdown receptions in a breakout senior season.
-- Darius Walker (2005): Joined the Shark and Stovall to round out the only single-season scoring trio of 10 or more, posting 12 touchdowns as a s sophomore, including both Irish scores in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.
-- Rhema McKnight (2006): Quietly produced 15 touchdowns in his 5th-year at the school.
-- Golden Tate (2008-09): Piled up 11 thanks to a trio in the Hawaii Bowl in '08 then erupted for 18 as a junior in '09. His 15 receiving scores in ‘09 tied Samardzija and McKnight for the program record – a current Irishman has joined the trio, since.
-- Michael Floyd (2010, 2011): Caught a career-best 12 as a 2010 junior, setting the all-time program mark (28) with his final touchdown in the Sun Bowl win over Miami. Hit for 9 touchdown receptions and one rushing score as a 2011 senior.
-- Jonas Gray (2011): Rushed for 12 scores in fewer than ten games as senior-season breakout star.
-- TJ Jones (2013): Added two rushing touchdowns to his nine receiving scores for a total of 11 as the team MVP in his senior season.
-- Will Fuller (2014): Broke out at a national level, tying a program record with 15 receiving scores as a true sophomore.

Of note: Only four Irish running backs – Fisher, Jones, Walker, and Gray – have scored 10 or more touchdowns since the turn of the century.

Today’s prediction calls for the aforementioned Fuller (my choice to again lead the team in touchdowns scored), plus running back Tarean Folston and quarterback Malik Zaire to reach double-digit touchdown totals this fall.

(Though I’ll gladly take credit if C.J. Prosise plus any combination of two other Irishmen score at least 10 times.)

Why Fuller, Folston, and Zaire? Because for all the depth and increased weaponry on Kelly 2015 Irish squad, there are still key triggermen in the attack, and those are its best offensive player (Fuller), its best runner (Folston) and the man that will have the ball on nearly every offensive snap, Zaire.

Should Zaire be one of the three to score 10 times he’d eclipse the program’s modern record for rushing scores by an Irish quarterback – nine – set by Tony Rice in 1988 and Rick Mirer in 1991.

Touchdown Tally: While we’re on a roll, look for Prosise to finish a distant fourth on the 2015 scoring list with Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, and Torii Hunter also contributing between two to four scores apiece.

I’ll take a shot that Amir Carlisle, Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, Aliz’e Jones, Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, and Josh Anderson will enjoy the remaining touchdown trips. Add in a random defensive score or two and Notre Dame will hit pay dirt between 50 and 54 times in 2015 – the second-best effort of the Brian Kelly era behind the 55 posted last fall.

Regardless of the semantics, look for Fuller, Folston and Zaire to account for better than 60 percent of Notre Dame’s touchdowns this fall.

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Prediction #11 – Avoiding the Double Dip? 

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