The arrival of June marks the unofficial start to our college football pre-season speculation as we project players, opponents and long-range results for the 2016 season.
It’s May 31, but we’re going to jump the gun with the Memorial Day weekend behind us.
Today’s offering focuses on the Notre Dame offense, not so much what lies ahead this fall, for which there is plenty of time to speculate, but what is reality heading into the fall.
Everyone can see the Torii Hunter Jr. will head up the Irish receiving this fall. It’s clear that multi-faceted Alize Jones is a breakout star in-the-making. Alex Bars looks like he has a chance to be a real quality offensive lineman with three years of eligibility remaining. Tight end Durham Smythe could be ready for a breakout season as well.
But who are the most established players on the Irish offense? Which ones enter the 2016 with the most impressive resume? Which players have impacted the most games up to this point?
Even for a story that should be objective based upon statistics, there’s a degree of subjectivity. How do you compare DeShone Kizer’s one season of stats to Mike McGlinchey’s performance at right tackle in his first year as a starter in 2015, plus his one start in the Music City Bowl? Where would Malik Zaire be if misfortune hadn’t struck in the second game of the year?
It’s a bit easier to choose among the defensive players where everyone has a level of comparable stats to use as a barometer. The role of the offensive linemen leaves some gray area.
But in the tradition of pre-season speculation – and the arrival of June 1 (minus one day) – here’s a look at the top five most productive offensive players at Notre Dame as of today.
5) OT-Mike McGlinchey/OG-Quenton NelsonMatt Cashore / Irishillustrated.om
We’re going to cheat here a little bit because it’s very difficult to differentiate between two quality players up front, one with 14 productive career starts (McGlinchey) and another with 11 fairly dominant career starts (Nelson).
By offensive line standards, those aren’t very extensive resumes. But the productivity of these two players for an offense that averaged 207.6 yards rushing per game – a program first since 2000 -- is the stat that drives this rating. The McGlinchey-Nelson pairing on the left side of the Irish offensive line should propel this duo up the chart for 2017, provided they both return.
4) RB-Josh Adams
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Dexter Williams was supposed to be the more explosive of the rookie running backs strapping on the gear for the first time when the Irish began pre-season practice at the Culver Academies last August. It truly was apparent from the start of that first practice that Adams was the more prepared of the two.
It took injuries to Tarean Folston in the first game and C.J. Prosise against Pittsburgh and Boston College for Adams to get a full-time shot, and boy did he maximize it. Adams rushed for 570 yards on 83 carries (6.86 yards per carry) and three of his six touchdowns came in the final five games of the ’15 season.
Adams set an Irish rookie mark for rushing yards (835) while establishing a Notre Dame all-time best 98-yard touchdown run. His 7.1 yards per carry brought back memories of Reggie Brooks’ 8.0-yard average in 1992.
In terms of offensive impact and the occasionally spectacular, Adams’ rookie performance ranks among the greatest in school history, regardless of position.
3) QB-DeShone Kizer
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com
He’s started just 11 games in his career and he was on the losing end of the last two. The game before that, he threw three interceptions.
Yet there’s no doubting the significance of his first year as a starter and the incredible impact he had in just one season. Kizer threw for 2,884 yards, which is the most ever by a first-year starter for the Irish. His 21 touchdown passes are the seventh most in Notre Dame history. He added a noteworthy 520 yards rushing. Perhaps the most surprising stat of all is the 10 rushing touchdowns, a Notre Dame record for a quarterback.
The tipping point as far as positive impact is the game-winning drives he led against Virginia, USC and Temple, and the late scoring drives against Clemson and Stanford that could have been game-winning drives with a little help.
Kizer surpassed every expectation on every level. But he’s only done it for one season/12 games.
2) WR-Corey Robinson
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Let’s remove the name and the circumstances surrounding Robinson’s future and just look at a senior entering his final year of eligibility. Player A has 65 career receptions for 896 yards and seven touchdowns in his career for a program that just lost its top three wideouts to graduation/the NFL draft.
Player A – Corey Robinson – is one of the most proven players on the roster, although much of that productivity is quite a few games removed from the present.
If it weren’t for Robinson during his rookie year in 2013, the Irish wouldn’t have beaten Michigan State. His eight-catch, 99-yard, two-touchdown performance against Florida State in 2014 was Robinson at peak performance. He caught the go-ahead touchdown pass last fall to help defeat USC.
Tempering the enthusiasm for Robinson’s highlights are a) his disappearance for long stretches in ’15 due to injury and b) the uncertainty of playing this fall. Concussions have been a significant part of his career at Notre Dame, and he’s coming off another one from this spring.
If Robinson returns, he has impacted more games over a greater span of time than all but one offensive player coming back for the Irish.
1) RB-Tarean Folston
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com
Why does the senior Folston rate at the top after missing 12½ out of 13 games in 2015?
It’s a productivity rating, and at this point in their careers, Folston has played twice as many games as Josh Adams (26 to 13), has carried more than twice as many times (266 to 117) and has 543 more yards rushing.
Having said that, Adams has more size and speed, and if he can learn some of the nuances that Folston already possesses – pad level, productivity between the tackles, blocking ability – he will usurp carries/playing time from Folston this fall.
For now, however, Folston has impacted more games for the Irish than any other returning offensive player with double-digit carries in 13 games, at least 70 yards rushing in 10 games, and touchdowns in eight games.