1 – Junior QB Jimmy Clausen: It's irrelevant whether you think the quarterback of a 4-1, unranked team deserves to be an early Heisman candidate. There's no football player performing at a higher level, especially in crunch time, than Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen at this point in the season.
2 – Junior WR Golden Tate: Aside from a puzzling case of the dropsies over the span of four quarters vs. Michigan and Michigan State, Tate has ranked as the team's most consistent playmaker and is an early candidate for 1st Team All America honors.
3 – Sophomore TE Kyle Rudolph: Speaking of future All Americans…Rudolph has been a dominant receiver as well as runner after the catch from the tight end position. Not since Adrian Jarrell in 1990 has an Irish pass-catcher made bigger, back-to-back, last minute contributions to come-from-behind victories for the program as did Rudolph vs. the Boilers and Huskies this season.
4 – 5th-Year Senior SS Kyle McCarthy: Could probably rank as high as No. 3. McCarthy has been the only consistent player on the Irish defense, though he, along with the rest of the squad, struggled to tackle in space vs. Purdue. McCarthy, a solid tackler in 2009, is now an indispensible playmaker and leader for the ND defense.
5 – Senior C Eric Olsen: Olsen solidified one of the worst run-blocking units in the nation with his move from guard to center and has played the best football of his career. The Irish offensive line has been transformed from major weakness to team strength with the help of Olsen, new OL coach Frank Verducci, and the rest of the starters up front.
6 – Sophomore G Trevor Robinson: My guess is the sophomore has graded out as the best starting lineman to date, but I had to give the nod to Olsen for leading the group through five games.
7 – Junior HB Armando Allen: Has missed the last two contests due to an injured ankle or he'd surely rank higher. To date, the junior half back has produced a workmanlike effort (Nevada); a near-heroic performance (Michigan); and a tone-setting battle through injury (Michigan State). His return vs. the Trojans next Saturday is essential to the team's chances at an upset.
8 – Sophomore WR Michael Floyd: He'd rank no lower than 1A if not for season-ending surgery due to a broken clavicle suffered in the 2nd Quarter vs. the Spartans in Week Three. It speaks volumes for the top-heavy efforts of the '09 Irish that Floyd and Allen (missing the last two-plus contests apiece) still rank among the top eight players to date.
9 – Sophomore LB/Rush End Darius Fleming: Didn't show much in the opener and followed that with a publicly rough Week Two in Ann Arbor. But Fleming was solid vs. Michigan State and the team's defensive MVP in West Lafayette vs. Purdue. He, like Allen, must return for the Irish to topple USC on the 17th. Fleming was a late scratch last Saturday vs. the Huskies due to a hamstring injury.
10 – Freshman Kicker Nick Tausch: Has connected on his last 10 field goals since missing the first offering of his career, Week Two in Ann Arbor. Tausch also missed a 1st Quarter extra point vs. Michigan State but was bailed out by teammate Ethan Johnson, who blocked a 3rd Quarter PAT to nullify the freshman's earlier miss. You could probably argue for Tausch at No. 9.
Michigan: Armando Allen; Jimmy Clausen; Paul Duncan; Kyle McCarthy; Trevor Robinson; Michael Floyd.
Michigan State: Jimmy Clausen; Golden Tate; Armando Allen; Trevor Robinson; Kyle McCarthy.
Washington: Jimmy Clausen; Golden Tate; Kyle Rudolph; Robert Hughes; Kerry Neal; Ethan Johnson for his best game of the season; Paddy Mullen and Ian Williams in the goal line defense; Manti Te'o; Nick Tausch.
Michigan: Paul Duncan with key blocks on the (at the time) crucial two-point conversion; Bobby Burger as a lead blocker in the backfield; Duval Kamara as a blocker; John Ryan staying home as a backside defensive end. Barry Gallup, Jr. as a kick returner.
Michigan State: Ian Williams for his best game of the season; Darius Fleming for his end-game pass rush; Chris Stewart for his best game of the season; Kyle Rudolph as a run-blocker.
Purdue: Robby Parris for his clutch 3rd and 15 reception on the game's final drive; Scott Smith for a touchdown-saving open-field special teams tackle; Bobby Burger for extended action as a lead blocker; Jonas Gray for a strong effort in the screen game.
Washington: Toryan Smith, John Ryan, and Brian Smith on one key goal line stop vs. a Jake Locker roll-out; Sam Young for his best game of the season; Armando Allen for a key blitz pick-up on Clausen's 67-yard touchdown pass to Tate; Kapron Lewis-Moore for a second consecutive improved effort.