No. 5 – Armando Allen
I originally slotted Allen at No. 4 (then after typing out Michael Floyd's stats realized the error of my ways). Allen played in nine games, finished with 697 yards on 142 carries (both career highs) while catching 28 passes for 264 yards (15 of his grabs occurred in his last two games vs. Pittsburgh and UConn). The junior scored three touchdowns on the ground; threw for another (vs. MSU) and scored the go-ahead two-point conversion at Ann Arbor.
Only Washington (a game in which he re-injured his ankle) and USC held Allen in check as the improved all-around ‘back totaled 72 yards and a score on 15 carries vs. Nevada; 139 yards and a TD on 21 carries vs. Michigan; 115 yards and a TD (and a passing TD) on 23 carries vs. Michigan State; 98 yards on 21 carries vs. BC; 77 yards on 14 carries at Pittsburgh while adding 8 check-down receptions; and 106 yards on 24 carries vs. UConn.
Allen suffered a mental error (and subsequent personal foul penalty) at Michigan and later a major physical one, fumbling away Notre Dame's final drive in the home finale vs. UConn (he did, in his defense, have an undiagnosed broken right hand at the time). But injuries are part of football and part of a running back's role is to stay healthy enough to compete: Allen missed (or was withheld from) four full games and had to leave another (Washington). It's not a question of toughness (at all) with Allen, but great ‘backs are durable ‘backs. Allen became a good and incredibly valuable cog in the Irish offense this season. A season of good health is essential in 2010.
No. 4 – Michael Floyd
Like Rudolph (No. 6), I was forced to unfairly dock Floyd for his injury (broken clavicle), one from which he courageously returned after six weeks (five games). Floyd never returned to his pre-injury form in the final month, a matter I attribute to conditioning, not only cardiovascular but football game-readiness (ability to take full contact, etc.). Another future 1st Round pick, Floyd finished with 44 receptions for 795 yards (18.1 yards-per-catch) and 9 touchdowns in what amounted to 6.5 games played. He finished with between 95 and 189 receiving yards in each of the six games he finished as a true sophomore.
Curiously, Notre Dame posted just a 2-5 record when Michael Floyd played in a game this season.
No. 3 – Kyle McCarthy
McCarthy led the Irish in tackles (both solo and assisted), interceptions and passes defended. He finished second in the nebulous category of "Passes Broken Up" (I believe a PBU is a ball batted to the ground while a PD includes hits that result in incomplete passes, etc.). McCarthy's 101 tackles were too often made past the second level or as the dreaded last line of defense (a repeat of his 110-tackle season last year). But without McCarthy's three game-changing big plays the Irish could have slipped into the abyss of another 3-9 season:
- Michigan State: Leading 33-30 with 1:10 remaining, McCarthy stepped in front of a Kirk Cousins pass at the Irish 4-yard line, preserving victory and ending Notre Dame's six-game home losing skid vs. the Spartans.
- Washington: Leading 37-30 in overtime, McCarthy delivered a brutal shot to Huskies wide receiver D'Andre Goodwin, dislodging the 4th down pass inside the Irish 5-yard line to end the contest. (Harrison Smith aided the pass break-up with a second hit on Goodwin a half-second later).
- Boston College: Leading 20-16 with 4:23 remaining, McCarthy intercepted a 2nd down Dave Shinskie pass at the Irish 42-yard line. McCarthy had previously intercepted Shinskie near the same yard-marker to set up Notre Dame's go-ahead (and ultimately) game-winning touchdown drive.
McCarthy also set up the Irish for victory in Ann Arbor: trailing 31-26, K-Mac intercepted a 3rd down Tate Forcier pass to give the Irish possession at the UM 36-yard line with just under 8 minutes remaining. The Irish drove for the go-ahead touchdown before the defense failed to hold the lead in the final two minutes.
As with the rest of the defense, McCarthy's overall level of play slipped in November, due partly to a switch to the free safety role that allowed Sergio Brown to play in McCarthy's strong safety spot.
No. 2 – Jimmy Clausen
He's No. 1A, but that would be a cop-out. Clausen produced one of the best statistical seasons in team history, completing exactly 68% of his passes (No. 1 all-time) for 3,722 yards (No. 2 all-time), 28 touchdowns (No. 2 all-time) and just 4 interceptions (No. 2 interception percentage of all-time). Two of his intercepted passes bounced off either the hands or back of Irish receivers. Clausen topped the 300-yard passing plateau in seven contests (a school-record); was never held out of the end zone and added three rushing touchdowns.
More importantly, Clausen engineered four come-from-behind victories and a fifth (Michigan) in which he threw the go-ahead score with under 5:00 remaining. His final fourth quarter (and overtime) numbers are astounding: 77-126 for 1,045 yards and 13 touchdowns (two rushing) and just one interception.
In July, I predicted a breakout, top-tier season for Clausen as a junior. He far exceeded those expectations.
No. 1 – Golden Tate
A program record-shattering 93 receptions and 1,496 receiving yards. A record-tying 15 receiving scores (plus two rushing and another via punt return). 25 rushes for 195 yards and two scores. A school-record 9 separate games in which he exceeded 100 receiving yards, breaking a mark that stood for 38 seasons. Nine separate games with at least seven receptions.
An incredible 42 receptions for 743 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns (2 more rushing) in the 22 quarters in which Michael Floyd missed due to his broken clavicle.
Golden Tate produced one of the best statistical seasons, for any position, in team history. More importantly, he competed to the bitter end in every close loss. He led by example with heart, determination, and the innate desire (and ability) to score every time he touched the football from scrimmage.
And the scary thing is he's not yet a complete receiver. It will be highway robbery if he's not honored with the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best wide receiver and the would-be senior will be the nation's leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy should he return in 2010.
Golden Tate was the best offensive player in the nation this season; he just happened to play for a mediocre football team.