Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2015

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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BY LOU SOMOGYI I n 1982, Notre Dame defeated Michigan at night in a home game, rallied in the 11th hour to beat a recent nemesis (Miami, 16‑14), earned respect nationally with a victory at No. 1 Pitt and was 6‑1‑1 and ranked No. 9 in November — with Irish faithful talking about play‑ ing Georgia for the national title in the Sugar Bowl. That promising campaign ended with three straight losses, including the school's first‑ever setback to Air Force, the failure to finish ranked and not even accepting a bowl bid at 6‑4‑1. That was the one season in Notre Dame's 127‑year football history that most resembled 2014. This year, the Irish downed Michi‑ gan in a night home game, rallied in the 11th hour to vanquish a recent nemesis (17‑14 versus Stanford) and earned national praise with a con‑ troversial 31‑27 loss at No. 2 Florida State. At 7‑1 and with a No. 6 ranking in the Associated Press poll in early November, the Fighting Irish were legitimately in the hunt to make the inaugural four‑team College Football Playoff. The 7‑5 finish, culminating with a 49‑14 thrashing at USC, marked only the fourth time Notre Dame lost its last four regular‑season games, joining the 1963, 1999 and 2009 teams. Despite the November rubble, these were among the individual highlights in 2014: TOP PERFORMER: LINEBACKER JAYLON SMITH Perhaps the second‑team Associated Press All‑America status was based some on past reputation, but Smith's 103 tackles (60 solo) during the regu‑ lar season were 38 more than anyone else for the Irish — despite adjusting to inside linebacker for the first time. Over the last 30 years, only Manti Te'o had more tackles (133) among Fighting Irish defenders as a sophomore. Like Te'o, Smith is capable of becom‑ ing the "face of the program" leader as he enters his junior season after finish‑ ing as one of five finalists for the But‑ kus Award. Playing one position two years in a row should help. HONORABLE MENTION: LEFT OFFENSIVE TACKLE RONNIE STANLEY — In a year fraught with offensive line changes, inconsistency and not much surge, Stanley remained a mainstay, which is why he is classified as a potential first‑ round pick in the NFL Draft even as a junior. Stanley and Smith are the only two Irish players to start all 26 games the past two seasons. MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: LINEBACKER JOE SCHMIDT Following the April spring game, Irish head coach Brian Kelly declared, LEAD ROLES Notre Dame's best players in 2014

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