Is the Front 7 of Notre Dame's Defense Playing at an SEC Level?

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2012

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 15:  Andrew Maxwell #10 of the Michigan State Spartans fumbles the ball in the fourth quarter while being hit by Stephon Tuitt #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Spartan Stadium Stadium on September 15, 2012 in East Lansing, Michigan. Notre Dame won the game 20-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Whether you look at the numbers or just watch the game tape, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish front seven is playing like one of the nation's best, a spot that is often reserved for the boys residing in the Southeastern Conference.

That is to say, Notre Dame, through the first quarter of 2012, are playing SEC-caliber football in their front seven.

That does not mean they have reached the pinnacle of defensive performance yet. As M Live reports, safety Jamoris Slaughter is out for the season in an already thin and weakened Notre Dame secondary. The Fighting Irish certainly have some issues to fix in the back end of their defense as they play a lot of youth and inexperience.

They are not the total package like LSU or Alabama.

However, when you look at the front seven as its own entity, the Irish are damn good. Last season we saw flashes of how good this group could be. They battled a fast Florida State team in the bowl game and flew around to the football. The defensive line features players that everyone wanted, and that's without one of last year's standouts, Aaron Lynch.

Guys like Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day and Louis Nix III did not go to Notre Dame because other, bigger fish weren't calling. They enrolled at South Bend because they wanted to; now it is paying dividends for Bob Diaco and his defense. It's one thing to be mean and nasty, it's another thing to be mean and nasty and fast, which is what the front is for the Fighting Irish.

The defensive linemen run well, as do the linebackers for the Irish. We all know that Manti Te'o is one of the best players in college football, if not the best; the kid also has some talent around him in that foursome of backers.

Prince Shembo has grown into a true force at the outside linebacker position. The junior has become more assertive on the field, imposing his will when it comes to holding the edge, chasing down a quarterback or corralling a running back trying to hit the corner.

Ishaq Williams is getting reps and making them count as he has speed and gets to the ball-carrier in a hurry.

Both Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox help make the Irish defense complete as they rotate to play to the strengths of both players. Calabrese is a plug, a great complement to Te'o on early downs, and he'll fill a gap in a heartbeat. Fox, quick enough to be a factor in pass coverage, helps keep the Irish in a truer 3-4 look than having to change their entire lineup.

If you like and respect defense, this front is a fun one to watch. They held Le'Veon Bell to just 77 yards, while limiting the Spartans as a whole to just 50 yards on 25 attempts this past Saturday night.

They are a group that plays with emotion. They bring real fire to the table and play well with each other.

The Fighting Irish are still ironing things out on offense and their secondary is a work in progress. However, when it comes to the front seven, they have the personnel to run with just about any in the nation, including the SEC, and that's something that you couldn't say about the Irish for quite some time.