Who Is Most Likely to Be Notre Dame's Next Heisman Candidate?
Notre Dame has produced seven Heisman Trophy winners over the years, which is the most of any college football team. Manti Te'o had a chance to become the eighth player last season but fell just short to some freshman named Johnny Manziel.
While the record is something that should be admired and respected, there hasn't been a Heisman winner from Notre Dame since Tim Brown back in 1987. If there is any time to bridge the gap and produce yet another Irish player that will live forever in history, it is now.
The Irish are once again winning at a high level, recruiting better than ever, and you can start to feel that excitement in the air that has been missing over the years.
It likely won't be long before a Notre Dame player brings the hardware back to South Bend. Here are the top players that are the most likely to make history.
5. Stephon Tuitt, DE
What does a guy have to do to generate some Heisman buzz around here?
Okay, I get the fact that Manti Te'o was on this team last season, but it was Stephon Tuitt who led the team with 11 sacks. All of those bad boys were up there with some of the best pass-rushers in all of college football.
Heading into his junior year, Tuitt needs to start being mentioned in the same breath as some of the bigger names on the defensive line. His athleticism and quickness coming off the edge are superior, and they will continue to cause problems for offensive linemen in the upcoming season.
If Jadeveon Clowney can start his own Heisman campaign, Irish fans should do what they can to get behind Tuitt as well. Clearly, you can't quite compare Clowney to any other player in college football, but the Irish have a terrific pass-rusher in their own right.
If the numbers are there once again and Notre Dame continues to win, there could be another Heisman candidate on the defensive side of the ball returning to New York.
4. Jaylon Smith, LB
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While we are on the subject of defense, Notre Dame may have yet to even see the most talented player on that side of the ball.
Manti Te'o was a great playmaker, but he didn't bring much athleticism and explosiveness to the table. He just had a knack for being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of a high football IQ.
A 2013 recruit in Jaylon Smith may end up being an even better player than Te'o ever was, while providing much of the same impact.
Smith is simply one of those rare athletes that are few and far between in each recruiting class. Playing both outside and inside linebacker in high school, Smith can contribute in pass coverage, run support, and of course, he is terrific at blitzing the quarterback. Smith even spent some time playing running back, showing remarkable leaping ability.
This guy is the future of the Notre Dame defense, and with there soon to be plenty of highlight plays to choose from, it wouldn't be surprising to see a new Irish linebacker being considered for the Heisman in a year or two.
3. Greg Bryant, RB
Heading into the upcoming season, Notre Dame's deepest position is probably at running back.
With many backs to choose from, Greg Bryant is likely going to be the popular choice when it comes to the coaching staff. Not enrolling until the fall, it is only a matter of time before Bryant is carrying the workload for the Irish in the backfield.
At 5'11", nearly 200 pounds, he has the well-built frame to carry the ball at least 200 times a season and will only add more muscle once he steps on campus. Considered more of a downhill runner, he also can make people miss with his deceptive quickness and vision in the open field.
Considering Bryant is going to eventually be that runner that receives the majority of the touches, you have to believe the chances of him competing for a Heisman are fairly high.
The last three Heisman winners at the running back position (Ricky Williams, Ron Dayne, Mark Ingram Jr.) were guys who put the offense on their back and led the way. Bryant has that ability when he arrives in South Bend.
2. Malik Zaire, QB
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Much like Smith and Bryant being the future at their positions, Malik Zaire came to Notre Dame to be the next great quarterback for this historic program. Already enrolled on campus, his chances are slim to see the field this year, but as early as next year he could be off and running.
Much like Everett Golson, Zaire is a dual-threat quarterback, but he seems to be a little more polished at this point in his career. His vision and his accuracy stand out when watching him as this guy is a true quarterback that would rather throw the ball before taking off and hurting you with his legs. He throws a pretty football and does well in figuring out the defense, making good decisions with the ball.
Yogi Roth, who hosts ESPN’s Elite 11 showcase, has had a chance to see plenty of the current Notre Dame quarterbacks, and he says Zaire is the best.
Now with Gunner Kiel off the roster, it won't be long before Zaire is given an opportunity to show what he's got. And considering the quarterback position has won 11 of the last 12 Heisman Trophies (not including Reggie Bush in 2005), I would say the odds are in his favor that he brings home the hardware at some point.
1. Everett Golson, QB
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Regardless of what you may think of Everett Golson, he is the starting quarterback for Notre Dame at this present moment. That gives him the best chance of any Irish player to win the Heisman right now, no matter what the circumstances may be.
Does he have to improve his decision making? Yes. Can he tone things down a bit and be a little more accurate with the football? Absolutely. However, he is only entering his second season as a starter and the first offseason champ knowing that he is the leader of the offense. He should be an improved quarterback by the time the regular season begins.
Golson has a veteran team around him and better offensive weapons to work with. He also happens to be on one of the most talked-about programs in the history of college football, which is back on track and winning once again. Golson doesn't need to put up ridiculous numbers to win the award; he just needs to do a better job of managing the game and do enough to keep producing victories. This formula helped put Alabama’s A.J. McCarron in the Heisman conversation last year.
Until Golson loses the starting job, my money is on him to be the next Notre Dame player to win the Heisman Trophy.