Notre Dame Football: Three Players the Fighting Irish Really Need Back in 2019

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julian love

The very one-sided loss to #2 Clemson in the Cotton Bowl Semifinal showed the country that Notre Dame football still has a major gap to close on the national elite programs While the end result and overall big picture mirrored what happened versus Alabama in 2012, the program is still very different from what it was six years ago.

While many have been analogizing 2012 and 2018 Notre Dame football, the comparisons have some limitations. Right now Clemson and Alabama are at a level that’s a tier above the rest of the nation and in 2019 we’ll see if anyone can traverse that chasm.

“I feel terrible for our seniors,” Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said after the 30-3 loss in Arlington, Texas.

“They put us on the brink of a championship. It’s now up to everybody else that has eligibility in that locker room to get this football team to a championship. So the challenge is in that locker room now is to dedicate themselves to taking what this senior group has given the group that comes back and running with it and winning a championship.”

To have a real chance at winning a championship, the Irish will need all hands on deck.

Let’s take a look at three key Notre Dame football players that the team will really need back in order to try and secure a playoff berth this fall.

Cornerback Julian Love

Obviously, no one on the team improved their draft stock in this game, but of every Notre Dame football player, this is the one who is most likely to end up a first round pick come April. You saw how the game changed when he left due to a head injury.

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence didn’t really start taking the downfield shots until Love left, and got replaced by Donte Vaughn.

Lawrence threw directly at Vaughn and it resulted in two touchdown passes. Vaughn’s blown coverages also contributed to a third. So you see the difference he made in that game.

If Love comes back, and we don’t for sure yet which way he is leaning, he would be one of this team’s primary leaders and very likely a co-captain. He was also a good example of how to try and stay as positive possible after a hard loss like that.

If you try to read the tea leaves of his social media it looks like he’s staying.

This statement that he made in the postgame press conference sounds like the type of thing you would hear someone who is returning to school say.

“Two years ago we were in horrible — we were feeling horrible for a different reason, because we didn’t get a shot,” Love responded when asked how he would like to be remembered.

julian love

“And this year, obviously, is different. We got our shot. But we’re going to build on it, and you’ll see us back here for sure.”

Love has acknowledged just how much he’s been influenced by his mentor, ND defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, who was drafted fifth overall by the L.A. Rams. Maybe, with another year working under Lyght, Love could reach that stratosphere and perhaps that might entice him to stay. Another reason to potentially stay is the return of safety Alohi Gilman, and the potential to work with him again next year.

The All-America snub broke the College Football Playoff record by making 18 tackles in north Texas, which was one of the very few numbers/stats that was actually positive for the Fighting Irish on Saturday.

todd lyght

Wide Receivers Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool

Boykin, a Chicago guy and playmaker extraordinaire is apparently on the fence. Asked if it would be a hard decision to leave ND, he told the Tribune: “Definitely. If I were to leave this place it would tear me apart, honestly. I love my teammates. I love the school. And I have unfinished business. I want to win a national championship.”

He might be best served by staying and potentially increasing his draft stock. Ditto for Chase Claypool, who is a formidable deep threat and possession guy, but doesn’t really project to a day one or day two guy right now. (Bear in mind these things are about as inexact as science can be).

notre dame

Perhaps the (with apologies to The Clash) “should I stay or should I go now” for this trio of players will be influenced by the fact that thus far, everyone on the fence/with an ability to leave early has decided to stay. Julian Okwara, a mere three hours from press time of this article, decided to return. The junior tied for the team lead in sacks and set a record for QB hurries.

His position group mate Khalid Kareem, who likewise had a massive season/some NFL Draft stock, also decided to stay.

It’s a repeat of 2018 when versatile defender Drue Tranquill, DL Jerry Tillery and LB Te’von Coney all decided to return for another go around. In recent years we’ve also seen star OL Mike McGlinchey and Ronnie Stanley return to school in situations when the opportunity for NFL dollars was very much present.

brandon wimbush

Special note/related item- quarterback Brandon Wimbush 

After we started drafting this article, Wimbush made it official that he’s leaving Notre Dame. He’s off to another school, looking for a place where he could be starter during his final year of eligibility. Heading into the Cotton Bowl, we saw this coming as it was revealed at Media Day that Wimbush had put his feelers out in the transfer market.

What he said to a reporter postgame indicated that he was as good as gone.

That is a very very classy goodbye from Wimbush, and one can’t help but wish him well. He’ll be a quality starter somewhere else, and hopefully for the Irish, a solid back-up emerges in fall camp.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation. 

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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