There was a definite bright side to the 2017 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After a 4-8 debacle last season, Notre Dame reached No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But there also was a downside, as the Irish lost two of their last three games, not only missing the playoff, but falling out of the New Year’s Six bowl consideration as well.
Here are some awards — both good and bad — for this year’s Fighting Irish.
Offensive MVP: Quenton Nelson, OG
Nelson and line mate Mike McGlinchey have been thought of in tandem every step of the way and both were named first-team All-American for their work opening holes for running back Josh Adams. As a tackle, McGlinchey will more than likely be picked higher in next year's NFL draft. But Nelson was a more consistent performer this year, especially over the second half of the season.
Defensive MVP: Julian Love, CB
Along with Notre Dame’s two offensive linemen, the sophomore from the Chicagoland area was named first-team All-America by the College Football News. Love (above, right) had three interceptions on the season, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He also was second nationally with 20 passes defended and fourth with 17 passes broken up. A solid tackler, Love will be a leader in the 2018 Irish secondary.
Best Freshman: Robert Hainsey, OT
He split time with Tommy Kraemer at tackle this season and since Notre Dame classifies Kraemer as a sophomore, and not the redshirt freshman he’d be at any other school, Hainsey gets the nod. The 6-foot-5, 290-pounder will probably remain at right tackle next year with Kraemer moving inside to take an open guard spot.
Best Play of the Season: Consecutive Toe-Tapping Catches Against NC State
With the game tied at 14 late in the second quarter, Notre Dame was facing 3rd-and-6 at the Wolfpack 22-yard line. Brandon Wimbush threw a pass on the sideline that Durham Smythe grabbed while somehow managing to get his feet down for an incredible first down reception. On the very next play, Kevin Stepherson caught a ball in the corner of the end zone that was originally ruled incomplete. But upon review, it was ruled a catch, as Stepherson was able to barely get a toe inside the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Best Performance (Player): Josh Adams vs. USC
Adams had more yards on fewer carries against Boston College. But considering the competition, his 19-carry, 191-yard, three-touchdown performance versus the Trojans takes the cake. In the third quarter, after USC finally established some offensive rhythm with touchdowns on consecutive possessions, Adams’ 84-yard touchdown run slammed the door shut.
Best Game (Team): 49-14 Win vs. USC
It was a total dismantling from start to finish of the team that would wind up eighth in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Irish ran for a staggering 377 yards against the Trojans and kept star USC quarterback Sam Darnold in check, sacking him four times, forcing a fumble, and picking him off once. At that moment, everyone considered Notre Dame a legitimate contender for a playoff berth.
Defining Moment: Stanford Game
For the first three quarters of the game, Notre Dame played at a high level. Though still inconsistent, quarterback Brandon Wimbush teamed up with Kevin Stepherson and Equanimeous St. Brown on some big plays and the defense did their part containing Bryce Love. And in an instant, it was gone. The Irish led 20-17 entering the fourth quarter. Less than five minutes later, it was 38-20 Stanford. The strong start — and subsequent breakdown — epitomized the entire 2017 season.
Biggest Surprise: Te'von Coney, LB
It’s not as though Coney did nothing before 2017. He did have 62 tackles as a sophomore in 2016. But the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder became a different player this fall. Coney leads the team with 99 total tackles and the player that had just two tackles for lost yardage in his career has 13 this season. With Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Drue Tranquill roaming the second level, Coney came into the year fighting for playing time and has emerged as one of the team’s most important contributors.
Biggest Disappointment: November
The Irish were flying after disposing of NC State to get to 7-1. But something changed as October departed. Even as the Irish were building a 31-10 lead over Wake Forest, the Deacons seemed to be moving the ball too easily and the Wake comeback in the second half should have been a sign. The following week, Notre Dame was ripped apart by Miami. The Irish then struggled to get by Navy and lost the finale at Stanford. In prime position heading into the home stretch, Notre Dame played its worst football of the season when it mattered most.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Quenton Nelson/Mike McGlinchey, OL
In this case, the two have to be linked. McGlinchey completing his time leaves a hole at the all-important left tackle position and Nelson moving on means that there will be some shifting of personnel along the offensive line. Notre Dame has recruited well in this area, but Nelson and McGlinchey were special players for the Irish
Player to Watch in 2018: Liam Eichenberg, OL
While Quenton Nelson may have had a better season for Notre Dame, filling Mike McGlinchey’s spot on Brandon Wimbush’s blind side is of utmost importance. Eichenberg was a top-100 recruit who had offers from schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State and Penn State. He’s been projected as a left tackle since arriving in South Bend and he will get his chance to run with the ones starting in the spring.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Development of Brandon Wimbush
The Irish quarterback did not seem to develop as the season went along. As a matter of fact, he may have regressed. Wimbush is a dynamic runner that needs to markedly improve his accuracy and decision-making as a passer. With a new-look offensive line and a still developing receiving corps, Wimbush’s progression is paramount to Irish success in 2018.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.