Notre Dame Football’s 2015 Midseason MVPs

CJ Prosise - Notre Dame RB
Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is 6-1 and currently sits at No. 9 in the latest Associated Press poll, and while head coach Brian Kelly’s team has feisty opponents remaining on the schedule, the most difficult part has passed. And Notre Dame has been able to keep their playoff hopes alive thanks to the outstanding play of five midseason MVPs, both individual and collective.

5. Justin Yoon

Pressure is inherent for starting true freshmen. That pressure amplifies when your head coach calls you the best at your position in the nation before you’ve even arrived to campus. Such was the case for Justin Yoon, the former No. 1 high school kicker in the country.

Yoon struggled early in the season and headed into Death Valley to face Clemson having converted only three of five field goal attempts, but all that was before Yoon drilled a confidence-boosting 46-yarder in a must-have situation in the midst of hurricane conditions against the Tigers. Since that impressive field goal Yoon has been perfect, going 5-5 and blasting each attempt directly through the uprights.

The talented true freshman has already emerged as a legitimate weapon, and it would not be surprising – given Yoon’s physical ability and mental toughness – if he wound up being the best kicker to ever wear a golden helmet.

4. Team Defense

Notre Dame’s defense has been wildly inconsistent at times in 2015 but they have managed to come through when needed the most. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s unit systematically dismantled Georgia Tech’s triple option attack, an offensive system Notre Dame has struggled to stop in recent years. And despite rough beginnings, Notre Dame’s defense held strong against some of the nation’s top offenses.

Clemson was held to only 10 points in three quarters as star quarterback DeShaun Watson was limited to less than 100 yards passing and a 50-percent completion rate. To put this accomplishment in proper perspective, Watson threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns against Boston College, the No. 1 overall defense in the nation heading into this past weekend. Likewise, the potent USC Trojans offensive attack was held scoreless in the last 25 minutes, gaining only 87 yards and turning the football over twice.

3. Offensive Line

Preseason pundits singled out the offensive line as the key to a successful 2015 for Notre Dame given the inexperience at the quarterback position after Malik Zaire was named the starter. That prediction magnified many fold when Zaire was lost for the season due to injury and former third string quarterback DeShone Kizer was elevated to the top of the depth chart. Thus far the offensive line has lived up to the hype.

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The Irish rushing attack is averaging 235 yards per game, which is No. 15 nationally and tops like the likes of Stanford, Georgia, Clemson, UCLA and Alabama. And the pass protection has been stout to the point Kizer is struggling with holding on to the ball too long in the pocket, a good problem for a young quarterback to have.

2. DeShone Kizer

Notre Dame would not still be in the playoff hunt without the incredible play of DeShone Kizer, whose story is every underdog’s dream. Buried on the depth chart this spring as Everett Golson and Malik Zaire battled for the starting position, Kizer found himself thrown into the fire with very few practice reps when Zaire went down with injury. And with the game very much in doubt against Virginia, Kizer led a miraculous comeback, connecting on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller with only seconds remaining to win the game.

Despite Kizer’s lack of experience he’s already built a strong resume in a very short period of time, defeating Georgia Tech and USC and nearly defeating Clemson in Death Valley, a program that hasn’t lost at home since 2012.

1. C.J. Prosise

If Notre Dame’s annual team banquet was held today, C.J. Prosise would capture MVP honors. Prosise has one of the most unique career trajectories one can find in college football. A one-time under the radar three-star recruit from Virginia, Prosise arrived in South Bend as a safety prospect before being moved to wide receiver. When former five-star running back Greg Bryant left the program and starter Tarean Folston suffered a season-ending injury, Prosise, who had never played the running back position even in high school, became the workhorse and is having a historic season.

Prosise is No. 11 in the nation in rushing yards and will likely eclipse the 1,000 yard mark this Saturday against Temple. And in one season at running back he has managed to pass former greats such as Rocket Ismail on the all-time rushing list and is on pace to break the school record for most rushing yards in one season.

With some of the nation’s top defenses remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule, Prosise will need to continue his MVP season to keep the Fighting Irish in the playoff hunt.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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7 comments

  1. MikeT 4 years ago

    Whether this team makes it to the playoffs or not, it is an exceptional team. One would be hard pressed to compare any team that has had so many key players injured but continues to find a way to win over some pretty good teams.

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  2. Rich M 4 years ago

    I can’t say that I disagree with your top 5. All have had a very good if not great season thus far. The only one that should be on, probably at number 2 along side of Kizer is Fuller. Kizer certainly has been impressive but without Fuller catching the ball, the Irish season may very well have been different to this point. When you consider the injured players the entire team probably needs to be on the list at #1.
    ND’s depth has certainly be a key to their success. They have a few hurdles to jump over, starting with Temple, but if they continue to play solid football they should be able to get over them! GO Irish!

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  3. Jerry Seppanen 4 years ago

    Team game. team wins. Cant let up at all!

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  4. ChrisJ 4 years ago

    Understand, Scott. And that is why I agreed with you on every other one you had on your list.

    These players/groups have definitely stepped up and put us in a position to make the playoffs. It is pretty awesome having this type of talent and depth. Hats off to Brian Kelly and co. for recruiting so well.

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  5. Scott Janssen 4 years ago

    @ChrisJ

    I hear you, and Will Fuller is definitely a team MVP. This list was more for players or units that weren’t proven commodities that needed to have strong seasons in order for ND to get to this point. So yes, absolutely, Will Fuller is one of the best players on the team and if not for his play against Virginia, and his plays against USC — which were incredibly impressive — ND wouldn’t be where they are at this point.

    But we all expected that kind of production out of Fuller after his breakout performance last year. But how would Yoon perform? Could our defense make plays? Would our offensive line live up to the hype? Could Kizer and Prosise actually carry the offense forward? This article was more about evaluating the unknowns, and the unknowns have stepped up in a big way this year.

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  6. ChrisJ 4 years ago

    Uhh, Will Fuller?? Sorry Scott but its crazy not putting him on here….

    1. Prosise
    2. Fuller
    3. Kizer (having a receiver like Fuller makes Kizer’s job a little easier)
    4. O-Line
    5. Defense

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  7. Peter Recchio 4 years ago

    Agree with this list except #4. I would insert special teams there instead. ( even while Yoon was given a spot all for himself ).

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