We did the ancillary awards last week, now we get to the main event. Who will be this teams MVP on offense? Or the revamped defense? With less than a week to go before kickoff, it’s prediction season so lets just dive right in.
My Pick: Equanimeous St. Brown
I’m drinking the Kool-Aid on St. Brown, the hype has been building on him throughout the off season. Josh Adams is another popular option here, but I’m not sure he’s going to get the number of touches he needs to break through as the MVP of this offense.
St. Brown has clearly established himself at the #1 target at receiver, and showed he can carry the load last season. He fell just shy of a 1,000 yard season a year ago, but that is a mark he likely would have reached had the Irish qualified for a bowl game. At his yearly pace St. Brown was on track for 63 catches for 1,041 yards, very similar to the production of Will Fuller in 2014 during his first year of extended action. Fuller of course matched that in 2015 with a 1,258 yard, 14 touchdown season. I believe similar numbers are in play for the junior receiver from California.
If I had to guess, I’d put St. Brown at 75 receptions, 1,300 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Too much of a red zone threat not to get that touchdown total up, and there seems to be a confidence in him from the coaching staff that wasn’t there before. Plus, I think it’s a real thing that the guy throwing him the ball came in the same recruiting class. There is a familiarity there that I think will be an x factor for this duo.
My Pick: Nyles Morgan
Somewhat of an obvious choice, I’d be stunned of Morgan didn’t have a monster season. Drue Tranquill and Julian Love were also in consideration; they both will be in position to be playmakers who are on the field all the time and those roles lend themselves to big moments and gaudy stat lines. And gaudy stat lines lend themselves to awards. But, this is Morgan’s defense.
After the read and react style Morgan was forced to play during the first three years, he finally gets to attack the defense and start imposing his will. He was already a physical specimen, the changes to the weight program have only served to enhance his superiority body wise.
There is a concern up front; it’s often said the best friend to a linebacker or those who play in front of him. It’s no coincidence Manti Teo’s best season came with Kapron Lewis-Moore and Louis Nix taking up blockers and leaving him free to roam and make plays. This is not a strength of the current Notre Dame defense.
At least on paper, Notre Dame is at it’s weakest in terms of quality and depth on the defensive interior. There they are unproven (Bonner), inconsistent (Tillery), or green (Hinish, Tagovailoa-Amosa). They do have other bodies there, but none we know anything about, and most that came without recruiting fanfare. Long story short, it’s a concern.
I believe that to be something that serves to keep Morgan’s numbers down. I don’t expect 20 tackles for loss, for example. But, he’ll be the best player on the defense and expect plenty of playmaking from him, certainly more than we have seen in the past. He’s got the size, the athleticism, and his final season as captain as a motivator. He’s going to come through.
My Pick: Brandon Wimbush
Quarterbacks always get all the love.
Unlike Everett Golson in 2012, where his numbers were muted in his first season as the starter, I expect Wimbush to put up monster numbers this season. Something north of 2,800 passing yards, 500 rushing yards, and 30+ touchdowns accounted for. It’s just the nature of the offense.
His line is strong, his backs are versatile and in abundance, his receivers big and long. Plus, he’s got his tight end, Alize Mack, back who it seems is poised to make up for last season. I’ve been a little cautious in my projections for Mack, but he has been receiving raves from writers on the Notre Dame beat and the Irish coaches for the last couple of weeks. A reliable player in the middle of the field is invaluable for a quarterback and a key red zone threat.
What more does a quarterback need to be successful? It’s all there for Wimbush, all that’s left are the plays to be made, and with the full support of the staff and his teammates, I trust he’s going to make them.