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TRIPLE-OPTION: The revolving door of Notre Dame Football players

It’s fine

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 Boston College at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Notre Dame news avalanche this month continues. It’s funny how just a few years ago the first half of December was as dead as an old man’s dick, but now with early signing day, the transfer portal, and a massive uptick in player bowl opt outs — we’re bouncing around like we just washed down a bottle of Viagra with a case of Pear Cinnamon Red Bull.

Thank Odin for the triple-option. We can catch-up in a civilized manner.

HEART TO HART

Cornerback Cam Hart has been one of the more underrated players on the Notre Dame roster for a few years now. The truth is — is that he was really excellent at his job, and we kind of took it for granted in a lot of ways. Hart penned a goodbye post as he is opting out of the bowl game and will prepare for the NFL Draft.

THE BOYS ARE BACK HOME

So both Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne are back at Notre Dame, and neither will be playing football for the Irish. While Buchner is making the move to play lacrosse at Notre Dame, Pyne’s decision to come back is actually brilliant.

Pyne is working the system to grab a Notre Dame degree, get a second transfer, and gain immediate eligibility this fall for whatever school he ends up transferring to after the spring.

COMING BACK FOR THAT “C”

Jack Kiser is playing in the Sun Bowl and he’s coming back in 2024. With the departure of Marist Liufau and the likely departure of JD Bertrand, Kiser’s return is absolutely crucial to the Irish cause in Al Golden’s 3rd year as the DC.

We can probably bank on Kiser wearing a “C” on his uniform soon (as it should be).

EVERYBODY’S ALL-AMERICAN

The All-American lists have been coming out with just one more to go. Joe Alt and Xavier Watts are already Consensus All-Americans and will likely become Unanimous All-Americans when the fifth and final list comes out. Both Audric Estime and Howard Cross have landed on 2nd teams.

Here’s Notre Dame’s press release after list 4:

Alt, Watts, Cross III And Estimé Earn All-America Honors From The Sporting News

South Bend, Indiana — Four University of Notre Dame student-athletes have earned All-America accolades from The Sporting News. Junior offensive tackle Joe Alt and junior safety Xavier Watts were named to the first team, while senior defensive tackle Howard Cross III and junior running back Audric Estimé earned second-team honors.

The Sporting News is one of the five All-America teams that are utilized to determine both consensus and unanimous All-America honors. Alt and Watts have already earned first-team honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), the Walter Camp Foundation and the Associated Press. Cross III and Estimé earned second-team honors from the Associated Press and The Sporting News while Cross III added a second-team award from the FWAA. The American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) team is the only remaining team that has yet to announce their selections.

Joe Alt

FWAA All-American - First Team

Walter Camp All-American - First Team

Associated Press All-American - First Team

The Sporting News - First Team

Alt, who was a finalist for the 2023 Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy, served as the bedrock of Notre Dame’s offensive line from the left tackle position. The North Oaks, Minnesota, native helped the Irish offense finish the regular season ranked ninth in the FBS for scoring offense (39.1 points per game), 12th in team passing efficiency (161.49) and 16th in passing yards per completion (14.02).

Notre Dame’s 39.1 points per game this season is the best average for the program since 1912, and would rank second all-time in the school record book. The Irish were in goal-line situations of five yards or less 18 times this season and converted each time, including 12 rushing touchdowns, four passing touchdowns and two field goals (one of which was forced by the end of a half).

Notre Dame held seven of 12 opponents to their lowest sack totals of the year, including sixth-ranked Ohio State and 10th-ranked Southern Cal. The Irish offensive line helped their side of the ball rank eighth in the nation in tackles for loss allowed (3.75/game) and 13th in sacks allowed (1.17).

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Alt allowed just five pressures and a single sack in 368 pass block sets this season. PFF ranks Alt as the second overall offensive tackle in the nation and is the only offensive tackle rated by the service in the top-eight in run blocking and pass blocking. He started all 13 games for the Irish in 2023 and since assuming the starting left tackle position during the 2021 season has made 33 consecutive starts.

Xavier Watts

FWAA All-American - First Team

Walter Camp All-American - First Team

Associated Press All-American - First Team

The Sporting News - First Team

The 2023 Bronko Nagurski Awardwinner as the nation’s best defensive player, Watts led the nation in interceptions this year with seven and established himself as one of the best playmaking safeties in the country. He is the first Notre Dame player to post back-to-back games with multiple interceptions and just the fifth FBS player to do so in the last five seasons. Watts also became the first Notre Dame player to intercept a pass in three consecutive games this year.

A two-time national defensive player of the week in 2023, Watts earned his first award after dominating the game against No. 6 Southern Cal on October 14. He piled up seven tackles, intercepted reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Caleb Williams two times, forced a fumble and also recovered a different fumble and returned it for a touchdown.

He followed up the Southern Cal performance with two more interceptions in the victory over Pittsburgh. All seven of Watts’ interceptions this season have led directly to Notre Dame points including five touchdowns.

Watts finished the season fifth on the Notre Dame team with 47 tackles, which included 2.5 TFL, four passes broken up, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. His 137 interception return yards are the second-most at Notre Dame since 1996 (Julian Love, 2017, 153).

Howard Cross III

FWAA All-American - Second Team

Walter Camp All-American - Second Team

Associated Press All-American - Second Team

The Sporting News - Second Team

A Bednarik Award semifinalist, Cross III announced his status as a premiere defensive player in the country during the come-from-behind battle at No. 17 Duke on September 30. Leading the Irish with 13 tackles, Cross III also forced two fumbles (including the game-clinching fumble with 0:27 remaining) and claimed national defensive player of the week honors from Walter Camp, the Bednarik Award and the Senior Bowl.

The Duke game was not the only standout performance by Cross III this season. He piled up seven tackles at No. 25 Louisville, seven more at Clemson and added nine more stops in the home finale against Wake Forest. His 64 tackles this season tie him for the lead among all Power 5 defensive lineman and he is one of just eight FBS front-four defensive players to post 60 or more tackles this season.

Finally, Cross III’s 64 stops this season are the most for an Irish defensive lineman since Trevor Laws stacked up a remarkable 112 tackles in 2007. The 64 tackles are the 13th-best for a front-four Irish defensive lineman since 1986.

Audric Estimé

Associated Press All-American - Second Team

The Sporting News - Second Team

Estimé logged one of the most prolific seasons by a running back in Notre Dame football history in 2023, rushing for 1,341 yards (fifth on the Notre Dame single-season chart) and a single-season record 18 touchdowns. His final game in an Irish uniform was a memorable one as Estimé rumbled for 238 yards and four touchdowns in the victory at Stanford. It was the fourth-most rushing yards in a game for a Notre Dame player and pushed his career total to 2,321, which is 11th on the all-time Notre Dame list and just 20 yards behind George Gipp (2,341 from 1917-20).

Among all FBS players, Estimé’s 1,341 yards ranked eighth at the end of the regular season and his yards-per-game average of 111.8 was 10th. His six 100-yard rushing games in 2023 will finish tied for 7th in the Notre Dame record book for a single season. Also, Estimé’s 6.22 career yards-per-rush average is ranked 8th all-time at Notre Dame. His 29 career rushing touchdowns rank him tied for seventh on the Irish charts.

Estimé’s two-year production is noteworthy as well. From 2022-23, his 2,261 yards are the 8th-most among FBS players and his 6.2 yards-per-carry average ranks 15th.

Alt and Watts also have earned first-team All-America honors from CBS Sports, The Athletic and USA Today. Estimé was a second-team selection by all three outlets as well.