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ND Rank: #21-25

Feb 4, 2014, 11:28 PM EDT

Todd Lyght deflects a pass against USC in 1988. The Irish won the game against the No. 2 Trojans 27-10. Todd Lyght deflects a pass against USC in 1988. The Irish won the game against the No. 2 Trojans 27-10.

Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

After three months, we’ve finally gotten to the top 25 of the greatest players in Notre Dame history. These are the best of the best, the players in discussion for best college players of all-time from any school.

I’ve gone back and forth on a lot of these, even from the same position. How do you decide between Jim Lynch and Mike Stonebreaker? Terry Hanratty and John Huarte? Rocket Ismail and Tim Brown? As we finish up these rankings, some of you who’ve seen a good deal of these players might think it’s a lot more clear cut than I did.

I’ve said a lot over the last couple months that this is a pretty silly, futile exercise. This is no objective list, and the goal  was, publicly, to spur some discussion and, personally, to learn a little bit about Notre Dame’s great players. I’ve based a lot of my decisions in numbers, but there’s also a good deal of my own opinion. But don’t forget to share your own if mine’s wrong.

#25: Ed Beinor – Tackle – 1936-1938

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Ed Beinor

2x 1st-team All-American (1937, 1938), Unanimous All-American (1938), 9th in Heisman (1938)

Just the second Notre Dame player to finish in Heisman voting since its inception in 1935 (the first was Bill Shakespeare), Ed Beinor was one of the most highly decorated linemen in Notre Dame history. A two-year starter, he was a first-team All-American both of those seasons, while earning unanimous honors as a senior in 1938.

One of Beinor’s most memorable plays was recovering a blocked Georgia Tech kick to help preserve the lead for the Irish. Notre Dame would go on to win the game 14-6.

In addition to playing football, he was a talented shot putter, winning the 1938 Lithuanian National Olympics – the same year he helped lead Notre Dame to a top-five season. The 8-1 Irish lost their bid for a national championship the last week of the season in Los Angeles.

After college Beinor was drafted in the sixth round of the 1939 NFL Draft by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played three seasons in the league with the Chicago Cardinals and Washington Redskins.

#24: Jim Lynch – Linebacker – 1964-1966

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Jim Lynch

Unanimous All-American (1966), 2nd-team All-American (1965), Maxwell Award (1966), National Champion (1966)

1965: 108 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 1 INT

1966: 106 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 3 INTs

The sole captain of the 1966 team that had possibly the best Irish defense ever, Jim Lynch was Ara Parseghian’s greatest linebacker. For an 11-year coach known for fearsome defenses, that’s an incredible feat in itself. In ’66, Lynch was not only a unanimous All-American, but he was also named the best college player in the country of any position with the Maxwell Award.

Lynch was crucial in the classic tie against Michigan State, leading the defense that shut out the Spartans in the second half while the offense was missing Terry Hanratty and Nick Eddy, the star quarterback and halfback.

A winner with the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, Lynch later said, “The Super Bowl was not as big as that Michigan State–Notre Dame game.”

#23: Michael Stonebreaker – Linebacker – 1986-1990

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Michael Stonebreaker

2x Consensus All-American (1988, 1990), Unanimous All-American (1990), National Champion (1988)

1988: 104 tackles, 1 sack, 5 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, TD

1990: 95 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 pass breakup, 2 interceptions

The most aptly named player in Notre Dame history, Michael Stonebreaker was one of three (!) unanimous All-Americans on the 1990 team (Raghib Ismail and Chris Zorich). There have only been five such selections in the 23 seasons since. But Stonebreaker might be better known for his other All-American season on the 1988 defense.

That team gave up just 13 points per game while playing one of the hardest schedules in the country. Coordinated by Barry Alvarez, it featured such legends as Stonebreaker, Zorich, Frank Stams, Todd Lyght, and Wes Pritchett. Stonebreaker finished second on the team in tackles and led the Irish in 1990 after being sidelined for the ’89 season.

One of his most important plays came in arguably the greatest game in Notre Dame history – the 1988 Miami matchup. He recovered a controversial Miami fumble on the Notre Dame one-yard line midway through the fourth quarter with the Hurricanes trailing 31-24. Of course, Notre Dame would go on to win 31-30.

Interestingly enough, Stonebreaker also recovered a fumble at the Irish two-yard line late in the fourth against Miami in 1990. Notre Dame upset the second-ranked Hurricanes 29-20 in the last game between the rivals until 2010.

A Butkus finalist in both 1988 and ’90, Stonebreaker knocked West Virginia quarterback Major Harris out of the 1989 Fiesta Bowl, which the Irish won 34-21 for the national championship.

#22: Bill Fischer – Guard / Tackle – 1945-1948

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Bill Fischer

2x Consensus All-American (1947, 1948), Outland Trophy (1948), 2x National Champion (1946, 1947)

A three-year starter for Frank Leahy, Bill Fischer had one of the best starting records of any player in Notre Dame history. In those three years, the Irish went 26-0-2 with championships in ’46 and ’47. After playing tackle in 1945, Fischer moved to guard in ’46, where he started the rest of his career.

It’s no coincidence that the Irish won the titles when Fischer started at left guard with George Connor at left tackle. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better pair of linemates playing next to each other in the history of college football.

While Connor won the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman in 1946 – the trophy’s first year – Fischer would also be named top lineman in the country in ’48.

A two-time Consensus All-American, Fischer was picked in the first round of the 1949 NFL Draft and played four seasons with the Chicago Cardinals. He was selected for three Pro Bowl teams in those four years.

#21: Todd Lyght – Cornerback – 1987-1990

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Todd Lyght

2x Consensus All-American (1989, 1990), Unanimous All-American (1989), National Champion (1988)

1989: 47 tackles, 6.5 pass breakups, 8 interceptions

1990: 49 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2 interceptions; 1 kickoff return for 53 yards, TD

Notre Dame’s best cornerback since the days of one-platoon football, Todd Lyght was a critical component of Lou Holtz’s defenses. Especially with the five-man front in 1988, Lyght’s pass coverage abilities were all the more necessary.

His eight interceptions in 1989 are two shy of the record set by Mike Townsend in ’72, and he remains in the top 10 in career interceptions and pass breakups. The leading tackler in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl, his contributions to the ’88 championship team are unquestioned.

But Lyght’s best seasons were his final two, in which he earned two consensus All-American honors (including unanimous in ’89). He was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in ’89 for best defensive back. A three-year starter, he was named a captain of the 1990 team that finished sixth in the country.

Lyght also had a very successful NFL career, picked fifth overall by the St. Louis Rams, with whom he won a Super Bowl in 1999, the year he was first-team All-Pro. Lyght is now an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are some highlights of Lyght’s Notre Dame career. Whoever makes a .gif of that hit against Michigan deserves a medal or something.

List:

Intro

21. Todd Lyght

22. Bill Fischer

23. Michael Stonebreaker

24. Jim Lynch

25. Ed Beinor

26. Nick Eddy

27. Luther Bradley

28. Bob Williams

29. Bob Golic

30. Ralph Guglielmi

31. Steve Niehaus

32. Jeff Samardzija

33. Mike McCoy

34. Walt Patulski

35. Brady Quinn

36. Joe Theismann

37. Joe Kurth

38. Elmer Layden

39. Monty Stickles

40. Bob Dove

41. Harry Stuhldreher

42. Jim Crowley

43. Golden Tate

44. Tom Gatewood

45. Jim Seymour

46. Larry DiNardo

47. Al Ecuyer

48. Bobby Taylor

49. Clarence Ellis

50. Creighton Miller

51. Don Miller

52. Alan Page

53. Vagas Ferguson

54. Jack Snow

55. Greg Marx

56. Tom Schoen

57. Tom Regner

58. Tony Rice

59. Gus Dorais

60. Jim White

61. Allen Pinkett

62. Shane Walton

63. Tom Clements

64. John Scully

65. Kevin Hardy

66. Bill Shakespeare

67. Mike Townsend

68. Jim Kelly

69. Jack Cannon

70. Pat Filley

71. John Mastrangelo

72. Christie Flanagan

73. Dave Casper

74. Dave Huffman

75. George Kunz

76. Jerry Groom

77. Tommy Yarr

78. Pete Demmerle

79. Nick Rassas

80. John Yonakor

81. Frank Stams

82. Wayne Millner

83. John Smith

84. Dick Arrington

85. Art Boeringer

86. Art Hunter

87. Jeff Burris

88. Mirko Jurkovic

89. Nick Pietrosante

90. Gerry DiNardo

91. Tyler Eifert

92. Frank Rydzewski

93. Eddie Anderson

94. Jack Robinson

95. Chuck Sweeney

96. Jim Martin

97. Reggie Brooks

98. Bob Kelly

99. Ziggy Czarobski

100. Frank Dancewicz

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