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ND Rank: The Top 100 Notre Dame Players

Nov 4, 2013, 9:23 PM EDT

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.

One of the weird things about me is that I like to make rankings. I don’t know why but there’s something fun about quantifying something that is inherently unquantifiable. Maybe I just enjoy futile tasks. Like I said, it’s weird. Probably part of being a math major.

So a new weekly blog I’m going to have is a slow reveal of my list of the top 100 Notre Dame players of all time. That’s right, every position from every era impossibly sorted out in a neat little chart.

“Now, Craig,” you ask. “Why do I care about who you think are the top 100 players of all time? You probably have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Fair point. And that’s precisely why this is fun. I’m 20 years old. Of my 100 players, I’ve only actually seen six of them play (bonus points if you can guess the six). If you don’t like where I rank Dave Casper, you can complain about how I’ve never seen him play and that my list doesn’t make any sense.

The truth is that there is obviously no objective list. You could have two people who watched all the games from the past century come up with two completely different rankings. Just look at the disparities in AP voters, and they only have to deal with teams over one season.

However, my ignorance might be advantageous. Besides my six, I have no bias towards players. If you went to Notre Dame in the late ‘70s, you might overrate Bob Crable, Vagas Feruson, or Bob Golic. I did not make these picks randomly or intuitively. In fact here’s how it works:

To be eligible, you must have been at one point on at least one All-American list (1st, 2nd, or 3rd team). Notre Dame has had 143 players make at least one first-team All-American list. If you can’t get on the third team, you can’t make the cut. Which brings me to my next point.

I don’t consider NFL careers. Combine those two criteria and you can probably see where I’m going with this.

That’s right, Joe Montana is not on my list. Whine away. Get it over with now. Then look at his college stats and tell me he belongs in the top 100. I love Joe as much as the next Notre Dame fan, but these rankings are all about fairness. I am a middle child after all.

One of the several difficulties with this ranking is how to compare across eras. How do you compare Brady Quinn and Gus Dorais? Bob Dove and Jim Seymour? So I looked very minimally at stats. Football has changed so drastically that it’s impossible to compare numbers across generations.

Instead I looked at All-American numbers (unanimous worth more than consensus worth more than 1st-team, etc.), award finishes (especially the Heisman), and national championships. After getting a base list, I made some necessary adjustments. For instance, George Gipp was only an All-American for one year and earned no Heisman votes (it started in 1935). Those kinds of credentials wouldn’t put you in the top 40 of Notre Dame players. At the risk of losing suspense, he is not that low on my list.

But for the most part, the foundation of the list lies in All-American and Heisman votes. So just remember, when you argue with the rankings, you’re arguing with facts.

Stay tuned for numbers 96-100 later this week.

  1. a68domer - Nov 5, 2013 at 6:25 AM

    I’m intrigued. Bring it on. I’m curious how many players are on your list from my era (Ara’s).

  2. 1historian - Nov 6, 2013 at 6:56 AM

    The Heisman Trophy is named after John Heisman. He was the coach at Georgia Tech in 1916 when GT defeated Cumberland College 222-0. This remains the single worst defeat in college football history.

    1st quarter – 63-0. 2nd quarter – 126-0. 3rd quarter – 180-0. 4th quarter 222-0. ‘Running up the score’ seems a bit of an understatement here, and naming what is the most ‘prestigious’ trophy in college football after such a man strikes me as a bit contrary to the image of ‘sportsmanship’ that Notre Dame likes to project.

  3. moranjimk - Nov 6, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    Looks like it will be an interesting venture. However – even given the fact that you need some objective standards and yours seem as good as anyone else’s – the limitations of your approach are pretty clear when it comes to Montana – and by extension, scores of other players whose excellence just isn’t easily quantifiable. Not only was Montana electrifying to watch – the team had an entirely different character when he was on the field, as in his sophomore year when he was 5th string but came off the bench to win three hopeless games late in the 4th quarter – but his unflappable leadership was the key component in the offense in the ’77 NC season and in ’78, stats notwithstanding.
    I’ve watched ND football for more than 50 years, and if I had to pick a qb for a must-win game, it’s Joe all the way – college Joe, Fighting Irish Joe, not 49er Joe. If AA is the primary criterion, then Hornung, Huarte, Hanratty, and Theisman – not to mention Brady Quinn, Tom Clements, and Tony Rice – would be on a top 100 list ahead of Montana (who made 1 or two honorable mention AA teams). Great as those players were (or in the case of Huarte, his season) – Montana’s overall W-L is better than some and comparable to the others. So – the facts that you note are AA facts, not really “Top 100 ND Players All Time.” At best, it’s “100 Top ND Players Who Made An AA Team, Not Factoring In Who Else Was Playing Nationally In Their Years Of Eligibility” list. Should be fun.

    • Craig Chval ('15) - Nov 6, 2013 at 3:09 PM

      Those are great points, and thanks for the comment. I didn’t use All-America status as the end-all-be-all of the list. But yes, I decided a player did have to make at least the third team. There are 221 Notre Dame players who made at least third-team All-American. Is AA status a perfect (or even reliable) indicator? Of course not. But including someone who didn’t make the third-team means excluding yet another of the 143 who made the first team. It’s not that Montana wasn’t a great player, but who would you take off the list? I mentioned in my entry today that there are 95 players who were either:

      1. a consensus All-American
      2. a two-time first-team All-American
      3. a Heisman finalist

      I can’t in good conscious not include any of those players. You could make the case for Montana being one of the five remaining, but I chose Ziggy Czarobski instead (a first-team All-American and three-time national champion).

      I understand the allure of adding Montana, but I feel like his reputation is inflated by his status as one of the greatest NFL players of all time. I appreciate your comments about his leadership and ability in the clutch in college, though. No one is going to completely agree with my list, and the fun of it is to create a discussion.

      • moranjimk - Nov 6, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        Exactly so. He’d be on my list, as you can guess, but as you say the fun of your enterprise is going to be exactly this kind of discussion. I’d add that I would bet that those of us who saw all of the qbs in my note above would probably have Joe ahead of most any of the others as a college qb – – but it’s your list, not mine or ours. And there is no way I’d leave Ziggy off – another great lineman. He came to ND twice in my years there (’67-’71) to speak at pep rallies in the old Fieldhouse – he was a toastmaster and a riot to hear at that time – not to mention one of the Leahy era’s best.
        Have fun with this – I’m sure all of us who read it will.

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