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Counting Down the Irish: 20 to 16, including four Notre Dame defensive starters by default

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Notre Dame Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, IN - APRIL 13: Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (30) runs in action during the Notre Dame Football Blue and Gold Spring game on April 13, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At some point, these rankings will skew toward Notre Dame’s offense. All 11 expected starters are contained within the top 25, after all, plus senior running back Tony Jones at No. 22 in Monday’s entries.

But this next set of five continues to focus on the defense. More than anything else, let that reflect where the greatest strengths lay on this Irish roster, within its offense.

Others Receiving Votes
25: Jayson Ademilola, sophomore defensive tackle, 30 points
24: Ade Ogundeji, senior defensive end, 37
23: Shaun Crawford, fifth-year defensive back, 38
22: Tony Jones, senior running back, 43
21: Michael Young, senior receiver, 74

20: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker, 82 points
High ranking: No. 12Low ranking: No. 2411 ballots total (out of 13)

This balloting exercise relies on the collective insights of Notre Dame beat writers. Owusu-Koramoah (pictured at top) reaching the top 20 makes it very clear what they expect to unfold this month in the competition at Rover, where Owusu-Koramoah and sophomore Paul Moala both finished the spring strong.

Owusu-Koramoah missed last season with a broken foot, so perhaps he is too far removed from memory for some to remember he does have good speed, in addition to decent size at 215 pounds. These are, in essence, the baseline wants at Rover, but Owusu-Koramoah’s perimeter range may exceed what is broadly expected.

It is that combination that both gives Owusu-Koramoah an edge in practice over Moala and reason to be one of the most-impactful Irish players in 2019.

19: Asmar Bilal, fifth-year linebacker, 84 points
High ranking: No. 9Low ranking: No. 25Nine ballots total

Bilal remains in a position competition, as well, but it is one more nominal in nature. It will be a surprise if the fifth-year linebacker does not start on Labor Day (27 days). Both player and coaching staff undoubtedly had an understanding when Bilal returned for his final year of eligibility.

Working at Rover last season, Bilal managed “only” 50 tackles with just three behind the line of scrimmage. The former number can be explained away when acknowledging the two tackling machines Bilal was lining up next to in Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill, but finding a ball carrier in the backfield only three times stands out as a bit more concerning. In order for Bilal to end up worthy of this ranking, he will have to move from his new position at Mike (middle) linebacker into the backfield with far greater frequency.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Notre Dame Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, IN - APRIL 13: Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson (55) battles in action during the Notre Dame Football Blue and Gold Spring game on April 13, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

18: Jarrett Patterson, sophomore center, 92 points
High ranking: No. 13Low ranking: No. 2311 ballots total

For someone who appeared in only three moments of mop-up duty at a different position last year, this is quite the lofty debut for Patterson, and one with weighty precedent. He follows in the footsteps of a three-year starter and captain at center (Sam Mustipher), who followed a three-year starter and captain at center (Nick Martin), who followed a three-year starter at center (Braxston Cave). That lineage at the offensive line’s fulcrum gets lost in conversations when Notre Dame has had only first-round draft picks start at left tackle during Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure (but for two injury-forced, Matt Romine starts in 2010), pending current senior Liam Eichenberg’s future. But it is still a sign of stability that Notre Dame has relied on three centers in Kelly’s nine years.

That all goes to underscore the leap the Irish are taking by moving a sophomore left tackle to the pivot point.

“Jarret Patterson really emerged as someone we feel great about at that position,” Kelly said Friday. “He did a terrific job. He moves well. He’s smart (with) protections. Really, really pleased with him at that position.”

17: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, junior defensive tackle, 99 points
High ranking: No. 13Low ranking: No. 2212 ballots total

Some of Bilal’s success will hinge on Tagovailoa-Amosa’s. Still less than a year recovered from a broken foot — no small, well, feat when pushing 290 pounds — the junior takes over for first-round NFL draft pick Jerry Tillery. Talk about big shoes to fill. (Okay, enough with that series of puns.)

Measuring Tagovailoa-Amosa against Tillery would be unfair; one managed four sacks in a single game last season and the other has never recorded a quarterback takedown. The Irish will lean on Tagovailoa-Amosa’s length, all the same. He has the raw markers for play-making ability, despite a low recruiting profile. He just has not had the chance to show that as a reality yet.

This is very much that chance, and one he needs to grasp, lest sophomore Jayson Ademilola surpasses him.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 CFP Semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 29: Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Kurt Hinish (41) dives for Clemson Tigers running back Adam Choice (26) during the CFP Semifinal Cotton Bowl Classic game on December 29, 2018 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

16: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle, 100 points
High ranking: No. 11Low ranking: No. 2311 ballots total

There is something distinctly fitting that Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa finished this balloting all-but tied. The two are linked in a number of ways: freshman surprises, now first-time starters, the biggest question marks on Notre Dame’s defense.

It also makes sense Hinish gets the slight edge, if for no other reason than the lack of experience behind him. Ademilola played well last year, and Tagovailoa-Amosa did the same in 2017 as a freshman, while behind Hinish at nose tackle is an early-enrolled freshman and a sophomore coming off a quad tear.

Typically, this ranking has to estimate an offensive lineman’s impact in order to properly place him. Hinish may require a similar line of thinking. His tackle totals will not be high, but his snap counts will be, and by absorbing those blocks, he could spur the Irish interior toward success.

The voters:
Mike Berardino, Indianapolis StarMichael Bryan, 18 StripesBryan Driskell, Blue & Gold IllustratedMatt Freeman, Irish Sports DailyEllen Geyer, The ObserverTyler James, South Bend TribuneJack Leniart, Slap the SignMarek Mazurek, Fighting Irish WireTim O’Malley, Irish IllustratedRyan Ritter, Her Loyal SonsPete Sampson, The AthleticJohn Vannie, ND NationJosh Vowles, One Foot Down