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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, IN - APRIL 23: Notre Dame offensive linemen Andrew Kristofic (73) and Blake Fisher (54) look on during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football Game on April 23, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ¼, 305 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A fifth-year, Kristofic has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Kristofic had the edge of experience in the right guard position competition this spring, and that paid off with him emerging as the starter.Recruiting: Notre Dame initially noticed Kristofic as he protected his high-school quarterback, a passer by the name of Phil Jurkovec. The former Irish quarterback will return to face his old team and his longtime teammate in late October when Pittsburgh visits South Bend.

Of course, Kristofic has put together a much stronger Notre Dame career than Jurkovec managed to. A high school All-American and consensus four-star tackle, Kristofic chose the Irish over the likes of Clemson, Ohio State and Wisconsin, in part because Notre Dame had been recruiting him that much longer.

Kristofic steadied the Irish offensive line in 2021, alongside then-freshman Joe Alt, when he replaced Zeke Correll at left guard. Kristofic and Alt meshed well and thus sparked Notre Dame’s ground game. Through the first six games of the season, the Irish averaged 120.5 rushing yards per game (sacks adjusted). Once Kristofic stepped in alongside Alt for the final six games of the regular season, that jumped to 218.3 rushing yards per game.

But moving both Josh Lugg and Jarrett Patterson to the guard positions in 2022 sent Kristofic back to the second string, starting only in Patterson’s place at Ohio State while the two-time captain was sidelined by a foot injury.

2019: 4 games2020: 4 games2021: 13 games, 7 starts2022: 13 games, 1 start

The Notre Dame offensive line will spend the preseason repeatedly insisting it intends to return to Joe Moore Award contention in 2023. Led by Alt, it very well may.

But they could also spend their media time dropping not-so-subtle hints to Bass Pro Shop that an NIL deal would be much appreciated.

Kristofic’s primary competition in the spring was junior Rocco Spindler. The hype outside the program has been strong around Spindler for years now, but Kristofic seemed to hold a firm grasp on the starting gig at right guard all spring.

“It’s been a really good battle between Andrew and Rocco,” offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said in mid-April. “Andrew has been really steady. He’s been out there before and knows it and Rocco continues to get better.”

“Perhaps a mid-year position change to find a new starter should not be viewed as a long-term plan. Kristofic’s entry into the starting line last season unquestionably helped Notre Dame chase a Playoff berth, but that was more a move out of desperation than it was thought out.

“Returned offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is not one to do anything out of desperation. He will weigh all his options heading into the 2022 season in order to have his line ready in Columbus, one of the few spots on that field where the Irish should actually have an edge.

“That could include Kristrofic starting. It could include fifth-year center Jarrett Patterson moving to guard and Correll starting at the fulcrum. Hiestand has options.

“In the middle of the summer, it is difficult to figure which of those options is most likely and which has current traction because … it is the middle of the summer.

“Kristofic will get his fair shake, though. That is what has changed for him since August of 2021. Back then, there was never any thought of Kristofic as a starter. Now, the idea of him as a starter is one that Notre Dame is nothing worse than comfortable with.”

Kristofic has always had size; that was the differentiating factor between him and Correll halfway through the 2021 season. Now he also has that experience and a clear path to a leading role.

While it is not literally true, Kristofic is more a two-year starter than a newcomer to the first string. Falling back to the second unit because Lugg and Patterson moved positions to accommodate Blake Fisher at tackle (in Lugg’s case) and to burgeon NFL prospects (in Patterson’s) should not be seen as a failing of Kristofic’s. There was not much he could have done to prevent either of those moves.

Now he needs to play like a two-year starter. If he does, then Notre Dame’s offensive line will have four experienced players working with sophomore left guard Billy Schrauth, creating a bit of a margin for error.

That is the profile of a Joe Moore Award-contending offensive line.

The universal pandemic eligibility waiver means Kristofic could play through the 2024 season. While players taking sixth years should be viewed as rarities, the Irish would be foolish not to encourage a sixth season from an offensive line starter.

It is the position more than any other that cannot be shored up through the transfer market, yet it is also the position more than any other that sets a season’s floor.

Thus, expect Notre Dame to roll out the red carpet for Kristofic in the winter. He noticeably did not walk on Senior Day in 2022, telegraphing his fifth-year plans; another such absence before the Irish face Wake Forest on Nov. 18 would signal the same for 2024.

It is hard to envision Kristofic playing well enough this season to warrant NFL consideration next spring, so let’s consider his return in 2024 more a probability than a possibility.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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