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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback

Miami v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: Stacy Coley #3 of the Miami Hurricanes catches the ball as Julian Love #27 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish moves in for the tackle at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Miami 30-27. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 190 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season.
Depth chart: Amid a talented and deep cornerback group, Love stands as the top option and the likely starter at the field position, theoretically the more difficult cornerback spot since that defender does not have the luxury of a nearby sideline to limit the area available. With senior Nick Watkins the frontrunner to start at the boundary position, the Irish have three other corners more than capable of filling in with junior Shaun Crawford and sophomores Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride.
Recruiting: A four-star prospect, Notre Dame targeted the Chicago-area product early, gaining Love’s commitment more than 10 months before National Signing Day over a number of offers from other Midwestern schools such as Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois. Rivals rated Love the No. 21 cornerback in the class of 2016 and the No. 4 prospect in Illinois.

Love saw action in all 12 games last season with starts in the final eight games. Including nine tackles in the finale against USC, Love made 45 tackles, two tackles for loss and forced one fumble (out of the hands of Trojans punt returner Adoree’ Jackson), recovered one fumble and made one interception.

As many viable options as the Irish appear to have at cornerback, they have that few proven commodities at safety. With that in mind, it is conceivable, if not even likely, Love seems some time at the center of the defensive backfield this season. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly hinted at that discussion the week before the Blue-Gold Game when acknowledging some of the unease at safety.

“We’ve got some flexibility with maybe another corner giving us down-and-distance work back on the safety positon, as well,” Kelly said, never mentioning Love by name. “If it’s third down, we’ve got five corners and we like our corners. We can insert a corner and maybe one of those corners can go back and play half [the snaps at safety]. Not a run-fit guy, but maybe a half-fit player.

“When we’re talking about those situations, we’re talking about maybe playing two-man and playing half over the top, a ball hawk, a guy that can play the ball in the air, a smart guy. …

“There’s only going to be one guy that we can look to moving back there, and again, it will be in a specialty situation.”

“The limited ceiling that comes with modest offers and a three-star ranking likely serves as fuel for a player like Love. That’s a big reason why I don’t think he’ll redshirt. Like [former Notre Dame receiver-turned-linebacker James] Onwualu, who found a way into the starting lineup at receiver, Love will carve out some role on this team.

“The logical one is special teams. Even if he’s a kick-cover guy now instead of a returner, Brian Kelly’s small-school DNA makes him love all-around football players, and while Love certainly isn’t the freakiest athlete of the recruiting cycle, he might be one of the best football players.”

Two quick notes to Keith’s analysis from a year ago: The 2016 A-to-Z entry for Julian Love was published July 14, long before setbacks and injuries ravaged the Irish cornerback depth chart. Hence, Keith’s projection of special teams work was not as inherently inaccurate as it may seem now. Secondly, one has to wonder if Keith meant to make a pun in the second sentence of that last paragraph.

The downside of excelling as a freshman is the expectations it sets up for the subsequent sophomore. If Love struggles early in the season, it does not mean 2016 was a blip. It means he is still a college sophomore learning a new defensive system.

Will he struggle? There is no reason to think so. Love played well from the outset last year, and never offered the other cornerbacks much hope this spring at usurping him from the starter’s role. He should start against Temple and every game the rest of the way, barring injury.

If insistent on numbers, a jump to 70-plus tackles and multiple interceptions would be reasonable, but keep in mind tackles from defensive backs are not necessarily good things. As much as they may indicate a nose for the ball, they may also indicate shoddy pass defense. If Love finishes the year with only 25 tackles, but the Irish pass defense held up strong, that is preferable to 75 takedowns and multiple allowed touchdowns.

Kelly’s talk of Love seeing time at safety would further deplete those tackle numbers, but could help the interception totals. Kelly wants an aggressive but proven pass defender at the back of his defense when a pass is certainly coming. Love fits that bill.

Pick an adjective: possible, potential, probable.

Thanks to last year’s success, Love is a [insert chosen adjective here] four-year starter. His stature may preclude him from actively considering an early entry into the NFL Draft, though continued rapid development could change that sentiment. Either way, it is getting a bit ahead.

Love, Vaughn and Pride are the future of the Irish secondary, along with sophomore safeties Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott, though the safety duo is not anywhere near as far along. Love will lead the group both on and off the field, and in doing so, lead the defense.

Projecting his career totals and draft positioning are fool’s errands, but it seems quite certain to predict Love will start all four of his collegiate years and serve at least the last one as a Notre Dame captain.

2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
No. 28: Nicco Fertitta, safety
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship