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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 70 Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman

Notre Dame v Texas

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 04: Torii Hunter Jr. #16 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with Hunter Bivin #70 after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 4, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6, 318 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Fifth-year senior with eligibility remaining in only 2017
Depth chart: Bivin provides depth across the entire offensive line with the possible exceptions of right tackle and center. In theory, only an injury would lead to Bivin starting, but he quite literally backs up at least three positions, and could become the primary support at center now thanks to this week’s transfers of junior Tristen Hoge and sophomore Parker Boudreaux.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Bivin committed to Notre Dame early, in March of his recruiting cycle. That seems to be a theme when Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand identifies a high-priority target. An Under Armour All-American, Bivin chose Notre Dame over offers from Clemson, Florida and Michigan, among others. ranked him the No. 12 tackle in his class, the No. 2 prospect in Kentucky and the No. 162 recruit in the country.

Bivin preserved a year of eligibility in 2013 before seeing action in five games in 2014. In his junior season, Bivin saw spot duty on the offensive line while contributing on special teams, seeing time in 12 games.

Last season, Bivin played in all 12 games, including a start at right guard against Stanford due to a Colin McGovern injury. Stanford star defensive tackle Solomon Thomas had his way with the Notre Dame interior line that day, but it is hard to knock Bivin too much for struggling against the eventual third overall NFL Draft pick. Nonetheless, Mark Harrell received the starts when McGovern went down again at the end of the season.

Bivin was never much in the competition for a starting spot this spring. Per Irish coach Brian Kelly, that was partly to give the younger options — namely sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg — chances to prove themselves before inserting Bivin into the conversation.

“We had asked [Bivin] to give up some reps, but we’re going to crank him back up next week and give him the opportunity to get in the mix as well,” Kelly said in March.

More realistically, Kelly compared Bivin to Harrell from a year ago, a stopgap across the offensive line providing depth when needed.

“We think Hunter is going to be a Mark Harrell for us, a guy that’s extremely valuable, can play a number of positions,” Kelly said. “We trust him, but we want to see these two younger players.

“Hunter is a guy that can play right or left tackle for us. He’s going to be a valuable player for us to be a swing guy for us.”

I have Bivin penciled in at right guard for the start against Texas. Whether he stays in the lineup will likely be dictated by how quickly this offensive line gels. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that Kelly and Hiestand reshuffled their starting lineup, 2014’s offensive line swapped out mid-season after a disappointing start to the year. That’s a real scenario that could take place if this line doesn’t come together.

“Being the fifth-best starter on an offensive line that features guys like Mike McGlinchey and [current senior left guard] Quenton Nelson is no shame, especially when we’ve seen and heard such good things about first-time projected starters like [current senior right guard Alex] Bars and [current senior center] Sam Mustipher. Bivin is a big body — he’s got prototype tackle size — and that’ll make the transition inside easier.

“But I’m still waiting to see how he does as a mauler. There’s not much room for finesse at right guard, especially with the Irish wanting to establish a ground game early and often in 2016.

“If Bivin brings that type of aggressiveness to the job and takes to guard over the summer, he’s a potential two-year starter. If not, he goes back to being a sixth man, capable of backing up essentially every spot on the offensive line.”

Obviously, Bivin did not bring Keith’s prerequisite of aggressiveness to the guard position. This spring, it was a foregone conclusion in Kelly’s and Hiestand’s minds it would be better to establish a sophomore at right tackle and move Bars to right guard than to keep Bars at right tackle and consider Bivin at right guard.

Perhaps that is done with an eye on the offensive line’s ceiling, or perhaps with an eye on the future. Most likely, that is done with a belief that setup will be best for 2017.

Thus, Bivin is indeed in the sixth-man role Keith projected. Keith just had no way of knowing how vital that role could prove to be this year. Presume Eichenberg backs up Kraemer, or vice versa, at right tackle. After that, Bivin very well could be the primary backup at each position if injury should arise. For example, if McGlinchey were to fall, Hiestand said Bivin would step in.

“Then we’d have to see how serious [the injury] was before we flipped sides for those young guys.”

At left guard, the best other option behind Nelson may be junior Trevor Ruhland, who saw action in nine games last season but none of significant note. At center, thanks to this week’s departures, if Bivin is not the top backup, an injury to Mustipher could still lead to him starting if, for example, Bars moves to the middle.

The point is, aside from sophomore quarterback Ian Book, Bivin will be Notre Dame’s most vital backup in 2017. It may be preferable he see meaningful snaps only here-and-there, but he will need to be ready for those snaps at all times at a number of positions.

This is it, and, frankly, if you can’t start for a college team as a fifth-year senior, the NFL isn’t going to sniff around much.

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 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
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. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically): Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman

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 end by medical hardship