SOUTH BEND — On a Notre Dame football team where there’s more obvious surprise players than clear MVP candidates, offensive guard Tommy Kraemer continues to be the face of the eighth-ranked Irish (5-1).
At least where the national media is concerned.
One of three Irish players to make the Associated Press’ preseason All-America second team in August, the 6-foot-6, 319-pound senior from Cincinnati is ND’s lone representative on the AP’s midseason team, unveiled Tuesday.
As was the case in August, Kraemer was a second-teamer. The other Irish preseason AP All-Americans were safety Alohi Gilman and defensive end Julian Okwara.
The panel of voters, that included me, vote simply for a first team. The second team comprises the second-highest vote-getter at a particular position.
The Notre Dame player I voted for was junior tight end Cole Kmet, whose 5.3 catches per game would officially lead the nation if he had played in the NCAA minimum of 75 percent of his team’s games.
Collectively, Notre Dame’s offensive line appears to be improving. In Saturday night’s 30-27 win over USC at Notre Dame Stadium, the line helped the Irish amass a season-high 308 yards rushing while allowing one sack for one yard.
Individually, it’s difficult to discern who’s had the best year among the ND linemen, though in ND Insider Tyler James’ weekly film studies, he has determined Kraemer has allowed the fewest pressures this season (five) among the starters. Center Jarrett Patterson is next with six.
The Irish have an open date Saturday, with their next game Oct. 26 at No. 16. Michigan.
LSU, Wisconsin and Oklahoma led the way with the most first-teamers — three each — on the midseason AP squad. Ohio State had the most players combined on the first and second teams, with five.
Raising the Bars
A week ago, former Notre Dame offensive guard Alex Bars turned down an opportunity to leave his spot on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad and join the New England Patriots’ active roster.
The Bears immediately rewarded the rookie with a sizeable pay raise after his choice to continue to work with his college position coach, Bears O-line coach Harry Hiestand.
On Tuesday, his spoils for staying in Chicago got even better as the Bears promoted him to their own active roster. Guard Kyle Long’s move to the injured reserve list earlier this week figured into the eventual promotion for a player whose final season at ND ended last September with multiple ligament tears in his left knee.
On the first day of the two-day, multi-phase, strangely structured XFL Draft, 240 players were selected and two of them played their college football at Notre Dame.
Offensive tackle Jarron Jones, a defensive lineman when he was with the Irish, was selected by the New York Guardians, and linebacker Greer Martini was taken by the Dallas Renegades.
Former Irish walk-on Austin Larkin, who finished his college career as a defensive end at Purdue, will join Jones in New York.
Former Marian High and Purdue standout Kirk Barron, an offensive lineman, was drafted by the Seattle Dragons.
The first day of the XFL Draft consisted of three phases: offensive skill, offensive line and defensive front seven. The draft wraps up Wednesday with two more phases: defensive backs and an open draft for any position, including special teams.
Former Irish players still in the draft pool are running backs Tarean Folston and Jonas Gray, tight end Nic Weishar, defensive tackle Jay Hayes, linebackers Te’von Coney and Nyles Morgan, punter Tyler Newsome, long snapper Scott Daly and safety Max Redfield.
The eight-team upstart professional football league starts its inaugural season in February with a 10-game regular season.
AP Midseason All-America Team
Quarterback — Joe Burrow, senior, LSU.
Running backs — Jonathan Taylor, junior, Wisconsin; Chuba Hubbard, junior, Oklahoma State.
Tackles — Andrew Thomas, junior, Georgia; Penei Sewell, sophomore, Oregon.
Guards — John Simpson, senior, Clemson; Shane Lemieux, senior, Oregon.
Center — Tyler Biadasz, junior, Wisconsin.
Tight end — Jacob Breeland, senior, Oregon.
Receivers — CeeDee Lamb, junior, Oklahoma; DeVonta Smith, junior, Alabama.
All-purpose player — Lynn Bowden Jr., junior, Kentucky.
Kicker — Peyton Henry, sophomore, Washington.
Ends — Chase Young, junior, Ohio State; James Lynch, junior, Baylor.
Tackles — Derrick Brown, senior, Auburn; Javon Kinlaw, senior, South Carolina.
Linebackers — Evan Weaver, senior, California; Isaiah Simmons, junior, Clemson; Zack Baun, senior, Wisconsin.
Cornerbacks — Derek Stingley, freshman, LSU; Jeff Okudah, junior, Ohio State.
Safeties — Grant Delpit, junior, LSU; Douglas Coleman III, senior, Texas Tech.
Punter — Braden Mann, senior, Texas A&M.
Quarterback — Tua Tagovailoa, junior, Alabama
Running backs — J.K.Dobbins, junior, Ohio State; Kenneth Gainwell, freshman, Memphis.
Tackles — Jedrick Wills, Jr., junior, Alabama; Trey Adams, senior, Washington.
Guards — Wyatt Davis, sophomore, Ohio State; Tommy Kraemer, senior, Notre Dame.
Center — Matt Hennessy, junior, Temple.
Tight end — Albert Okwuegbunam, junior, Missouri.
Receivers — Jerry Jeudy, junior, Alabama; Omar Bayless, senior, Arkansas State.
All-purpose player — Demetric Felton, junior, UCLA.
Kicker — Rodrigo Blankenship, senior, Georgia.
Ends — Jonathan Greenard, senior, Florida; Yetur Gross-Matos, junior, Penn State.
Tackles — Leki Fotu, senior, Utah; Bravvion Roy, senior, Baylor.
Linebackers — Curtis Weaver, junior, Boise State; Joe Bachie, senior, Michigan State; Kenneth Murray, junior, Oklahoma.
Cornerbacks — Bryce Hall, senior, Virginia; CJ Henderson, junior, Florida.
Safeties — J.R. Reed, senior, Georgia; Jordan Fuller, senior, Ohio State.
Punter — Max Duffy, sophomore, Kentucky.