Notre Dame may be seven games into its season, but with the Fighting Irish enjoying their bye week -- and with students enjoying the school's fall break -- this week marks, for all intents and purposes, the program's midway point of 2015.
Let's take a look at some superlatives from the pre-bye portion of Notre Dame's season:
Offensive MVP: WR Will Fuller. Very, very close call here between Fuller and running back C.J. Prosise. And I'm not entirely sure there is a firm right or wrong answer. Fuller has 32 catches for 702 yards and eight touchdowns -- numbers that rank tied for 67th, tied for 10th and tied for 8th nationally, respectively. Fuller's 21.94 yards per catch also rank eighth. Prosise, meanwhile, has rushed for 922 yards and 11 touchdowns on 129 carries -- which rank sixth, tied for sixth and tied for 17th nationally. The former receiver has also caught 18 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown. I ultimately go with Fuller, though, because of his overall impact to stretch the field and take loads of pressure off a new quarterback in DeShone Kizer. Never was that more evident than in his game-winning touchdown catch at Virginia.
Defensive MVP: LB Jaylon Smith. The junior was everywhere for the Irish against USC, with the 240-pound captain notching a game-high 14 tackles and introducing himself to 290-pound USC center Toa Lobendahn in a clip that has gone viral. Listen to coaches and teammates talk about Smith, and it is easy to come away with the sense that they are around one of those rare, unique talents that can simply do things no other player can do. "I haven't coached a player like him before, period," coach Brian Kelly said last month. Smith, by the way, leads the Irish in total tackles (56) by a country mile, with 14 more than the No. 2 man, KeiVarae Russell. He is tied for the lead in pass breakups (three), tied for the lead in forced fumbles (one) and has recovered two fumbles, a team-high. None of this is to take away from Sheldon Day, who is playing the best ball of his career so far (eight TFLs, 10 QB hurries), but Smith is in a league of his own.
Most unexpected thing from first half: There is a long list here, but the simple answer is Prosise's success in the backfield. The redshirt junior was recruited as a defensive back, switched to receiver and then was slotted to the backfield this past spring to combat depth issues, since the Irish had just two scholarship running backs. Each of those scholarship running backs ended up being out of the season's picture by Week 2, leaving Prosise as the main tailback, a position he had never played. His 33 rushes of 10 or more yards rank second nationally so far, behind Oregon's Royce Freeman (36). His 91-yard touchdown run against Georgia Tech was a Notre Dame Stadium record, and his 131.7 rushing yards per game are on pace to set a school single-season record, which is currently held by Vagas Ferguson (130.6, 1979). A hat tip here to Kizer for filling in very nicely in place of Malik Zaire after the latter's Week 2 broken ankle, which could have turned this season on its head.
Most important game of second half: Players and coaches may not be allowed to look ahead, but we sure can here. And the date we're eyeing is Nov. 28 at Stanford, where the Cardinal, currently No. 10, host the Irish, currently No. 11, in the regular-season finale. This could turn into a playoff elimination game for the rivals. Stanford is playing as well as anyone in the country right now. And while the Irish won't have it quite so easy in their next two contests -- trips to No. 22 Temple and No. 25 Pitt await -- it is hard to imagine either of those games having the same kind of national implications that Notre Dame-Stanford may.
Prediction for the second half: I'll guess that the Irish go 4-1 down the stretch, falling short of playoff dreams but finishing with a 10-2 mark that will get them to a New Year's Six bowl. I had predicted 10-2 before the year at full health, with losses to Clemson and a surprise one to Boston College. I'll stick with that prediction, but given the Eagles' offensive struggles and the continuing improved play of Stanford, I'll switch that loss prediction to the Cardinal. (Hey, I would've picked far fewer than 10 wins beforehand had I known so many crucial injuries would be coming.) Of course, Notre Dame was 6-1 at this point last year, too, before everything went haywire. So there is still a lot of football left to be played.