Ray's Irish Football Thread

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Gill Man

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Does he like Coney Island dogs? There is an endorsement waiting for the kid somewhere.
 
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SDRay

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Leftovers and Links: A look at Notre Dame’s possible 2020 draft class


https://irish.nbcsports.com/2019/04/29/leftovers-and-links-a-look-at-notre-dames-possible-2020-draft-class/

Both former Notre Dame offensive lineman Alex Bars and linebacker Te’von Coney were questionable to be drafted heading into the weekend. Few would have been surprised if either or both heard their names called in the NFL draft, but it also should not have been a shock when neither did.


In a rare moment of preparedness, this space had drafts ready to publish in case either was selected. In putting together those few hundred words, a couple Irish trends were included. Those trends continue, for now — having realized them at all, one starts to think about next year’s draft class.


The trend: Notre Dame has not produced two first-round defensive picks in 26 years, dating back to when defensive tackle Bryant Young (No. 7) and safety Jeff Burris (No. 27) both heard their names called in 1994. When former Irish cornerback Julian Love fell from a supposed fringe first-rounder to the fourth round this weekend, this streak held.


The 2020 possibility: Simply enough, the defensive end duo of Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem could put an emphatic end to this drought. Okwara’s 2019 put him on every watch list imaginable, while Kareem may actually present a more complete package due to his greater physicality.


Now, and this should apply throughout these thoughts, a lot can change in a year. For that matter, a lot can change between the college football season and the NFL draft, even with no real football being played, injuries, combine times and off-field rumors all influence a player’s draft stock. Forecasting an NFL draft 51 weeks in advance is a greater waste of time than the internet usually provides.

But broadly speaking, seven defensive ends or edge rushers went in Thursday’s first round. Suggesting strong 2019s from both Okwara and Kareem could vault them into that mix a year from now is hardly bold.


The trend: Notre Dame has produced just two first-round defensive picks in the last 22 years, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery at No. 28 this week and safety Harrison Smith in 2012.


The 2020 possibility: That 22-year total could be matched next year alone, see above.


The trend: When including defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn’s first-round selection in 1997, the Irish count “jumps” to three first-round defenders in the last 26 years.


The 2020 possibility: That also could be matched, if not exceeded. Cornerback Troy Pride’s speed will push him up draft boards all on its own. How fast is Pride? Per Notre Dame sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy — a noted speedster in his own right — Pride ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash in some in-house testing recently. (Lenzy ran a 4.40.) Pride has the sprinter’s start well-tuned, but this was not at a point when he was at peak testing shape, one figures. Come the NFL combine, who knows?


That 4.32 would have ranked fifth overall at this year’s combine, just two-hundredths of a second behind Auburn cornerback Jamel Dean, a third-round pick with 73 tackles and two interceptions in his collegiate career. Pride has already logged 81 and three, not to mention 11 pass breakups. He will test well, and a solid 2019 as a shutdown corner could elevate him.

Pride is not the only Irish defensive back worth mentioning. Safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman may not logically seem like first-round talents, but they both compare favorably to Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram, the No. 27 overall pick thanks to the Oakland Raiders. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Abram fits the exact same profile of the Notre Dame duo, both of whom play the ball better in the air than Abram does. If the Raiders were willing to reach for him, who is to say no one would reach for Elliott or Gilman in a year? Their testing performances could be critical.


The trend: Only one Irish quarterback has been drafted in the first round in the last 26 years, Brady Quinn in 2007.


The 2020 possibility: Go ahead and insist Ian Book has no chance at getting drafted in the first round, then compare his 2018 stats to No. 6 pick Daniel Jones’.


Book: 2,615 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions and a 67.8 completion percentage in his nine starts. Averaged 8.41 yards per attempt.
Jones: 2,674 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions and a 60.5 completion percentage in 11 games. Averaged 6.82 yards per attempt.


The trend: Only three Notre Dame defenders have been drafted in even the second round during Brian Kelly’s tenure: linebacker Manti Te’o in 2013 (No. 38 overall), end Stephon Tuitt in 2014 (No. 46) and linebacker Jaylon Smith in 2016 (No. 34).


The 2020 possibility: Though Love fell through the second round, seven cornerbacks were drafted in its first 22 picks. If Pride does not prove himself first-round worthy, the second would not be a reach. For that matter, four safeties were taken in Friday’s second round.


And let’s not overlook Irish senior defensive end Daelin Hayes. Calling him a backup is reductive, considering his rotation with Okwara and Kareem may yield the “backup” as many snaps as some of Notre Dame’s starting linebackers manage this fall. There are few things the NFL loves more than talented defensive ends, and that could be to Hayes’ benefit.


The trend: Since Young and Burris led the way in 1994, two of an eventual eight defensive picks, the Irish have never managed more than four defensive picks in one draft (2007, 2013, 2014).


The 2020 possibility: Eight will not happen, but six have already been mentioned.


The trend: Since that heralded 1994 class, the Irish have never managed more than eight total picks in a draft, a mark set by the 2014 class. (This excludes three expansion draft picks in 1995.)

The 2020 possibility: Seven have already been mentioned. Receiver Chase Claypool should make eight worth considering. He already has a profile similar to the one that just got tight end Alizé Mack drafted, one ripe with potential. The difference is Claypool has already produced and is at a more-valued position. A highlight-heavy 2019 will only aid that cause.


The trend: That 1994 class produced 10 total draft picks.


The 2020 possibility: Given the wear-and-tear nature of the position, junior running back Jafar Armstrong might opt to parlay an impressive 2019 into a professional chance, a la C.J. Prosise leaving a year of eligibility unused after 2015. Given the NFL’s increasing desire for shifty receivers able to get open in tight spaces, perhaps fifth-year receiver Chris Finke goes from walk-on to draftee. Stranger things have happened, just like stranger things have happened than an offensive lineman jumping to the NFL a year earlier than anticipated, something right tackle Robert Hainsey, right guard Tommy Kraemer and left tackle Liam Eichenberg might all ponder.


For the sake of thoroughness, a season of health and success for fifth-year defensive back Shaun Crawford could understandably spur him to skip a possible sixth year of eligibility in hopes someone in the NFL takes a chance on him.


THIS CLASS’S UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
— Bars to the Chicago Bears, where he will reunite with former Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and …
— Center Sam Mustipher will also head to the Bears for the time being.
— Coney to the Oakland Raiders, joined by defensive back Nick Coleman.
— Punter Tyler Newsome to the Los Angeles Chargers, perhaps hereby known as Notre Dame West.


ON CONEY GOING UNDRAFTED
Per mockdraftable.com, the average linebacker the last 20 years has run a 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds, exactly what Coney ran at the Irish pro day. In that dash, the average linebacker runs the first 10 yards in 1.62 seconds; Coney needed 1.75.


The 20-yard shuttle average time is 4.29 seconds; Coney’s was 4.45.


Keep in mind: Those averages trace back to 1999. The league is getting only faster.
 

Harryo the K

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Ray....I like Notre Dame but it's been a long, long time since anyone from the Dome made the HOF. Plus, you still trail USC. Which is in California.:cool:
1. USC (12)
Marcus Allen, Morris (Red) Badgro, Frank Gifford, Ronnie Lott, Bruce Matthews, Ron Mix, Anthony Muñoz, Junior Seau, O.J. Simpson, Lynn Swann, Willie Wood, Ron Yary
2. Notre Dame (11*)
Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Nick Buoniconti, Dave Casper, George Connor, Paul Hornung, John (Blood) McNally, Wayne Millner, Joe Montana, Alan Page, George Trafton
*Earl (Curly) Lambeau, Edward DeBartolo, Jr.
3. Ohio State (9*)
Cris Carter, Sid Gillman, Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli, Dick LeBeau, Orlando Pace, Jim Parker, Paul Warfield, Bill Willis
*Ed Sabol
T4. Alabama (8)
John Hannah , Don Hutson , Joe Namath , Ozzie Newsome , Ken Stabler , Bart Starr , Dwight Stephenson , Derrick Thomas
 
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SDRay

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Ray....I like Notre Dame but it's been a long, long time since anyone from the Done made the HOF. Plus, you still trail USC. Which is in California.:cool:
1. USC (12)
Marcus Allen, Morris (Red) Badgro, Frank Gifford, Ronnie Lott, Bruce Matthews, Ron Mix, Anthony Muñoz, Junior Seau, O.J. Simpson, Lynn Swann, Willie Wood, Ron Yary
2. Notre Dame (11*)
Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Nick Buoniconti, Dave Casper, George Connor, Paul Hornung, John (Blood) McNally, Wayne Millner, Joe Montana, Alan Page, George Trafton
*Earl (Curly) Lambeau, Edward DeBartolo, Jr.
3. Ohio State (9*)
Cris Carter, Sid Gillman, Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli, Dick LeBeau, Orlando Pace, Jim Parker, Paul Warfield, Bill Willis
*Ed Sabol
T4. Alabama (8)
John Hannah , Don Hutson , Joe Namath , Ozzie Newsome , Ken Stabler , Bart Starr , Dwight Stephenson , Derrick Thomas
Very true and I don't see a HOFer coming our of this last draft class. Keep an eye out for Juian Love CB the Giants picked up. I see him becoming a Pro Bowler.
 

SDRay

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Ranking Notre Dame’s football schedule from worst to first...


SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Understanding Notre Dame’s football schedule can be a challenge because it’s a three-dimensional discussion of talent, timing and expectations. This fall’s slate is top-heavy and out-of-balance in terms of home-and-away, leaving Notre Dame to travel to Georgia, Michigan and Stanford. It’s also heavy on games Notre Dame should roll through without resistance, with the Irish likely two-touchdown favorites on the majority of weekends.

So, how does the schedule rate from worst to first? The Athletic takes a stab of parsing that out from Bowling Green to Georgia (spoiler alert), picking out the traps, matchups and storylines to track.
12. Bowling Green

Season in review: It couldn’t have gone much worse, including the aftermath. Bowling Green fired head coach Mike Jinks on Oct. 14 after a 7-24 record, replaced him with interim Carl Pelini, then hired Boston College quarterback coach Scot Loeffler over Notre Dame assistants Mike Elston and Brian Polian. Inexplicably, Loeffler added Brian VanGorder as linebackers coach, then promoted him to defensive coordinator after Pelini left. The fact Bowling Green went 3-9 last season barely seems interesting compared to the staff turnover. Oh yeah, starting quarterback Jarret Doege transferred to West Virginia.

Coach: Loeffler is a first-time head coach after offensive coordinator stops at Boston College, Virginia Tech, Auburn and Temple. He also is a former Michigan quarterback, once sharing a meeting room with Tom Brady in Ann Arbor. Loeffler also spent six seasons as Michigan’s quarterbacks coach.

Top returning talent: Defensive back Jerry McBride, offensive line Jack Kramer

Key losses: Quarterback Jarret Doege, receiver Scott Miller, defensive back Marcus Milton, linebacker Brandon Harris

The number: 6.88. That’s the yards per play Brian VanGorder’s defense allowed in his one season at Louisville, which ranked No. 123 nationally and dead last in the ACC. Bowling Green allowed 6.45 yards per play last fall, which ranked No. 117 nationally and dead last in the MAC.

Why it’s ranked here: Bowling Green could be the worst team Notre Dame has faced under Brian Kelly. And the fan lust to score against VanGorder’s defense after his failed two-plus seasons here could be worth three touchdowns out of the gate.
11. New Mexico

Season in review: When New Mexico blew out UNLV to start the season 3-2, it appeared the Lobos might have a winning season in them. Instead, they lost seven in a row to finish 3-9, a run that included a 38-7 loss to Fresno State, a 61-19 loss to Utah State and a 31-3 loss to Wyoming. There was nothing good about the campaign, which played out almost entirely off the college football radar. Former Tennessee quarterback Sheriron Jones never clicked, throwing 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Coach: Bob Davie (33-54 in seven seasons at New Mexico, 68-79 in 12 seasons overall) will return to his former employer on Sept. 14 in what could be a name-your-score afternoon. Davie is coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons has been under threat because of that losing paired with player treatment investigations. Davie is just 17-39 in Mountain West games, including four 1-7 marks. The Notre Dame homecoming makes for a nice story, but this program may appear unrecognizable to Davie 18 years after his dismissal here.

Top returning talent: Tight end Marcus Williams, offensive lineman Teton Saltes, defensive lineman Aaron Blackwell, punter Tyson Dyer

Key losses: Linebacker Rhashaun Epting, safety Stanley Barnwell, receiver Elijah Lilly

The number: 26. New Mexico’s turnover total last season ranked No. 118 nationally, which all but doomed the season. That was actually an improvement from a season prior when New Mexico lost 29 turnovers.

Why it’s ranked here: There’s an argument for New Mexico as the worst opponent on the schedule. Like with the VanGorder dynamics, Davie’s return to Notre Dame Stadium will be charged considering how he was vilified taking over for Lou Holtz and never repaying the faith Notre Dame showed in him as a first-time head coach. All the Irish need to do in this game is stay healthy with the trip to Georgia coming a week later.
10. Louisville

Season in review: It was non-competitive and stunning for its rate of descent. Louisville, just two years after producing Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, went 2-10 overall and winless in the ACC. Bobby Petrino was fired midway through November, leaving Louisville no choice considering the state of the program from top to bottom. The Cardinals, with VanGorder as their defensive coordinator, allowed at least 50 points in each of the season’s final five games. There was also a humiliating 66-31 loss to Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets attempted just two passes all games, completing one.

Coach: Scott Satterfield is in his first year at Louisville after six successful seasons at Appalachian State (51-24), which included a 28-4 mark in the Sun Belt the past four seasons. He’s not Jeff Brohm, which might be the biggest/only mark against him coming into Louisville.

Top returning talent: Receiver Dez Fitzpatrick, quarterback Jawon Pass, offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, cornerback Cornelius Sturghill, safety Khane Pass, defensive end Amonte Caban

Key losses: Safety Dee Smith, offensive tackle Lukayus McNeil, defensive tackle Henry Famurewa

The number: 3.58. Louisville’s sacks per game allowed last season was second-to-last nationally. More than half last season’s offensive line starts are gone. Considering Notre Dame’s collection of defensive end talent, look out.

Why it’s ranked here: If this was the season-opener in year two of Satterfield’s reboot, it might be slightly interesting. Instead, Notre Dame is already favored by 20 points on the road against a Power 5 opponent. Considering the depths to which Louisville faded under Petrino, Notre Dame should have no issue rolling through Week One.
9. Navy

Season in review: The bottom fell out during a 3-10 season that cemented Army as college football’s preeminent service academy. Navy was abysmal on defense and inefficient on offense. The Mids can afford the former but not the latter. Still, Ken Niumatalolo made a change at defensive coordinator, bringing in Brian Newberry from Kennesaw State. The quarterback situation never got settled, which was a killer as Garret Lewis, Zach Abey and Malcolm Perry all struggled. Perry flip-flopped between quarterback and slot back. He’s back at quarterback now. The season was frustrating enough that Niumatalolo has demanded more commitment from the Naval Academy to the program.

Coach: The production of Niumatalolo (87-58 in 11 seasons) is beyond reproach, even after the slide of the past three seasons. He will keep Brian Kelly’s staff up at night regardless of how good or bad the talent in Annapolis might be. Watching the option offense click into gear against the Irish creates a special kind of terror. There’s a reason the name Alexander Teich still makes people inside the Gug break out in hives.

Top returning talent: Quarterback Malcolm Perry, defensive coordinator Brian Newberry, center Ford Higgins, defensive tackle Jackson Pittman, linebacker Nizaire Cromartie

Key losses: Defensive end Jarvis Polu, linebacker Taylor Heflin, offensive lineman Andrew Wood, safety Sean Williams, quarterback Zach Abey, fullback Anthony Gargiulo

The number: 68.1. That’s the completion percentage Navy allowed last season, which ranked No. 127 nationally. Combined with an FBS-worst 10 sacks generated all season, the Mids were fish in a barrel for competent passing games.

Why it’s ranked here: The numbers say Notre Dame should obliterate Navy considering the trend lines around the Mids. Reality says that probably won’t happen, even with last season’s emphatic win in San Diego. Still, the Irish seem to have a handle on the Mids in a way they haven’t for much of Kelly’s tenure. And considering how much more important the Army game is than Notre Dame, it’s reasonable to think the Mids will be looking more ahead to Army a month after this Nov. 16 visit to South Bend. One note of warning, Navy gets an idle week before facing Notre Dame. Irish inexperience at linebacker could be an issue.
8. Boston College

Season in review: Raising expectations can be a killer when you don’t meet them, which is what happened to Boston College during a 7-5 campaign that peaked on Nov. 10 when College GameDay came to Chestnut Hill for a showdown with No. 1 Clemson. Star running back A.J. Dillon was already hurting, then quarterback Anthony Brown went down and Boston College never recovered. The Eagles ended on a three-game skid, not including the canceled First Responder Bowl against Boise State.

Coach: Steve Addazio (38-38 in six seasons at Boston College, 51-49 in eight seasons overall) was under immense pressure following his fifth seven-win season leading the Eagles. He’s never been better than .500 in ACC play, hitting that mark four times. Boston College wants more, and it’s fair to wonder if the former Notre Dame assistant coach can provide it. This will be Addazio’s third game against the Irish since taking over in Chestnut Hill, but it will be the first one back in South Bend.

Top returning talent: Running back A.J. Dillon, quarterback Anthony Brown, right tackle Ben Petrula, defensive tackle Tanner Karafa, cornerback Brandon Sebastian, linebacker Max Richardson

Key losses: Defensive end Zach Allen, offensive guard Chris Lindstrom, left tackle Aaron Monterio, center Jon Baker, safety Will Harris, receiver Jeff Smith, defensive end Wyatt Ray

The number: Three. Boston College lost three NFL Draft picks who went in the first three rounds last spring, creating massive holes around the roster. The Eagles return two starting offensive linemen and one starting defensive lineman. One starting defensive back returns.

Why it’s ranked here: Notre Dame has struggled against Boston College on Senior Day before, which creates some pause about the Nov. 23 date in South Bend. But the Eagles feel somewhat un-Eagles-like with rebuilds on both lines. The secondary also faces a massive rebuild. Boston College does get an idle week before coming to Notre Dame. It could also come in on a four-game skid considering it faces N.C. State, Clemson, Syracuse and Florida State before that break.
7. Duke

Season in review: Any year that includes a win against rival North Carolina, a bowl victory and a Top 25 win on the road is a good one at Duke. The Blue Devils hit all those marks en route to an 8-5 season in 2018. Yes, there were the woodshed jobs carried out by Clemson and Wake Forest in back-to-back weeks by a 94-13 score, but that’s life. No one is complaining in Durham. They’re not going to start this season, either.

Coach: Few are better in the business than David Cutcliffe (67-72 in 11 seasons at Duke, 111-101 in 17 total seasons), part of the reason why Charlie Weis hired him as Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach upon his arrival. Health issues forced Cutcliffe into a hiatus that season, followed by a couple seasons back at Tennessee before getting the Duke job in 2008. He’s turned the Blue Devils into a respectable ACC outfit, including the production of a Top 10 pick in quarterback Daniel Jones this spring.

Top returning talent: Running back Deon Jackson, quarterback Quentin Harris, center Jack Wohlabaugh, defensive end Victor Dimukeje, safety Marquis Waters

Key losses: Quarterback Daniel Jones, tight end Daniel Helm, linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, linebacker Ben Humphreys, wide receiver T.J. Rahming

The number: 54.8 That’s the completion percentage Duke allowed last season, which ranked 20th nationally. The Blue Devils return starting experience at all four secondary positions, which means they could be sneaky good at the back. Duke returns at least 75 percent of its tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and interceptions.

Why it’s ranked here: Notre Dame shouldn’t have too much trouble going to Durham on Nov. 9, even if the Blue Devils will be coming off an idle week. Still, this is a new venue following games against Michigan and Virginia Tech. Duke isn’t good enough to beat a Notre Dame team that gives at least a B- performance.
6. Virginia Tech

Season in review: Remember when Virginia Tech demolished Florida State in Tallahassee on Labor Day night? Those Hokies looked like world beaters, sharp on defense and controlled on offense. Turns out, the night said more about the Seminoles. The Hokies slumped to a 6-7 season that included a home hammering by Notre Dame and a four-game losing streak in the ACC. And that loss to Old Dominion. Virginia Tech had to schedule a makeup game with Marshall simply to keep its national-best 26-year bowl streak alive. The Hokies lost that bowl game to Cincinnati, though, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 1992.

Coach: Justin Fuente (25-15 in three seasons at Virginia Tech, 51-38 in seven total seasons) has Virginia Tech on some bad trend lines, winning fewer games every year he’s been in Blacksburg. His promising 10-4 debut that included a win at Notre Dame in 2016 feels like a long time ago. No one is saying Fuente is turning into a bust at Virginia Tech, but he felt like a much surer thing when he was hired away from Memphis.

Top returning talent: Receiver Damon Hazelton, linebacker Rayshard Ashby, linebacker Dax Hollifield, defensive back Reggie Floyd, quarterback Ryan Willis, safety Divine Deablo

Key losses: Defensive tackle Ricky Walker, defensive end Trevon Hill, offensive line Yosuah Nijman, running back Steven Peoples, quarterback Josh Jackson

The number: 42. That’s how many 30-yard plays Bud Foster’s lunch pail defense allowed last season, worst among all Power 5 teams and No. 127 overall. That inventory included Dexter Williams’ 97-yard touchdown run. Foster’s defense was shockingly young, with a total rebuild at linebacker and injury devastation in the secondary. That probably won’t happen again. Still, major improvements are necessary.

Why it’s ranked here: There’s some familiarity with Fuente’s systems for Notre Dame considering this is the third meeting in four seasons. The Nov. 2 timing is good for the Hokies, which get an idle week following home games against Rhode Island and North Carolina before coming to South Bend. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will be coming off that road game at Michigan. It would be a surprise if the Irish didn’t have some sort of letdown.
5. Virginia

Season in review: Virginia got almost exactly what it wanted in the third year of Bronco Mendenhall’s rebuild, finishing 8-5, shutting out South Carolina 28-0 in the Belk Bowl and showing development from quarterback Bryce Perkins, who completed 225 of 349 passes for 2,680 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Overtime road losses in November to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech were tough to stomach, with the loss to the Hokies the 15th in a row in the series. Still, Perkins was phenomenal on that stage, passing for three touchdowns while rushing for 112 yards. If the Commonwealth Cup had ended differently, it would have almost been a perfect season for Virginia.

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (16-12 in three seasons at Virginia, 115-65 in 14 seasons overall) was an odd hire at Virginia at the time, only because he felt like a better coach than the job he was taking, never mind the cultural curiosity coming from BYU. The Cavaliers went 2-10 in Mendenhall’s ragged debut season, then improved to 6-7 in his second year, followed by an 8-5 campaign last fall. It was Virginia’s first winning season since it posted the same mark in 2011. Recruiting has improved from some of the worst in the ACC to distinctly middle class, which is all Virginia needs to compete in the Coastal division with Mendenhall at the controls.

Top returning talent: Quarterback Bryce Perkins, wide receiver Joe Reed, offensive lineman Dillon Reinkensmeyer, nose tackle Eli Hanback, linebacker Charles Snowden, defensive back Bryce Hall

Key losses: Wide Receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, running back Jordan Ellis, linebacker Chris Peace, defensive back Juan Thornhill, defensive back Tim Harris

The number: 34. The total passing and rushing touchdowns produced by Perkins last season after his junior college transfer into Virginia. He might be the best quarterback you’ve never heard of on the Irish schedule.

Why it’s ranked here: Notre Dame is better than Virginia, but the Sept. 28 timing of this game is awful for the Irish. It immediately follows Notre Dame’s trip to Georgia, which, win or lose, will tax the roster. Virginia, meanwhile, will be coming off a three-game home stretch against William & Mary, Florida State and Old Dominion. For how improved Virginia may be under Mendenhall, the brand name won’t stir the stadium. And if Notre Dame is coming off a loss at Georgia, the season’s pressure will be there. This feels like last season’s trip to Northwestern, a team better than most believe, one good enough to put a scare into Notre Dame even if no one wants to admit it.
4. USC

Season in review: It was an abject disaster as USC imploded during a 5-7 meltdown, the program’s fourth losing season in the last 50 years. Losing to Notre Dame at home to end it was actually one of USC’s better performances during a run that included a blowout loss at Texas, an offensive no-show against Stanford and allowing 313 yards rushing in a rivalry loss to UCLA. The offense was broken, even when adjusted for freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who didn’t show enough to make believers out of the coaching staff this offseason. USC averaged 26.1 points per game, which ranked 91st nationally, tied with Oregon State and one slot ahead of Illinois. A program with seemingly irrepressible offensive talent was, well, repressed.

Coach: Clay Helton (32-17, four seasons) was nearly fired after last season’s disaster, and athletics director Lynn Swann’s decision to retrain him referenced Notre Dame’s turnaround after Brian Kelly’s abysmal seventh season in South Bend. However, Kelly had a career of credibility and experience as a head coach at that point. Helton does not. And USC’s offseason, which has bordered on farcical, seems to indicate the kind of turnaround Kelly’s engineered the past two seasons is a reach in Los Angeles. Helton’s miss on offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury was a public relations nightmare, but Air Raid discipline Graham Harrell represents a like-for-like replacement. So much of Helton’s future hinges on how Harrell’s offense uses USC’s embarrassment of receiver riches.

Top returning talent: Receiver Tyler Vaughns, quarterback JT Daniels, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, receiver Michael Pittman, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, cornerback Olaijah Griffin

Key losses: Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, offensive lineman Chuma Edoga, linebacker Cam Smith, cornerback Iman Marshall, safety Marvell Tell

The number: Zero. The number of underclassmen who declared for the NFL Draft from USC, the first time that’s happened since 2003. How much that reflects on next season is unclear, but it’s another bit of evidence of last season’s face plant.

Why it’s ranked here: The last time USC visited Notre Dame it was obliterated 49-14 in a game that helped put Helton on the hot seat that he still occupies. Considering the schedule, there’s no guarantee Helton is even coaching USC when it heads to South Bend on Oct. 12 after an idle week. The Trojans open with Fresno State, Stanford, at BYU, Utah and at Washington. Those five teams went 47-21 last season. Fresno State, Washington and Utah all won their divisions. If USC starts 2-3 would Helton survive that idle week before coming to Notre Dame?
3. Stanford

Season in review: For how much Stanford was manhandled at Notre Dame last September in a 38-17 loss that represented a shock result after a 4-0 start, the Cardinal was just fine the rest of the way. Stanford finished a respectable if unfulfilling 9-4 that included a rivalry win against Cal, an overtime win at Oregon, plus a three-point loss to Washington State and a four-point loss to Washington. Stanford wasn’t great. It was still pretty good in terms of record. But how the Cardinal achieved all that feels off. The run game was broken as the offense became pass-first. The defense lacked dynamism in the front seven. And Notre Dame beat up Stanford in the trenches in a way it hasn’t since the days of Buddy Teevens.

Coach: David Shaw (82-26, nine seasons) has struggled to recreate the power football of his early years back on the Farm, even if Stanford was in the Pac-12 Championship Game just two years ago. Nine-win seasons aren’t failures, but they don’t feel like unqualified successes either after winning 11 games or more in four of his first five years at Stanford. The Cardinal took a big step back in rushing offense last season for reasons that went beyond Bryce Love’s injuries. Shaw has to get that fixed.

Top returning talent: Quarterback K.J. Costello, tight end Colby Parkinson, kicker Jet Toner, cornerback Paulson Adebo, defensive lineman Gabe Reid, offensive tackle Walker Little

Key losses: Running back Bryce Love, receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, linebacker Bobby Okereke, linebacker Sean Barton, offensive lineman A.T. Hall, tight end Kaden Smith

The number: 3.65. That was Stanford’s yards per carry last season, which ranked No. 112 nationally, between Hawaii and New Mexico. For a program that prides itself on bludgeoning you to death, the figure represents a failure at the line of scrimmage.

Why it’s ranked here: Brian Kelly is winless at Stanford in four tries, not that he hasn’t come close. Notre Dame was winning in the fourth quarter two years ago before falling apart. It lost on a field goal two years before that. This feels like the time Notre Dame can get Stanford to close the season, but winning in November has been a challenge even with last season’s bounce back. Notre Dame is an early 5.5-point favorite in this game, which feels about 5.5 points too many.
2. Michigan

Season in review: It was a fall full of sound and fury that signified only slightly more than nothing. Losing at Notre Dame on opening night removed all margin for error for Michigan in the Playoff chase, but it seemed to get better every week from there, torching Wisconsin and Penn State to go with an ugly win at Michigan State. Michigan was playing so well, apparently, that talking heads wondered if the Wolverines should have been ranked ahead of the Irish. Sure. Then Ohio State happened as the underdog Buckeyes blew the Wolverines off the field in Urban Meyer’s final home game. A limp loss to Florida in the Peach Bowl followed to wrap up a 10-3 year. To put the campaign in Notre Dame terms, it felt like Charlie Weis’ second season, also a 10-3 campaign, which included a blowout home loss to Michigan, a decisive road loss at USC and a humbling Sugar Bowl defeat to LSU.

Coach: The Jim Harbaugh (38-14, four seasons) who returned to Michigan to grand exultation just isn’t the same fire-breathing dragon from Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers. He’s 0-4 against Ohio State, lost at Notre Dame to start last season and has finished third, third, fourth and tied for first in the Big 10 East. Bruce Feldman has Harbaugh at No. 11 in his Top 25 coaches list. Stewart Mandel didn’t rank Harbaugh at all. The most interesting past of Harbaugh’s current state is his new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who could have a Chip Long-esque effect if things go well.

Top returning talent: Quarterback Shea Patterson, receiver Tarik Black, guard Ben Bredeson, linebacker Khaleke Hudson, cornerback LaVert Hill

Key losses: Defensive end Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush, defensive end Chase Winovich, running back Karan Higdon, cornerback David Long

The number: 103. Michigan allowed that many points in its final two games, embarrassing losses to Ohio State and Florida. The Wolverines had allowed just 13.5 points per game before kickoff in Columbus.

Why it’s ranked here: For all the nits to pick about Michigan, this is still a College Football Playoff contender on the road on Oct. 26. The Irish have lost four in a row in Ann Arbor, although Notre Dame will head there this time off an idle week. Kelly is 9-1 at Notre Dame coming off an open date. Michigan, meanwhile, plays at Penn State the week before Notre Dame’s visit.
1. Georgia

Season in review: The Bulldogs went 11-3 in a follow up to coming one play from dethroning Alabama in the national championship game a season prior. In the end, the campaign felt a bit hollow thanks to a bizarre blowout loss at LSU in October to go with season-ending losses to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and Texas in the Sugar Bowl. But that’s where Georgia is today, slightly irked by only winning 11 games. Short of Clemson and Alabama, every program in America would gladly trade places with Georgia right now.

Coach: Kirby Smart (32-10, three seasons) has delivered almost everything to his alma mater since returning after an extended run with Nick Saban. The Bulldogs went 8-5 in his first season and have dominated the SEC East ever since, including in recruiting. Georgia is 12-0 against the East the past two seasons, with a win at Notre Dame part of Smart’s growing résumé. Among their Top 25 coaches lists, Stew Mandel ranked Smart No. 6, one behind Brian Kelly. Bruce Feldman slotted Smart at No. 12, three spots behind Kelly.

Top returning talent: Quarterback Jake Fromm, running back D’Andre Swift, left tackle Andrew Thomas, right tackle Isaiah Wilson, safety J.R. Reed, kicker Rodrigo Blankenship

Key losses: Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, cornerback Deandre Baker, receiver Mecole Hardman, receiver Riley Ridley, edge rusher D’Andre Walker, quarterback Justin Fields

The number: Zero. As in, Notre Dame has never played at Sanford Stadium.

Why it’s ranked here: Notre Dame is an early 9.5-point underdog in a game big enough that CBS will likely put it in primetime, with the decision already made that Alabama-LSU will be a day game in November. That’s how big Notre Dame’s trip to Athens will be nationally, recalibrating the magnitude of the SEC’s marquee conference game. It’s also Notre Dame’s first game at an SEC venue in 15 years since the Irish upset No. 9 Tennessee. This will be harder than that, even more ominous a road trip since Oklahoma during the BCS Championship Game season in 2012. Notre Dame won that one. This one? The matchups and the venue make this easily Notre Dame’s toughest game of the year.
 

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State of the Program: Notre Dame has the pieces of a Playoff team, but so do some of its opponents


It ended with Brian Kelly doubled over in angst, hands on knees as Notre Dame’s head coach stared holes into the AT&T Stadium turf. The Irish had just been blown out by soon-to-be national champion Clemson in the Cotton Bowl, out-classed when the game was close in the first half and out-classed when it wasn’t in the second. The total damage was a 30-3 drubbing that looked a lot like Notre Dame’s last brush with a national championship even if it felt different.

That’s why it hurt Kelly, left to defend Notre Dame after it again looked a step slow against one of college football’s two elites. When Notre Dame was demolished by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game six seasons earlier, the Irish were a deer sprinting across the interstate compared to the Crimson Tide’s tractor-trailer. And even if the Cotton Bowl seemed similar in spots, Kelly insisted it was more different.

Kelly was defiant immediately after January’s game that Notre Dame was closer to Clemson than the scoreboard showed. That belief carried into the offseason as Kelly not only fixed his posture but began to again stick his chest out about Notre Dame.

“It was an 80/20 game for us,” Kelly said of the Cotton Bowl the day before spring ball kicked off. “Eighty percent of the stuff we loved. It was about 20 percent of the things we wish we could have been better at. Their skill was outstanding. That’s the next challenge for us to take the next step.”

Even if Kelly’s ratios are up for debate, where he sees the program needing to go next is not. That’s something Notre Dame can feel good about, that the systems are in place to get back to the College Football Playoff. In terms of coaching staff, strength training and recruiting, Notre Dame feels close to the peak for the Kelly era, part of the reason why the program is 22-4 the past two seasons. When the Irish picked up the pieces following the title game rout against the Tide, the program appeared to need more of a reboot.

Notre Dame was plowed under by Clemson because it lacked a game-changing quarterback, dynamic receivers and defensive depth. A year later the Irish feel closer on the first two counts, even if the third remains a serious concern. Quarterback Ian Book is back, along with a wealth of talent at the skill positions, plus an offensive line that returns four starters. Defensively, second-year coordinator Clark Lea must replace a ton, most of it right up the spine of the defense.

Even if the Irish don’t have a perfect roster returning, they have worked their way toward sustained success as long as Kelly remains on campus. Sure, there’s a randomness to winning a championship, never mind beating Clemson and/or Alabama. But there’s an intentionality that comes with competing to make the College Football Playoff, something Notre Dame seems to have grasped entering Kelly’s 10th season.

“There’s a clear mission for what we want to accomplish and a standard for what we all follow,” Kelly said. “There’s only one thing we’re after here and that’s winning a championship. I just think there’s a clarity in what the mission is and how we go about it on a day-to-day basis.”
Biggest on-field question

Can a quarterback replace two linebackers?

That’s not exactly the biggest question facing Notre Dame this season, but it’s something close to it. There’s no question the Irish defense will take a step back after watching first-round pick Jerry Tillery depart at defensive tackle, along with All-American cornerback Julian Love and reliable linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney. A defense that carried Notre Dame much of last season will likely need to be carried for stretches this fall, meaning the pressure is on Ian Book to do the lifting.

“I really like the pieces that are coming together offensively,” Kelly said. “We can throw it and we can run it. The quarterback is really good and we have explosive playmakers. The offensive line is going to be a really good unit. All the pieces are there, and we have a lot of work to do.”


The Irish rightfully have great expectations for Ian Book (left) this season. (Zach Bolinger / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Notre Dame averaged 31.4 points per game last season, the second-lowest scoring average by a Playoff team in the system’s five-year run. Of the 20 teams that have made the Playoff, seven finished the season averaging at least 40 points per game, including all three entrants last season: Clemson (44.3), Alabama (45.6) and Oklahoma (48.4). That’s exactly where Notre Dame needs to go, even if the Kelly-era high mark is the 34.2 points per during the 2015 and 2017 seasons. The Irish have never hit 40 points per game during the modern era.

“I want to have great speed everywhere,” said offensive coordinator Chip Long. “I want to be huge up front. I want to be great at quarterback and tailback. We’re obviously gonna be pushing for that. I don’t know a timetable for that, but you can see a lot of our young guys coming on, which has been great to see.”

Notre Dame returning to the Playoff hinges on too many factors to identify just one. However, if the Irish contend for the four-team field, there is no question Long and Book will have to be the biggest reasons why, likely because they elevated Notre Dame’s offense to new heights.
Depth chart analysis

Quarterback: There’s no question about the starter, a rare certainty under Brian Kelly during his decade in charge that has included training camp competitions and in-season switches. Senior Ian Book thrived despite the latter last season when he replaced Brandon Wimbush after three ineffective starts. Wimbush, who’s since departed on a graduate transfer for UCF, didn’t have the every-down accuracy to make Chip Long’s offensive playbook work. Turns out Book did during a revelatory season where his 68.15 completion percentage set the single-season school record. At one point during the season Book led the nation in completion percentage. The former Washington State commitment is not without his flaws, but Book has a high floor thanks to his accuracy and athleticism.

If Book can improve in the vertical passing game, which also means having receivers who can do a better job getting vertical, the second-year starter will rank among college football’s Top 10 quarterbacks, maybe pushing into the Top 5. That’s all a lot to ask from a quarterback who didn’t look like he belonged against Clemson, but there’s optimism around Notre Dame that the Cotton Bowl (17-of-34 passing for 160 yards and one interception) will be fuel for Book’s offseason, maybe into a captaincy role.

Sophomore Phil Jurkovec backs up Book but his role is tenuous after a poor Blue-Gold Game when he took 12 sacks and didn’t cut loose within the offense like the coaches wanted. It’s hard to believe that incoming freshman Brendon Clark could challenge Jurkovec for the backup job, but that’s exactly where things stand.

Running back: Notre Dame has not recruited this position at an elite level during the past four years, which may show this season. Junior Jafar Armstrong, a former three-star commitment to Missouri, is the starter and has a rushing-receiving skill set that should be good for at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage if he stays healthy. For a player who battled a knee infection and high ankle sprain last season, setbacks severe enough that Armstrong was a non-factor in November and the Cotton Bowl, this is no small question. Still, the coaching staff is privately very high on the do-everything back who put up 73 carries for 383 yards and 7 TDs on the ground as a sophomore.

Senior Tony Jones Jr. should be the No. 2 back as more of a power player with decent agility. He lacks straight-line speed and has been a bit player most of the last three years, even while catching the Playoff-clinching touchdown pass from Book at USC last November. Durability has been a concern.

It’s not clear what sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister, plus early enrollee Kyren Williams, will offer this fall. Look for one player from that group to grow into a role during the season. The staff sees Smith as a natural goal-line back, a supporting part with serious utility. Williams showed something around the goal line during the spring game too.


Chris Finke has proven to be a versatile and highly effective player for the Irish. (Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports)

Wide receivers/tight ends: Notre Dame needs more from these positions with Ian Book (and his accuracy) back for a second season. Even though Miles Boykin bolted with a season of eligibility remaining, there’s no reason that Notre Dame can’t get more from these spots, starting with senior Chase Claypool and fifth-year senior Chris Finke leading the way. They are, without question, the team’s two best receivers, combining for 99 catches, 1,210 yards and six TDs last season. Claypool changed roles this spring, shifting to the X where Boykin played last season. He’s a like-for-like replacement to Boykin, now a Baltimore Raven.

Finke will again start in the slot after forcing his way into the lineup last season. He was Notre Dame’s best player during a rough first half at USC, keeping the Irish within touching distance before a strong second half. Look for junior Michael Young to be the third starter after flashing in spots the past two seasons. His 66-yard catch-and-run at Wake Forest in Book’s first start was Notre Dame’s longest pass play of the season.

How the sophomore class steps forward (or doesn’t) will determine the success of the receiver spot with five candidates in play: Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys, Joe Wilkins and Micah Jones. Austin has been in the doghouse the past six months, a space he seems likely to keep through September. Lenzy and Keys can help with their speed, although both took redshirts last season.

At tight end, juniors Cole Kmet and Brock Wright are a talented one-two punch, with Kmet a potential three-and-out talent despite limited experience. Wright had a strong spring as the No. 2 tight end after cutting weight. Sophomore Tommy Tremble could be an X-factor as a jumbo athlete, with classmate George Takacs rounding out the depth chart.

Offensive line: Notre Dame took a step back in Jeff Quinn’s first season replacing Harry Hiestand coaching the line, although it’s hard to know if the staff change mattered more than losing Top-10 NFL draft picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. The season-ending injury to guard Alex Bars hurt, too. In the end, the Irish were just pretty good along the offensive line last season at a position where Notre Dame has to be elite to knock off Clemson or Alabama. The program didn’t hit that mark.

There’s a good chance this line is better than last year if senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg improves from his first season starting. Junior Robert Hainsey will start at right tackle and graded out the best of all last year’s linemen. That leaves a talented interior of junior left guard Aaron Banks, sophomore center Jarrett Patterson and right guard Tommy Kraemer, who looked improved during spring practice. All five starters were at least four-star prospects, with Hainsey, Eichenberg and Kraemer all ranking in the Top 100.

Depth is a concern with junior Josh Lugg likely backing up all five positions, although fifth-year senior Trevor Ruhland can at least help at the three interior spots if he returns to full health, which isn’t a sure thing after missing spring ball. Notre Dame added four early enrollees along the line last spring, with tackle/guard Quinn Carroll the most impressive out of the gate. In reality, the Irish are six deep along the line.



Click here to enlarge

Defensive line: Notre Dame is loaded at defensive end, to the point it barely makes sense. The Irish will count five seniors as the line’s top five defensive ends, all signed in the same recruiting class three years ago. Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem are All-American good, with both returning to play their way up next spring’s NFL Draft. Notre Dame has had just five players hit double-digit sacks since the NCAA started tracking that stat in 2000. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Okwara and Kareem both got there this season. They combined for 23.5 TFLs and 12.5 sacks last year.

In reserve, Daelin Hayes will play plenty in a rotation and start in the third-down package. Next comes Ade Ogundeji, who sacked Trevor Lawrence in the Cotton Bowl, and Jamir Jones, who might redshirt as a fourth-year senior to grab a starting job a year from now after the roster turns over. With the new redshirt rule in place, the Irish could still play Jones in four games and extend his career. Sophomore Justin Ademilola could make sitting Jones palatable after a strong spring.

At defensive tackle, juniors Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa Amosa will start, although neither is first-round pick Jerry Tillery. The Irish are short on the interior, one of this season’s more uncomfortable questions. Sophomore Jayson Ademilola, the twin brother of Justin, could be ready for a big step as a passing rushing threat from the interior. Early enrollee freshman Jacob Lacey had a strong spring, and some believe he’s already the most talented interior defensive lineman on campus. It’s hard to see another freshman defensive lineman making an impact, but Lacey must. It’s unclear how ready sophomore Ja’mion Franklin will be in August after a ruptured quad last September that ended his season and limited him during spring ball.


Khalid Kareem is part of a defensive line unit that ranks as one of the best in the FBS. (Jake Roth / USA TODAY Sports)

Linebacker: Here’s the reality facing the linebacker position as defensive coordinator Clark Lea sees it, whether or not he likes the view. Notre Dame must replace 209 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 8 pass breakups between Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney at the two inside linebacker positions. The candidates to do that are unproven and under-trusted based on the number of position switches that have already been tried this year.

For example, fifth-year senior Asmar Bilal played Rover last season, moved to Buck linebacker (weakside) at the start of spring ball and moved to Mike (middle) halfway through drills. That was less a vote of confidence than throwing stuff against the wall to see what might work. In other linebacker switches, sophomore Shayne Simon went from Rover to Buck to Mike during spring ball, as well, maybe challenging Bilal for a job. Sophomore Bo Bauer could get a look but doesn’t have the coverage ability Lea likely wants. Regardless, there’s not another Coney in this group, at least not yet.

Sophomore Jack Lamb and junior Jordan Genmark Heath, who converted from safety a year ago, will compete for the Buck job through training camp. Lamb is the Platonic ideal of the position but has struggled to stay healthy. Genmark Heath’s first season at Buck linebacker was spent in the shadows, save some spot work at Northwestern when Drue Tranquill was limited. Both Lamb and Genmark Heath are good athletes. Neither are Tranquill, a two-time captain.

Look for junior Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah and Paul Moala to factor at Rover, with the latter moving there during spring practice. Owusu Koramoah rates among the roster’s best athletes.

Secondary: If Julian Love had returned for his senior season instead of turning pro, Notre Dame may have had the best secondary in the country with four senior starters returning with NFL ability. Instead, the Irish will have to settle for a high quality group instead of a spectacular one.

Senior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. allowed just one touchdown pass all last season, giving that up in the final minutes at the season finale at USC. He is Notre Dame’s fastest player, regularly touching the 4.3 range in internal testing. But the Irish must develop and unproven commodity to pair with Pride, whether that’s sophomore Houston Griffith, the presumptive starter after converting from safety during spring ball, or oft-injured senior Shaun Crawford, sophomore TaRiq Bracy or junior Avery Davis, who’s on his third position in three years. Senior Donte Vaughn could be worth a look, too, although his Cotton Bowl disaster and offseason surgery make him an unknown despite his incredible size.

Seniors Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott will start at safety and likely won’t come off the field. The Irish don’t want it to be that way after both logged more than 800 snaps last season. But they’re that good, and the defense needs them that badly. There is incredible hype surrounding incoming freshman Kyle Hamilton, who will battle sophomore Derrik Allen and D.J. Brown for reps as the third safety. The Irish will also add freshman Litchfield Ajavon this summer. One of those four reserves needs to be good enough to play.

Special teams: Brian Polian has a massive rebuild awaiting him this fall, and there’s no way he can feel completely comfortable with the material on hand before kickoff at Louisville. The Irish must replace the program’s all-time leading scorer in kicker Justin Yoon and a captain at punter in Tyler Newsome. Those are massive personnel losses on par with some of this spring’s NFL Draft picks. Unlike defensive tackle, wide receiver and linebacker, there’s little clue about the players who are next.

At kicker, it’s either junior Jonathan Doerer or incoming preferred walk-on Harrison Leonard. Doerer was recruited to follow Yoon but struggled with the basics of kicking off, which led to him getting benched midseason. If a kicker can’t handle the pressure of kicking off a tee, how will he handle the rush at Georgia or Michigan? The uncertainty might be enough to alter Kelly’s decision-making on fourth down in opponent territory.

Early enrollee Jay Bramblett will take over for Newsome and punter. He appeared to handle the transition during spring practice, although his first attempt to start the season will be worth watching.

The punt return job should stay with Chris Finke, although the kickoff return job could go to one of Notre Dame’s sophomore receivers Braden Lenzy or Lawrence Keys.
How the Irish have recruited from 2016-19

Using 247Sports’ Composite rankings, here is how Notre Dame’s recruiting classes have fared nationally over the past four years:



Brian Kelly is on record that Notre Dame probably won’t crack the nation’s Top 5 classes due to the program’s “distinctions” within college football, which basically means higher academic standards mixed with minimal roster turnover. In other words, the Irish have to cast a smaller net than most schools, a net Kelly has been more and more disciplined with over the years. But on top of that, Notre Dame doesn’t lose many transfers, which can be a bad thing for the overall talent level when bench players stick around for a top degree. That means not only does Notre Dame recruit from a smaller selection of prospects, but it’s also more likely to hit the 85-man limit before approaching the 25-prospect limit per cycle. The nation’s top-ranked classes usually mix quality and quantity. Notre Dame can only rely on the former.

In terms of class balance, the Irish will be loaded on both lines in the senior and freshman classes this season, which is a nod to development and planning ahead. The Irish have five senior defensive ends who can all play, including former four-stars Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem being NFL good. Kareem is a former Alabama commitment. The offensive line is loaded with national prospects where four-star status is the minimum to compete for time.

The skill positions have been more of a mixed bag, where former four-star Chase Claypool and former walk-on Chris Finke represent the roster’s top receivers. At safety, no-star Navy transfer Alohi Gilman and former three-star Jalen Elliott will start with former four-star cornerbacks Troy Pride Jr. and Houston Griffith, who’s the highest-rated of the group and has the most to prove.

Bottom line, Notre Dame does best when it can develop talent over four years, including first-rounder Jerry Tillery, fourth-rounder Drue Tranquill and third-rounder Miles Boykin this spring. When players jump early, a la fourth-rounder Julian Love, that hole can be tough to fill.

One area where Notre Dame can improve is at the top of the player rankings. The Irish hadn’t signed five-star prospect, at least on 247Sports, since senior offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer four years ago until it got safety Kyle Hamilton last cycle. Regardless, Notre Dame is not pulling elite individual talents anywhere close to other College Football Playoff contenders.


Impact of coaching changes

Notre Dame benefitted from the staff change that wasn’t because it led to a significant change that was. Because without offensive coordinator Chip Long staying put after a January conversation with Alabama head coach Nick Saban at a moment when the Crimson Tide was lacking spark, Notre Dame doesn’t replace running backs coach Autry Denson, who took the head coaching job at FCS Charleston Southern, with former Stanford and Carolina Panthers assistant Lance Taylor. Both Long and Taylor are Alabama natives and know each other well, even if they’ve never worked together.

The Taylor change has already proven sharp on the recruiting trail, where Notre Dame swapped out its least effective recruiter with the guy who developed Christian McCaffrey and recruited Bryce Love. In May, Notre Dame landed four-star Chris Tyree of Virginia, the highest-rated running back prospect to commit to the Irish in Kelly’s 10-year run. Despite being Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher and generally revered around the program, Denson struggled to marry recruiting fire with his teaching skill.

The entire defensive staff returns for the first time in three seasons, with Clark Lea returning at defensive coordinator after an outstanding debut. Defensive line coach Mike Elston is Kelly’s longest-tenured assistant at 15 seasons. He’s an aspiring head coaching candidate and interviewed for the Bowling Green job last year. Safeties coach Terry Joseph should be more influential in his second season with Todd Lyght back for a fourth season coaching cornerbacks.

Kelly has valued continuity during his Notre Dame tenure, which has been good and bad depending on the coaches being retained. With the current staff, the one assistant shift from Denson to Taylor, plus the retention of the other nine coaches, that continuity feels like a win.
Schedule analysis



Click here to enlarge

It depends on how Notre Dame’s ceiling is measured. If the Irish want to return to the College Football Playoff, this is an unconquerable beast with games at Georgia, Michigan and Stanford. Brian Kelly has never won in Ann Arbor or Palo Alto in six total attempts, falling in sometimes cruel and unusual ways. No Notre Dame coach has ever won in Athens because, well, the Irish have never played there. So, good luck with that debut between the hedges. In short, these are not the kinds of trips that factor into unbeaten regular seasons.

However, if Notre Dame’s outlook this season is adjusted slightly downward, if making a New Year’s Six bowl and winning one for the first time since the 1993 season is what the Irish are really shooting for, then this slate is very doable. If the Week 3 trip to Georgia is scratched as a loss, Notre Dame’s remaining first half is set up for a 5-1 start heading into the October idle week before Michigan, assuming USC continues to do USC things. And even if the Irish fall to the Wolverines, which visit Penn State the week before hosting Notre Dame, the remaining slate is set up for the Irish to head to California with no more than two losses.

Win at Stanford, which was manhandled by Notre Dame in South Bend last year, and the Irish should be headed to the Orange, Sugar or Cotton bowls with a 10-2 record. As much as the narrative around college football now is “Playoff or bust,” there are few inside the Notre Dame program who wouldn’t take a 10-win regular season and major bowl win, which would mean a 33-win stretch over the past three seasons.

This is all worth remembering when Notre Dame kicks off at Georgia on Sept. 21.

One curious note: Eight Irish opponents get more than a week to prepare for Notre Dame. Only Georgia, Virginia, Michigan and Stanford face Notre Dame after playing the previous Saturday, with their opponents Arkansas State, Old Dominion, Penn State and Cal, respectively.
Final assessment

Notre Dame will probably be labeled a failure if it doesn’t return to the College Football Playoff, which feels harsh considering the schedule and fact last year gave the Irish their first back-to-back, double-digit win seasons in a quarter century. Still, it will be a disappointment if Notre Dame isn’t good enough to be in contention for the Playoff when ESPN’s dog-and-pony rankings show debuts in October. It’s reasonable to expect Notre Dame to threaten to make the Playoff annually, even if it only closes that deal every few seasons.

The Irish aren’t built like last season, when an elite defense let the program’s quarterback drama play out without a loss in accompaniment. Now Notre Dame will need Chip Long’s playbook to return the favor to Clark Lea, perhaps with a record-setting scoring output. The Irish lost too much from the front seven to expect a repeat of the defense that allowed three touchdowns in a game just twice all regular season, with one coming in a blowout win at Wake Forest.

How Long evolves as an offensive coordinator with returning starter Ian Book running the offense will probably set the arc of this fall. Asking for an undefeated regular season is a bit much, but there’s no reason the Irish can’t win double-digit games again as Kelly’s hunt for sustained success finally feels on the mark.
 

Gill Man

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Can they beat Alabama or Clemson? Otherwise it doesn’t matter.
lolz yeah it's like all those years Chip Kelly produced these supposedly unbeatable teams at Oregon only to get crushed by the SEC. Big 12 (old Big 10) always end up sucking against the SEC. Poster child for ND against the SEC was our own Manti Teo. What did the great telescope give up for the guy? LOLOLOLOL. dumbass.
 

Faded Blues

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The schedule is soft.

I predict 2 losses.

either at mich or at georgie.

and a game they should have won.
 

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Ten players to watch as Notre Dame opens training camp


SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame will open training camp this morning at Culver, looking to begin another College Football Playoff charge. Getting where the Irish want to go in January means answering the questions facing the Irish in August.
While the storylines of this month will change and change again, these are the 10 players most worth watching on Day One for various reasons, with the players listed in alphabetical order.
Kevin Austin
The good news? Austin is still on Notre Dame’s football team. The bad news? Do we have to spell it out?
After a turbulent freshman season that included being dropped for two games in November, plus a spring practice where the sophomore receiver seemed to be getting a similar treatment to Dexter Williams and Kevin Stepherson (both missed the first four games of their next seasons due to suspension), things don’t exactly bode well for the former four-star prospect’s availability early. That’s probably no big deal against Louisville and New Mexico. Against Georgia? That’s where things could get tricky for the passing game, even with a solid starting three of Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Michael Young. Regardless, Kelly seems about done talking about a player who may or may not be a factor early.
“Well, he’s still on our team, but it’s a day-to-day process with him,” Kelly said.
How will Notre Dame use Austin during the opening weeks of training camp? When Stepherson and Williams were working their way back, they were often relegated to the dregs of practices. Stepherson even drilled as a scout team cornerback. Does the coaching staff make that big an example of Austin? There’s too much talent here not to get something out of it. And as curt as Kelly was on Austin’s status during his press conference, some sources around the Gug expressed confidence in Austin’s work ethic during summer conditioning.
Aaron Banks
When news broke of Banks needing foot surgery this summer, it felt like a long road back for the hulking left guard. A 325-pound man working through the surgical repair to a tiny bone read like the end of his summer conditioning program. After all, why risk Banks’ junior season to reinjury for the sake of some extra cardio? Yet, according to Kelly, Banks powered through his recovery process and trained at regular levels during the final stages of Notre Dame’s summer program.
“Aaron Banks came out wonderfully,” Kelly said. “Any time you talk about a foot with a big fella, you’re nervous at times, but it’s gone very, very well there, and he finished the summer extremely pleased with where he is.”
For Notre Dame’s offensive line to take the step forward it needs to take, Banks must be part of the stride, maybe the biggest part. In terms of natural ability, Banks might have more than Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hainsey, Jarrett Patterson and Tommy Kraemer. Showing that, though, means staying on the field. That’s where the missed time during summer could still have some impact. Even though Kelly says Banks is ready to go when practice gets started on Sunday, there logically must be some drop in conditioning. Will that show at Culver? Maybe. Will that show in the fourth quarter at Georgia when Notre Dame attempts a pulling run play with Banks in space? That’s a bigger concern.
JD Bertrand
A year ago, Bertrand was a verbal commitment to Georgia and set to stay home. Now he’s one of the more interesting Notre Dame freshman linebackers, a quick study of Clark Lea’s system. The 6-foot-1, 226-pound athlete has already earned the respect of the coaching staff before his first practice, which is a big deal for a summer enrollee at a position where freshmen rarely factor into the mix.
“He’s shown himself physically to be one of those guys, but we’ve got to go see him with the pads on,” Kelly said. “So if you want to pencil him in as another add to that mix, and then everybody that was competing in the spring.”
What does this all look like when the season starts? It’s almost impossible to imagine Bertrand beating out fifth-year senior linebacker Asmar Bilal for a starting job. But could he work his way into a backup role? That’s the better question.
Ian Book
It took nearly 20 minutes of Kelly’s opening press conference to get to his starting quarterback, which felt like both a compliment to Book (he’s a rock-solid starter) and an oversight (he’s gunning to be one of country’s best at the position). In the last year, Book has gone from competing with Brandon Wimbush for time to aspiring to the levels of Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa. Whether he hits those heights of quarterback play matters less than the fact Book now believes he’s capable of that kind of production.
“His presence is one where, when he asks some people to do things, they’re doing it. The respect that he has is different than last year,” Kelly said. “He walks around the building a little different, great confidence in him.”
Book is up nine pounds from his listed weight of a year ago, now at 212 pounds. He looks it, too, a quarterback who’s grown into his body with an understanding of the work required to get there. The spry, young athlete of the last two years ago has been replaced by a quarterback who sees himself as a man at the position. How does that look during training camp? That’s hard to say, but Book should have more of an alpha personality about him at Culver.
Chase Claypool
Ankle surgery this summer may slow Claypool’s workload in fall camp, although Kelly seemed unconcerned about any impact on the season. Still, there’s little doubt Notre Dame’s most gifted receiver might not look like it this week when the media will see three full practices in a seven-day span. That’s worth remembering if Claypool doesn’t make many lists of players who impressed. Notre Dame isn’t looking to be impressed by Claypool early and doesn’t need to be after he matured during the past 18 months.
“Chase is, again, cleared to do everything,” Kelly said. “I think you’re going to see somebody that will round into the kind of physical player that he is, as he gets into more one-on-one and more change of direction football related. The surgery went exceedingly well there.”
Claypool shifted within the receiver rotation during spring ball, moving to the boundary position, where Miles Boykin played last season. It’s a spot in the offense that tends to create one-on-one matchups and easier throws from the quarterback. Claypool should thrive there when fully healthy. Practice matchups with Troy Pride Jr. should resemble the alpha-male competitions between Will Fuller and KeiVarae Russell from three years ago. What Claypool can offer early in camp probably won’t have much impact on the season, but if the senior can gut out ankle soreness now, it’s probably a good sign for later.

After finishing behind only Miles Boykin for the team lead in receptions and receiving yards, Claypool is moving to Boykin’s spot on the outside. (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)
Shaun Crawford
Notre Dame lost Crawford to a torn ACL midway through last August, his third season-ending injury in four years. The senior cornerback also tore his ACL at the same stage as a freshman, then went down with a torn Achilles in the second game of his sophomore year. It might sound harsh, but there’s little reason to trust Crawford can hold up for a full season after the previous four. And yet, Notre Dame may do that as long as it can, perhaps rotating No. 1 cornerback Troy Pride Jr. between boundary and field depending on the opponent.
Does that rotation represent a hope Crawford can go the distance in his fifth season? Maybe, kind of, sort of. Kelly said working TaRiq Bracy and Donte Vaughn matters too. It’s hard to imagine Houston Griffith not getting another look, as well.
“You’ll get a good sense when you see the rotations out there. For me to explain it right now would probably be a little bit too much, but you’ll see what we’re trying to do with the rotations there,” Kelly said. “(Crawford) had a great summer and cleared to do everything for us and will be poised to make an impact for us.”
Whatever Crawford can offer could be seen as a bonus. And whatever that amounts to, Notre Dame can use it in the secondary, whether that’s as a starting cornerback, a starting nickel or just a rotational player trusted to go in. Notre Dame lacked that last classification at the worst moment last season.
Kyle Hamilton
Never mentioned by name during Kelly’s press conference, Hamilton’s potential was still felt by how the head coach seemed to try not to talk about the five-star safety. There’s little benefit in hyping Hamilton before absolutely necessary, which should happen later today after everybody gets a look at the player who’s created a buzz this summer with ridiculous measurables. Hamilton is listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds on the roster, unlike anything the Irish already have. He also posted a vertical jump in excess of 40 inches in internal testing to go with a broad jump well over 10 feet.
“I know everybody wants to talk about certain guys,” Kelly said. “I think that there are some guys that are physically able to compete, but it’s more than that. It’s the mental ability to go in there and do it as well. We’ll get a better sense of that in the five days at Culver.”
It’s not exactly clear how Hamilton will impact Notre Dame’s roster this season, but the entire coaching staff is open to basically everything. Before reporting to campus in June, Hamilton said that offensive coordinator Chip Long had been talking up the possibility of a red zone role at wide receiver. It almost doesn’t matter if that actually happens or not. The fact the coaching staff would even consider Hamilton as a two-way player before his first college practice is compliment enough.
Phil Jurkovec
Kelly admitted Friday what was obvious during and after the Blue-Gold Game in April: that Jurkovec’s confidence had dropped during spring practice when the quarterback seemed to think himself out of making plays. There was no sign of the record-setting prep quarterback who was an explosive play waiting to happen on almost every snap. His passing fundamentals waned. His spiral deserted him. And Jurkovec just didn’t look like he was ready to take the step forward that Notre Dame needed in backing up Ian Book. The idea of Jurkovec beating out Book was absurd from the start, but Jurkovec can’t fall behind freshman Brendon Clark, either.
“We knew the talent level that was there,” Kelly said. “First year, there’s high expectations. There’s a lot going on. He lost a little bit of his confidence at times. He’s going to be fine. We can see that. He’s the kind of guy that we feel like is going to really blossom this year. We’re looking forward to watching him in camp, and he’s going to get plenty of opportunities to continue to grow.”
The goal for Jurkovec in fall camp is the same as it was during spring ball. He needs to establish himself as a capable backup to Book should Notre Dame’s starter miss time, which he did last season with rib and kidney injuries against Florida State. It’s worth remembering that during Kelly’s previous nine seasons at Notre Dame that his opening day starter has gone wire-to-wire just twice. Jurkovec can help the Irish get comfortable with that reality with a strong August.
Jack Lamb
The sophomore linebacker is up seven pounds to 233 from his listed weight at this time last year, notable considering he lost his freshman season to a torn pectoral muscle in August. It’s not clear how much Lamb would have played if healthy considering the presence of Drue Tranquill at the Buck linebacker spot. But Tranquill is gone, Jordan Genmark Heath is unproven and Notre Dame is desperate for linebacker help. Lamb has the potential to provide that in passing situations. He might have the ability to provide it in more scenarios, too.
Unlike many of Notre Dame’s other linebackers, Lamb was recruited specifically for this system by defensive coordinator Clark Lea. Lamb’s range at a legitimate 6-foot-3 3/4 is unique for a position loaded with athletes closer to 6 foot. Lea worked Lamb hard in spots during spring practice, notable for a coordinator whose default is not to light players up verbally. Yet for Lamb that was probably a good sign. Lea knows Lamb must be part of any successful linebacker combination, whether that’s in passing downs or every down. The year after looking closer to a high school senior in terms of stature, Lamb must show himself to be college ready. There’s a starting job out there to win.
Jarrett Patterson
Despite zero game experience at center, the expectations around Patterson are high enough that he’s a presumptive starter at the position and maybe the first offensive tackle in reserve, too. Patterson played in a couple games at tackle last season, taking advantage of the new redshirt rule. He moved to center during spring practice, though, and never seemed to look back. His Blue-Gold Game performance against starters Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa rated among the better individual efforts in the exhibition. Patterson is up 10 pounds from his weight at this time last year to an even 300.
“Jarrett Patterson really emerged as someone we feel great about at that position,” Kelly said. “He did a terrific job. He moves well. He’s smart, protections. Really, really pleased with him at that position.”
If there’s a surprise at center, it’s that Notre Dame has options behind Patterson, not that the Irish hope to use them. Trevor Ruhland returns for a fifth year after any return at all from the battery of medical issues that have set him back felt quixotic. Ruhland missed virtually all of spring practice following knee surgery. He’s already overcome a torn pectoral muscle. For a player not built to naturally carry 300 pounds, it wasn’t clear what he could offer beyond a good locker room presence. But Kelly said Ruhland and walk-on Colin Grunhard, who also missed the spring with an injury, represent actual depth.
 

SDRay

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Ian Book, Julian Okwara headline seven Notre Dame captains



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Not one, not two, not three … Notre Dame named seven team captains for the 2019 season on Saturday, a larger number than perhaps usual but hardly a surprising one.
“I think it has much more to do with their ability to act as a unified group than it does anything else,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “They operate so much easier together as that group.”
Six of the seven are seniors, though two of those seniors could return in 2020. With the broad array, they cover the spectrum of career trajectories leading to a starring one, meaning every player on the roster should be able to relate to at least one of the seven.

Senior quarterback Ian Book: The first quarterback to serve as captain during Kelly’s Notre Dame tenure, Book handled last year’s quarterback change with aplomb, turning a moment that could have divided the team into one that brought the Irish together.
Senior safety Jalen Elliott: The only one of the seven captains to appear in every game of the last three seasons, Elliott best remembers the disaster that was 2016 and the steps to improve from then, literally an example of such himself.
Fifth-year receiver Chris Finke: How much more needs to be said about a former walk-on turned three-year starter?
Senior safety Alohi Gilman: A transfer, yes, thus making him an unlikely captain, but Gilman represents the rise from overlooked recruit to quality player as much as Finke does, and he is a vocal leader on the field.
Junior right tackle Robert Hainsey: A starter from the first week of his career, if not in name but in practice, Hainsey is the only one of these seven to understand the pressures that come with being an immediate contributor.
Senior defensive end Khalid Kareem: The example Kelly cited of accountability, someone not afraid to remind the coaching staff his offseason training group has fallen below wanted standards and needs to run as a result.
Senior defensive end Julian Okwara: The best player on the team usually ends up a captain, and that is Okwara this season, giving a look at what development is possible.
All seven were pondered before preseason practices began, along with four others. Having such a well of leadership stands in staunch difference to the 2016 roster, one Kelly has long said he failed to develop leadership on. Nowadays, seven captains nearly felt like a minimum, just given the quality of options available.
RELATED READING: Things To Learn — Notre Dame’s preseason and its pool of possible captains
“I have set that model up in a way, where they operate a lot better when there’s much more of a consensus,” Kelly said. “A lot of the meetings I’ve been having over the past years, the last couple years since we set up these SWAT teams, has been with 8, 9, 10 indivduals. They just feel much more comfortable and have led in that fashion.”
All seven captains were indeed SWAT leaders this offseason, along with senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg.
This grouping may lack the unique story of an eccentric punter, but as a whole, they clearly bring the approach and respect Kelly wants. From star quarterback to former walk-on to forgotten recruit to junior standard-setter, they certainly cover the gamut.
Kelly confirms Kmet injury
Kelly said junior tight end Cole Kmet underwent surgery this week for a broken collarbone, needing a plate and six screws. Kmet’s timeline is 4-to-10 weeks, with Kelly hoping six might be realistic, putting Kmet back on the field just as the Irish head to Georgia.
“He has shown to be a really good healer,” Kelly said. “Came back from a high ankle sprain in a week. We’re going to take the positive end of this and think that we can get him back in 4-5 weeks. We’re hoping New Mexico (Sept. 14). Mother Nature will have a lot to do with that.”
 

SDRay

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How Notre Dame built its best recruiting staff of the Brian Kelly era


SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Brian Polian knew of Lance Taylor from their days at Stanford, even if those days never overlapped. Notre Dame’s recruiting coordinator spent two years with the Cardinal immediately after his first stint here ended with Brian Kelly’s arrival. Notre Dame’s new running backs coach didn’t get to Palo Alto until three years later.


Still, from a distance, Polian learned about Taylor in ways that went beyond his personnel resume that included developing Christian McCaffrey and recruiting Bryce Love. And now, working with Taylor up close, Polian sees the running backs coach with Heisman Trophy candidate experience and NFL connections. Basically, Taylor is the next step in Notre Dame’s evolving recruiting operation.


There is no perfect recruiting staff. But Polian believes the Irish are closer to one with Taylor, a major reason why Notre Dame beat out Oklahoma for four-star back Chris Tyree earlier this summer and why it seems better positioned with skill position players moving forward.


“This is the single best recruiting staff I’ve ever been a part of,” Polian said. “I don’t say that disrespectfully to any colleagues before. From top to bottom, our guys work really, really hard at it.


“We have guys that can evaluate and also recruit. We have guys who absolutely crush it in recruiting work ethic. And I think we have a great personnel department that does a really good job of helping us fit the right pieces of the puzzle. The whole crew really complements each other really well.”


Notre Dame’s recruiting class stands at 17 verbal commitments and should finish as the second smallest class of Brian Kelly’s 11 hauls. The 2012 class finished with just 17 prospects, which included offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive tackle Sheldon Day, running back C.J. Prosise and cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Polian said there might be room for a couple more takes this cycle, adding that Notre Dame has already turned away prospects who wanted to commit to the Irish. Roster balance, he said, simply wouldn’t allow it.


“We have a scholarship model, and we’re irresponsible if we’re not trying to stay as close as we can to that,” Polian said. “You can’t keep taking wide receivers when you need to take DBs. It’s going to be a big DB year, and it needs to be.”


Coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff, it was a bad year to have a small class to fill. The scarcity of spots also makes it difficult to quantify the optimism from within Notre Dame’s recruiting office. The Irish rank No. 8 in the 247 Sports Composite and may struggle to crack the top 15 in the end, based on last year’s results. That’s even with top-100 recruits Tyree, receiver Jordan Johnson, offensive tackle Tosh Baker and tight end Michael Mayer in the commitment column.


If recruiting rankings mattered – Polian is forever quick to point out that they don’t – Notre Dame has been dragged down by overall volume and star quality at defensive back. The Irish have just three defensive backs committed in Caleb Offord, Landen Bartleson and Clarence Lewis, all three-star prospects who don’t rank in the top 500 of the 247 Sports Composite.


Polian concedes that defensive back recruiting has been a struggle, with the approach at the back collaborative among himself, defensive coordinator Clark Lea, safeties coach Terry Joseph and cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght. Top targets Clark Phillips (Ohio State), Jalen Kimber (Georgia), Ryan Watts (Oklahoma), Jerrin Thompson (Texas) and Christian Gonzalez (Purdue) all committed elsewhere with the Irish struggling to get traction.


“We’ve worked so hard to know everything we can about the measurables, the physical skill set, the intangibles, the academics,” Polian said. “So while the group that we finish with may not light everybody up on the message boards, I can assure you we’ve been incredibly thorough and we know exactly what we’re getting.


“We’re really excited, and we still have a spot or two left to fill.”


Three-star cornerback Collin Gamble of Argyle, Texas and three-star athlete Ramon Henderson of Bakersfield, Calif., represent the last best chances at defensive back additions. Both have official visits scheduled for the Sept. 28 weekend when Notre Dame hosts Virginia. Still, these are not the elites Notre Dame initially targeted with an undefeated regular season at its back.


“There were household names from across the country that we were involved with and we recruited our tails off,” Polian said. “And as is the case for everybody in the country, the board starts to move. Pieces fall into place.”


That means evaluating Notre Dame’s tuned recruiting staff based on composite rankings and star quality might require another cycle, when the Irish will have a normal allotment of scholarships to offer. The Irish have five four-star prospects already on board for 2021, including offensive tackle Blake Fisher (No. 48 overall), quarterback Tyler Buchner (No. 52 overall), defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio (No. 80 overall) and tight end Cane Berrong (No. 103 overall).


Four-star receiver Deion Colzie, four-star offensive lineman Landon Tengwall and five-star running back Will Shipley all have Notre Dame near or at the top of their lists. Each rates inside the top 50 overall on the 247 Sports Composite. How Notre Dame fares with those three and other prospects near the top of its board may help quantify the optimism about Notre Dame’s recruiting office.


Kelly, for one, likes what’s happening across the hall inside the Gug.


“Here’s where I think this staff is the best staff that I’ve had. With messaging, they are all on point,” Kelly said. “When I say messaging, there’s nobody that doesn’t understand who fits and what we’re looking for. We don’t have somebody off on their own trying to recruit somebody that really doesn’t fit at Notre Dame.


“Economy of action is allowing us move along at the same pace.”


Even if Notre Dame won’t make headlines in either the early or late signing periods this cycle, the staff seems at peace with that. The Irish didn’t make a lot of recruiting headlines last cycle either with a top-10 class. Two years ago, the biggest buzz on Notre Dame was landing four-star cornerback Noah Boykin on National Signing Day. The Washington, D.C., public school prospect lasted a year in South Bend before transferring to UMass.


Notre Dame knew Boykin was a risky take when it took him, the kind of chance the Irish haven’t taken this cycle. And that’s part of the point, too, Kelly believes. The risky prospects he green-lit early in his tenure rarely make the board, now.


Even as Notre Dame loosens the criteria for a spring official visit in accordance with the new recruiting calendar, it has been fastidious in evaluating who represents a take and who does not. Last year Notre Dame only hosted spring officials if the prospects were green-lit athletically, culturally and academically. This year, the Irish were willing to check some of those boxes during the visit, instead of before.


Structurally, Notre Dame didn’t make many changes to its recruiting calendar in the second cycle of spring official visits. It hosted nine visitors during the June 21 weekend after the players returned to campus. Seven of those visitors are now Notre Dame commitments, with William Nixon (Nebraska) and Christian Gonzalez (Purdue) the exceptions. Notre Dame saw Nixon as a defensive back prospect, but the player saw himself as a receiver, which killed off his recruitment. Gonzalez was seen as an odd fit socially by Notre Dame’s own players, which helped get him to West Lafayette.


“We had a certain criteria for what we were gonna do for summer (official) visits a year ago and we adjusted that a little bit, and I feel like we’ve got a pretty good handle on it,” Polian said. “I’ve heard other schools talk about not doing any official visits until the fall, I don’t think that’s realistic for us. The schools that say that recruit their class from a drive away, so they’re on their campus five, six times unofficially. That’s really difficult for us with the national recruiting base.”


Still, Notre Dame’s recruiting operation, powered in part by offensive coordinator Chip Long and defensive coordinator Clark Lea, seems built for it. So, too, is Polian, along with the rest of the staff, which now includes Taylor’s dynamic personality and drive.


“I think recruiting at Notre Dame is as healthy as it’s been in a while,” Polian said. “It’s never gonna be perfect. It’s an inexact science. I do think it’s really healthy. I hope to continue that way.”


If Notre Dame’s recruiting staff sticks together, it’s a good bet that this staff will continue to produce on the trail. And, of course, the winning helps. Notre Dame is finally doing enough of that to turn heads, with College Football Playoff appearances the most valuable currency when it comes to finding the next Kyle Hamilton, Isaiah Foskey or Quinn Carroll.


“We’re dealing with young people who know far more about 22-4 over the last two years than they ever knew about Rocket Ismail or the ’88 championship team,” Polian said. “That’s not meant disrespectfully, that’s just reality.”


This is all part of the reason why Kelly and Polian are optimistic about Notre Dame’s recruiting operation right now. The winning has been big. The addition of Taylor has been big, replacing running backs coach Autry Denson. And most of all, the recruiting operation feels like a modernized effort in which everybody understands what they’re selling. It took some coaches longer to get how to present Notre Dame than others, but they all seem to be there now.


“If you have the skills, that’s one thing. But you still have to understand the culture,” Kelly said. “If you’re going to work at Google, you have to have the skills to work there, but you also have to understand the culture.”


Notre Dame staff gets that. And that should drive its engine in the search for the next wave of talent.
 

SDRay

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Shaky first half for the Irish but they score right before the half to take the lead. [

MEDIA=twitter]1168700495680065536[/MEDIA]
 

Gill Man

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caught a lot of that game on ESPN. Irish looked good for the most part. Louisville had an excellent chance to crawl back in and tried that crazy play with a pass attempt by #1 and just missed...he threw slightly high. Notre Dame dominated with bigger O linemen and the smallish Lousiville D line finally wore out. Irish went right down the field on the first drive of the game for a TD. But it was close for a good bit after that. Louisville answered with their own. Irish will be good but once again get killed by the SEC. What else is new? Same goes for all the other conferences like the Big 12 and Pac 12. All wannabees.
 
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