Getting to 85

Its an unofficial number, but it appears 83 of Notre Dame's 85 allotted scholarships are filled for the 2013 season. For head coach Brian Kelly, the next week and month to follow will be about reaching that limit for the first time in his four seasons in South Bend.

Two spring transfers. A spring game injury that required season-ending surgery. Two unfortunate, career-ending medical hardships. An unexpected August transfer. Two August camp injuries that also required surgery keeping personnel from the field for the entire season.

Eight players, eight disparate situations, and what was an 84-man roster last March suddenly became a 76-player group before Brian Kelly's Irish boarded their flight to Dublin for the season opener.

Add to that four season-ending injuries by the end of September and Notre Dame operated most of the 2012 season with just 72 available players. (By November the number was 70 and likely less, though unofficial.)

Whether the student-athletes were physically able to compete or not, Kelly's Irish began last September with 79 scholarships filled of the NCAA-allowed 85. It appears the current team's number is 83, that is if you accept likely 5th-year seniors Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox (each of whom Kelly has referenced for next season's depth charts) and that senior Tate Nichols is in line for a medical scholarship alleviation as Kelly noted earlier this week.

In a perfect recruiting world, Notre Dame would add two more pledges to its current 23-player class for 2013. 5-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (Auburn, CA) and 4-star defensive end Kylie Fitt (Redlands, CA), both former USC pledges, are the top targets. Though unlikely to come to fruition, rumors, or in this case, "a rumor," persists that current 5-star USC pledge and Joliet Catholic High School star running back Ty Isaac could still find his way to South Bend.

Regardless, Notre Dame would gladly accept two more pledges to hit its thus far elusive scholarship cap.

"I will tell you, relative to our roster, most of the thoughts have been about completing and getting up to 85 scholarships," said Kelly Tuesday.

If Notre Dame is unable to land Vanderdoes or Fitts, or both, how will Kelly & Co. approach the numbers game in the weeks, and maybe months, that follow? Assuming there are no transfers into the University under discussion (such as Amir Carlisle last December), there are four logical resolutions:

#1 -- Jamoris First

Denied in his initial application for a rare 6th-season of eligibility, 5th-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter still awaits his appeal to the NCAA.

"We're still in the process of an appeal for an additional season of competition," said Kelly of Slaughter Tuesday. "We're hopeful we'll hear something before the conclusion of recruiting. We hope that's going to be the case. Jen Vining-Smith has been on it. She's been great and diligent in putting this thing together. We just don't have word right now.

"It's one of those things that everybody wants to know. I know I want to know. The media wants to know. Certainly Jamoris wants to know. But we just don't have an answer at this point."

Kelly added that Slaughter is in school completing his semester and is thus around the team while in the rehab process.

If Slaughter's appeal is approved, he has a spot. Period. Should Vanderdoes and Fitts both pledge, he'd still have a spot, despite the rudimentary mathematical end that brings the team's scholarship to 86.

In the bottom-line world of college football there is one certainty: someone on the current Irish roster will transfer or be unable to play next fall due to medical hardship. And Notre Dame doesn't have to hit 85 or fewer until late June when the class of 2013 enrolls for the summer session.

If Slaughter is approved, whether it be today, next Wednesday, or in two weeks, he'll be back in the blue and gold.

#2 -- Bring back another 5th-year hopeful?

Should neither Vanderdoes nor Fitts join the fray, the only sensible option for another 5th-year scholarship is for backup kicker Nick Tausch. Though Irish fans have long bristled at their team's collection of what seems excessive specialists on scholarship (five in both of the last two seasons), keeping Tausch in the fold makes sense for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which: he can help.

Tausch wouldn't just be a backup kicker to incumbent junior Kyle Brindza, he'd likely be a good backup and viable competitor for the job. Tausch concluded his four seasons in South Bend hitting 16 of 19 field goal attempts, though nearly all of that number occurred in his freshman season under Charlie Weis, when he drilled 14 of 17 including a since-eclipsed record 14 straight.

Its relevant to note that Tausch won the job over Brindza last August but suffered a leg injury in Week One that opened the door for Brindza in Week Two -- a game he won with a short field goal near the final gun to beat Purdue.

It's likewise relevant to note that last September wasn't the first time Tausch missed time with an undisclosed leg injury that proved vexing to his head coach (November 2009 produced the same under Weis). Having an oft-injured backup kicker on scholarship isn't ideal, either.

But if the Irish have two scholarships open (i.e., their recruiting class is complete), then Tausch's one-year extension makes sense.

Kelly said Tuesday that official discussion involving potential 5th-year players will take place following National Signing Day (February 6). Reports indicate LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, and the Will linebacker pair Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will return.

"They'll continue to train because they're in school anyway," said Kelly. "Then we'll let them know what our decision is as we talk to the University relative to granting that additional year."

#3 -- Wither a Walk-on?

Kelly extended senior walk-on Chris Salvi a much-deserved scholarship last winter. Salvi earned it with two previous seasons of service for Kelly on special teams and at one point as a two-deep safety in 2010. Two current walk-ons appear to be candidates for a future scholarship: preferred junior walk-on Joe Schmidt (a two-season traveling squad member and last year a starter on kickoff coverage) and junior Connor Cavalaris, a safety by definition, but also a kick coverage starter.

Both players finished with six special teams tackles in 2012 (Jarrett Grace led all players with 10.) But as noted above, both are juniors. Its more likely they'll be in the running for a free season in South Bend as seniors in 2014.

Of course, if an opening remains throughout the summer, and with the understanding its a one-year, renewable "contract" why wait? Well, I'm glad you asked...

#4 -- Preferred Punter

Though its unlikely new recruit Andrew Antognoli will elevate from preferred walk-on status to scholarship upon arrival (Click here to read more on Thursday's addition to the 2013 Irish), he seems first in line for the honor in the future.

As recruiting analyst Brian Dohn noted in our most recent podcast, Antognoli was told a scholarship could be available -- considering how hard its been for Notre Dame to hit its 85-player allotment of late, and considering the team will suffer an off-season transfer as it has in each of the last 30 seasons, it seems that opportunity could come sooner rather than later. Top Stories