12 Musings of Christmas

A dozen thoughts on the 2013 (and 2010, '11, '12, and '14) Fighting Irish.

1.) I'd be stunned if at least one of Notre Dame's two open coordinator positions isn't filled by promotion from within, and if forced to guess, I believe both (or to be more accurate "all") of the team's new offensive and defensive coordinators for the 2014 season are already on staff…

2.) Asked to rate Brian Kelly's four teams from best to worst in South Bend I'd go: 2012, 2013, 2010, 2011. I readily admit expectations play a part in the last-place slotting of the 2011 squad, and that they were more talented than the 2010 group. But Kelly's first team gets bonus points for finishing 4-0 and ending the despotic rule of USC in the process. The bowl blowout over Miami -- as disinterested as the Canes were -- was icing on the cake.

The '11 squad face-planted too often (four times?) for my liking including the opener vs. South Florida and Michigan collapse seven days later...

3.) Is Rutgers Notre Dame's worst-ever bowl foe? It's either the 6-6 Scarlet Knights or (7-6) Hawaii circa 2008, though the Irish were just a 2.5-point favorite over the Warriors in what became a 49-21 blowout win. Rutgers sour rush defense (ranked No. 4 nationally) makes it nearly impossible for the Irish, as currently constructed, to win by such a similar margin Saturday.

4.) Has any school had more de-commits and/or transfers of five-star status than the Irish over the last three recruiting cycles (and that includes none from the 2014 crop): Aaron Lynch, Deontay Greenberry, Tee Shepard, Ronald Darby, Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes? Though the 2014 (and 2012 and 2013) Irish could use cornerbacks such as Shepard and Darby, I'd wager Vanderdoes' absence has proved, and will prove, the most costly.

That said: Golson to Greenberry sounds great….

5.) For the first time in my five seasons working for Irish Eyes, I'm having trouble ranking Notre Dame's top 10 players (production-based, potential is irrelevant) for the annual season-end column. Under consideration at present and in no order: Z. Martin, Jones, Rees, Tuitt, Nix, Smith, Shembo, Niklas, McDaniel, Watt, Shembo, Russell, Fox, Calabrese and Daniels.

(There are at least three names on that list I would not have predicted in August.)

6.) Five key players for 2014 not named Smith, Golson, or Tuitt? How about Tarean Folston, Jarrett Grace, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, and DaVaris Daniels -- and that's in order.

Let's make it 10: Add OL Steve Elmer, C Nick Martin, OT Ronnie Stanley, DE Isaac Rochell, and LB/DE Romeo Okwara.

7.) And on theme, five more that did not play for the Irish in 2013 crucial to 2014 success: DT Tony Springmann, RB Greg Bryant, OT Mike McGlinchey, ILB Michael Deeb, and DL Chase Hounshell. From that group is only one (projected) starter, Springmann. But if Bryant is as advertised, and if Deeb can take advantage of opportunities over the next 10 months, two more could emerge. As noted often in the pre-season and proven in spades this fall, a backup defensive lineman is the fourth most valuable "position" on the team (QB, OL, DL, backup DL, and you can argue thereafter…)

8.) Four plays that killed the Irish season – and that didn't include a penalty: Jeremy Gallon's broken-tackle infested 64-yard score in Ann Arbor, Tommy Rees' sack/strip/INT TD suffered to open the game vs. Oklahoma when the normally sound left side of the Irish OL missed a check, Bennett Jackson's broken coverage late in the first half vs. the Sooners, and Rees' unconscionable end zone interception in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh.

You can find 20+ others, but those were particularly brutal mental and physical errors …

9.) Three above and beyond: T.J. Jones,Troy Niklas, and Jaylon Smith. Three below (in relative terms): Amir Carlisle, DaVaris Daniels, and Stephon Tuitt. Right where I figured: George Atkinson, Ishaq Williams, and Chris Brown. Discuss…

10.) The 10 best individual seasons of the Brian Kelly era in South Bend:

1.) Manti Te'o 2012
2.) Louis Nix 2012
3.) Tyler Eifert 2012
4.) Michael Floyd 2011
5.) Zack Martin 2012
6.) Stephon Tuitt 2012
7.) Jonas Gray 2011
8.) TJ Jones 2013
9.) Harrison Smith 2010
10.) Theo Riddick 2012

11.) Best football player Notre Dame faced this year? MSU CB Darqueze Dennard. Best against the Irish? Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon...

12.) When's the last time a Notre Dame team handed an opponent (potentially MSU this fall) its only loss of the season?

Food for thought and have a Merry Christmas...

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