The most visible Notre Dame angle to the College Football Playoff title game will be Ohio State’s head coach, the former Irish assistant, one-time dream head coaching candidate and most recently a speaker at the program’s Coaches Clinic.
However, Urban Meyer hardly represents the only Irish connection on Monday night at AT&T Stadium when Ohio State faces Oregon to finish off the sport’s inaugural playoff.
Meyer’s staff is flush with Notre Dame links, including running backs coach Tim Hinton and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, both part of Brian Kelly’s first staff here. Mickey Marotti is Ohio State’s strength coach, the same post he held at Notre Dame under Bob Davie. Even graduate assistant John Carpenter held the same position at Notre Dame.
Both rosters are loaded with former Irish recruits and a couple Notre Dame legacies. Junior linebacker Joe Burger walked on at Ohio State, opting not to follow the path of his brother Bobby and father Bob, both former Irish walk-ons. Oregon back-up quarterback Morgan Mahalak is also Notre Dame legacy, his father and grandfather both University graduates.
The rosters also feature three former Notre Dame verbal commitments from two different sports.
Oregon linebacker Danny Mattingly was an Irish pledge for about six months before staying in-state with the Ducks. He’s played in 10 games this season as a reserve. Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker has started all 14 games for the Buckeyes this fall, flipping when Hinton and Warinner went to Columbus. Backup defensive end Sam Hubbard was a one-time commitment to the Notre Dame lacrosse program before switching schools and sports at Ohio State.
Beyond the former commitments, both teams have a handful of former targets, some of which will player major roles tonight.
Ohio State’s star sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott looked like a Notre Dame lean coming out of St. Louis and attended the same junior day in South Bend that scored Corey Robinson, Malik Zaire, Mike McGlinchey and three other prospects. He wound up committing to the Buckeyes about a week after his Irish visit.
Overall, the Ohio State roster includes nearly three dozen former Notre Dame targets, including almost a dozen projected starters tonight.
That’s less crossover than with Oregon, natural considering the Ducks have three Ohio prospects on the roster opposed to the Buckeyes’ 60-plus. But Oregon has a few former Irish targets and one standout offensive lineman who somehow never was one.
Christian French had Oregon, Notre Dame and Iowa in his final three four years ago. Now the red-shirt junior leads Oregon with 6 ½ sacks. Wide receiver Charles Nelson of Daytona Beach, Fla., was a late offer last cycle and could be a factor tonight with Oregon’s suspensions at the position. Defensive ends Torrodney Prevot and Arik Armstead were both targets, with Armstead nearly coming to Notre Dame with his brother Armond, a USC transfer.
Running back Byron Marshall, who actually leads the Ducks in receptions, appeared to be a Notre Dame lean before an academic issue scratched his official visit to South Bend for the USC game three years ago. He committed to Oregon about a month later.
One cog in Oregon’s offensive machine that never got much of a Notre Dame look was star offensive tackle Jake Fisher, a native of Traverse City, Mich. Fisher committed to Michigan before his senior year, backtracked after Rich Rodriguez got fired, then signed with Oregon. Michigan, Michigan State, Florida and Oregon all got official visits.
Notre Dame won’t be on the sidelines tonight, aside from former head coach Lou Holtz.
But there will still be plenty of Irish links to this championship game.