1 – A Word to the Wise: Whether you believe Notre Dame is destined to finish 11-1 or 8-5 or somewhere in between next season, remember this ultimate truth: neither you, nor I, nor Brian Kelly, nor Las Vegas bookmakers, have any idea.
Why? Well, what if I had said or written the following one year ago today:
"Notre Dame is going to destroy Texas and Georgia Tech but need the final minute of the game to beat Virginia, Temple, and Boston College. Mark it down! And oh yeah, their lowest yardage output of the season – by about a 150-yard margin – is going to come at home against Wake Forest but two weeks later the Irish will run for 300 yards at Stanford…”
Relatively speaking, Notre Dame’s schedule appears to trend down in 2016 – we’ll revisit that next January and likely laugh.
2 – A Minor Inconvenience: Any chance Notre Dame’s staff had the foresight to bring Kory Minor’s mom, Kim, on campus to coincide with the visit of five-star prospect Ben Davis this weekend?
For those of you not familiar with the oft-reference recruiting story, Minor, the nation’s top defensive prospect in the 1995 cycle, was less than impressed with the frigid temperatures that accompanied his visit to campus. His mother offered this of the inherent inclement weather that accompanies life at Notre Dame: “You see that over there? I can buy you a winter coat, but I can’t afford a Notre Dame education.”
On a related note, the low temperature on Davis’ visit was a robust 4 degrees. You can read more about Davis’ South Bend trip here.
3 – Sign of the Times? I’m typing these musings from a coffee shop (near Jack Freeman Studios prior to the podcast) and I’ve heard three Notre Dame-related conversations in the last 20 minutes. They concerned, in order: Notre Dame women’s basketball, Tony Rice, and…Notre Dame women’s basketball.
On an apparently unrelated note, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team beat defending national champion Duke Saturday – for the third time in the last 12 months.
Apparently for the disinterested locals – and that’s the best word to describe Notre Dame men’s basketball fans over the last 25 years – the Elite Eight just wasn’t enough.
4 – God Bless the DVR: A sincere thank you to Aaron Rodgers and Larry Fitzgerald for making the “live to me” Packers/Cardinals classic viewed from 4am through 7am Sunday morning (while playing with an 8-month old non-sleeper) well worth the lost sleep.
As a fan of neither team and a person conditioned not to cheer by my press box years – and by the presence of an infant – it says something about the tenor of that contest that I literally yelled when Rodgers completed the most amazing Hail Mary pass in NFL history.
And kudos to Larry Fitzgerald for being great.
5 – Power of a Program: According to Sportsbook.ag, Notre Dame’s odds to win the 2016 national championship are 15-1. Last season at this time? 20-1.
Thus, despite the loss of eight of the team’s 10 best players and 10 of its top 15, Notre Dame is perceived to be more of a national player today than they were when the likes of Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Everett Golson, Ronnie Stanley, et al were in the fold.
From the inside looking out, we see a remarkable loss of talent and leadership. From the outside looking in, the experts in Las Vegas see a program, not a team.
Therein lies the difference Brian Kelly has provided after a solid 15-year absence.
6 – A Post-Spring Top 10: A projection regarding Notre Dame’s 10 best football players when we reconvene in this space…at the conclusion of Spring Practice 2016:
Isaac Rochell, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Torii Hunter, Jr., Cole Luke, Jarron Jones, Durham Smythe…and Nyles Morgan.
(Another tight end and another OL will work their way into that mix in August.)
7 – The Magnificent Seven: Perhaps the “Serviceable Seven” is more appropriate, but it seems head coach Mike Brey has found two complementary pieces in freshmen Matt Ryan and Rex Pflueger to accompany his enviable starting five.
(To illustrate that quintet from a national perspective, Demetrius Jackson would start for every team that will qualify for March’s Field of 68; Zach Auguste, Steve Vasturia, and Bonzie Colson would start for 95 percent of those teams, and VJ Beachem would be part of the 8-man rotation for the vast majority of the Field.)
But back to the young subs: Pflueger is at present a better defender than offensive weapon – and that’s a good thing – while Ryan is a knock down shooter, one that allows Brey to play his preferred 4-around-1 style at times.
The inherent issue with the 4-around-1 this winter is that Bonzie Colson and Zach Auguste HAVE to play 30 minutes apiece against top tier teams. That equates to more of a standard three-guard/two-big men approach which eliminates the unique spacing Brey’s four arc threats affords.
Regardless, Brey suddenly possesses the necessary components to navigate the remainder of Athletic Coast Conference – and NCAA Tournament – play.
8 – Not Yet Formed: January 2015 was all about Everett Golson vs. Malik Zaire and Tarean Folston vs. Greg Bryant.
Combined quarters of Notre Dame football played by the quartet above last fall: 8
9 – Points Aplenty? The respective scoring offenses of college football’s eight playoff teams over the last two seasons: 45.4, 44.8, 36.9, 33.7 (2014) and 43.5, 38.5, 35.1, and 29.8 (2015).
The 2015 Fighting Irish would have ranked seventh among the (thus nine) with 34.2 ppg., better than both Florida State (2014) and Michigan State (2015).
Now consider the respective scoring defenses of the eight playoff teams over the last two seasons: 18.4, 22.0, 23.6, 25.6 (2014) and 15.1, 21.7, 21.7, 22.0 (2015).
Notre Dame’s defense in 2015 surrendered 24.1 ppg; good for eighth – ahead of only Florida State’s 25.6 in 2014.
If the Irish are to qualify in 2016, the offense will have to join the elite (broaching 40 ppg.) because the defense is unlikely to fare better than it did last fall.
Until next week…