Matt Cashore /

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Eleven loosely related thoughts to kick off the Notre Dame fans week.

1 – How did that happen? I go away for one week and the future of Notre Dame football already needs another pass rusher?

2 – Like the Comfort of an Old Shoe: It’s good to be back to the Musings and writing in general after a one-week hiatus. It was better being in Grand Cayman, mind you, but it’s nice to be back nonetheless.

3 – A few adjustments: Good news Irish fans: after eight days of driving on the left side of the road and on the right side of a car (your blinker and windshield wipers switch spots, too, it’s actually quite vexing), I think I have a better appreciation for the challenges faced by those immersed in Brian VanGorder’s defensive back seven.

To sum it up: When forced to think, you stink…it’s true of driving and of sports in general.

4 – The Ideal Defection: Rumors that senior-to-be Steve Elmer would forgo his final season of football for a jump-start on his life outside the lines began circulating in mid-January so while not surprised by Elmer’s announcement on the matter last week, it’s refreshing to see such a mature decision.

By virtue of his experience and calm demeanor, Elmer would have been one of the default pieces of the leadership puzzle for the 2016 squad. And it wouldn’t have been difficult for Elmer to play at a B-plus level as a senior offensive guard with one eye toward his future after football, but he owned (owns) the self-awareness to realize “B-plus” wouldn’t be enough – and it wouldn’t have been fair to those around him, especially classmates and younger players champing at the bit for a chance.

The names of Elmer and his classmate, 2016 Student Body President Corey Robinson, will now resonate as part of Notre Dame’s overall recruiting pitch to prep prospects long after the current staff is gone. 

5 – The Harsh Reality: Notre Dame needs to collect – in each recruiting cycle – a half-handful of early entry NFL Draft candidates, aka, “athlete-students” to balance with its remarkable collection of student-athletes.

Denying that fact is ignoring football reality in the modern era, and that era includes at least the last 40 years.

6 – Coach-Speak: Word to the wise: next time you hear a football coach toss bouquets in the direction of one of his untested freshmen, offering plaudits such as “we see him as a 15-year NFL tackle” or “we believe he’s good enough that he won’t be here for five years, anyway” remember this:

The former (Elmer) instead became a guard (because tackle didn’t work out) and will never play a down in the NFL, and the latter, Jay Hayes stunted enough in his development to redshirt along a defensive front that needed his help as a sophomore last fall.

Both are good football players; neither should have been compared to a professional as an 18-year-old prospect Under the Dome.

7 – Road Wary: Most Irish basketball observers figured Mike Brey’s 2016 squad would finish either 12-6, 11-7 (Irish Illustrated’s official prediction) or 10-8 this ACC basketball season. (If you believed 9-9 you didn’t pay attention last year, and if you thought 13-5, well, you forgot exactly how good Grant and Connaughton became in their final seasons.)

Nevertheless, the stark contrast of the 12-6 to 10-8 swing was always going to be determined by the team’s current 3-game road trip of Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Florida State – three programs not quite at Notre Dame’s level but three squads that play much, much better basketball at home.

After a disheartening one-point loss at Tech Saturday, look for the (expected) 1-2 finish to materialize for Brey’s group and result in the predicted 11-7 regular season mark.

But lost in that bottom-line final record is what has decidedly been gained during the team’s three-month journey to date. That is: they’re battle-tested, tough-minded, and will be a tough out over the first three games of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

8 – By Comparison: At season’s end, the 2015 Irish basketball team was one of the nation’s five best. The 2016 crew isn’t at that level, but if you remove the tournament’s likely top 4-5 seeds, present-day Notre Dame ranks among the next five toughest to kill in a one-game situation.

9 – Your Job, Readers, is to Remove One Among this Six: It’s reasonable to suggest that Notre Dame’s six best football players when the squad touches down in Austin next September will be (in no order) Isaac Rochell, the starting quarterback, the backup quarterback, Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey and Cole Luke. Who among that sextet would you remove today to make a Top 5?

Of note: others I considered were Jarron Jones (injury concern removed him), and both Josh Adams and Tarean Folston (another injury concern).

10 – Roster Reasoning: Notre Dame’s projected pre-season Top 10 for 2015 (mine was Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Will Fuller, Ronnie Stanley, Isaac Rochell, KeiVarae Russell, Nick Martin, Tarean Folston, Cole Luke, and Malik Zaire) was doubtless a more impressive list than will be the projected Top 10 for 2016.

But the key to the upcoming season will be how much better players in the No. 11 to No. 35 range perform as compared to their predecessors. On a related note, I’m certain a random sampling of Top 10s and Top 20s from both Irish Illustrated staff and its members would vary greatly at present – and will do so next August as well.

We know far less about the floor-to-ceiling potential of the 2016 Irish personnel than we did at this point last season.

11 – Demetris Robertson: Remember, you’ll never again care about the process if the decision breaks ND’s way in the end. Nor should you if it doesn’t, and that’s true of every prospect…unless he goes to Michigan.

The Musings will return next Monday, Leap Year edition… Top Stories