Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Nine spring football and ACC basketball-related thoughts that are completely necessary for your Notre Dame sports week.

1 – Spring Breaks: Notre Dame Football 2016 debuts to the masses in the middle of next week, and while the chief storyline between then and, well, late November, is the Irish quarterback competition, the most intriguing news for die-hard Irish fans and message board mavens involves new names that will emerge for a youth-filled roster.

New starters are needed at Rush End, Mike linebacker, Will linebacker, left cornerback, Nickel (as in, one will exist), strong safety, offensive tackle, offensive guard, center, X receiver, and W receiver, with new two-deep competitors unearthed at least nine of those 11 positions, plus Sam ‘backer, free safety, and one of two defensive line positions (likely the three-technique defensive tackle, perhaps Rush End) as well.

The success of 2015 was in effect a continuation of the 2014 squad’s bumps, bruises, and overall growth gleaned within. Because of a comfort level at quarterback, the 2016 campaign isn’t exactly a full reset, but it’s close.

2 – Names to Know: Unless you’re a daily reader, that is. Then you already know them:

- Asmar Bilal: The fleet-footed linebacker ranked as most impressive defensive redshirt last season, per Brian Kelly.

- Josh Barajas: Bilal’s fellow ‘backer ranked as the most impressive incoming defensive recruit in the 2015 class, per most analysts.

- Greer Martini: Before watching a minute of spring ball or fall camp, I’d like to take this opportunity to side with Tim Prister, who offered something similar on a recent Irish Illustrated Podcast –

I’m positive, POSITIVE, that a healthy Greer Martini will start at one of three linebacker position to open 2016. (Martini continues to rehab from off-season shoulder surgery, as does sophomore ‘backer Te’Von Coney.)

- Nyles Morgan: The path to the field could not be clearer. If Morgan isn’t one of five players mentioned post-spring by Kelly among those making the greatest strides, we’ll know all we need to know about the Mike position for next fall.

This concludes the purportedly up-and-coming linebacker portion of today’s Musings…

3 – Mentioned on the Message Board: Enjoyable pre-spring thread started by one of our members over the weekend. Who, assuming there are at least three elected, are your preliminary choices for Irish captains next fall? Isaac Rochell and James Onwualu immediately come to mind, but I’ll add the following opinion regarding what is an admittedly short list of potential candidates:

Senior Malik Zaire will be named as a team captain whether he wins the quarterback job or not.

4 – Worst Double Bye, Ever: 2016 marks the fourth time in the last six seasons that head coach Mike Brey’s Irish have finished among a conference’s Top 4 in the regular seasons standings, thus earning a coveted “Double Bye” for the post-season tournament.

Notre Dame’s likely reward this time around: Duke.

The fifth-place Blue Devils will face off Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s Wake Forest/N.C. State matchup with the Irish getting the survivor on Thursday afternoon in Washington D.C.

Yay, double bye…

5 – Duke, North Carolina, and Miami or Virginia: The preceding represent Notre Dame’s three likely opponents (quarters, semi’s, finals) should the Irish make it to Saturday night to defend their ACC Championship. Brey is a combined 6-1 vs. the Blue Devils and Tar Heels over the last two seasons including two wins in tournament play; but just 2-4 against Miami and Virginia, with one win in tournament action. (And, it’s worth noting, 0-for-life against Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.)

It would be an impressive accomplishment to return to Saturday’s title game, but a win in that championship bout might require divine intervention.

6 – Hate to Use the Word “Can’t” But…Notre Dame can’t beat Virginia. Mentally and physically, the Cavaliers are simply too much for the Irish. The good news is Virginia won’t be part of the equation unless both make it to the title game, and the Cavaliers are plenty vulnerable to others outside of the South Benders. The better news is that the Irish can, and have (save for Syracuse), beaten everyone else over the last two basketball seasons.

Miami worked over Notre Dame twice over the last 35 days but the Hurricanes don’t hold the same spell over the Irish as do the well-schooled bullies from Charlottesville.

7 – Personnel Problems: Duke boasts three scoring weapons with which Notre Dame will be forced to combat: guards Luke Kennard (30 points in the last meeting) and Grayson Allen (18), plus projected 2016 No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick, superstar freshman Brandon Ingram (25).

That trio means Notre Dame’s best individual defensive player, freshman Rex Pflueger, will be needed for the better part of 25, if not 30 minutes to take down the Blue Devils for a third straight time in a 12-month span. V.J. Beach, Bonzie Colson, and freshman Matt Ryan cannot contain any among of the above in a man-to-man situation, though Ingram cannot handle Colson in that regard, either.

Look for Steve Vasturia to eventually draw Ingram, Demetrius Jackson to check Allen, and Pflueger to matchup vs. Kennard.

8 – Back to Bonzie: Notre Dame’s 2016 ACC Tournament will last all of one afternoon if Colson isn’t a major factor. The Irish sophomore has scuffled a bit of late but it’s notable that he riddled Duke for 31 points and 11 boards in a January upset in Durham. As important to his outburst was the foul trouble he caused for the much skinnier Ingram.

After one brutish bucket-and-foul post move by Colson in the paint vs. Ingram, Colson mouthed (within inches of Ingram’s face): “You’re a little boy.”

Familiarity breeds contempt, and Notre Dame vs. Duke, Round Five over the last 14 months, should thus be among the most entertaining contests of the conference championship season – provided Duke can avoid a second round upset, of course.

9 – Tough Opening Act? The Irish have unexpectedly enjoyed an opportunity to ease into the last two football seasons, with projected top September foes Michigan (2014) and Georgia Tech (2015) faring far worse than anyone would have guessed. That’s unlikely to be the case next fall with a trip to Texas to open September and a welcome back battle against Michigan State on tap over the first three weeks.

Week Four foe Duke is no slouch, either, especially after what will surely be a 60-minute head-knocker with the Spartans. The Blue Devils have one 27 games over the last three seasons – same as the Irish.

-- On that note, you know it’s time to end the Musings when you’re previewing September in March. Until next week, Irish fans…


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