Had Notre Dame played Michigan State and N.C. State in addition to Stanford and USC last year, the Irish would have faced four quarterbacks who passed for nearly 35,000 yards and 280 touchdowns in their collegiate careers.
All four of those teams are on Notre Dame’s 2016 schedule, and quarterbacks Connor Cook, Jacoby Brissett, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler will not be around.
It bodes well for the Irish that the most established quarterback on their ’16 slate is Miami’s Brad Kaaya. Despite very solid numbers for such a young signalcaller thrown into the fire with the Hurricanes, Kaaya remains the leader of a program that is just 14-12 the last two seasons. The won-loss totals will change under head coach Mark Richt.
The next most established quarterback on the Irish schedule is Duke’s Thomas Sirk – a true run (803 yards, 8 TDs) and pass (2,625 yards, 16 TDs, 8 interceptions) threat – who tore an Achilles in February for the second time in his career.
Quarterbacks rise up all the time against Notre Dame, so don’t be fooled by the inexperience at the position among ’16 opponents, especially against the shaky Irish defense.
UConn’s Zach Frazer and Syracuse’s Cameron Dantley beat the Irish. So did Pittsburgh’s Pat Bostick years ago, as did Louisville freshman Reggie Bonafon in ’14. He moved to receiver in ‘15.
In 2013, Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage, who hadn’t played in three years since transferring from Rutgers, was the winning quarterback against the Irish. South Florida and B.J. Daniels in 2011...
Remember G.J. Kinne? Bonus points if you recalled the Tulsa quarterback’s name from 2010 when the Golden Hurricane knocked off Notre Dame.
In other words, it’s not just the quarterback. And yet all things being equal, it’s a whole lot better playing against guys who have thrown for 425 yards in their career entering the season as opposed to 10,339 (Kessler), 9,385 (Hogan) and 9,194 (Cook).
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LINE OF SUCCESSION
With the verbal commitment of ’18 Pennsylvania quarterback Phil Jurkovec to Notre Dame, the Irish now have six quarterbacks present and future, not including junior Montgomery VanGorder, son of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
You know the routine. There is virtually no way all of these quarterbacks remain with the Irish throughout their years of eligibility.
As of now, DeShone Kizer has three years of eligibility, Malik Zaire has two, and Brandon Wimbush has three. Health of Kizer/Zaire permitting, Wimbush will maintain three through the ’16 season after expending a season as a backup last year, although Jurkovec’s commitment could alter that thinking if necessary.
June arrival Ian Book, ’17 commitment Avery Davis and Jurkovec have four years each at the present time.
That’s a total of 20 years of eligibility. Jurkovec won’t arrive until June of ’18, which means if he red-shirted his freshman season, he would have eligibility through the 2022 season.
Of course, the Irish have been burned before by verbally-committed prep quarterbacks who ultimately couldn’t pull the trigger for Notre Dame. I’d be willing to make a wager that Jurkovec will not join the list of defectors.
It’s hardly the equivalent of “Will Fuller returns to Notre Dame,” or “C.J. Prosise chooses one more year with the Irish” or “Jaylon Smith back for senior season.”
Take it for what it’s worth. Junior tight end Tyler Luatua has decided not to transfer to BYU. He returns to the Irish in 2016 and, presumably, for the 2017 season as well.
Without Luatua and Chase Hounshell, who will play a sixth year at Ohio State, the Irish were down to three scholarship tight ends – Durham Smythe, Alize Jones and Nic Weishar. Converted defensive lineman Jacob Matuska, who was a tight end in high school, provided blocking depth this spring.
The return of the Luatua of 2014-15 would be a marginal presence in 2016-17. He’s been an inconsistent performer in his blocking role up to this point. Maybe finding a comfort zone at Notre Dame – which Luatua obviously hadn’t done by the end of last season, otherwise he wouldn’t have set out on a path to transfer – will get him locked in and rev up his motor.
At the very least, it gives the Irish some margin for error at tight end and allows Jones, a real weapon at the W, to create some match-up issues for the opposition.
BACK TO BASEBALL?
Pat Connaughton’s three-year deal with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers precludes him from participating with MLB’s Baltimore Orioles. But the right-handed pitcher, as pointed out by the South Bend Tribune’s Tom Noie, remains among the Orioles top 30 prospects according to a recent mlb.com ranking.
Connaughton is listed as a member of the Frederick (Md.) Keys, a Class A advanced league.
Connaughton averaged just 1.1 points and 4.2 minutes of action in 34 games as a rookie with the Trail Blazers. He’s not the type to lose faith in his ability – in basketball or baseball – and scrap a plan. Connaughton will give himself every chance to succeed in the NBA.
Connaughton turned 23 in January, which means he would be a few months past his 25th birthday when the three-year deal ends, although only the first two years of the contract are guaranteed.
A 24-year-old, 6-foot-5 pitching prospect who throws in the mid-90s would still have considerable value to the Orioles a year from now.
Never put anything past Pat Connaughton.
JUMPIN’ OUT OF THE GYM
What is it about Notre Dame basketball players and their vertical jumps? Aren’t the Irish supposed to have great difficulty landing great athletes for their basketball program? Jerian Grant? Zach Auguste?
Connaughton leaped an incredible 44 inches last year, just 1½ inches short of the all-time NBA combine record set by Kansas’ Kenny Gregory in 2001.
Demetrius Jackson went 43½ inches at last week’s Chicago event. Jackson, who could be among among the top 15 or so picks, may have benefitted from a discrepancy in the measurement of standing reaches at the combine. Several were out of whack from previous measurements.
But if there’s ever a specific number that has no bearing on the overall evaluation of a prospect, it’s Jackson’s vertical jump. Do you really need to see the number to know that Jackson can sky? Nope.
His shooting and play-making ability will have a much greater impact on his draft selection than a measurement that we already know is, generally speaking, superhuman.
MAKE(R) OR BREAK
Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1, 215-pounder who spurned Notre Dame and others by appealing for and landing a spot in the NBA draft, has turned some heads.
At 19-years-old, the Sudan-born Maker ended up in Canada after attending two high schools in Louisiana and one in Virginia. His decision to attend Orangeville Prep after earning his high school degree in Mono, Ontario was a deciding factor in the NBA’s decision to make him eligible for the draft.
Have you seen his game?
He is very athletic for a skinny 7-foot-1 prospect, particularly on the defensive end of the floor where he can defend with a wide-based defensive stance and, obviously, incredible length. He has some range with his jump shot and, as evidenced by his dogged efforts to bypass college and get to the NBA, his commitment to the game is unquestioned.
But this kid is not ready for the NBA. His overall offensive and defensive games are immature in their development. He’s going to get pushed around due to a lack of strength. It will take several years before he’s game-ready.
If he’s chosen by a poor team, he won’t be able to help them for a while. If he’s picked by a good team, he’ll spend most of his time on the bench. He’s a project with long-term value.
I may regret this down the road because failed career projections follow talent prognosticators for life. Plus, Maker clearly is a talented basketball player. But a lot of talented basketball players have failed in the NBA, and Maker will be another one.
He’ll have a bunch of money while he learns how to play in the NBA, so the first laugh (if not the last) will belong to Maker, who is projected as a second-round pick.
A MATTER OF PRIDE
The profile of incoming Irish cornerback Troy Pride Jr. (Greer, S.C.) continues to expand with his recent four first-place finishes in track-and-field at the second highest classification in the state of South Carolina.
Pride won the 100-, 200-, 400- and 4x100-meter events.
Pride is a rare product on the football field as well. Scout’s No. 16 cornerback and No. 176 overall prospect from the class of 2016 was rated a four-star prospect out of Greer High School, which is no small feat for a 166-pound cornerback.
Brian VanGorder said in the spring that Pride was a cornerback who could play “in and out,” meaning he’s a candidate for cornerback (out) as well as a much-coveted prospect for the nickel defensive back (in).
Perhaps Shaun Crawford won’t be the only viable nickel candidate on the roster in ’16, as he was in ’15 before his knee injury.
MOVIN’ ON UP
UConn and new athletic director David Benedict rewarded former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco last week with a five-year, $9.5 million contract extension. The contract takes him through the 2020 season when he’ll be paid $2.1 million.
It took Diaco just two seasons to solidify his standing with the Huskies. After a 2-10 campaign in ‘14, Diaco’s squad improved to 6-6 during the ’15 regular season, which earned UConn’s its first bowl bid (a narrow loss to Marshall) since 2010.
Diaco – one of the genuinely great guys in the college game today -- won’t be around for the completion of that contract. He’ll be on to bigger and better things by then.
Notre Dame? Slow down. He may have to battle Mike Sanford for that job.
THE WRITE STUFF
“You write the first draft with your heart. You write the second draft with your head.”
-- Finding Forrester
THE WRITE STUFF II
If the word is until, why is the abbreviation ‘till?
I refuse to give in. ‘Til next time…