Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

Experience is an important factor for a team, but depth and talent can overcome shortcomings. Question: How will BVG’s third defense be better than Nos. 1-2?

Our two-part story earlier this week on the top returning players at Notre Dame starkly displays the challenge facing the Irish this fall.

No offensive player has more than 14 career starts under his belt, although on the surface, that doesn’t appear to be a limiting factor considering the recent offensive success.

The struggle remains on the defensive side of the football where despite more players with extensive experience than on offense, it’s going to be a real challenge for Brian VanGorder’s third Notre Dame unit to be better than either of his first two.

While playing experience certainly isn’t the ultimate barometer – see DeShone Kizer, C.J. Prosise and Quenton Nelson in ’15, Will Fuller in ’14, and KeiVarae Russell in ‘12– talent mixed with having been there before is the best combination for success.

Las Vegas has set the over-under line on Notre Dame victories this fall at 9½. It’s an interesting line considering a better, more experienced Notre Dame football team won 10 regular-season games last year.

So much will count on the schedule. The most difficult road games on paper at the present time are Texas to open the season and USC to close it. Tilts against rebuilding Michigan State, Duke and Stanford, as well as new Miami head coach Mark Richt, highlight an attractive home slate.

If forced to select an over-under right now, I’d be hard-pressed to go with the over. Projecting a 10-victory regular season with the losses incurred by the Irish – including two first-round draft choices, two seconds, two thirds and a fourth – does not strike me as a high percentage bet.

Then again, when you consider the quarterbacks lost by Notre Dame’s upcoming opponents and their own overall talent drain, it’s going to be an interesting 2016.

If the Irish surpass the 9½-victory line, it will be because of the depth Brian Kelly has built in recent years…and the offense carrying the load once again.

The vetting process wasn’t even complete, and thus, the announcement that former Irish great Ryan Humphrey would fill one of two vacant coaching spots on Mike Brey’s staff was premature as far as the University was concerned.

But when all is said and done, Humphrey – the former first-round draft choice who averaged 18.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in his second and final season with the Irish in 2001-02 – will be on the court for Notre Dame this fall.

The debate is whether Brey should have gone with more coaching experience – Humphrey has been a director of player development at Northwestern the last two seasons – or to begin interspersing former captains seeking a coaching career.

Brey’s comfort zone is with his former players, and I’m excited/open-minded about the Humphrey selection. Here’s a guy who played with a tenacious passion for the game. He’d bust you up and then grin about it. He’d deal with adversity by flashing that million-dollar smile and then get back to work.

If Humphrey can pass that passion along to the players he instructs, that’s a good starting point.

It’s not like Humphrey is a kid. He’s 36-years old and he’s been around the world and back. That doesn’t qualify him as a quality college basketball coach. But former teammate Jordan Cornette’s words have stuck in my head since we spoke last week.

Here’s an excerpt from that story…

“Ryan Humphrey might not have the X’s and O’s next to his name now, but I’m fully confident he can go into a home and recruit a kid and sell him on why he should come to Notre Dame. He’ll speak to the parents about the importance of a Notre Dame education, believing this is the right fit, and then delivering on it.

“What has been so sorely missed at Notre Dame is a big-man coach. He’s that guy; he fills that void…He’ll recruit. He has that personality. He brings that feel. He commands attention when he walks into any room.”

As for the other open job, it almost undoubtedly will go to Ryan Ayers. (Note: Irish Illustrated predicted it would be Humphrey-Ayers the day after the announcement that Martin Ingelsby and Anthony Solomon were leaving Notre Dame.)

In a perfect world, Brey would coerce Chris Quinn to come to Notre Dame and begin to groom him as his successor. But Quinn’s opportunities in the NBA are too fruitful to pass up.

Ayers has a couple years of experience at Bucknell, and he’s grown up with his dad Randy in the coaching world. Of all the candidates on Brey’s short list, Ayers is the most “groomed” to fit the role.

Color me open-minded until evidence to the contrary.

The news Wednesday that former Notre Dame players Bob Crable, Raghib Ismail and Aaron Taylor are among the 75 former players nominated for the College Football Hall of Fame should come as no surprise.

Three slam dunks with what perhaps should have been a fourth from a slightly earlier era.

Crable was a tackle-everything-that-moves linebacker and a near-unanimous first-team All-American selection as a senior. He holds the Notre Dame record for tackles in a game (26), season (187 in ’79, 167 in ’81), and career (521).

Ismail never put up huge receiving numbers as an all-purpose performer in Lou Holtz’s multi-pronged attack. But he did a little bit of everything en route to a runner-up finish in the 1990 Heisman Trophy balloting.

In his career, he rushed for 1,015 yards, a 7.7-yard average and five touchdowns while catching 71 passes for 1,565 yards and nine scores. He returned five kickoffs for touchdowns – including two in one game to help the Irish win at Michigan and two at home vs. Rice.

He returned one punt for a score and what many would argue should have another on a 91-yard punt return for a score late in the Orange Bowl against eventual co-national champ Colorado. A controversial clipping call overturned that one.

There are no such statistics to validate offensive tackle/guard Taylor because of the nature of his position. But the 1993 Lombardi Award winner helped spearhead a juggernaut of a rushing attack from 1991-93 that averaged 269.1 yards rushing per game in ’91 (6th nationally), 280.9 in ’92 (3rd) and 260.7 in ’93 (6th). Those three Notre Dame teams went 28-5-1.

It was argued in The Four Horsemen Lounge that Bob Golic should have been included on the ballot. A rare combination of middle guard/middle linebacker at Notre Dame, Golic was a unanimous first-team All-American in ’78 after helping lead the Irish to the ’77 national title.

Golic is second all-time in tackles by an Irish defender with 479. He held the record for tackles in a game (26 in ’78) before Crable tied it. Golic also had six interceptions. Additionally, he was one of the country’s top wrestlers – when Notre Dame still had wrestling – with a 54-4-1 record. He finished third in the country in ’76 and fourth in ’77.

In fairness, there were so many quality Notre Dame players from the ‘60s and ‘70s that it’s difficult for all of the great ones to get their due.

Ah, the good old days. It was great growing up in South Bend with the Irish winning national titles in 1966, 1973 and 1977.

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