Matt Cashore /

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

The perfect tackle, lists and oversights, a bold prediction, and at long last, bourbon, highlight this week’s Notre Dame Football Musings.

1 – Blast from the Past: Brian Kelly’s hiring of former Notre Dame safety and first round NFL Draft pick Jeff Burris as a defensive analyst for the 2016 Irish has been lauded by fans that remember the all around excellence of the consensus All-American defensive back and, incidentally, the second leading touchdown scorer for the best Irish team of the last quarter century.

Burris not only ranked among the squad’s top three defenders in big plays, but also scored six rushing touchdowns – second behind freshman fullback Marc Edwards (8) and junior tailback Lee Becton (7) – while adding a punt return score (on his only such attempt).

And if any future Irish defensive back would like to practice what Burris preaches they need look no further than this “closeout” hit and forced fumble to secure a Cotton Bowl victory and should’ve-been championship for the 1993 Irish:

(8:50 mark) --

2 – Staff Survey: One of my favorite off-season writing activities is the sporadically published staff survey. The most recent focused on a subject endearing to all sports fans because it’s an opinion that can’t be disproven in the present: potential.

Each member of our seven-person Irish Illustrated staff ranked her or his Top 10 “rookies” (true and redshirt-freshman alike) in terms of their future careers (not just 2016) and, not unexpectedly, cornerback Shaun Crawford finished first on the most ballots.

Also atop two charts was projected 2016 redshirt-sophomore, QB Brandon Wimbush, included because, if all goes according to plan, Wimbush will regain a season of eligibility by not appearing on Saturdays this fall.

One name that shot up the charts due in part to his recently completed spring semester as a prep track star was cornerback Troy Pride, Jr. He finished fifth overall, appearing on all but one of the seven ballots.

More than 20 relative rookies received votes, but would behoove the 2016 Irish defense if the two touted cornerbacks Crawford and Pride proved the staff prescient (both ours and the important one inside the Gug) sooner rather than later.

3 – All in the Family – Notre Dame’s new look hoops coaching staff should crystallize this week with former star Ryan Humphrey, former starter Ryan Ayers, and the program’s only three-time captain, point guard Eric Atkins rounding out the additions, the latter of which will fill a staff support role.

Mike Brey has the Irish basketball program is at its healthiest – and as important, most popular and attractive to NBA talent – since the beginning of the Reagan Administration. Humphrey, Ayers, and Atkins infuse new blood and invaluable knowledge of what it takes to succeed under the Dome.

It wouldn’t hurt if Humphrey – arguably the best of six Brey Era transfers – could help reconnect the big man transfer train into South Bend. 

4 – Before My Time, But a Man for All Time: My first memory of the late Muhammad Ali was of the former champion being beaten to a pulp in the final stages of his career by Larry Holmes. As a seven-year-old, I only realized it was a big deal because my dad and all of my (older) brothers were rooting so heavily against Holmes, and cringing throughout the one-sided, ill-advised fight.

My lasting memory of The Greatest, however, is of the remarkable humanitarian that stayed to meet and individually greet hundreds of fans following a charity event at Lake Michigan College’s Mendel Center in 1997.

As note by ESPN’s Dan Le Batard today, “This is the one case when people say, ‘They don’t make them like that anymore’ that they’re completely right.”

5 – It was bound to happen: I wasn’t watching defensive game film, I promise, but after two decades of only enjoying wine and beer as my alcoholic beverages of choice, I’ve acquired the taste for bourbon. Add this to the very short list of reasons I’m glad I can’t tailgate with this job…

6 – First Rate is Just That: I’ve long been a fan of Tim Prister’s annual summer “First Rate” columns, a 10-part series previewing each position, plus the coaching staffs and schedules of Notre Dame in comparison to its opponents.

But something struck me in today’s initial installment, The Quarterbacks, in which the Irish are clearly ranked No. 1 against their 12-team slate. That is: if Texas indeed has the third-best quarterback situation among Notre Dame’s 12 foes as posited within, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s oft-lamented unit could look a lot better than expected.

Bad quarterback play is easier to defend than a bad idea…

7 – Magazine Season: Nothing whets the appetite of the avid college football fan quite like early June, aka, Magazine Season. I’m an annual purchaser of both Lindy’s and Athlon’s and, thanks to the good folks at the Football Writers Association, receive a free copy of Phil Steele’s yet-to-be published annual bible as well.

While both Athlon’s and Lindy’s go in depth with unit rankings, the latter has long been the pre-season benchmark for individual rankings by positions. Proved accurate or not, Lindy’s lists are well presented and interesting.

A few Irish and 2016 opponent-related notes to that end:

-- QB: The winner of Kizer/Zaire is ranked #8 (which admittedly devalues the ranking, why are they the same?) with Miami’s Brad Kaaya at No. 10. No other opposing QB appears on the list.

-- RB: Curiously, neither Tarean Folston nor Josh Adams is listed while Christian McCaffery (#2) of Stanford and USC’s Ronald Jones (#16) both are. Also conspicuous by his absence: Michigan State sophomore L.J. Scott.

Here’s what I think about that:

-- WR: Irish senior Torii Hunter made the list at No. 16 with USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster at No. 1, Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford (#7) and Miami’s Stacy Coley (#20) also placing. Only one opposing tight end was mentioned, Va. Tech’s Bucky Hodges at No. 5.

Prediction: Alizé Jones will top next year’s edition.

-- OL: No centers (Irish or opposing) made the list but guard Quenton Nelson (#3) and tackle Mike McGlinchey (#5) did. MSU’s Brian Allen came in ahead of Nelson as the No. 2 guard and USC’s Zach Banner ahead of McGlinchey as the No. 3 tackle – McGlinchey was a Lindy’s 2nd Team All-American.

8 – Well That’s Not Good: Missing from Lindy’s list of Top 20 defenders at each position…Notre Dame players.

-- DE: No foes, no Irish, which means senior Isaac Rochell was a massive, massive oversight.
-- DT: Michigan State’s Malik McDowell came in No. 1 in the land.
-- LB: Texas sophomore Malik Jefferson is #5 inside while USC’s Cameron Smith ranks #10
-- DB: Trojans speedster Adoree Jackson is the #5 cornerback (good thing Will Fuller is not walking through that door) while MSU’s Demetrious Cox came in as the #10 safety.

While Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon was listed as the nation’s seventh-best kicker heading into 2016, punter Tyler Newsome was overlooked. That might be more egregious than sleeping on Rochell.

Newsome is the real deal.

9 – No Losing Streaks: Almost finished the Musings without our weekly prediction.

Including the bowl game, for the third time during the seven-season Kelly Era and just the fifth time in the last 20 football seasons (the end of the Lou Holtz Era), Notre Dame will not lose two games in a row, thus joining the 2000, 2005, 2012, and 2013 Irish in that welcomed accomplishment.

And as you can see here pitfalls indeed exist.

Until next week, Irish fans… Top Stories