Matt Cashore /

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

The season opener means everything? Folston to join Jones and Brooks or Wood and Prosise? Cujo vs. Jack Freeman’s plight? All that plus Prediction No. 12 as we continue to preview 2016.

1 – Season Opener as THE defining game? Tim Prister, Pete Sampson and I broached a theory earlier this summer, and I believe the idea was Sampson’s: Notre Dame’s quality of play over the course of a given season has –far more often than not– been showcased in its first contest.

Consider the last decade’ opening outings:

-- 2005: Charlie Weis’ offensive juggernaut has a party at the hands of Pittsburgh and thereafter showcases the most productive offense of the post-Lou Holtz era over its next 11 games.

-- 2006: An overrated, fat cat Irish squad struggles at Ga. Tech. They proceed to finish 10-3, but beat no one of consequence while getting worked over in each of the three defeats.

-- 2007: Yeah…

-- 2008: Notre Dame needs everything in its arsenal to hold off San Diego State; the Irish fittingly win just six of their next 12 games, never rising up against a quality foe.

-- 2009: An outlier, the Irish looked like world-beaters vs. a solid Nevada team (eventually 10-3) but limped to a 6-6 finish. On a related note: Game 2 at Michigan, a 38-34 loss to QB Tate Forcier, offered a portent to the end of the Charlie Weis era.

-- 2010: An unremarkable win over Purdue (20-12) and an unremarkable 8-5 season follows. 2010 was truly a “Tale of Two Seasons” for Brian Kelly’s Irish. (4-5 start; 4-0 finish).

-- 2011: Five turnovers and a stunning loss to South Florida in a season that came to be defined by the lost turnover – a whopping 29 by year’s end en route to an 8-5 mark.

-- 2012: A 50-10 bundling of Navy and, four months later, a 12-0 mark and national championship game appearance.

-- 2013: A boring final 57 minutes in a workmanlike 28-6 win against overmatched Temple (2-10 final record) was followed by a less-than-memorable season by a solid, non-descript, four-loss squad. One with an obvious ceiling…

-- 2014: A bit of an exception, as Everett Golson looked superhuman in a 48-17 win over Rice then morphed into Irish fan lament No. 1 over his final four months playing in South Bend.

-- 2015: Notre Dame dominated Texas 38-3 and eventually produced one of the two best seasons among the last 20 at the program.

-- 2016: Texas is on tap…

2 – We’ve Reached a Dozen: Time for Prediction #12 in our Summer Prediction Series at Irish Illustrated. (Each of the 20+ will be collected and posted in late August to track as the season progresses).

Prediction #12: A different player will lead Notre Dame in rushing each month in 2016 (September, October, November).

It’s a prediction that calls for not only Tarean Folston and Josh Adams to pace the offense over the course of a month, but also a third runner – Dexter Williams is my technical choice to emerge – but since this prediction is out on a limb, I think I deserve the leeway of ANY third runner, don’t you?

(It also opens the door to Malik Zaire.)

3 – Folston to Flourish, Then Finish? A Four Horsemen Lounge post over the weekend wondered why we don’t have Tarean Folston on our Scholarship Chart for 2017 (it would be his fifth season for which he’s eligible after last year’s season-ending knee injury).

Simple answer: those are educated guesses, and Folston, barring another injury that would preclude him from testing the NFL waters, would likely leave ND after his senior year/graduation and pursue his career path.

Which brings up an interesting query: Who are the best fifth-year senior running backs in program history?

-- Julius Jones (2003): Came back for a fifth year as a result of a 2002 senior season suspension (grades related). Starred for a 5-7 Irish team and, in my estimation, saved them from the ignominy of a 2-9 season with a whopping 1,321 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. Jones was named team MVP.

-- Tony Brooks (1991): Came back for a fifth year as a result of a 1989 junior year suspension (off-the-field). Accumulated 1,020 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage as part of a three-headed monster backfield that featured Jerome Bettis (23 TD) and the late Rodney Culver.

And that’s it. And Jones and Brooks both came back in part because they needed their respective fifth seasons to graduate from the University.

Why are there so few impact fifth-year ‘backs? A.) Good freshmen runners rarely redshirt as rookies, B.) In the past, injured running backs rarely regained their form, and C.) Modern running backs know that if the opportunity knocks, you should go pro before there’s too much mileage on the tires.

Which brings us to point #4…

4 – Don’t Redshirt Freshmen Runners: It’s relevant to note that the only former freshman redshirt running back to eventually lead a Notre Dame team in rushing – at any point in his career thereafter – was Cierre Wood, who redshirted in 2009, led the squad in 2010 and 2011, and chose not to return for his potential fifth season in 2013.

2015 rushing leader C.J. Prosise was redshirted as a freshman safety, became a sophomore and junior slot receiver, and as a senior, a running back that led his squad in rushing.

He also chose not to return for a potential fifth year.

5 – Worst Neighbor Award:
Lars Thorwald

Joe Camber

Jack Freeman’s in Dowagiac?
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6 – The Forgotten Farmer: In researching Musing #3 above, I came across this sterling senior season stat line from former Notre Dame backup and eventual New York Jets runner, Robert Farmer:

11 games played, 78 carries, 660 yards, 8.5 yards per rush and 8 touchdowns.


Sophomore Autry Denson led the ’96 Irish in rushing with 1,260 yards, 6.2 per pop. Senior Marc Edwards (10 TD) was also a prominent member of the backfield for Lou Holtz’s final squad in South Bend.

Farmer’s eye-popping average is rarely discussed among the best single-season efforts of season’s past.

7 – Cheap Video Pop: Just noticed this is a running back-heavy edition of the Musings. So in honor of Notre Dame’s best, or at least most memorable, here you go:

-- For me, nothing beats Reggie Brooks vs. Michigan (2:10)

8 – Fan Feedback: In your opinion, what are the five most important positions in modern college football? Or to be more specific, what are the five most important positions for a team with reasonable playoff hopes?

I’ll have a story later this week that’s loosely related, ranking more than 20 elements that I believe determine how good a team can be during a given season, but for the sake of easy discussion, my Top 5 are, in order:

-- Starting QB
-- Starting D-Line
-- Starting O-Line
-- Starting Cornerbacks
-- Backup D-Line

Feel free to list up to 10 for our message board discussion.

9 – He Reminds Me Of… Our “ND A-to-Z” summer feature concluded last week with a camp preview of Malik Zaire. Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister compiled a list of what became our favorite element (at least for the writers) in the series: Past Player Comparisons

You can access Part 1 of his wrap-up story here and chime in with a comparison of your own.

I’ll start: ?

-- Sophomore DeShone Kizer (21 TD, 10 INT, 2,884 passing yards, 520 rushing yards, 10 rushing TD). 10-3 Team Record with 58 total touchdowns scored by his squad

??-- Junior Rick Mirer (18 TD, 10 INT, 2,117 passing yards, 306 rushing yards and 9 rushing TD). 10-3 Team Record with a program record 64 total touchdowns scored.

Until Next Week, Irish Fans…

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