1 – The (Hypothetical) Perfect Season: Frustrated by the inevitable ebb and flow of a college football season? How about a (nearly) perfect game, every week, to mark six seasons of the Brian Kelly Era to date.
-- Opener (Texas, 2015): A 38-3 win over the program with the third-best winning % in college football history.
-- Game 2 (Michigan, 2014): A 31-0 (well, 37-0) win over the program with the second-best winning % in college football history.
-- Game 3 (Georgia Tech 2015): Rookie QB DeShone Kizer wins his first start and the defense produces 58 minutes of near perfection against a then well-respected triple option attack.
-- Game 4 (Michigan State 2013): A 17-13 head-knocker over eventual 13-1 Rose Bowl Champs.
-- Game 5 (Miami 2012): 41-9 over The U in the Windy City.
-- Game 6 (ASU 2013): Irish enter as underdogs and reeling at 3-2 but respond with 37-34 win in Jerry World.
-- Game 7 (USC 2015): ND extracts a measure of revenge for 49-14 bloodletting 11 months prior.
-- Game 8 (Oklahoma 2012): 30-13 Upset in Norman ranks as the most impressive win of the Kelly Era to date.
-- Game 9 (Pitt 2015): 42-30 victory marked the 3rd straight true road win of 2015 after losing five previous such situations in 2013-14.
-- Game 10 (Utah 2010): 28-3 Senior Day win saved the season and re-launched the Kelly Era for then 4-5, disheartened Irish squad.
-- Game 11 (Wake 2012): A 38-0 Senior Day Celebration and the Irish ended the day at No. 1
-- Game 12 (USC 2012): Defense paves path to BCS Championship berth, beating Men of Troy 22-9.
-- Game 13 (Music City Bowl 2014): Kelly & Co. save sinking ship in 31-28 upset over SEC heavy LSU. The win serves as a springboard for outstanding 2015 campaign.
-- Game 14 (National Championship Game): Still a hypothetical…
2 – Safe for Another Season? With a nod to Blue & Gold’s Lou Somogyi for the math, Notre Dame (.73215) enters the 2016 campaign three games ahead of second-place Michigan (.72987) for the best winning percentage in college football history. In other words, the Wolverines would have to win three more games than does Notre Dame to overtake the Irish at season’s end.
3 – For Informational Purposes Only: Fodder (warnings) for your weekly college football point spread pools – Road favorites won better than 77 percent of their games last season but covered in just 57 percent of those victories.
Notre Dame won each of the three road games in which it was favored last fall but covered just once (at Pittsburgh) while failing to do so at Virginia and at Temple. That 2-1 mark held true in 2013 (the Irish weren’t favored in a true road tilt in 2014). In the undefeated season of 2012, Notre Dame was a road favorite just twice and while it won both, was 1-1 vs. the spread.
Kelly’s 2011 Irish were favored in four of five true road games. They won three but covered just once (at Purdue). In 2010? Favored once, won and covered.
Add it all up and, when favored, the Irish have covered the point spread in true road games just five times during the six season Kelly Era. Remember that this fall when the Irish travel to Austin, Raleigh, and if all goes well, perhaps to USC at season’s end.
4 – Upset Alert: Last fall, for the third time in the new millennium – and just the third time since the outset of the 1990 season – Notre Dame did not suffer an upset loss. (Clemson, Stanford, and Ohio State were all favored in their victories).
Prediction No. 13 in our summer series posits the Irish won’t repeat that impressive feat, suffering at least one upset loss along the way in 2016. (They are, at present, favored in their first 11 contests, though that is subject to change.)
5 – Admittedly, I missed the Organ Music, Too: I attended my first Greek Orthodox wedding Sunday, and aside from the oppressive heat outside the wedding and reception venues, it was enlightening to see the disparate customs.
Of note: 1.) No clapping allowed when the new bride and groom depart and/or are announced as man and wife. 2.) Perhaps most relevant, women are not to cross their legs – the latter proved entertaining for me to watch sitting between my sister and wife as they struggled with a long ingrained behavior.
6 – May the Best Man Win: My projected winner for each. In some cases (denoted by *), the “Winner” just means I think he’ll be the player that receives more playing time in what basically amounts to a job share.
- QB: Kizer vs. Zaire – Kizer
- DE: Trumbetti vs. Hayes – Trumbetti in a job share
- Starting RB: Folston vs. Adams – Folston in a job share, with Dexter Williams earning relevant time as well.
- Slot: Sanders vs. Holmes – Holmes (Residue from Sanders’ hip surgery the culprit)
- RG: Bivin vs. McGovern vs. Kraemer vs. Eichenberg – Bivin…then one of the frosh takes over in October.
- Blocking TE: Luatua vs. Matuska – Matuska, at least by season’s end
- “Next” WR: Boykin vs. EQ vs. Stepherson – Boykin. This assumes Torii Hunter, Durham Smythe, Alize’ Jones, and a slot receiver are the four main recipients of playing time.
- NT: Daniel Cage vs. Jarron Jones – Jones, though clearly it’s a tandem
- DT: Jerry Tillery vs. Elijah Taylor – Tillery. The key is, it shouldn’t be close…but might be.
- WLB: Greer Martini vs. Te’von Coney vs. Asmar Bilal – Martini
- LCB: Nick Watkins vs. Shaun Crawford – Crawford
- FS: Max Redfield vs. Devin Studstill – Redfield
7 – A Redshirt-Heavy Top Tier? Too much time on my hands unearthed this interesting change in roster makeup between the 2015 and ’16 squads:
-- Among Notre Dame’s Top 10 projected players per Irish Illustrated last summer, only three previously *redshirted as freshmen (non-medical): The staff’s top 10 entering the campaign showed Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, Sheldon Day, Ronnie Stanley, KeiVarae Russell, *Malik Zaire, Tarean Folston, Isaac Rochell, *Nick Martin, and Cole Luke.
Conversely, a look at 2016’s collection of top Irish talent suggests more balance. Cast your vote between the unordered groups – former redshirts vs. those that did not – below:
-- The All (non-medical) Redshirt Team: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire, Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Torii Hunter, Jr., Jarron Jones, Alex Bars, Tyler Newsome, Durham Smythe, Jay Hayes, Corey Holmes, Sam Mustipher, Asmar Bilal, Hunter Bivin, and Tristen Hoge.
-- The All True Freshman Team: Rochell, Luke, Folston, Josh Adams, Alize’ Jones, James Onwualu, Justin Yoon, CJ Sanders, Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, Drue Tranquill, Jerry Tillery, Daniel Cage, Andrew Trumbetti and Max Redfield.
(Two top tier players not listed: Cornerback Shaun Crawford, who would not have redshirted if not for injury, and Brandon Wimbush, who conversely would have if not for exigent circumstances.)
8 – Bonus Prediction: The Highest Scoring Game of 2016…
This one’s an annual offering, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve only been correct on this topic in three of the last seven seasons – 2010 Michigan State, 2011 Air Force, 2014 North Carolina. (Last year’s choice was Georgia Tech, it ended up being Stanford.)
-- Prediction No. 14: Oct. 29 vs. Miami in South Bend will rank as the highest scoring game of Notre Dame’s season. (“Highest,” as always, should be defined as the highest point total scored by the losing team. That is, 35-34 is a higher scoring game than 60-10).
That’s 14 predictions down, 11 to go.
Note: Monday’s Musings will go on a one-week hiatus to make room for our “Trouble Spots” series – ranking Notre Dame’s game situations from easiest to most difficult, this fall.