JONES AND THE DOMINO EFFECT
It caught those outside the Notre Dame camp by surprise Wednesday when it was announced late in the afternoon that Irish sophomore tight end Alizé Jones would miss the 2016 season after he failed to reach a 1.85 grade-point average through the spring/summer semesters.
Jones became in the spring the most logical and likely candidate to serve as the other part of the one-two receiving punch with senior Torii Hunter Jr. Throughout the spring, Jones impressed, not only at his natural tight end position, but also at the W receiver spot where physical mismatches in his favor would be frequent.
It was a creative notion on the part of Brian Kelly and his offensive staff to experiment with Jones as a wideout.
Corey Robinson was in the process of deciding that one too many concussions had spelled the end to his football career. Equanimeous St. Brown and Miles Boykin -- who combined for seven games and one catch, all by St. Brown as Boykin red-shirted during their freshman seasons – showed their youth.
Jones could create matchup problems attached or unattached. A breakout season, somewhere in the 40-plus-catch range, was a natural expectation in ’16.
Jones’ absence will impact two positions. Now there’s no more time for growing pains with Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar. Tyler Luatua, who fortunately decided against transferring after declaring his intention to leave for BYU, has to be a more finished product, at least as a blocker. Former defensive tackle Jacob Matuska must now be prepared to make a contribution as a blocker.
Not that a freshman tight end would have made a significant impact in his first year in the program. But the Irish likely would have recruited a tight end in the current freshman class had they had any inkling they’d be a man down before the start of pre-season drills. At the very least, it would have been a competent body one year ahead of Brock Wright and Cole Kmet, top-rated tight ends in the Class of 2017.
Smythe and Weishar, if they can stay healthy, should be well prepared by this stage of their careers to make a consistent contribution. Luatua is capable and Matuska looks athletic enough to make a contribution blocking on the edge/in space.
It’s the W position that becomes even more critical in August. Now, it looks like St. Brown and Boykin have to replace the consistent play throughout the 2015 season of Chris Brown, who offered a confident, capable alternative opposite Will Fuller. (Brown proved clutch on third down.)
If they can’t take some of the attention off Hunter this fall, Hunter will be a marked man with plenty of safety help over the top. Fuller was a marked man too, but nobody could do anything about it, which is why he was a first-round draft choice.
Hunter looks primed for a great ’16 season, but succeeding as the go-to guy with an extra set of eyes on him makes Hunter’s job that much more difficult.
Any way you look at it, this is a significant blow to the Irish offense.
IRISH NO. 3…ALL-TIME
The Associated Press has been ranking college football’s top teams on a weekly basis since 1936.
It has gone through several permutations along the way, even to the point of diminishing the net worth of the AP vote as it relates to choosing the teams that compete for the national title. But the AP poll remains intact 80 years and counting.
Earlier this week the AP offered its top 100 programs of all-time. Poll appearances and No. 1 rankings were the most significant criteria with bonus points for national titles.
Notre Dame landed third on the list behind No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Oklahoma, which is pretty good when you consider that the worst decade for the Irish is the most recently-completed one – 2000-09 – when Notre Dame appeared in less than half (45.18 percent) of the weekly polls.
The Irish were at their best in the 1940s when they won four national titles and found their way into 96.59 percent of the polls taken during the decade.
Think about that. Not only were the Irish ranked virtually every week for 10 years, but they were ranked No. 1 for 23 of the 97 games played and among the nation’s top 10 in 71 of those 97 games.
From 1943-49, a total of 58 games, the Irish were ranked No. 1 or 2 an amazing 45 times (77.5 percent)! So for more than three-quarters of the games over a seven-year span, Notre Dame came into the game no worse than No. 2.
Brian Kelly has done an excellent job of getting the Irish back in the polls after a five-year dry spell. By Notre Dame standards, it’s astonishing that from Charlie Weis’ 3-9 season in 2007 through his last two seasons with the Irish (7-6 in ’08 and 6-6 in ’09), through Kelly’s first two at Notre Dame (an 8-5 mark in 2010 and 2011) – a total of 63 games – the Irish were ranked going into a game a mere eight times.
Since 2012, Kelly has had the Irish ranked among the nation’s top 25 for 43 of the 52 games played by Notre Dame. The Irish dropped out of the top 25 for five games in ’13 and the last three games of ’14. (Note: Notre Dame was not ranked when they went to Dublin to open the 2012 season against Navy – the first of 12 straight victories.)
Notre Dame should not be outside of the top 25 for the foreseeable future.
IRISH AND THE ACC
When the Atlantic Coast Conference recently announced that the ACC Network would be up and running for the start of the 2019-20 school year, Irish Illustrated editor Pete Sampson spelled out Notre Dame’s financial windfall from the deal penned with the ACC four years ago.
Notre Dame gets a full share ($5-8 million) from the ACC Network and one-fifth of the “media rights.” But with Notre Dame’s long-standing business relationship with NBC to broadcast home football games, the Irish come out of it as a virtual equal partner in revenues with the ACC.
One of the interesting aspects of Sampson’s story is how Notre Dame’s visits to ACC venues have sparked ticket sales. Between games at Virginia and Pittsburgh last year, a combined total of more than 41,000 tickets above the average of their other home games were sold.
When the Irish played a game hosted by Syracuse in MetLife Stadium, nearly 77,000 tickets were sold. The Orange averaged less than 41,000 per home game.
Give the ACC and its commissioner, John Swofford, a ton of credit for what conferences like the Big Ten wouldn’t accede to or understand. A part of Notre Dame is better than no part of Notre Dame. It’s also a lucrative opportunity for the ACC, particularly when the Notre Dame men’s basketball team makes back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.
While the Big Ten was always concerned about what was “fair” with Notre Dame if it wouldn’t become a full-time partner with equal interests, the ACC has allowed Notre Dame to make its money off its affiliation while making more for the ACC in the process.
There’s pride and then there’s foolish pride. The ACC kept the former and bypassed the latter.
Do you know who Jim Turner is? No, not the old-time, straight-on, square-toed kicker of the New York Jets from the 1960s-70s. Jim Turner, the offensive line coach at Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin.
Turner was the offensive line coach with the Miami Dolphins when Richie Incognito’s bullying of Jonathan Martin reached a tipping point. Incognito and others ultimately confirmed that Turner participated in the taunting of Martin and his sexuality, including the insertion of a male inflatable doll in his stocking-stuffer Christmas gift.
When interrogated about giving Martin an inflatable male doll, Turner responded: “I can’t remember.”
Fast forward to Texas A&M, where Turner is now employed by the Aggies. At a recent football clinic for women, Turner and tight ends coach Jeff Banks were responsible for slides shown during the “chalk talk” featuring a series of double-entendre, sexual innuendo references to football. (Look it up if you want to see how low Turner and Banks were willing to stoop.)
While I’m no prude and never suggest the firing of an individual that will destroy his life and ability to earn a living, that doesn’t apply to the serially ignorant that should know better.
Turner is an idiot that doesn’t deserve to draw a paycheck from Texas A&M. A two-week suspension for this child in an adult’s body hardly compensates for what Turner deserves, which is a one-way ticket out of college football.
ENDS AND ODDS
• If asked to name the top 100 issues of interest regarding Notre Dame football 2016, No. 512 on the list would be Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series uniforms. Let me know the minute the uniforms impact the outcome of the game and I’ll revise my viewpoint.
• One of the new rules in college football this fall will hold head coaches more accountable for their behavior on the field. The first unsportsmanlike conduct call on the head coach is a 15-yard penalty, as it was before. The second, as opposed to just another 15-yard penalty, is expulsion from the game, bringing it in line with other intercollegiate sports.
I’ll stake my winnings in this weekend’s Powerball drawing that the expulsion of a college football coach from a FBS game this fall will never happen, and it won’t be a result of the coaches suddenly changing the way they deal with officials.
College football officials are the most abused arbiters in all of sports. But they’ll never call this because of the backlash of establishing precedent.
Also new will be the replay official’s power to call a targeting penalty even though it wasn’t called on the field. Won’t go so far as to risk those Powerball winnings on that one, but don’t expect replay officials to take that one into their own hands very often.
• If Duke head coach David Cutcliffe had been the head coach at Notre Dame instead of Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis, the state of Notre Dame football from 2002-09 would have been completely different, so much so that Brian Kelly likely wouldn’t be the head coach now.
I’ve respected Cutcliffe since his arrival at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis. He’s a quality human being, an innovative offensive mind, and a tremendous leader of people. Unfortunately, a heart attack prevented him from coaching at Notre Dame the year he was hired, and he subsequently moved on.
Other than Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, there isn’t a coach in the country that gets more out of less than Cutcliffe, and he does it with class and distinction.
Notre Dame should beat the Blue Devils this fall with the loss of injured quarterback Thomas Sirk. But don’t be surprised if Duke competes strongly with the Irish anyway, particularly since the Irish catch the Blue Devils one week after hosting Michigan State.