Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Predictions (individual and team), a potential peer program, and a six-pack of freshmen highlight this week’s edition.

1 – Welcome Back: As a freshman, Alizé’ Jones failed to score a touchdown for the 10-3 Fighting Irish. As a sophomore, he was suspended for poor performance in the classroom.

As junior this fall, the tight end now legally known as Alizé Mack will hit pay dirt plenty – at least seven times in fact – thus breaking the program’s longstanding (39 seasons!) record held by the most decorated ever to play the position at Notre Dame, Ken MacAfee.

Mack won’t win the Walter Camp Award as did MacAfee in 1977 (as part of a national title team) and he won’t likely earn first team All-America honors a la Tyler Eifert for the national runner-up Irish of 2012, but he will score more touchdowns than did either in their best seasons (MacAfee 6; Eifert 5).

And there’s Prediction No. 5 of many in your summer series…

2 – Two for the Money: Let’s get this out of the way, because it’s the most asked question of the 2017 off-season to date:

Barring a relative repeat of 2016, Brian Kelly has at least two more seasons to produce a winner in South Bend. He’ll be assessed accordingly thereafter, because far too many changes have been made around him to pull the plug on the proceedings after 12 months.

You can agree or disagree with that notion on merit but it’s nonetheless rooted in reality.

3 – Arrest Season Ends Quietly: Senior Week, that annual rite of passage on and around college football campuses, passed without (relevant) incident in South Bend.

Mid-June (the final week for players before returning to summer school) and when training camp breaks in August mark the usual remaining suspects in that regard.

4 – Promising, I think? Notre Dame’s pass defense allowed seven touchdowns in September last season, the final four games of the Brian VanGorder era.

The Irish defense then allowed just seven total over the final eight contests.

Additionally, the 14 passing touchdowns surrendered marked the third lowest of the seven-season Kelly Era, with only 2012 and 2010 better in that regard.

But that relative stinginess was offset not as much by the often leaky rush defense (23 touchdowns allowed) but by the Irish special teams (5 TD) and offense (2 TD) that fell victim to seven touchdowns of their own while Notre Dame’s defense sat on the sidelines.

Yes, Notre Dame’s offense and special teams was responsible for half as many touchdowns scored against the squad as was the pass defense/secondary. Not surprisingly, the Irish finished 1-4 in the five games those seven touchdowns occurred (Duke, N.C. State, Stanford, Miami, USC).

5 – $68,000: One of my best friends recently won that total on penny slots at Four Winds Casino. He also once won $500 on a scratch-off ticket in college and bought me Subway to celebrate.

Now that we’re in our 40s rather than 20s, I think steak and bourbon seems an appropriate friendship treat when we gather for Game 2 of the NBA Finals next month, don’t you?

6 – The Six Best Freshmen that Don’t Need to Play this Fall: Accepting that Brock Wright will see the field – and that a fourth tight end with his talent is actually “needed” for this offense – I present to you:

OT Josh Lugg, RB/Athlete C.J. Holmes, OG/OT Robert Hainsey, DT Kurt Hinish, LB Drew White and TE Cole Kmet.

Lugg, Hainsey and Kmet won’t play without a rash of injuries in front of them while it is to be hoped that Hinish doesn’t have to. (Or if he does, it’s because he’s an animal against the run in August, not because his elders are collectively weak.)

As for Holmes and White, it likely comes down to their special teams acumen under the guidance of new coordinator Brian Polian – but as of the end of April, the former Nevada head coach needed plenty of help.

7 – Peer Pressure: An intriguing message board post last week elicited this Musing. (I purposefully stayed away from the thread to keep an open mind in search of a response.)

Who are Notre Dame’s modern peers? Consider the seven-season, 59-win Kelly era plus forthcoming season’s prospects as your parameters.

We know who it’s definitely not (Stanford: 75 wins under two coaches) and who it’s probably not (Michigan State, 65 wins, one coach). And which program we hope it’s not (North Carolina, 55, three coaches). But what answer would suffice?

How about Auburn?

  1. 60 total wins (two coaches) since the outset of 2010 vs. Kelly’s 59
  2. Like Notre Dame, a national runner-up season, though the Tigers lost in a classic rather than horrid, humiliating mismatch
  3. A national title
  4. A poor season intermixed (3-9 in 2012, resulting in the firing of Gene Chizik)

The Tigers national title in 2010 clearly places them a notch above Notre Dame in terms of in total accomplishments since the outset of the 2010 campaign, but the remainder of their respective bodies of work are similar.  

Regrettably, however, Auburn fans also enjoyed far more autumn Sunday mornings following nationally relevant wins over that same span, and therein lies the rub…

8 – Built from the outside, in? It appears Mike Brey’s 2018-19 Fighting Irish will be blessed with a healthy dose of perimeter quickness and defensive hand speed. Set to join (then) junior T.J. Gibbs and senior Rex Pflueger are incoming freshman D.J. Harvey (Scout.com’s 43rd-ranked player overall)) and the weekend’s prize pledge, 2018 combo guard Prentiss Hubb (No. 27).

The continued influx of athleticism is welcomed but until the gaping hole in the defensive middle is plugged, Brey’s impressive collection outside the paint won’t bother top tier opponents enough to matter. Notre Dame needs someone to anchor the paint, deter easy shots, and grab defensive boards.

Former Connecticut big man and 2016 Scout.com four-star prospect Juwan Durham (No. 63 overall) serves as that ideal addition to a front line that will feature 2017 rising sophomore John Mooney and junior-to-be Elijah Burns.

Durham’s potential move from Storrs to South Bend would be instrumental for the near future of Irish basketball. (He would not be eligible to play this season with seniors Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell as the Irish look to make another NCAA Tournament run.)

9 – Prediction No. 6: What’s this? Two official predictions in one column? It’s like Christmas in May!

2017 predictions offered to date:

  1. Notre Dame will break the program scoring record (37.6 ppg)
  2. The tight ends will catch 67-plus passes (after just 12 last season), the highest total of the Kelly Era.
  3. Eight of Notre Dame’s 12 regular season games will be decided in the fourth quarter
  4. Notre Dame will be favored in nine of 12 regular season games this season.
  5. Alizé Mack will score at least 7 touchdowns to set the single-season record at the position (as detailed in Musing #1 above).

And Prediction No. 6?

In keeping with recent custom, Notre Dame will lose more road games than it wins this season.

Until next week, Irish fans…


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