1 – It's (almost) Magazine Season: Is there anything better for the avid college football fan than our annual return to yesteryear? Our brief renewal of the reality that the printed word is indeed the most rewarding? (No offense to our website, podcast, instant analysis, or source of income.)
Yes, college football magazine season is upon us. By the time we congregate in this space next week, national annuals such as Athlon Sports and Lindy's Sports will be available at a grocery store near you. (Phil Steele's annual media bible is set for mid-June.)
Sure you can throw each of them away by the outset of August as news again becomes timely and relevant in the digital age, but until then, enjoy a couple of hours, a couple of beverages (in caffeinated or cocktail form) as time well-spent with the printed word in preparation for the upcoming season.
On that note…
2 – Would 18 be enough? I noted last week that barring another losing season, it's nonsensical to believe a head-coaching change would occur for Notre Dame. (Changes made this off-season strongly suggest a two-year leash for Brian Kelly in South Bend.)
Thus, how many wins would be "enough" to placate Irish fans? I'm sure "20" is an off-the-cuff answer on which everybody would agree, but what's the likelihood of such a rebirth after 14 wins in the previous two campaigns?
Let's take a quick look back in two-year increments:
- 2010 (8) and 2011 (8): 16 wins marked by a 2-6 record vs. Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, and USC. Not enough for anyone.
- 2011 (8) and 2012 (12): 20 wins highlighted by a No. 1 ranking. Most wins by an Irish squad in a single season since 1989.
- 2012 (12) and 2013 (9): In retrospect, a Kelly-Era high of 21 wins was taken for granted due to the letdown of 2013, one precipitated by the academic suspension of Everett Golson.
- 2013 (9) and 2014 (8): 17 wins and a notable (and infamous) changing of the guard on the defensive side of scrimmage that offered a portent.
- 2014 (8) and 2015 (10): The accumulation of top-level talent by Kelly & Co. resulted in program rebirth and an enjoyable season as its payoff on the tail end of these 18 victories.
- 2015 (10) and 2016 (4): The paltry total of "14" would be unacceptable in any form, though perhaps "zero" followed by "14-0" would challenge that notion.
- 2016 (4) and 2017 (?): This two-year tally has been rendered "unacceptable," regardless, but clearly a 10-plus-win campaign will be considered a success. Ten (especially 11-12-13 or 14) this fall would relegate the pain of 2016 to the equivalent of Kelly's mulligan in South Bend.
- 2017 (?) and 2018 (?): We can agree that 20 wins over the next two seasons would be "enough," to elicit a happy fan base, right? But what about 19? What about 18? Because that's better than the technical average of *17.6 wins over a two-season span.
*For those wondering, Kelly's two-year win increments were as follows: 16, 20, 21, 17, 18, 14, and "X" pending 2017's result. (The Charlie Weis era showed paltry totals of 19, 13, 10, and 13, or an average of 13.7 for the sake of comparison.)
3 – Three Phases: Looking to break down the 2017 Irish schedule?
Don't go team-by-team – in fact, never go team-by-team. As Alonzo Harris offered in Training Day, this (stuff) is chess, it aint checkers."
Instead, try examining the three-month slate as such:
- Pre USC (Sept. 2-Oct. 7): Can the Irish go 5-1? Or will they enter the bye week and subsequent USC contest a precarious 4-2 after six games instead?
- Post USC (Oct. 28-Nov. 25): Can they go 4-1? Or will they fall victim to one of three ACC foes (or Navy on Senior Day), prior to a tough test at Stanford and finish a crippling 3-2 instead?
- As for USC (Oct. 21)…You want the disgruntled fan base back on your side Notre Dame? Beat the Trojans and Heisman contender Sam Darnold in South Bend. A win would mark the third straight over USC in South Bend and serve as Kelly's fifth in eight seasons – best at the program since Lou Holtz finished his tenure with six wins and a tie over the teams' final eight matchups concluding in 1996.
4 – The Promise of Youth: I posed a question to subscribers on our Four Horsemen Lounge last week wondering who they thought would be the best "relative rookie" on the Irish squad. Choices listed were RB Tony Jones, OT Tommy Kraemer, DE Daelin Hayes, WR Chase Claypool, and "Other."
A quick tally shows the following results:
- 12 – Daelin Hayes
- 4 – Tony Jones
- 4 – Chase Claypool
- 1 – Tommy Kraemer
- 1 – (Shaun Crawford)
- 1 – (Asmar Bilal)
- 1 – Other
For the subscriber (blasters79) that answered "Other" without a name mentioned, I applaud you. That's how college football generally plays out
5 – A Most Rewarding Playoffs: The 2017 NBA Playoffs have been rewarding for this father of three, ages six and under. That is, they've rewarded me with nightly sleep, because there's no reason to stay up and watch this ridiculous string of non-competitive exhibitions.
NOW, however, the fun begins, because this rubber match between 2016 champion Cleveland and 2015 champ Golden State features the most star power gathered on one finals court since 1983 when the unbeatable Philadelphia 76ers took on the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
I know many of you/us aged 40-plus don't follow the NBA anymore. But for two weeks in early June, I'm certain it'll be worth your while…and lost sleep. My kingdom for a Sunday afternoon tip-off like the old days!
6 – A Challenge: For senior linebacker Nyles Morgan:
Produce the second-best season by a middle linebacker in the Kelly Era.
The best, Manti' Te'o's 2012 campaign, is off the table, of course. But for Morgan, how about reaching Te'o's level as a junior in '11?
- 128 tackles (probably not going to happen), 13.5 for loss (wow) including 5 sacks (certainly could, as Morgan had 4 last fall) with 4 QB hurries, 2 passes defended and a forced fumble (Te'o's led to a bowl game touchdown against FSU).
Te'o set a lofty standard indeed. Is Morgan, the former 5-star prospect from 2014, up to the task?
7 – Prediction No. 7: 2017 predictions offered to date:
- Notre Dame will break the program scoring record (37.6 ppg)
- The tight ends will catch 67-plus passes (after just 12 last season), the highest total of the Kelly Era.
- Eight of Notre Dame's 12 regular season games will be decided in the fourth quarter
- Notre Dame will be favored in nine of 12 regular season games this season.
- Alizé Mack will score at least 7 touchdowns to set the single-season record at the position (as detailed in Musing #1 above).
- Notre Dame will have a losing road record (5 true road games) this season
-- And now for No. 7 in our summer series: Notre Dame will win six of its seven home games in 2017.
8 – Time to Answer the Bell: Who's the best team on Notre Dame's 2017 slate? Logic (i.e., talent coupled with coaching acumen) dictates it will prove to be one from the USC/Stanford/Georgia triumvirate, with each facing the Irish in a different month this fall.
Which begs the question: Which team was the best the Irish faced each season of the Kelly Era to date?
- 2010: Stanford (12-1, Orange Bowl champs)
- 2011: Stanford (11-2, Fiesta Bowl loss) and then Michigan (11-2, Sugar Bowl win)
- 2012: Yeah, I'll go with Alabama…In terms of regular season, however, Oklahoma was 10-3 with a Cotton Bowl loss. One of their two regular season losses of course came courtesy the Irish.
- 2013: Michigan State (13-1 with a Rose Bowl win – the loss was to Notre Dame)
- 2014: Florida State (Undefeated until a playoff loss to Oregon)
- 2015: Clemson (Undefeated until a championship game loss to Alabama). 12-2 Rose Bowl Champion Stanford was a strong runner-up
- 2016: USC (10-3, Rose Bowl Champions)
Notre Dame finished 2-8 vs. those 10 heavy hitters.
Step One toward a program rebirth in the Kelly Era would be beating more top tier teams – and that means more wins than losses against that group, not just sporadic success as in season's past.
9 – Memorial Day: Enjoy your day off with family and friends, grilled meats and veggies, endless array of appetizers and drinks of choice today. And remember that the ultimate sacrifice – likely by a member of your extended family over the last century – helped make it all possible.
Until next week, Irish fans…