DEFENSIVE LINE SURGE
As it relates to the 2017 season – and perhaps even the 2018 season as well – Notre Dame’s strong recruiting along the defensive line in the last year likely will not be enough for the next two Irish teams to compete for a playoff spot.
Moving forward, however, the news earlier this week of interior defensive lineman Ja’mion Franklin joining the Irish fold added to the positive direction Notre Dame’s defensive line recruiting is headed.
That makes eight defensive line prospects since the February signing date, which includes nose tackle Darnell Ewell, three-technique Kurt Hinish, three-technique/strongside end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, strongside end Jonathon MacCollister, and weakside end Kofi Wardlow.
Franklin joined twins Jayson (interior defensive line) and Justin (strongside end) Ademilola in the Class of 2018, assuming they sign next February.
Two other targets – strongside end Thomas Booker and weakside end Jayson Oweh – would give the Irish 10 rather capable-looking bodies to carry Notre Dame’s defensive front into the third decade of the 21st century.
Until those players have time to develop, the Irish will have rush ends Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara and Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and strongside end Khalid Kareem helping build the front of the future.
This is significant. This is quality defensive line recruiting, at least by Notre Dame standards. One could argue that of those 14, only Hayes, Kareem, Okwara, Ewell, Jayson Ademilola and Booker were/are rated four-star prospects.
The reality, however, is that Franklin will get his fourth star this season and is legit. Tagovailoa-Amosa has four-star length/upside. Wardlow and Oweh are talented athletes with vast untapped potential.
It’s all just “on paper” speculation at the present time, but the future along the Irish defensive line is brighter than it’s been since the signing components that built the great 2012 front.
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com
Go back to the 2015 Notre Dame football media guide. Less than two years ago.
Not counting players who decided to bypass their final year(s) at Notre Dame for a shot at the NFL, the Irish have lost players to:
• Retirement from football (Steve Elmer)
• Injury (Tyler Luatua, Corey Robinson Doug Randolph, Michael Deeb, Mike Heuerman)
• Graduate transfers (Malik Zaire, Colin McGovern, John Montelus, Chase Hounshell)
• Undergraduate transfers/departures (Tristen Hoge, Parker Boudreaux, Josh Barajas, Justin Brent, Spencer Perry, Corey Holmes, Max Redfield, Devin Butler, Grant Blankenship, Greg Bryant, Kolin Hill, Mykelti Williams)
That’s a pretty startling list. But you can’t control a player’s decision to leave football to pursue another career. You can’t control injury. To a large extent, you can’t control misbehavior.
Graduate transfers want to play, and if they can’t play at Notre Dame, they want to play elsewhere.
As it pertains to undergraduate transfers/departures, there are a variety of reasons players leave. Academics, behavioral issues and the desire to climb up from the bottom of a depth chart lead to roster turnover.
Perhaps Notre Dame’s list is longer than most during the last two years. Maybe it’s commensurate to the rest of FBS football. But just one of the 10 players listed above who have left Notre Dame as an undergrad – Max Redfield – was a starter or even a projected starter.
Greg Bryant was the most talented football player in that group, but never could get on the same page with the Irish coaching staff before the tragic end of his life in Florida after he had transferred from Notre Dame.
Perhaps Hoge had a future on Notre Dame’s interior offensive line, but he wasn’t making much headway in the spring before his third season in the program.
Some wonder if the sudden rash of transfers is a reflection of the state of the Notre Dame football program. It’s not, or it doesn’t appear to be from my perspective.
While that was applicable in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 season, the recent transfer decisions are playing-time or fit related, not – to my knowledge – a reflection of a program in disarray. Much if not virtually all of that disarray – which was prevalent during the ’16 season -- has been eradicated through a revamping of the program.
Any time a player leaves the program, it’s unfortunate for the player, the program or both. In virtually all of these instances, it’s been a player who, to put it bluntly, was not going to be a significant contributor to the program. If you’re going to lose players, those are the players whose departures you can live with.
ZAIRE TO FLORIDA
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com
Tons of credit to former Irish quarterback Malik Zaire for his patience and well-reasoned choice of Florida to use his final year of eligibility after earning his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame in May.
Texas was a consideration as well, but Shane Buechele was the incumbent with early-entry freshman Sam Ehlinger on hand in the spring.
Zaire had to wait out the SEC’s decision to allow a graduate transfer, and once that was cleared, the Gators became the easiest and best choice.
• Junior quarterback Luke Del Rio, whose 8-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in ’16 preceded shoulder surgery, is the most experienced quarterback on the Gator roster. Freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask (April knee surgery) were the top two Florida quarterbacks in the spring.
• Florida’s top five wideouts/tight ends are back. Those five combined for 169 receptions and 12 touchdowns in ’16, led by Antonio Callaway (54 receptions, 721 yards, 3 TDs).
• Four starters return along the offensive line, including well-regarded tackles Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor.
• The loss of eight starters and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to Temple is a blow to the Gator stop troops. But Florida’s defense is coming off a season in which it finished 2nd in the country in pass defense, 5th in total defense and 6th in scoring defense.
Add it all up and Zaire has found a great opportunity to showcase the skills he believes he never had the chance to put on full display at Notre Dame.
STOOPS AND OKLAHOMA
USA TODAY Sports
That was Bob Stoops’ record in 18 seasons at Oklahoma before calling it quits earlier this week at the age of 56.
Compare that to Notre Dame, which has lost 49 games since 2007.
After establishing himself as one of the top defensive minds in the country at Florida, he was named head coach of the Sooners at the age of 38.
After losing five games in his first season in Norman – including a setback against Bob Davie’s ’99 Irish in Notre Dame Stadium – he led Oklahoma to a 13-0 mark in 2000 and the national title.
It would be his only national title. He recorded a 9-9 mark in bowl games, including a sub-.500 mark in the “big bowls.”
As the years progressed, Stoops’ Sooners – a favorite in a vast majority of the games he coached – began losing games as heavy favorites. The extreme dominance in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium faded.
The Joe Mixon ordeal will remain a part of his record.
But there are those numbers that will forever be attached to his name.
He won double-digit games in 14 of 18 seasons. After his first season, he never won less than eight games. His Sooner teams ranked among the nation’s top 10 upon the conclusion of 11 out of 18 campaigns.
With one national title in nearly two decades, Stoops won’t be on the short list of greatest coaches of all-time.
But considering how he resuscitated an Oklahoma program that had gone bad in the wake of Barry Switzer’s dominance (followed by probation), returning the Sooners to national prominence was rather remarkable when you consider the 61-50 mark among Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake in the 10 seasons prior to his arrival.
Stoops’ father, who collapsed on the sideline while coaching his Cardinal Mooney High School team, died at the age of 54. That had to be on his mind to some extent. Bob Stoops’ twin sons are seniors in high school. He’ll have the opportunity to watch them play football this fall.
Speculation of Stoops coming to Notre Dame at various points of his 18-year run at Oklahoma popped up on a couple of occasions. It happened again Wednesday when tweets suggested that Stoops would replace Brian Kelly after the 2017 season.
There’s a chance that Kelly won’t be at Notre Dame in 2018, but neither will Stoops.
Lincoln Riley, the 33-year-old offensive whiz, takes over as head coach of the Sooners. Bud Wilkinson, Switzer and Stoops all took over at Oklahoma as first-time coaches in their 30s, and all three succeeded big-time.
Riley obviously is a brilliant, innovative offensive coach, but that guarantees nothing as a head coach, particularly at a place like Oklahoma where the expectations on Riley will be off the chart, particularly this year with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and 15 starters back from an 11-2 team.
The fact that Wilkinson, Switzer and Stoops had great success in similar situations is a great factoid. It obviously gives great hope to Sooner followers.
It also has no bearing whatsoever on whether Riley will succeed at a place where three losses is a bad year.