1 – Games of the Year: The Golden Nugget Casino released its long-awaited (if you write a weekly football column in the summer, it’s long-awaited) Games of the Year point spreads for 2017.
Notre Dame’s were as follows:
- Favored by 3 points over UGA (Sept. 9)
- Favored by 4 points one week later at Michigan State
- Underdogs of 8.5 points when USC comes to town on Oct. 21
- Underdogs of 6 points at Miami (Nov. 11)
- And Underdogs of a whopping 9 points at Stanford to conclude the season.
-- Relevant Historical Comparison: In 2004, USC’s best team of the program’s last 40 years was favored by exactly 8.5 points at Notre Dame.
In other words, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Pete Carroll, et al were favored on game week to beat Tyrone Willingham and the rest of the overmatched Irish lot by just 8.5 points in South Bend.
Do not confuse that USC – the 2004 juggernaut – with this USC, or this Notre Dame with that paper-thin Notre Dame of the Willingham era.
If you should happen upon Las Vegas, take the Irish at +8.5 points – because that won’t be the point spread during Game Week.
2 – More Difficult than it Seems: I referenced Athlon Magazine’s Top 50 players of the publication’s 50 seasons of existence in a previous edition of the Musings. Not a single Notre Dame player was included (egregious omission Ross Browner; questionable exclusions Tim Brown and Rocket Ismail topped my list of complaints.)
Now it’s time for a similar list – Notre Dame only – from my viewing era. In terms of my memories, it begins in 1982, a time span that allows many of you to chime in with opinions of your own.
Alphabetically, my Irish Top 35 of the last 35 years (it pre-dates the great Bob Crable, who I don’t recall watching play), with no attention paid to their professional exploits beyond South Bend.
(Perhaps Tim Prister in his Thursday Thoughts can add 15 to my list of 35 dating from 1967 through Bob Crable and 1981.)
- Mark Bavaro, Jerome Bettis, Ned Bolcar, Tim Brown, Reggie Brooks, Jeff Burris, Autry Denson, Dave Duerson, Tyler Eifert, Jeff Faine, Michael Floyd, Will Fuller, Andy Heck, Anthony Johnson, Todd Lyght, Rocket Ismail, Julius Jones, Zack Martin, Derrick Mayes, Allen Pinkett, Brady Quinn, Tony Rice, Jeff Samardzija, Jaylon Smith, Ronnie Stanley, Michael Stonebreaker, Golden Tate, Aaron Taylor, Bobby Taylor, Manti Te’o, Justin Tuck, Shane Walton, Anthony Weaver, Bryant Young, and Chris Zorich.
Perhaps I owe a personal apology to Athlon’s for their “omissions”? I had myriad tough cuts (below) and my list only involved one football program rather than them all.
3 – Also considered: Consider those above the Hall of Fame and these below the Hall of the Very Good:
Lee Becton – Not with that swan song…
Tom Carter – If only he had returned for his senior season (1993 national champs)…
Jimmy Clausen – Not in total…
Rodney Culver – Who do you take off?
Sheldon Day – I originally had him on the list…
Marc Edwards – Anthony Johnson took his spot…
Tim Grunhard – Adding his professional career would seal the deal, but…
Mirko Jurkovic and Mike Rosenthal – Both first-team All-Americans…but who do you take off?
DeShone Kizer – Not with that swan song, Part 2...
Rick Mirer – The talent around him was breath-taking…
Harrison Smith – Remember, the NFL doesn’t count…
Frank Stams – Only had one great year…but what a year!
Pat Terrell – My kingdom for a Pat Terrell today…
Stephon Tuitt – Maybe if he had returned for his senior season, Part 2…
Ricky Watters – Who do you take off?
Courtney Watson, Anthony Denman and Demetrius Dubose – Who was best?
(Next week’s Musings will include an extensive list of honorable mentions and likely your personal favorites that are missing from the groups above. And if you hadn’t noticed, those “Also considered” above already brings us to through the Top 54.)
4 – Adding to the Best of his Best? For my money, these are Brian Kelly’s 11 best Irish players coached to date, professional careers (e.g. Theo Riddick, Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph) notwithstanding:
Day, Eifert, Floyd, Fuller, Kizer (consider his two seasons in total, not just the end), Z. Martin, Harrison Smith, Jaylon Smith, Stanley, Te’o, and Tuitt.
Question for you, the subscriber: Will any current Irish player crack that elite group?
5 – Working Man’s Holiday: My kids are at their (maternal) grandparents for a 48-hour span. My wife is working nights July 1-6.
As a result, yours truly has set a July 2-3 calendar world record for home projects begun and completed, plus words penned about the 2017 Fighting Irish.
(Try finding another human being in the world who wrote about redshirt-freshman Ade Ogundeji over the 2017 Fourth of July Holiday weekend. I have to reevaluate my annual Irish A-to-Z Draft strategy.)
Tonight will be about a grilled dinner for my parents to be followed by a neighborhood cookout with friends, and beverages – but not before a trip one-hour west and back to deliver prescription eye medicine one of the kids suddenly needs.
It’s always something…
6 – A Hole in the Bucket? Remember a recent Musing regarding tight ends and the position’s uptick in recent recruiting for Kelly’s Irish?
Well here’s the bad news, at least on paper:
Tim Prister’s review last week of Brian Kelly’s top defensive line recruits during his eight recruiting cycles listed 30 players in all – four of the bottom six and six of the bottom eight reside on the 2017 squad.
Notre Dame has struck out of late in its attempts to turn lemons into lemonade along the defensive front, and those efforts at the sport’s most important position could prove detrimental to what appears to be an otherwise strong roster this fall.
7 – Most likely to succeed, relatively speaking: What’s most likely, that junior rookie rotation member Micah Dew-Treadway is pretty good this fall, that new starting senior Jay Hayes is legitimately good, or that veteran starting junior Jerry Tillery is a player of impact?
And on the flip side, let’s do the same exercise with redshirt-freshman Tommy Kraemer, senior Sam Mustipher, and his classmate Alex Bars, respectively.
8 – Wariness Wears Off When? Last week’s Musing that I could reasonably be talked into any end-season record – from 6-6 through 10-2 this fall – elicited this follow-up question:
At what point will you no longer be wary of a sub-par 2017 season?
My answer: if the Irish start 4-0.
- 4-0 means two wins on the road while likewise prevailing in one of September’s marquee college football games, Week 2 against Georgia.
- 4-0 means wins against the SEC, the Big 10, and the ACC.
- 4-0 means two wins in hostile environs against rivals replete with fan bases that detest the Irish.
- And 4-0 would give real confidence to a roster that has been able to fake it – in spades – since timidly concluding the 2016 campaign.
9 – A Dozen Down: Summer predictions offered to date:
- The 2017 Irish 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
- Notre Dame will win six of its seven home games in 2017
- Senior Rover Drue Tranquill will lead the team in defensive *big plays this fall. (*Big plays include TFL/Sacks, interceptions, passes defended, forced fumbles and recovered, blocked kicks and of course, touchdowns.)
- USC at Notre Dame will rank as the highest scoring contest of the season. As always, “highest scoring” is defined as the most points scored by the losing team. (Thus, 69-0 is not “higher scoring” than 35-33.)
- Julian Love will lead the squad in passes defended
- N.C. State at Notre Dame will be the season’s lowest-scoring contest. “Lowest scoring” is defined as the fewest points scored by the winning team.
And Prediction No. 12 – For the first time since Bob Diaco’s departure, Notre Dame will have a defense that finishes in the Top 40 in Pass Efficiency Defense. (They did so in three of Diaco’s four seasons coordinating the Irish defense.)
Until next week, Irish fans…