Clausen's Heisman hopes hinge on clash with Trojans

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As autumn takes hold and the football season enters its seventh week, the landscape unique to each college season slowly reveals itself.

For a Heisman race that was one of the most highly anticipated in memory, what has emerged was not necessarily expected, but still filled with intrigue. With last year’s Heisman finalists all returning for another season, many expected Colt McCoy to wage battle with previous winners Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford. Yet the season has not gone according to plan, and whether it be injury or play worthy of mere mortals, the Heisman race is far from finished as the ides of October approach.

Summing up where Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen fits in all of this is a complicated proposition. By the numbers, Clausen deserves to be at the forefront of the Heisman discussion. He’s competing 67 percent of his throws, averaging 308 yards passing per game (his only sub 300-yard game was Purdue, where he sat out a large chunk), and has 12 touchdown passes against only 2 interceptions. Yet Clausen also has failed to pass any major test. While Notre Dame fans offer a clutch 4th-quarter drive in the last-second loss to Michigan, and valiant comeback victories against Purdue and Washington, Clausen has yet to engineer a singular “Heisman moment” that could catapult his candidacy ahead of mainstays McCoy and Tebow.

But Clausen is in a position to take the leap.

HeismanPundit.com is a website dedicated to “breaking down the politics of the most prestigious awards in sports.” Managed and edited by former USC assistant sports information director Chris Huston, Huston worked first-hand directing successful Heisman campaigns for former Trojan quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Huston coordinates the Heismanpundit/Orlando Sentinel Heisman Poll, a weekly survey of actual Heisman voters that was the most accurate predictor of all polls last season, and even became a Heisman voter in August of 2009. (Basically, he knows his stuff.)

Catching up with Chris yesterday night, he had this to say about Clausen’s candidacy.

“If Clausen leads the Irish to a win over USC, he’ll finally have that signature victory over a quality opponent that has eluded him for so long.  Heisman voters know he’s good, they just don’t know if he’s good enough to get Notre Dame over that hump.  Beat the Trojans and they’ll finally believe.  Clausen would probably move into the Heisman lead with a good performance in a win over USC.”

A quick look at other the major media outlets reveals that the Notre Dame signal-caller has gotten people’s attention. Last Saturday during ESPN’s popular College GameDay, Clausen spoke live to Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, who both sang Jimmy’s praises. ESPN’s Heisman Watch has Clausen running third behind Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy.

Gene Menez, who captains Sports Illustrated’s Heisman Watch put Clausen at his top spot, and said that “it’s safe to say that no other game on Clausen’s schedule will have a bigger impact on his chances to become Notre Dame’s eighth Heisman winner than Saturday’s.”

The Sporting News’ Matt Hayes has Jimmy Clausen sitting third in his Heisman race after six weeks, with Clausen behind Tebow and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who historically has little chance to actually win the award. Hayes also focuses in on this weekend’s matchup. “Beat USC next week and gain instant credibility.”

At CBS Sportsline, their five-man Heisman panel has Clausen sitting narrowly atop Tebow in first place, with — surprise — this week’s game against Southern Cal a huge spotlight for Jimmy and the Irish.

And finally, NBC Sports very own Race for the Heisman has Clausen in a four-man race with Tebow, McCoy, and Suh, who caught the eye of many football fans with his dominating defensive performance on a rainy Thursday night in Missouri last week.

You could say that the season starts here for Jimmy Clausen and the Fighting Irish. If Clausen and Notre Dame have any greater aspirations for this season, they’ll need to find a way to defeat their nemesis in Southern California, a team that has had their way with the Irish since Charlie Weis came to South Bend.

If Clausen can manage that feat, it’ll be a brave new world for the Irish quarterback. Expect a website that is already in its planning stages to be launched by the Irish’s Sports Information department. Expect a media frenzy that is already buzzing around Clausen to be a full-fledged circus. And expect Jimmy Clausen, a player who walked into Notre Dame with the self-imposed burden of great expectations, to emerge from this weekend’s storm the front-runner for college football’s most coveted award. 

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

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UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.