Weekend leftovers: All quiet on the football front


Other than last night’s terrific USA victory over Canada, it was a pretty slow weekend for news, especially news coming out of South Bend. Here are a few tidbits that caught my eye:

* Late last week, Brian Kelly picked up another award for his fine work last season with the Cincinnati Bearcats. Kelly was named the 2010 winner of the Lee Tressel Ohio College Coach of the Year by the Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation. He’ll get the award in Westlake, Ohio on April 26th at the 22nd Annual Scholar-Athlete Awards banquet. It’s been a good year for hardware at the Kelly household, as Kelly’s won other local awards in Ohio as well as Big East coach of the year as well as Home Depot national coach of the year.

* Tim Prister at IrishIllustrated.com had a great write-up on the five different quarterbacks that Brian Kelly and the Irish have offered for the 2011 recruiting class. Prister gave an early assessment of each quarterback after watching some tape from their junior seasons.

Here are the five quarterbacks offered, with a few of their other offers listed.

Kiehl Frazier, Springdale, AR: Notre Dame, Miami, Duke, Northwestern, Auburn, WVU.
Christian Lemay, Mathews, NC: Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Miami, Georgia, Florida State
Braxton Miller, Huber Heights, OH: Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, North Carolina, UNC.
Bubba Starling, Gardner, KS: Kansas, K-State, Louisville, Baylor.
Marquise Williams, Charlotte, NC: Florida, LSU, North Carolina, UVA, Stanford, V-Tech.

While many people were worried that Kelly wasn’t willing to go up against the big boys when looking for recruits, I think this should ease any worries. Expect the dominoes to start falling when the first quarterback commits. After filling the roster with three quarterbacks this season, who knows if Kelly targets one or two quarterbacks in this recruiting cycle.

* The legendary messageboard maven FunkDoctorSpock made a pretty astute observation a few days ago when looking at the raw talent on the roster of the Irish, from sophomore through 5th year classes, according to Rivals recruiting rankings.

18 Top 100 (12 on Offense, 6 on Defense)
4 Five Stars
39 Four Stars
11 Three Stars
4 Two Stars

And this is the raw talent that Florida has in their sophomore thru 5th year classes, as per Rivals.com:

17 Top 100 (9 on Offense, 8 on Defense)
9 Five Stars
35 Four Stars
14 Three Stars
1 Two Star

It’s pretty clear that even with the defections of Clausen and Tate, the Irish have plenty of talent on the roster, comparing pretty favorable to a national power like Florida (though not as balanced). FDS also went on to mention that Kelly was 30-3 against unranked teams at Cincinnati, with two of those losses coming in year one. At the very least, Irish fans should hope that Kelly is able to win the games he’s supposed to, something many hoped Weis would do after the inconsistencies of both Willingham and Davie. 


Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.