Monday/Tuesday catch-up


Apologies for the delay on posting today, I had some computer problems that kept me away from all things technology. Let’s get down to business.

* There is finally a “report” out detailing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s intentions for conference expansion. According to Sports Radio 810 AM in Missouri, the Big Ten has reportedly extended offers to join the conference to four schools — Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers and Notre Dame.

Here’s some of the particulars:

The Big Ten Conference has extended initial offers to join the league
to four universities including Missouri and Nebraska from the Big 12,
according to multiple sources close to the negotiations. 

While nothing can be approved until the Big Ten presidents and
chancellors meet the first week of June in Chicago, the league has
informed the two Big 12 schools, Notre Dame and Rutgers that it would
like to have them join. It is not yet clear whether the Big Ten will
expand to 14 or 16 teams but sources indicated Missouri and Nebraska are
invited in either scenario.  Notre Dame has repeatedly declined the
opportunity to join the Big Ten.  If Notre Dame remains independent,
Rutgers would be the 14th team.  The Big Ten would then decide whether
to stop at 14 or extend offers to two other schools.  If Notre Dame
joins, sources say an offer will be extended to one other school making
it a 16-team league… Sources close to the governing body say the Big Ten has told officials
that Mizzou could add $1.3 million per month in revenue to the lucrative
Big Ten Television Network.

I don’t consider AM-810 the New York Times, but I appreciate them going on a limb and getting this thing started. Before ESPN takes this thing and turns it into a monster, let me just give a couple observations.

First off, you’d think the Big Ten Network was printing money the way people are talking about the network. Having watched the channel since its inception, I’m shocked that people are talking about it like its the crown jewel of college football. (Have these people ever actually, well — you know, watched the channel?) Sure, they’re getting subscriber fees from a great base of states, but the reported revenue numbers on the station sure seem like a lot of smoke and mirrors, particularly the commonly accepted fact that the Big Ten Network brings $22 million to each school.

With only a 51 percent ownership stake in the network, there’s a zero percent chance that the network is spitting out the profits to pay 11 teams $20+ million from just their half of the pie, with Fox pocketing another $220 million themselves. As Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune finally discovered, somebody might be cooking the numbers.

The Big Ten has declined to confirm the $22 million. What it has
released is a figure of $220 million ($20 million per school) for 2010
that covers revenue from national television contracts, bowl games, the
NCAA basketball tournament, licensing and the Big Ten Network.

Before people continue to claim that Purdue is making more from the Big Ten Network than Notre Dame is making on their TV deal, it might make sense to start comparing apples to apples. While it makes for a compelling story, the truth is out there somewhere, only Jim Delany doesn’t want anybody to find it. (At least not before his precious landgrab takes place.)

Final thought on the Big Ten Network: If it’s so successful, they need to invest a bit of that money into some actual programming. 

* After only four years, the NCAA is finally ready to to release their decision on penalties for the USC athletic department, as Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel reported on his Twitter account. It seems just about everybody has an opinion on what the Trojans’ punishment should be, but the Los Angeles Times’ Chris Dufresne seems to have the most logical hypothetical I’ve seen, predicting five years probation, a bowl ban for a year, and vacating 21 scholarships.

Will it be the fire and brimstone many of us think is deserved? Probably not. But it’ll effectively end the Trojan dynasty, something the Irish could never do on the football field.

* Finally, to talk a little football to close things up, add another quarterback to the list of potential signal-callers for the Irish next season. reports that top dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams has listed the Irish in his final five schools along with Michigan, Virginia Tech, LSU, and North Carolina. 

“It’s time to tell the truth and not waste anyone’s time,” Williams told ISD’s Steve Wiltfong.

Wiltfong reports that all of Williams’ favorites have offered, except the Irish, but that’s likely to change come Tuesday when Notre Dame visits his high school this week.

You’ve got to like your chances with a quarterback that’s got you listed in their top five even without an offer. Williams sounds like a dynamic athlete with offers from teams like Florida and LSU, so he’d be a great get and his relationship with Brian Kelly dates back to the Cincinnati days.

Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.