Guru Phil Steele has Irish ranked 16th


If you’re a true college football dork like I am, Phil Steele’s College Football Preview marks a turn in the calendar. While there are still a few more months before we truly get back into football season, Steele’s magazine is like that half-way point of a long jog, and we’re at least working our way back home now.

The past few years, Steele has been bullish on the Irish. Even though he missed big on them last season and was mildly disappointed with the ’08 edition, Steele is the first of the big-name preview magazines to put Notre Dame in the Top 25, with the Irish checking in at #16, even after Steele himself points out that Notre Dame ranks 113th out of 120 teams in percentage of lettermen returning, with only 61.1 percent.

(Those are the kind of stats that get people excited about Phil Steele…)

Steele was kind enough to give a free preview of his positional outlook for the 2010 Irish, and here are a few tidbits I found interesting:

* For all the griping we’re sure to hear about Notre Dame’s ultra-soft schedule, Steele has it rated the 17th toughest in the country. While we’re sure to hear a few guys over at the Four-Letter mentioning games against Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Army (I think you can stop calling Navy a gimme game by now), once again the perception of Notre Dame’s schedule versus Steele’s number-crunching objectiveness presents two different realities.

* Ever want a sure bet? When Notre Dame is set to play Michigan State, just bet on the Spartans. Steele gives the last five betting lines against the Spartans. Here are the results:

          YEAR   LINE   RESULT    COVER
           2005     -6       44-41 L       No
           2006     -3       40-27 W     Push
           2007    +10     31-14 L       No
           2008    +8       23-7   L       No
           2009    -10      33-30 W     No
In other news, I’m 0-4-1 in predicting Notre Dame’s success against the Spartans since 2005.

* Since 1993, Notre Dame has only had two double-digit winning seasons: Tyrone Willingham’s first year in South Bend was a 10-3 season that ended in a Gator Bowl loss to North Carolina State in 2002. Charlie Weis’ 2006 campaign ended ugly with back-to-back losses to USC and LSU, but the Irish ended 10-3 as well.

Conversely, Brian Kelly has produced three double-digit win seasons since 2007, winning at least 10 games each season he coached at Cincinnati. Since 1993, Kelly has won 10+ game six times.

* For as much heartbreak as there was in the 2009 season for the Irish, you tend to forget just how frustrating the 2008 campaign was as well. Notre Dame gave up three double-digit leads in 2008, just an inexcusable amount. Even worse, Notre Dame was 1-8 in the last two seasons in the month of November. (1-3 in 2008, 0-4 in 2009).

* Looking for another area for improvement for the Irish? Try kickoffs. Notre Dame had just four touchbacks in the past three years, second worst in all of D-I football. With Brandon Walker looking healthy again, Nick Tausch and David Ruffer returning, let’s hope they figure out how to kick the ball past the goal line.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.



Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”