Monday night news catch-up


It’s well past my bedtime and because of some intermittent internet at the lovely Varsity Club in Mishawaka I’m still plugging away at this, but there’s been some serious smoke coming out of the expansion chimneys the past day or two.

Start with colleague John Taylor’s excellent reporting at CFT, where he actually went to the source and debunked an Associated Press story that had Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in Park Ridge, Illinois meeting with Big Ten presidents and chancellors for 4.5 hours, discussion expansion.

Here’s Brian Hardin, Notre Dame’s director of media relations, report:

Hi John,

Thanks for the email. I think the 150 people that attended the graduation open house of Jack Swarbrick’s son today in Indianapolis would help me deny that Jack was in attendance at the Big Ten meetings today in Chicago. I hate to have to throw cold water on yet another “report” regarding Notre Dame and the Big Ten, but like many “reports” before this one, there isn’t any validity to it. Feel free to quote me on any of this.

Bam. That’s about as emphatic as you can get, though a conspiracy theorist would point out that Hardin didn’t say that Action Jack didn’t talk with Big Ten head-honchos, merely that he wasn’t there.

Meanwhile, a little newspaper called the New York Times has another report on Notre Dame’s role in all the expansion talk. Pete Thamel, the Times writer who also started this uprising with the “seismic shift” quotes back in March, had this to say about Notre Dame’s role.

In March, on an unseasonably warm morning in New York City, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick seemed
to push the collegiate conference expansion discussion from theory to
reality. He told a small group of reporters that the Irish would
reconsider their football independence if it appeared that “seismic”
change to the college football landscape was on the horizon.

Three months later, it appears that Swarbrick and Notre Dame have the
ability to prevent that potential seismic shift. Who said that Notre
Dame, even in times of football struggle, was irrelevant?

The Irish have become the unintentional linchpin of conference expansion
because of their potential value to the Big Ten. It is clear that the
Irish would prefer to stay as an independent, which Swarbrick has
vehemently maintained, but he is potentially facing a conundrum: Does
Notre Dame become the 12th team in the Big Ten or does it risk being
forced to later join the conference as the 16th team?

The Big Ten has 11 teams, and if it adds Notre Dame, which it appears
it wants to, the Irish would probably not want to be part of a 16-team
superleague. The Irish, in theory, would have the power to cap the
league at 12 teams.

“I think it’s impossible to say,” Swarbrick said Monday when asked about
the theory that Notre Dame joining the Big Ten would stabilize the
collegiate landscape. “I understand why people have that conjecture. I
also think it’s equally plausible that enough things have been spun in
motion that it may not be true.”

As it’s been since the beginning, I still feel like this is a gigantic game of chicken, with Notre Dame driving Optimus Prime and the Big Ten driving a fleet of smart cars. That’s not to say that Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State aren’t big-rig programs, but they’ve hinged their fate to Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana. 

I’m still waiting for ESPN to start covering this like the important news story that it actually is. For some reason, the WWL just seems to ignore this one on SportsCenter, probably because it doesn’t fit into a convenient box for marketing.

Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”

And in that corner… The Navy Midshipmen

Keenan Reynolds, Jamar Summers

The theme of this week’s game might very well be mutual respect. But if Notre Dame is going to get their season back on track, they’ll need to very quickly get past any sort of reverence they have for Ken Niumatalolo and the Navy Midshipmen and look for any way to beat them.

Sandwiched between showdowns against Clemson and USC, Navy comes to town, one of the below-the-radar unbeaten teams in the country. With option superstar Keenan Reynolds in the final year of a career that is already one of the most prolific in college football history, the Irish defense goes into triple-option mode for the second time in this young season, asked to once again find an answer for an attack that not many people have solved.

Helping us to prepare for the Midshipmen is the play-by-play voice of Navy athletics, Pete Medhurst. Covering Navy football since 1997, Pete was kind enough to get us ready for the 89th meeting between Notre Dame and the Naval Academy.

Hope you enjoy.


Lost in the misery Notre Dame fans feel after the Irish’s undefeated hopes washed away in Clemson last weekend, is that the Navy team coming to South Bend is really, really good. I know it’s early, but you’ve been covering the Midshipmen for a long time. Can you rank where this team stacks up compared to some of the others you’ve seen?

I think its the best overall Navy team, considering the play of both units right now and special teams as well. The defense is giving up  just 15 points a game, and based on the prowess of the offense, that’s going to lead to a lot of victories if you play at that level.


Is Keenan Reynolds the best triple-option QB in Navy history? As someone who has watched his career evolve, can you speak to his improvements as a quarterback and a player? How important has he been to the evolution of this program?

I believe production speaks for itself. Good health could make him the leading touchdown scorer of all-time in the sport. He’s a coach on the field. Speaks like a coach, has a want to get better. Each day is a mission for him and the unit to get better and they hold themselves to a high standard to meet each day, he’s the leader of that group.



Joining the American Conference was a huge decision, but one that looks to be paying dividends. Have you noticed a difference in the program now that they’re chasing a conference title?

Coaches say it is. They have been met with quality response on the road recruiting. We get to states that are important footprints for us and just adds another goal where our players can be rewarded for their hard work. The conference has been very, very, good so far this year.


Defensively, this game should stress Navy. Notre Dame’s big-play potential is the best of the Brian Kelly era. (The Irish already have more 50-plus yard touchdowns than they’ve had in any other season under Kelly.)

Takeaways and preventing big plays seem to be a tenet of a Buddy Green defense. Are those the big keys for the Midshipmen defensively?

No question this is by far the fastest team Notre Dame has ever had. I go all the way back to the great Lindsay Nelson days when I used to watch the Notre Dame football report every Sunday morning. They can attack you anywhere at anytime with several people. Double cover one, they have three others in the formation who can beat you any play. Brian has put together a great plan and his coaches have delivered great recruits to the program. Many teams can’t survive an injury to the QB, but they have.

Mids have turned teams over this year and that’s a huge key for any defense. With Dale Pehrson taking over the defense (note: Green is taking a sabbatical to recover from major neck surgery this season) those goals have not changed. Eleven guys getting to the football, ball comes out, you have a great chance to get it!


Notre Dame had success earlier this season against Georgia Tech, and Brian Kelly spent a gigantic portion of his offseason preparing for the triple-option, going as far as recruiting a walk-on option quarterback who runs an option-specific scout team.

Do you think the success the Irish defense had against Paul Johnson’s triple-option will help this weekend? Or do you see subtle, but important differences between what Ken Niumatalolo does than his predecessor?

Coach Kelly is a good football coach. After we beat them at the Meadowlands, 35-17, you sensed, he was going to work hard to find a solution because for them to achieve their goals, they have to beat us.

Im not sure how many huge differences their are in our two offenses, one though is the QB. His ability to get Navy into the right play is huge no matter how a team lines up. Defensive personnel has improved in a huge way for Notre Dame too. They have quality people who can run and get to the ball. Last couple have been barn burners. Hopefully Saturday can be the same.