Calls for conference affiliation don't quit

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I’m working on some more original pieces that I’ll finish off this weekend and still plan on finishing off Spring Solutions before the official start of summer, but there were a few links thrown my way that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention.

First off is David Haugh’s column in the Chicago Tribune about the price of independence. Haugh, who covered Notre Dame while writing for the South Bend Tribune, takes his turn asserting that the Big Ten is the best place for the Irish. (Shocking, right?)

From Haugh:

The Big Ten offers Notre Dame’s athletic department security via an
increase in annual TV revenue, a compelling, competitive schedule that
makes more geographic sense and academic prestige that shouldn’t be
dismissed.

From a football perspective joining the Big Ten would help the Irish
forge an identity their program has lacked since the Holtz Era. Playing
in a league would give Notre Dame’s coaches the advantage of preparing
for teams they eventually will come to know, a familiarity they
currently don’t enjoy going from Big Ten to Big East to ACC styles of play sometimes in the same month. It’s called
stability.

The Irish still could play USC
and Navy to sate traditionalists. Would it really miss Pittsburgh or
the occasional Pac-10 or ACC foe?

The longer Notre Dame stubbornly clings to a nostalgic ideal such as its
independent status, the more it stunts future growth by making momentum
something other programs enjoy.

While I’d argue with just about every statement Haugh made in the above paragraphs, he seems to do it himself just a few lines later.

Some business rankings still list Notre Dame No. 1 overall in terms of
value but, without a football national championship, what’s all that
really worth? If money is the sole motivation of all moves the athletic
department makes to ensure a rich future, then stay independent. But if
anybody on the Notre Dame campus can stop seeing green long enough to
envision the most prudent path for the football program, then the Big
Ten it will be.

Either joining the Big Ten or staying independent is a better financial decision, it can’t be both.

As many have said, and I’ll echo again, the best way to be an independent in football and to be relevant nationally is to win big football games. After spending some time with the coaching staff last week, they all understand that clearly.

*****

A column by Tom Keegan in the Lawrence Journal World & News made a splash on a few message boards, when it was suggested that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was going to make a financial push to help the Big 12 expand by adding Jones’ alma mater, Arkansas, and — of course — Notre Dame.

From Keegan:

Jones, according to a source familiar with his thinking, wants his alma
mater to play in a league with former Southwest Conference rivals Texas
and Texas A&M. A visionary, Jones sees the Big 12 expanding with
Arkansas and Notre Dame. Such a conference alignment turns on TV sets
across America and sends cash gushing out of Big 12 faucets everywhere…

It’s more difficult to read Notre Dame’s feelings because the
school’s officials don’t get involved in doing business publicly. For
all the hits Notre Dame takes as a so-called “hype machine,” the school
deserves credit for conducting itself with class.

Conspiracy theorists wonder whether the Big Ten, long lusting after
Notre Dame, will try to lure the Fighting Irish by recruiting a few Big
East schools, blowing up that conference and leaving ND with nowhere
else to turn. Ole Notre Dame would not reinforce such evil tactics and
could find a more profitable home by joining hands with Texas and the
other 10 institutions, including Arkansas, to form a Big 12 TV network
that would blow away the hugely successful Big Ten Network.

I’ll go on the record and say that there’s about as much of a chance of Notre Dame joining the Big 12 as there is of me walking to Notre Dame’s opener against Purdue. (I live in Manhattan Beach, CA… 2,138 miles, or 29 days and 3 hours according to Google.)

Ideas like this one seem fun in the offseason, and while they’re completely illogical and don’t stand much of a chance of actually happening, they do remind people that Notre Dame — whether in Chicago, New York, or Lawrence, Kansas — still matters.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.”