David Bruton, David Grimes, and Maurice Crum

The case for 9-3

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When addressing the media after his worst coaching loss in nearly two full seasons, Brian Kelly made it clear that the season could go two ways, after starting with three loses in their first four games.

“There’s going to be a lot of 1-3 football teams across the country,” Kelly said after losing to Stanford. “Some
are going to finish 1-11, some are going to be 8 or 9-3. It’s what you
decide to do from here on out.”

Since then, the Irish have righted the ship and rattled off three straight wins to up their record to 4-3 as they prepare to face Navy. And Kelly’s hope that the Irish could be one of those select teams that turn their season around is on the right track.

The remaining schedule for the Irish:

Oct 23 — Navy (at Meadowlands)
Oct 30 — Tulsa (Home)
Nov 13 — Utah (Home)
Nov 20 — Army (at Yankee Stadium)
Nov 27 — Southern Cal (Away)

At the beginning of the season, various websites did win probability polls that determined confidence in the Irish winning games. Here’s what two websites — NDNation.com and ClashmoreMike.com came up with:

OPPONENT WIN PROBABILITY
Navy                      84% (CM) 86% (ND)
Tulsa                     92% (CM) 92% (ND)
Utah                      69% (CM) 64% (ND)
Army                     96% (CM) 94% (ND)
USC                      53% (CM) 48% (ND)

By this logic, the Irish should be favorites to win in every game, except for USC, giving Notre Dame fans hope that the best-case scenario still has a few chances of happening.

The Irish did salvage victories against Boston College and Pitt, two of the games that fans predicted to be some of the most difficult on the slate. Unfortunately, they also lost games against Michigan, Michigan State, and Stanford, three other games that people predicted the Irish should (slighty) win.

If you checked an Irish fan’s gut, you’d think that they’d feel confident that the Irish would beat Navy, Tulsa, and Army, and probably be 50-50 to beat both Utah and USC. Noted college football predictor Jeff Sagarin ranks both Utah and USC within his top 20, though Utah is facing the Irish at home after a bye week, and also has played the 110th best schedule thus far this year, an indicator that we’re just not sure how good the Utes really are.

The Irish head to Southern Cal on Thanksgiving Saturday, facing a Trojan team that lost last-second games to both Washington and Stanford, and finally put together a convincing victory against Cal last weekend after playing uneven football in the first seven weeks of the season. There’s no evidence that points to the Irish having a better than 50/50 chance after the last decade against the Trojans, but USC has a razor-thin roster and a coaching staff that has hardly proven itself as adept as the previous regime in Troy.

One incredibly interesting way of looking at the Irish’s chances of running the table comes courtesy of Brian Fremeau. Fremeau created the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a “rating system based on drive-based Game Efficiency data
that rewards playing well against good teams, win or lose, and punishes
losing to poor teams more harshly than it rewards defeating poor teams.”

How does Fremeau rank the Irish chances of running the table?

Well, not so good:

Final Record Win Likelihoods:

9-3 3.3%

8-4 22.7%

7-5 39.1%

6-6 26.9%

5-7 or worse 8.0%

Fremeau gives the Irish only a 3.3 percent chance of running the table, and a one in four chance of winning eight games. He ranks the Irish as the 38th best team right now with a strength-of-schedule at No. 15 to date. His ratings likely take into consideration the inconsistencies that have plagued the Irish offense thus far, struggles that make beating teams like Navy, Utah, and USC statistically less possible.

(They also probably don’t take into consideration injuries to Kyle Rudolph and Theo Riddick, and the possibility that Michael Floyd might also miss some time.)

Crunching some numbers, I feel like Fremeau might be selling the Irish a tad bit short. My rudimentary number-crunching and mediocre statistical skills makes me feel like there’s about a 20 percent chance that the Irish walk into bowl season with a 9-3 record, something Irish fans should feel happy about after starting the year in a massive hole thanks to some two heart-breaking losses. That said, your case for a nine win season is far stronger if you trust your gut feeling rather than any mathematical breakdown.

Not many Irish fans have trusted their gut lately, a product of disappointing losses and underachievement over the years. If Kelly could pull this one off, running the table and beating the numbers that so often have defined the Irish football team, it’d have plenty of people very happy — coaches, fans, and administrators alike.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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