Revisionist history shouldn’t comfort Trojan fans

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We’ve done our best to stick to just football this week. Whether it be unsettling reports in the media regarding the Lizzy Seeberg case or sticking to just on-the-field matters when it comes to discussing USC and the major sanctions the NCAA imposed on its athletic department, we decided to stay in the football writing business because that’s what this is, a Notre Dame football blog.

That said, it’s been hard not to discuss the elephant in the Coliseum this weekend, the USC Trojans and the massive sanctions handed down by the NCAA in June, a ruling nearly four years in the making after Yahoo! Sports broke open the Reggie Bush scandal.

I have no desire to recap or judge the findings of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, a committee that Notre Dame deputy athletic director Missy Conboy serves on, one of ten members. (For an in-depth article on the members that heard USC’s case, read George Dohrmann’s excellent piece at SI.com) But there seems to be an undercurrent flowing through the USC fanbase that both points blame at Notre Dame’s role in their athletic department’s demise and pointedly questions why the NCAA committee that a Notre Dame administrator sat on could levy such serious penalties on Heritage Hall.

Dan Weber, the writer who we exchanged questions and answers with via email earlier this week, writes for USCFootball.com, a website that’s been incredibly critical of the sanctions on the football program. Earlier in the week, the website launched a campaign targeting Conboy:

For those who paid close attention to the NCAA’s embarrassing Committee on Infractions USC saga, next week will offer an opportunity. The Trojans host Notre Dame for the 43rd time in the nation’s most historic intersectional college football series that opened here in 1926 and helped make Notre Dame a national name. Much of that is thanks to a respected West Coast school like USC willing to play the Irish when a number of Midwest powers — Ohio State, we’re talking about you — would not.

Next week will also be a time to remember that Notre Dame’s senior deputy director of athletics, Missy Conboy, joined with the gleeful Mr. Dee in the scandalous over penalizing of USC in a manner that branded the Trojans as one of the all-time rogue programs in college football history.

We know a number of you haven’t understood how anyone from Notre Dame could have possibly come to such a conclusion about the school that’s been there toe-to-toe with the Irish academically and athletically for 84 years.

All we know about the actions of Conboy, a Notre Dame grad with a law degree who’s been an athletic administrator there for 23 years, is that she recused herself when the Committee unbelievably talked about penalizing USC by taking the Trojans off TV. Recused herself because that could have hurt Notre Dame.

But what we don’t know is what in the world was Conboy thinking? One ineligible player, 30 scholarships? Could she possibly be serious? Should she have recused herself on the entire case? It would seem someone at Notre Dame would have to because they would know USC couldn’t possibly be as guilty as the Dee scenario called for it to be, allowing his Miami program not to go down as the most lawless in modern history. Wouldn’t a Notre Dame administrator just recuse herself for fear of looking like she’d given up on the Irish ever beating USC again unless someone took 30 scholarships away from USC.

So here’s your chance. We’re creating a thread on The Peristyle this weekend called “Ask Missy” where each of you can list the one question you’d like to ask a person on the Committee on Infractions about the USC case. Sure, she won’t answer them. But we’ll work to get them to her, or to South Bend, or to a place where maybe, just maybe, she’d have a chance to read them. And think about what she and Dee have done.

No profanity. Be respectful. This is serious business.

In our original Q&A, I asked Dan two questions about the NCAA’s rulings. The first was asking for an explanation of why he thought the sanctions were heavy handed and the second dealt with his critical comments on Dee and Conboy, and what blame he would hand to Mike Garrett, Pete Carroll, Tim Floyd, O.J. Mayo, and Reggie Bush. His responses were extensive and pointed, especially his characterization of Conboy, so I asked for a response from Notre Dame before I posted any of his responses.

Here’s the response I got from Notre Dame after I shared the original question and answer:

NCAA Bylaw 32.1.5 entitled Conflict of Interest states that a Committee member should not participate if the member is directly connected with an institution under investigation or has a personal, professional, or institutional affiliation that reasonably would result in the appearance of prejudice. In this case, Ms. Conboy did offer to recuse herself from the case precisely because she was concerned about the appearance of prejudice. After a discussion with the Committee Chair, her participation was deemed appropriate in light of no discernible Conflict of Interest. It is important to note that even if the Committee member does not believe that his/her involvement would prejudice the institution, the institution is also able to raise an objection to the participation of a Committee member whom they feel might prejudice their case. USC did not choose to raise an objection to the involvement of Ms. Conboy.

After talking with Brian Hardin at Notre Dame, he explained that Conboy has stepped off the committee multiple times before, like when UConn basketball came in front of the committee, or when Arizona State baseball coach Pat Murphy came in front of the board, because Murphy is the former baseball coach at Notre Dame. She even asked to be recused during the recent Michigan hearings, but was asked specifically by Michigan that she stay on.

In a posting yesterday, a few days after I agreed not to publish our questions and Notre Dame’s response, the “War Room” was at it again, this time pointing to the Kim Dunbar scandal, which resulted in the Notre Dame football program being placed on probation for two years and losing one scholarship for two consecutive seasons, the first major violation of NCAA regulations by any Irish athletic program.

From the War Room:

One thing that you realize quickly if you engage in this dialogue with the ND folks is how much they don’t know about the USC case, and never will. And do not care.

Sure, they’ll still argue, more than a decade after the fact, how unfair it was what the NCAA Committee on Infractions did to Notre Dame. How it had to go to a tiebreaker vote to declare the Notre Dame booster club member and $1.4-million-dollar embezzler who just liked to “date” Notre Dame football players, a “booster.”

Sure she took trips with them and showered them with presents over a five-year period, something an Irish assistant coach admitted he knew about but never bothered to inform the NCAA because, as one ND official said, the rules were “convoluted.”

What a miscarriage of justice, they’ll tell you, costing the Irish one whole scholarship a year for two years.

But they’re little concerned that the NCAA, after the fact, declared a whole slew of passers-by in the lives of Reggie Bush and O.J.Mayo USC “boosters.” After all, the USC case was about a lot more than that, they’ll tell you. You USC fans just “lack introspection” to see your program as others see it, they’ll say. Sure, ask them to name the other USC athletes involved, unlike the eight from ND, and all you’ll hear is crickets chirping.

And that’s when you realize where this case was lost. We’d forgotten about the USA Today national survey of nearly 25,000 readers published the day after the NCAA’s ridiculously unprecedented penalties were revealed in June.

Only 16 percent thought the USC penalties too harsh. A whopping 42 percent thought that the loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban for one player on the take from outsiders encouraging him to leave was letting USC off way too easy. Another 41 percent thought that was just right.

So there are the numbers: 83 percent thought the NCAA was either too easy on USC or got it right. Just 16 percent understood what had happened. And that’s what the NCAA was clearly counting on.

Nearly four years of relentless hammering had done its dirty work. Nearly four years of failing to answer back, to respond in any way, to make the USC case, to let others fill in all the negatives, well, even if USC’s lawyers had gotten the Trojans off, it might not have mattered. USC was guilty as charged, or guiltier — if that’s a word. And as dirty as a program could be. It had to be.

How else do you win three Heismans in four years to tie the almighty Irish? How else do you play in seven straight BCS games and win 34 straight games and seven straight Pac-10 titles and hammer four straight SEC teams whose names begin with the letter “A” if you’re not doing something outside the rules?

And if you come to South Bend next October to play the 85-scholarship-strong Irish with the same number of 51 scholarship players you took to Stanford this season, well, that will be just fine, Notre Dame fans seem to be saying. It’s about time the playing field was leveled.

Comparing the Dunbar case to the violations committed by the Trojan athletic department doesn’t make much sense when you look closer at what actually happened. That Dunbar was convicted of embezzling $1.4 million from her employer wasn’t an NCAA violation. That Dunbar, starting at the age of 20 and until she was arrested at 25, dated a few different football players, had a child with one, and occasionally purchased travel and gave them gifts also was not an NCAA violation. What turned the Dunbar fiasco into an NCAA violation was that she gave $25 in 1996 to a (quickly defunct) Quarterback Club that supported Notre Dame athletics, which turned her into a booster.

It was far from an easy decision for the NCAA, who — as the War Room points out — needed a tie-breaker to determine if Dunbar was a booster, making the comparison of the then-22-year-old Dunbar to Lloyd Lake, Michael Michaels, Rodney Guillory, or any of the other unsavory characters in the USC case not too appropriate.

USC will go in front of an appeals committee in the near future, asking to cut in half the sanctions they received, and athletic director Pat Haden believes that USC has a strong case, even if only 10 percent of all sanctions are overturned in appeal. For the sake of the student-athletes that were in junior high when Reggie Bush was committing violations, maybe lessening the penalties is the best thing that could happen, with most of the major player long gone from the Trojan athletic department.

But even though Garrett, Carroll, running backs coach Todd McNair, Tim Floyd, O.J. Mayo and Reggie Bush are a memory now doesn’t make any revisionist history including Missy Conboy, Notre Dame close to appropriate.

Harsh or not, any penalties levied on USC were their own fault.

A spring perspective: Wimbush and his offensive line

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Many like to belittle spring practice as just spring practice. Similarly, others will gladly snub their noses at any positive reviews, insisting it is only warmer temperatures and sunshine eliciting optimism.

Another group sees every position change and depth chart shift as a definite indicator the program is on the right track.

The best assessment of these 15 practices falls somewhere between those two extremes, as most things in this world do.

Take the offensive line, for example. Why is it important to garner an idea of the starting five before fall? Once that is established, not only can the offensive line develop chemistry within itself, but it can also establish chemistry with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. That is, in fact, what Wimbush cited as the item he needs to most improve in a WatchND interview with Jack Nolan over the weekend.

“I need to get better at making it easier for the offensive line and understanding my pocket awareness, where my escape lanes are and where I need to step up,” Wimbush said. “Those guys are working their butts off and I’m at 10 yards, [graduate student left tackle Mike] McGlinchey is getting pushed back and pushed right into me. I have to understand where my pocket is.”

That understanding will develop at an even quicker pace once Wimbush knows exactly whom he is working with on each snap. Spring’s greatest benefit is taking steps toward answering those questions.

As for his greatest strengths on the field, Wimbush pointed toward his athleticism.

“Being able to make plays, get outside the pocket, and I feel like breaking down the defense is some of my assets,” he said.

Assistants: Polian on defensive depth; Lyght on Love; and Lea on the rover

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Three Irish assistants were available to the media following Notre Dame’s sixth spring practice Wednesday. Each of special teams coordinator Brian Polian, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and linebackers coach Clark Lea commented on something or other of note. Together there just might be enough substance to justify your time here today.

At the bottom of this post is a video with most of the below quotes and many more from yesterday’s session.

POLIAN ON DEFENSIVE DEPTH AFFECTING SPECIAL TEAMS
The most unique aspect of the special teams coordinator, at least when compared to his offensive and defensive counterparts, is the fact that his charges include nearly the entire breadth of the roster. Aside from the quarterbacks, the starting offensive line and the defensive tackles, just about every player could find himself on a kickoff coverage or return unit.

More often than not, defensive players—accustomed to seeking out contact, rather than attempting to avoid it—fill out most of those spots. That may not be the case with this Irish rendition, and not necessarily by choice.

“We’re not as deep as you’d want to be in some other spots with depth at linebacker and depth at safety,” Polian said. “So where are we going to make up those bodies, and they’re going to have to come from offense. Those guys have made very positive impressions.”

Polian specifically mentioned junior running back Dexter Williams, sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and sophomore running back Tony Jones, as well as sophomore safety Jalen Elliott, as having excelled thus far. When he came to Jones, Polian added phrases such as “real excited” and “fantastic,” echoing sentiments Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly espoused earlier this week.

Along with that personnel shift, Polian wants to increase the intensity with which players approach the third unit. Often seen as auxiliary duty, inferior to position group work, special teams should not include a dialed back attitude.

“The biggest change has to be the urgency with which we attack special teams and our execution and critical efficiency in important times of the game.”

The Indianapolis Star’s Laken Litman wrote a longer discussion of Polian’s comments, including how he will look to supplement junior receivers Chris Finke and C.J. Sanders at punt return.

“We’ll have a gong show and say who wants to get a look that’s not getting a look,” Polian said. “We’ll start firing balls at them and if you drop two, you’re fired. But we’ll find another one or two guys.”

Please, WatchND and Fighting Irish Media, please record all of that. The possibilities for hilarity would extend further only if Jarron Jones or Lou Nix were still around to insist on taking a turn.

LYGHT ON LOVE
Sophomore cornerback Julian Love saw plenty of action in 12 games last season, finishing with 45 tackles and one each of an interception, fumble forced and fumble recovered. Nonetheless, Lyght sees room for Love to improve.

“The thing for him and his development, when he’s uncomfortable … he has to rely more on his fundamentals and his technique and be proficient with his execution of his technique and those fundamentals,” Lyght said.

Love started eight games at cornerback last season, the most career starts at the position on the Irish roster. Thus, despite being only a sophomore, he is already in a position to lead.

“Julian can tackle in space, he can cover,” Lyght said. “We want him to get better in his man-to-man techniques and in his leadership role. He is a young player but he is going to play a lot for us.”

Love will play, and likely start, at the boundary cornerback position. As Irish Illustrated’s Tim O’Malley lays out in an elongated look at all five cornerbacks in the mix, the days of left/right cornerback duties are in the past.

“In the college game, it is a boundary/field game,” Lyght said. “It’s not like the NFL where the hashmarks are in the middle of the field and it’s a left/right game…

“If you get the guys comfortable playing boundary, playing field, they can get a better feel for the game, get a better feel for the route combinations, and be able to execute at a higher level playing that way.”

A quick layman’s translation: The hashmarks in college football are much wider than in the NFL. Thus, when the ball is placed on the right hashmark, the right side of the field becomes the boundary and is much narrower than the left, the field.

LEA ON THE ROVER
How about another take at explaining the heralded rover position in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme? Let’s here Lea’s quick summary:

“We have a lot of bodies, so we’re really trying to identify who the right fit is,” he said. “The beauty of that position is it is a hybrid, so there are times you want a bigger-body linebacker type, there are times where you want more of a nickel type.”

Lea also took a moment to extensively praise the leadership of both senior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini.


Mid-week reading: On Wimbush; NCAA $$$; A look back at Te’o

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A litany of links typically makes for good Friday fodder. A week’s worth of the internet can help any reader through an unproductive end of the week. Unfortunately, spring practice’s rhythms are inconsistent, unlike summer’s constant nothingness and fall’s non-stop charge.

Hey, who said you can’t take a long lunch on a Wednesday, anyways?

MORE WIMBUSH AND WHITFIELD
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples joined Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush out in San Diego two weeks ago during spring break, watching as Wimbush listened to private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield’s instructions. Staples, per usual, tells a good story, slipping some nuggets of information within it where you may not even notice.

Many around this space have asked who foots the bill when a college quarterback seeks out Whitfield’s tutelage. Per Staples, Wimbush’s mother paid for the week.

Throughout the story, Wimbush emphasizes the importance of a Notre Dame degree, going so far as to point to former Irish quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire acquiring their diplomas before departing Notre Dame. None of us know Wimbush’s academic progress—now approaching his second summer school session, Wimbush is likely ahead of the usual second-semester sophomore’s credit pace—but this tidbit may prove pertinent in nine months time. Considering what its pertinence would say about a bigger picture, Irish fans should certainly hope it is of note.

To this memory, the classic image relayed from Golson’s time with Whitfield was Golson throwing over brooms held by staffers, mimicking the long limbs of charging defensive linemen. Those fictional pass rushers have become a bit more realistic in nature, now apparently represented with outstretched tennis rackets.

NCAA GIVING NOTRE DAME NEARLY $1 MILLION
In what has been described as a “one-time supplemental distribution,” the NCAA is dispersing $200 million among its members. The amount each school receives is determined by the total number of full scholarships it gives to student-athletes, with each partial scholarship contributing its appropriate fraction toward that total figure.

Notre Dame will receive $984,724 thanks to giving out 299.20 scholarships in 2013-14. Some context behind that latter number: The football team takes up 85 scholarships. The men’s basketball team is allowed 13, and the women’s basketball team gets 15. The remaining 186.20 are split among the other 20 varsity sports (counting men’s and women’s teams separately in rowing, swimming and diving, and track and field).

Other notable schools:
Ohio State receives the most, more than $1.3 million, thanks to its 403.98 scholarships.
USC’s 279.06 scholarships equates to $918,440.
Michigan’s 353.18 scholarships will yield close to $1.2 million.

All these dollars must be spent it ways aiding the student-athletes. Schools cannot put the funds toward items like stadium construction or coaches’ salaries. Rather, the NCAA indicated the money is for “the direct benefit of the student-athlete and their academic success, life skills, career success, health and safety and student-athlete focused diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

All expenditures must be approved by the NCAA. The money comes from an endowment that had reportedly come to exceed $360 million.

REMEMBER THE TE’O DRAFT HOOPLA?
The below video does not necessarily reveal anything we do not already know about former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, despite its ponderous title. It does, however, make a good point.

Aside from a sporadic comment deep in the morass of these pages, not much is said about the Lennay Kekua situation anymore. At the time, it was the most talked about item anywhere, let alone in Notre Dame corners. Personally, a former co-worker at the Los Angeles Times called late one night that week four-plus years ago. He and I had not spoken in close to two years, and we haven’t spoken since. But the Te’o/Kekua story prompted him to seek an understanding of what in the world was going on.

In some irish.nbcsports.com history, the day after that story broke—it broke on Jan. 16, 2013, so I am referring to Jan. 17—still holds the record for most views to this particular site.

Good for Te’o to have successfully moved past that saga. These days, every comment former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer makes is scrutinized. He is even criticized for not having excellent timing with Jonas Gray, of all people. Looking back on Te’o, it should be remembered the most dramatic stories, one seemingly crafted perfectly for the internet, fade into the cobwebs of time.

[Here, a link in case the intended embed below fails.]

PHIL STEELE’S PROJECTED AP TOP 10
Enough with the past. Let’s project the future.

Phil Steele, of the revered Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, projected August’s Associated Press Top 10. Steele has accounted for voters’ tendencies rather accurately in years past, so it is not an entirely fruitless exercise. Then again, he is projecting the results of the first of many polls with no actual consequence.

Of Steele’s projected top-10, Notre Dame will face only No. 4 USC.

KENPOM’S TOO EARLY PRESEASON TOP 10
If you think Steele’s top 10 is too early, then skip this.

College basketball analytics master Ken Pomeroy put together his top 10 for next season, though any unexpected draft departures or transfers can certainly alter his calculations. After all, the season is not actually over yet.

Of certain Irish interest: No. 9 North Carolina, No. 8 Louisville and No. 6 Virginia. The last of those has already suffered a transfer which Pomeroy tweeted will “abruptly” end the Cavaliers’ time in his preseason top 10.

SPEAKING OF BASKETBALL, WELL DONE DENNIS, WHOEVER YOU ARE
Math is hard, so take this with a grain of salt, but I believe Dennis’ bracket of “Brey Brey’s Kids” will win the Inside the Irish March Madness pool. Dennis, your $984,724 is in the mail.

Don’t think that means there is no reason to watch the Final Four, though. Your host might be able to rise into the top half of the field, which would be good for his pride, and therefore the quality of writing in these parts.

It shouldn’t be too surprising my bracket flopped. This is a football page. Besides, by my eye, no one I actually know firsthand will finish higher than fourth. That is more of a relief than it should be.

Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

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This space has mentioned a few times the dearth of returning sacks among Notre Dame’s defensive line. It is a pertinent fact—no returning Irish defensive lineman recorded a sack in the 2016 season—but it fails to mention the flipside of that.

Most of Notre Dame’s defensive linemen had few, if any, opportunities to rush the passer in 2016. Perhaps at the top of the list of those who should bring down the opposing passer a few times this fall, sophomore Daelin Hayes has laid claim to a starting rush spot through five spring practices.

“The athleticism is what obviously stands out,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s extremely athletic, he’s fit physically, 250 pounds and very strong.”

These facts are, after all, the reasons Hayes was a highly sought-after five-star recruit according to rivals.com.

“It’s the football knowledge, learning the techniques at the position in which he plays is really the piece,” Kelly continued. “It’s just learning right now for him. This is the time to do it, in spring ball.

“Squeezing down on a tight end when the back is away. Wrong-arming the puller. These are all football terms and schemes that are a bit new to him. We have to be patient with him. He’s an explosive athlete. There’s going to be some mistakes along the way, and I’m okay with that as long as he’s learning.”

Without much depth pushing for playing time behind him, Hayes will have the opportunity to make, and subsequently understand, those mistakes. Seniors Jay Hayes (no relation) and Andrew Trumbetti are mired in competition for the other end spot, while sophomores Julian Okwara, Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Khalid Kareem may have even more development ahead of them than Daelin Hayes does.

Incoming freshmen Kofi Wardlow and Jonathon MacCollister will join the fray in the summer, but for now, the younger Hayes has his chance to impress with his natural gifts while absorbing the intricacies of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s defense.

Hayes is not a complete unknown. While Okwara made four tackles last season in 11 games and Kareem appeared in four games, Hayes saw action in every contest, finishing the season with 11 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

“He’s an athlete,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said last week. “He’s on the edge in a two-point stance. He’s not a trained, put-your-hand-on-the-ground defensive end. He played running back in high school. He can see things better in a two-point and can diagnose quicker. He’s able to be more productive.”

It may be accurate to mention no returning Notre Dame defensive linemen tackled a quarterback for a loss last season, but it is more precise to also include the Irish have possibilities of changing that trend.

SPEAKING OF THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Notre Dame is nearly as thin at defensive tackle as it is at end. Junior Jerry Tillery leads the way with senior end-converted-to-tackle Jonathan Bonner lining up next to him thus far. Their reserves: Oft-concussed senior Daniel Cage, senior Pete Mokwuah and junior Micah Dew-Treadway with junior Elijah Taylor out for the spring with a foot injury.

Theoretically, junior Brandon Tiassum is also in the mix, and three freshmen (Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailo-Amosa and four-star Darnell Ewell) will join the group in the summer.

And maybe, just maybe, perhaps, possibly … Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano could walk onto campus alongside those freshmen. Pagano visited Notre Dame the first week of March, and was due to look at Oklahoma and Arkansas the next two weekends, respectively. Instead, Pagano reportedly cancelled both of those visits Monday.

Pagano does still have a visit to Oregon scheduled for April 21. Until indicated otherwise, it may be prudent to presume Pagano hopes to land as close to his Hawaiian home as possible.

RELATED READING: 1 Day Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive line