Michigan State

What though the odds


Notre Dame sits at 0-2. Michigan State, ranked 15th in this week’s USA Today and AP Poll, is 2-0. Then why would Las Vegas have the Irish opening as a 3.5 point favorite, only to see the spread extend up to five and even six points in some places? Could it be possible that the wiseguys that build casinos haven’t given up on the boys in blue and gold?

Here are a few quick reasons for Irish fans to hope this weekend might be different than the last two heart-stompers:

The Schedule: The Spartans haven’t exactly challenged themselves in their first two games, playing I-AA Youngstown State in week one and then non-AQ Florida Atlantic.

Against Youngstown State, the Spartans got off to a sluggish start and took a touchdown lead into halftime, before pulling away 28-6. The Penguins struggled to move the ball, putting up only 254 yards in the game, but did run for 4.25 yards a carry if you take away a fumble and a kneel down at the end of half.

Florida Atlantic, sacrificial lamb to Will Muschamp’s Florida team in the opener, took one on the chin to the Spartans, getting drubbed 44-0, but the mighty Michigan State running game never truly got on track, carrying 51 times for 188 yards, a modest 3.7 yards per carry.

Notre Dame’s Brian Hardin mentioned earlier today that the Irish are one of only six FBS teams to have scheduled BCS automatic qualifiers in their first three games. The only team that’s walked away undefeated so far is USC, who won nail-biters against Minnesota and Utah.

The Stats: Believe me, I’m sick of them too. That said, it’s just difficult for anyone to fathom that the Irish can continue to shoot themselves in the foot at this pace. The Irish have already turned it over more times than Wisconsin did last year. Eric Hansen points out they’ve also turned it over more than the Irish did in 2000, when the Irish relied on quarterback Matt LoVecchio and a rock-solid running game to pilot an risk-averse offense into a BCS bowl game.

The Spartans are ranked among the top five defenses in the country after two weeks. That said, the offenses they’ve faced are Florida Atlantic (rated dead last, 120th in the country) and FCS team Youngstown State, who did rack up 77 points against Valparaiso last week.

The Irish, for all their warts, are ranked No. 13 in total offense. Michigan State, is ranked 49th, not exactly awe inspiring against the schedule they’re facing.

The Luck: If the Irish ever think they’ll just walk past a Michigan State team that always seems to have Notre Dame’s number, they’ll be sorely mistaken and end next weekend 0-3, but it just seems like the Irish are much more likely to not make disastrous mistakes when close to the goal line after two weeks of finding every possible way to mess up.

While some fans are ready to recreate history and tag Brian Kelly as a terrible red zone coach or someone that’s always been turnover prone, a quick look at the actual numbers (Kelly’s red zone offense at Cincinnati was in the Top 25 twice and never lower than 63rd) tells a different story.

The Irish are playing at an unsustainable rate when it comes to futility and mistakes. There are plenty of ways they can lose on Saturday, but the odds are definitely decreasing in the favor of turnovers and self-induced mistakes.


Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State

Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)


Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*


Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*


Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more


We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.


Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention


Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.