Rocket Pep Rally

IBG: Burning the midnight oil

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Apologies for the late arrival of this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering. Boarding a United flight out of LAX to O’Hare, I was wondering if I was boarding an episode of Pan Am, as the plane they rolled out for us was from a long forgotten era, and of course… it didn’t have wifi.

So this week’s IBG — hosted by our barrister blogger Domer Law — was done with less than adequate online support. (That’s my disclaimer before you go judging my answers, too harshly.)

Beside: It’s USC week. Save your energy for Saturday night. Finally, just a day away.

Here. We. Go.

I’m taking an old friend of mine to the USC game.  They were born and raised in South Bend near Notre Dame, and developed a dislike for the University at a young age from dealing with the frustrations and messes that come from Notre Dame home football weekends.  She’s never been to a Notre Dame game before (she’s an Ohio State fan).  We’re going to go tailgate and do all the usual tailgating stuff.  Any suggestions on what I could do to help her let go of her animosity towards Notre Dame?

Don’t shove it down her throat. If she has a pulse and she enjoys college football, it won’t be hard to have a good time on Saturday. By and large, Notre Dame fans are a hospitable group, but it isn’t hard to have negative preconceived notions about the school and its alums, especially if you grew up in South Bend and struggled with the divide between the school and the city.

If your friend happens to be Catholic, check out the Grotto, the Basilica, and take a walk around God Quad. If your friend is a football fanatic, check out the changes they’ve made to the JACC, where the Heisman Trophies and past glories are now proudly on display. If they’re neither, make sure you have a good tailgate scene set up with good food and spirits and better company.

You’re not in the business of converting somebody. Leave that to Brian Kelly. Let the game and environment speak for itself. If she doesn’t like Notre Dame any better after Saturday, save your next USC ticket for someone else next time!

On a related note, do you have any suggestions for improving the Notre Dame game weekend experience generally?  Are there traditions lost that you’d like to see restored, or new ideas that you’d like to see implemented to improve the gameday experience?

Having been to about 20-25 different college football stadiums in my lifetime, I think Notre Dame does a pretty great job with Saturdays. After swinging the pendulum too far in response to tailgating behavior, I think the university has done a good job in making gameday whatever you want it to be: a history lesson, a day filled with pageantry, or a nice setting to enjoy a cold one and some Ralph’s Side Door Deli fried chicken.

A lot of people seem to be getting bent out of shape for the changing of the players walk, but if there’s one thing that I really miss, it’s the old pep rallies. Back in the Holtz era, they used to be more exciting than the games. Now they kind of just happen. Whether it’s staged in front of a dorm or outside in the new Irish Green, the closest it’s come to being even close to exciting was when Rocket Ismail was screaming about “Unbelief.”

Getting into the pep rally used to be tougher than getting into the football game. While excluding people that want to go doesn’t make that much sense, I’m all in favor of bringing the pep rally back inside, using that big new video board in the JACC  and some light tricks to get people fired up and add some electricity to an event that’s gotten pretty lame.

(You want proof? Here’s Rocket’s speech from 2009. Even the players didn’t know what to make of it, as they’d been used to mediocre gatherings where they wave to their moms and smile at girls from PW. But Rocket remembered what the pep rallies used to be like. If this were the old days, you’d have students running through walls. Charlie should’ve thrown a uniform on Rocket. It probably would’ve been the different.)

 

(a) USC is (and always will be) our biggest rival.  Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  And if you agree, why do you feel that this is such an important rivalry? (b) Rank your top 10 college football rivalries and provide justifications for each.

USC is Notre Dame’s biggest rival. No question. For all the reasons everybody else on the internet has talked about all week. Why is it important? Frankly, because it lets me use the word  “intersectional” in a sentence once a year. It also gives me the opportunity to talk Notre Dame football with all my neighbors in Manhattan Beach, where 90 percent of the population loves the Trojans.

I’m not great at coming up with lists without internet access, but off the top of my head, in no particular order here are my ten favorite college football rivalries:

Notre Dame vs. USC: Whether it’s in South Bend or South Central, it’s my favorite game to go to in the autumn.

Michigan vs. Michigan State: It feels really good not to have any allegiances in this one. Lately, it’s felt like watching The Great Outdoors, only this time Chet (John Candy) gets to sucker-punch Roman (Dan Aykroyd) in the face and laugh at him.

Oklahoma vs. Texas: The Red River Shootout is a true experience. The geographical excellence of the Cotton Bowl between Norman and Austin, plus seeing the stadium cut perfectly down the middle between burnt orange and sooner crimson is pretty awesome.

Georgia vs. Florida: Even if it isn’t called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party anymore, I can tell you from experience that it still is. The football is usually okay, too.

Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State: This one gets on my list for the tailgating scene and the co-eds alone.

Michigan vs. Ohio State: The best of Big Ten football. When both programs are good, this game is awesome.

Auburn vs. Alabama: The best of SEC football. When both programs are good, the teams might be over the NFL salary cap.

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: My hometown bias is certainly coming out, but these two teams play for the greatest rivalry trophy of all time. Celebrations like this vault it onto the list.

Harvard vs. Yale: If only because it lets me watch a brand of college football I was almost good enough to play. (Plus as a bonus, you can use the rosters to upgrade your LinkedIn profile.)

Oregon vs. Oregon State: Admittedly, I’m running out of steam here, but between the Civil War and the Apple Cup, the two Pacific Northwest rivalries deserve some credit.

Southern Cal is 5-1, with their only loss on the road at Arizona State.  They are unranked, sitting right behind us in the “also receiving votes” category.  How good is Southern Cal this year?  How do you see this game playing out?

We won’t know until after Saturday. For the first time in years, I’ve heard Notre Dame fans feeling outright brazen about this game, and possibly for good reason. USC is young and while they have some good talent on this roster, it’s a shell of what it was back in the Pete Carroll glory days.

That said, they probably have three first-rounders on their offense, and that’s as top heavy as any team Notre Dame will see this year. We’ve seen the Trojans give up a ton of points, look lost in pass coverage and really inconsistent on both sides of the ball.

That said, if you’re a Notre Dame fan and puffing your chest, Slow. Your. Roll. Like it or not, you’re one Ronald Johnson drop away from being in the midst of a really ugly losing streak.

If the Irish handle their business on Saturday, and I honestly think they should, there’ll be over a year to gloat to those Trojan fans you detest. But until then, keep quiet, save your vocal chords until Saturday night, and get ready to see what happens.

It appears that with a win over USC, we’ll re-enter the Top 25 rankings.  Now that we’re halfway through the season and have some actual evidence available to us from real games, how do you see the rest of the season playing out?  Predict:
For the record, I hate playing the predictions game. But since Domer Law is running this week’s IBG, I’m sure there’s some fine print at the bottom of his questions making me contractually obligated to participate. So here goes:
(a) Notre Dame’s final record: Let’s have fun. Run the table until Stanford. Then roll the dice and see what happens.
(b) Notre Dame’s bowl destination, opponent and outcome. Win out? BCS game. Lose one or two: Champ Sports Bowl.
(c) The BCS Championship game and result. Can they match two SEC teams up? I’m not buying Oklahoma yet.
(d) Notre Dame’s final AP ranking. If they win out? Top six. If not? Top 25.
(e) The winners of the major awards, including:
(i) Heisman Trophy Russell Wilson, just so some writer has to ask Tom O’Brien about the decision to let Wilson walk away from NC State for free.
(ii) Home Depot Coach of the Year Bret Bielema.
(iii) Davey O’Brien Award (best QB) Andrew Luck.
(iv) Doak Walker Award (best RB) LaMichael James.
(v) Fred Biletnikoff Award (best WR) Cretin-Derham Hall’s own Michael Floyd.
(vi) Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player) Whoever the SEC media decides.

Irish A-to-Z: Daelin Hayes

Daelin Hayes 247
Irish 247
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Notre Dame’s best pass rusher may be true freshman Daelin Hayes. The early-entry freshman came to South Bend with a 5-star rating and an NFL physique, but there are more questions than answers about the Michigan native.

None of those queries are bigger than his actually on-field abilities. With shoulder injuries plaguing him for two high school seasons and off-field family issues putting him in eligibility purgatory, Hayes is an elite football prospect in spite of the fact that he hasn’t played a lot of football.

Capable of practicing this spring even if he arrived on campus just weeks removed from a shoulder surgery, Hayes took reps and stayed active this spring, mostly because he’s the perfect fit for a pass-rushing role this fall—assuming his body (and brain) allow it.

 

 

DAELIN HAYES
6’3.5″, 257 lbs.
Freshman, No. 9, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A U.S. Army All-American selection, Hayes earned a 5-star ranking from Rivals and was one of the best players in the Midwest, despite not being on the football field for much of his three seasons of high school football.

But that didn’t keep college football’s top programs from chasing him and Notre Dame won a hard-fought recruiting battle over programs like Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and USC.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Hayes opened eyes immediately on campus, testing with a 4.8 40-yard dash at 257 pounds. That type of speed allows him to play linebacker as well as defensive end, though it’s obviously a big reason why everybody sees a potential edge rusher when they look at him. The Irish staff cross-trained him this spring, though it’s pretty clear the need at weakside defensive end begs for Hayes to find a home there.

If Hayes stays healthy, he’s every bit the NFL prospect you come to expect from a 5-star defensive end recruit. I’m not sure he’s an Aaron Lynch type recruit (he’s shorted and thicker than the current version of Lynch), but the Irish roster doesn’t have a lot of athletes like this capable of chasing the quarterback.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I see a designated pass rusher season coming on for Hayes, with the hopes that it’ll allow him to specialize at something, and potentially stay healthy in a restricted role. Some have mentioned Kolin Hill’s freshman campaign as a comp. I think that’s setting the bar too low.

Instead, look at Prince Shumbo’s rookie campaign. Even as a tweener, Shembo found the field in pass rush situations, putting together a nice stat line with five TFLs and 4.5 sacks as a freshman.

Again, the hope is Hayes is a quick learner, because he’s played less than a full season of football at the high school level. So while he may have been a workout warrior and dominated the camp circuit on his way to a 5-star grade, that’s just not a lot of experience.

The good news? Notre Dame’s not asking him to play quarterback or free safety. They need him to chase down quarterbacks—a skill Keith Gilmore should be able to unearth from Hayes rather quickly.

Hayes should play every week this season if he can stay on the field. If he does that, I’ll say he matches Shembo’s freshman season.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell

Irish A-to-Z: Mark Harrell

Mark Harrell
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As a fifth-year player, Mark Harrell is the elder statesman of the offensive line. He’s also still waiting for his opportunity to crack the starting lineup.

That chance won’t likely come unless something goes wrong. But Harrell is the closing thing to an insurance policy on the offensive line, a versatile reserve who has spent time playing virtually every position up front.

Likely a bridge at tackle between starters Mike McGlinchey and Alex Bars and talented freshmen Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg, Harrell’s a program player, with loyalty running two-ways as he plays out his eligibility in South Bend.

 

MARK HARRELL
6’4″, 306 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 75, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A three or four-star prospect depending on the service, Harrell was a first-team All-State player in North Carolina with offers from Michigan, Auburn, Clemson, North Carolina, South Carolina, Stanford and Tennessee.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action, saving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2013): Did not see action.

Junior Season (2014): Played in two games, seeing action against Rice and Michigan. Served as a backup at center, with the ability to also play guard and tackle.

Senior Season (2015): Saw action in five games. Played 12 snaps at right tackle against UMass, earning a +1.2 grade from PFF-College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Feels like I could copy and paste after swapping out Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin’s names.

Harrell has the type of positional versatility you want in a backup. He served as a reserve center last year during the Blue-Gold game, and while he’s no longer on the depth chart behind Nick Martin, he’d likely be called upon in a pinch rather than burning Tristen Hoge’s redshirt. What happens if Ronnie Stanley or Mike McGlinchey go down at tackle is largely a mystery as well, so there’s likely playing opportunities, but again, only if things start to go awry.

Harrell will likely spend some time on special teams in 2015, capable of taking some snaps on field goal and punt teams. But the depth chart is packed and one of the toughest spots to get on the field, and Harrell’s lack of opportunity is largely because of the talent in front of him.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

A fifth-year backup, Harrell was tapped by Kelly this spring to move outside to tackle, hoping to solidify a depth chart that’s thinner than you’d expect, considering the impressive recruiting Harry Hiestand has done during his tenure in South Bend. But Harrell is likely on the outside because Jerry Tillery is playing defensive tackle and Ronnie Stanley was the first offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft.

It’s hard to know what Harrell can do if we haven’t seen him do it yet. But at this point, the fact that the coaching staff preferred keeping him on the roster and serving as a backup (likely at right tackle) is telling—because there’s a very high likelihood that Harrell could’ve used his graduate transfer to step onto a campus of a lower-tier program and start right away.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

If all goes according to plan, we’ll only see Harrell in mop-up situations or on special teams. If it doesn’t? Expect to see how he does at right tackle, with a redshirt preferred for both talented freshmen tackles.

 

Regardless, peg Harrell for more appearances in 2016 than his career total of seven games, knowing that it’ll be important to gain some experience and keep McGlinchey and Bars fresh.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston

Irish A-to-Z: Tarean Folston

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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When Tarean Folston limped off the field after his third carry of the season, few knew what would happen next. The junior running back’s season was finished. But it spawned giant years for C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams, turning Prosise into a third-round draft pick and Adams into the most prolific freshman runner in school history.

That big year could’ve been Folston’s. Behind an elite offensive line, the Florida native was primed to be the leading man in the Irish backfield, with a breakout season all but guaranteed.

But injuries happen. And after working his way back into shape during spring practice and returning to a depth chart that all of a sudden has some young competition, 2016 is a chance to make up for lost time.

 

TAREAN FOLSTON
5’9.5″, 214 lbs.
Senior, No. 25, RB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame beat out Auburn on Signing Day, waiting a few uncomfortable extra hours for a fax from Folston after he went on a late-January visit. Folston was Florida’s 4A first-team All-State running back, a do-everything high school player.

The Under-Armour All-American had offers from Oregon, Florida, Florida State and a few dozen other programs before picking Notre Dame in early January.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in 12 games, starting two as a true freshman. Nearly set a single-game freshman rushing record when he ran for 140 yards against Navy, the most since 1999. Named Offensive Newcomer of the Year.

Sophomore Season (2014): Ran for 889 yards and caught 190 yards worth of passes as the team’s leading rusher. Averaged over 5.0 yards per carry for the second-straight season. Broke 100 yards in four out of five games, coming two yards shy against North Carolina of making it five out of six.

Junior Season (2015): His season was cut short after just three carries (for 19 yards) against Texas, lost for the year with a torn ACL. Earned a medical redshirt.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

There’s no doubt in my mind that Folston wouldn’t put up monster numbers last year if he stayed healthy.

I’m doubling down on Folston. I expect the biggest season from a running back in the Kelly era — and I’m pegging Folston for a 1,200 yard, double-digit touchdown 2015.

Part of this confidence comes from seeing what Mike Sanford did riding a running QB and top-shelf back at Boise State. The other part comes from seeing Notre Dame’s offensive line figure itself out this spring instead of mixing and matching into fall camp.

But mostly it comes from the natural talent I see with Folston, a back who’ll get better as he collects touches. There’s nobody to steal them from Folston to begin the season. And after he establishes himself, there’s nobody who should take them away from him, either.

So stay healthy and Notre Dame will have a running back to showcase.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

My biggest question for Folston has also been one of his biggest strengths—the space between his ears. For two seasons, Folston’s vision and Football IQ have been excellent. The natural ability he displayed—too often in flashes—made him the envy of a depth chart filled with talented runners.

But coming back from a knee injury is different. And Folston needs to be able to cut loose with absolute conviction and get up the field, because breakaway speed has never been the power of his game.

The depth chart Folston returns to is a different beast than the one he left. Adams has the heft to run between the tackles and the speed to hit a home run. Dexter Williams is greatly improved. Even Justin Brent is an envious No. 4 back.

But Folston is an NFL running back. His versatility, ability to catch the ball in space, and make defenders miss likely didn’t go anywhere.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

This is Notre Dame’s leading ball carrier in 2016. That may be a bold statement. Or it could turn out to be an obvious one after we see Folston ripping through Texas and Nevada.

Still, this is a leap of faith considering we only saw brief glimpses of Folston is spring football, donning a non-contact jersey in the Blue-Gold game. And because of the season Adams put together in 2015. But Brian Kelly believes too much in his veteran running back and knows his value to this offense. With a running game that’ll likely be the strength of the attack, putting the ball in Folston’s hands early and often can’t be a bad plan.

I’m still betting that Josh Adams ends up with a higher yard-per-carry average, but I think Folston’s senior season will be his best in South Bend.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Fertitta

 

Irish A-to-Z: Nicco Fertitta

Nicco Fertitta CASHORE
Property of Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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As Notre Dame searches for answers at safety, one under-discussed option is sophomore Nicco Fertitta. The Las Vegas native, best known through his recruitment as the high school teammate of Alizé Jones (and outside the football world for his father Lorenzo, the Chairman & CEO of the UFC), has been overlooked before. That comes with the territory when you’re built like a walk-on.

But Fertitta’s college career is on schedule—and maybe ahead of plans. A freshman season saw Fertitta make 11 appearances. A sophomore season will see more special teams duties, and if Fertitta can find a way, a battle to get into a very uncertain two-deep at both safety positions.

An overachiever who became a key piece of the foundation at one of the best high school football programs in the country, Fertitta faces long odds to do more than play special teams. But that’s business as usual for the pint-sized heavy-hitter, who’ll look to take a step forward in his second season in South Bend.

 

NICCO FERTITTA
5’8.5″, 185 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 28, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

U.S. Army All-American, First-team All-State per the Las Vegas Review Journal. State champion, with Bishop Gorman also being named a national champion (no championship game was played).

A three-star prospect, Fertitta chose Notre Dame over offers from Arizona, Hawaii, Houston, UNLV (where his prep coach Tony Sanchez took over the program) and Utah.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Played in 11 games, all in special teams appearances. He made one tackle on the season and forced a fumble against UMass.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Got the special teams contributions right. Got a little bit ahead of myself thinking he’d have a chance to play in sub-packages.

I tend to think Fertitta is going to be one of the freshmen taking the field against Texas come September 5th. He’ll likely be covering kicks and chasing down punts, but Fertitta’s freshman season will hinge on his ability to make big plays in the game’s third phase, something Scott Booker is still looking to establish.

As a safety, Fertitta could also be very helpful in sub-packages. As Notre Dame takes on a heavy dose of run-heavy (and option) offenses in Georgia Tech, Navy, Pitt and Boston College, there’s a place for a run-stuffer with the ability to play in space, and just as Kelly and the Irish used Jamoris Slaughter, Fertitta could be an option at a position that doesn’t have a ton of flexibility.

But any road onto the field as a freshman should be considered a strong debut season for Fertitta.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Fertitta’s high school highlight reel showcased an undersized safety who hit like a freight train. That physicality likely helped get him on the field in 2015, but the aforementioned size feels like a larger barrier—especially when you see the disparity between Fertitta and a strong safety like Drue Tranquil.

Notre Dame knew the player they offered. They also knew he’d play large roles in the locker room as well as on special teams. Fertitta will likely take a step forward in special teams and then have a chance to compete for a backup role, especially before the reloaded secondary gives guys like Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry a chance to get comfortable.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I expect Fertitta to play in all 13 games, but only take snaps on defense in mop-up duty. Unless injuries hit, Tranquill should be in the starting lineup with Avery Sebastian supplementing him. At free safety, Redfield will be competing with Devin Studstill, with a very large hole behind those two players.

If Fertitta looked and played the game like a center-fielder, that’s where I’d have him penciled in. But he’s a mini-Tranquil, with physical limitations also hindering his ability to be a single-high safety, making him a better fit at strong safety.

As long as there’s a hole in the depth chart at safety, you’ve got to give Fertitta a chance to see the field. And as long as there are multiple sub-packages and schemes being deployed by Brian VanGorder, there’s always a chance that a sure tackler like Fertitta can find a role. But it just feels like there are other options available that’ll better suit what VanGorder and Todd Lyght want from their secondary, leaving coverage teams the likely home for Fertitta in 2016 and beyond.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott