Weekend notes: Swarbrick, Watch Lists, Life after Floyd, and more


You can’t blame Jack Swarbrick for taking a vacation. With his work helping to put together a college football playoff done, Swarbrick and his family took a much needed vacation. But that didn’t stop word getting out that Notre Dame was in discussions with the ACC about in-roads to the Orange Bowl.

Earlier in the week, Notre Dame’s John Heisler confirmed discussions.

“Since the development of the new plan for post-season football, the ACC and Notre Dame have had discussions relating to the Orange Bowl,” Heisler said. “While presidents have been consulted, the discussions have been between ACC conference staff and Jack.”

With the bowl system obviously in the midst of a shake-up after the playoff is instituted during the 2014 season, Notre Dame is deadset on correcting a situation that has the Irish awfully scarce on bowl opportunities outside of the BCS.

Yet reports that Notre Dame has set out to commandeer the bowl game as partners with the ACC might be a little far fetched, as Jack Swarbrick acknowledged earlier this week, during an interview with local NBC affiliate WNDU.

“I think there’s been a little bit of misunderstanding with all of that,” Swarbrick told Jeff Jeffers. “It’s been portrayed as a Notre Dame discussion or somebody else’s discussion but it’s much more a collective effort to structure something that has a solution for the other side of the Orange Bowl. “So a lot of us are engaged in that,” Swarbrick continued. “It isn’t limited to Notre Dame. We’re making progress but there’s more work to be done.”

Regardless, it’s a proactive step in the right direction for Notre Dame, who already used their exemption into the Champs Sports Bowl and have limited bowl options right now for years they don’t qualify for the BCS.


It’s that time of year again. Watch List time, where dozens of good players are included on a list trying to anticipate postseason awards. It’s a bit silly, but certainly a nice honor for some of the better football players in the country.

Let’s run the list of Irish players getting mentioned:

Manti Te’o – Lott Trophy, Bednarik Award, Nagurski Award,
Braxston Cave – Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy,
Tyler Eifert – Mackey Award, Maxwell Award
Zack Martin – Outland Trophy,
Kapron Lewis-Moore – Nagurski Award,
Cierre Wood – Maxwell Award

The list for the Lombardi, Butkus, Biletnikoff, Davey O’Brien, Doak Walker, and Walter Camp awards have yet to be released, but this should get you up to speed.

It’s worth noting that Eifert is the only tight end on the list for the Maxwell Award.


As the Irish offense tries to figure out how to live life after Michael Floyd, Blue & Gold’s Lou Somogyi did a great job pointing out that the Irish have a pretty good track record of rebounding after losing a key offensive player.

Here’s Lou’s top three examples over the past 25 years:

1. How Now Without Brown?
Senior Tim Brown won the Heisman Trophy during an 8-4 season and was the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft.
1988: Although no one on the 1988 team caught more than 16 passes, the Irish improved to 12-0 to win the national title.

2. Backfield In Motion
1992 :
The star-studded backfield for the 10-1-1 team featured No. 2 NFL pick Rick Mirer at quarterback, 5th-place Heisman finisher Reggie Brooks at tailback, and junior fullback Jerome “The Bus” Bettis went pro early as the No. 10 pick.
1993: The unheralded trio of quarterback Kevin McDougal, tailback Lee Becton and fullback Ray Zellars emerged superbly while the Irish finished 11-1 and No. 2.

3. Action Even Without Jackson
QB Jarious Jackson broke Joe Theismann’s 29-year school record for most passing yards in a season (2,753) and was the second leading rusher with 464 yards. Alas, the Irish also committed 30 turnovers and finished 5-7.
2000: When freshman QB Matt LoVecchio was thrown into the fire, Notre Dame averaged 74 yards less per game than with Jackson — but it committed an NCAA record low eight turnovers to finish 9-2 and earn a BCS bid. The efficiency, resourcefulness and team play of 2000 is a good template for the 2012 Irish to follow after the 2011 unit averaged 413 yards per game (similar to 1999) but committed 29 turnovers (similar to 1999).

The days are likely over of a team winning a national championship with no receiver catching more than 16 balls, but an optimist could make a good argument that losing Floyd will help keep the Irish offensive attack more balanced.

Notre Dame will still have its instant mismatch, with Tyler Eifert moving all around the field. But the Irish’s reliance on Floyd last season might have handicapped a quick strike, vertically driven offense Irish fans have been expecting to see since Brian Kelly came from Cincinnati.


A few final tidbits on recent Irish commitment Justin Brent, who is set to sign in the ’14 class. We’ll find out how good Brent is during his junior season, a breakthrough year for most high school players.

Even if we don’t know just how high Brent’s ceiling is yet, a year ago football was almost an afterthought for the Indianapolis athlete. Focused on his basketball career, Brent almost gave up on football completely, with the 6-foot-3 point guard drawing interesting from heavyweights like Indiana, Purdue, Georgetown, Marquette, and others.

“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and I’ve also played football my whole life, but I think basketball is where it’s at,” Brent told InsideTheHall.com last July. “With football, I was contemplating not even playing this year, but I guess a lot of coaches like an athlete that play two sports and plus I just like it a lot to play. But I was always nervous about the fact that I could receive an injury. But I’m going to stay with it. College wise, I’ve gotten one letter from Texas A & M and it was just a questionnaire, but that’s the only thing I’ve gotten for football. I don’t think I see myself playing football in college, I think it’s basketball.”

Good thing for all involved that Brent decided to stick with football during his sophomore season. The athleticism that had college basketball coaches taking notice will undoubtedly help Brent on the gridiron.





Mailbag: The head coach, Malik and the running game

Notre Dame offensive line

bearcatboy:  The “fire coach Kelly” thing is getting a bit over-blown, particularly in the twitter-verse (ad nauseum). I hate asking this question (I think its reached the point where it’s warranted), but as a rational person, what has Kelly done to make you truly believe he can win a title, or even big games for that matter, at ND?

Consider this an answer to the roughly 40 different posts asking the same question. So apologies if this gets a little meandering.

The big thing for me—and something that most people calling for change are doing their best to ignore—is that Brian Kelly already got his team to one title game. If you’re trying to run him out of town based on this season, you can’t ignore that season. This isn’t figure skating, where you throw out the high score but not the low.

Ultimately, my biggest reason for sticking with the status quo, is that it’s hard to win. Period. And it’s really hard to win at Notre Dame. Besides that, all coaches, at least when they’re under your microscope, are going to have flaws that drive you nuts.

Let’s go through the wish list of Notre Dame coaches: Urban Meyer just lost to a 20-point underdog this weekend, and he’s still one of the game’s two best coaches. Dream candidate Tom Herman lost to Navy and just got blown out by SMU, another huge underdog.

You want someone who has some tenure? Well, former Irish assistant Dan Mullen lost a few terrible games this year that are head-scratchers and Dak Prescott is getting smaller in the rearview mirror. David Shaw’s team is losing. Mark Dantonio’s team is losing. Dave Doeren’s team is losing. Jim Mora’s team is losing.

This isn’t the old college football. This isn’t even Lou Holtz’s college football. It’s a hyper-competitive industry, and while there are a few institutional advantages that Notre Dame still certainly has, there are quite a few negatives that are truly barriers to winning.

We’ve watched Kelly and Jack Swarbrick attack some of the major ones—and Kelly has it better than Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis when it comes to others. But certain things—academics, the way the university handles  student life, fifth-years and redshirts—they might not ever change.

Ultimately, I don’t know if Notre Dame can compete with Alabama—if that’s the standard you want to set. But then again the Crimson Tide had a star defender arrested for drugs and guns on a Thursday and he played on Saturday. Max Redfield is looking for a place to finish up his degree.

I think Brian Kelly’s a good football coach having a really tough season. Can he bring Notre Dame to the promise land? Not sure.

But he had them within 60 minutes once and last year had a roster that was ravaged by injury and had his team within a field goal of probably getting an invite to the playoff. So I’m not rolling the dice yet, and wouldn’t unless the change is a clear upgrade. And I’m not sure who that’d be.


blackirish23: Malik Zaire has been less than impressive when given the opportunity. Do you think Malik’s heart just isn’t in being a back-up QB and thus has lost a bit of his passion for the game which affects his play when given the opportunity?

If somehow Kizer decides to return to ND next season, should the coaching staff discuss a position switch with Malik similar to what happened with Carlyle Holiday and Arnaz Battle (and even Braxton Miller at Ohio State)? If so, what position would Malik be best suited to switch to?

Thanks for the question, it’s certainly not the first time someone has wondered how to utilize Malik if it isn’t at quarterback. To address that point first, Malik isn’t Arnaz or Carlyle, and he certainly isn’t Braxton Miller. Those guys have the speed to be NFL receivers, something Malik doesn’t possess. Does that make him a tight end? H-Back? Running back? Probably not one who is good enough to get onto the field for the Irish.

As for his heart, I don’t think that’s something I can speak to with any certainty, though I do think he’s pressing. Give a guy known for “making plays when things break down” a limited amount of reps and it’s human nature to press. That explains to me why he’s breaking out of the pocket and scrambling when the initial look isn’t there. Or trying to juke a defender and make a play instead of throwing the ball away on a reverse.

Lastly, if Kizer stays-or-goes, I think Zaire would owe it to himself to look around and check out his options after he earns his degree. A graduate transfer might be the best thing for his football career if he wants to be a starter. Because Brandon Wimbush is a very talented quarterback with an elite set of skills and there’s no telling if Zaire will beat him out for the job next year, let alone Kizer.


ndgoz: ND has consistently been producing high-level NFL draft picks on the O-line. The running game is predominantly zone read plays, which rely on isolating and attempting to deceive a defender. If ND has the quality offensive line that the NFL draft suggests, why doesn’t ND put more emphasis on a power running game?

If you have more size and skill than your opponent, you don’t need to trick them – just overpower them. You can still take advantage of the QB running ability with bootlegs and rollouts to keep the defense honest.

I’m not the guy to go to if you’re looking for astute offensive line breakdowns. For a while, I think there was some validity to the criticism that Notre Dame’s ground game was a bit too vanilla. Inside zone, outside zone, repeat.

But I don’t think the zone read game is as simple as you make it out to be. Deception is a piece of it, but there’s plenty of physicality and winning at the point of attack, something we just haven’t seen that much of this year.

Kelly’s running game looked great last year, a big-play machine with a talented offensive line.  No, they weren’t a lock to convert every short-yardage attempt, but then again—Alabama isn’t either. And with CJ Prosise and Josh Adams and a very nice offensive front, these guys were hitting home runs.

The zone read can drive certain fans nuts. But asking why Kelly doesn’t put more of an emphasis on the power running game kind of ignores the fact that he’s not running that system. So when you say that the offense could get production from DeShone Kizer on bootlegs and rollouts, I think you’re discounting just how impactful Kizer has been as a runner these past two season. He’s run for 17 touchdowns in the 19 games he’s played since Virginia last year and he’s on pace for double-digit touchdowns again this season.

We’ve seen Kelly and Harry Hiestand do things to help get the ground game going—pistol, pulls, traps, and a few other wrinkles. But a lot of the issue is breaking in four starters at new positions with only Quenton Nelson in the same position as last year. This group will gel. But it might be a while before they can just go out and dictate terms.



How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told ESPN.com.

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.