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IBG: Prepping for primetime

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As we do every week in season, we’re rolling with the IBG. After a chaotic day on campus, UND.com’s Josh Flynt of the Strong and True blog answered my questions.

Here goes.

1. Let’s get it out of the way — How excited are you about the move to the ACC? Taking football out of it, it’s a great opportunity for the Irish sports teams to play in a prestigious conference that pretty much elevates the level of play across the board. Taking the subject back to football, what teams are you most excited to renew or build rivalries with during Notre Dame’s five ACC games?

Thrilled. Excited. Pumped. “Insert other adjective to describe happiness.” And if you watch any of FIDM’s videos from yesterday, you’ll hear almost every Notre Dame coach comment on how their sport’s best competition resides in the ACC.

Men’s basketball at Cameron Indoor and the Dean Dome? Sign me up.

Men’s lacrosse, already a strong conference, becomes a who’s who list of the sport’s best, with the addition of Syracuse and Notre Dame.

In women’s soccer, Randy Waldrum’s team will have the opportunity to battle North Carolina, the country’s premier program, for conference titles.

These are just a few of the many exciting opportunities that await the Fighting Irish and their fans in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Aside from athletics, the conference is also home to several “peer institutions,” in top academic universities such as Duke, Virginia and Wake Forest, just to name a few.

As for football, the idea of games in Blacksburg and Death Valley has me wishing the 2014 season started today. Virginia Tech and Clemson are two of the strongest teams in college football, and Notre Dame has very little historywith either (none, in fact, with the Hokies). It will be a fun day when ND meets Va. Tech on the gridiron for the first time.

Though we’ve played Florida State and Miami in the past two bowl games (and will obviously take on the Hurricanes again next month), it’s exciting to know these rivalries will soon return to Notre Dame Stadium. Not to mention, the Irish have a pretty long history with Georgia Tech, so it will be nice to see that series renewed as well.

As an alum and East Coast guy, I’m truly ecstatic about this move. The BIG EAST was a great home for Notre Dame for quite some time, but in the shifting landscape of college athletics, I think moving to the ACC was the best decision the university could have made for the long-term future. Now, if only we can get the ACC and Madison Square Garden to sign an agreement for March, we’ll be all set.

2. Brian Kelly said the coaching staff could’ve done a better job getting George Atkinson touches against Purdue, a game where he inexplicably got only one carry. With Cierre Wood coming back from suspension and Theo Riddick still starting, what do Kelly and Chuck Martin need to do to get the ball to these three guys?

It’s funny – this is nearly the exact question that I asked Bayou Irish from HLS. Getting all three of these backs on the field will certainly be a challenge, but I think it’s very important to Notre Dame’s season moving forward. As Coach Kelly said on Tuesday, each of these guys has the talent to be a starter, and it just seems like a waste of talent to not use them frequently.

I’m not really sure what the solution is, to be honest. While Theo has said he feels more comfortable as a running back, he does have some experience as aslot receiver, so maybe we’ll see him back at that position for a few plays each game. Whatever happens, I’d really like to see two of the three on the field at almost all times. If that can’t happen, sub them in and out of the backfield frequently. It can’t hurt to have three sets of fresh legs, right?

3. The is the first time Notre Dame and Michigan State face each other ranked and undefeated since 1987. It’s Everett Golson’s first time playing in a hostile environment. I’m not going to make you make a prediction, but if you had to pick two lines on the box score that you wanted to put in the Irish’s favor, what would they be?

Rushing yards and sacks/QB hurries/etc.

With two tough defenses, I wouldn’t expect it to be a high scoring contest, but the Irish need to re-establish the ground game with their stable of running backs, especially with a young quarterback at the helm. The Spartans obviously have a very talented back of their own, in Le’Veon Bell, whose name has been mentioned in the early Heisman conversation. If Cierre, Theo and GAIII can outrun Bell, the Spartans only major rushing threat, I think we’ll be in good shape. Much of this will come down to the Notre Dame offensive line, which dominated in Dublin, but struggled against Purdue. It should be interesting, as Michigan State has allowed just 109 rushing yards in two games.

On the other side, I think the Irish defensive needs to put pressure on Andrew Maxwell. So far, Notre Dame has registered seven sacks, led by four from sophomore Stephon Tuitt. The defensive line is arguably the Irish’s strongest unit, and Stephon, Big Lou and Kap need to show the nation that on Saturday night.

If you’re interested in seeing my answers to Subway Domer’s questions, head on over and check them out.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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.

DEPARTURES
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)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

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

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
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.*

 

ANALYSIS
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

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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.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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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.