Nov 16, 2012, 1:07 AM EDT
Saturday ends another autumn of football at Notre Dame. When the No. 3 Fighting Irish run out of the tunnel against 5-5 Wake Forest, a contingent of 29 seniors will be honored for their commitment to their university. Some, like Manti Te’o and Tyler Eifert, have carried the flag for the program as they ascended back into the national championship conversation. Others, like walk-ons Blake Brelua and Grant Patton, will be honored for contributions never seen by 80,000 fans.
Every member of this senior class contributed something to the success of the Irish, already 10-0 and heading deeper into uncharted territory. And with a home crowd down to its final opportunity to cheer on this unlikely title contender, Saturday’s game — even if it looks lopsided on paper — is must-see television.
With the Fighting Irish and Demon Deacons set to do battle Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, let’s run through six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers, and miscellaneous musings in the pregame six pack.
For Notre Dame, it’s time to protect their house.
An Under Armor slogan hardly belongs in a stadium adorned by adidas, but it’s been a long time since the Irish have projected their own house. If the Irish handle their business Saturday afternoon, the Irish will complete an undefeated home schedule for the first time since 1998.
“One of our goals, a tangible goal for us, was to protect our home field,” said Kelly earlier this week. “We felt, I think everybody in the program felt, that if you want to take that next step in terms of success, you’ve got to win at home.”
It’s been a downright mediocre stretch of football in South Bend for the Irish. As Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated points out, in the post-Davie era (to his credit, Davie sported a .774 winning percentage at home, only a tick worse than Lou Holtz’s .792 clip), Notre Dame Stadium turned into a neutral site, with both Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis struggling to play much better than .500 football at home.
Outside of Willingham’s first season at Notre Dame and Weis’ second year, the Irish have lost multiple games at home in every season since 2000. The ugly days started to become the norm at home, with blowout losses all but ruining the tenures of Kelly’s two predecessors. Willingham couldn’t survive drubbings like the 37-0 to Florida State in 2003 or the 41-16 loss to Purdue in 2004. Disappointing games like Michigan’s shocking upset of the Irish 47-21 in 2006 gave way to embarrassing home train wrecks in 2008 and 2009, when the Irish lost on Senior Day to an abysmal Syracuse team and had a November collapse that included losses to Navy and UConn.
After five home losses in his first two seasons in South Bend, Kelly seems to have righted the ship in the W-L column, even if he’s still tinkering with the formula that’ll help his team play better at home. When asked if he thought it possible to replicate the type of success Bob Stoops has had playing at home in Oklahoma, Kelly was unequivocal.
“Yeah, if I stayed employed here long enough,” Kelly said with a laugh. “That’s the toughest part. If you can stay one place long enough, you’ve got a chance to do that.”
Just because Bob Diaco is on the head coaching radar doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere.
As you’d expect from the coordinator of the country’s No. 1 scoring defense, Bob Diaco is getting a lot of mention as the head coaching carousel heats up. With rumored openings soon to turn to vacancies, expect the Irish defensive coordinator to get his tires kicked more than a few times. To his credit, Brian Kelly knows that.
“I want to provide all my coaches an opportunity. If it advances their career to a leadership position, we want to be able to give them that opportunity,” Kelly said.
It’s been quite some time since an Irish assistant had the opportunity to take a high-profile head coaching job. (I’m excluding Charley Molnar’s UMass hire from this discussion.) Most focus on Barry Alvarez’s departure from Lou Holtz’s Irish staff to take over the Wisconsin program as the perfect succession plan. While that scenario looks to be playing out with Diaco taking on more leadership responsibility with his promotion to assistant head coach, the youthful Diaco still has some learning to do. Not to mention some unfinished business.
“Quite frankly, we don’t spend much time talking about it,” Kelly said. “You know Bob. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t come to Notre Dame to be the head coach somewhere else. He came to Notre Dame to help win a national championship. We got a lot of the work left. But if the right situation comes for Bob and he comes to me and asks me to give him advice on it, I certainly will.”
There is a ton to like about Bob Diaco the head coaching candidate. His passion, his energy, and his ability to connect with young people as a coach and a recruiter. That said, he’s far from a finished product, and he still displays some of his struggles with the media, as first shown in his debut season in South Bend, when his post-Navy interview went viral.
Diaco is loyal to Kelly and his family loves life in South Bend. But if a major BCS program comes knocking at the door, that offer might be a tough one to turn down. But with the Irish defense still pointed upwards, there’s no hurry for Diaco to leap at an opportunity. And that’s one of the big reasons I see him staying at Notre Dame for another year.
On the subject of staying in South Bend, expect Zack Martin to anchor an elite class of fifth-year players.
Brian Kelly has signed a few coveted six-star recruits in wide receiver Michael Floyd and linebacker Manti Te’o. Both turned down big NFL contracts to return for their final season at Notre Dame. Expect left tackle Zack Martin to add his name to that list, giving Kelly three straight years of keeping an elite player with NFL aspirations on campus.
Martin doesn’t have the upside of a Floyd or Te’o, mostly because he lacks the elite size needed at left tackle to be among the draft’s top picks. But the 6-foot-4, 304-pound senior captain is an integral part of the Irish offense and will win his third-straight Guardian of the Year award along the Irish front. Martin hasn’t allowed a sack since the second possession of the season opener. And he’ll add some much-needed continuity on an offensive line that’ll need to replace Braxston Cave and Mike Golic.
A three-year starter at left tackle already, Martin will have the chance to do some special things for the Irish and continue to carry the leadership torch for the team as they say goodbye to the emotional heart of the Irish.
A lot of time will be spent saying goodbye to Manti Te’o. But the Irish did themselves well by recruiting another terrific Hawaiian in Robby Toma.
For a guy who was considered part of the cost of recruiting Manti Te’o, Robby Toma has emerged as a legitimate threat at receiver for the Irish. The diminutive best friend of the Irish’s star linebacker, the 5-foot-9 Toma has been more than just a tag-along, racking up a respectable career line of 56 catches and 596 yards heading into Saturday’s game.
Just as important, he’s stabilized the slot receiver position after Theo Riddick moved back to running back, giving Kelly a player cut from the perfect mold of a teammate.
“It’s enjoyable to go out to practice because he’s always got a smile on his face and he’s always competing. He’s a competitive kid,” Kelly said this week. “Doesn’t matter what it is, he wants to win in it. He has always got something funny to say, a bit of a wise cracker. I kind of like that about him.
“And he’s a really good football player and helped our football team this year. Great personality. We’re lucky that we were able to get him in our program as well.”
While the highly touted Shaq Evans couldn’t handle the coaching transition that brought Kelly and the spread offense to South Bend, the system, and fresh start, helped Toma thrive.
Not bad for a kid who’s best recruiting attribute was thought to be the fact that he was Manti Te’o’s best friend.
Bowl options are beginning to emerge in life after the BCS.
While the Irish are finding out first hand the complications that come along with an undefeated late-season run, the early dominoes are starting to fall in the quest to understand what life will look like in college football after the BCS is disbanded. With Jack Swarbrick signing a scheduling-agreement with the ACC for football and Notre Dame tying into the conference’s allotment for bowls, the Orange Bowl announced a lucrative pact with ESPN that’ll pay out $55 million annually to the participants of the game, pitting the ACC champion against either an SEC or Big Ten opponent, with the Irish also getting the opportunity to play twice in the next 12 years.
“The Orange Bowl qualifies as one of the most prestigious events in college football’s postseason and Notre Dame has played a part in that history, three times playing number-one ranked teams in our five previous appearances,” Swarbrick said. “We are honored to partner with two of the premier conferences, the SEC and the Big Ten, to make certain the ACC will have a top-flight opponent on a regular basis.”
The appearance of being limited to only two games in twelve year has some Irish fans scratching their heads, but the complete bowl picture hasn’t fully emerged. With the four-team playoff likely including the Orange Bowl as one of six bowls in the rotation for the semifinals, just how restrictive this collaboration will be is still being figured out. The Irish have only played in five Orange Bowls in their history with the last time coming 17 years ago, so any inclusion in the game might be victory enough.
Seniors staying, seniors going. A quick look as we try and forecast 2013.
We’ve already stated that Zack Martin is set to come back for his final year of eligibility. But after years of running short on numbers across the board, the Irish will need to make some difficult decisions on who will be welcome back for a fifth year of eligibility, with nine scholarship players eligible to apply for a fifth season.
Here’s our snap take on how this will all play out.
Carlo Calabrese — Returning
Tyler Eifert — Heading to the NFL
Dan Fox — Returning
Jake Golic — Graduating
Zack Martin — Returning
Tyler Stockton — Graduating
Nick Tausch — Graduating
Chris Watt — Returning
Cierre Wood — 50/50
I’ve heard conflicting reports on Cierre Wood’s final year of eligibility, but the senior did note on his Facebook page that he was preparing for his final game at Notre Dame. Wood, who despite missing the season’s first two games to suspension and conceding his starting job to Theo Riddick is averaging 6.3 yards a carry, has put plenty on film to show him worthy of an NFL draft pick. That said, he could elevate that spot with a final season that’d have him getting the bulk of carries for an Irish offense that should be vastly improved next season.
With an 85 man limit on scholarships, who stays will also likely be determined by how the Irish finish their recruiting class. The Irish would take the commitment of up to four more players, with that number flexing depending on attrition and medical hardships for Cam Roberson and Brad Carrico. (Tate Nichols’ health is also a true question mark.) It’s also worth adding to the wildcard list Jamoris Slaughter, who is applying for a sixth-year of eligibility after battling injuries for large portions of multiple seasons.
Jul 10, 2014, 8:17 AM EDT
Entering his junior season, offensive lineman Mark Harrell has yet to make his way onto the field for the Irish. Our next installment in Irish A-to-Z takes a closer look at the Charlotte native and what he needs to do to see the field.
Jul 9, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Our Irish A-to-Z tour continues with safety Eilar Hardy. A knee injury derailed his freshman season. A suspension before the Stanford game did the same after earning two late-season starts in 2013. What does 2014 have in store for the veteran?
Jul 9, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT
With some of the top recruits in the country at The Opening, Notre Dame commitment C.J. Sanders put on a show. Making the SPARQ testing finals, Sanders dazzled as he showed elite speed and explosiveness.
Jul 8, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
When Notre Dame offered legacy lineman Conor Hanratty, many raised an eyebrow. With sons of former stars like Tregg Duerson and Jake Golic doing little with the full ride many perceived as a nod to their famous predecessors, Hanratty had the profile of a player whose best attribute was his father, former Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty.
Jul 8, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
A career-threatening leg injury has put Jarrett Grace’s status up in the air. Our latest Irish A-to-Z takes a closer look at the future of Notre Dame’s middle linebacker.
Jul 8, 2014, 8:39 AM EDT
A trio of Notre Dame football players find themselves on the watch list for some very impressive postseason awards. Quarterback Everett Golson is on the Maxwell Award’s watch list while junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell and sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith were both selected to the Bednarik’s watch list.
Jul 7, 2014, 11:11 PM EDT
A few weeks after being suspended indefinitely from the football team, Irish wide receiver Will Mahone is no longer enrolled at Notre Dame.
Jul 7, 2014, 1:17 PM EDT
No game means more to Notre Dame fans than the annual battle with USC. As we finish our post-spring viewing of the Irish’s 2014 opponents, let’s take a closer look at college football’s greatest intersectional rivalry.
Jul 4, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
For all the thousands of words dedicated to Everett Golson’s comeback, few have talked about the fact that he’s still very much a quarterback in progress. Our next stop on Irish A-to-Z looks at the most important player in the program.
Jul 2, 2014, 11:36 PM EDT
Notre Dame may have missed out on Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard on Wednesday, but they won the commitment of jumbo receiver Miles Boykin. The Illinois native chose Notre Dame over Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida and a slew of other offers.
Jul 2, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Will Fuller served as Notre Dame’s human go route during his freshman season. As we continue our Irish A-to-Z, expect Fuller’s duties — and production — to expand greatly in 2014.
Jul 2, 2014, 10:20 AM EDT
Notre Dame ended up bridesmaids in their recruitment of Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard, two elite defensive prospects in the Midwest. The defensive end and linebacker made joint announcements, both deciding to attend Ohio State and play for Urban Meyer.
Jul 2, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
While most people expected a freshman running back to burst onto the scene in 2013, few thought it’d be Tarean Folston. Our next installment of Irish A-to-Z takes a look at a potential star-in-the-making.
Jul 1, 2014, 9:03 PM EDT
The recruiting train continues for Notre Dame, with Washington D.C. area defensive back Ashton White pledging his commitment to the Irish on Tuesday evening.
Jul 1, 2014, 10:58 AM EDT
As the calendar turns to July, Notre Dame athletics has officially become the flagship program for Under Armour apparel. Twitter gave us our first look at the new gear.
Jul 1, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
After stepping into a key role during 2012, many expected Matthias Farley to be the next big thing at safety for the Irish. But an up-and-down season in 2013 has Farley changing positions again, heading to cornerback. Our latest in the Irish A-to-Z.
Jun 30, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Notre Dame’s coaching staff got a good look at Pennsylvania running back Josh Adams at the Irish Invasion camp a little over a week ago. They’ll see him for four more years, as Adams committed to the Irish on Monday, adding a much needed running back to the 2015 recruiting class.
Jun 30, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
An entertaining mailbag has us examining the upcoming point-spreads for the season, the Shamrock Series, and a whole bunch of other stuff. (Even the Warren Golf Course!)
Jun 28, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
Recruited to be the next Zack Martin, sophomore Steve Elmer is on track to becoming the next Chris Watt. Let’s take a closer look at the sophomore who will start at left guard in 2014 as Irish A-to-Z continues.
Jun 27, 2014, 7:33 PM EDT
Spring practice came and went and linebacker Michael Deeb didn’t make a run at the open middle linebacker job. But what’s in store for the sophomore now that his redshirt is off? Our latest entry in Irish A-to-Z explores.