Kansas St Baylor Football

Notre Dame is No. 1 (But the system is absolutely broken)

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As it tends to happen in November, college football threw its fans a curveball and toppled the country’s top two teams, all but flipping the world on its head with just one week to go in the regular season. A week after an impregnable Alabama team fell to Texas A&M, the top two teams in the country, Kansas State and Oregon, lost as well. Oregon’s loss was dramatic, an overtime defeat to a Stanford team that battled back from three turnovers to vanquish an opponent that’s owned the Cardinal. Kansas State’s loss felt more like Cinderella after midnight, with the Wildcats turning into a pumpkin right before our eyes, getting steamrolled by a 4-5 Baylor team with the worst defense in the country.

Think about that. Collin Klein and Kansas State, called the best player and team in the country by Sports Illustrated just days ago, got blown out by a Baylor Team that lost four straight to the murders row of West Virginia, TCU, Texas, and Iowa State.

The beneficiary of all of this is Notre Dame. Brian Kelly’s squad, fresh off their most impressive offensive performance of the season, now jumps to the No. 1 team in the country. For Domers everywhere, things couldn’t get much better. After a decade of futility, life is good. A week after looking like the odd man out, the Irish ascend to the top spot in the country, all by beating Wake Forest to a pulp. Now, the only team between the Irish and immortality, is USC.

That’s right, Lane Kiffin, a black hat if there every was one, is the last enemy that needs vanquishing. You couldn’t script a better movie if you were spotted John Wayne and the Wild West.

But that’s where this story should stop.

Make no mistake, Notre Dame absolutely deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country. But this system deserves to be thrown in the recycling bin, a relic of yesteryear that is so outdated you’d look better pulling out a fax machine to check your Twitter feed at the sports bar.

The pollsters and the computers that determine who plays for the national championship have been over-matched for years. But watching Kansas State, a team that was considered the most battle-tested in the country lose by four touchdowns to a sub-.500 team, is just another notch in the belt of those that have forever screamed that the pollsters don’t know anything. Bill Snyder’s team losing isn’t another example of the SI cover jinx. It’s a fraud revealed. It’s college football’s Darwinism thankfully doing what pollsters weren’t capable of.

It’s a shame that it took Art Briles squad (a team that spotted Kansas State and Collin Klein seven points with one of the worst interceptions of the season) beating the Wildcats to understand that K-State just isn’t that good. This is a team that cancelled its best game of the year. (Ironically, against Oregon, who also benefited from a cupcake schedule.) It’s a team that scheduled Missouri State and North Texas, only leading the Mean Green by a botched extra point in the third quarter before pulling away. It’s a team with a Heisman candidate with an arm that makes Tommy Rees’ look strong, a guy who would’ve absolutely won the most coveted award in college sports if he didn’t collapse against the worst defense in the country, even though just about anybody who was honest with themselves — or who has actually seen Klein play — knew he’s a non-roster invitee in the NFL at best.

That’s not to spare Oregon. The Ducks, who worked their way to the top of college football in spite of an untested quarterback, have played such luminaries as Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Tennessee Tech before embarking on their conference schedule. They looked like the best team in the country for eleven weeks, if only because everybody assumed Chip Kelly and the Ducks were the real McCoy. That turned out to be incorrect as well, with the Ducks being toppled by a Stanford team playing a redshirt freshman at quarterback in his third state who survived three turnovers. Once again, an Oregon quarterback, this time Marcus Mariota, fell back down to earth when they played a legit defense. Stop me if you’ve heard that one.

None of this spares Notre Dame. That the Irish are the “best” team in the country in spite of struggling to beat Purdue, BYU and Pittsburgh shows you the system we’re working with. Yet in today’s college football, the Irish deserve to be at the top of the heap not because of their stout defense or improving offense, but because of the things they didn’t do: Lose football games and schedule cupcakes.

With a playoff system coming into fruition in 2014, articles like these will hopefully never be written again. But because there’s a championship to be played in Miami, and again next season, it is worth committing this to public record, if only to get in front of history, who will surely judge the current system as the dumbest in sports history.

Picking the top two teams in the country is hard work. So let’s get this on the table: Neither the media nor the coaches can do this job. It’s just too hard. The college football world is too flat, and the game’s best programs have spread too far across the country, all unwilling to play each other when it’s easier to simply battle familiar opponents and wage a PR war instead.

With college football’s warloads even making the computers irrelevant (formulas that can’t factor in margin of victory are less effective than a calculator missing a button), it’s down to the game’s power brokers and voters to steer the ship. We’d be better off with pro wrestling refs.

College football is filled with bias. Coaches, voters, writers, ESPN GameDay hosts. We’ve all got it. We wouldn’t love the sport if we didn’t. But it’s taken over the conversation and it’s all got to stop.

When Alabama works its way back into the national title game with a victory over a 1-10 Western Carolina team that hasn’t sniffed a victory in the Southern conference, it’s all too obvious this sport needs a hard reset. And thankfully in 2014, that’s coming with a playoff.

So while pundits, fans and talking heads will undoubtedly debate Notre Dame’s worthiness atop college football world, consider this a pleasant reminder: It’s not the Irish’s fault. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

No team has earned the right to call themselves No. 1 more than Notre Dame. And if they beat USC next weekend, that’s all the more clear.

Don’t get me wrong, I love college football. But that doesn’t mean the system isn’t broken.

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”