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 But this system deserves to be thrown in the recycling bin, a relic of yesteryear that is so outdated you’d look better pulling out a fax machine to check your Twitter feed at the sports bar.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.

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.

Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits; Elliott officially a ‘Husker

allen
rivals.com
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It’s early. It’s really, really early. Not in the day, though this post is scheduled for an a.m. hour. No, it is early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Any piece of news, each commitment, everything should be taken with two grains of salt.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame—and more specifically, new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght—enjoyed Tuesday’s recruiting news when two consensus four-star coverage men committed to the Irish.

Safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) and cornerback Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.) joined a class of now eight commitments, six of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

Gervin, the No. 11 cornerback in the class according to rivals.com, waited mere days after attending Notre Dame’s Junior Day over the weekend. Irish coach Brian Kelly and staff’s failure to land a recruit at Gervin’s position in the 2017 haul actually helped reel in the recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and dozens others.

“The opportunity to play right away, they didn’t sign a cornerback this last class,” Gervin told Blue & Gold Illustrated helped sway him. “Also, the education is second-to-none. It speaks for itself.”

Allen, pictured at top, has leaned toward Notre Dame for months. The No. 3 safety in the country per Rivals, he chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.

Elliott officially to Nebraska

The two highly-touted defensive backs will not have the chance to learn under the tutelage of Bob Elliott. Nebraska officially announced the hiring of the former Notre Dame safeties (2012-13) and linebackers (2014) coach. Elliott spent the last two seasons serving as a special assistant to Kelly, focusing largely on defending the triple-option attacks of Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Elliott rejoins former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in Lincoln. Diaco was hired as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator in January.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Cristopherson reports Elliott will make a nice wage in eastern Nebraska.