Brian Kelly

Irish positioned well for the future

22 Comments

As part of their build up for the upcoming season, ESPN’s Insiders took a look at the health of major programs as they are positioned for the future. While Power Rankings have turned into a staple of just about every daily website, a Future Power Ranking was a cool idea.

The group of Travis Haney, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill, Todd McShay, and Mark Schlabach broke down the odds for team’s success over the next three seasons. Using a weighted evaluation system, the group used the following formula for future success: Coaching (27.5%) Current Talent (27.5%), Recruiting (15%), Title Path (10%), and Program Power (20%).

From the looks of the group’s evaluation, Notre Dame’s 2012 season was hardly a fluke, but rather precursor of things to come.

Even taking into consideration the loss of Everett Golson and the departure of high profile recruits like Aaron Lynch, Davonte Neal and Eddie Vanderdoes, the Irish come in ranked No. 6 in the future power rankings.

Here’s the Top 10:

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. LSU
4. Florida
5. Michigan
6. Notre Dame
7. Florida State
8. Texas A&M
9. Georgia
10. Stanford

Here’s what ESPN had to say about the Irish:

Coaching (8.0): “Notre Dame could not have a better fit at head coach than Brian Kelly,” says Huard. “He’s shown it on the field and off the field. That’s the most important factor for them for years to come, because it’s a unique situation there, with high standards both academically and athletically.”

Current Talent (6.8): The Fighting Irish scored lower in this category than the other teams in the top 10, but their talent level appears to be on the rise. “I don’t think last year was a one-hit wonder,” says McShay. “In voting for these rankings, I ranked Notre Dame as the fifth-most-talented team coming into this season. I’m not saying they’ll be in the national title hunt year in and year out, but their talent level will give them a chance to be a perennial top-10 team.”

Recruiting (8.2): The Irish’s recent recruiting momentum (ESPN’s No. 4 class in 2013) should continue to improve that talent level. Says Huard: “When you stack up Kelly’s recruiting there to some of the other Notre Dame coaches before him, it’s no comparison.” Luginbill adds: “I really believe that for them to compete at a high level, they’re going to need to upgrade in the trenches and go in to the SEC’s backyard to do it. That’s what they did to land their current crop of defensive linemen — I don’t think people have given them enough credit for that.”

Title Path (8.2): The Irish play the most unique schedule of any team in these rankings, but earned high scores because they play a challenging-enough schedule to earn a title game bid, and don’t have an Alabama- or Florida-like obstacle on the slate each year.

Program Power (8.4): With the Irish’s run to the BCS title game last season, it appears that their on-field play has begun to match the school’s tradition and fan support. “‘Relevance’ is always the word we use with Notre Dame,” says Luginbill. “My response to that has always been that they’ll be relevant when the great high school football players around the country think that they are relevant. You create and maintain that relevance by winning.”

Taking a closer look at the numbers, it’s interesting to see where the Irish slot in among the top ten.

Coaching: T-4 (Behind Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, and tied with Stanford.)
Current Talent: T-9 (with Stanford for last)
Recruiting: 8th (only Georgia and Stanford behind them)
Title Path: 4th (Behind Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State)
Program Power: T-4 (Behind Alabama, Ohio State and LSU)

A quick analysis: It looks like the Irish are well respected in the coaching ranks, slotted behind Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and — huh? — Les Miles. But this panel feels like the personnel on the Irish roster still lags behind just about everyone, though it’s interesting to see another underrated team, Stanford, somehow continues to have their personnel so under-appreciated, yet puts up dominant statistical teams even after their coaching change.

Other rankings of note: Future 2013 opponent Oklahoma ranks 14th, with Bob Stoops now being rated with a 6.6 coaching, quite a fall for a guy that was once thought elite (and still is by some Notre Dame fans). And the demise of USC is almost shocking even when you take into consideration their NCAA sanctions, considering the Trojans were the No. 1 team in the country heading into the season. Lane Kiffin and his staff were awarded a really ugly 4.4.

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
Getty
3 Comments

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)

 

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

BVG
23 Comments

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.

***

Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

os-notre-dame-ad-pleased-acc-move-20140513-001
Getty
11 Comments

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.