If preseason accolades are any indication, don’t expect the Notre Dame defense to take a step backwards this season. Even without the most highly decorated defensive player in the school’s history, the preseason Maxwell and Bednarik watch lists are covered with Notre Dame defenders, a sign of elevated expectations for one of the most surprising units in the country last year.
Leading the way are preseason All-Americans Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Not only are the two Irish defensive linemen on the (kinda) short list for the Bednarik, given to college football’s defensive player of the year, they both were nominated for the Maxwell Award, given to college football’s player of the year. In case you forgot, Manti Te’o won both the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards last season.
Other Bednarik watch-listers are senior cornerback Bennett Jackson and senior outside linebacker Prince Shembo. Notre Dame is the only school in college football with four players featured on the Bednarik list. Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Stanford have three each.
It’s hard to get too pumped up about Watch List season, but it does do a nice job of qualifying the mainstream opinion on your team and players. While just about everyone following college football knew that Nix and Tuitt were among the country’s best players, seeing guys like Jackson and Shembo receive national awards notice does a good job of qualifying expectations for two veterans that should play big roles on the field this season.
Earlier in the offseason, ESPN tabbed Shembo as one of college football’s top five linebackers, quite a statement for a guy that only truly emerged last season after struggling to find his footing in 2011 as a field-side linebacker. Likewise, Jackson has a sneaky chance to make his way into All-American consideration, with the physical, athletic cornerback doing a lot of elite things last season, even with a shoulder that needed surgery.
With rain falling and the forecast expecting much more, Notre Dame and Clemson are kicking off in primetime anyway.
College GameDay was on campus this morning, showcasing the soggy conditions and the mud-covered campus. And while some wondered whether or not the kickoff would move up to earlier in the day to take advantage of a slight lull in the conditions, kickoff is remaining at 8:22 p.m.
“We’ve been in constant communication with state and local law enforcement and have monitored weather throughout the week and today,” director of athletics Dan Radakovich said in a statement Friday night. “I’ve spoken with campus leaders, State Highway Patrol, and Governor Nikki Haley, and feel confident we can play the game as scheduled. We ask our fans to be conscientious arriving and departing from our campus as we will have some limitations due to this ongoing weather event.”
Ball security will be key this evening, and during an interview with Tom Rinaldi this morning Kelly mentioned the punting and kick game as concerns in these conditions. The Irish came to Clemson prepared for miserable conditions and if the forecast holds, they’ll get just that.
Notre Dame’s tight end recruiting keeps rolling. The Irish received a commitment from Illinois tight end Cole Kmet, who adds a third piece to Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class.
Kmet is a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, joining fellow blue-chipper 2017 tight end Brock Wright in next year’s recruiting class (they won’t sign until February 2017). He had early offers from plenty of the top programs around the country, but picked Notre Dame over finalist Ohio State, a nice recruiting victory for Scott Booker and Brian Kelly.
Kmet talked about the decision with Irish 247 who broke the news:
“I think it was just a gut feeling knowing it was Notre Dame,” Kmet to Irish 247. “I didn’t want to pass on playing for that program and attending that university. It’s always been the school I wanted an offer from and Ohio State made it really close, but I just couldn’t pass on Notre Dame.”