Michigan v Notre Dame

Counting down the Irish: Final grades, 10-6


To read the rationale for our final rankings, see 25-2120-16, and 15-11. To see our preseason rankings, check out the Top 25


As we get into our Top 10, we begin to understand why the future is still rather bullish for Notre Dame. The five players listed below all have at least one season of eligibility remaining. That means that a group that performed more than admirably this season will be expected to do even more for the team in 2015. (The entire Top 10 has at least a year of eligibility remaining.)

How this group got here is an interesting contrast. One defensive back barely cracked the Top 40 in the preseason. One team captain saw his regular season cut short by injury. And one player’s struggles encapsulated an entire season.

Let’s get on to No. 10-6 in our final grade.



25. Christian Lombard (RT, GS)
24. Malik Zaire (QB, Soph.)
23. Romeo Okwara (DE, Jr.)
22. Drue Tranquill (S, Fr.)
21. Nyles Morgan (LB, Fr.)
20. Max Redfield (S, Soph.)
19. Steve Elmer (RG, Soph.)
18. Ben Koyack (TE, Sr.)
17. Elijah Shumate (S, Jr.)
16. Greg Bryant (RB, Soph.)
15. C.J. Prosise (WR, Jr.)
14. Isaac Rochell (DL, Soph.)
13. Nick Martin (C/LG, Sr.)
12. Cody Riggs (CB, GS)
11. Jarron Jones (DT, Jr.)


Matthias Farley
Matthias FarleyAP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File


10. Matthias Farley (DB, Sr.) That Matthias Farley checks in with a Top 10 ranking has to be one of the better reclamation stories of the Brian Kelly era. That the senior defensive back could find the field — let alone kick the dirt off of him after being buried this offseason (both on the depth chart and by the fanbase) — is a credit to the team’s best defensive playmaker.

Farley’s stat line is the team’s most complete. He’s the team’s fifth-leading tackler, even while playing a fraction of the snaps of the team’s other starters. He’s the co-leader in interceptions with four. His 6.5 TFLs leads the secondary, and is behind just Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell.

In a defensive system that’s predicated on big plays, Farley had a knack for creating them. After moving to cornerback during spring — and a nickel back spot few saw him playing with the preseason depth chart looking stacked — Farley was thrust into the starting job after KeiVarae Russell’s two-semester suspension hit and Cody Riggs was forced to stay outside.

He’s far from a perfect player, and Farley’s lack of elite athleticism and gambling tendencies still manage to see him on the wrong side of a big play occasionally. But few did more for the Irish in 2014, and Farley has cemented his role in the 2015 defense.

Preseason: Unranked (38th). Final: 10th.


Notre Dame v Florida State
Notre Dame v Florida StateStreeter Lecka/Getty Images


9. Corey Robinson (WR, Soph.): While the touchdown catch that didn’t count was likely the biggest play of the season, Robinson took a large step forward in his sophomore season. He finished second on the team with 40 catches, 539 yards and five touchdowns. He also made some of the biggest plays of the season, a critical fourth-down conversion against Florida State the most heroic.

Robinson was named an Academic All-American, the only true sophomore to do so in the country. He won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete award. He also continued to blossom as a receiver, adding elements to his game that made him a more valuable player thanks to his versatility.

Battling a broken thumb from preseason camp, Robinson’s stats were likely muted because of the struggles that injury put on his ability to catch the football. But even with a cast on his hand, he played 12 games — the team’s most reliable receiver from start to finish (even with a few uncharacteristic drops).

With two years left in the program, Robinson will pair with Will Fuller to create a duo the Irish haven’t seen since Golden Tate and Michael Floyd in 2015.

Preseason: 16th. Final: 9th.


Rice v Notre Dame
Rice v Notre DameJonathan Daniel/Getty Images


8. Sheldon Day (DT, Jr.): Widely acknowledged as Notre Dame’s best defensive lineman, Day put together a season that backs that claim, even if it wasn’t the breakout many expected from him. A shift inside in Brian VanGorder’s four-down system was a welcome change for the 6’2″, 285-pounder and had many expecting Day’s junior season to be one that landed him on the national stage.

But whether it was a lack of established talent around him or opponents focusing on slowing him down, Day didn’t break loose. That’s not to say his numbers weren’t good — his 7.5 TFLs were only less than Jaylon Smith, and done in just 10 games after a knee injury ended his regular season early.

Day seemed to lead the team in almost plays, an unmeasurable stat that’ll always end up disappointing in the end. He was productive, making 38 tackles and breaking up three passes, but his lone sack was far from the double-digit number some (read: me) thought possible.

Day received a draft grade from the NFL’s advisory board. It likely told him to stay in school, with the junior needing to prove he can stay healthy as well as live up to the praise the coaching staff has for him. That’ll have to take place in 2015, where he’ll again have sky-high expectations.

Preseason: 3rd. Final: 8th.


Notre Dame v Florida State
Notre Dame v Florida StateStreeter Lecka/Getty Images


7. Everett Golson (QB, Sr.): In many ways, Everett Golson’s 2014 season will be defined by 2015. If Golson remedies the turnovers that turned him from elite player to maddening one, it’ll be seen as a frustrating step on the learning curve. (Remember, before Jimmy Clausen’s sensational junior season, he threw 18 interceptions as a second-year player.) If he doesn’t, he’ll finish his career on the sidelines, a career that’ll need greater inspection for its historical context.

Golson’s struggles turning the football over forced Brian Kelly to reboot the quarterback position. For the Music City Bowl, that means playing both Golson and sophomore Malik Zaire. For the future, those ramifications are unknown. The leash he allowed his quarterback this season forces you to believe that Kelly still thinks Golson is his best option. But the head coach also knows a mistake-prone quarterback can’t be allowed to ruin a 2015 team that should be the best of his squads since arriving in South Bend.

When things are going well, few are as good as Golson. His arm strength is elite. His athleticism is near that level. He’s a capable runner, as his team-leading eight touchdown runs suggest. But Golson’s 22 turnovers in the season’s last nine games force all those things to the background, making 2015 a make or break year.

Preseason: 4th. Final: 7th.


Cole Luke, Adrian Flemming
Cole Luke, Adrian FlemmingAP Photo/Julio Cortez


6. Cole Luke (CB, Soph.): Notre Dame’s sophomore cornerback emerged in 2014, giving the Irish a cornerback capable of playing the man-to-man coverage that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder covets. As the team co-leader in interceptions, Luke’s season in place of KeiVarae Russell forced a lot on his young shoulders, with the Arizona native standing strong on a defense that crumbled around him.

Luke earned the praise of his head coach multiple times this season. That’s likely because Luke played well against a slate of receivers that had to be among the most challenging in college football. Week after week, Luke faced receivers that were among the elite in the college game. And more often than not, Luke acquitted himself well.

It wasn’t all pretty. The USC game will serve as sophomore game tape the same way KeiVarae Russell’s performance in Ann Arbor did after a disappointing game in 2013. But assuming Russell returns for next season, the Irish cornerback duo will be a strength, giving Notre Dame two cornerbacks that could be called No. 1s in just about any other program.

Preseason: 19th. Final: 6th.

Report: Justin Brent to transfer

Justin Brent twitter

Justin Brent has not seen the playing field since Notre Dame faced LSU in the Music City Bowl back in December of 2014. That now looks like it will be the last time Irish fans see him in a Notre Dame uniform, as well. Reports indicate the rising senior running back will transfer.

Irish 247’s Tom Loy broke the news, soon confirmed by Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson.

A consensus top-100 pick out of Indianapolis (Ind.) Speedway High School, Brent arrived in South Bend with high expectations, but will depart without an official statistic aside from snaps in nine games his freshman season. He recorded no catches, carries or tackles.


Thanks Keith, Now Dear Readers…

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 19: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes a hand off from DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 19, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Virginia Tech defeated Notre Dame 34-31.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Dear “Inside the Irish” fans, “Inside the Irish” foes and, of course, my parents –
Dear curious purveyors, my stand-alone predecessor and Tim Raines –
Mostly, dear Notre Dame fans, Notre Dame spectators and college students enjoying any and all hallowed traditions –

Yes, unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, Keith tossed me the keys to this 1971 Volkswagen Beetle known as NBC Sports’ “Inside the Irish” blog. Don’t worry, I know how to drive stick shift.

If I were feeling corny, I would tell you I first reported on Notre Dame football in the fall of 1996, shouting out the garage window to my father as Allen Rossum returned Purdue’s opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. If we are ignoring sentimental childhood stories, however, then it would be more accurate to call 2009’s home-opener against Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada my beginning on the beat.

Over the last few days I reached out to a few of you readers whom I know, asking why you enjoyed Keith Arnold’s coverage. So as to keep them honest, I neglected to tell them I would be stepping into this spotlight today.

Repeatedly, I heard buzz words such as readable, reasonable and realistic. Those will be my goals, as well. My predecessor at The Observer no longer dabbles in journalism, but I still trust his view on most things. His response strikes me as an admirable objective.

“We are smart, informed sports fans with an irrational passion for ND football, and appreciate writers who share those traits but are professional enough to step back from the irrationality and put things in perspective… We like a realistic take, not a knee-jerk reaction.”

On that note, you will not see me give a recruiting update with my every breath. You will also not see me dispense as much cinema advice as Keith did. I am simply not the film-nik he is, though I am listening to the “La La Land” soundtrack as I write this. You will find jazz increases your words per minute rate.

I will often speak of gambling terms, but not to encourage the vice. Rather, I find those odds to be a thought-provoking and informing means of evaluating things. Today, various books strongly expected President Trump’s inauguration speech to last longer than 15 minutes. Thus, I figured it would last longer than 15, but not by all that much since such was the over/under mark set. I could step away from the computer and watch it without losing too much of my day. It lasted 16:18.

I will try to be conversational, especially in these Friday letters/news-dumps/updates/recaps, should they become a recurring piece.

I intend to keep many, but not all, of Keith’s recurring features, as daunting as many of them seem. If I am to make this place my own, some will have to change. It’s okay, we’ll get through that together.

So ask questions, state your wonderings and pitch story ideas. This very format was a seed watered by one of you early this morning. Admittedly, prior to suggesting this he referred to me in terms I refuse to post publicly, but old drinking buddies have earned that right.

It’s late Friday afternoon. Grab a drink, and don’t you dare leave it unfinished.

– Douglas.

And in that corner… Introducing Douglas Farmer

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

It’s time to turn over the keys. On a day where our great nation makes a peaceful transition, so does our humble blog.

I’d love to say I was smart enough to time my departure for the same day as inauguration, but as they say, it’s better to be lucky than good. And I was lucky to get the gig, and happy to turn it over to someone who I believe is a better-than-good writer: Douglas Farmer.

Douglas was Editor-in-Chief of The Observer when he was a student at Notre Dame. He’s worked for old media—earning a byline at the Los Angeles Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s worked the ND beat, not just at the school paper, but at Blue & Gold. And now, I’m very happy to say, he’s taking over Inside the Irish, a transition that I think will go wonderfully.

To give you an idea of who Douglas is, I milked one last column gave him the And in this Corner treatment.

Hope you enjoy. And, one last request—Be Nice.


Douglas, you graduated from Notre Dame in 2012, and last covered the Irish on a day-to-day basis in the 2014 season. What has you excited to come back to the beat?

Douglas Farmer: Given Notre Dame’s past season, I would say I am most excited to take an in-depth look at how the Irish respond — and perhaps rebound — in 2017. It has been awhile (nearly a decade, more accurately) since Notre Dame has needed to do that, so it is one area of football there is not much institutional knowledge to rely upon.

Aside from that, the general engagement with a fan base so devotedly-interested in its topic is always something to look forward to. Even during a 4-8 season, that fan base does not waver in its curiosity and thirst for information.


A nice perk is also getting paid for the addiction that is Notre Dame Football, no?

DF: I prefer to subscribe to Hurricane Carter’s opinion on addictions: Do not be addicted to anything “they” can take away from you.


Well put. As I thought about the decision to move on, I came to the conclusion that there’s no perfect time to ever do so. That said, other than the head coach, this is as close to a reboot as you can ask for. Do these next few months get you excited, especially as an almost entirely new staff take charge?

DF: Just had to slip in a reference to removing the head coach, didn’t you?

Bouncing back from a rough season is the most appealing story line in sports, in anything really. Take a look at any movie you have ever watched (or, in your case, perhaps even been involved in). The hero experiences conflict just before redemption. Now, I am not saying Notre Dame is the hero. I am saying watching the team, the program, try to rebound has me very interested.

The staff turnover is an added wrinkle, and will only increase the work ahead for the program. Before the players can learn the plays, they have to learn the staff. Before that, the staff has to learn about each other.


So what’s the plan with the blog? You plan on getting to know the characters below the fold in the comments? Keep the A-to-Z series rolling? Do a better job proof-reading?

DF: I do not intend to outright abandon any institution or established series you have devoted years to. Thus, I would expect A-to-Z to continue in some form. But we will see. That is an easy thing to say when I have not yet reached the misery that must be “Q, R, S, …”

I would like to engage with the readers, but only so far as logic and rational conversation will allow. I have no interest in devolving to who knows what depths. Proof-reading, well, I want to say I will excel at that, but that just sets me up to eat a lot of crow when I miss a letter in April.


Smart. Will tell you about the A-to-Z… This roster is a front-loaded one, alphabetically, at least.

DF: All of high school I had a locker next to a Favre. (Not really related.) I understand the luxuries the alphabet can provide.


Let’s go rapid fire for a second: Favorite game you saw in person at Notre Dame?

DF: Either the 2012 Stanford game or the 2011 South Florida game. I realize how absurd that latter answer sounds, but that is part of why it stands the test of time. It was such a unique experience. Plus, being allowed to go back to the dorm for an hour at halftime made the whole day more entertaining.


Best road game experience?

DF: 2010 Army in Yankee Stadium jumps to the top of the heap, though I suppose technically not a road game. Go ahead and score against me for this, but I am a lifelong Yankees fan. That was a big one for me.

(KA note: The Observer must not have had the $$ to send the editor to Dublin…)

(DF note to KA’s note: I graduated in May 2012. The Observer did manage to send four staffers to Dublin the following September. Sometimes I wonder if I would not have been better off if I had taken two years to get through fifth grade.)


Favorite player to watch during your time as a student?

DF: Golden Tate could have walked around the football field as Maximus, for all I’m concerned, given how entertaining he often was. Though Lou Nix also holds a lofty place in my regard.
I lived a door down from Lou for two years, part of the reasoning there.


Favorite villain of the Irish from your time watching/following Notre Dame football?

DF: Pete Carroll runs away with the award. His candidacy is enhanced by my Wisconsin-bred Packer fandom.I do not like disliking Pete Carroll. I very much wish I could be indifferent toward him. The Falcons granted me that luxury for nine months.


Part of what has me excited about this transition is that I actually thought you’d be a good person to turn the keys over to, as I enjoyed reading your stuff when you were at The Observer and covering the Irish in your post-graduation years. What’s the most exciting part for you about taking over the blog? And what do you look forward to doing with it?

DF: I am most excited for the chance to write, and the chance to write about something on which I consider myself relatively knowledgeable. I look forward to seeing where the blog environment takes me. The open-ended aspect of it presents all sorts of possibilities.

Theoretically, I can be more freewheeling than elsewhere, get in-and-out quicker of some pieces, spend more time on others. I know Notre Dame fans of all varieties — the obsessed, the apathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, etc. — including some who have yet to decide how they feel about Tommy Rees. (Feel positively about him. It’s that simple.)

My sample size is certainly representative of the fan base as a whole. That wide swath is what makes covering Notre Dame enjoyable, and very well may provide the blog some direction and material on its own.

Oh, and I appreciate those kind words, Keith. I’ll Venmo you $20 later tonight.


Sliding a final question into my lightning round. What’s your handle on NDNation? (Kidding!)

DF: I will take my right to not incriminate myself, otherwise known as the Fifth.

Notre Dame makes Alexander and Balis hires official


Notre Dame confirmed the news that Del Alexander and Matt Balis are joining Brian Kelly’s staff. As expected, Alexander will coach wide receivers while Balis was named director of football performance.

The program announced both hires on Thursday.

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

Alexander, who’ll lean on his West Coast roots and familiarity with new offensive coordinator Chip Long, said the following:

“I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country. Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

Balis comes to Notre Dame from UConn, with an impressive pedigree that counts jobs at Mississippi State, Florida, Virginia and Utah. He takes over for Paul Longo, who is taking a leave of absence from the football program, per the official release.

“Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh,” Kelly said. “He’s already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn’t be more excited to have him in place moving forward.”