CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 4: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers drops back to pass during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Memorial Stadium on October 4, 2014 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

Mailbag: Schedule re-rack, stadium construction, recruiting and the Pope

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Part one of a two-part mailbag. Thanks for the good questions, sorry to those I missed or skipped out on.

(For those asking me about knee injuries: I’m not a doctor. Don’t even play one on the internet. But BK has been asked about injuries a bunch. He’s had every injury evaluated, both by doctors inside the program and out. Bad luck is bad luck—and ND isn’t alone, it just feels like it.)

 

dmacirish: After seeing three weeks of football is there an adjustment to the “toughest games on the schedule” rankings? Has Clemson, Stanford, or USC fallen and the likes of Temple risen?

That’s a good question. And I’m not ready to totally reshuffle the deck, but I do think that Stanford, USC and to a lesser extent Clemson look a little more beatable than they did this summer.

You are correct on Temple, especially after watching them whip Penn State. But remember, UMass had Temple BEAT until they had an extra point returned for two points, allowing Temple to kick a game-winning field goal. (The message: Look out for UMass!)

To me, this season hinges on the next four weeks. Get out of Saturday healthy, find a way to win in Death Valley (the new toughest game on the schedule), conquer the option once more and hope to take serious revenge against USC for last year’s pasting. (The Trojans could also be in full self-destruction mode by then, too.)

Then regroup over the off week and get ready to do something special.

 

monco20: Keith – There has been repeated comments this week that the stadium is becoming “louder”. Is this due to younger crowd, more alcohol, better sound system or the or the construction? If it is due to the new buildings will it become louder when the construction is complete and the video board is installed – does this help us or hurt us?

Brian Kelly certainly seems to think it’s louder inside Notre Dame Stadium. And while I saw the debate in the comments about whether it was louder in the 70s, 80s and 90s, it’s tough to argue with people about nostalgic memories that also measure acoustic levels. (Plus the pressbox is like watching a game in a fishbowl, so no clue from someone who watches from a media seat.)

I will say this: The new architecture is going to go a long way towards keeping noise inside the stadium (just like Michigan’s remodel did). And it seems like Kelly can already tell.

That’s always a good thing for the home crowd, especially when the fans start to understand they’re a weapon to deploy for the defense.

 

jerseyshorendfan1: Project who will be MVP at the end of this season?

Right now, my candidates are:

  1. Will Fuller
  2. Jaylon Smith
  3. C.J. Prosise
  4. Joe Schmidt

If Kizer can keep the offense on the tracks, Fuller could put up ridiculous numbers, shattering the single-season touchdown record. Then again, Prosise is on pace to out-run Vagas Ferguson’s single-season record, too. Smith isn’t too far behind, but he’ll still have to make some game-changing plays a la Manti Te’o in 2012 to beat out one of the most dangerous men in college football.

 

ndlv: Keith, I know that you don’t put a lot of weight into star rankings of recruits, but right now the class is somewhat small (13) and is rated relatively low by all of the services . Are BK and the staff really finding a bunch of hidden gems in this class, or is it a subpar year? Do you think more and more wins will draw in blue chip commitments this year or will it end up as a down year in recruiting?

ohiondfan: Talk about recruiting and talent evaluation/development. I was going through the last 10 years or so of ND recruiting data. It seems that BK is getting more out of 3-star kids than Weis did out of 5-star kids. 

Seems like BK is a top tier talent evaluator and developer. Is that his rep nationally? Do recruits see how well he does at getting players in the right position and bringing them along to be all they can be?

Last year’s recruiting class wasn’t expected to get into the low-20s, especially when people examined the 85-man roster. But the Irish went to 24, pushing their roster limits to land players they thought were talented. So this class likely isn’t going to push past the high-teens, though I’m sure the staff will find a way to make things work.

We saw already this spring and summer how difficult it is to stay above 85 players (even when Kelly seemed deadset on getting to that number). But between academics, competition to get on the field and the fact that Notre Dame has had a transfer every offseason for over 30-seasons running, it is what it is.

This recruiting class is probably a little behind where things have been in previous years. That comes with replacing three full time coaches and swapping out recruiting coordinators. But if ND keeps winning, it’s only going to help the recruiting class.

To get to Ohio’s comment, I’m not sure Weis can be blamed for a 5-star QB not turning out. (Look at the list of Rivals’ 5-star QBs. Lotta swings and misses in there.) But I think Kelly has a national reputation for finding good players below the radar. Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise, Greer Martini… I could go on and on. That comes with coaching at smaller schools, but it also comes with having the confidence in your own evaluation, not following the herd.

In general, I trust college football coaches who evaluate and breakdown tape more than I trust guys like me looking at YouTube highlights and going to summer camps. That’s not a slam on the industry, a business that’s getting better and better from an evaluation perspective. But it’s just the truth.

 

mtflsmitty: You have two 50-yardline seats to the ND/USC game on October 17th. Your dear mother expects you’ll be taking her. But Pope Francis calls and asks for your other ticket. Who do you take to the game and why?

Smitty, tell the Pope to get up in the luxury box. My mom gets the seat. I’ll worry about the eternal consequences later.

 

 

 

 

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.