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Notre Dame’s Opponents: USC rolls, UNC stumbles, more results & spreads

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Even with two Irish opponents beating up on other teams scheduled to face Notre Dame, the 11 foes went 8-3, including Georgia’s victory over the Irish. Miami (FL) did not see action due to Hurricane Irma, and that will be the case for this week as well.

Temple (1-1): Owls head coach Geoff Collins got his first career win Saturday, barely. Perhaps it should have raised eyebrows when Temple was favored by less than a touchdown against FCS-level Villanova. Vegas knows. Vegas always knows. The Owls won 16-13, but let’s not spend any more time on that encounter.

Before jumping into a tough American Athletic stretch — Temple will travel to South Florida before hosting Houston — the Owls can try to gain some genuine momentum against Massachusetts on Friday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Favored by 14.5 with a combined over/under point total of 51.5, project a final score of 33-18.

Georgia (2-0): Does anyone know how the Bulldogs fared this past weekend?

Their level of competition will drop a bit, now facing FCS-level Samford at 7:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. From there, though, it will be directly into SEC play.

Boston College (1-1): The Eagles did themselves in against Wake Forest, falling at home 34-10. That lopsided score can be directly attributed to four turnovers, including three interceptions from freshman quarterback Anthony Brown. Senior Darius Wade stepped in to finish the game after the third pick. The Demon Deacons outgained Boston College by only four yards, 309-305.

Now the Eagles host Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Nearly two-touchdown underdogs with an over/under of 48.5, rounding indicates a theoretical final score of 31-18.

Michigan State (2-0): The Spartans had no trouble with Western Michigan, dispatching the Broncos 28-14 before entering a bye week. To open the season, Western Michigan managed 357 yards and 31 points at USC. Compare that to the 195 and 14 Michigan State allowed.

Miami (OH) (1-1): The RedHawks returned to winning ways with an easy 31-10 rout of FCS-level Austin Peay, though the score is misleading when considering Miami outgained the Governors by only 13 yards (283 to 270) and each team committed three turnovers. To counteract that, the RedHawks went 8-for-17 on third downs and 3-for-4 on fourth.

If they continue to keep drives alive like that, they should easily cover the 4.5-point spread against Cincinnati at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN3 this weekend. The over/under of 45.5 implies a final score of 25-21, as odd as 25 points may be in football. A touchdown and six field goals would certainly be an underwhelming delivery.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson struck that pose once before last year, and North Carolina helped his campaign again this year by giving up 525 total yards to the defending Heisman Trophy-winner. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

North Carolina (0-2): This could be a long season for the Tar Heels. They have now given up 82 points through two games, with Louisville accounting for 47 of those in the Cardinals 47-35 victory. To think, entering the season the wholesale turnover in offensive personnel was the biggest concern.

North Carolina can ease the misery on the road this weekend against Old Dominion. Favored by more than a touchdown in the 3:30 p.m. ET kick, the Tar Heels should win by more than a 32-25 margin.

USC (2-0): Oh, hey Trojans offense. Nice of you to make sure the world was aware of your abilities. USC blew past Stanford 42-24, despite being favored by less than a touchdown. The Trojans racked up 623 yards of total offense, 316 through the air and 307 on the ground, and converted 10 of 12 third downs. Both Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones exceeded 100 yards rushing. It just may seem USC could live up to the preseason hype.

The Trojans now host another highly-touted preseason team, though one that has not fared as well to date. Favored by 17 over Texas with an over/under of 67, USC could mimic last week’s final score. With that in mind, and presuming the Cardinal are indeed better than the Longhorns, perhaps that margin should be larger.

North Carolina State (1-1): The Wolfpack pulled away in the second half to beat Marshall 3-20. Not much else to that, and now North Carolina State gets to enjoy FCS-level Furman on the ACC Network at 12:20 p.m. ET.

Wake Forest (2-0): The 24-point victory over Boston College was a 26-point swing compared to the spread. In other words, perhaps the Deacons are better than anticipated despite the loss of their defensive coordinator and his right hand man (Mike Elko and Clark Lea, respectively).

Wake Forest can solidify that trend as it hosts Utah State this weekend. The Aggies were blown out by Wisconsin, but they are typically a formidable opponent. A 13.5-point spread favors the Deacons with an over/under of 48.5, implying a 31-18 conclusion.

Miami (FL) (1-0): The Hurricanes trip to Arkansas State was cancelled last week due to foreseeable difficulties returning to Miami after/during Hurricane Irma. I will admit, I was at first critical of this decision. The game was in Arkansas, not Florida, after all. But when considering the players may want to be in the mix with their nearby families during this threat, the decision makes sense.

It also made sense to postpone this coming weekend’s tilt with Florida State, since Miami’s campus will be closed most of the week.

From a speculating perspective, the Hurricanes win total over/under was nine entering the season. Missing the Arkansas State game greatly endangers the chances of hitting that over, though most would understand the schedule was abbreviated.

Navy (2-0): The Midshipmen got a conference victory, but a 23-21 final over Tulane was far closer than would ever have been expected. Junior quarterback Zach Abey still both ran and passed for more than 100 yards, though. Navy’s defense was the star against the Green Wave, holding Tulane to 71 passing yards.

Now, the Midshipmen get to enjoy a bye week.

Stanford junior running back Bryce Love was the lone bright spot in the Cardinal’s defeat to USC. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Stanford (1-1): The Cardinal fell to USC 42-24. That was undoubtedly a disappointment, but it may be viewed as more a reflection on the Trojans than anything else. As it pertains to Stanford, junior running back Bryce Love was the bright spot, taking 17 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown.

Now the Cardinal travels to Mountain West heavyweight San Diego State as a 9.5-point favorite. The 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS Sports Network projects to end along the lines of 27-18. Don’t be too surprised if the Aztecs prove a stiffer challenge than that, partly because they do get to enjoy home-cooking.

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman, Kona Schwenke, dies at 25

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Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, 25, reportedly died in his sleep Sunday morning. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Schwenke spent four seasons along the Irish defensive front, culminating in a 23-tackle senior season, in 2013. Attrition along the defensive line in his first two seasons forced Schwenke into playing time, costing him a likely fifth-year with much greater production. He played in 31 games total, making 30 tackles.

Part of a Hawaiian surge in Notre Dame recruiting, Schwenke joined the likes of receiver Robby Toma and linebacker Manti Te’o in coming from the island in 2009 and 2010. The first two committed during Charlie Weis’ tenure, but Schwenke made the leap at the very beginning of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, one of the first recruits to commit to Kelly at Notre Dame. Since then, sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has renewed the trend.

Schwenke graduated in 2014 with a degree in anthropology. He then signed with the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, moving around four different NFL franchises chasing his dream. Earlier this month he took part in a scouting event, The Spring League, gaining some notice when he forced Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel into a fumble.

Former Irish teammates took to social media Sunday afternoon celebrating Schwenke’s life and friendship.