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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Six still hold conference title hopes

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How Notre Dame’s complete slate of opponents fares each week is becoming less and less important. A few of them remain pertinent to any discussions regarding worthwhile wins, but at least half the schedule is merely conversational filler at this point. If some of those entries become briefer with time, that is the reasoning.

Just how many times can it be said North Carolina is having a terrible season, anyway? And is that a harsh reflection on the word terrible?

As a whole, Irish foes fared well last weekend, finishing 6-2 when not including Notre Dame’s defeat of North Carolina State. This coming weekend does not bode to conclude as well, with only three favored of nine playing (again, not including this week’s Irish guest, Wake Forest). Four of those underdogs, though, could notch season-altering wins and further bolster any Notre Dame claim to a schedule so strong it warrants inclusion in the College Football Playoff despite its blemished record.

Temple (3-5): The Owls return from their bye all-but needing a win to keep bowl hopes alive. Undefeated No. 15 Central Florida awaits Temple on Nov. 18. If presuming that is a loss waiting to happen, the Owls need to win all their other games, including Thursday against Navy (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). As eight-point underdogs, though, that seems somewhat unlikely. A combined points total over/under of 55 equals a 31-23 conclusion.

Florida’s defense had absolutely no answer for Georgia senior running back Sony Michel. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Georgia (8-0): Some of these entries are getting shorter because the teams are plain bad. The summaries of the Bulldogs’ victories get repetitive because they are brutally-familiar at this point. Georgia beat Florida 42-7 on Saturday, jumping out to a 42-0 lead thanks to two forced turnovers and 137 yards and two touchdowns from senior running back Sony Michel. He needed all of six carries to inflict that damage.

The Bulldogs cruised so easily backup Gators quarterback and former Notre Dame starter Malik Zaire attempted one pass fewer than Georgia starter Jake Fromm did. Fromm finished 4-of-7 for 101 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Bulldogs did not need him much. Zaire finished 3-of-6 for 36 yards in the blowout.

Now Georgia readies for one of its toughest challenges of the season in South Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS). Despite the Gamecocks presenting a stiffer test than Florida may have, the Bulldogs are favored by a whopping 24.5 points in a game with a low over/under of 46. A 35-10 finish may be accurate, but the game itself will hardly be that competitive.

Boston College (5-4): Who are these Eagles and what did they do with the bumbling Boston College seen earlier this season? To extend their winning streak to three, the Eagles routed Florida State 35-3 on Friday. Freshman running back AJ Dillon led the way with 33 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown, part of a ground effort that gained 241 yards on 55 attempts, holding the ball for 35:15.

Not to be outdone, the Boston College defense forced three turnovers.

Eagles head coach Steve Addazio can enjoy this victory for a bit with Boston College on bye this weekend.

Michigan State (6-2): Spartan hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff fell by the wayside thanks to a triple-overtime 39-31 loss at Northwestern. Michigan State sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke did all he could to keep the Spartans in the game, throwing for 445 yards and a touchdown on 39-of-57 passing, but his offense managed only 95 rushing yards and turned over the ball three times.

Michigan State’s hopes of winning the Big Ten remain intact, though. That path commences at noon ET on Saturday (FOX) against Penn State. The Spartans are 7.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 49. If they could find a way to turn the tables of a 28-21 conclusion, they would still control their own chances at winning the conference.

Miami (OH) (3-5): The RedHawks come off their bye week hoping junior quarterback Gus Ragland is healthy enough to lead an upset of Ohio tonight (8 p.m. ET, ESPN 2). That’s right folks, we have reached the time of year when there is football on national television each and every night of the week. It will not last long, so enjoy the luxuries provided by MACtion while they last.

Miami is a 9.5-point underdog with an over/under of 55.5, hinting at a 32-23 final score.

North Carolina (1-8): The Tar Heels actually had a chance against Miami (FL) on Saturday, but they could not convert two early scoring opportunities to their maximum potential, instead settling for field goals to take a 6-0 lead. The Hurricanes then responded to take a 17-6 lead and that was about that en route to a 24-19 Miami victory. The score wasn’t even that close, with a late touchdown diminishing North Carolina’s deficit.

Here is the good news for the Tar Heels: They will not lose this week. They have it off.

Trojans junior quarterback Sam Darnold can keep USC’s conference title hopes alive with a victory over Arizona and emerging Heisman-hopeful quarterback Khalil Tate this weekend. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

USC (7-2): In a year in which the Rose Bowl will not necessarily host the traditional Big 10 champion vs. Pac-12 champion matchup, Notre Dame is still watching those two conferences intently. Much like Michigan State’s, the Trojans kept their conference hopes alive by topping Arizona State 48-17. Junior running back Ronald Jones ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns on only 18 carries while junior quarterback Sam Darnold threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-35 passing. Their performances were all part of a 607-yard offensive explosion.

USC will all-but settle the conference’s South division this weekend against Arizona (10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN). In a contest between last year’s midseason sensation (Darnold) and this year’s, Wildcats sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate, the elder is favored by seven points with an outlandish, if it wasn’t in a #Pac12AfterDark situation, over/under of 73. A 40-33 contest could last well into Sunday morning. It will obviously last even longer if even more points are scored, which seems quite possible.

North Carolina State (6-2): The Wolfpack can still win the ACC after falling to Notre Dame 35-14 this weekend. That decision will take a large step in one direction or the other against Clemson on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). As a touchdown-underdog with an over/under of 51, North Carolina State surely wants to flip the tables on a 29-22 outcome.

Wake Forest sophomore receiver Greg Dortch will miss the rest of the season due to injury, an announcement made only days after Dortch repeatedly torched Louisville’s defense to spark the Deacons to a 42-32 victory Saturday. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)

Wake Forest (5-3): The Demon Deacons arrive in South Bend high from a 42-32 victory over Louisville. Depending on your view of the perceived success or failure of the Cardinals’ season, that win may not mean much, but no matter how it is viewed, Wake Forest beat one of the ACC’s recent powers, something it had not done since a 6-3 win in double overtime against Virginia Tech in 2014.

Senior quarterback John Wolford leaned on sophomore receiver Greg Dortch to keep pace with Louisville. Dortch finished with 167 yards and four touchdowns on 10 catches while Wolford threw for 461 yards and five scores on 28-of-34 passing, an average of 13.56 yards per attempt.

Dortch has since been ruled out for the season, a crucial loss for the Deacons as they head to Notre Dame as 13.5-point underdogs with a current over/under of 57. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC.) If anything, a 35-21 final would make Wake Forest the first Irish opponent to break 20 points this season. That seems unlikely.

Miami (FL) (7-0): The Hurricanes did not need another nail-biting finish, but they still got off to a slow start in slipping past North Carolina 24-19.

Miami will essentially play for its conference division title against Virginia Tech (8 p.m. ET, ABC). It should be a close one, which may play into the Hurricanes’ favor. They certainly are not fazed by a competitive fourth quarter, even if 2.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 50. A 27-24 conclusion would be worth watching before flipping over to USC and Arizona, even if the Hokies knock Miami from the ranks of the undefeated.

Navy (5-2): The Midshipmen exit their bye with a short week, heading to Temple on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Favored by eight, Navy should come out ahead in a 31-23 evening.

Stanford (6-2): Without junior running back Bryce Love (ankle), the Cardinal baaaaaaarely managed to get past Oregon State on Thursday, scoring a touchdown with 20 seconds left to win 15-14. The score came only thanks to a Beavers fumble to set up a short field.

Stanford will risk a five-game winning streak at Washington State as two-point underdogs (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX). A 55-point over/under creates a theoretical final of 28-27 in the Cougars favor.

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s defensive line, a returning strength

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Notre Dame returns eight of its top nine defensive linemen. Such a year-to-year retention is nearly beyond most possibilities, so it should not be understated how much that defensive line could determine any Irish success found in 2018.

Spring Roster:
— The theoretical starters: Rising junior Daelin Hayes at drop (pass-rushing) end, rising senior Jerry Tillery at three-technique (pass-rushing) tackle, fifth-year Jonathan Bonner at nose tackle and fifth-year Jay Hayes at strong-side (edge-setting) end.
— The likely second-unit: Rising junior Julian Okwara at drop end, rising sophomore Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa at three-tech, rising sophomore Kurt Hinish at nose and rising junior Khalid Kareem at strong-side end.
— The presumed third-stringers: Rising junior Ade Ogundeji at drop end, rising senior Micah Dew-Treadway at three-tech, rising sophomore Darnell Ewell at nose and rising sophomore Kofi Wardlow at strong-side end.

Summer Arrivals:
Incoming freshman Justin Ademilola at drop end, incoming freshman Jayson Ademilola at three-tech and incoming freshman Ja’Mion Franklin at nose tackle.

Kurt Hinish was not expected to contribute much his freshman season. The fact that he provided genuine interior depth only sets the table for further Irish success along the defensive line in 2018. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Depth Chart Possibilities:
A lot of cross-training has and will occur among the defensive linemen, so nailing any one player down to the above position is a fool’s errand. Jay Hayes will be ready to move inside against quicker and lighter opponents, just like Justin Ademilola will dabble a bit in strong-side development to keep future options available, simply as examples.

Nonetheless, the primary rotation should carry over from last year with the exception of flipping Tillery and Bonner to three-tech and nose, respectively. Entering 2017, Bonner was not a sure thing to withstand the physical duties of the nose position, hence the alignment then.

Daelin Hayes and Okwara will spell each other enough to be sure there is always a viable pass-rush threat on the field. Ogundeji could possibly further that rotation, but he did not see much action last year and would need to progress greatly to do so in 2018; that is as much a credit to Hayes and Okwara as it is a criticism of Ogundeji, if not even more of the former.

Jay Hayes will feature against run-dominant opponents and obvious running situations, while Kareem will offer a strong pass-rush from that side when needed. If another year under the tutelage of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis has furthered Kareem’s physicality, perhaps he will cut into Hayes’ snaps, but their frames alone emphasize the difference between the two. Last season, both were listed at or just shy of 6-foot-4, but Hayes carried an additional 24 pounds, 290 to 266.

Tagovailoa-Amosa and Hinish will keep Tillery and Bonner fresh, presumably even more so than last year.

Biggest Question:
That brings the defensive line conversation to Ewell. He arrived on campus much more-heralded as a recruit than either Tagovailoa-Amosa or Hinish, but the latter two were more college-ready. That is not inherently an indictment of Ewell’s recruiting rankings, based more so on future potential than immediate readiness.

Will a full year of collegiate coaching, not to mention strength and conditioning, have Ewell primed to live up to his recruiting hype?

He will not usurp any of the four already established in the middle. Tillery is the best current talent among the grouping and Bonner proved to be able to hold the point of attack in 2017. Tagovailoa-Amosa’s knack for finding the backfield was an unexpected strength, and the depth provided by Hinish is part of what helped Tillery finally shine and contributed, in part, to making Bonner’s breakthrough possible.

Nonetheless, Ewell could further that rotation, only freshening the legs available at the point of attack.

Defensive line depth cannot be emphasized enough, and if Ewell shows up ready and willing this spring, Notre Dame may be more ready in the middle than it has been in, hmmm, at least a long while. (Note to self: This could be a comparison to find an answer to.)

2017 Statistically Speaking:
Tillery: 56 tackles with nine for loss, including 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
D. Hayes: 30 tackles with 6.5 for loss, including three sacks and two fumbles recovered.
Bonner: 30 tackles with 3.5 for loss, including two sacks.
J. Hayes: 27 tackles with 3.5 for loss, including one sack with one fumble recovered.
Kareem: 21 tackles with 5.5 for loss, including three sacks and one fumble recovered.
Okwara: 17 tackles with 4.5 for loss, including 2.5 sacks and one interception along with one fumble forced.
Tagovailoa-Amosa: 12 tackles with 1.5 for loss.
Hinish: Eight tackles with 0.5 for loss.

2017 Stats Departed:
The point in this series is to look forward, but it bears noting just how little the Irish lost from the defensive line after 2017, a season in which the unit proved preseason expectations very wrong and became quite a strength. Of the contributing defensive linemen from the fall, only two are not expected to return in 2018:

Andrew Trumbetti: 28 tackles with four for loss, including 0.5 for loss.
Brandon Tiassum: Two tackles.

Notre Dame gets the letter: Jayson and Justin Ademilola
Notre Dame gets the letter: Ja’Mion Franklin

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are
Linebackers, a proven two and then many questions
Tight ends, a surplus of depth, unproven talent

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s tight ends, a surplus of depth, unproven talent

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Notre Dame has such tight end depth, it was somewhat surprising when the Irish pursued a second tight end in the class of 2018, but the possibilities of yet another playmaker in Tommy Tremble combined with a physical option in George Takacs forced the coaching staff’s decision.

“I always like to have that versatility each year and each signing class,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said Feb. 7. “… We don’t want to pass up on a great athlete … being able to present different challenges to the defense with those kind of guys and still be very physical at the same time.”

That is a key to remember when looking at the Irish tight ends — Long sees different purposes amid the individuals in that position’s meeting room. Tremble, for example, could line up as a receiver as often as not while Takacs might fill in as Durham Smythe most recently did, serving as an additional blocker when needed and offering sure hands otherwise. In many respects, the two roles are two different positions.

Spring Roster:
— Fifth-year Nic Weishar, who Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said had shoulder surgery recently, though Kelly did not offer a timetable for return.
— Rising senior Alizé Mack.
— Rising sophomore Cole Kmet, when he is not pitching in relief for the Irish baseball team. Kmet made his second appearance of the season Thursday night. A letdown (3.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 4 K), it did not go anywhere near as well as his debut did (4.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 3 K).

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— Rising sophomore Brock Wright, who underwent a shoulder surgery of his own shortly following the regular season. A recent photo (left) from the @NDFootball Twitter account indicates Wright is partaking in at least some winter conditioning drills.
— Early-enrolled freshman Takacs.

Summer Arrivals:
Incoming freshman Tremble.

Depth Chart Possibilities:
Long uses multiple tight ends, deploying both of those aforementioned archetypes at the same time. That tendency should be seen even more often in 2018 with more options now available. A full year in a collegiate program should have both Kmet and Wright ready for bigger roles, challenging Weishar for some of what were Smythe’s snaps in 2017.

The third tight end will see opportunities. It is essentially a second-string role. If granting the argument of two different forms of tight ends, then even the fourth tight end will get chances, as he will simply be the second-stringer in that particular role.

Kmet would seem the more likely of the rising sophomores to get a bit more time, but that only means Wright will see plenty of time in a blocking back role, just as he did in situational packages in 2017.

Biggest Question:
Kmet could find his way to a more prominent role if he offers something not yet seen from Mack: consistency not just on the field, but in all respects.

Can Mack finally translate his athleticism and potential into a consistent mismatch and productive threat? At his best, he could be the product of an offensive coordinator’s daydreams, but Mack has so rarely been at his best. That applies both on and off the field, considering his multiple drops in 2017 were followed by Kelly suspending Mack for an internal team matter for the Citrus Bowl before Notre Dame even headed down to Florida.

Another year of Mack spinning his wheels will result in a loss of playing time with the likes of Kmet and Tremble around. If Mack does not provide positive results in the spring while Kmet does, that shift could begin even before the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.

Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar will provide Notre Dame not only with depth and experience in 2018, but also sure hands. That alone should give him a leg up on the other tight ends entering this spring. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Pertinent Reader Question:
“Every year a four- or five-star disappoints and every year a three-star or lower prospect surprises. My prediction is fall: Mack, rise: Weishar. I have been the lone man on the Weishar bandwagon for a few years now and really hope that this year he becomes the big receiving target we need.

What are your fallers and risers for this coming year?” — Mark H.

A logical argument can be made that “fallers” should not be labeled as such until after their collegiate careers conclude. There are so many factors that can limit a player for years before he breaks out. Consider rising senior receiver and former consensus four-star prospect Miles Boykin. As recently as New Year’s Eve, he may have been labeled a bust, but now he can lay claim to one of the most dramatic catches in Irish history and is a frontrunner for a starting role in 2018 with another year of eligibility remaining after that. He could end up with a stellar collegiate career by every measure.

Mack has had the opportunity to shine to date, and he has not done so, but he also might have two more seasons to go to change that reputation.

As for “risers,” Weishar makes sense and he certainly showcased his strong hands when given the chance in 2017, but his ceiling is likely not much higher than that. A couple touchdown catches, a handful of third-down conversions and a year of physical blocking would be a welcome success.

Notre Dame’s safeties, though, could stand out to fit the criteria laid out by Mark. If — and that is a two-letter word not to be overlooked — Navy transfer and rising junior Alohi Gilman and rising sophomore Jordan Genmark-Heath end up as productive starters for the season, then they will both have exceeded the expectations set out by star ratings.

2017 Statistically Speaking:
Mack: 19 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by six receptions for 38 yards against North Carolina with rising junior quarterback Ian Book starting in place of an injured Brandon Wimbush.
Weishar: Nine catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
Kmet: Two catches for 14 yards; appeared in all 13 games.
Wright: Appeared in 11 games, no statistics recorded.

Notre Dame gets the letter: George Takacs
Notre Dame gets the letter: Tommy Tremble

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are
Linebackers, a proven two and then many questions

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s linebackers, a proven two and then many questions

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Any concerns about Notre Dame’s linebackers were allayed when Te’von Coney spurned the NFL to return for his senior season. That decision, and Drue Tranquill making the same move, means the Irish do not need to replace their two best playmakers at the position from last season.

Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Clark Lea does need to figure out how to fill in for the graduated Nyles Morgan and his 92 tackles, not to mention classmate Greer Martini and his 75, good for second and fourth on the team, respectively.

Spring Roster:
— Two known and welcome playmaking veterans in Coney and fifth-year Tranquill.
— More than a handful of unproven and untested possibilities in rising senior Asmar Bilal, rising juniors Jonathan Jones and Jamir Jones (no relation), and rising sophomores Drew White, David Adams and Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah.
— A trio of early-enrolled freshmen in Jack Lamb, Bo Bauer and Ovie Oghoufo.

Summer Arrivals:
Incoming freshman Shayne Simon, a likely rover candidate.

Entering 2017, Te’von Coney was not even a starting linebacker. By the end of the season he was the leading tackler, and in 2018, he will be counted on as a defensive stalwart. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Depth Chart Possibilities:
Wherever Tranquill ends up — be it at rover or a more traditional linebacker position, with the latter seeming more likely — someone will need to earn the third starting role. Bilal is the front-runner for that duty, at either position, but he will need to show a quicker understanding of the game than he has in the past.

The rising senior has always been ready physically, but he has looked up the depth chart at the likes of Morgan, Martini, Coney and Tranquill. Opportunities were not readily available. Now that one very much is, Bilal will need to either seize it or get ready to be bypassed by the newcomers.

It would be a surprise for Lamb or Bauer to be named that third starter in their freshman season, but both could certainly land in the two-deep, as that entire second unit is up for grabs. Neither Jones showed much last season, and the linebacker recruiting emphasis of 2018 belied the coaching staffs’ opinions of the rising sophomores pretty clearly.

Presuming Bilal steps forward and secures the starting position, and some combination of Jones, Jones, Lamb and Bauer fill two of the backup roles, only Owusu-Koromoah stands out as an obvious rover substitute. In that respect, depth remains a concern at the defense’s second level, albeit less of one than in years past thanks to the influx of four touted freshmen.

Biggest Question:
Where does Tranquill line up against Michigan on Sept. 1? More to the current purpose, where does he line up in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21?

“My responsibility as linebackers coach is to put the best combination of people on the field,” Lea said Feb. 7. “I think everyone can see Drue Tranquill had a skillset, a talent base that can play multiple spots. Through the course of the winter and spring, we’ll take a look at different options.”

The duties at rover can be handled piecemeal, accounting for the tendencies of each opponent. When facing an up-tempo, aerial attack, perhaps even rising senior cornerback Shaun Crawford could be featured there. When facing a physical, ground-bound opponent, Bilal would make more sense.

Shifting around like that at the Buck linebacker spot makes far less sense. While Tranquill never necessarily had the speed to excel at safety, and two knee injuries only further limited him in that respect, he shined at rover in 2017. Concluding his collegiate career at linebacker is logical, both as it pertains to his development thus far and to his professional aspirations.

2017 Statistically Speaking:
Rarely can a defense lose two of its top-four tacklers and still return more than 200 tackles from starting linebackers. Thus is the luxury provided by both Coney and Tranquill bypassing the NFL for another year.

Coney: 116 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss including three sacks, and one forced fumble which he recovered.
Tranquill: 85 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks, one interception, three pass breakups, three fumbles recovered and one fumble forced.
Bilal: 18 tackles with 1.5 for loss.
Jo. Jones: 10 tackles with one for loss and one pass breakup.
Ja. Jones: Four tackles.

A 2018 Statistical Thought:
Presuming linebacker health, the three starters should end up as Notre Dame’s leading tacklers once again in 2018, even with the presumed drop off from Morgan to insert Bilal or Owusu-Koromoah or Lamb or … here.

The Irish defensive line will be much improved in 2018. Once upon a time, that seemed a guarantee just because the expectations for the line entering 2017 were so low, but it instead became a strength. Developing that strength and making it the backbone of Notre Dame’s defense moving forward will serve to burgeon the linebackers’ tackle totals, both at and behind the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame gets the letter: Jack Lamb
Notre Dame gets the letter: Bo Bauer
Notre Dame gets the letter: Shayne Simon
Notre Dame gets the letter: Ovie Oghoufo

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are

A second four-star defensive lineman, Hunter Spears, joins the Notre Dame class of 2019

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When Notre Dame got five heralded defensive line recruits on campus together in January, it turned heads. When Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston offered public optimism about the possible 2019 commitments, it raised expectations.

Notre Dame has now secured a second of those five with the Tuesday commitment of consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse High School; Texas). He joins consensus four-star defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (South Warren H.S.; Bowling Green, Ky.) as the early foundation to the recruiting class, now with four prospects pledged.

“Honestly, just talking with the guys today — Jacob Lacey, Mazi Smith, Joseph Anderson, Nana Osafo-Mensah, and myself — if Notre Came can land all of us, that would be the dream d-line class for Notre Dame,” Spears told Irish Illustrated. “I could see another pass-rusher or two, also.”

The other three names Spears mentioned all joined Lacey and him on Jan. 27 at an on-campus Junior Day. All five qualify as consensus four-stars, with Smith (East Kentwood; Kentwood, Mich.) a tackle, Anderson (Siegel; Murfreesboro, Tenn.) an end, and Osafo-Mensah (Nolan Catholic; Fort Worth, Texas) a possible end/linebacker hybrid.

From left to right: Osafo-Mensah, Anderson, Elston, Smith, Lacey and Spears. (Twitter: @JacobLacey6)

Landing all five may be ambitious, but it would also be the envy of most of the country.

Spears already held offers from the likes of Alabama and Michigan State, despite missing his junior season with a knee injury. The Irish extended a scholarship offer to him in June, prompting an unofficial visit to watch a 49-14 Notre Dame victory over USC in October. In a video released by 247Sports.com, Spears cited that experience as one of the three primary reasons he committed, along with the educational opportunity and the “overall tradition and culture.”

Editor’s Note: That video has since been removed from this post due to its incessant auto-play function, but it can still be viewed here.

Spears shows quickness for a defensive lineman, but not such that he would ever be considered an outside linebacker in any form. His size makes him an ideal candidate to set the edge against the run or possibly move inside when the Irish need a quicker defensive line to handle certain opponents. His agility, though, will make him a three-down threat, both a pass-rusher and an edge-setter.

Notre Dame currently has depth at defensive end, but with only one signed in the class of 2018 (Justin Ademilola) and one remaining from the class of 2017 (Kofi Wardlow), an influx will be a priority this recruiting cycle. Spears will theoretically have one season to adjust to collegiate competition before the quartet of rising juniors Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji run out of eligibility. (The first three have two seasons remaining, while Ogundeji has the possibility of three more years.)

Hence, that Junior Day emphasis and Elston’s confidence on National Signing Day.

“I’ve been at Notre Dame now going on for nine years, and I haven’t had a stronger group of underclassmen that I’m recruiting than I have this year in 2019,” Elston said. “This could be the best defensive line haul we’ve ever had here.”

Expect to read that quote again and again (and possibly again) if any of the remaining three in the above photo follow Spears’ and Lacey’s lead.

RELATED READING: ‘Accelerated’ start creates bright outlook for Notre Dame’s 2019 recruiting cycle