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Friday at 4: The results of 40 Notre Dame preseason predictions

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Accountability is the backbone of credibility. With that in mind, let’s laugh at how many of this space’s 40 Notre Dame and Irish-adjacent preseason predictions were woefully misguided.

(Sure, the bowl game seems applicable to some of the season-long stat thoughts, but the vast majority of these watches are ended.)

1) The completed Campus Crossroads project will receive largely positive reviews.
RESULT: Let’s call it a hit. (1-for-1)

2) The completed Campus Crossroads project will be largely an afterthought by season’s end.
RESULT: Now this is certainly valid. (2-for-2)

3) The videos remembering the 1977 national championship team will be a worthwhile usage of the new video board above the south end zone, and a nice way to ease Irish fans into comfort with the board.
RESULT: It took until the USC game in mid-October, but this proved accurate. (3-for-3)

4) Fans will initially balk at pre- and post-game shows on the video board.
RESULT: No one ever seemed bothered by those, actually. (3-for-4)

5) Those shows will become background noise.
RESULT: Claiming this even if they essentially started as background noise. (4-5)

6) The Chicago Cubs will be on the road the night of the USC game, in game six of the National League Championship Series.
RESULT: Well, this would have been accurate if the Cubs had not lost in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. (4-6)

7) The Cubs will be knocked out of the playoffs by the time North Carolina State visits Notre Dame a week later.
RESULT: Nailed it. (5-7)

8) At least one junior will prematurely declare an intention to return for his senior year despite NFL Draft possibilities.
RESULT: Perhaps partly a result of receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and tight end Alizé Mack having underwhelming seasons, this never came close to happening. (5-8)

9) Senior left guard Quenton Nelson will not make that mistake.
RESULT: Not that it is in doubt — he’ll head to the NFL — but Nelson never stuck his foot in his mouth during the season. (6-9)

10) Miami will be a warm and high-scoring affair.
RESULT: Warm? Yes. High-scoring? For only one side. (6-10)

11) DeShone Kizer will throw more touchdowns than Malik Zaire will.
RESULT: Kizer’s five are a handful more than Zaire has managed. (7-11)

12) Kizer will lose more turnovers than Zaire will.
RESULT: Kizer has thrown 14 interceptions and lost seven fumbles. Zaire, largely due to hardly playing, threw only one interception and lost just one fumble this season. (8-12)

13) Sophomore Chase Claypool will lead the Irish in special teams tackles.
RESULT: Claypool finished the season with one tackle. Suffice it to say, this was inaccurate. Freshman Jordan Genmark-Heath made 11 tackles this year, all to memory on special teams. If he did not lead Notre Dame in that category, he was certainly among the top few. (8-13)

14) Claypool will have more receptions than tackles this year.
RESULT: He had 28 more, in fact. (9-14)

15) Junior kicker Justin Yoon will set the school record for field goal percentage.
RESULT: Entering the season, Yoon had to make 9-of-16 kicks to claim that mark, needing all 16 to reach the minimum requirement of 50.  Indeed, Yoon finished the season 12-of-16. (10-15)

16) Irish special teams will win at least one game.
RESULT: Nope. It could be argued they played a pretty pivotal role in the loss at Stanford, too. (10-16)

17) Fifth-year senior Cam Smith will have the second most catches for Notre Dame.
RESULT: Partly due to a hamstring injury, Smith made only eight catches in five games. Even if he had been healthy, though, it is unlikely he would have kept pace with Claypool’s 29. (10-17)

18) Mack will have the second-most receiving yards.
RESULT: Marking Mack down as a disappointment may seem harsh, but he certainly fell short of nearly all expectations, including this one. Mack finished with 166 yards, finishing fifth for the Irish. Claypool lands at second in this category, as well, with 402 yards, holding off sophomore Kevin Stepherson and his 359 yards in only eight games. (10-18)

19) St. Brown will lead Notre Dame in all three receiving categories.
RESULT: 31 catches, yes. 468 yards, yes. Four touchdowns, trails Stepherson by one. (10.67-19)

Josh Adams‘ season went better than any reasonable predictions could have ever expected. (Getty Images)

20) Sophomore running back Tony Jones will finish with the second-most rushing yards, behind only Adams.
RESULT: Jones finished fifth with 232 yards. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush finished second with 765. (10.67-20)

21) Adams will rush for between 1,174 and 1,274 yards.
RESULT: Sometimes, missing a prediction is not a bad thing, such as when Adams rushes for 1,386 yards. (10.67-21)

22) Junior running back Dexter Williams will finish with the fourth-most rushing yards.
RESULT: Nailed it, though sophomore Deon McIntosh finishing ahead of Williams was never a consideration. (11.67-22)

23) Wimbush will gain more yards on the ground than Williams.
RESULT: More than double, in fact, 765 to 324. (12.67-23)

24) The Irish will average between 34.9 and 36.4 points per game.
RESULT: With 424 points through 12 games, the current average is 35.33. Bullseye. (13.67-24)

Junior linebacker Te’von Coney’s surge this season was certainly appreciated by the Irish. He made 99 tackles through 12 games to lead Notre Dame. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

25) Senior linebacker Nyles Morgan will make the most tackles.
RESULT: Junior linebacker Te’von Coney’s emergence rendered this inaccurate. Coney finished with 99 tackles, compared to Morgan’s 83. (14.67-25)

26) Senior linebacker Drue Tranquill will make more big plays than Morgan while finishing second in tackles.
RESULT: Tranquill finished third in tackles with 74, but the spirit of this foresight was always about the big plays. Lazily leaning on statistics gives Tranquill the edge. (8.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups including one interception, three fumbles recovered, one fumble forced = 15.5 — Coney had 13 TFLs, one fumble recovered and one fumble forced = 15, but actually only 14 because those two fumble actions came on the same play.) (15.67-26)

27) The defense will total 25-29 sacks.
RESULT: A strong bowl game could tilt this, currently sitting at 22. Considering three would exceed the season average, however, let’s be strict and mark this as a miss. (15.67-27)

28) The defense will force 25-29 turnovers.
RESULT: Twenty may have dwarfed last year’s 14, but it still falls short of this projection. (15.67-28)

29) The defense will allow between 23.6 and 25.1 points per game.
RESULT: That preseason prediction also included the thought of, “The defense will not return to the 2013 level of allowing only 22.4 points per game …” Rather, it exceeded that level and allowed 21.83. (15.67-29)

30) Notre Dame will hit the over on a win total over/under mark of 8.5.
RESULT: Check. (16.67-30)

31) The Irish will finish the regular season with a win at Stanford.
RESULT: *crickets* (16.67-31)

32) Unders: South Carolina under 5 (finished with 8); Georgia Tech under 6 (finished with five); Wake Forest under 5.5 (7); Stanford under 9 (9), and LSU under 9 (9).
RESULT: One correct, two wrong, two pushes. That is a loss at any sportsbook. (16.67-32)

33) Overs: Ohio State over 10.5 (finished with 10); Rutgers over 3 (finished with 4); Arizona over 4.5 (finished with 7); Oregon over 7.5 (finished with 7), and North Carolina State over 7.5 (finished with 8).
RESULT: Going 3-2 would count as a win at any sportsbook. (17.67-33)

34) Notre Dame will beat Georgia to reach the top 25 for the first time.
RESULT: *The return of the crickets* (17.67-34)

35) Four Irish opponents will be ranked at the end of the year.
RESULT: Six currently are: Georgia, Miami, USC, Stanford, Michigan State and North Carolina State. One could argue the semantics of six being ranked means four are ranked. Let’s go with that. (18.67-35)

36) They will not be the same four ranked teams as the beginning of the year’s USC, Stanford Georgia and Miami.
RESULT: Such a line implies only four would be ranked. This is obviously not the case, and serves as grounds to remove the previously credited point in accuracy’s favor. (17.67-36)

The end of the season may have been a letdown, but Irish coach Brian Kelly actually met most logical preseason goals. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

37) Notre Dame will remain in the top 25 for the rest of the season.
RESULT: Once the Irish reached the rankings, they stayed there. Valid enough. (18.67-37)

38) Notre Dame will finish the regular season ranked between No. 13 and No. 18 in the polls.
RESULT: Presuming Wisconsin does not beat Ohio State 140-0 this weekend, this should land in the black side of the ledger. (19.67-38)

39) The Irish will play a bowl game in Orlando.
RESULT: Again, barring a Bucky beat down of the Buckeyes, one could have booked flight plans in August. (20.67-39)

40) At least 15 of these will be wrong.
RESULT: Well, that was obvious.

Final score: 21.67 for 40, or 54.17 percent.
Such a positive percentage would pay for at least a few drinks if properly-deployed. There are worse track records to have in this gambit.


To add one more piece of prognosticator’s applause, if anyone closely read each week’s look at opponents’ schedules, the reader may have noticed certain thoughts intermixed. Those thoughts finished the year 38-21. Now that would buy a few rounds.

Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Claypool injured & out; Kelly on Wimbush’s mechanics & mental makeup

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Notre Dame will be without sophomore receiver Chase Claypool in its Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl matchup with No. 17 LSU. Irish coach Brian Kelly announced Saturday that Claypool will have shoulder surgery this week to repair a joint injured in practice last week. Claypool should be fully recovered before spring practices commence.

“One of those unintended injuries in a one-on-one drill where he goes up for a ball and lands on his shoulder the wrong way,” Kelly said. “… If this happens in the middle of the season, he misses five, six, seven games. On the positive side, he misses one game and he’s back full strength going into the spring.”

For stretches of the regular season, Claypool was Notre Dame’s most-consistent receiver. He finishes 2017 with 29 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by his nine-catch, 180-yard, one-score performance against Wake Forest.

RELATED READING: Claypool’s drops perhaps a harbinger of Notre Dame success to come

Without Claypool, Kelly expects to move junior Equanimeous St. Brown into the field receiver role and utilize junior Miles Boykin more in St. Brown’s usual spot, the boundary receiver position. Sophomore Kevin Stepherson will certainly factor in more than Boykin in any two-receiver sets.

Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith is also back to full health after a hamstring issue hindered the end of his season.

On Wimbush, mechanics and mental makeup
Whoever the receiver(s), junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush will be the one looking for them. Wimbush struggled through most of 2017, but the final three games emphasized those difficulties. As the Irish finished the season 1-2, Wimbush completed 30-of-67 passes (44.78 percent) for 532 yards (177.33 yards per game) and five touchdowns with four interceptions.

Those struggles led Kelly to declare Wimbush his bowl game starter immediately after the season finale, a loss at Stanford. Kelly doubled down and then some on that sentiment Saturday.

“He struggled in the last couple of games throwing the football, but he has not struggled mentally at all,” Kelly said. “… His issues are mechanical issues. They’re not mental issues. He doesn’t have this weakness that is not allowing him to be the player that he can be.

“We need to fix some things in the offseason, mechanically, that will allow him to the throw the ball more consistently.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly insisted junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s struggles derive from mechanical issues, not any version of a mental block. “His traits, in terms of all the things a quarterback needs in terms of his makeup, he has those,” Kelly said. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Kelly credited Wimbush for trying to “fight” through these mechanical issues, but at times that may have led to overcompensating a la a golfer attempting to avoid a slice or a baseball batter trying to get ahead of a fastball.

Wimbush may be a junior, but this was his first year in the spotlight. That spotlight did not bring with it undue and mishandled pressure. Rather, it highlighted his deficiencies that are not as closely monitored when a third-string freshman or a scout team passer.

“We’re really talking about him being a first-time starter,” Kelly said. “Under that scrutiny, we’ve seen that there needs to be some corrections.

“Having said that, he found a way to get us to nine wins and put us in a position to get to 10.”

Avery & Alohi Ascending
Two reserves have caught Notre Dame’s attention in the earliest parts of bowl preparation, though one was drawing notice all season, as well. Through four practices, the Irish have knocked off the rust of a few weeks’ layoff and given the lower parts of the depth chart extended run. Freshman quarterback Avery Davis has stood out in those sessions.

“He’s efficient with the football, very strong runner,” Kelly said. “He’s an athlete that can impact each and every time he has the football in his hands. He’s difficult to defend.”

Sophomore safety and Navy transfer Alohi Gilman spent the season defending Wimbush, rather than Davis. Bound to the scout team when the NCAA denied his waiver for immediate eligibility, Gilman pushed the boundary as often as possible. Per Kelly, he would have started at safety for the Irish this year, no qualifiers or conditions applied.

RELATED READING: Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Backs

“He has a great combination of coverage skills at the safety position and the ability to come down and be a sure tackler,” Kelly said. “We really know what we’re going to get from him from what we’ve seen on a practice-to-practice basis.”

Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in November, the least of possible evils
Kelly initially offered the party line when asked about Notre Dame moving its mid-November matchup next year against Syracuse out east to Yankee Stadium in New York City. The remote “home” game will add theoretically-unnecessary travel and stress to an already daunting latter half of the schedule.

Kelly then acknowledged it may not be ideal, but made it clear the other options he was presented were distinctly less preferable.

Kelly said this was the only game in the home schedule with the ready ability to be moved, but knowing the Orange’s fast-paced, spread offense, he wanted to be sure the game was played outdoors. Also knowing there would be a trip out to USC just the following weekend, Kelly advocated for avoiding a late game. Indeed, the Syracuse tilt is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET.

“We wanted to try to make all these pieces work,” he said. “This seemed to be a good way to come about managing all those things.”

The one option clearly not on the table was not moving a home game at all.

Where Notre Dame was & is: Offensive Line

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Notre Dame’s offensive line was clearly going to be a strength entering the season. Before a single snap, two expected All-Americans were leading the way. Sure enough, senior left guard Quenton Nelson ended up a unanimous All-American while fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey secured consensus honors.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
The only question about the offensive line entering the season was who would take over at right tackle with senior Alex Bars moving inward to right guard. Counting Bars, the line returned four starters.

Presumably, sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg were the two involved in the right tackle competition. Through spring practice, Kraemer appeared to have an edge large enough to be considered the starter but not so large as to eradicate any further discussion in preseason practice.

Neither inspired an excess of confidence, such that offensive line coach Harry Hiestand would even acknowledge the possibility of Bars still being the best right tackle option on the roster. Hiestand was not considering moving Bars, though. The gap between Bars and anyone else at right guard was much greater than the discrepancy between Bars and Kramer (or Eichenberg).

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
Freshman Robert Hainsey forced his way into the right tackle competition at some point before the season. He did so to such an extent, Eichenberg was relegated to the nominal duty of backing up McGlinchey. How much work does that job not warrant? Eichenberg saw action in only five games, the streak of Irish routs running from the trip to Boston College through the thrashing of USC.

Kraemer and Hainsey shared the position all season, the latter showing adeptness in pass protection while the Kraemer’s strength came in the running game, although the two usually swapped playing time by the series, not by the situation.

Fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey’s final Irish season will be remembered as a year he established himself as the voice of the team while leading what could still be named the nation’s best offensive line. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The other 80 percent of the line held to summer’s expectations. Senior center Sam Mustipher’s season should be noted. While Nelson and McGlinchey earned the headlines and awards — and deservedly so — Mustipher quietly played nearly as well.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
The offensive line’s dominance this season best shows itself in the running statistics. When looking at sacks allowed, Notre Dame endured only three fewer than last year (25 compared to 28), somewhat a cost of trotting out a quarterback himself so inclined to run the ball.

2016: 2,123 yards on 410 carries (sacks adjusted); 176.9 yards per game and 5.18 yards per rush.
2017: 3,462 yards on 501 carries (sacks adjusted); 288.5 yards per game and 6.91 yards per rush.

COMING QUESTIONS
It is readily and widely assumed Nelson will head to the NFL while both Mustipher and Bars will return for their final seasons of eligibility. All three would be the logical decisions.

If that all proves true, the Irish essentially return four “starters.” Both Kraemer and Hainsey saw enough action this season to be considered starters for the intent of this and nearly any offseason conversation.

Before deciding on the fifth starter, Hiestand will need to decide what position that newcomer will slot into. One of Kraemer or Hainsey could move to left tackle or left guard. (Kraemer at left guard would make some sense.) Bars could move to left guard, leaving right guard open for, again, Kraemer or Hainsey. (Again, moving Kraemer to guard seems an inevitability in the next three years.) There could be a thought to moving both Kraemer and Hainsey to the left side and finding a new right tackle. (Want to guess who would be projected at left guard in that scenario?)

The only certainty: Mustipher will start at center, presuming he returns. For kicks and giggles, it could be speculated how much preseason hype Mustipher will get as the stalwart of a seemingly-unproven line. That s-adjective belies a trick question; this will not be as unproven a unit as it may appear on the surface.

Replacing Nelson’s and McGlinchey’s chemistry, physicality and maturity will not happen, but there is reason to think the drop-off may not be debilitating. Mustipher can provide the steadying force for Bars to reinforce. Another year in a collegiate program should only further Hainsey’s immediate progress. A hypothetical move to guard will fit Kraemer’s skillset more naturally.

That leaves that pesky fifth starter spot. It could go to a number of options, but the frontrunners will be a quartet of youngsters already in the weight room.

Obviously, Eichenberg will get his chance. Freshman Dillan Gibbons earned offensive scout team player of the year honors last week, often a precursor to first-team contributions in the near future. All the way back on National Signing Day, this space saw Gibbons as “a prototypical Harry Hiestand offensive guard.”

If neither Eichenberg nor Gibbons, the focus will turn to freshmen Joshua Lugg and Aaron Banks. The latter enrolled early as a highly-touted tackle, part of why Hainsey’s fall emergence came as such a surprise. If any freshman was to contribute along the line, it was always assumed it would be Banks. Lugg, meanwhile, measures 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds. He is a tackle in the making at some point in his Notre Dame career.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Special Teams
Where Notre Dame was & is: Receivers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends
Where Notre Dame was & is: Running Backs
Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Backs

Friday at 4: Bowl games are fun, but little else, even for Notre Dame vs. LSU

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Bowl games are [insert positive adjective here]. Make no mistake about that. They provide players and fans an excuse to head south in December, even if that destination is El Paso, Texas, or Birmingham, Ala. Warmer temperatures are always preferable. That’s science.

For those not making a trek to Shreveport, La., or Orlando, Fla., the 39 games sprinkled throughout 17 days provide a break from primetime reruns or, in the best of times, from mid-day office minutiae. Football is preferable to “Young Sheldon” or remembering to include the new cover sheet on the TPS report. Again, empirical evidence establishes this as a fact.

And for the grinding gambler, bowl games represent one last chance to exit the college football season with a net gain, furthering the dreams of continuing similar growth annually for two decades in order to secure retirement based off a hobby. On a smaller scale, bowl pools establish a chance for bragging rights, and little is better than holiday season bragging rights. That’s a bit shy of sound logic, but it is a reality, nonetheless.

All that acknowledged, bowl games should still not be factored much into long-term views, forward-looking or retrospective. They are the most uncertain of sporting events, having little attachment to either the season prior or the season eight months away.

When else does a team not play for a month on either side of a competition? There is a reason an answer is lacking. It’s an absurd practice. (Albeit, again, a delightful one. There are five games Saturday and only one of those 10 teams is from a Power Five conference, yet this scribe intends to watch each and every one of the five.) (Is that the first sign of a problem? Maybe, maybe not.)

Notre Dame finished 2017 with a 9-3 record and two losses in its final three games. Beating No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in the aforementioned Disney-based metropolis should not change the taste of that November letdown. At most, it can support an argument of the Irish simply being worn down by season’s end, but that would not change the fact of them indeed being worn down when it mattered.

When Notre Dame beat LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl, it did not change the tenor of the season, and it did not lead to 2015’s success. Rather, the following year’s breakthroughs came from surprises shown only after injuries. (Getty Images)

Losing to the Tigers is not a greater sign of a program stuck spinning its wheels in the winter’s snow. It is not an indication of failing to win a game when it matters. Notre Dame already went 2-3 in those big games this year. In retrospect, perhaps the victory at Michigan State should raise that record to 3-3, but a big game feels like one as it occurs, and that Saturday evening in September did not hold such weight.

A big game does not come five weeks following the last consequential contest. A big game has some tangible effect on games to come. Outside of the College Football Playoff, no bowl game claims either factor. They are simply enjoyable exhibitions.

Hence, the common practice for coaches with new jobs is to move on, apparently abandoning their team before the season is technically over. It is becomingly increasingly-normal for NFL Draft prospects to sit out bowl games, be it out of precaution or preemptive recovery. They have nothing to gain, no ring, no record, yet much to lose in an injury a la former Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl.

To pull from a comment shortly after Notre Dame fell to Miami, dashing any Playoff hopes, “I truly don’t get how you think wins over Navy and a pedestrian Stanford team carry more weight than a win over an Ohio St or TCU or Clemson in a major bowl game. Agree to disagree, I guess.”

A win at Stanford would have sent the Irish to a bowl game of greater note (likely the Fiesta Bowl, in the end), but that would not have been the reason it held consequence. Winning in-season, week-after-week, day-after-day becomes ingrained. A win Saturday creates momentum for a good practice on Tuesday, begetting a consistent showing Wednesday, which leads to attention to detail on Thursday. Before you know it, another weekend victory is in hand.

Concluding the season by knocking off the Cardinal would have set a standard of the revamped Irish being better than their most-similar foes.

Beating LSU will do little except provide fodder for both sides of the “Brian Kelly must go/stay” argument, an inane debate which will undoubtedly proceed unabated for an entire offseason when it should be recognized as utterly pointless absolutely no later than Jan. 9.

This memory should stick with the Irish throughout 2018’s first eight months, not whatever happens in Orlando. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Losing to LSU will not “fester over the winter,” to use another commenter’s worry. Losing to Stanford should. Getting embarrassed at Miami will.

If (when) Central Florida falls for the first time this year, how vocal will the sideways glances toward Scott Frost be, as the head coach splits his time between his new gig at Nebraska and his loyal charges in Orlando? They won’t be vocal at all. Frost delivered a 13-0 season. That is what will be remembered.

When Oregon blows past Boise State this weekend, will the Ducks take solace in thinking they could have challenged Stanford for the Pac-12 North Division if only their quarterback had stayed healthy? No, they will still look at the 7-5 season as the disappointment it was, not to mention they’ll be led by their newest head coach with Willie Taggart gone already in less than one calendar year.

When Arizona and Purdue combine for more than 65 points, will that be a sign their defenses need vast improvements in the offseason? No, the Wildcats giving up 34.1 yards per game already makes that pretty clear. The Boilermakers, contrarily, shouldn’t panic no matter the Foster Farms Bowl result. Head coach Jeff Brohm clearly has them trending in the right direction on both sides of the ball. In addition to a dynamic offense, Purdue gave up only 19.3 points per game this season.

Notre Dame very well may beat LSU. It certainly wants to. But that result will not reflect the 2017 season, and it will not be a catalyst into 2018. Let’s skip the argument of bowl victories set a foundation for success the following season. The data overwhelmingly says there is no distinct correlation to such thinking.

Rather, the Citrus Bowl will simply be a physical and entertaining game. On a day inevitably spent on the couch, likely horizontally, what more can genuinely be asked for?

Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Backs

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Notre Dame’s secondary presents one position of such strength it is continually pondered if raiding that depth could salvage the near-vacuum in the other half of the Irish defensive backfield. That was true before the season, and it remains the case now.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
A bounty of cornerbacks, led by sophomore Julian Love, provided some sense of comfort in the Irish defense’s back line. A finally-healthy junior Shaun Crawford could finally contribute as a nickelback, and senior Nick Watkins, largely thanks to his length, established himself as a starter during spring practice.

That marked three bona fide starters before even acknowledging the depth provided by sophomores Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride.

Then there were the safeties. Such confidence in the depth chart did not exist in the spring or at any point of the preseason. Junior Nick Coleman secured one safety spot in the spring, while sophomores Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill failed to separate from each other in the competition to line up alongside Coleman. To be clear, that was not a credit to both showing such great abilities.

When the NCAA denied sophomore Alohi Gilman’s waiver for immediate eligibility following his transfer from Navy, Elliott became the de facto starter.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
On paper, Love’s season was essentially unparalleled. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns and nearly managed a third. Rare can a coaching staff genuinely and reasonably discuss moving a position’s best player, but Love very well may be the best Irish safety, as well. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has admitted as much as a distinct possibility.

Junior cornerback Shaun Crawford did quite a bit of everything for Notre Dame in his first healthy season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

For now, though, Love remains at cornerback. Crawford complemented him excellently in a playmaking sense, forcing his impact upon the game even more than could have been anticipated, though it is logical to think finally seeing a season’s worth of action tired his legs by the end.

Watkins, meanwhile, put together a strong season until knee tendonitis limited him — and created an opportunity for Pride to prematurely insert himself into 2018’s conversations — in November. In the moment, Watkins seemed a weakness against Miami (OH) when RedHawks junior receiver James Gardner caught two touchdowns over Watkins. With time diminishing overreactions, Gardner’s success seems a credit to him (and his 6-foot-4 frame) more than a knock on Watkins.

For that matter, it may not have been a knock on Watkins at all. Let’s pull from the respective “Things We Learned”As much as one may want to see Watkins break each of those passes up, it could also be wondered why there was not a safety helping on the occasion. That latter position remains the biggest Irish concern, offensive or defensive.

That concern remains pressing. Coleman played alright, but did not necessarily excel. Any continuing debate between Elliott and Studstill persists yet out of lack of a strong impression. The rest of the Irish defense’s surge limited the dramatic effect of the positional need, but it cannot be denied, nonetheless.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
Opponents passed more often against Notre Dame this season than they did a year ago. It makes sense; the Irish led more often and for much of the year, led by large margins. Thus, the averages offer a better comparison between the autumns as a rough estimate of passing efficiency.

2016: 2,357 yards allowed on 193-of-313 passing; 61.66 percent completion rate; 7.53 yards per attempt; 12.21 yards per completion.
2017: 2,562 yards allowed on 233-of-412 passing; 56.55 percent completion rate; 6.22 yards per attempt; 11.00 yards per completion.

So. Julian Love — 62 tackles; three interceptions; 17 pass breakups.
Jr. Nick Coleman — 42 tackles; three pass breakups.
So. Jalen Elliott — 38 tackles; one pass breakup.
Jr. Shaun Crawford — 32 tackles; two interceptions, five pass breakups; two fumbles recovered; one fumble forced.
Sr. Nick Watkins — 27 tackles; one interception; eight pass breakups.
So. Troy Pride — 22 tackles; one interception; two pass breakups.
So. Devin Studstill — 16 tackles.
Fr. Isaiah Robertson — Eight tackles.
So. Donte Vaughn — Six tackles.

COMING QUESTIONS
Earning a nod as defensive scout team player of the year should speak to Gilman’s potential impact in 2018. By all indications, he was the best safety on the roster in 2017 with the arguable exception of Love. Will Gilman live up to this billing?

As it pertains to Love, the coaching staff should move him to safety only if the gap between him and the otherwise starter there is greater than the gap between Love and the next man up at cornerback, presumably Pride. (In this respect, compare it to senior Alex Bars lining up at right guard this season rather than right tackle, his previous position. He was the best option at right tackle, but the drop from Bars to sophomore Tommy Kraemer and freshman Robert Hainsey was minimal. The talent discrepancy between Bars and any other right guard option would have been much more drastic.) Is it in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s best interests to keep Love at cornerback or move the excellent defender to safety?

If it is not Love who provides a minimum of depth at safety, it could be a recruit. Consensus four-star Houston Griffith comes to mind not only due to his commitment this week, but also because he fits right into Notre Dame’s needs.

A similar thought applies to current freshman Isaiah Robertson. He saw special teams action this season. A full year readying in a college system could have him poised to contribute, be it in support of Coleman or in place of him.

OUTSIDE READING
ND Insider’s Eric Hansen put together a worthwhile read on Gilman following last week’s program awards: Full speed ahead? There’s no happy medium for Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Special Teams
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends
Where Notre Dame was & is: Running Backs