Keith Arnold

McGlinchey

Counting Down the Irish: 2016’s Top Five

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We’ve reached the top of the roster on Brian Kelly’s seventh team. And while it is no match for last season’s star-studded top five, this group has a chance to put together a tremendous season—and all but one of them have a season (or more) of eligibility remaining.

That’s the rub with this football team. As Brian Kelly explained in his introductory remarks heading into training camp, there’s no shortage of talent on this roster, but they’ll need to grow up quickly and prove that they can do the ordinary things right.

While the top of the heap had some consensus, there were still some wildly different evaluations out there. And you can validate any opinion at this point, just because the top three players on this list all have just one year of starting experience.

Young teams can certainly win football games. But they’ll need to come together quickly. As we move beyond prognosticating, it’ll be interesting to see if this roster—and the panel’s selections— plays to our expectation or if they can exceed it.

 

2016 Irish Top 25 Rankings
25. Equanimeous St. Brown (WR, Soph.)
24. Durham Smythe (TE, Sr.
23. Justin Yoon, (K, Soph.)
22. Tyler Newsome (P, Jr.)
21. Daniel Cage (DT, Jr.)
20. Sam Mustipher (C, Jr.)
19. Jerry Tillery (DT, Soph.)
18. Max Redfield (S, Sr.)
17. CJ Sanders (WR, Soph.)
16. Drue Tranquill (S, Jr.)
15. James Onwualu (OLB, Sr.)

14. Alex Bars (RT, Jr.)
13. Alizé Jones (TE, Soph.)
12. Shaun Crawford (DB, Soph.)
11. Nyles Morgan (LB, Jr.)
10. Tarean Folston (RB, Sr.)
9. Jarron Jones (DT, GS)
8. Josh Adams (RB, Soph.)
7. Cole Luke (CB, Sr.)
6. Malik Zaire (QB, Sr.)

 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Torii Hunter Jr. #16 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass and is tackled by Avery Williams #2 of the Temple Owls on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

5. Torii Hunter Jr. (WR, Senior): The only regular returning to the receiving corps, Hunter will be the primary target for Notre Dame’s still-to-be-determined starting quarterback. A smooth athlete with better than advertised speed, Hunter has taken his time developing in the program, with injuries setting him back in two different seasons.

With his baseball career on hold for the time being, Hunter is all about football. And he’ll have every chance to be force-fed the ball this season, with the receiving corps as top heavy as we’ve seen it, especially when it comes to experience.

Hunter isn’t Michael Floyd, Will Fuller or Golden Tate. But he could be senior-season TJ Jones, a versatile playmaker who can bounce around the field and do a little bit of everything. That seems to be the bar we’ve set with Hunter in the top five, mostly based on reputation and a strong spring.

Highest Rank: 3rd. Lowest Rank: 10th.

 

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell

4. Isaac Rochell (DE, Senior): One of the ironmen of the roster, Rochell led the defensive line in snaps and put together a rock-solid junior season at strong side defensive end. Entering his final year of eligibility, Rochell is healthy and capable of playing just about anywhere, a candidate to move both inside and out.

Rochell has ascended into Sheldon Day’s leadership role, a likely captain as the 2016 squad evolves. If he’s able to turn in Day’s performance wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage, the Irish have an intriguing NFL prospect who could have a long football career ahead of him.

A stout run defender who will be difficult to move off the point of attack, Rochell needs to improve as a pass rusher, finding a way to impact the game by getting to the quarterback. If he can add that element to his repertoire, he could have a special season.

Highest Rank: 2nd. Lowest Rank: 11th.

 

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)

3. Quenton Nelson (LG, Junior): In just 11 starters, Quenton Nelson has established himself as one of college football’s top guards. A big, strong and long player, Nelson’s got the physical gifts of a tackle and the nasty demeanor of a lineman built for the inside of the trenches.

One of the most powerful run blockers in the country, Nelson will only improve in all facets of the game as he enters his second season in the starting lineup. Lined up next to Mike McGlinchey, the duo might be one of the most physically imposing in all of college football—650 pounds of granite that should protect quarterbacks and power the ground game.

Highest Rank: 2nd. Lowest Rank: 7th.

 

DeShoneKizer

2. DeShone Kizer (QB, Junior): It’s staggering to think that at this time last season, not a single vote was cast for DeShone Kizer. (A sampling of those that received votes: Incoming transfer Avery Sebastian, Nick Watkins, true freshman Justin Yoon and redshirt Jay Hayes.)

What a difference a year makes. Kizer very nearly topped our list, the smallest variance of any player in the eyes of the panel.

Kizer does everything a quarterback should do in a Brian Kelly offense—and has a few other traits that feel like the cherry on top. With the size of a prototype NFL player and the skills of a zone-read runner, Kizer’s offseason was likely spent preparing for a camp competition with Malik Zaire that both players think they’ll win.

At his best, Kizer has the upside of an NFL starter. And with another season under his belt, there’s only room for improvement after seeing and doing things for the very first time in 2015. Two of Notre Dame’s best players are quarterbacks. It’s a tough problem to have, but one every coach would kill for.

Highest Rank: 1st. Lowest Rank: 4th.

 

McGlinchey

1. Mike McGlinchey (LT, Senior): After producing two-straight first round left tackles, the Irish have a third in McGlinchey. While he’s only a second-year starter, McGlinchey came into the preseason viewed as one of college football’s premier talents, understandable when you dig deeper into his performance last season—not to mention just look at him.

McGlinchey was born to be an offensive tackle, and physically he might be the most gifted we’ve seen in recent years. While he’ll be seeing and doing things for the first time, he’s talented enough to use his extraordinary physical gifts to dominate— long arms, quick feet, and great strength, all in a body that could dominate on the basketball court.

Passed the leadership baton from Martin to Martin, McGlinchey is a near lock to be a team captain. And he has a fifth year of eligibility remaining.

Highest Rank: 1st. Lowest Rank: 13th.

 

***

Our 2016 Irish Top 25 panel:
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Eric Murtaugh, 18 Stripes
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John VannieNDNation
Joshua Vowles, One Foot Down
John Walters, Newsweek 

Mailbag: Adios Alizé, Return of the Max, and more

Alize Jones getty
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Our unusually quiet offseason came to a screeching halt yesterday as Notre Dame announced the loss of Alizé Jones for the season due to academics.

With that warm and fuzzy note, let’s get to the mailbag:

I’m of two minds on this one. The loss of Jones is a big one, no doubt. But I don’t think it’s up there with the Frozen Five or Golson.

For as talented as Jones could be, he had 13 catches for 190 yards last season. That’s not All-American stuff right there, but he certainly isn’t some irreplaceable piece of the puzzle—frankly, I think he’s only an incremental loss, considering some of the young talent like Javon McKinley, Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin.

Of course, a week earlier I ranked him the 13th best player on my roster. I did that begrudgingly, trying to project someone to step forward as a pass catcher other than Torii Hunter. (I didn’t feel safe ranking a freshman there.) So yeah, it stinks. But I’m already on the “Next Man In” train.

 

cfarri84: Who do you think is the most under the radar member of each position group? …Just wanted to know which individual in each position group you think will be that kind of an under the radar talent that we don’t see as being a big deal now, but will probably wow us by seasons end.

I love terms like this because I essentially get to make up the rules of what they mean. Here goes nothing:

QB: There isn’t an under the radar QB at ND, but I think we’ll hear more from Malik Zaire than we expected. (Not sure how that’ll happen yet, but that’s my hunch.)

RB: Tarean Folston. You’ll remember why he was No. 1 last year.

TE: Durham Smythe, come on down!

OL: First-year starter… (flipping coin) …Sam Mustipher!

DL: Daelin or Jay Hayes. (No relation)

LB: Greer Martini

DB: Cole Luke — he’s going to have a big year.

 

mattymill: Rarely do we see a player who didn’t contribute at all in their 1st 2 yrs actually turn into an impact player in yrs 3-5. Best example would be Jeff Samardzija. Do you have anyone in mind on current roster who you feel could be a big contributor starting this year — could be RS Soph or true Jr.

Here are the true juniors or redshirt sophomores that I have ranked in my Top 25:

Alex Bars, Daniel Cage, DeShone Kizer, Greer Martini, Nyles Morgan, Quenton Nelson, Tyler Newsome, Drue Tranquill and  Nick Watkins.

I legitimately think everyone of those guys could have a very big season—and they’d all be considered “breakouts” minus Kizer. We’re not going to have another Samardzija—a guy who goes from a bench warmer to an All-American, at least not without another regime change. But those are the guys I think you can peg as candidates. (And maybe throw Corey Holmes in there, too, especially if he becomes deep threat guy with that breakaway speed.)

 

danirish: Do we finally see the “Real” Max Redfield?

What makes you think that we haven’t seen him yet? I’m just hoping we see the “Best” Max Redfield this season. That’d make me happy.

 

Don’t think it’ll matter, but I’ve seen weirder things. I still think he’s a depth chart piece, but that’s a solid prediction. Tell you after we hear from BK.

 

jmset3: If we could personify beer, which beer would you marry? Which beer would you kill? Finally, which beer would you spend a crazy night in Vegas with, then hope you never have to talk about that beer again, it’s memory stashed away in the deepest darkest depths of your brain?

This game isn’t for the kiddies, but I did think it was fun enough to answer. If I’m looking to marry a beer, I’ll go with Budweiser. Criminally underrated from a taste/price perspective. Give the ol’ America a shot again if you haven’t done so lately. You won’t be disappointed.

If I’m killing a beer, I’d like to erase Miller Lite from the planet. Unless it’s in a tailgate/binge situation, there’s really no good reason to drink this stuff.

A crazy night in Vegas? (Those don’t exist for me anymore.) If I’m treating myself to something a little nutty, I’ll go with a Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin.

 

newmexicoirish: it was revealed last year that offensive play calling was done through a coaching triumvirate. Do you see that being reduced to a single coach this season, or do you think there is even a need for it? 

Why change something that clearly worked?

***

For more on Alizé Jones’ suspension, Notre Dame’s new media agreement with Bleacher Report, and a whole bunch of other stuff, give our latest episode of Blown Coverage a listen. 

Counting Down the Irish: 10-6

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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We enter the top ten in the middle of an eventful 24 hours that saw Notre Dame lose tight end Alizé Jones for the season, gain another 2018 recruit, and announce a social media partnership with Bleacher Report that’ll give Irish fans another inside look at the program. And Brian Kelly still hasn’t had his introductory fall press conference.

But as we get to the top of this list, the strength of this team continues to emerge. Four talented skill players and a gigantic defensive tackle who could all be among the best in the country.

What this panel still isn’t sure of is how to balance the considerable talent Brian Kelly has stockpiled. Last year’s opening day starters at running back and quarterback are now listed below their injury replacements. Their awards candidates at cornerback and nose guard return with lower expectations than we had for them last year.

Let’s get into our Top 10.

 

2016 Irish Top 25 Rankings: 
25. Equanimeous St. Brown (WR, Soph.)
24. Durham Smythe (TE, Sr.
23. Justin Yoon, (K, Soph.)
22. Tyler Newsome (P, Jr.)
21. Daniel Cage (DT, Jr.)
20. Sam Mustipher (C, Jr.)
19. Jerry Tillery (DT, Soph.)
18. Max Redfield (S, Sr.)
17. CJ Sanders (WR, Soph.)
16. Drue Tranquill (S, Jr.)
15. James Onwualu (OLB, Sr.)

14. Alex Bars (RT, Jr.)
13. Alizé Jones (TE, Soph.)
12. Shaun Crawford (DB, Soph.)
11. Nyles Morgan (LB, Jr.)

 

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

10. Tarean Folston (RB, Senior): Folston might not even be in South Bend had 2015 gone according to plan. With C.J. Prosise exploding onto the scene and going in the third round and Josh Adams establishing a school record for a freshman running back, you’ve got to wonder what Folston would’ve done had he not gone down with a season-ending knee injury on just his third carry.

Notre Dame’s most talented and well-rounded back, we’ve yet to see if Folston is back at 100 percent. We’ll also see if he’s still the team’s preferred ball carrier, with Adams a bigger home run threat with breakaway speed that Folston just doesn’t have.

Still, Folston is a pure talent. He’s excellent in space, reading blocks and catching passes. There’s no reason not to believe he won’t step right back into the action, capable of a huge season if healthy and given the opportunity. This ranking might be too low.

Highest Ranking: 6th. Lowest Ranking: 16th.

North Carolina v Notre Dame

9. Jarron Jones (DT, Grad Student): Jones’ senior season was derailed before it ever started, another returner to the roster who likely would’ve been in the NFL had he not gone down with an August knee injury. That’s given the Irish one of college football’s most dominant interior players—when Jones is motivated and healthy.

The Syracuse native was already battling a lisfranc injury that made it tough to return to full speed even before his MCL injury last August. And after being cautious with the injury this spring, Jones will be asked to go full out, even if he’s on a pitch count. Brian Kelly hopes a 35- to 40-play limit will keep Jones fresh.

Tasked with wreaking havoc in the trenches and keeping offensive linemen off of Nyles Morgan, Jones has All-American ability if he can harness it.

Highest Ranking: 2nd. Lowest Ranking: 16th.

 

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 14: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes for a 98-yard touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on November 14, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

8. Josh Adams (RB, Sophomore): Expected to do little more than redshirt last season, Josh Adams’ record-breaking campaign leaves many wondering just how impressive the encore can be. With power and size—not to mention incredible long speed—Adams is the perfect Brian Kelly recruit, a three-star prospect that the staff stayed on even through a major knee injury.

He’s already surpassed Tarean Folston in the eyes of this panel. While seniority might rule when it comes to the starting lineup, expect both backs to get plenty of carries, with each having the chance to put together a very big season.

Highest Ranking: 4th. Lowest Ranking: 10th.

 

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 08: Cornerback Cole Luke #36 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Fighting Irish 55-31. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

7. Cole Luke (CB, Senior): After a mostly anonymous junior season, Luke enters 2016 possibly underrated at the national level. Luke’s exceptional sophomore campaign saw him lock up some of the nation’s best receivers. With KeiVarae Russell gone and no experience at the other cornerback spot, it’ll be up to Luke to repeat that performance, not the so-so junior year.

A talented cover cornerback with good ball skills, Luke will likely handle the job of covering an opponents No. 1 receiver. If he can find a way to impact the game and make more big plays, the Irish defense has a chance to improve, even after saying goodbye to some elite talent.

Highest Ranking: 3rd. Lowest Ranking: 19th.

 

Malik Zaire

6. Malik Zaire (QB, Senior): Our panel clearly respects Zaire and views him as one of the team’s top players. But he’s No. 2 behind DeShone Kizer, who ranks inside the team’s Top Five. Start Kizer? Start Zaire? Play them both? Let’s just say they don’t pay us enough to make that decision.

Zaire’s entering his fourth season in South Bend and has only made an impact in four games over that period. Still, he’s done just that in every chance he’s been given, a standout against USC after taking over for Everett Golson, an emotional win over LSU in the bowl game, near perfection against Texas and then a nice performance before ending his season with an ankle injury against Virginia.

Entering a training camp battle that not many expect him to win, Zaire’s a key part of this Irish football team, with a still to be determined role.

Highest Ranking: 3rd. Lowest Ranking 11th.

Bleacher Report partnership gives fans another inside look at Notre Dame football

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly speaks during media day for the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Notre Dame plays Ohio State on New Year's Day. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Apparently it was a little bit too quiet around the Notre Dame football offices this summer.

A year after having their every move documented by Showtime’s army of filmmakers for the heralded “A Season With” series, the Irish are opening their doors to a slightly younger, hipper audience.

Notre Dame announced a social media partnership with Bleacher Report on Thursday, believed to be the the first of its kind. B/R will have a team embedded in South Bend, producing a wide array of social media—all to be distributed across the wide variety of outlets on both Notre Dame and B/R’s different social platforms.

“Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly have been forward thinkers the past few years. They’re just continuing to push the envelope on what a college football program can become,” Bleacher Report co-founder and CEO Dave Finocchio told me Wednesday. “It’s a huge honor that we get to be a part of the next step in their evolution.”

Viewed as a pilot program, the joint venture allows B/R exclusive access to Notre Dame’s football team—telling a variety of stories that’ll be jointly distributed through Notre Dame’s social media platforms as well as Bleacher Report’s Team Stream app and widely-followed accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Bleacher Report reports more engagement across those three platforms than any other publisher in the U.S.

That reach was one of the many things that appealed to Notre Dame’s head football coach.

“It’s accessibility. Showtime certainly from a production standpoint, and what they put on television is an incredible product, but this reaches so many more people,” Kelly said Thursday. “And our fanbase is so linked in to following us on a day to day basis, this gives them that daily dose of Notre Dame football.”

The content, distributed in a variety of shapes and sizes, will have less of a long-form, narrative focus than last season’s Showtime series. It’ll also capitalize on B/R’s success at connecting with a younger generation of sports fan, something that helps the Irish football program tell their story—to fans and recruits alike.

“We just had this hunch that the way the players’ generation of sports fans sees the game of football, and sports in general, is really different than how their parents and grandparents see sports,” Finocchio said. “We’re trying to create sports video content and experiences for sports fans that do justice to the way they see sports.”

Kelly thinks it’s a partnership that won’t just come in handy with B/R’s younger demographic, but from the traditional segment (don’t you dare call them parents or grandparents) of Irish fans who are spending more and more of their time consuming the internet on their cell phones.

“More people that I run into are starting to understand how easy it is to stay connected to Notre Dame football through their phone,” Kelly said. “Bleacher Report can reach that so called ‘older generation’ through their phone, and by doing so they’ve reached an audience that may not have gotten on their computer, but are now following even moreso on their phone.

The partnership came from a series of conversations, some between Finocchio—a Notre Dame grad—and athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The head of Irish athletics had seen B/R’s handiwork producing Daelin Hayes’s “Dark Knight” inspired commitment video, and that started the wheels turning.

That social media is a focus for the Irish football program should be no surprise. Notre Dame has ramped up the team’s presence across a variety of platforms, connecting with recruits and fans through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and every other place you can think of. And bringing in Bleacher Report fits the vision of Swarbrick’s athletic department, another key partnership to go along with relationships with Under Armour and NBC.

“We’re covering all the mediums that are important to keeping your brand out there amongst all of the people that it matters to,” Kelly said. “With Bleacher Report and the credibility they have with millions of followers, it’s another great partnership that Notre Dame has entered into and I think that we continue to look for those partnerships.”

For Finocchio and the Bleacher Report team, the work begins now. With a production team settling in to follow the Irish’s every move, they’ll begin chronicling this Notre Dame season in a way we’ve never seen.

“We’re really going to be in the business of celebrating the moments of what matter most during the season, whether they happen on game days or on the practice field,” Finocchio said, before allowing himself a moment to hint at the fandom he developed as a student living in Alumni Hall.

“We want people to feel as emotionally invested in the good things that happen as possible. And also hopefully the team has 80-percent less injuries this year than last year.”

 

Irish get commitment from 2018 linebacker Matthew Bauer

Matt Bauer 247
Tom Loy / Irish247
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Notre Dame’s recruiting machine keeps rolling along. The Irish’s most recent pick up is another elite 2018 recruit, Pennsylvania linebacker Matthew “Bo” Bauer, who announced his commitment via social media on Wednesday afternoon.

At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Bauer is a prototype middle linebacker who camped in South Bend at the Irish Invasion. He’s entering his junior season at Cathedral Prep in Erie where he made 104 tackles last season as a sophomore.

Bauer spoke with the South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James to break down the decision.

“Everything about it is just so great,” Bauer told the Tribune. “Between the academics, the athletics, the social life of the campus and the alumni base, you can’t get much better than it. It’s perfect for me. It was just a great fit.”

The fit works both ways. With Notre Dame needing to reload at linebacker, the Irish will have a strong incoming group these next two recruiting cycles, hitting on David Adams, Drew White and Pete Werner in the 2017 cycle and landing linebackers Ovie Oghoufo and Justin Ademilola already for 2018. Bauer looks and plays like a middle linebacker, a key piece of the puzzle in Brian VanGorder’s defense.

Notre Dame’s dominance in the Keystone State continues. Three recruits in the 2017 class hail from Pennsylvania. There’s two more in 2018—all hold offers from Penn State.

Bauer is a long way from the college game, but his highlight reel shows a young player who is already clearly dominant at the high school level. And once the Irish staff made a formal offer, Bauer jumped on it—closing his recruitment in his latest visit to South Bend.

Bauer’s already a two-year starter at Cathedral Prep. He’ll have a chance to spend four seasons in the starting lineup. He chose the Irish over Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Michigan State and a handful of others.