Keith Arnold

Michigan v Notre Dame
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It’s official: Notre Dame-Michigan set for 2018, 2019

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Notre Dame and Michigan will resume their football rivalry, with games set for 2018 and 2019. The universities jointly announced the news, with the Irish hosting the Wolverines on September 1st to open the 2018 season and Notre Dame visiting Ann Arbor on October 26, 2019.

The two winningest programs in college football history will return to battle for the first time since Notre Dame’s 31-0 victory over Michigan in 2014.

“Today is a great day for Notre Dame, Michigan and college football fans across the country,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in the statement. “Shortly after Warde Manuel was hired as Michigan’s athletic director, he and I began working to make this renewal of the series possible. That we could get games on the schedule as soon as ’18 and ’19 required a lot of work by our staffs and some great cooperation by the Big Ten, ACC and other schools that were on our future schedules.

Manuel, a former Michigan football player who took over the athletic director job after a successful run at UConn released the following statement.

“This is a game that holds great significance for the student-athletes and coaches who compete on the field,” Manuel said. “A great deal of credit goes to Coach Harbaugh and Coach Kelly for initiating the discussion of scheduling this series. This rivalry is also important for the fans of both programs, and we look forward to renewing one of college football’s great rivalries.”

Both head coaches also expressed excitement about the addition of a high-profile matchup.

“I’m excited to see Notre Dame and Michigan, two brand-name programs, get back together on the football field,” Kelly said. “Both programs have a long and storied history of success. We’re talking about the two winningest programs in all of college football.

“We’ve wanted to make this happen for quite some time. We wouldn’t be able to make today’s announcement without the work from Jack (Swarbrick) and other members of our administration. This is a win for everyone involved, not just those at either institution, but both fan bases and fans across the entire college football landscape.”

Harbaugh was credited with the following statement.

“The competition between Michigan and Notre Dame has created a fair, healthy and productive rivalry over time, and it brings out the best in both programs,” Harbaugh said. “We look forward to facing Coach Brian Kelly and the Irish in the coming years.”

The contract is a two-game agreement. Both Swarbrick and Manuel will get to work finding a practical solution to keep the rivalry going, while also balancing their other scheduling commitments.

 

Report: Notre Dame-Michigan game could return in 2018

Michigan v Notre Dame
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The series that everyone wants could be back sooner than expected. There’s a report (or tweet) from Sports Illustrated’s Ryan Krasnoo that Michigan and Notre Dame are set to announce the return of their football rivalry, with a date set for 2018.

 

Here are the 140 characters that got everybody excited.

Both Brian Kelly and Jim Harbaugh have been on the record about wanted to get the game back on the schedule. So has Notre Dame’s athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who infamously delivered written notice to former Michigan AD Dave Brandon about the halting of the two schools’ rolling contract, a necessity at the time with Notre Dame’s ACC commitment.

Brandon’s handling of the situation—he claimed to be blindsided—led to some friction between the two athletic departments. But Brandon’s removal from the post, and the subsequent hiring of Warde Manuel, has certainly thawed any iciness.

The need for both programs to add high-profile opponents certainly doesn’t hurt, either. To fit the game into the schedule, Krasnoo reports that Michigan is cutting a game against Arkansas, reportedly willing to eat the $2 million cancellation fee.

There’s no word on the location of the match-up, nor the resumption of a series. Jack Swarbrick has talked publicly about the return of the Shamrock Series in 2018 and also of aspirations of playing an international game in the near future. A season opener against Michigan could be a perfect opportunity.

Irish A-to-Z: Torii Hunter Jr.

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)
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Whether by default or not, Notre Dame’s undeniable No. 1 receiver entering fall camp is Torii Hunter Jr. The rising senior, healthy after injuries and primed for a breakout with a depth-chart evacuation, is now centerstage after fighting for snaps the past two seasons.

What that means remains to be seen. Most have Hunter pegged for a monster season. One listen to Brian Kelly or his offensive assistants, and you’ll likely feel the same way. Hunter has the speed to get deep, the moves to play in the slot, and the football IQ and feel for the game that made him an emergency defensive back last season.

But it’s still just a projection. His days of moonlighting are over—not just at defensive back, but on the baseball diamond at Eck Stadium. Because 2016 is about Hunter elevating his profile on the football field. He’s one of the keys to a big Notre Dame season.

 

TORII HUNTER JR.
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Senior, No. 16, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American. The MVP of The Opening. Hunter chose Notre Dame in September, picking the Irish over Arizona, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

A U.S. Army-All American, Hunter broke his femur during practice the week of the game, costing him an entire season as his rehab suffered a few false starts.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action, recovering from injury suffered at U.S. Army All-American game.

Sophomore Season (2014): Named Notre Dame’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Played in 10 games, missing the opening three due to a groin injury. Had seven catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, scoring against Syracuse.

Junior Season (2015): Made 28 catches for 363 yards, scoring two touchdowns. Also carried the ball five times for a total 16 yards. Completed one of three passing attempts.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Seems pretty close, though I undersold him. I still had Prosise as a part-time slot receiver and Corey Robinson as a healthy and productive receiving option.

I’m high on Hunter, though I still put his ceiling at 20 catches. In reality, unless the Irish are an insanely productive offense, I’m just struggling to find the footballs to make Hunter happy, especially when he’s probably the fifth-best option as a pass catcher.

(That’s no insult, Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and C.J. Prosise are all really good players.)

A redshirt season was a great thing for him. He’s basically a sophomore at this point, meaning there’s plenty of time for him to work his way up a depth chart that is pretty top-heavy right now.

We’ve heard about Hunter’s ability to make plays in space and be a versatile receiver. And he’s got the versatility to play inside and out, something that always helps when you’re looking for ways to get a player noticed.

New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will likely see some of the same things this August that had Kelly and Mike Denbrock excited. It’d be even better if we saw those things happen on Saturdays this fall, instead of making most of his noise on the practice field.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

There’s nobody in the way of Hunter maximizing his potential now. Combine his experience and knowledge of the offense with a fleet of young and still-learning receivers and every arrow points to a big season.

Still, some of the same challenges confront Hunter that we mentioned for Corey Holmes. Namely size and speed—a lack of size combined with very good (but not elite) speed. Again, Will Fuller can get away with being small because he’s one of the fastest football players on the planet. We’ll see if Hunter has that same ability sooner than later.

I’m not down on Hunter’s ceiling—in fact, I think he’s probably the skill player with the best chance of being named the team’s offensive player of the year (non-QB edition). But it’ll require Hunter’s explosiveness to take a jump forward, because it’s not enough to just be reliable and versatile in this offense.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Hunter is Notre Dame’s best bet at a 1,000 yard receiver this year. But he’ll need to prove that he’s capable of making the big play, because he’s not going to get there averaging just 13 yards a catch (he’d need 77 catches at that pace).

He showed flashes of that ability—especially getting downfield in the Blue-Gold game—this spring. And without Will Fuller to take those deep ball targets, Hunter’s speed and hands are a nice option at the X, especially if Corey Holmes is going to spend some time on the inside.

Hunter’s versatility makes him a key piece of the offensive puzzle. But after listening to Kelly this spring, it sure sounds like this is a coaching staff that wants to find a determined role for Hunter, if only to give him the opportunity to thrive.

Hunter has a fifth year of eligibility available. But Kelly made it seem as if that fifth-year might not be needed before heading to the next level. If that’s the case, expect a big season from the new No. 1.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes

 

Kizer and Zaire both land on Maxwell watch list

DeShone Kizer, Ejuan Price
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Whoever wins Notre Dame’s starting quarterback job will have lofty expectations. Both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire landed on the Maxwell Award’s preseason watch list, awarded annually to the country’s best college football player.

The preseason release of watch lists has become a season onto itself. While it’s certainly a nice feather in the cap during early July, simply being a name on a list that seemingly expands each year takes away some luster from the acknowledgement. That being said, the inclusion of two Notre Dame quarterbacks among the 90 candidates nationally to be mentioned is noteworthy.

A total of 37 signal-callers earned mention, including Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and former Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel. The Irish will face off against Maxwell Award watch-listers including Stanford’s Christian McCaffery, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, as well as Nevada running back James Butler, USC teammates Ronald Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Duke QB Thomas Sirk and Virginia Tech receiver Isaiah Ford.

Kizer completed 211 of his 335 passing attempts last season, throwing for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He also ran for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns. In two starts before an injury, Zaire completed 26 of 40 throws for four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for 103 yards on 19 carries.

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Senior defensive lineman Isaac Rochell was one of 90 names on the Bednarik Award watch list, awarded annually to the nation’s top defensive player. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o won the Bednarik Award after the 2012 season.

Kelly (finally) reveals complex play-calling system

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Who called plays last year for Notre Dame? Brian Kelly finally expanded on a subject that he didn’t much want to tackle last season.

Talking with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, Kelly talked about the three-headed system that included not just the head coach’s voice, but Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford.

(There’s plenty more to dig into from the interview, a snippet from the annual preview magazine the Trib releases every summer.)

Here’s Kelly’s explanation on his play-calling system, where he acknowledged that Denbrock is the actual voice calling the plays.

“You have to understand the way I wanted it set up this year. We pretty much had openers, down-and-distance calls that Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford shared during the week.

“In other words, they crafted and scripted the offense together. I would get asked all the time, ‘Who’s calling the plays?’ They’re really talking on every play.

“And I put Mike Sanford in the box, up top, because he could be the eyes for Mike Denbrock on every down. And they shared in that responsibility. But in actuality giving the play out, Mike Denbrock was giving every single play out.

“Yet if you took Sanford out of the mix, it would be a different dynamic. And if you took Denbrock out of the mix, it would be a different dynamic. I couldn’t tell you who would be calling the plays if they weren’t working together.

“There has to be both of those guys working together, but Mike Denbrock was physically calling the plays.”

There’s been reporting all the way back to the bowl victory over LSU that Denbrock had been the team’s play-caller. But as we see in this explanation, it’s a distinction that probably carries more weight among fans and reporters than it does inside the football program.

While most of us aren’t lip-readers, Kelly also seems very involved with the mechanism of signaling in the play call—from head coach to red army to quarterback. With three voices involved in a constant offensive dialogue—Sanford from the press box and Kelly and Denbrock from the sideline—there’s a balance that the Irish staff clearly got right in this process, a credit to the working relationship (and trust) involved in a coaching structure that had many people wondering if there were too many cooks in the kitchen.