Author: Keith Arnold

Pete Lembo

Notre Dame, Ball State set to meet in 2018


It looks as if another piece of Notre Dame’s non-ACC football scheduling has come into place. Ball State has announced an agreement to play at Notre Dame Stadium in early September of 2018, likely locking in the Irish’s second opponent of the season.

The in-state battle will mark the first time the two schools have played each other in football.

“The opportunity to play one of the most storied programs in college football in a historic stadium will be very special for our student-athletes and everyone else associated with Ball State football,” Cardinals head coach Pete Lembo said in the release.

While the Irish’s ACC schedule is locked down through 2019, the non-conference pieces are still coming together. With Georgia on the slate in 2017 and 2019 and a rumored matchup in 2018 against Northwestern potentially lost in the ACC affiliation, some type of certainty—even years in advance—goes a long way.

Of course, not too many headlines are generated scheduling a game against a MAC opponent. Especially in the CFB Playoff era. But the relationships between Notre Dame’s athletic department and the leadership at Ball State likely made this an easy deal to finalize.

Former Irish deputy athletic director Bill Scholl is the AD at Ball State. (Correction: Scholl took over as AD at Marquette in January, Mark Sandy now has the job.) Former SID Brian Hardin is now a deputy athletic director in Muncie as well.

In addition to high-profile non-conference games against Texas (2015, 2016), Ohio State (2022, 2023) and Texas A&M (2024,25), the Irish have agreed to play Miami-Ohio in 2017, presumably reuniting the Irish with former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.



The road to a successful 2015 season is just getting started


After Notre Dame’s men won an improbable ACC basketball title, the team and their head coach did little to shy away from their difficulties in the NCAA tournament.

#NotDoneYet adorns every tweet coming from the team’s official account, and likely serves as a mantra for a team that’s shown flashes of brilliance during regular seasons past, but too often became pumpkins in mid-March.

Just as the basketball team goes back out on the highwire as a No.3 seed, Brian Kelly‘s football team is #JustGettingStarted.

With spring practice set to kickoff on Wednesday, and Kelly ready to give his spring state of the union address with the university back from spring break, the ground work has been laid for a 2015 season that will not shy away from hefty expectations.

At least 18 starters return on a football team that could welcome back 2013 star-in-the-making cornerback KeiVarae Russell and still-promising defensive end Ishaq Williams.

A quarterback depth chart that is about to kick off a high-profile competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire largely blinds us from the first dynamic 1-2 punch the Irish have had at the position in… decades?

Defensively, just about every piece of Brian VanGorder‘s unit returns. While standouts Joe Schmidt and Jarron Jones spend spring getting healthy, VanGorder and his rebuilt coaching staff have to prove they’re more like the attacking dominant group that helped the Irish race to a 6-0 start, not the injury-depleted lost cause that turned Northwestern into a winner in South Bend as it hemorrhaged points.

Outside of a restructured coaching staff, there isn’t an influx of new faces charged with changing the results. Frontline seniors like Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day need to be stars. Same the ascending juniors Will Fuller, Tarean Folston and Jaylon Smith.

While we focus on holes at safety or depth concerns at running back, Brian Kelly has built his strongest football team yet. Make no mistake, there hasn’t been a roster this talented in South Bend since Lou Holtz was running the show.

With a roster that still needs to find its way to 85 players, 15 spring practices will have an urgency we haven’t seen around the program since the dark days and skepticism before the 2012 season. Pushed forward by a singular leader like Manti Te’o, that team built itself through spring and summer workouts.

After falling apart at the seams last season—the 2014 team lost more games in November than Brian Kelly had in all his seasons in South Bend combined—success this fall begins with the work being done now.

So while Mike Brey and Co. are (hopefully) #NotDoneYet, the road to 2015 is #JustGettingStarted.



Notre Dame Mailbag: It’s all about the Quarterbacks

Everett Golson

One question, asked a half-dozen different ways. And it’s all about the quarterbacks.


cajunirish: EG is currently taking a needed scholarship and IMHO has been outplayed by MZ. What are the chances EG transfers and frees up that scholarship?

bxirish162: Considering ND’s wealth @ QB -Would ND be better off starting
Zaire and getting reps to other QBs behind him? Golson’s time seems to have passed via multiple causes but passed nevertheless.

irishkevy: All this talk about Malik Zaire as the full time starter at QB makes my head hurt. Say it ain’t so, Brian Kelly & staff have officially lost their mind(s). Please tell me I’m wrong here?!?! Gearing up for the most potential on an ND roster and they’re going to start a QB who’s furthest completion will be a 3 yard pass.

notrebob: Keith,I’m a firm believer in golson,and golson alone,he has to be the starter at least lead dog,without golson ND doesn’t beat LSU I am of the group who say if you have 2QBS you have none what sir say you.

@NastraDumas: Who do you think ND’s offense will be better off with under center this season?Golson or Zaire? Why?


While the search for new coaches took up most of February, it’s hard to think of anything over these next two months that’ll take up as much time as the quarterback race. In Golson and Zaire, Brian Kelly has two quarterbacks who have won football games. (In Zaire’s case, football game.)

In 2012, Golson was a risk-averse game manager who protected the football, extended plays with his legs and made a few key big plays as he led the Irish to an undefeated regular season. In 2014, he was one of college football’s best playmakers, but his propensity for turnovers made it impossible for the Irish offense to outscore opponents down the stretch and hold on to win football games.

The love and respect for Zaire comes from a few places. One, he’s the type of football player you can’t help but love to watch. Fearless as a runner, Zaire had no problem carrying the load against LSU. As a leader, his enthusiasm—whether down by multiple touchdowns to USC or flooded with emotions after a bowl victory—is exactly what you want from a quarterback.

It’s just too hard to know exactly what Notre Dame has in Zaire. But we do know that he’s capable of moving the Irish offense on the ground and showed a decent enough touch in his limited opportunities as a thrower.

From a leadership point of view, Golson never turned into the face of the offense. His quiet nature and reserved attitude hardly shout out leader or captain. That’s a real issue moving forward, especially with Zaire being such a natural. Then again, Dayne Crist had all the leadership skills you could ever want, but didn’t have the football acumen to match.

In a perfect world, both quarterbacks stay on campus. Both quarterbacks embrace competition, pushing each other to be better in 2015. And both quarterbacks get a chance to play, compete and help Notre Dame win. It worked for Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. It can work for Golson and Zaire.

Kelly’s reluctance to hand the offense over to Zaire last year says everything you need to know in his belief that he was prepared to lead the team to victory. That just as much on Zaire as it is on Kelly, with the Irish head coach doing what he believed best for the team.

But at the same time, allowing one player to make mistake after mistake without letting his backup get a shot makes little sense. Remember the punishment for Max Redfield? It lasted even after Austin Collinsworth and Drue Tranquill struggled to cover the ground they needed out of a free safety. That’s two sets of rules for two different positions. That’s not good for a football team.

Ultimately, there are just too many variables in this battle to feel like you can have a firm grasp on the situation. They’ll start over fresh with a new quarterback coach and offensive coordinator in Mike Sanford. They’ll be learning some new concepts and evaluated differently. They’ll also have a chance to put last season in the rearview mirror, a helpful exercise for both Golson and Zaire.

I still think Golson is the quarterback who can do the most for Brian Kelly’s offense. But I’m not sure Notre Dame is committed to running that offense anymore.

Not after seeing the Irish roll through LSU in the bowl game. Not after realizing the offensive line can dictate terms and a gameplan that isn’t 100 percent quarterback reliant can take college football’s ultimate prize.

So, in short, I have no idea what will happen.

But man, this sure will be interesting to watch.

Mailbag: Now Open

New Mailbox

Against my better judgment, let’s try this again. With spring practice beginning next week, let’s open up the mailbag.

Football questions welcomed. Brevity appreciated. Trolls ignored.

Drop them below or @KeithArnold.

Tracking fifth-year spots and the bumpy road to 85 scholarships

Jarrett Grace

With Notre Dame on break, the campus is quiet one week before spring practice gets started. But the work inside the Gug is still likely underway, with recruiting efforts for the 2016 cycle pushing forward and discussions about the 2015 roster taking center stage.

While Matt Hegarty’s transfer announcement was the first big move, there are other very difficult conversations likely happening in the near future. With the 24-man recruiting class set to hit campus this June—along with graduate transfer Avery Sebastian—we will get a closer look at how Brian Kelly plans on dealing with the very first roster crunch of his tenure in South Bend.

As we look at the fifth-year senior candidates, it’ll be very interesting how the Irish coaching staff—not to mention the players who will all likely have immediate transfer opportunities after earning their degrees in May—let this play out.

There’s a chance Notre Dame could have players practicing this spring that aren’t a part of the roster come summer and fall. And that’s before taking into consideration the very likely return of KeiVarae Russell and the intention of bringing back Ishaq Williams as well.

Here are the fifth-year candidates currently on the roster:

Josh Atkinson
Jalen Brown
Amir Carlisle
Ben Councell
Matthias Farley
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty (Kelly already announced)
Matt Hegarty (Hegarty announced intent to transfer)
Chase Hounshell
Nick Martin
Anthony Rabasa
Joe Schmidt
Ishaq Williams


Let’s make some assumptions:

We have seen the last of Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown. The veteran cornerback duo didn’t even travel to most away games last season and will be given every opportunity to catch on at a different program, but their time at Notre Dame is finished.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, you can make the same assumption for Chase Hounshell. Multiple shoulder injuries took Hounshell’s career off course, and he’ll likely have to go to a smaller school to find a home.

Anthony Rabasa played a small role on last year’s defense, serving as a pass rusher in a defense in desperate need. If I were managing the roster, I’m not sure there’s room for him as a player, though what he does off the field and in the locker room (things we don’t know) could be the bigger determining factor.

On the flip side of these decisions, starters Nick Martin and Joe Schmidt are locks to return. The same for Matthias Farley and Everett Golson, with Golson holding the eject button if he feels the quarterback job won’t be his. (I don’t see this happening.)

Jarrett Grace needs to be healthy. We’ve heard Kelly nearly will him back to health with his frequent updates, but after a catastrophic injury that stayed far more under the radar than it should have, Grace seems to be back to playing shape this spring.

If he can play, he’ll be back. If not, it’ll make for a very difficult loss to the team, even if his shoes have been filled capably by Joe Schmidt on the field.

Because Amir Carlisle started the season opener in 2013 at tailback and had a successful first season as a slot receiver, he’s a good bet to return in my mind. Again, more opinion more than confirmed truth, but Carlisle is a high-character kid who can play a position of need on the roster, making him valuable.

Ben Councell might be a different story. Recovering from an ACL injury suffered in 2013 wasn’t easy . He’s also a tough fit in Brian VanGorder’s defense. We heard early last season that Councell would be a versatile piece of the Irish defense. That didn’t happen. So if he doesn’t feel like he’ll have a large role in the defense—or doesn’t feel like he can compete because of the injuries that have piled up—Councell might be on the bubble.

As Pete Sampson reported a few weeks ago, Williams needs to reapply to the university. From there, it’ll be very interesting how it all shakes out, as numbers seem to be tight. But Williams is a veteran body up front, something we saw a need for last season.

Fun With Numbers

Let’s look at how the Irish will get to 85 scholarships by the fall:


24 incoming recruits
22 second-year players
22 third-year juniors
11 seniors
graduate transfer (Avery Sebastian)
re-enrollment (KeiVarae Russell)
12 remaining fifth-year candidates
92 scholarship players

We’ve already basically subtracted four or five members from the fifth-year group if we’re to believe our assumptions. So that makes the seven subtractions look much more manageable than two or three scholarships.

And this is when we get used to the law of averages. Last year, Nile Sykes never made it to the season. From the 2013 recruiting class, we never saw Eddie Vanderdoes in South Bend and Rashad Kinlaw was dismissed as well.

Attrition hit the 2012 recruiting class even harder. Gone are Justin Ferguson, Gunner Kiel, Will Mahone, Davonte Neal and Tee Shepard.

So before we sound the alarm, there’s likely a very strong grasp on what is going on inside this program when the staff decided to expand their signing class to 24, and very good reason why Kelly sounded bullish on accepting a few graduate transfers as well.

Notre Dame doesn’t officially recognize redshirts. One of the benefits of forcing students to earn a degree in four years before being accepted into the graduate program is that it allows both the coaching staff and student-athlete to have full flexibility.

So while it certainly makes for some uncertainty as we try our best to track the roster, after five years of program building, we’re finally experiencing the first champagne roster problem of the past decade.