The catchphrase was simple, hence the noun in the first place. “Super Bowl Sunday, No School Monday.” It was always more a wish than a reality, but then the Wisconsin weather gods offered up an ice day in 2007 — joy met the negative-16 degrees temperatures, though the negative-25 degrees wind chill was less of a delight.
Just like we did not want to be in pre-calculus that morning, no one wants to be at work today, less so than a usual Monday.
Let’s keep this space devoid of any heavy-lifting, as well.
Two dates to remember The first is obvious: Wednesday is National Signing Day, when Notre Dame will add at least three recruits to the class of 2018, and possibly a few more. This will be the largest class in Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure, about to encompass its ninth signing day.
Typically, commitments will not be announced in the 48 hours leading up to signing day. If a player waited this long, he will stall for a few more days and enjoy the shine provided by signing his National Letter of Intent at the same time as making the announcement.
Notre Dame also officially announced the date of the annual Blue-Gold Game, concluding spring practices. The entire spring schedule is not out yet, but expect those 15 sessions to commence in early to mid-March.
Mark your calendar — @NDFootball's #BlueGoldGame is coming! Don't miss your ☝️st chance to catch the Irish in spring football! 🏈
🗓 Saturday, April 21 📍 Notre Dame Stadium ⏰ 12:30 p.m. ET 📺 @NBCSN
A few words from Clark Lea The new Irish defensive coordinator shared his view of his promotion with John Heisler, the senior associate athletic director overseeing the media relations department. An interesting and quick read, Heisler tells the story of Lea learning he got the gig via a phone call with Kelly.
More pertinently, Lea points out what he felt was his greatest selling point.
“There was no need for an operations manual because of that continuity,” Lea said. “The organizational structure here was not going to change with me. In that spirit, I didn’t need to put anything on paper.”
Lea has focused on relaying that same message to his players, including junior linebacker Te’von Coney and junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, both of whom spurned the NFL draft for one more season at Notre Dame.
“What I’ve said to ever player I’ve talked to is this: ‘We’re going to go out and build on what we’ve started,’” Lea said.
The nature of football
The below tweet stood out in the hours after Sunday’s Super Bowl. While the degree to which it was true with the Irish this past fall was far less extreme than either of the examples given, it was still a key point to Notre Dame’s season.
Notre Dame’s roster fared better than was anticipated when it came to players entering the NFL draft with remaining collegiate eligibility. Left guard Quenton Nelson was always expected to take the leap, as any possible top-five pick should. Running back Josh Adams may have considered returning to the Irish, but logic sent him to the pros, as well. Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown long seemed to be leaning that way.
Those were not surprises.
Getting both linebacker Te’von Coney and Jerry Tillery to return was a bit of a shock, and a welcome one for head coach Brian Kelly and his staff.
Of Notre Dame’s 2018 opponents, a few saw top-flight talent depart. Their coaches had assuredly hoped, with varying degrees of reasonability, such players would stay. These losses lower a team’s ceiling, but it does not necessarily spell trouble. USC will not altogether mind quarterback Sam Darnold hearing his name called early in the first round if incoming freshman — and reclassified recruit, at that, having actually been only a junior in high school this fall — J.T. Daniels proves to be the better coming of Matt Barkley.
Speaking of the Trojans, they lead a listing ordered by obvious impact lost:
USC: Not much more really needs to be said about Darnold. His 2017 was filled with stellar comebacks necessitated by poor decisions.
— Receiver Deontay Burnett: With 86 catches for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017, it made sense for Burnett to test the next level. Eight of those catches went for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Irish. He had 56 catches for 622 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.
— Running back Ronald Jones: Finishing his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 39 career rushing touchdowns, Jones proved plenty at the college level. Notre Dame bottled him up this October, but he gashed the defense for 134 yards and a score on only 16 carries in 2016.
— Defensive end Rasheem Green: His final season with the Trojans featured 12.5 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks, amid 43 tackles.
Stanford: The Cardinal lost the core of its defense, but the early departure cost could have been much worse. Junior running back Bryce Love returned for another season, waiting until after the declaration deadline to make his decision public.
Honored to be a Cardinal and to play for this University another year! Back to work
— Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips: Rarely does a defensive tackle lead his team in tackles, and rarely does a defensive tackle total more than 100 tackles. Phillips led the Cardinal with 103 tackles including 17 tackles for loss with 7.5 sacks. Stanford genuinely loses a force with his exit.
— Safety Justin Reid: Only Phillips made more tackles for the Cardinal than Reid’s 99. He added five interceptions and six more pass breakups. Against the Irish in November, Reid managed nine tackles, one sack and one pass breakup.
— Cornerback Quenton Meeks: Stanford lost its fifth-leading tackler, as well, with Meeks taking his 65 tackles away, along with two interceptions and eight pass breakups.
— Tight end Dalton Schultz: He could be a physical presence in the NFL, although he also displayed strong hands throughout his career, finishing 2017 with 22 catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
Florida State: The Seminoles may have had a disappointing season, but there was still plenty of talent on the roster. The defense, especially, held up its end of the bargain. Some of that left, but keep the talent pool in mind when Florida State is undoubtedly hyped in August.
— Safety Derwin James: The Seminoles’ No. 2 tackler with 84, including 5.5 for loss, James also tallied two interceptions with 11 pass breakups.
— Defensive end Josh Sweat: Trailing James, Sweat made 56 tackles, highlighted by 12.5 for loss with 5.5 sacks, adding 3 pass breakups to the slate.
— Defensive end Jalen Wilkerson: Only 19 tackles may not jump off the page, but six of them were for loss.
— Cornerback Tarvarus McFadden: Providing strong coverage no matter whom Florida State faced, McFadden complemented 30 tackles with 10 pass breakups.
— Receiver Auden Tate: At 6-foot-5, Tate turned a quarter of his 40 catches into touchdowns. His 548 receiving yards were second on the team.
— Tight end Ryan Izzo: His 20 catches were not necessarily that many, but Izzo’s 317 receiving yards and three touchdowns were each third on the team.
Virginia Tech: If noticing an imbalance tilted toward defensive players heading to the NFL throughout this list, that reflects football as a whole. The League is willing to invest in defenders. Most offensive playmakers are seen as a bit more replaceable. On the college level, the best defenses carry teams to the College Football Playoff (see: Clemson), thus getting those individual stars more attention and raising their draft prospects.
— Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds: The Hokies’ leading tackler with 109, Edmunds also managed 14 for loss while notching 5.5 sacks.
— Safety Terrell Edmunds: Virginia Tech’s No. 5 tackler with 59, Edmunds added two interceptions and four pass breakups.
— Defensive tackle Tim Settle: 36 tackles with 12.5 for loss and four sacks this year.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers have made a habit of tripping up a top-ranked team each fall. Losing three contributors will not help that cause, but head coach Pat Narduzzi will certainly have Pittsburgh ready to go Oct. 13.
— Offensive tackle Brian O’Neill: After starting 13 games at right tackle a year ago, O’Neill moved to left tackle with little trouble in making 12 starts this season.
— Safety Jordan Whitehead: The Panthers’ No. 3 tackler, Whitehead added four pass breakups and an interception to his 60 tackles.
— Receiver Quadree Henderson: Only 17 catches for 186 yards is hardly something to speak of, but Henderson did return two punts for touchdowns this season and averaged 20.96 yards per kick return.
Wake Forest: Wherever safety Jessie Bates goes in the draft, Irish fans should take note. His development under former Demon Deacons and then Notre Dame and now Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko was exceptional. Elko may be gone, but his scheme remains. Any version of such development at safety could be the final piece to the Irish defense in the fall.
Healthy throughout 2016, Bates made 100 tackles with seven for loss and picked off five passes. Injuries slowed him toward the end of 2017.
Michigan: None of the other 2018 opponents had players head to the NFL before they had to, but it warrants mentioning the Wolverines didn’t in part because they had 11 drafted in 2017.
Notre Dame releases 2018 home schedule, includes trip to Yankee Stadium
Notre Dame will return to Yankee Stadium next season. Considering that will be the 27th Irish trip the Bronx, it is not that much of an outlier. The schedule of kickoffs at Notre Dame Stadium, however, does break from the norm with two an hour earlier than usual and three under the lights.
The Irish will host Syracuse on Nov. 17 in a return of the Shamrock Series at Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame most recently visited the venue in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl, a victory over Rutgers, and in a 2010 win against Army, also a Shamrock Series occasion.
That game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. By not being a primetime game, as has usually been the case with the home-away-from-home contests, it allows NBC to pick up a third primetime game at Notre Dame Stadium. The contract between the school and the network allows for five night games in every two-year window. With no Shamrock Series game this past season and subsequently only two night games, that leaves three chances for 2018.
Sept. 1 — v. Michigan — 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
Sept. 8 — v. Ball State — 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
Sept. 15 — v. Vanderbilt — 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Sept. 29 —v. Stanford —7:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Oct. 13 — v. Pitt — 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Nov. 10 — v. Florida State — 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
Nov. 17 — v. Syracuse at Yankee Stadium — 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
With only one true home game following the Oct. 20 bye week, Notre Dame may once again be exposing itself to the tires of travel down the homestretch.
Notre Dame also released its 2019 and 2020 schedules, which to this memory, had not yet been seen in final form, though still without broadcast times.
Sept. 2, Monday, Labor Day — at Louisville
Sept. 14 — v. New Mexico
Sept. 21 — at Georgia
Sept. 28 — v. Virginia
Oct. 5 — v. Bowling Green
Oct. 12 — v. USC
Oct. 26 — at Michigan
Nov. 2 — Virginia Tech
Nov. 9 — at Duke
Nov. 16 — v. Navy
Nov. 23 — v. Boston College
Nov. 30 — at Stanford
Sept. 5 — v. Navy in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Sept. 12 — v. Arkansas
Sept. 19 — v. Western Michigan
Sept. 26 — at Wake Forest in Charlotte, N.C.
Oct. 3 — v. Wisconsin in Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Oct. 10 — v. Stanford
Oct. 17 — at Pittsburgh
Oct. 31 — v. Duke
Nov. 7 — v. Clemson
Nov. 14 — at Georgia Tech
Nov. 21 — v. Louisville
Nov. 28 — at USC
Monday’s Leftovers: Brian Kelly on Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, facing LSU, & the early signing period
The second half of Notre Dame’s schedule finished the season with a 51-22 overall record and featured four ranked opponents, not to mention an under-the-radar Wake Forest team and Navy’s triple-option attack. For six consecutive weeks, the Irish had another distinct challenge awaiting them every Saturday.
Thus, the month-plus off between last week’s loss at Stanford and the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 against No. 17 LSU is a welcome reprieve for No. 14 Notre Dame.
“We probably got a little tired at the end with the six weeks in a row of really tough, quality competition,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “It was a long year for our football team, starting back in January.”
Kelly then clarified he was not referring to a physical exhaustion. The diminished November should not be tied to a new strength and conditioning regimen. Rather, Notre Dame tired in a less tangible manner.
“There were no questions about where we were physically as a football team,” Kelly said. “Emotionally and mentally, we had a long year.
“I remember addressing the team the Monday of the Stanford week with so much on the line — a 10th win and a New Year’s Six [bowl game] — and it looked like they were in biology class. They were staring at me like, really? There was no juice, there was no excitement. They were tired mentally.”
As he has for much of the year, Kelly put the onus on himself. While recruiting over the last week, he said he spent much of the travel downtime pondering how to lighten that load and pace better in 2018.
Some of the weariness was indeed physical. Kelly acknowledged junior running back Josh Adams will “benefit greatly” from the layoff before facing an opposing defense again.
The Irish will fit in 15 practices preparing for the bowl game, beginning this weekend before sending the team home for three full days at Christmas. Notre Dame will then reconvene in Orlando, Fla, on Dec. 26. Allowing the team time at home for the holiday is arguably the greatest perk of landing in the New Year’s Day game rather than the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28.
“It’s great that we can get some work in here, then get a break for our players during Christmas so they can spend Christmas home with the family and then meet back up at the bowl site,” Kelly said. “Playing on New Year’s Day is really good for our football team.”
— Of course, facing the No. 17 team in the country is a stiff yet welcome challenge. While this is hardly the same version of LSU that the Irish faced in the 2014 Music City Bowl (a 31-28 Notre Dame victory), Kelly sees one key aspect of the Tigers program that has not changed.
“There’s a lot of similarities in terms of the body types that they bring to the table, but the schemes are a little bit different,” Kelly said, then noting offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, both widely-respected in the coaching ranks. “What Dave does on defense is different, and then certainly what Matt does, he has kind of opened up the offense a little bit.
“More schematically, they are a little bit different, but the kind of athlete LSU is attracting, still great players on both sides of the ball.”
— Senior captain and linebacker Drue Tranquill echoed Kelly’s comments regarding mental fatigue, citing last season’s 4-8 debacle as having a tangible effect in its own way.
“Any way you dice it up, it was a long season,” Tranquill said. “Having not gone to a bowl the season before, you start your preparation for the next season earlier, and we got after it in winter conditioning and spring ball and fall camp and into this season.”
To hear Tranquill describe “knowing the stakes of each game” in the second half of the season, one might wonder if a loss in mid-October may have allowed Notre Dame to play looser in November. Obviously, that is nothing but ponderings unless there really are infinite universes with each and every possible permutation of existence occurring within one of them.
— Kelly declined to name which players requested feedback from the NFL regarding their draft status, but Tranquill said he was among the group. The feedback usually comes in shortly before the bowl game.
“What I can get better on, what they perceive as my strengths or weaknesses,” Tranquill said he hopes to learn. “… I don’t know that [it] necessarily will [affect his decision]. Obviously it’s feedback and you’ll take all the feedback you can get.”
To anyone skeptical of Tranquill’s chances in the Draft, there may be a point, but it should be remembered this is a player who has suffered two major knee injuries in his career. If he has a chance at an NFL career, he should not put it off for a year, especially not when he will already have an engineering degree in hand.
— A change to bowl preparations this year, the Irish coaching staff has to focus on recruiting even more in December than ever before thanks to the first early signing period, held Dec. 20-22. Notre Dame’s coaches have always spent the week immediate after the season making in-home visits. That may be more of an emphasis over the next three weeks, as well. That should, theoretically, allow for a more proactive January.
“It’s busier now,” Kelly said. “What it will do is it will allow us to focus on [current high school juniors] a little bit more in January than we’ve had in the past.
“We expect, if our players are committed, they’ll sign in December. If they’re not committed, they won’t … which frees up that time I’m normally on the road in January chasing these guys down for a February signing to really focus on [next year’s class], then the remaining spots that we have left.”
— Kelly indicated if one of the 18 current Irish commits were to not sign in December, he would see it as a sign the player needs more wooing.
Long-time commitment and consensus four-star running back Markese Stepp(Cathedral High School; Indianapolis) came to that decision even earlier, announcing he was reopening his recruitment over the weekend.
Notre Dame still has consensus three-star running back Jahmir Smith (Lee County H.S.; Sanford, N.C.) in the class, not to mention a well-stocked depth chart already on campus.
— This is perhaps a thought to be explored further following the season, taking into consideration where teams land in the final AP or Coaches’ polls, but with LSU becoming the seventh currently-ranked opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule, it seems safe to presume it has been some time since the slate featured so many, including three currently in the top 10.
Notre Dame’s best-case and worst-case CFP scenarios
A poll the eve of November does hardly a national champion crown.
It does, however, create a prism through which to view the rest of the season. Notre Dame’s No. 3 ranking in the initial College Football Playoff selection committee poll released Tuesday night puts the Irish in a good position. It is certainly preferable to Clemson’s slot at No. 4, and the peace of mind chasm between No. 3 and No. 5 is akin to the gap between Notre Dame and its last six opponents.
The sky-is-falling view — the one coming in just a few paragraphs — should not change that. Oklahoma fans are wracking their minds with fret today. If the Sooners win the Big 12, could that really not be enough to get into the Playoff? What if they shut out Oklahoma State twice? Would that mean more than the Irish beating up to three Power Five conference champions? That can’t be right. What if it is right? Oh!klahoma.
There is no need for Notre Dame fans to worry that much, but there may be reason for them to worry, nonetheless, even with an 11-1 finish. Call it the looming Sooner situation.
First, a best-case scenario for the Irish moving forward through the next five poll updates. This may seem a bit outlandish. That is the point of the exercise, to establish the extremes and acknowledge their results.
There is a universe, and it may be this one, where No. 14 Auburn beats No. 1 Georgia on Nov. 11 and No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 25. Both games are at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Don’t for a moment think beating the Bulldogs and the Tide in the span of three weeks is beyond the realm of possibility. From there, the Tigers proceed to the SEC Championship game and knock off Georgia once more.
Meanwhile, No. 17 USC and No. 21 Stanford sweep their remaining conference schedules out west to meet for the Pac 12 title. No. 24 Michigan State upsets No. 7 Penn State, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Wisconsin to claim the Big 10 championship. No. 20 North Carolina State upsets No. 4 Clemson this weekend, as does No. 10 Miami to No. 13 Virginia Tech, and the Wolfpack and the Hurricanes meet for the ACC crown.
Suddenly, Notre Dame will have beaten the winners of three different Power Five conferences and seen the two teams ahead of it in the current poll fold at the next sign of genuine competition. The Irish would finish the season the top-ranked team in the country.
No one of those results would be terribly shocking. If all 10 came to be, that would be a version of chaos few would embrace, but Notre Dame surely would relish. The only remaining question would be, if the Irish can choose, do they prefer to head to the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl for their semifinal. The committee attempts to send the No. 1 team to the location that would better resemble home-field advantage. Considering this lunacy would likely result in both Iron Bowl participants landing in the Playoff along with either the ACC’s victor or the Big 12’s, it may make the most sense to send Notre Dame to the Rose Bowl.
The Irish in the country’s most stunning football stadium on New Year’s Day as the top-ranked favorite? Yes, that would qualify as a best-case scenario for Brian Kelly and his charges.
Now, the worst-case scenario, the looming Sooner situation.
Oklahoma will have up to three more ripe chances to impress the committee, at No. 11 Oklahoma State on Saturday, vs. No. 8 TCU the following week and then a date with one of those two, or perhaps No. 15 Iowa State, in the Big 12 championship game.
If Oklahoma won all those games, it would be able to claim four of the more notable wins of the season, especially if Ohio State runs the Big 10 table, including a win over the Spartans.
If Michigan State lost to the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions these next two weeks, a three-game losing streak might become four games against Maryland on Nov. 18.
USC very well might fall to Khalil Tate and Arizona this weekend, giving the Trojans a third loss on the season and the Pac 12 South division to the Wildcats. Stanford has to travel to No. 25 Washington State on Saturday before hosting No. 12 Washington next Friday. That combination could be a recipe to drop the Cardinal to 6-4.
North Carolina State follows this weekend’s date with Clemson by traveling to Boston College and then Wake Forest, two of the ACC’s upstarts. Losing two of those three would begin to diminish the luster of Notre Dame’s 35-14 victory over the Wolfpack just this past weekend. While discussing the ACC, Miami has barely scraped by to get to 7-0. Even just two blemishes to the Hokies and the Irish would render the Hurricanes’ first two months a sham in most eyes.
In this scenario, Notre Dame could finish the year 11-1 but be able to claim only one or two top-25 wins, likely a fallen USC and a stumbling Miami. Oklahoma would boast of the aforementioned four. Clemson would cite a win over Auburn, two wins over Virginia Tech and maybe finishing the regular season over South Carolina could have weight by then. The Gamecocks should finish 8-4 with neither great wins nor bad losses.
Would it be a sure thing both the Sooners and the Tigers would jump the Irish in the committee’s eyes? Absolutely not. It would certainly be reasonable, though. Those 13 dominos are unlikely to all fall, but they could. They most definitely could. The toughest to believe among them is Maryland beating Michigan State, and that is also the least vital to this sequence of events.
Claiming Notre Dame controls its own destiny both misunderstands the meaning of destiny and is inaccurate. The Irish do not exactly need help, but they do need November to follow a reasonable path. They would prefer the Big 12 to continue trading losses like the kitschy alarm clock at a white elephant gift exchange. They would like either Stanford or USC to at least reach the Pac 12 championship, and the same could probably be said of North Carolina State and Miami in the ACC. Of the latter duo, even just finishing the season respectably strong may be enough. If Michigan State can notch an upset along the way, all the better.
Oddly enough, this would likely still send Notre Dame to the Rose Bowl.
That may be the most-realistic scenario, which also means it has no chance of happening. This is college football, after all.
A schedule of CFP releases:
Tues., Nov. 7, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Tues., Nov. 14, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Tues., Nov. 21, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Tues., Nov. 28, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Sunday, Dec. 3, 12-4 p.m. ET, ESPN