Kelly Urban Meyer

What does Ohio State’s championship mean for Notre Dame?


It can happen.

The right head coach can survive adversity and win a national championship. We saw that Monday night when Urban Meyer‘s Ohio State Buckeyes manhandled Oregon on their way to a 42-20 victory.

They did it with a third-string quarterback. They did it with a non-SEC roster. They did it even after many didn’t think they deserved a chance in the College Football Playoff.

The same team that laid an egg against Virginia Tech in early September went out and pummeled Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to win it all. And while it may have taken a coach like Meyer to officially kill the legend of the SEC, it’s worth looking at the blueprint Meyer established and use it to see how close — or how far — Brian Kelly and the Irish are away from the ultimate goal.

First, some debunking:

Meyer’s staff has former Kelly assistants Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton playing key roles. The same assistants who got blasted by some Irish fans. Warinner for being too soft, Hinton for being too small-timey. Strength coach Mickey Marotti? The same guy who was in charge of running the program at Notre Dame for Bob Davie and Ty Willingham has built the foundation of Meyer’s programs at Florida and Ohio State.

Then the rosters. Those stars propelling the Buckeyes to victory? Quite a few had Notre Dame offers. Left tackle Taylor Decker was a lock for South Bend until Meyer hired away Warinner and came calling. Ezekiel Elliot, Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith? Joey Bosa and Vonn Bell? All recruited by Notre Dame. (Take a look at Notre Dame’s roster and you’ll see a large group of guys getting chased by Meyer, too, including the entire quarterback depth chart.)

Yet for all the similarities, there are some key differences. Quarterback Cardale Jones may be the story of the college football world today, but his path isn’t possible at Notre Dame. Not after getting stashed at military school (without his knowledge, seemingly), not after the boneheaded Tweet that will follow him for life. For every player with a Notre Dame offer, there’s a handful that couldn’t qualify. That’s life against just about every team on the Irish’s schedule, less Stanford or Northwestern.

Meyer proved on Monday night that he’s the top of his profession in the college game. And he also proved that since turning down a ride back to South Bend from Utah to take over the Irish program, he understood the challenges posed at Notre Dame are incredibly different than those at Florida or Ohio State. So for those still harping on Brian Kelly to get it together, at least Kelly accepted the challenge.

Both the Irish and the Buckeyes expect to field very good football teams next season. If Notre Dame is going to make it to the College Football Playoff, they’ll need their head coach to recalibrate the formula for winning — perhaps even taking a look at Meyer’s team. The one that played last night would be a reminder that a power running game in the spread can exist. The ones that played in Gainesville can give a blueprint to success with two quarterbacks, with Everett Golson more than capable of being Chris Leak and Malik Zaire running with the force and confidence of Tim Tebow.

For the Buckeyes, they’ll have to avoid the perils of success, a challenge Meyer didn’t conquer at Florida and one that forced Jim Tressel out of the job that Meyer now possesses. That’s easier said than done with 18-to-21-year olds, especially now that they’ve removed the gigantic chip from their shoulder that came with the Big Ten’s recent inferiority complex.

With the 2014 season officially finished, the college football world has leveled off quite a bit, with the SEC’s run of dominance officially over. With Meyer and now Jim Harbaugh all in Notre Dame’s backyard, the national perception may have changed but the local battles will begin.

Ohio State showed it was possible. A win over LSU was a good start. But after getting close in 2012, Kelly needs to show that he can do it again.

Coney, Dew-Treadway, Hoge and Tillery officially enrolled

The first four members of the 2015 recruiting class begin their time at Notre Dame on Tuesday, with classes starting for early-enrollee freshmen Tevon Coney, Micah Dew-Treadway, Tristen Hoge and Jerry Tillery. All four freshmen will take part in winter workouts and spring practice, set to start in early March.

For Coney and Tillery, it’s the end of a recruitment that saw Notre Dame hold off hard fights with a major in-state power. Coney had offers and serious interest from both Florida and Miami, among the many programs chasing the Under-Armour All-American. Tillery was pursued by LSU and Les Miles until the end, but never wavered on Notre Dame. In years past, if there were recruits that ended up in a late-game flip, this duo would’ve been those players. So credit the Irish coaching staff for holding strong.

Hoge is a versatile offensive line prospect who is widely acknowledged to be the best center prospect in the country. A two-time Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Idaho, Hoge held his own at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio before coming to South Bend to begin his collegiate career.

Dew-Treadway is a big-bodied defensive line prospect who chose the Irish from the Chicagoland area. Listed at 6-foot-5, 275-pounds, Dew-Treadway will enter a crowded but young defensive line depth chart after playing in the Semper Fidelis All-American game in Los Angeles.

Tillery comes to Notre Dame as a defensive line prospect after being initially recruited to play offensive tackle, the position he worked at in the Army All-American game. He was measured at 6-foot-6, 308-pounds in San Antonio, a big-bodied athlete that earned first-team 5A All-State honors after 15 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks. He also participated in two triathlons over the summer.

Coney enters a linebacker depth chart that should be intriguing to follow. While Joe Schmidt won’t be healthy enough to fully participate, Coney will join young players Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini as potential impact players at inside linebacker, potentially allowing Jaylon Smith to have positional flexibility as well.

National Signing Day is the first Wednesday of February.

Day’s return first part of 2015 puzzle

North Carolina v Notre Dame

Over the weekend, Sheldon Day announced he would be returning for his senior season at Notre Dame. The returning captain and the Irish’s best defensive lineman sought a draft grade from the NFL’s advisory board before making the decision. had quotes from both Day and head coach Brian Kelly, with both player and coach very excited for the future ahead.

“After talking with my family, friends and coaches at Notre Dame, I’ve decided to return for my senior year with the Irish,” Day said in the statement. “While the process leading up to this decision was difficult, ultimately my decision to return was easy. I love this school, my teammates and this coaching staff. I just felt it was in my best interest to play another year for Notre Dame.

“I believe we’ve got an opportunity to have a special season in 2015 and I wanted to be a part of that success. I was blessed to play in the national championship game as a freshman in 2012, and I want to do everything in my power to reach that stage again with my guys.”

Per an Irish Illustrated report, Day received a “Stay in School” draft grade, making the decision to play out his eligibility an easy one. And after struggling to stay healthy to past two seasons, Day’s return should give him another season to play up to the All-American potential the coaching staff believes Day possesses.

“It pretty much goes without saying that I’m excited to know that Sheldon has chosen to return for his senior year at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “Most importantly, this decision keeps him on track to graduate in May.

“He’s an outstanding player, and makes a major difference on the field for our team, but Sheldon’s impact goes beyond success on the field. His leadership as a captain in our program has been instrumental, and I look forward to him carrying this role into 2015.”

Another large decision should be coming imminently with left tackle Ronnie Stanley deciding between being a potential first-round draft pick or returning to school for his senior season. Stanley has seen his proverbial draft stock sky-rocket as early mock drafts begin, though he received a second-round grade by the NFL advisory board.

Under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame has had good success with seniors returning to school. Safety Harrison Smith played out his eligibility before being taken in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings. Michael Floyd returned for his senior season, breaking career receiving records in South Bend before being selected with the 13th overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Tight end Tyler Eifert was a first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals after winning the Mackey Award.

While Manti Te’o slid into the second round of the NFL Draft, he became the most highly-decorated defensive player in college football. Offensive tackle Zack Martin stayed for his senior season before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys. He is the only rookie to be named to the NFL All-Pro team.

Last season, Troy Niklas, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix all declared for the NFL Draft following the 2013 season, leaving a year of eligibility on the table. Kyle Rudolph left after his junior season as well, taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round.



Kelly’s clear: “Unfinished business” at Notre Dame

Notre Dame v Arizona State

Brian Kelly is all in. For as many times as you’ll hear his name mentioned for an NFL coaching position, the Irish head coach isn’t going anywhere.

“I’ve made it pretty clear what my choices are. I want to be in college football. And I want to take Notre Dame back into being a consistent player,” Kelly told SVP & Russillo. “We’re not there yet, but I think we’re getting closer to it. We’ve got unfinished business. And I’ve got unfinished business at the college ranks. And I want to finish that business off with a national championship. That’s my focus. That’s where I want to be.”

It doesn’t get much more clear-cut. And it doesn’t get any more logical. As we just saw with Jim Harbaugh, it is possible for a head coach (even one as oddly wired as Harbaugh) to experience life coaching on Sundays and make the decision to come back to college.

Kelly has made comments like this before. He’s talked about his preference to act as general manager and head coach, essentially what he does at Notre Dame. And as you look at some of the openings that come around every offseason, the foundation Kelly has built in South Bend looks better and better compared to some of the vacancies in the NFL.

That should make it easy to turn the focus to 2015. With Kelly already doing the calculus on the balancing act that’ll happen next season at quarterback, the offensive future looks bright, especially if Ronnie Stanley returns. (Even without him, things should be just fine.)

On defense, a miserable second half can be erased by building depth, and all those snaps taken by freshmen — not to mention the return of Joe Schmidt — can solve those struggles. Throw in KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams (and maybe even a healthy Jarrett Grace) and a few more impact players certainly won’t hurt Brian VanGorder’s second unit.

So while Kelly’s media rounds on ESPN this week are less preferable than having the Irish still in the conversation, a committed head coach means confidence hasn’t wavered even after one of the most difficult Novembers in recent memory.

So if Kelly wants to leave South Bend and test his luck in the NFL after winning a title, it’s likely Notre Dame will wish him well and get to work on adding another statue outside the stadium. Until then, there’s work to do.

Report: Hanratty undergoing concussion testing

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Senior Conor Hanratty has a final year of eligibility remaining. But before he explores whether to continue his football career, he’ll undergo medical testing after suffering three concussions in the last calendar year.

Per a report from Lou Somogyi ($), Hanratty will be undergoing tests at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to determine the severity of these brain injuries with Dr. Joseph Maroon, who also works with the Pittsburgh Steelers and is one of the leading voices on concussions. According to Somogyi, Hanratty suffered a concussion in last December’s Pinstripe Bowl, one during August training camp and another in the practices leading up to the bowl game.

If healthy, the return of Hanratty in 2015 is still a question mark. With a recruiting class that could still expand for a few more select players, bringing Hanratty back as a key reserve for a fifth year is likely a luxury. Younger players like Colin McGovern, John Montelus and Quenton Nelson are options to move up the depth chart at guard if the Irish legacy isn’t part of next season’s plans.

But Hanratty could likely catch on for a fifth year — likely teaming up with either Chuck Martin at Miami or Bob Diaco for his home state UConn Huskies if he thought the path to the playing field was open. But he’ll have to determine if continuing playing is worth the risk.

After not seeing the field as a freshman, Hanratty played six games in 2012 as a reserve. In 2013, he moved into the starting lineup in four of the final six games of the season.

Hanratty started the opening three games of 2014 before a shift moved Nick Martin and Steve Elmer to guard. Hanratty saw action in eight more games, not dressing for the Music City Bowl or seeing the field against Syracuse.