Notre Dame v Syracuse

Stanley still undecided on NFL future


Notre Dame junior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley walked off the stage Friday night with the team’s Lineman of the Year Award. He’s still uncertain if it’s the last time he’ll take part in the season-ending festivities in South Bend.

Stanley has requested an evaluation from the NFL’s college advisory committee, joined by Sheldon Day, Everett Golson and Nick Martin. It’s the same process that’s led players like Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and Kyle Rudolph to leave early while Zack Martin, Michael Floyd and Manti Te’o decided to return to school.

So while most of the talk over these next few months will be surrounding the stay-or-go decision in front of Stanley, the junior told Tim Prister at Irish Illustrated that he’s not ready to make any decision.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on finals and our next game,” Stanley told Prister. “I’m not even thinking about making a decision any time soon.”

While Stanley continues to show up as a top-rated offensive line prospect as college football’s silly season begins, it’s not all universal praise for the first-year left tackle. In a story at, ESPN’s Mel Kiper thought Stanley could be a Top 10 pick… if he waits to come out after next season.

“He needs another year,” Kiper said, according to Lou Somogyi. “I didn’t see the consistency week to week. Some games he had some struggles in pass protection, there were other games where he played really, really well. Flashing it and being consistent is different.

“In another year he could be a top 10 pick. Would he be that this year? No. I think he would probably be a late first or second round pick …[maybe] mid-second round. He’s got to go back.”

That opinion was echoed by former NFL personnel man Greg Gabriel. When talking to Prister, Gabriel was fairly emphatic that Stanley would do himself well by returning for another season.

“I think he’s a mid-round pick on talent. He’s athletic, but I don’t think he’s strong enough, I don’t think his technique is good enough and there’s lackadaisical play. There’s not a consistent, aggressive approach.”

Gabriel cited the benefits Zack Martin derived from not only returning for his senior season, but a fifth year as well.

“Let’s put it this way: (Stanley) ain’t no (Zack) Martin,” Gabriel said. “There’s not that down after down effort and tenacity. He doesn’t finish, and Martin is a perfect example of that. He was a fifth-year guy and got better all the time.

“Somebody could take (Stanley) high for what he could be, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to succeed and that doesn’t mean it’s right to leave. Guys get fired by making picks for what a guy could be.”

After making the move to left tackle this spring and starting every game there while the other four linemen up front mixed and matched, Stanley’s got more than a few fans at the next level. That’s understandable when you consider Stanley’s athleticism, not to mention the length and reach that has so many tantalized by his natural ability.

But after watching Tuitt, Niklas and Louis Nix all decide to leave South Bend without completing their eligibility and slide outside the Top 50 picks, it’s a datapoint that should give Stanley pause when seeing his player evaluation.

An even bigger one? The lack of impact that trio has made on Sundays.

Only Tuitt has started a game, with just 11 tackles on the year, and those starts came after injuries hit the Pittsburgh defensive front. Niklas made just three catches before going on the season-ending I.R., the same place where Nix has spent the entire season.

Stanley has a decision to make before January 15, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft. And it doesn’t sound like one that’s going to be made in a hurry. Stanley told Prister he’ll wait until after the bowl game — a good test against a talented LSU front four.

Stanley is a key piece to Notre Dame’s plans in 2015. So while the Irish coaching staff is out trying to solidify a strong recruiting class, they’ll likely turn their focus to their own left tackle, trying to hold on to a lineman who has shown that the sky is truly the limit.


Counting down the Irish: Looking back

Will Fuller, Nick VanHoose

This August, a group of people who spend way too much time watching and writing about Notre Dame football got together to put together some preseason rankings on the roster. In doing so, we (I’m definitely included) put in writing what so many of you (especially in the comments) already thought was true: We don’t know what we’re talking about sometimes.

But a look back at the Top 25 list is a fun exercise. So this week we’re going to spend some time looking at some hits, some misses and some clues as we spend the week re-ranking the roster.

Notre Dame’s offensive player of the year? Will Fuller was only good enough to come in at No. 25 on our list, fifth best among pass catchers. Only three voters gave Fuller a vote, with me giving him his highest ranking at 14th, while predicting a 1,000 yard campaign. The Irish’s defensive player of the year? Everybody saw Jaylon Smith coming, he was at No. 1 on six of eight ballots.

While nobody was thinking that Ronnie Stanley had the makings of a first-round pick after the 2014 season, we did have him as the team’s No. 1 offensive lineman. And even though Cam McDaniel was named a team captain and an opening day starter, the running back was ranked third-best on our list, with our group of experts identifying Tarean Folston as the team’s best back. (ND Tex at HLS had Folston No. 1 on his board.)

The suspensions that ultimately cost KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris DanielsIshaq Williams  and Kendall Moore their seasons? It took two of the team’s top seven players off the field, and three of the team’s top 20. And for those who believed Brian Kelly when he said the team had the deepest roster he’s had at Notre Dame, Fuller was No. 25, and Team MVP Joe Schmidt checked in at No. 24.

As we await the Irish and LSU to do battle on December 30, let’s look back at the best and worst of 2014, and see how well we did in August with our hunches.



Schmidt wins MVP as Notre Dame hands out year-end awards

Joe Schmidt

Middle linebacker Joe Schmidt was named the 2014 team’s MVP on Saturday night, honored by his teammates with the top award at Notre Dame’s year-end awards show. Hosted by NBC’s Mike Mayock and WNBA star Skylar Diggins, “The Echoes” withstood a building-clearing plumbing issue to hand out 16 awards.

The highlight of the show was Schmidt’s acceptance of the award. On crutches with his leg still casted, Schmidt spoke briefly from the stage, calling the award, “Probably the greatest honor of my life.”

Sophomore Will Fuller was named the team’s offensive player of the year. Fellow sophomore Jaylon Smith was named the team’s defensive player of the year.

All 16 award-winners are below:


Scout Team Player of the Year: Offense – Tyler Plantz
Scout Team Player of the Year: Defense – Austin Larkin
Newcomer of the Year: Offense – Torii Hunter Jr.
Newcomer of the Year: Defense – Drue Tranquill
Special Teams Player of the Year – C.J. Prosise
Offensive Lineman of the Year – Ronnie Stanley
Irish Around the Bend – Kyle Brindza
Moose Krause Lineman of the Year – Sheldon Day
Father Lange Iron Cross – Christian Lombard
Pietrosante Award – Cam McDaniel
Rockne Student-Athlete – Corey Robinson
Tire Rack Play of the Year – Ben Koyack
Offensive Player of the Year – Will Fuller
Defensive Player of the Year – Jaylon Smith
Next Man In – Justin Utupo
Most Valuable Player – Joe Schmidt


With banquet ahead, recruiting efforts in full swing

Notre Dame’s regular season may be over. The Irish’s recruiting class — one many thought would cap itself around 20 — is already at 21 commits.

But that hasn’t stopped the Irish coaching staff from hitting the recruiting trail hard, with Brian Kelly and his assistants in the homes of committed recruits and up-for-grabs prospects before the dead period starts.

While fans continue to worry about Jerry Tillery and LSU, Brian Kelly spent an evening eating gumbo with the family. As new Florida coach Jim McElwain kicks the tires on linebacker Tevon Coney, Brian Kelly locks down his in-home visit, with Coney (along with Tillery) already signing their financial grant-in-aid paperwork as early enrollees.

The recruiting efforts continue this weekend. With the Irish strapping on the pads for their first bowl prep practice for LSU, the coaching staff will host another fleet of important recruits during the team’s awards banquet on Saturday.

In a weekend that lately hasn’t served as a key recruiting weekend, the Irish are hosting some very big fish. None bigger than Biggie Marshall. 

The Irish are in another tight battle for a Long Beach star, with Marshall among the very best athletes in the country and the top rated cornerback. Mike Denbrock hopes things don’t turn out like they did with John “JuJu” Smith, who torched the Irish in their matchup over Thanksgiving weekend, and then waited to give Denbrock a hug in the tunnel afterwards. The Irish finished a close No. 2 for Smith, who could’ve been playing for the Irish in the secondary or at receiver this season instead of likely haunting the staff for the next three years.

Marshall will be on campus for an official visit this weekend. He’s been worked hard by defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, understanding his opportunity to play early and often in an aggressive, NFL scheme.

After seeing the depth struggles down the stretch, it’s clear the secondary needs help, and you’ve got to think Notre Dame can finally win one of these battles with the Trojans, even if Marshall’s commitment feels like a long shot. But getting him onto campus in December is a big first step.

Also heading to campus is blue-chip tight end Alize Jones. Joining high school teammate Nicco Fertitta in South Bend, Jones has long been committed to UCLA, but has felt like a Notre Dame lean for the past month or so.  Jones is widely believed to be the top tight end prospect in the country and is athletic enough that the Irish coaching staff believes he can be a jumbo wide receiver as well.

Staying on the topic of recruits committed elsewhere, the Irish will be hosting running back and Oklahoma State commit Ronald Jones as well as Michigan commit and safety Tyree Kinnel. Both players would fill key holes in the recruiting class. also reports that the Irish are kicking the tires on UAB running back Jordan Howard, who ran for nearly 1,600 yards this season. Howard looked as though he was going to take a look at Wisconsin. But Gary Andersen’s departure likely opened things up for the Irish, who would welcome the power back who can transfer anywhere after the Blazers shuttered their program.

Army All-American Jordan Cronkite will also be on campus, the South Florida native capable of playing either running back or safety. So while Gary Jennings, a multi-faceted athlete who could play either safety or wide receiver. A large group of committed recruits will also be taking official and unofficial visits, building some momentum for a weekend that hasn’t been a big one for recruiting in the past, but now fits in perfectly.

More to come over the weekend as season-ending awards will be handed out and the Irish recruiting class has a chance to grow as well.



Swarbrick in favor of compensating student-athletes through group licensing

Jack Swarbrick

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick finds himself in the news on another roller coaster day in college athletics. And while it isn’t about a coaching change (another job opening under Barry Alvarez!) or another critique of the College Football Playoff, Swarbrick found himself speaking openly — and rather candidly — about compensating student-athletes, and the perilous position college athletic departments now find themselves in.

CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon reports on Swarbrick’s candor at the IMGIntercollegiate Athletics Forum, where Swarbrick was a rare voice taking aim at the missteps of athletics departments and universities and what he’d do to rectify them.

“You’ve got to stay grounded in this analogy to other students,” Swarbrick told “There are students on campus making a lot of money because they’ve launched a business. A classic example: Students are making great money in some internship, and I’m telling my football players they can’t leave for the summer. Where’s the equity there?”

While other athletic directors bemoaned the lawsuits that are threatening the DNA of the collegiate model as we know it or congressional involvement, Swarbrick looked inward at the problem.

From Solomon:

But only Swarbrick cut through the usual rhetoric. Swarbrick’s point: College sports brought this on itself with rules that differentiate athletes from the general student body, such as not allowing athletes to make money off their own name.

“If we could get ourselves more grounded in the notion we wouldn’t have these problems,” Swarbrick said during a panel. “If we’re going to do something different than for the normal student, the bar for doing that ought to be really high. If we had that in place, we never would have had a limitation on the cost of attendance because a merit scholar doesn’t have that limitation. We did that for athletic reasons.

“But if our standard had been what’s the rule for other students, capturing name, image and likeness outside team activity, the musician at school doesn’t have that limitation. I’m not sure why the student-athlete should, either. I don’t find it inconsistent at all to say we need to get ourselves grounded back in that. I think it would contribute to reducing so many of the problems we have which really spring from this situation we created when we say they’re not going to be the same as other students.”

There’s plenty of other interesting points Swarbrick made to Solomon, talking about a group-licensing approach that would reopen relationships with EA Sports for videogame rights and offer other opportunities for student-athletes to earn based on name, images and likeness.

Read the whole thing here, but this final quote basically cements Swarbrick’s point (and is a big reason why Notre Dame fans should feel lucky to have him).

“But beyond that, I do think we can manage this notion of treat them like they’re peers,” Swarbrick told CBS Sports. “Find ways to do that, not excuses for not doing that. And if we do that, they become much more a part of the university, which is our core problem.

“It shocks me today when I’m at an athletic event and I hear students boo a fellow student. That never happened a decade ago. They view it like they’re not our classmate. That’s what we’ve got to get away from. If we’re just going to be minor league sports, we should leave that to minor league sports.”