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An Early Signing Period Preview: Notre Dame’s 12 defensive expectations

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The early signing period may have snuck up on the casual Notre Dame fan. That is understandable, it is quite the deviation from the typical college football calendar. This week’s Monday Leftovers declared the bar for relative success in the three-day stretch from Wednesday to Friday stands at 20 commitments, as in the number of recruits currently planning on signing with the Irish.

That would be a week of no surprises, for the better or the worse. Given the six weeks until the typical signing day, improving an already-strong class can be the focus then. Taking care of business seems to be the focus for now.

With that in mind — and not in an attempt to step on tomorrow’s traditional “The letter is in” posts — a more precise description of that baseline is appropriate. With the caveat that these are 17- and 18-year-olds, so nothing is a sure thing, these recruits seem to be Notre Dame locks.

At this point, the Irish class of 2018 skews heavily toward the defensive side of the ball, both in number and theoretical quality. A brief overview of those 12 prospects …

DEFENSIVE BACKS
— Consensus four-star safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.): The Irish need for more-than-competent safety play could give Allen (pictured above) a chance to impact immediately. If that is the case, the early experience may boost an already high future ceiling.

— Consensus four-star defensive back Houston Griffith (IMG Academy; Bradenton, Fla.): Again, positional need will give Griffith a chance at 2018 playing time while his potential places his best coming a few years down the line.

— Rivals.com three-star cornerback Tariq Bracy (Milpitas H.S.; Milpitas, Calif.): Notre Dame’s cornerback depth means Bracy likely won’t see much playing time this fall, but failing to sign a single cornerback in the class of 2017 created a positional need, all the same.

— Consensus three-star defensive back Joe Wilkins, Jr. (North Fort Myers; Fla.): With the Irish essentially recruiting to fill two classes in the secondary, adding a few players like Wilkins is a necessity in this cycle.

— Local consensus three-star safety Paul Moala (Penn; Mishawaka, Ind.): Moala’s speed drew the attention of the coaching staff just down the street.

LINEBACKERS

Jack Lamb (rivals.com)

— Consensus four-star Jack Lamb (Great Oak; Temecula, Calif.): Aside from a name worthy fo a serialized spy novel’s titular character, Lamb could bring immediate impact and a high future ceiling, but he also appears to fill a positional need. With his and the following three recruitments, it became increasingly-presumable Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his staff were not overly-enamored with the linebackers in the depth chart left by their predecessors.

— Consensus four-star Shayne Simon (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.): Whether Lamb and Simon join the roster with the intention of contributing from the outset or not, pulling in two linebackers of their caliber is a notable achievement.

— Rivals.com four-star Matthew Bauer (Cathedral Prep; Erie, Pa.): If Lamb and Simon are the preemptive front-runners for immediate contributions from this positional group, then Bauer provides the needed natural depth.

— Consensus three-star Ovie Oghoufo (Harrison; Farmington, Mich.): Unless Oghoufo presents an unexpected surge a la current freshman defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, then logic suggests he may preserve a year of eligibility in 2018.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Jayson Ademilola (rivals.com)

— Consensus four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.): Given the 2017 impacts of Tagovailoa-Amosa and classmate Kurt Hinish, the immediate need for Ademilola may not be as distinct as expected, but senior Jonathan Bonner has said he does not intend to use a fifth year and junior Jerry Tillery could still head to the NFL. In that instance, Ademilola would need to make an impact right away.

— Consensus three-star defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin (North Caroline; Ridgely, Md.): Franklin fits the mold of filing out the requisite roster balance while also offering a chance at a high future ceiling.

— Consensus three-star defensive end Justin Ademilola (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.): The cynical will see Justin Ademilola as the price to be paid to sign his twin, the aforementioned Jayson. That would be ignoring the never-ending virtues of defensive line depth, wherever it can be found. Either way, Justin is likely to preserve eligibility for 2018 and may struggle to see much playing time shortly thereafter, given the glut of current sophomores excelling at defensive end.

STILL TO COME
In its attempts to restore consistency in the defensive backfield, the Irish coaching staff will likely chase down another defensive back or two either this week or before February’s date.

Editor’s Note: A piece focusing on the eight offensive commitments should publish in the next few hours.

Monday’s Leftovers: Early signing period basics and Notre Dame’s likelihoods

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Aside from a practice injury to Notre Dame’s No. 3 receiver, a dramatic conclusion to the New Mexico Bowl or an upset in the Camellia Bowl, this has always been a mundane week in the college football calendar. The uncreatively-named Frisco Bowl and the coin-flip of a Potato Bowl provide holiday distractions or background noise while wrapping gifts, but other than that, this has traditionally been a week of no consequence.

No longer.

In fact, the week before Christmas may supplant the first week of February as the most-hyped week each year. If not most-hyped, then it will certainly be the most-discussed sequence of events taking place off the gridiron. The three-day early signing period’s unprecedented nature makes it largely unpredictable. That will obviously not be as much the case in years to come, but for the next few days, uncertainty becomes the new norm.

For the Irish, some uneasiness dissipated Sunday evening when recent commit rivals.com three-star tight end Tommy Tremble (Wesleyan High School; Norcross, Ga.) declared he will sign his national letter of intent the first day of the period, this Wednesday.

Tremble had initially suggested he would still wait until the traditional February date to make his commitment official and binding. It would seem Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s urging convinced Tremble’s mind to change, undoubtedly much to Michigan’s chagrin, the runner-up in Tremble’s recruitment thus far.

“From our perspective, [the early signing period] has allowed us to really identify those that want to be here at Notre Dame and make that decision,” Kelly said Saturday. “All the work that we did leading up to the 20th, those guys that made commitments to Notre Dame are going to follow through with that in December.”

To Kelly, not signing in this Wednesday-to-Friday window is an indication a player is not genuinely committed to the Irish.

“If our players are committed, they’ll sign in December,” he summed it up Dec. 4. “If they’re not committed, they won’t.”

That sets the bar for relative success this week for Notre Dame at 20 commitments, the number currently pledged. It is possible that number ticks upward by another couple. Consensus four-star receiver Braden Lenzy (Tigard H.S.; Portland, Ore.) has said he will make his decision Friday evening. If that name sounds familiar to Irish fans, Lenzy originally committed to Notre Dame only to reopen his recruitment in June, shortly thereafter committing to Oregon. When the Ducks underwent a coaching change in the last few weeks, Lenzy once again took to exploring his options, narrowing them to the Irish, Oregon and UCLA.

Consensus four-star safety Julius Irvin (Servite; Anaheim, Calif.) could possibly announce a commitment this week, as well, with Notre Dame, USC and Washington his frontrunners.

Landing either Lenzy or Irvin would be a coup for the Irish, but securing the signatures of the 20 committed right now is the appropriate priority. Doing so will mark the week as having met the desired standard. Anything less than those 20 will be the equivalent of a recruit de-committing but in a much more dramatic fashion.

“For me to stand here and say [the early signing period] is great, but then 10 guys don’t sign, well then obviously it wouldn’t be great to have that date,” Kelly said. “But I’m very confident with all the work we’ve done, that [Dec. 20] is going to be a really good day for Notre Dame football.”

Kelly will announce the class Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET in similar fashion to the usual February protocol.

— The early signing period has increased the December job requirements on Kelly, his coaching staff and coaches all across the country. Some might not like that. (Cough, Nick Saban, cough.) There will be claims the need to emphasize recruiting even more than usual these last few weeks took away from bowl preparations. Kelly, for example, left campus Friday at 3 p.m. to make a recruiting stop and returned to campus at 3 a.m. That trip likely would not have occurred until January if not for this new calendar.

The bowl claims will be anecdotal and unquantifiable, at best.

The biggest perk Kelly sees evolving from the early signing period ties to the future. Once 20 players sign letters of intent this week, the Irish staff will not need to worry about them in January. Instead, the coaches can prioritize in the new year while looking ahead to next December.

“All the work we did leading up to it to get these guys signed on the 20th and committed to Notre Dame is going to leave us with the opportunity to start looking for just a few players that need to be signed in February,” he said. “Then, moving ahead in the calendar to some [class of 2019 prospects].”

As for those “just a few players” yet to sign in February, snagging about three would fit the usual Irish cycle. Admittedly, comparing previous years is a flawed exercise as this new aspect has sped up some recruitments, but previous years are also the only data available. Recruits secured after this time of year have typically been the highest of profiles or filling holes in the roster.

In signing the heralded class of 2013, Notre Dame had 20 of an eventual 23 prospects committed before Dec. 20, 2012. The three remaining were running back Tarean Folston, safety Max Redfield and tight end Durham Smythe.

The class of 2014 also had 20 of 23 recruits committed at this point in the calendar with linebacker Nyles Morgan coming next. Then, to fill a positional need, new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder scrambled to sign defensive tackles Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah.

Running back Dexter Williams was a late addition to the class of 2015, one of few past recruits who committed to Notre Dame after a theoretical early signing period. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

In building the class of 2015, the Irish snagged tight end Alizé Mack, running back Dexter Williams and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown after Dec. 20, all highly-sought after talents.

In the class of 2016, only cornerback Troy Pride, receiver Javon McKinley and linebacker Jonathan Jones joined this late in the process.

With the overhaul in Kelly’s coaching staff, last year’s class shifted the most with only weeks left in the cycle. Fifteen of the eventual 21 commits were pledged by Dec. 20. The staff finished fast and strong by collecting safety Jordan Genmark-Heath, receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive end Kofi Wardlow, defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah.

— By no means was the early signing period a reason to avoid a coaching change this year if one was necessary, but avoiding such instability holds even more weight this offseason due to the unknown nature of this early signing period. Exhibit A: Lenzy and Oregon.

There is a flip side to that, though, for those schools clearly set on a change, such as UCLA. Again, using Lenzy as the example at hand, the Bruins only actively reentered the running in his recruitment when Chip Kelly was named the head coach. By firing Jim Mora with a week left in the regular season, UCLA got ahead of the usual coaching carousel by that margin, secured Kelly and gave him some additional time to put the full-court press on high school seniors as necessary.

Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Claypool injured & out; Kelly on Wimbush’s mechanics & mental makeup

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Notre Dame will be without sophomore receiver Chase Claypool in its Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl matchup with No. 17 LSU. Irish coach Brian Kelly announced Saturday that Claypool will have shoulder surgery this week to repair a joint injured in practice last week. Claypool should be fully recovered before spring practices commence.

“One of those unintended injuries in a one-on-one drill where he goes up for a ball and lands on his shoulder the wrong way,” Kelly said. “… If this happens in the middle of the season, he misses five, six, seven games. On the positive side, he misses one game and he’s back full strength going into the spring.”

For stretches of the regular season, Claypool was Notre Dame’s most-consistent receiver. He finishes 2017 with 29 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by his nine-catch, 180-yard, one-score performance against Wake Forest.

RELATED READING: Claypool’s drops perhaps a harbinger of Notre Dame success to come

Without Claypool, Kelly expects to move junior Equanimeous St. Brown into the field receiver role and utilize junior Miles Boykin more in St. Brown’s usual spot, the boundary receiver position. Sophomore Kevin Stepherson will certainly factor in more than Boykin in any two-receiver sets.

Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith is also back to full health after a hamstring issue hindered the end of his season.

On Wimbush, mechanics and mental makeup
Whoever the receiver(s), junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush will be the one looking for them. Wimbush struggled through most of 2017, but the final three games emphasized those difficulties. As the Irish finished the season 1-2, Wimbush completed 30-of-67 passes (44.78 percent) for 532 yards (177.33 yards per game) and five touchdowns with four interceptions.

Those struggles led Kelly to declare Wimbush his bowl game starter immediately after the season finale, a loss at Stanford. Kelly doubled down and then some on that sentiment Saturday.

“He struggled in the last couple of games throwing the football, but he has not struggled mentally at all,” Kelly said. “… His issues are mechanical issues. They’re not mental issues. He doesn’t have this weakness that is not allowing him to be the player that he can be.

“We need to fix some things in the offseason, mechanically, that will allow him to the throw the ball more consistently.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly insisted junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s struggles derive from mechanical issues, not any version of a mental block. “His traits, in terms of all the things a quarterback needs in terms of his makeup, he has those,” Kelly said. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Kelly credited Wimbush for trying to “fight” through these mechanical issues, but at times that may have led to overcompensating a la a golfer attempting to avoid a slice or a baseball batter trying to get ahead of a fastball.

Wimbush may be a junior, but this was his first year in the spotlight. That spotlight did not bring with it undue and mishandled pressure. Rather, it highlighted his deficiencies that are not as closely monitored when a third-string freshman or a scout team passer.

“We’re really talking about him being a first-time starter,” Kelly said. “Under that scrutiny, we’ve seen that there needs to be some corrections.

“Having said that, he found a way to get us to nine wins and put us in a position to get to 10.”

Avery & Alohi Ascending
Two reserves have caught Notre Dame’s attention in the earliest parts of bowl preparation, though one was drawing notice all season, as well. Through four practices, the Irish have knocked off the rust of a few weeks’ layoff and given the lower parts of the depth chart extended run. Freshman quarterback Avery Davis has stood out in those sessions.

“He’s efficient with the football, very strong runner,” Kelly said. “He’s an athlete that can impact each and every time he has the football in his hands. He’s difficult to defend.”

Sophomore safety and Navy transfer Alohi Gilman spent the season defending Wimbush, rather than Davis. Bound to the scout team when the NCAA denied his waiver for immediate eligibility, Gilman pushed the boundary as often as possible. Per Kelly, he would have started at safety for the Irish this year, no qualifiers or conditions applied.

RELATED READING: Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Backs

“He has a great combination of coverage skills at the safety position and the ability to come down and be a sure tackler,” Kelly said. “We really know what we’re going to get from him from what we’ve seen on a practice-to-practice basis.”

Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in November, the least of possible evils
Kelly initially offered the party line when asked about Notre Dame moving its mid-November matchup next year against Syracuse out east to Yankee Stadium in New York City. The remote “home” game will add theoretically-unnecessary travel and stress to an already daunting latter half of the schedule.

Kelly then acknowledged it may not be ideal, but made it clear the other options he was presented were distinctly less preferable.

Kelly said this was the only game in the home schedule with the ready ability to be moved, but knowing the Orange’s fast-paced, spread offense, he wanted to be sure the game was played outdoors. Also knowing there would be a trip out to USC just the following weekend, Kelly advocated for avoiding a late game. Indeed, the Syracuse tilt is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET.

“We wanted to try to make all these pieces work,” he said. “This seemed to be a good way to come about managing all those things.”

The one option clearly not on the table was not moving a home game at all.

Where Notre Dame was & is: Offensive Line

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Notre Dame’s offensive line was clearly going to be a strength entering the season. Before a single snap, two expected All-Americans were leading the way. Sure enough, senior left guard Quenton Nelson ended up a unanimous All-American while fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey secured consensus honors.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
The only question about the offensive line entering the season was who would take over at right tackle with senior Alex Bars moving inward to right guard. Counting Bars, the line returned four starters.

Presumably, sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg were the two involved in the right tackle competition. Through spring practice, Kraemer appeared to have an edge large enough to be considered the starter but not so large as to eradicate any further discussion in preseason practice.

Neither inspired an excess of confidence, such that offensive line coach Harry Hiestand would even acknowledge the possibility of Bars still being the best right tackle option on the roster. Hiestand was not considering moving Bars, though. The gap between Bars and anyone else at right guard was much greater than the discrepancy between Bars and Kramer (or Eichenberg).

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
Freshman Robert Hainsey forced his way into the right tackle competition at some point before the season. He did so to such an extent, Eichenberg was relegated to the nominal duty of backing up McGlinchey. How much work does that job not warrant? Eichenberg saw action in only five games, the streak of Irish routs running from the trip to Boston College through the thrashing of USC.

Kraemer and Hainsey shared the position all season, the latter showing adeptness in pass protection while the Kraemer’s strength came in the running game, although the two usually swapped playing time by the series, not by the situation.

Fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey’s final Irish season will be remembered as a year he established himself as the voice of the team while leading what could still be named the nation’s best offensive line. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The other 80 percent of the line held to summer’s expectations. Senior center Sam Mustipher’s season should be noted. While Nelson and McGlinchey earned the headlines and awards — and deservedly so — Mustipher quietly played nearly as well.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING
The offensive line’s dominance this season best shows itself in the running statistics. When looking at sacks allowed, Notre Dame endured only three fewer than last year (25 compared to 28), somewhat a cost of trotting out a quarterback himself so inclined to run the ball.

2016: 2,123 yards on 410 carries (sacks adjusted); 176.9 yards per game and 5.18 yards per rush.
2017: 3,462 yards on 501 carries (sacks adjusted); 288.5 yards per game and 6.91 yards per rush.

COMING QUESTIONS
It is readily and widely assumed Nelson will head to the NFL while both Mustipher and Bars will return for their final seasons of eligibility. All three would be the logical decisions.

If that all proves true, the Irish essentially return four “starters.” Both Kraemer and Hainsey saw enough action this season to be considered starters for the intent of this and nearly any offseason conversation.

Before deciding on the fifth starter, Hiestand will need to decide what position that newcomer will slot into. One of Kraemer or Hainsey could move to left tackle or left guard. (Kraemer at left guard would make some sense.) Bars could move to left guard, leaving right guard open for, again, Kraemer or Hainsey. (Again, moving Kraemer to guard seems an inevitability in the next three years.) There could be a thought to moving both Kraemer and Hainsey to the left side and finding a new right tackle. (Want to guess who would be projected at left guard in that scenario?)

The only certainty: Mustipher will start at center, presuming he returns. For kicks and giggles, it could be speculated how much preseason hype Mustipher will get as the stalwart of a seemingly-unproven line. That s-adjective belies a trick question; this will not be as unproven a unit as it may appear on the surface.

Replacing Nelson’s and McGlinchey’s chemistry, physicality and maturity will not happen, but there is reason to think the drop-off may not be debilitating. Mustipher can provide the steadying force for Bars to reinforce. Another year in a collegiate program should only further Hainsey’s immediate progress. A hypothetical move to guard will fit Kraemer’s skillset more naturally.

That leaves that pesky fifth starter spot. It could go to a number of options, but the frontrunners will be a quartet of youngsters already in the weight room.

Obviously, Eichenberg will get his chance. Freshman Dillan Gibbons earned offensive scout team player of the year honors last week, often a precursor to first-team contributions in the near future. All the way back on National Signing Day, this space saw Gibbons as “a prototypical Harry Hiestand offensive guard.”

If neither Eichenberg nor Gibbons, the focus will turn to freshmen Joshua Lugg and Aaron Banks. The latter enrolled early as a highly-touted tackle, part of why Hainsey’s fall emergence came as such a surprise. If any freshman was to contribute along the line, it was always assumed it would be Banks. Lugg, meanwhile, measures 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds. He is a tackle in the making at some point in his Notre Dame career.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Special Teams
Where Notre Dame was & is: Receivers
Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends
Where Notre Dame was & is: Running Backs
Where Notre Dame was & is: Defensive Backs

Friday at 4: Bowl games are fun, but little else, even for Notre Dame vs. LSU

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Bowl games are [insert positive adjective here]. Make no mistake about that. They provide players and fans an excuse to head south in December, even if that destination is El Paso, Texas, or Birmingham, Ala. Warmer temperatures are always preferable. That’s science.

For those not making a trek to Shreveport, La., or Orlando, Fla., the 39 games sprinkled throughout 17 days provide a break from primetime reruns or, in the best of times, from mid-day office minutiae. Football is preferable to “Young Sheldon” or remembering to include the new cover sheet on the TPS report. Again, empirical evidence establishes this as a fact.

And for the grinding gambler, bowl games represent one last chance to exit the college football season with a net gain, furthering the dreams of continuing similar growth annually for two decades in order to secure retirement based off a hobby. On a smaller scale, bowl pools establish a chance for bragging rights, and little is better than holiday season bragging rights. That’s a bit shy of sound logic, but it is a reality, nonetheless.

All that acknowledged, bowl games should still not be factored much into long-term views, forward-looking or retrospective. They are the most uncertain of sporting events, having little attachment to either the season prior or the season eight months away.

When else does a team not play for a month on either side of a competition? There is a reason an answer is lacking. It’s an absurd practice. (Albeit, again, a delightful one. There are five games Saturday and only one of those 10 teams is from a Power Five conference, yet this scribe intends to watch each and every one of the five.) (Is that the first sign of a problem? Maybe, maybe not.)

Notre Dame finished 2017 with a 9-3 record and two losses in its final three games. Beating No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in the aforementioned Disney-based metropolis should not change the taste of that November letdown. At most, it can support an argument of the Irish simply being worn down by season’s end, but that would not change the fact of them indeed being worn down when it mattered.

When Notre Dame beat LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl, it did not change the tenor of the season, and it did not lead to 2015’s success. Rather, the following year’s breakthroughs came from surprises shown only after injuries. (Getty Images)

Losing to the Tigers is not a greater sign of a program stuck spinning its wheels in the winter’s snow. It is not an indication of failing to win a game when it matters. Notre Dame already went 2-3 in those big games this year. In retrospect, perhaps the victory at Michigan State should raise that record to 3-3, but a big game feels like one as it occurs, and that Saturday evening in September did not hold such weight.

A big game does not come five weeks following the last consequential contest. A big game has some tangible effect on games to come. Outside of the College Football Playoff, no bowl game claims either factor. They are simply enjoyable exhibitions.

Hence, the common practice for coaches with new jobs is to move on, apparently abandoning their team before the season is technically over. It is becomingly increasingly-normal for NFL Draft prospects to sit out bowl games, be it out of precaution or preemptive recovery. They have nothing to gain, no ring, no record, yet much to lose in an injury a la former Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl.

To pull from a comment shortly after Notre Dame fell to Miami, dashing any Playoff hopes, “I truly don’t get how you think wins over Navy and a pedestrian Stanford team carry more weight than a win over an Ohio St or TCU or Clemson in a major bowl game. Agree to disagree, I guess.”

A win at Stanford would have sent the Irish to a bowl game of greater note (likely the Fiesta Bowl, in the end), but that would not have been the reason it held consequence. Winning in-season, week-after-week, day-after-day becomes ingrained. A win Saturday creates momentum for a good practice on Tuesday, begetting a consistent showing Wednesday, which leads to attention to detail on Thursday. Before you know it, another weekend victory is in hand.

Concluding the season by knocking off the Cardinal would have set a standard of the revamped Irish being better than their most-similar foes.

Beating LSU will do little except provide fodder for both sides of the “Brian Kelly must go/stay” argument, an inane debate which will undoubtedly proceed unabated for an entire offseason when it should be recognized as utterly pointless absolutely no later than Jan. 9.

This memory should stick with the Irish throughout 2018’s first eight months, not whatever happens in Orlando. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Losing to LSU will not “fester over the winter,” to use another commenter’s worry. Losing to Stanford should. Getting embarrassed at Miami will.

If (when) Central Florida falls for the first time this year, how vocal will the sideways glances toward Scott Frost be, as the head coach splits his time between his new gig at Nebraska and his loyal charges in Orlando? They won’t be vocal at all. Frost delivered a 13-0 season. That is what will be remembered.

When Oregon blows past Boise State this weekend, will the Ducks take solace in thinking they could have challenged Stanford for the Pac-12 North Division if only their quarterback had stayed healthy? No, they will still look at the 7-5 season as the disappointment it was, not to mention they’ll be led by their newest head coach with Willie Taggart gone already in less than one calendar year.

When Arizona and Purdue combine for more than 65 points, will that be a sign their defenses need vast improvements in the offseason? No, the Wildcats giving up 34.1 yards per game already makes that pretty clear. The Boilermakers, contrarily, shouldn’t panic no matter the Foster Farms Bowl result. Head coach Jeff Brohm clearly has them trending in the right direction on both sides of the ball. In addition to a dynamic offense, Purdue gave up only 19.3 points per game this season.

Notre Dame very well may beat LSU. It certainly wants to. But that result will not reflect the 2017 season, and it will not be a catalyst into 2018. Let’s skip the argument of bowl victories set a foundation for success the following season. The data overwhelmingly says there is no distinct correlation to such thinking.

Rather, the Citrus Bowl will simply be a physical and entertaining game. On a day inevitably spent on the couch, likely horizontally, what more can genuinely be asked for?