Mailbag: So many questions, so little time


I’ve got to hand it to you guys for this batch of questions. Some really good ones. I don’t think I got to all of them, though this took me a few hours to blow through. (Feel free to ask again next time if I missed it.)

Happy weekend.


mtflsmitty: What’s your assessment of the parity (or lack thereof) among the Power 5 conferences heading into 2015?

There’s nothing that’s a bigger offseason story than the great reshuffling. Ohio State’s victory, paired with some high-profile struggles by SEC West teams — not to mention the Big Ten’s bowl season — really turns the tables of perception.

I wrote about it a bit already, but there’s no more assumption of greatness for the SEC. All that talk of two teams in the playoff? It’s tough to give anybody  the benefit of the doubt now, especially after seeing the eggs laid by teams we thought elite — like Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

That all bodes very well for Notre Dame. Because with the schedule the Irish are playing, there’s little doubt that if they win, they’ll get respect for those victories.


indyirish91: Any talk about BK’s coaching staff? Are we gaining or losing anyone? I still would like to see Jeff Quinn added to the staff.

I find it hard to think there’s going to be any changes, especially with all the assistants out recruiting and working hard. And while many have focused on Jeff Quinn and his connection with Kelly, do you get rid of Harry Hiestand or Mike Denbrock for him? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

In many ways the bowl victory was just as important for the continuity of the coaching staff as it was for the team’s momentum into the offseason. Those guys badly needed a win — and doing so against a top SEC program certainly helped everybody sleep a little better at night.

Would I be shocked if something happened after Signing Day? No. But anything I’d write here would be unsubstantiated speculation, and that doesn’t do anybody any good.


andy44teg: Is ND in the mix for any 5th Year Seniors looking to transfer like a Cody Riggs??

Tom Loy over at Irish 247 said the staff was kicking the tires on a fifth-year transfer, but he didn’t speculate as to who it was. Some smoke began circling Cal’s Brennan Scarlett, but the defensive end has struggled with injuries after being a promising recruit.

With roster numbers being what they are, I think Kelly and his staff will make moves after they see who they finish the recruiting class with and how they handle their own fifth-years.


bernhtp: Notre Dame appears to be on a trajectory to have well over 85 scholarships this spring allocated to returning players, LOI/EE recruits, and fifth-year invites. If the numbers don’t come down to 85 by fall camp via normal attrition (transfers, medical hardships, academic fallout), Notre Dame would need to essentially cut players (likely from the fifth-year pool, e.g., Jarrett Grace if doesn’t progress sufficiently). While not SEC-type oversigning, it is still not traditional ND. What is your perspective?

This seems to be a topic we just start to discuss… and then massive attrition hits. As Bern alludes to, there’s a numbers crunch and some difficult decisions yet to be made. Last year, we saw those solved by mass exodus to the NFL Draft. This year, it looks like the Irish got lucky, with everybody coming back.

That said, I don’t think there’s any reason to be concerned about going over the 85-man limit, because there are so many things that still need to play out. Medical hardships are a big one — guys like Nicky Baratti, Jarrett Grace, Conor Hanratty (the last two also count as fifth-year questions).

Nobody is getting their scholarship ripped out of their hands and put out to pasture. But would I be surprised if there are a few transfers that take place between now and next summer? Not at all. Until then, let’s hold off on the alarm bells. This type of problem is one that comes with building proper depth on your roster.


c4evr: If safety is one of the thinnest positions on the roster, as I look at incoming recruits, why is it so hard to bring in studs at that position? There are currently 3 kids all ranked as 3 star players for the safety position – that seems a little out if balance and underwhelming. Why is that?

I’m pretty slow to classify these guys as underwhelming, if only because I don’t put a lot of stock in the star-rankings. Drue Tranquill was a guy nobody wanted. He played more snaps than anybody. I tend to think we’ll start liking Nicco Fertitta and Mykelti Williams, and a sleeper like Ashton While. And while some wonder about Prentice McKinney making it to campus, he’s a guy the staff really likes, and has for a long time.

Take a look at Urban Meyer’s Ohio State defense. While a few of those guys are high-profile recruits, more than a few were three-star recruits, too. The Irish staff knows they need to recruit the position and add some depth there. New offers are going out, relationships are being built. At this time last year we didn’t know who Daniel Cage or Pete Mokwuah were.

It’s definitely a position of need. But it doesn’t matter how long you’ve had them committed as long as they send in the fax that first Wednesday in February.


Ted Wheeler: Any word or guesses on possible position changes? Devin Butler to FS? James Onwualu back to blocking WR? There always seem to be a few.

It’s something I’m definitely keeping an eye on. But I don’t see Onwualu moving back to offense. Especially after the progress he made at linebacker — not to mention the depth chart backlog at receiver.

Butler to free safety? Will that stop him from getting beat over the top? People have ID’d guys like Justin Brent as an option to move, just because of his physicality and size. I’m not buying the move of a guy like C.J. Prosise to running back, just because he was such a weapon in the slot.

If Brian Kelly deserves the benefit of the doubt anywhere, it’s on position switches. He’s been pretty impressive when it comes to that, and I’m sure there’ll be a few rabbits up his sleeve soon, with safety and running back looking like two areas where things are pretty thin.


finishthefight1986: The Irish always seem to have an eventful offseason. What are you looking forward to the most for 2015? Any untoward events facing our Irish you hope to avoid 2015?

All of them? I could go for a scandal-free offseason if that’s okay with everybody else.


joewyoming: Has the stance of the Irish athletic department been swayed by watching what happened to the Big 12 with regard to the playoff? Would a one-loss Irish team ever have a chance for inclusion in the playoff in the absence of a conference championship game?

Both Kelly and Jack Swarbrick have mentioned this, and it’s a really good question. For the record, I don’t think an 11-1 Notre Dame team would’ve been held out of the playoff. (Not that it matters, or that we could prove it.)

Here’s what Swarbrick told Chris Goff of the Journal Gazette:

“The bottom line for Notre Dame is that while tiebreaker criteria can be expected to work against us in some years, that is not a given,” Swarbrick said. “We have the opportunity to avoid the application of those criteria, and one or more upsets in championship games may create opportunities for other teams, including Notre Dame, who might not have otherwise been selected.”


subalum: Keith, northern football programs seem to be dominant in every division except FBS. Examples being: Wisconsin whitewater, North Dakota State, Montana , Patriots, Packers etc. Why do northern teams only win FBS championships once every 12 or so years (OSU)? Is the answer as simple as a lack of a true playoff that takes southern teams to northern climates creating more of a level playing field? Or is it more complex than that? What are your thoughts?

Throw out the NFL teams and I think you might be onto something, especially at the FCS and lower levels. But the biggest part of that in my opinion? A lack of D-I programs in Northern States.

There is no D-I football in North or South Dakota. There’s only the Gophers in Minnesota and the Badgers in Wisconsin. There are a lot of good football players in those states, and that’s what fills the rosters of the teams that continue to make noise at the lower levels.

While I think Montana has the Western states to pull from, they all have the ability to offer and target some kids that get missed, as opposed to the recruits that tend to get seen in more talent-rich states.

Outside of geographical hubs like California, Texas and Florida, I can’t say I’m a big believer in blanket statements that claim football players are better in State X, Y or Z because of the weather. How do you explain that the Big Ten is now a premier basketball conference?

Again, I’m no Malcolm Gladwell, I’m just a guy who watches too much Notre Dame football and too many movies and TV shows. But that’s my take.


nateprez4irish: Who are your early leaders for captains next year?

Great question. I’m going with Joe Schmidt, Sheldon Day, Ronnie Stanley and Everett Golson. But there is a lot of leadership on this team and obviously if Golson leaves that changes everything.


bowser75: I worry about the chemistry of the team. Guys coming back from suspension, qb’s competing for no. 1, players picking sides on the qb debate, player x thinking he should get more reps than player z, etc., etc… These are the things that keep me awake at night. Well, that and black holes, nuclear war, and circus clowns.

Can’t help you with the black holes and circus clowns, but the football stuff should subside. Welcome to life inside a competitive football program. As we learned in the victory over LSU, there’s the perception we (I’ll include media in this) as fans have and the thought process inside the building.

To me, all those worries are what makes this program healthy. And a big reason why I’m super excited about 2015.


cbhoov144: Not sure if it’s been discussed here already, but if you haven’t seen it yet, ESPN has a nice 30 for 30 short about Reggie Ho.

This was pretty awesome. Very nicely done:



Irish land elite TE recruit Alize Jones


After being committed to UCLA for months, Las Vegas tight end Alize Jones has flipped his pledge to Notre Dame. The bluechip recruit is widely acknowledged to be the best tight end in the country and plays high school football with current Irish commit Nicco Fertitta at Bishop Gorman.

Jones took to Twitter to decommit from UCLA earlier today, making a long-rumored move to Notre Dame official moments later.

At nearly 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Jones has the size, speed and length the Irish covet at tight end. He’ll be able to walk into a depth chart that’s wide open, with Ben Koyack departing and Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Mike Heuerman and Nic Weishar having little experience.

The Irish coaching staff worked hard on Jones, showing him a versatile offense that’s developed more elite tight end prospects than any other program in the country. Multiple reports say that Jones is also talented enough to play jumbo wide receiver, something the Irish did with Koyack, Troy Niklas and Tyler Eifert.

Jones has been on campus multiple times, including a recent visit for the awards banquet. He’s Notre Dame’s 23rd commitment in the 2015 recruiting class, with four early enrollees already on campus.


Dead period over, home stretch to recruiting begins

Arrington Farrar

The first College Football Playoff is over. And with less than three weeks to go before National Signing Day, the dead period has ended and the home stretch in recruiting has begun.

As Notre Dame did last year, the Pot of Gold (or #PotofGold) has returned. Nothing says I love you to a blue-chip recruit like the Irish’s mail-blast, a revenue generator for the local South Bend post office and a popular recruiting gimmick strategy that helps give you an idea as to who Notre Dame is chasing in the final days of the recruiting cycle.

Committed recruits like Brandon Wimbush, CJ Sanders, Bo Wallace and Shaun Crawford all took to Twitter to report getting them. (It looks like all commits did.) So did high-priority targets like running backs Dexter Williams and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and safeties Frank Buncom and Justin Reid.

The Irish also threw a feeler at five-star defensive lineman Rasheem Green, hoping to finally reel an elite football player out of USC stranglehold Junipero Serra high school. Not sure it’ll help, but it’s a chance worth taking.

With Notre Dame’s staff riding a bit of a high after beating LSU and the return of Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day, they’re still on the lookout for a closer to the class at both running back and safety.

In the secondary, former Stanford commit Arrington Farrar has emerged as an option. The four-star prospect from Atlanta had been committed to the Cardinal since his sophomore season, but the AJC reports that admissions may have been an issue in Palo Alto.

That doesn’t seem to be a barrier for Notre Dame, and the Irish coaching staff has worked quickly to try and secure a visit. Reports from multiple outlets have Farrar visiting North Carolina this weekend, with a January visit to South Bend likely to happen, though there’ll be quite a fight for one of Atlanta’s top defensive backs, with Wisconsin, Penn State and others trying their best to get into the mix.

At this time last year, the Irish coaching staff was still riding high off the addition of Nyles Morgan, who pledged at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. But they were also still hard at work securing a position of huge need, adding Pete Mokwuah and Daniel Cage at defensive tackle. So while there are still two relatively large holes in this group, nobody’s official until the fax comes in.

News of more visits and more targets will only come fast and furious over the next few weeks, with the Irish coaching staff selling a big 2015 and beyond for a program that still looks on the rise.



Ronnie Stanley to return for senior season

Notre Dame v Syracuse

Notre Dame junior Ronnie Stanley announced Tuesday that he will return for his senior season, giving the Irish one of the best left tackles in college football for another season. After being projected by some as a first round pick, Stanley made the decision to return for 2015.

“This was a difficult decision,” Stanley said in an official release by UND.com. “My dream isn’t just to play in the National Football League. I want to win a national championship. I’ve waited to this point so I could watch the actual game and see if I felt any emotion, and I felt a great deal. I am a competitor. I want to play on the top stage so I’ve decided that I’m returning to Notre Dame for my senior year.

“We’ve got a chance to have a special season next year. Many of my teammates are returning and I’ve made strong bonds with lots of them. If all of them weren’t coming back this year it would’ve made it an easier decision to leave. All this, the opportunity to graduate, and much more, led to my decision to stay.”

As Brian Kelly and the Irish staff do their best to close the 2015 recruiting class strong, they just reeled in a six-star recruit, solidifying an offensive line that has a chance to be dominant next season. And after emerging as a premier athlete at left tackle, Stanley has the ability to return to South Bend for an offseason that’ll build him into a readymade starter at the next level.

“Ronnie has developed into a premier offensive lineman,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “With another year at the position, and gaining more knowledge under the outstanding coaching of Harry Hiestand, Ronnie could be the best tackle in all of college football.

“I know this decision wasn’t an easy one for him, but, as his coach, I’m proud of the manner in which he handled it. He’s matured so much since he first arrived on campus, and this is just another example. Ronnie now has a chance to leave Notre Dame as both a graduate and first-round NFL pick.”

Just days after the announced return of Sheldon Day, the groundwork is laid for a big 2015 season. That started with the upset victory of LSU in the Music City Bowl, where Kelly praised Stanley’s leadership ability. Keeping the Las Vegas native on campus returns one of the draft’s most intriguing prospects in South Bend for another season.