Brian Polian met with the media yesterday and was in a particularly reflective mood. Having watched the video of his interview a dozen or so times, it’s very clear that the coaches are well aware that the end may be near.
No comments I’ve seen up until know have been as telling as these by Polian.
“I love the place, it is incredibly special, however long my time ends up being here — the assistant coaches, we’re vagabonds — who knows where you end up and at what point. I loved every minute of it. That being said, five years right now feels like ten. This is a different kind of place in terms of the pressure that you’re under. When guys at different places don’t want to hear anything in the media they just turn off the local media and don’t read the paper. At Notre Dame, you can’t even pay attention to the national media, sometimes it’s even rougher. So you lock yourself in the room, put your iPod on, put your head down and just do your job.”
There’s no doubt that Polian’s iPod must’ve been playing much of the past two weeks because the whispers have turned into shouting. Yet there isn’t a coach that knows the business side of things better than Polian, who has lived a life in football.
Still, for a coach that came to Notre Dame with only a recruiting pedigree, it’s amazing to see the man Polian has become. While the punt game has been atrocious this season, Polian has done a solid job coordinating a special teams unit, and has been dynamic on the recruiting trail, becoming one of the true “closers” on staff. Weis spoke candidly about Polian’s skills in the living room.
“You can’t negate how dynamic he’s been in recruiting,” Weis said. “He’s gone into one of the hot beds of Southern Cal, not only has he drawn players out of there but he’s been competitive on all the best. And that’s tough to do. He’s both hated and respected by all those coaches on the west coast. because he doesn’t care. He just goes in there to every school and tries to slug it out with everyone in recruiting.
As these final two games approach, it’s amazing that the football program could be at a major crossroads that brings wholesale changes. While the team hasn’t achieved as much as many of us thought it could, the staff Weis put together has to be one of the best Notre Dame has put together since the early Lou Holtz years.
While none of the coaches were willing to admit it, it’s going to be a bittersweet moment for many of them if this is the last game they ever run out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium.
Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4, 227 pounds 2018-19 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018. Depth chart: The combination of a memorable Citrus Bowl showing and a strong spring set up Boykin as Notre Dame’s top receiver, presumably starting isolated on the boundary. Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit from the greater Chicago area, Boykin chose the Irish over a number of prestigious offers, including Ohio State, Michigan and Oregon.
CAREER TO DATE Boykin’s career stats do not precipitate an undisputed top receiver. Nonetheless, his New Year’s Day showing clearly illustrated why Boykin will probably start 2018 in that role. Quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book targeted him six times with both Kevin Stepherson (suspension) and Chase Claypool (shoulder) sidelined. Boykin caught three of those passes, all first downs, for 102 yards and a 55-yard game-winning touchdown in which he displayed jumping abilities, strong hands and quick acceleration.
2015: Preserved a year of eligibility.
2016: 12 games; six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
2017: 12 games; 12 catches for 253 yards and two scores. Named Citrus Bowl MVP.
QUOTE(S) March and April were filled with praise of Boykin from both Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and receivers coach Del Alexander. Even when discussing the Irish secondary, Kelly’s focus turned toward the troubles Boykin gave those defensive backs.
“I want to defend Miles Boykin better,” Kelly said following the Blue-Gold Game on April 21, a day in which Boykin caught three passes for 132 yards and one touchdown. “He was obviously an issue. … If we were playing against a Miles Boykin, we would play a little differently, and he would get a lot more help.”
Throughout the spring, Kelly insisted Boykin was on a different level than the rest of the receivers, even on days when Claypool was at his best.
“They’re not in the same category,” Kelly said in late March. “[Boykin] is a guy who can defeat one-on-one coverage and get you out of a loaded box by just throwing a fade to him. Those guys don’t have that and we’re not asking them. We didn’t recruit them for that purpose. We recruited Miles for that and he’s giving that to us.
“If you drop an eighth hat [in the box] and you’re going to leave him one-on-one into the boundary, you’re going to have to deal with him going up and getting the football. We think he can take it away from anybody.”
In Alexander’s mind, Boykin’s progress started in the offseason immediately following the highs of the Citrus Bowl.
“He’s using his quickness, he’s using his size and length, he’s using his explosiveness,” Alexander said. “That comes from his conditioning and his experience in the offense.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO “Boykin’s [2017 spring] rise to the top of the depth chart was always a possibility, if not necessarily a likely one following the 2016 season. … Boykin’s pedigree kept this result in play despite his minimal role. The question now is, will he maintain this consistency and thus create more opportunities for himself?
“If he does, 20-plus catches and a couple touchdowns seems entirely reasonable.”
2018 OUTLOOK One catch does not a career make, no matter how dramatic and well-timed it was. Before Boykin’s winning play, he had largely disappointed in 2017, to such a degree it cannot be traced entirely to Notre Dame’s inconsistent quarterback play. If 20-plus catches and a couple touchdowns was the expectation, then Boykin only came near it due to others’ absences in the bowl game. Otherwise, his season likely would have finished with only nine grabs for 151 yards and one score.
Finding the balance between those lackluster numbers and another touted spring is a difficult line to toe. The top Irish receiver should end up with an absolute minimum of 35 catches, 500 yards and half a dozen touchdowns, and that would be within a very balanced offense. Kelly made it quite clear this spring, he expects Boykin to be his top receiver. Thus, those should be the projected minimums for his senior year.
If sophomore Michael Young or Claypool excels in the fall, combined with Boykin again underwhelming, then those numbers will be but a pipe dream. As much as Boykin’s third career touchdown should be remembered for a long time, it does not guarantee great things will quickly follow. Nor does springtime excellence. Only fall Saturdays determine such.
DOWN THE ROAD It is within the realm of possibility Boykin’s improved bench press maximums and quicker burst lead to a distinguished 2018. At his height and with that speed, he could opt to test the NFL waters. More likely, Boykin will return for a fifth year, which the coaching staff will certainly be grateful for.
Even with the likes of junior Javon McKinley, Claypool, early-enrolled freshman Micah Jones and incoming-freshman Braden Lenzy threatening to become the preferred big target of whomever is throwing passes for Notre Dame, having a veteran who has dealt with NFL-quality cornerbacks is a luxury not to be passed up, and Boykin already fits that description thanks to LSU’s secondary. That aspect of Boykin’s résumé will be further bolstered from the outset of 2017, considering the overall strength of Michigan’s defense.
Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ¾, 245 pounds. 2018-19 year, eligibility: Fifth-year tight end with only eligibility in 2018 remaining. Depth chart: The springtime emergence of sophomore Cole Kmet bumped Weishar down to third on the depth chart among Notre Dame’s tight ends, but in Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system with a dependence on multiple tight end sets, Weishar should still be considered part of the two-deep. Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American, rivals.com rated Weishar as the No. 7 tight end in his class. He chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma, among others.
CAREER TO DATE Weishar’s career has been spent backing up future NFL tight ends, including fourth-round pick Durham Smythe. That has limited his statistical impact to date, highlighted by his nine catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns last season, including an impressive display of strong hands in the end zone in the season opener against Temple.
2014: Preserved a year of eligibility.
2015: 12 games; three catches for 19 yards.
2016: 12 games; three catches for 47 yards.
2017: 13 games; nine catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
QUOTE(S) Known commodities are not discussed much in the spring. Tracing back to September, Irish head coach Brian Kelly frequently praised Weishar’s hands and tenacity.
“He can catch the damn football,” Kelly said following the victory over Temple. “Doesn’t matter where you throw it. … He created that on his own, and he’s just had so much confidence in the way he’s been playing and it’s carried over.”
Weishar’s skillset extends beyond his hands and to his willingness to engage as a blocker. In some respects, that combination makes him the ideal red-zone tight end.
“He will stick his nose in there,” Kelly said in late September. “… He’s got some grit and toughness to him. We all know he can catch the football, but it’s hard to take him off the field because he’ll throw his body in there and he’ll do whatever is necessary to get the job done.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO “[Equanimeous] St. Brown’s breakout campaign last year, [Miles] Boykin’s strong spring showing, sophomore receiver Chase Claypool’s intriguing potential and [Alizé] Mack’s return all diminish Weishar’s role in the Irish offense.
“If Mack were to flash the inconsistency or immaturity that cost him the 2016 season, suddenly Weishar would be back in the conversation. Offensive coordinator Chip Long has a history of using two tight ends. That makes the third spot on the tight end depth chart less the figurative imprisonment sentence it usually would be. Provided Smythe and Mack both stay healthy and in good graces, though, Weishar’s path to significant playing time in 2017 may have closed.”
2018 OUTLOOK Notre Dame may hope Weishar hardly impacts the season. That would mean both Mack and Kmet play well enough to be featured throughout three months. Considering the former’s track record of inconsistency and immaturity and the latter’s résumé consisting solely of a solid spring, the odds of both Mack and Kmet playing to their potentials are slim.
It is more likely Weishar’s experience and veteran savvy is needed by midseason, if not sooner. His red-zone presence alone should lead to him equaling last year’s meager stats.
If the former situation unfolds, Weishar will assuredly deserve some of the credit even as his role is reduced. His mentorship may be what anchors the tight end meetings and development as a whole.
DOWN THE ROAD Weishar will not start against Michigan, so if he does not get drafted he will not jeopardize the lengthy streak of starting Irish tight ends hearing their name called by an NFL front office. That is not to say Weishar has no chance at getting drafted. After all, former Irish tight end Ben Koyack was drafted in the seventh round, and at this point in his career, he had totaled only 14 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns, not all that much more than Weishar’s 15 receptions for 118 yards and two scores to date.
Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 3/8, 229 pounds 2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018. Depth chart: Claypool’s positioning on the depth chart hinges on how he compares to sophomore Michael Young. One of the two will be the second option among the receivers, earning the starting duties at the field receiver position, with the other lining up in the slot and splitting time with the tight ends. If focusing solely on three-receiver sets, Claypool may yet line up at slot, providing a physical option on the interior while Young threatens the top of the secondary. Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, the intriguing Canadian chose the Irish over offers from Michigan, Oregon and Arizona, among others. Do not think Claypool’s development has been slowed by crossing the border. He insists the only difference in the game in arriving at Notre Dame was the speed on the field, a typical challenge for anyone coming from high school, no matter the country.
CAREER TO DATE Claypool’s initial impact may have come on special teams, making 11 tackles in 12 games as a freshman, but he broke through as a receiver in 2017, especially against Wake Forest when he caught nine passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. He started eight games and finished the season second on the team in both catches and receiving yards, trailing Equanimeous St. Brown in each category.
Claypool missed the Citrus Bowl against LSU with a shoulder injury, but was ready for full contact in spring practice by early April.
2016: 12 games, five catches for 81 yards.
2017: 12 games, 29 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns.
2018 Blue-Gold Game: Six catches for 151 yards and two scores.
QUOTE(S) Irish head coach Brian Kelly suggested in early April he expects Claypool to wind up in the field position. His physical abilities certainly would make him a threat along the sideline.
“We think that’s where he can best impact what we want to do,” Kelly said. “Chase is a young man that the attention to detail, the focus, he’s got to bring traits every day. He’s a great-looking kid (physically). He can make plays. We just have to keep working the process with him.
“If he just respects the process and sticks with it, he’s going to be a really good player.”
On one hand that process takes time. On the other, it is expedited when a player buys in entirely, something Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long was still waiting for from Claypool this spring.
“We’re still counting on him to grow,” Long said April 12. “Obviously, he is a great talent. … The moment he decides that, he’s going to be a big-time player. The shoulder held him back a little bit, so he’s kind of getting into the flow of things.
“When he decides he wants to be great, he’s going to be great.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO “Long’s predilection to larger receivers fits in with his tendencies to utilize two tight ends. In some alternate universe, Long has not arrived at Notre Dame and Claypool’s career could have an entirely different direction.
“Sending Claypool’s frame on quick routes across the middle should provide quarterback Brandon Wimbush an especially-dynamic safety valve of sorts. Typically the last read is a running back in the flat or a tight end on a delayed release. That is not to say Claypool will be the last read — he won’t be. It is to say envisioning him running a five-yard slant from the slot position is to foresee a can’t-miss target only a few yards away from the quarterback.
“The slot obviously does other things, and Claypool will do them. The point here is to illustrate some of why Long may want to try such height and length at a position usually reserved for shifty converted running backs.
“This season’s ceiling for Claypool may be about 30 catches and a couple scores.”
2018 OUTLOOK Where does one collect his winnings for nailing the projection of Claypool’s 2017? Oh, sports gambling was not legal yet? Too bad.
Looking forward, it may hardly matter if Claypool or Young ends up the No. 2 receiver. Their opportunities opposite senior Miles Boykin may come down to situation and matchup. If a third-and-goal against USC with 6-foot-2 safety Marvell Tell providing man coverage now that cornerback Jack Jones has been ruled out for the season (academics), then perhaps simply throwing a jump ball to Claypool may be the best option.
Expecting a player to replicate the previous season’s numbers does not usually sound like progress. When suggesting Claypool again end up with 30 catches for a few hundred yards and a couple touchdowns, the more demanding hope would be he avoid Saturday afternoons with none or only one reception, as happened four times in 2017. Some of last year’s ups-and-downs may be attributed to the inconsistent quarterback play, but Claypool was equally unreliable. Overcoming that would mean Kelly’s and Long’s spring-long messages were heard and tended to.
DOWN THE ROAD Claypool and Boykin are on the same timeline in terms of eligibility, but Claypool has put up more career stats than the senior, yet Boykin’s Citrus Bowl heroics and solid spring performance have established him as the top receiver heading into 2018. Claypool (and Young) will have a chance to change that. Whichever receiver proves the steadiest in September will presumably become the primary target through the rest of the fall.
Claypool has the talent to do that. After his acknowledgements of that ceiling — and the emotions that have kept him from it, following the Blue-Gold Game on April 21 — perhaps he can finally capitalize on that potential in his final year of eligibility in 2019. In that instance, Claypool undoubtedly has the physical gifts to entice NFL front offices.
Just about every sports website last week bore a version of the same headline: “Sports gambling is now legal!” This site did not, in no small part because wagering on sports is hardly more legal now than it was two weeks ago, and for the vast majority of us, that will not change between now and the start of Notre Dame’s season.
The Supreme Court did not legalize sports gambling across the United States; it removed the illegality of 46 states individually deciding to allow sports gambling. Few states will pass such laws and host operating sportsbooks before Sept. 1. Those that do are likely to be confined to the Atlantic Coast (as in New Jersey and possibly Delaware).
Even if those headlines had been completely accurate, the greatest purpose of including sports gambling in an intelligent discourse does not change. More than a means to make money — it barely ever is, and the only true exceptions include a boxer beating up on a mixed martial arts fighter in a squared circle — gambling odds offer a truer and more precise method of predictive evaluation than hot takes and polls do. When they were mentioned around these parts last season, it was with those intentions.
Whereas the headline’s goal is to attract readers, the tweet’s goal is to earn retweets and the poll’s seeming purpose is to offend every fan base, the bookmaker’s goal is to attract equal investment on both sides of a wager, earning his book a five percent return on the entire handle. Money talks, literally so if paying attention.
With those disclaimers in mind, noticing a few pertinent over/under win totals for the coming season feels like a good use of time. It should be remembered, sportsbooks will not put any win total above 10.5 in college football. Too many variables are in play.
Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Florida State also all hold at 8.5 as of this morning, though the Cardinal opened as high as 9.5 in some locations and the Hokies can still be found at 7.5 if shopping around. USC opened at 7.5 wins before getting moved all the way up to 9.0 in reliable books.
Of the Power Five programs with lines set (so, not Ball State and Navy), only Wake Forest and Northwestern are also expected to be better than .500 this season, at 6.5 and 7.5 wins, respectively. Vanderbilt (5.0), Pittsburgh (5.5) and Syracuse (5.5) will be considerable underdogs when they face Notre Dame.
Speaking of facing Syracuse, perhaps that much-maligned move to play that game at Yankee Stadium in New York City can hold an unexpected benefit for those covering it. New Jersey happens to be so tantalizingly close. Now go ahead and mark off that sentence as one never before written in history.
ON NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS Again, only looking at the 10 major-conference foes on the Irish schedule, as well as Notre Dame … and listed in order of likelihood:
Florida State: 30-to-1.
Notre Dame: 33-to-1 in most places, sometimes as high as 55-to-1.
Virginia Tech: 45-to-1 for the most part, seen as high as 50-to-1.
USC: 50-to-1 usually, but some 40-to-1 options exist.
Wake Forest: 225-to-1.
Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt: 600-to-1 each, otherwise known as 20 percent more of a payout than one would receive if holding an early futures ticket predicting the Las Vegas Golden Knights would win the 2018 Stanley Cup. That is, if the Knights manage to win four more games.
A LONG HELD HOLLYWOOD GRIEVANCE It will shock exactly no one who reads this space to learn I have a few friends who place the occasional wager. If I ever personally live in a state where sports gambling is legal, maybe than I will publicly admit my notebook paying homage to the Philadelphia 76ers is filled with more than hypothetical wagers. Until then, it is certainly nothing more than a proof of concept.
One of those friends considers “Ocean’s 11” to be among his favorite movies, understandably so. Within that, he elevates the most-quoted Daniel Ocean line above all other bits of that script.
“Because the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes, the house takes you. Unless when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big, and then you take the house.”
What card game exactly is Mr. Ocean playing? The perfect blackjack hand is not seen until the wager has already been placed, and it can still be foiled by the dealer flipping 21. Poker is not played against the house. It is against players. Go ahead, when that perfect hand comes along, bet big, but you are only taking other losers’ money. You never take the house.
As it pertains to sports gambling, a topic to which Danny was not referring, herein lies the flaw to presuming profits. There is no perfect hand. UMBC beats Virginia. Leicester City wins the Premier League. An expansion team reaches the Stanley Cup Final. The house always wins.
Use gambling odds to put a conversation in perspective. Perhaps place a small bet to make a meaningless September afternoon more entertaining. Do not expect the supposed legalization of sports gambling to lead to a new source of taxable income.