Pregame six pack: Here comes the Holy War


Close your eyes and you might have missed it. After an opening to the season that can only be described as bizarre, Notre Dame has righted the ship, won seven of their last eight games, and is closing in on the end of the 2011 season.

For eight graduate students and 30 seniors, this could be the last time they’ll ever run down the steps of the locker room, slap the “Play Like A Champion Today” sign, and run out of the tunnel.

For some like Michael Floyd, it’ll be the end of the road in a record breaking career. For some like walk-on Matthew Mulvey, it’ll be the last chance to take the Irish into victory formation. Head coach Brian Kelly knows that finality carries challenges.

“There’s emotions on senior day. It’s your last game in Notre Dame Stadium,” Kelly said. “Your parents and family and friends are there. And that’s fine, but you can’t be emotional. It can’t get to you where it takes you out of how you prepare and how you play the game.”

After all, Kelly points out something very important — a message the Irish didn’t get against UConn in 2009 or Syracuse in 2008.

“There’s one senior day,” Kelly said. “And you’ll remember it because you win.”

As the Irish prepare to battle for the Ireland Trophy against Boston College, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings as the Irish and Eagles get set to play at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC.


It may not be fully evolved, but when Brian Kelly’s offense is going… it’s going good.

If Charlie Weis is rightfully acknowledged as an offensive guru, you’d be shocked to know that even in the three seasons where Weis had an offensive that many considered prolific (2005, 2006, 2009), only the 2005 squad put up as many 500-yard days as Kelly’s team did this year.

When asked about the key to the Irish taking a big leap forward — the Irish are 33rd in the country with 436 yards a game versus 61st with 380 yards a game in 2010 — Kelly singled out the play of his quarterback Tommy Rees, and his ability to process the offense.

“I would say it starts, and we said this from the very beginning, with the quarterback,” Kelly said. “We’ll give him as much as he can handle, we’ll keep moving forward. But I think Tommy has a better grasp of the tempo we want to run. We couldn’t really push that hard at him because we were still trying to master some of the basic fundamentals. But as we continue to move forward we hope that we can continue to move a little bit quicker in our pace, which allows us to do more.”

While the highs have been high the lows have been low. Taking away the opening two weeks where the Irish gave the football game away with turnovers, the key to continued evolution is limiting the lows.

For a team that averages 436 yards a game, the Irish have played well below their average four times, twice logging less than 300 yards of offense (in the loss to USC, and surprisingly in the 31-13 victory over Michigan State). Against the Trojans, the Irish only had 41 yards on the ground. Against the Spartans, they relied on opportunistic offense and defense and a George Atkinson kickoff return.

When the going’s good, this Irish offense eats up yards in a hurry. When it’s not, things grind to a halt. As the Irish look to move on without Michael Floyd, they’ll need to get a more consistent performance out of the unit as a whole.


As the season continues, Jamoris Slaughter and Prince Shembo’s jobs continue to change.

You’d have to be trying awfully hard not to notice the impact Jamoris Slaughter has had on the defense. Entering the season neck-and-neck with Zeke Motta, Slaughter has become the most versatile defender in the secondary, sliding into the role Robert Blanton embodied last year and quickly becoming one of the Irish’s most important role players.

Lately, that’s come at the expense of Prince Shembo, as the sophomore linebacker has been losing minutes to Slaughter, who has taken over for Shembo at the Drop linebacker position when the Irish shift into a nickel or dime package.

Kelly explained the need for change.

“The game is played right now by 53 1/3 yards, in other words, the field is spread,” Kelly explained. “Because of that, you have to make substitutions based on how teams want to play. And if they want to play three, four five wide receivers, you have to make some situational substitutions and play more nickel.”

After struggling in coverage earlier in the season, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has made the shift to Slaughter in Shembo’s spot, while Shembo continues to find a way onto the field.

“His position won’t change, but maybe he can help us in other areas if we have to go into nickel and dime personnel,” Kelly said of Shembo. “I think what you’re seeing is that we need to match up. We can’t play a 245-pound guy on a skilled wide receiver every down. We have to make those situational substitutions. So I don’t think his role changes but maybe he adds to what his role is.”

With the Irish limited at defensive end with injuries to Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson slowly returning to form, the season-ending injury to Steve Filer means Shembo will likely see more time as a rush end.

“He’s already had his hand on the ground,” Kelly said. “He was in nickel and was a pass rusher for us, and I think that role continues to grow, keeping him on the field if the personnel is four wide.”


Manti Te’o and Luke Kuechly in the same linebacking corps? It could’ve happened.

Saturday will feature two of the premiere linebackers in the country when Boston College’s tackling machine Luke Kuechly and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o face off. Both guys are projected to be high draft picks. Both guys should rack up double digit tackles. And both guys could be playing for the Fighting Irish.

“Luke Kuechly would have ended the recruiting process before it ever began if Notre Dame would have offered him,” St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said in a 2010 interview with the South Bend Tribune. “But they didn’t.”

While Kuechly’s signing wasn’t as high profile as Te’o’s surprise signing with the Irish on National Signing Day in 2009, it was just as important. But looking back at that 18-man recruiting class that Charlie Weis inked, there were only three pure linebackers linked, with Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox joining Te’o in the class.

All recruiting sites ranked Fox well ahead of Kuechly — with Fox playing for one of Cleveland’s premiere private school in St. Ignatius while Kuechly played for Cincinnati’s St. Xavier.

To his credit, Kelly knew what Kuechly brought to the table, as he unsuccessfully chased the undersized linebacker to no avail when he coached the hometown Bearcats.

“We loved him,” Kelly said. “Felt like he was the kind of linebacker that has shown great instincts, loves the game, great character kid. His interests were from the very beginning, you know, towards Boston College. We knew it was going to be an uphill climb. But certainly St. X is a school that at Cincinnati we had somebody in there as much as we could.”


Don’t look know but Tyler Eifert is on the way to a record-setting season.

Any flying under the radar Tyler Eifert had been doing is long gone. The junior tight end is a Mackey Award Semifinalist, among the statistical leaders at his position in college football, and also on the way to record-breaking season under the dome.

How impressive has Eifert been this season? Consider that while Ken MacAfee still holds the individual game record for catches with nine, Eifert has already racked up three eight catch games this season, passing Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano, three guys that turned out to have pretty good careers.

Eifert needs just three catches to match MacAfee’s single-season record of 54 catches and 208 yards to tie MacAfee’s yardage total from that historic 1977 season.

Kelly has been effusive with his praise for the work Eifert’s done.

“What I’m so pleased about is that his desire to want to be the best,” Kelly said. “You know, he’s the one who’s put in the time in the weight room. He’s the one who’s mentally got himself in a position where he fights through any injuries and comes back. He’s put himself in that position, not because he’s athletic and he can run and catch. But he’s there every week. And at the tight end position answering the bell every week says a lot about the person, and that’s probably the thing that stands out, his mental and physical development is something that he’s taken on himself.”

Eifert sits at the top of all the major statistical categories in the FBS, leading in receptions while clocking in second in receiving yards and yards per catch. Pretty amazing for a guy that wasn’t on anybody’s radar when  Kelly took over the head coaching job.


For Boston College, a youth movement has yielded ugly results.

Combine injuries with a really young roster and you get this year’s Boston College team. The Eagles looked capable of taking a step forward on paper, but Frank Spaziani‘s team only has ten fourth or fifth-year seniors on his roster, a dangerously limited number for a team hoping to compete in the ACC.

Boston College has suffered five season-ending injuries, and the loss of wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah, defensive back C.J. Jones, defensive lineman Connor Wujciak, running back Montel Harris and defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey for significant time has robbed the Eagles out of veteran contributors.

Still, if you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s that the darkest days might be past this Boston College team, and Spaziani’s squad has won two of the last three.

“It says our players understand what the task at hand is every year,” Spaziani said. “They understand that it’s what we expect of them. They are what they are. We have no excuses for anything. Given your maximum effort is just the way it’s supposed to be. So we’re really proud that they’ve been able to do that. Having said that, they’re going to have to muster that up again here this week.”


Senior Day comes quickly for those that garner the headlines and those that never quite get there.

I’m not quite ready to talk about the end of Michael Floyd, Harrison Smith, and some of the other senior contributors careers with three games left. But with every Senior Day comes the sad realization that some careers never amounted to what many expected.

When that school is Notre Dame, sometimes those expectations are way out of whack. For a hard-luck senior like Mike Ragone, Kelly quickly dismissed the idea that he didn’t reach the expectations set for him.

“If you listen to other people’s expectations of yourself, you don’t really know who you are,” Kelly said of Ragone. “Mike gave everything he had. His career will be looked at — in terms of the way I evaluate him — he was a team guy for us and he suffered terrible injuries. We lost him for a while with a heat injury, obviously the quad injury, the knee before he got here.”

No decisions on fifth-years have been made, but you can’t help but think you’ve seen the last of some Irish seniors that had very high expectations heaped on them. And Kelly knows just how unfair that is.

“First off all expectations here at Notre Dame, I think we all know, I don’t know how you live up to them,” Kelly said. “I’m part of that. We’re in the same safe spot.”

While they never made the impact people expected, we’ll likely be seeing the last of some pretty high profile recruits on Saturday. Guys like Anthony McDonald, a linebacker that battled injuries and never could fill that gaping hole on the inside of the defense. Like David Posluszny, who struggled to get out of the shadow his All-American brother made at Penn State. Or Deion Walker, who came to South Bend over places like Florida State and Penn State, but only registered one catch in his career.

It might be difficult to look back at what might have been for those three, but they’ll have a Notre Dame degree to fall back on and countless memories that have nothing to do with football.

Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune tracked down the guys that no longer are on the Irish roster that otherwise would be playing in their final home game.

Matt Romine: After starting three games in his ND career, the Tulsa Union High product has started all 10 this season at the University of Tulsa, at right tackle.

Emeka Nwankwo: The 6-4-320-pound defensive lineman took a step down to the FCS and has 27 tackles and a sack for Western Illinois in starting all 10 games. Nwankwo played sparingly at ND, collecting five tackles in his four-year career there.

Steve Paskorz: Bounced between fullback and linebacker at ND, then bounced to West Virginia for his fifth year. He has played in just one of the Mountaineers’ 10 games – vs. Bowling Green – and has not recorded an official statistic as the team’s third-string linebacker.

Aaron Nagel was also a member of that 2007 recruiting class along with Romine, Nwankwo and Paskorz, but he transferred after his freshman season to Northwestern.

Nagel sat out the 2008 season to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements, and played in just one game in 2009. In 2010, however, he moved from linebacker to fullback (Northwestern calls it “superback”) and earned academic All-Big Ten honors.

He had one reception for six yards, a kickoff return for 14 yards and a tackle. Nagel opted to not come back for a fifth year in 2011.

That’s the beauty of college football. You can read all you want about a high school player. They might have five-stars and end up never seeing the field. They might never get a scholarship offer and turn into a first round draft pick.

We’ll see both ends of that spectrum on Saturday.

Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Ball State v Penn State
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Entering spring practices, Notre Dame looked stocked at running back, returning two juniors who each rushed for at least 800 yards last season as well as a senior with 285 career touches. With three underclassmen supporting them, the Irish were wealthy in both depth and experience at running back.

But then Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree to receiver, in part due to that bounty at running back and in part to be more assured the speedster would find playing time regardless, and Logan Diggs transferred to LSU. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Jadarian Price, is recovering from an Achilles injury that, on a common timeline following that devastating injury, could hinder him yet in August and September, if not longer should there be any version of a setback. Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love has yet to arrive on campus.

Junior Audric Estimé may look the part of a workhorse, but the Irish depth is no longer as thorough and the experience has quickly diminished.

Enter Penn State graduate transfer running back Devyn Ford, adding depth back into the Irish backfield and possibly some untapped talent with his Friday commitment. Ford fell out of the Nittany Lions rotation the last two seasons simply because younger players impressed. He had 131 touches in his first two seasons, gaining 622 yards and scoring six times.

Ford focused on kickoff returns in 2021, taking 12 for 258 yards, an average of 21.5 yards, while getting just 14 carries for 61 yards. Then he was only a special teams contributor in 2022 as a pair of freshmen took over the rushing workload (Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combining for 1,928 yards on 323 carries) and the kickoff return duties (Singleton had 14 returns for an average of 24.9 yards and one touchdown). Ford’s on-field roles were gone, so he called it a season after just four games in order to preserve a year of eligibility, transferring with up to two seasons still ahead of him.

Ford arrived at Penn State in 2019 as the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class, per, and the No. 40 overall prospect. As anyone would expect from a recruiting profile like that, he was also sought by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, to name a few, as a high-school prospect. Players with that background somewhat rarely hit the transfer wire, making Ford an intriguing lottery ticket for Notre Dame.

Bringing in Ford gives the Irish 83 scholarship players expected for this fall, two less than the NCAA maximum allowed.

He wore No. 28 at Penn State, digits currently unclaimed on the Notre Dame roster aside from walk-on receiver Griffin Eifert, so unless Ford is proactively seeking a fresh start in all regards, he may end up in those familiar numbers in preseason practices. But let’s use his transfer announcement as an excuse to rattle off his “99-to-0” thoughts now.

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds per Penn State’s website.
2023-24 year, eligibility: Ford enrolled at Penn State in 2019, so he has played four years, but 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, and he stepped away from the Nittany Lions’ season after four games in 2022 in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility, meaning Ford has two years of eligibility remaining if wanted as he arrives in South Bend.
Depth Chart: Audric Estimé will start for Notre Dame in Dublin (88 days), barring injury. Behind him, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne is the most probable candidate to be the secondary Irish ball carrier, though he has his own history of injuries. Price should be given a lengthier runway to find full speed this season, a reason all on its own to want to bring in Ford. He could end up Estimé’s primary backup with an impressive preseason, but for now, presume Payne has that inside track while Ford begins his career in a gold helmet ahead of Love.
Recruiting: Some wondered if Ford’s collegiate career was concluded when he did not enter the transfer portal during the winter window. Instead, he entered the database in late April.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was Penn State’s receivers coach in 2019, Ford’s freshman year, giving the Irish some direct knowledge of Ford as both a player and as a person, as well as a connection while he looked for a new school.

Ford came out of the gates strong in Happy Valley before his playing time dwindled, the kind of start expected from a recruit of his caliber, no matter how his Penn State career ended.

2019: 12 games; 52 rushes for 294 yards and three touchdowns with five catches for 30 yards.
2020: 6 games; 67 rushes for 274 yards and three touchdowns with seven catches for 24 yards.
2021: 8 games; 14 rushes for 61 yards and three catches for 18 yards while returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.5 yards.
2022: 4 games; 7 rushes for 37 yards.

If Ford spent a chunk of May in Paris, then delaying his transfer decision was an exceedingly understandable decision.

Ford’s freshman year highlights show a player who should contribute for Notre Dame this fall. He does not run with the same force as Estimé — who does? — but Ford is an all-around back with able hands as a safety valve in the flat. Presuming he devotes himself to pass blocking, there should never be a moment when his being on the field gives away a play’s intention to the defense.

His tendency to keep his feet moving through contact allows Ford to maintain balance even after an initial hit, wearing out the defense a bit at the very least.

All of which is to say, Ford should be more than a place-filler transfer. Logically, at least one of Payne, Price and Love will be slowed by injury or fatigue this fall, a probability among any three running backs but a higher one among two with injury concerns and a third being a true freshman. If one of them gives pause, Ford will be no lower than Notre Dame’s fourth running back.

Because Estimé and Diggs were so durable last season, the Irish never leaned on a fourth back, but as often as not, one is needed. Consider the 2017-2019 averages from the fourth Notre Dame running backs in each season, taking 37.3 carries per season for 141.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Those were backs by the names of Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, respectively.

Ford could add something similar to the Irish backfield in 2023. He certainly once had the physical skillset to do so. And if that becomes reality, no one should be more grateful than Estimé.

Just because Ford will have eligibility in 2024 does not mean he will use it. That will be up to both the Irish coaching staff and Ford.

But given the likelihood Estimé heads to the NFL after 2023, keeping Ford around as an able body in the running back room would make sense. That may be where Diggs’ departure has the greatest impact. The odds were against both Estimé and Diggs having a strong enough 2023 season to justify jumping to the NFL, so one of them would have returned in 2024 and Notre Dame would have had four backs returning plus a freshman or two. (The No. 1 all-purpose back in the class, consensus four-star Aneyas Williams is currently the only Irish commitment at the position in the class of 2024.)

The Irish would now need Ford or yet another transfer to have those kinds of numbers, and the advantage of Ford will be familiarity.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023

Notre Dame Spring Football Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 220 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Thomas has three years of eligibility remaining thanks to playing in only three games as a freshman.
Depth Chart: Thomas’s moments of success in 2022 made him a clear starter for this coming season, the only question being at what position. By the end of spring practices, Thomas looked like the frontrunner at the boundary position, a similar big body as past boundary stars Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Kevin Austin, though significantly shorter than those predecessors.
Recruiting: Considered the No. 45 receiver in the class of 2021 by, Thomas turned down most of the SEC as he chose Notre Dame, most notably his homestate Georgia. And any recruit chased by the Bulldogs in the last four years stands out more than usual given the overall quality of Georgia’s roster.

Thomas played all of 14 snaps as a freshman, spread across three November blowouts, but in practices leading up to the 2021 Fiesta Bowl, there was increasing hype around him possibly contributing. Then, Thomas did not play against Oklahoma State, despite then-Irish quarterback Jack Coan setting a program record with 70 dropbacks while throwing to effectively just three receivers.

That literal no-show threw Thomas’s progress into doubt. Was the hype real or the product of a fluke bowl practice?

Thomas proved it real with 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns last season, including five snags for 66 yards in the Gator Bowl win against South Carolina. Of those 25 receptions, 18 gained a first down, including eight on third down and another pair on second-and-long. When Notre Dame needed a chunk gain and tight end Michael Mayer was covered, Thomas was the most frequent beneficiary.

2021: 3 games.
2022: 13 games, 7 starts; 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by three catches for 80 yards and a score against Navy.

Thomas is an avid golfer, at least as much as a Division I football player can be. (Scroll to the last picture in this Instagram post to see evidence of such.) Given NBC may be the biggest broadcast partner in golf, one would think some opportunity could exist for Thomas down the road, be it with a sponsor or simply a day watching a tournament from an up-close vantage point.

Until then, Thomas offers personalized videos for fans via Cameo.

Thomas excelled out of the slot last season, many of those first-down gains coming when he worked downfield just past the linebacker level but still in front of the safeties. That positioning was advantageous for Thomas, and he knew it.

“In the slot, I definitely feel like I can get mismatches, whether that’s a nickel, smaller nickel, safety or even a linebacker,” Thomas said this spring. “None of those people can guard me at all.”

But with senior Chris Tyree moving to receiver from running back, slot is most likely filled by his speed. Moving Thomas to boundary will require some physical growth from him, even if some analysts already mistake him for a tight end.

“Definitely in the offseason, the spring, got to gain a little bit more muscle just to help me with my physicality and also speed,” Thomas said.

“The spring version of Thomas was tantalizing. A leg injury played a role in his hushed freshman season, as did the strong play of Kevin Austin. Now fully healthy and without any clear-cut starter ahead of him, Thomas broke through. He may not be towering, but he has a wide frame, its own version of a size advantage. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash before arriving at Notre Dame, better speed than one expects when looking at him.

“That combination is what the Irish had in mind when they chased the Peach State product. That combination could make him a 2022 starter. At the very least, he will be a contributor.

“Notre Dame needs him to be.

“When the Irish face Ohio State (104 days), they will have just six or seven healthy scholarship receivers. One of those will be a former walk-on, Matt Salerno. Another will be a freshman yet to partake in a single practice, Tobias Merriweather. The ‘or seven’ will be sixth-year Avery Davis, recovering from an ACL torn in November. It seems increasingly likely fifth-year Joe Wilkins is not yet full-go after suffering a Lisfranc injury this spring.

“Notre Dame will hardly have a two-deep depth chart at receiver, so each available will be needed.

“And this spring suggested Thomas will be up to that task. If all he needs is chances like he got this spring, then he will have them. If he can produce — especially before Wilkins returns later in the season — then the Irish will continue going to him; they will have no one else to go to.

“A dozen catches from Thomas this season may seem like minimal production, but that would be enough to force defenses to acknowledge him on routes, opening up the field for the likes of [Braden] Lenzy, [Lorenzo] Styles and star tight end Michael Mayer. If he builds that out to 20 catches, then suddenly Notre Dame’s offense may be nearing a worthwhile hum. …

“Lenzy should be gone in 2023. Davis certainly will be. Wilkins’ injury throws some uncertainty into his projections. But either way, the time will fully arrive for the Irish stellar 2021 receiver recruiting to pay off.

“Pulling in a trio of four-star receivers was unlike Notre Dame of late. It had not snagged that many four-star receivers in one class since 2015. In the five cycles between those two classes, the Irish snagged a total of 5 four- or five-star receivers, lowlighted by not signing a single receiver in the class of 2019.

“Things have bettered in this regard, or they at least seem to be, but for now, Notre Dame still needs to make the most of every possible perimeter playmaker it has on its roster. All three of Styles, [Deion] Colzie and Thomas need to pan out for the Irish to sniff the Playoff in the next two or three seasons.

“A full season of snaps with that dozen catches could propel Thomas into a strong offseason and such rewards.”

Thomas met and exceeded last year’s modest expectations, more impressive when remembering he was not a consistent starter until the season’s final month. Stepping into a more leading role with a far more prolific quarterback directing the offense should amplify Thomas’s stats by default.

Are 50 catches possible? Yes, though that may be about Thomas’s ceiling this season, given Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman should want to spread the ball around his targets, and 50 receptions could be nearly a fifth of Hartman’s completions.

More precisely, Thomas continuing to provide needed chunk gains would propel Notre Dame’s offense in ways that other receivers may be unable. Continuing at last year’s rate of first downs while catching 50 passes would equal moving the chains 36 times. That may be extreme, but doing so twice per week would make Thomas one of the more crucial receiving targets in recent Irish offenses.

All of Notre Dame’s receivers, aside from former walk-on Matt Salerno, may return in 2024, and the junior duo of Thomas and Deion Colzie should be the established leaders next year. With that acknowledged reality, pondering a transfer from Thomas would be foolish.

It would take a far more prolific season than 50 catches for Thomas to ponder the NFL, not boasting elite speed or shiftiness which are the usual musts for early draft entrants among receivers.

In other words, Thomas may be looking to snag triple-digit catches across the next two seasons, if not more.

Thomas’ leadership, freshmen arrivals already improve Notre Dame’s receivers room

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

One defensive lineman drops from Notre Dame’s class of 2024, consensus four-star end Loghan Thomas joins


Only a few hours after a consensus four-star defensive lineman de-committed from Notre Dame, the Irish landed a pledge from consensus four-star defensive end Loghan Thomas (Paetow High School; Katy, Texas) on Wednesday evening. After a visit to South Bend this weekend, Thomas chose Notre Dame over finalists Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Arizona.

LSU, Texas, Texas A&M and USC were among the others to offer Thomas a scholarship.

A two-year starter already in high school, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Thomas’s body-type alone likely caught some recruiters’ attention. On top of that, he tested well at recruiting events following his junior season. ranks Thomas the No. 9 weakside defensive end in the class of 2024, the No. 30 overall prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 162 recruit in the entire class, all fitting for a player who has used his length to star at a strong level of high school football.

Length has long — pun intended — been a focus for Irish head coach Marcus Freeman along the defensive line, and Thomas’s combines with enough strength to make arm tackles without much worry of a broken carry. His stride is long enough to quickly cover ground in the backfield.

Thomas plays mostly out of a two-point stance, upright, so learning the nuances of rushing the passer from a three-point stance will be the first piece of growth ahead of him at the collegiate level. Adding some heft to his frame will also be on the to-do list, though that should occur naturally, at least to some extent, in the next 18 months regardless.

Thomas joins Notre Dame’s class the same day consensus four-star defensive tackle Owen Wafle (Hun School; Princeton, N.J.) halted a year-long commitment.

“This decision was not made lightly, as Notre Dame has a rich football legacy that I truly admire,” Wafle wrote on Twitter. “However, I believe it’s important for me to explore other opportunities and find the best fit for my personal and athletic development.”

With Wafle’s de-commitment and Thomas’s commitment, the Irish continue to have 16 expected signees in the class of 2024 and three defensive linemen, Thomas joining consensus three-star end Cole Mullins (Mill Creek H.S.; Hoschton, Ga.) and four-star end Bryce Young (Charlotte Christian; N.C.).

Notre Dame announces 2023 NBC kickoff times, led by Ohio State and USC in prime time

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Notre Dame will host two preseason top-25 teams, possibly both top-10 teams, in back-to-back home games in prime time in 2023, the Irish and NBC announced Wednesday afternoon. Ohio State’s Sept. 23 visit and USC’s Oct. 14 arrival will both kick off at 7:30 ET.

Coming off a College Football Playoff appearance and third in the last four years, the Buckeyes look poised to again contend for the Big Ten title and a possible Playoff bid. Not to be too blunt, but the trip to Notre Dame will be Ohio State’s first genuine challenge of 2023, opening the season at Indiana before welcoming FCS-level Youngstown State and then Western Kentucky.

Notre Dame will have already played four games, including a trip abroad and a trip to North Carolina State.

That season-opening venture to Dublin will feature a later kickoff than may have been anticipated. Announced on Tuesday as a sellout, Notre Dame will kick off at 2:30 ET on NBC against Navy, much later than the 9 a.m. kickoff in 2012, the last time the Irish and the Midshipmen played in Ireland. This year’s trip is somewhat a make-up from having to scrap the planned trip in 2020, hence the unusual occurrence of Notre Dame playing a home game away from South Bend in this annual series.

After the dalliance across the Atlantic, the Irish will face an FCS-level program for the first time in history, Tennessee State and head coach Eddie George visiting on Sept. 2 at 3:30 ET. Logically, as soon as Notre Dame agreed to move its date with Navy to Dublin, meeting an FCS opponent became inevitable, either that or shoehorn in an early off week.

Instead, the Trojans will arrive in South Bend just before the first Irish off week, also kicking off at 7:30 ET on Oct. 14. With Heisman-winner, Heisman-frontrunner and contender to be the No. 1 pick quarterback Caleb Williams leading it, USC will also be a trendy Playoff contender in 2023. Competitively, the Trojans will be coming off a rather pedestrian early-season stretch.

Looking at ESPN’s SP+ rankings to gauge the first half of USC’s schedule sheds light on how likely it is the Trojans will be undefeated in mid-October. None of their first six opponents rank in the top 60 in the country, and three of them are in the bottom 30. Again leaning into the SP+ numbers, USC should be favored by three possessions in every one of those games, with the first three of those looking like edges well north of 30 points and two more being around four touchdowns.

Thus, Notre Dame and NBC should welcome multiple unbeaten top-10 teams in primetime this year.

The 33rd year of Notre Dame on NBC will feature six games aired on both NBC and Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, as well as one game exclusively available on Peacock, the Sept. 16 tilt with Central Michigan at 2:30 ET.

The Irish home slate will conclude with a Senior Day showing from Wake Forest at 3:30 ET on Nov. 18, new Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman’s previous team.

Aug. 26: vs. Navy in Dublin at 2:30 ET
Sept. 2: vs. Tennessee State at 3:30 ET
Sept. 16: vs. Central Michigan at 2:30 ET on Peacock
Sept. 23: vs. Ohio State at 7:30 ET
Oct. 14: vs. USC at 7:30 ET
Oct. 28: vs. Pittsburgh at 3:30 ET
Nov. 18: vs. Wake Forest at 3:30 ET