Mailbag: Summer sessions, Shamrock Series, point-spreads and more

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Another spirited mailbag. I especially enjoy seeing your answers in the comments, hopefully these live up to your own.

Let us begin.

mediocrebob: With the new rules regarding summer workouts, how involved are the coaches right now and do these workouts give the incoming freshman a better opportunity to get a feel for the next level? Do these workouts benefit offensive skill players more than say a Nyles Morgan?

The tweak in rules is a pretty big deal, and probably hasn’t been talked about enough. While Kelly has only discussed what the offensive coaches are doing to take advantage of the ability to work on the playbook and football specific skills (no using actual footballs), Kelly said the team is handling the workouts like the NFL’s OTAs (Organized Team Activities), and offensively, the team is reinstalling the offense during the summer, getting them into fall camp ahead of schedule.

Of course, a reinstall is probably more crucial on defense, as Brian VanGorder used the 15 spring practices to initially install the new system. For Nyles Morgan, who wasn’t a part of spring football, this is a crucial time for his development. And the opportunity to work with his defensive coaches, not just Paul Longo and his staff, is key.

Looking for a good tidbit on Morgan understanding his opportunity? He was on campus and spotted during the Irish Invasion, looking physically impressive for an incoming freshman.

 

johngaltisspeaking: Will we see a QB carousel with Zaire and Golson this season or are we doing to see one QB take the reins? Also while Golson’s play has been the best in BK tenure it seems that the up speed Oregon style offense was never run. Is BK trying to run more of a Oregon style offense or Auburn Offense ? I would love to know exactly what type offense he is going to install this year.

Carousel might not be the right term, but I fully expect Zaire to see the field early for the Irish, getting him his first taste of college football on Notre Dame’s terms, not in an emergency situation.

As for the Irish offense with Golson, I spent some time writing about it here. But I don’t think you’re going to see Oregon’s offense or Gus Malzahn’s offense. But you will see Brian Kelly’s spread offense, the first time they’ve been able to run it to his liking since he’s been in South Bend.

 

notredameirish1980: Your prediction: After the Barnett flip, will ND pass on a QB this year given that they probably return 3 scholarship QB’s next season, two with multiple years of eligibility, and concentrate on getting the RKG for 2016? 

While Barnett’s decommitment hurt, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as others are making it out to be. While some worry that 2014 might be Golson’s final season in South Bend, I have a hard time understanding the logic behind that decision. And with two other quarterbacks with four full seasons of eligibility, it’s far from a NEED position.

That being said, the staff has made additional offers, though Travis Waller’s looking more and more destined for Oregon and not Notre Dame after it looked like he was trending Irish.

But if you’re looking for a 2015 quarterback that ND is targeting? Start looking at some of the committed prospects. Everett Golson wasn’t on anybody’s radar when he was a long-time North Carolina commit. And Gunner Kiel was a pipedream between his commitments to Indiana and LSU.

Weird things will happen. Probably the best thing to happen to the Irish was Barnett flaking out in June, not January.

 

rocket1988: Do you see the addition of home and homes with SEC teams being the death of Shamrock Series games? And top three cities you’d like to see a one off game in?

No way. I think the Shamrock Series is here to stay and will be a part of Notre Dame’s scheduling plans for a long time. Upcoming games in Indy, Fenway Park, and back to the Alamodome have Notre Dame locked in through 2016.

The home-and-home with Georgia was more about getting the Irish into the state and SEC, finding a top-shelf SEC program that also wasn’t morally or academically bankrupt.

But since you asked, here are my top three cities for a Shamrock Series game?

1) San Diego: Getting a game in Petco Park and into the southern-most part of Southern California would be a ton of fun. And the venue can’t be beat.

2) “South Florida:” (Yes, I know that’s not a city…) Getting ND into an interesting game in the talent-rich South Florida area should be on the agenda… especially to erase the last appearance in the Miami area. Staying on the baseball theme, maybe playing in the Marlins new stadium?

3) Vancouver: This might be outside of the box, but how about a game in Vancouver’s BC Place? The stadium fits 54,000 for football, takes Notre Dame into the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and could be an awesome game against someone like Washington. (Plus we could eat lots of salmon.)

 

simmel65: I have always loved how Notre Dame plays one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but are we getting to the point where that might be counterproductive? Look at Alabama’s schedule. They always have a bye or a patsy before a big game. Our schedule is so dependent on everyone else’s, that it seems like we are going to end up stacking a ton of solid teams up in a row which just may end up keeping us out of the playoffs. Thoughts?

Welcome to life as college football’s lone (major) independent. Notre Dame needs to play a tougher schedule to get into the final four spots without a conference title to win. But expect to see some of those cupcakes erased from schedules as the Big Ten goes to nine conference games and schools start to miss out on an opportunity to get into the playoff based on strength of schedule.

Do some upcoming Notre Dame schedules look too tough? Sure. But the 2012 schedule looked to be the toughest on paper in the country and Notre Dame walked through that just fine.

 

ndrocks2: Surprised Koyack is getting preseason mentions as one of best TE’s? Is it based on how we use the position or is he the real deal just buried on depth chart in the past?

Koyack should be on the Mackey Award watch list, if only because every Notre Dame starting tight end over the last decade has at least been a semifinalist for the award. Sure, it’s mostly based on the reputation of Irish tight ends putting up big seasons, but also because Koyack is a 6-foot-5, 261-pound monster who is going to be counted on to play a major role in the Irish offense.

I think Koyack is poised for a big season. He’s got to clean up some of the drops and mental mistakes he’s made, but he’s going to be one of the key pieces to Notre Dame’s offense.

 

onward2victory: Keith, if you were a betting man, which of the Golden Nugget ND spreads do you like most? Is FSU really 24 points better than us?!?

At this point in the year, who knows what’s going to happen. But a look at Florida State versus the competition last year, and you get an idea as to why the point spread is so inflated.

As for the early lines — and no, I’m no longer a betting man (Thanks Bush & Leinart) — no line was released for the Rice game, but I’d expect the Irish to be around a 10-point favorite against a sneaky Owls team that won 10 games last year.

But other than that, Notre Dame is favored in every game except Stanford (ND’s a +6 home dog), The Seminoles (+24), at Arizona State (+4.5) and visiting USC, getting a surprising 10 points.

As a betting man, I’d feel pretty good about hitting the Arizona State and USC games. Taylor Kelly should lead a pretty prolific offense, but the Sun Devils are a mess on defense. As for USC, Notre Dame’s won three of four against the Trojans and I’m not seeing how giving 10 points makes a bunch of sense for Steve Sarkisian’s first Trojan squad.

 

iamgolden4life: Keith, I wondering if we were to land Hilliard July 2 if you will do an article on who the most likely to follow him to South Bend. I also know of course we may miss on him, but he looks very happy and comfortable in the pics of him I’ve seen while visiting ND.

Hilliard will announce his college choice on July 2, as will Jashon Cornell. It sounds like it’ll be a package deal, which answers your question. Hilliard and Cornell have struck an unlikely friendship, two elite defensive prospects that want to play football together in college.

Most feel like this is Ohio State’s recruitment to lose. But I still feel like Notre Dame is in a good place to win these two, a gigantic swing in recruiting. (Wide receiver Myles Boykin will announce on the 2nd as well, making my travel day home to Minnesota a fairly hectic one.)

As for Hilliard, I’m just ready for his recruitment to end. Between he and Cornell trolling multiple fanbases on Twitter, it’s hard to get angry at a kid who is just trying his best to enjoy a process grown-up football fans ruined, but Notre Dame’s staff have done everything you could ask from them.

I pointed it out last week, but Hilliard’s comments on Notre Dame — and the comfort he feels with the players and what the school does academically for him — and the perfect comments you want to hear from an Irish recruit. If Notre Dame doesn’t land him? He just didn’t want it.

Either way, wish the kid well and understand why Brian Kelly says Notre Dame’s not for everyone and they often have to shop from a different aisle.

 

onward2victory: In the spirit of pure speculation, which opposing QB that ND will face would start over Golson if that QB was Irish?

Good question. Let’s just put Jameis Winston here for now, as the returning Heisman Trophy winner is the perfect quarterback for Brian Kelly’s offense. Other than that, I think the only other QB on this list would be Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly, and that’d be a heckuva competition between the two.

 

ndtod: Not football related, but WTH. Played the Warren course recently and rumor is a big tournament coming there in 2019 or 2020. Prior to that, school considering building villas or cottages on the course. True? What say you?

I have not heard this rumor, but I’m assuming something like the US Amateur or the Women’s Am? And if so — AWESOME.

I highly doubt many have played the Warren Course more than me, as I spent about five days a week wandering those fairways (let’s be honest, a lot of rough, too) as a student in the course’s opening years. It’s a wonderful track that’s only getting better with age, and getting one of the early Coore-Crenshaw designs was a pretty impressive move by Notre Dame brass.

I’d be shocked if there was ever a plan to build condos or villas on the course. I don’t know where they would fit and the property isn’t outfitted for roads or a housing development like some of the other golf course developments from the 1980s and 90s.

But thanks for the update on the course. And the reminder to bring my sticks next time I’m in South Bend.

Notre Dame’s defensive depth chart, a touch lighter with D.J. Morgan’s intended transfer

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With the Wednesday announcement of current junior linebacker D.J. Morgan’s intention to transfer this summer as a graduate with two years of eligibility remaining, Notre Dame’s roster drops to 87 scholarship players expected this coming fall. Included among them, at least 12, possibly 14 linebackers. Before explaining that …

Morgan finishes his Irish career with two tackles in two 2017 appearances as a safety. He moved to linebacker during 2018’s spring practices, but never came particularly close to playing time. It remained difficult to see him cracking into the rotation moving forward given the quality of recruiting classes at the position in the last two cycles.

“I would like to thank the University of Notre Dame for everything they have done for me,” Morgan wrote on Twitter. “When I decided to come here, my main goal was to get my degree from this prestigious University, and I am proud to see that I will be completing that goal this summer!

“During this time I will be searching for a new school to attend as a graduate transfer to finish off my last 2 years of eligibility.”

(@deundraymorgan)

Before facing Louisville on Labor Day, the Irish will need to be down to 85 scholarship players. At 87 now, that does not include incoming freshman J.D. Bertrand, who had a recruitment handled in a deliberate fashion so as to make him eligible for an academic scholarship. Notre Dame also continues to chase two defenders — consensus four-star linebacker Asa Turner and consensus four-star defensive end Isaiah Foskey — who could balloon the roster count further.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s offensive depth chart entering the 2019 offseason

Keep that necessary attrition in mind as realizing how many players are at certain positions.

DEFENSIVE END (9)
Julian Okwara — Senior in 2019-2020 — 1 year of eligibility remaining.
Khalid Kareem — Senior — 1
Daelin Hayes — Senior — 1
Ade Ogundeji — Senior — 2
Justin Ademilola — Sophomore — 4
Jamir Jones — Senior — 1
Kofi Wardlow — Junior — 3
NaNa Osafo-Mensah — Early-enrolled freshman — 4
Howard Cross — Incoming freshman — 4

If not for Ademilola’s impressive 2018, it would be easy to presume a four-man rotation next season, but appearing in the Cotton Bowl all-but guarantees Ademilola will be in the mix.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (6)
Kurt Hinish — Junior in 2019-2020 — 2 years of eligibility remaining.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa — Junior in 2019-2020 — 3
Jayson Ademilola — Sophomore — 3
Ja’Mion Franklin — Sophomore — 4
Jacob Lacey — Early-enrolled freshman — 4
Hunter Spears — Early-enrolled freshman — 4

Lacey will need to be ready for at least four games next season, especially with three of these six returning from injury: Tagovailoa-Amosa with a broken foot, though he did at least take some snaps against Clemson; Franklin from a torn quad that will limit him through the spring; and Spears from a torn ACL that could conceivably cost him 2019.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
Asmar Bilal — Fifth-year in 2019-2020 — 1 year of eligibility remaining.
Jordan Genmark-Heath — Junior — 2
Jonathan Jones — Senior — 2
Bo Bauer — Sophomore — 3
Jack Lamb — Sophomore — 4
Drew White — Junior — 3
Jack Kiser — Early-enrolled freshman — 4
J.D. Bertrand — Incoming freshman — 4

It was always going to be a long-shot for Morgan as soon as Bauer and Lamb arrived.

ROVER (5)
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah — Junior in 2019-2020 — 3 years of eligibility remaining.
Shayne Simon — Sophomore — 3
Ovie Oghoufo — Sophomore — 3
Marist Liufau — Incoming freshman — 4
Osito Ekwonu — Incoming freshman — 4

Owusu-Koramoah lost 2018 to injury, making this something of a toss-up between him and Simon for a spring competition chasing the starting role, presuming Bilal does indeed move inside as expected.

Alohi Gilman’s 18 tackles in the Cotton Bowl loss should set him up for an offseason of further development and possible captaincy. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SAFETIES (8)
Alohi Gilman — Senior in 2019-2020 — 2 years of eligibility remaining.
Jalen Elliott — Senior — 1
Devin Studstill — Senior — 1
Houston Griffith — Sophomore — 3
Derrik Allen — Sophomore — 4
Paul Moala — Sophomore — 3
Kyle Hamilton — Incoming freshman — 4
Litchfield Ajavon — Incoming freshman — 4

CORNERBACKS (8)
Troy Pride — Senior in 2019-2020 — 1 year of eligibility remaining.
Donte Vaughn — Senior — 1
TaRiq Bracy — Sophomore — 3
Shaun Crawford — Fifth-year — 1, with possibly another after that if the NCAA grants a medical waiver.
D.J. Brown — Sophomore — 4
Noah Boykin — Sophomore — 4
Isaiah Rutherford — Incoming freshman — 4
K.J. Wallace — Incoming freshman — 4

Someone needs to be Notre Dame’s second cornerback, be that Vaughn, Bracy or a healthy Crawford. Someone also needs to be the Irish nickel back, perhaps Bracy, Crawford or a converted safety.

The questions at cornerback have multiple talented answers, if unproven or uncertain. They should prove to be the most pivotal to Notre Dame’s 2019 success or failure.

 

Leftovers & Links: Brandon Wimbush heads to Central Florida for his final season

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Former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush will continue his career at Central Florida. Wimbush announced his graduate transfer destination Tuesday morning.

“The journey continues on …,” Wimbush wrote on Instagram. “A sincere thank you to Notre Dame for giving me endless opportunities on and off the field. Words truly can not (sic) describe what this incredible University and the PEOPLE mean to me and always will mean to me. I’m truly thankful. Cannot say it enough.

“With that being said, I am excited to announce that UCF has granted me an awesome opportunity to play my last year of collegiate football for their great University.”

Wimbush will enter into a starting opportunity, although an unfortunate one and a competitive one. The late November horrendous knee injury to three-year starter McKenzie Milton will almost-assuredly sideline him through the 2019 season. If not for the injury, Milton would either be starting 2019 for the Knights or headed to the NFL.

In his first year of any action, sophomore Darriel Mack played in 10 games for Central Florida, completing 51 of his 100 pass attempts for 619 yards and three touchdowns, including going 35-of-71 for 526 yards and three scores in the two-plus games Milton missed.

In other words, Mack put up Wimbush-esque numbers, despite Heupel’s high-scoring offense.

Wimbush finishes his Irish career with a 13-3 record as a starter, including four wins during 2018’s unbeaten regular season. After the Notre Dame offense failed to break 24 points in the first three games of the season, offensive coordinator Chip Long turned to Ian Book for a spark, one Book provided and then some.

Wimbush’s role became non-existent after that, aside from a Senior Day start in place of an injured Book, throwing for 130 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 68 yards.

RELATED READING: The quarterback Notre Dame needed, Brandon Wimbush

In the lead-up to the Cotton Bowl, word broke Wimbush would seek a graduate transfer, confirming what had long been obvious. It had been so clear, it did not faze anyone within the Irish locker room.

Mustipher and Co. will now have reason to keep an eye on the Knights in 2019. After going 25-1 in the last two seasons, Central Florida will want to keep the momentum rolling, particularly with Stanford arriving in Orlando on Sept. 14, a week before the Knights head to Pittsburgh. The Knights genuinely entering the College Football Playoff conversation remains unlikely, but topping those two before rolling through the American Athletic Conference would at least start the discussion, especially if a former Irish quarterback headlines the way.

A consensus three-star prospect out of Virginia, Mack held offers from eastern schools in the Big Ten (Maryland), Big 12 (West Virginia) and ACC (Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh).

Named 2018’s Next Man In, Wimbush finishes his Irish career with 2,606 yards on 193-of-382 passing with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions along with 1,155 rushing yards and 16 additional touchdowns.

AS FOR NOTRE DAME’S QB IN 2019 …
Early Heisman odds came from an online sportsbook Tuesday, betonline.ag. Irish rising senior Ian Book was given 16-to-1 odds, tied for ninth on the listing. Given the names ahead of him, Book’s realistic chances of winning the Heisman Trophy are slim. Only Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa have odds lower than 12-to-1, at 7-to-2 and 4-to-1, respectively.

Then come two Notre Dame opponents — Georgia running back D’Andre Swift and quarterback Jake Fromm, both at 12-to-1. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson checks in at 25-to-1, just ahead of Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello at 33-to-1.

If nothing else, Book can count on some early-season hype if the Irish top Swift and Fromm on Sept. 21.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
Even the ‘way-too-early’ 2019 polls already respect Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s offensive depth chart entering the 2019 offseason
Claypool’s return welcome news for Notre Dame
Program-record 10 early enrollees mark the beginning of Notre Dame’s 2019
Autry Denson leaves Notre Dame to take over at Charleston Southern
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Early NFL departures hit Georgia, Michigan and Stanford hardest

OUTSIDE READING
Brandon Wimbush and UCF are a promising match for a pivotal 2019
The three biggest questions in college football for the 2019 season
2019 NFL draft underclassmen tracker: Who has declared?
Stanford’s Bryce Love ‘on the path to recovery’ from torn ACL
College football’s 100 best games 2018-19

Notre Dame’s Opponents: Early NFL departures hit Georgia, Michigan and Stanford hardest

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A sign of a strong program is one that loses players to the NFL before they exhaust eligibility. In that vein, Notre Dame lost a consensus first-team All-American cornerback, its leading receiver and a long-time tease of a tight end. The last of those (Alizé Mack) was never expected back for a fifth season; replacing Miles Boykin’s production is certainly within reason; and a consensus first-team All-American should be expected to take the route junior Julian Love has.

Even with that expectation, losing Love — and to a lesser extent, Boykin — alters the natural roster cycle, the inherent design intended during recruiting. Reloading is always the hope, the next intention, but very rarely is the young backup comparable to the near professional, even by the end of the coming season.

Nonetheless, the Irish got off easy this cycle compared to four of their 2019 opponents …

GEORGIA: Junior running back Elijah Holyfield, the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher, departs after gaining 1,018 rushing yards with seven touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry this season. Frankly, that is the least of Georgia’s losses. Three of quarterback Jake Fromm’s four favorite targets will leave eligibility on the figurative table:

— Junior receiver Riley Ridley: 44 catches for 570 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018.
— Junior receiver Mecole Hardman: 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns.
— Junior tight end Isaac Nauta: 30 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns.

Without running back Karan Higdon, Michigan will presumably rely on its passing game more in 2019, quarterback Shea Patterson’s second season as a Wolverine. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

MICHIGAN: The Wolverines got good news when quarterback Shea Patterson opted to return for 2019, but losing leading-rusher Karan Higdon (1,178 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5.3 average) will be an issue head coach Jim Harbaugh undoubtedly hoped to avoid. Junior tight end Zach Gentry, Patterson’s third-most prolific target with 32 catches for 514 yards and two scores, will also head to the next level.

On the flip side, Harbaugh could have hoped linebacker Devin Bush (team-leading 80 tackles with 9.5 for loss including five sacks), defensive end Rashan Gary (44 tackles with seven for loss including 3.5 sacks) or linebacker David Long (17 tackles with one interception) might return, but no such luck for Michigan.

Duke junior quarterback Daniel Jones will head to the NFL after his third season as a starter, immediately lowering the Blue Devils’ 2019 expectations. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DUKE: Junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris paced the Blue Devils with 81 tackles, including seven for loss with one sack, doing so in only nine games. But losing Giles-Harris is hardly the concern for Duke. The decision to turn pro from quarterback Daniel Jones is.

In his third year as a starter, the junior fought through a broken collarbone to still play in 11 games in 2018, completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,674 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He added 319 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Jones’ decision may come as a surprise, but it is one that should work out well for both him and Notre Dame. Some mock drafts project him as a top-10 pick. In a draft light on quarterbacks — partly because Oregon’s Justin Herbert returned for another season, yet already somewhat counteracted by the Monday draft entry from Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray — Jones could end up being the third or fourth passer picked.

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles will say farewell to junior cornerback Hemp Cheevers after he notched seven interceptions this season, returning one for a touchdown, to go along with 39 tackles.

STANFORD: This will seem like the Cardinal lost a lot to the NFL draft, but it could have been worse: As the departures mounted, so did speculation junior quarterback K.J. Costello might follow them. He opted not to.

Stanford will be without running back Bryce Love after his prodigious two seasons as the starter. Consider that a loss akin to the Irish Love, the inevitable price of enjoying the success in the first place.

Junior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will capitalize on his breakout season of 1,059 yards and 14 touchdowns, depriving Costello of his favorite jump-ball threat.

Junior tight end Kaden Smith will also head to the next level, in large part thanks to his 47 catches for 635 yards and two touchdowns this past season.

Louisville, New Mexico, Virginia, Bowling Green, USC, Virginia Tech and Navy all did not lose anyone early or pseudo-early to the NFL draft.

Autry Denson leaves Notre Dame to take over at Charleston Southern

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Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher will no longer coach its current running backs. After four seasons at his alma mater, Autry Denson has been named the head coach at Charleston Southern, an FCS-level program, per a release Monday afternoon.

The second-longest tenured coach on Brian Kelly’s staff (behind only defensive line coach Mike Elston; tied with cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght), Denson had produced quality Irish backs, peaking with Josh Adams’ 1,430 rushing yards in 2017, leading an offense that averaged 269.5 rushing yards per game.

“I am so excited for Autry as he embarks on the next step of his coaching career as the new head coach at Charleston Southern,” Kelly said in a statement. “He has done a tremendous job for us during his time at Notre Dame.

“He not only developed our running backs to produce at a high level on the field, but he was also instrumental in their growth as young men.”

Only Adams and C.J. Prosise broke 1,000 rushing yards in a season under Denson, though Dexter Williams gained 995 in only nine games this past season. A third-round pick in 2016, Prosise has spent his entire career with the Seattle Seahawks, while Adams rushed for 511 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams should join them in the NFL in April’s draft.

All of them paled in comparison to Denson’s college days, a career that saw him gain 4,318 rushing yards, 43 touchdowns and three seasons of more than 1,000 rushing yards. A 1998 All-American, Denson then spent five years in the NFL.

Denson began his coaching career at the FCS level at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., a couple hundred miles up the coast from his hometown outside of Miami.

“I was drawn to Charleston Southern by the vision of this great Christian university of integrating faith in learning, leading and serving,” Denson said. “As a result, I knew this could be a place where I could build and lead a program to honor Christ by operating with character, integrity, transparency, accountability and community.”

Charleston Southern went 5-6 in 2018 under Mark Tucker, who went 11-11 in two seasons before resigning last month.