Stanford mailbag: Chaos, drama and swagger edition

22 Comments

I’ve been told that the wonderfully simple mailbox imagery I’ve open-sourced from the internet isn’t cutting it. So we’ve made some changes to reflect our new attitude in the mailbag.

Why? Because the wonderful @ndmspaint demanded it. Anybody who can draw Golden Tate taking out the band or Touchdown Jesus helping out against Pitt deserves immediate attention. (Scroll through and enjoy.)

@ndmspaint: Keith I’m calling you out on your mailbox. A single piece of mail? It needs chaos, drama, swagger.

Consider me “swagged up,” and filled with the type of chaos and drama reserved for a Saturday showdown with Stanford that all of a sudden got a whole lot more interesting. And if this bumbling Southwest wifi gets me through these questions without dumping me off, we’re in for a great mailbag as I make the trek to South Bend for a rainy, cold weekend, safe from the heatwave that’s hitting Southern California.

First, let me get to just a fraction of your Frozen Five questions. (I was a big fan of the Four Coursemen before Eilar Hardy got roped in. And after Adam Levine’s appearance on the ESPN broadcast last weekend, I’ve taken the Marooned 5 out of consideration.)

 

1notredamefan: Hey Keith, In your Live Blog this past Sat. you mentioned summer school cheating. Is there information out there that us blogger’s haven’t been privy to?

I’m glad you asked this. So many people are misinterpreting what exactly is happening on campus with the Honor Code committee and the NCAA investigation. This doesn’t operate like a criminal court. So to call these five players innocent before proven guilty isn’t exactly correct.

SOMETHING happened over the summer. What that is will likely never be revealed, though we’ve been given a few hints and clues by Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick. But the only reason these five guys are being withheld from football games is because there’s an NCAA investigation going on and the academic indiscretions that took place may effect their eligibility.

If something wasn’t fishy this summer, we’d never be going through this.

So it’s just a matter of HOW FISHY and HOW AGAINST THE HONOR CODE these issues were. If it’s found to be a minor incident, then the punishment these five got — sitting out five games and counting — is pretty severe, and frankly a shame. If it’s found to be major, you could argue this is still severe.

If it’s a flagrant violation, they could be removed for the semester, just like Everett Golson and Jerian Grant. But the fact that this is going on basically says something went afoul this summer.

 

lightskin350: Is there any type of legal action these kids could possibly take aginst Notre Dame because if I was one of these players I would look hard at it? This complete process has been a joke and continues to be a joke. Don’t they realize how bad they are making Notre Dame look?

Again, this isn’t a legal process. No student going in front of the Honor Code is allowed an attorney. But as DaVaris Daniels made known in his comments to ESPN, his family (and likely the others) certainly explored their options, and if they were smart, they certainly should’ve consulted attorneys, gotten an advanced look at the cases against them and gotten going on a vigorous self-defense.

As for if this process is a joke or not, I’m not willing to go that far. But Notre Dame certainly isn’t worried about being called tone deaf, nor does outside perception really matter.

But I am willing to second, third and fourth the Op-Ed the Observer published today. Do yourselves a favor and read it.

 

jerseyshorendfan1: We are coming up on some kind of decision regarding the frozen 5. Assuming they are exonerated, which of the 5 do you see coming back immediately into significant playing time?

I would think KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels and Ishaq Williams will work their way into the rotation as soon as they’re physically capable. That’s what had me a bit worried when Daniels revealed he was working out on his own, not with Paul Longo’s strength staff in the Gug.

But I’m not sure how realistic it is to think these guys are going to be ready to step back into the starting lineup. But they should be able to contribute key snaps, something Williams could do up front and Russell will certainly do, even if it’s in a limited capacity at first.

 

ndgoldandblue: I guess Stanford still thinks they got hosed in the 2012 game against the Irish. Will David Shaw ever stop acting like a cry baby, or is he perpetually stuck in the mindset of a spoiled child?

I think he’s going to answer the questions he’s asked. So while his comments placing this game in a similar category as the Tuck Rule game certainly sound whiny, it’s only fair to mention that later in the same sentence, he acknowledged the game was over and it’s what was called, so he moved on.

I certainly don’t blame him for being frustrated at the end of the game in 2012. You’ve got to remember he’s playing a game in a stadium that’s literally one of the last not to have replay capabilities, leaving him — and probably his coaching staff — completely lost on the outcome of the final play, something that likely led to his more-than-frustrated remarks, especially when you can see where he and Stephan Taylor are coming from when they say he got into the end zone.

(It was well after the whistle blew the play dead though.)

don74: Which of the 3 RB’s breaks out this weekend. ND wins if they can successfully run it 30 times.

If Notre Dame can manufacture a ground game like they did in 2012, they’ll be in very good shape. That the Irish managed 150 yards on the ground was a pretty surprising outcome. As much as I want the back to be Greg Bryant, don’t be surprised if it’s Cam McDaniel getting the clutch carries.

I will quibble with your final statement, though. ND doesn’t win if they can run it 30 times. They’ll run it 30 times because they’re winning.

 

ndlv: If the fist-pumping BVG asked for your advice about planning for Stanford’s offense, which defensive approach would you recommend: (1) Put in bigger (but slower) bodies who haven’t played much, like Councell, to better match up with Stanford’s size, or (2) Stick with the smaller and faster players because this is the strength of the defense so far?

God I hope BVG doesn’t ask me for advice. But if he did, I’d probably be in favor of loving the one you’re with, and rolling with the defensive strategy that’s been utilized these first four games. I know we’ve all heard Brian Kelly talk about how Ben Councell will be a key part of this defense against big-bodied, physical teams. But right now, he’s an out-of-position outside linebacker less than a year removed from ACL surgery.

Few seemed to notice, but the Irish basically ran a base defense out of nickel last week, with Matthias Farley getting the start in place of James Onwualu. Farley is playing at a very high level and will likely be asked to cover Stanford’s resurgent tight end passing attack.

Of course, I’ll change my stance if we start seeing Stanford ripping off big runs and moving the ball on the ground at ease against the Irish’s undersized front seven. But I would be surprised if that happened.

 

DPU Man ND Fan: Irish D is #4 in country in points allowed, but middle of the pack in most every other key stat – yards allowed, sacks, tackles for loss, turnovers forced, etc…How likely do you think it is that our stingy D thus far turns out to be a bit of a mirage over the full season, and do you worry that Stanford might be first in line to expose us on Saturday, particularly our run defense?

I’m going to correct just one part of your question (that I shortened for ease as well). Notre Dame is a Top 25 outfit in turnovers forced, and just two turnovers away from being in the Top 10. (They were Top 5 heading into Syracuse I believe, getting us to the point of the question where we should be: It’s still REALLY early from a sample size perspective…)

That being said, just watching this defense should tell you this isn’t a bend but don’t break outfit. This is an attacking unit that’s done a great job to keep points off the board.

Yardage totals are higher because Syracuse hit on a few big passes. After halftime, Michigan outgained Notre Dame. Rice and Purdue had some early success before being shutdown. When most teams are going through their cupcake non-conference schedules, that pushes ND back a bit, too.

I think we can only watch things play out before we see if this defense will be “exposed,” but you need to also put this performance in context to preseason expectations. Everybody but the guys inside The Gug thought this group would be horrible. So even if they don’t live up to Notre Dame’s historically good 2012 defense (a group that still got lit up against Alabama), it’s a pretty impressive unit considering they are short two key starters and only graduate Cody Riggs from the group.

 

martyhealy: Other than Boston College and ND there are no other Division One Catholic schools that participate in football. You would think one in California, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, or Florida would have a gold mine in recruiting kids that want to get “Holy”. Any thoughts?

Not a bad idea, Marty. All you need is a few hundred million bucks and 10 years and you could have something. Get the Kickstarter campaign rolling!

 

prodigolson: If you were Stanford’s Defensive Coordinator how would you attack our offense? Sit back and hope we make mistakes (aka Tommy Rees scheme), or come after Golson and try to force mistakes?

That’s a tough question. I’d probably start by doing my best to take something away. While it’s probably counter-intuitive, I think making sure the ground game doesn’t get rolling is still the best way to defend Notre Dame. Even if it puts the Cardinal defensive backs in man coverage, it’s a risk I’m still probably taking.

From there, I’m throwing coverage schemes and late shifts at the Irish quarterback, forcing him to shift and change the plays early and often. The other part of my strategy is to make sure I’m keep Golson in the pocket. Few quarterbacks do more damage on the move, with Golson’s ability to extend plays a back-breaker for even a talented secondary like Stanford’s. Keep him in the pocket, especially with the monsters Stanford has up front.

As we saw last night, Arizona’s offense made it impossible on Oregon when they were able to both run and pass with efficiency in the second half. If the Irish can get the ground game rolling with their running backs, it opens up the zone read keeper for Golson and also the passing game, an explosive part of Notre Dame’s offense that needs to be on point.

The short answer? Do everything good. The longer one: Do a lot of different things and keep the quarterback confused.

 

ndcanuck: How much difference will the new field surface make for this game? Compared to the terrible conditions two years ago in South Bend, and the painted mud they play on in Palo Alto every year, is it possible the Irish have a real chance to take advantage of their team speed for once here?

This is a big one for me, great point. I think it’s going to be a big difference. Every game I’ve rewatched from the past few years always shocks me. Notre Dame just looks so slow on the natural grass. What’s the point of having athletes when they get neutralized by the home playing surface?

I firmly believe that Brian Kelly has recruited better athletes than just about everyone on their schedule, Stanford included. We’ll see if they’re able to show that on the FieldTurf, especially in conditions that will be less than ideal this weekend.

 

danirish: By the end of the year do we see a lot more of Luatua & Smythe catching the ball? Possibly starting? Not a knock on Koyack but Luatua’s blocking was not bad!

I just don’t think this is going to be a big year for tight ends. Play them and you’re not playing a fourth receiver. And no matter how good I think Smythe or Luatua will be, they aren’t better offensive contributors than CJ Prosise, Torii Hunter, Amir Carlisle or Chris Brown.

We saw a bit of two-tight ends last week, with Luatua looking solid in basically his debut. But I’m not running a true (or redshirt) freshman tight end out there if I can play a veteran, explosive receiver. (And that’s before finding out what might happen with DaVaris Daniels.)

 

@michaelmartin78: More successful week, the FSU Quarterback tree or the Bill Belichick coaching tree?

I just watched Christian Ponder play his way into the broadcast booth last night. So even with Charlie Weis collecting his second form of unemployment, I’m having a hard time picking the former Seminoles.

 

ndrocks2: Are you hearing anything about recruiting? Seems to be a less noise than normal about kids coming to ND or looking around after giving their verbal.

Not a lot of seats on the bus, so it’s not exactly fair to be complaining about a recruiting class that’s still pretty active and in the hunt for some top dogs. (Not that I’m accusing you of complaining, but you catch my drift.)

I wrote about some names visiting in the Pregame Six Pack, but another interesting addition to the visitor list this weekend is quarterback and Penn State commit Brandon Wimbush. The New Jersey native is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and would be a coup for this recruiting class, especially when it looked like Notre Dame had turned the page to 2016 prospects. (This is following the playbook ND used to land Everett Golson.)

For as good as James Franklin has been recruiting at Penn State, losing the face of his class — after the Irish snatched back Josh Barajas — would be huge.

 

sm29irish: from what you have seen thus far both on the field and behind the scenes do you like this team or the 2012 unit better? What do you think Brian Kelly would say if asked off the record?

Ask me in nine games. I don’t think Brian Kelly — on or off the record — picks children, but he certainly doesn’t pick the one that’s only 4-0 after the other one allowed him to play for a national title.

@kevroe67: Would like to know if the players keep the Shamrock uniforms as it is one and done. And if ND would consider mandating some noon games on the schedule.

I checked in with people at ND, and it looks like the guys do get to keep their Shamrock Series uniforms. Talk about a Halloween costume that keeps on giving!

As for the mandating of noon games, it’s probably not happening. Saturdays in South Bend start at 3:30 p.m. ET, with one night game likely sticking around. As for away games, not sure how much “mandating” Notre Dame can do. But usually the broadcast partner has a big say in the game’s time, so don’t expect an early start for a team that’s played almost exclusively primetime away games over the past few years.

 

Tim’s Neighbor: Personal question: How did you end up at ND? Any fond memories of ND before you were a student?

While I appreciate Nudeman giving me a baseball scholarship in the comments, I wasn’t getting any of the 11.7 scholarships that get allocated to the baseball team (especially the ones Paul Mainieri put together).

But I was lucky enough to chew gum and hit fungos for a while, a rather anticlimatic end to a baseball career, but a nice opportunity nonetheless. I picked Notre Dame because it was the best combination of school and sports that I was choosing from, even though I grew up rooting for former Cretin quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Steve Walsh, making me a big Miami and Florida State youngster. (I know, I know…)

As for fond memories, I’ve got hours of them. Usually they’re recapped over a few cold ones with friends, but I think the more years I’m gone the more I appreciate those four years and what Notre Dame was trying to do for us, probably like everybody else.

I try to take a nice long jog around campus every time I’m back, just watching students do things that us grown-ups wish we could relive again. It’s even better on non-game weekends, too. The campus has gotten prettier in the decade-and-change since I was roaming it, and there are so many little nooks that you can make your own.

(I hear bagpipes and a violin in my head, so I’m ceasing transmission. But special thanks to my Mom and Dad for footing that bill!)

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part IV: Notre Dame’s 2022 ended where it was always expected to

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Notre Dame v South Carolina
Getty Images
5 Comments

Notre Dame did not get there in any way expected, but the Irish season ended about where anticipated in the preseason. Psychological studies could spend hours disagreeing if it would have been better for Notre Dame to go 10-3 with its three losses coming to three top-10 teams or if a 9-4 season with a top-10 upset is better for Marcus Freeman’s program in the long-term.

But either scenario was going to end with the Irish in the Gator Bowl, a likelihood as far back as August.

To finish this recap of 40 preseason predictions

32) “A freshman defensive back will intercept a pass this season, becoming just the second freshman to do so” since 2017. Notre Dame’s defensive backfields have been far from liabilities during this resurgence since the 2016 faceplant, but they have lacked young playmakers, Kyle Hamilton aside.

Enter Benjamin Morrison and not one, not two, not three … but six interceptions in his freshman season. Unfortunately for your prognosticator, that does not equal six correct predictions. (15.5/32)

33) “The spread when the Irish visit the Trojans will be more than a field goal but less than a touchdown.” And indeed, USC was favored by four when Notre Dame visited the weekend after Thanksgiving, in what may have been the last visit the weekend after Thanksgiving. Logic says the Irish and Trojans will continue playing regularly, but USC’s joining the Big Ten in 2024 could change the timing of the meetings, and NCAA rule changes have removed Notre Dame’s want to be on the West Coast that particular week.

The Irish used to disperse their coaches from Washington to Arizona to recruit the Pacific time zone immediately after the season-ending game in California. In a literal sense, it saved those coaches 12-24 hours to not have to travel to Seattle or Phoenix from South Bend, particularly vital in a crucial recruiting window.

But now, the days after Thanksgiving are a dead period, so the coaches cannot make those visits. They flew back with the team this year.

Combine that with the Big Ten flux and perhaps Notre Dame starts heading to USC at a different point in the calendar in 2024. (16.5/33)

34) “USC will not make the College Football Playoff.”

Between this, suggesting Ohio State would make the Playoff and mistakenly thinking Clemson would, as well, these preseason predictions accurately predicted the season conclusions for two of the three biggest Irish opponents in 2022. Already suspect the 2023 version will include none of the three making the Playoff. (17.5/34)

35) Sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles’ disappointing 2022 — 30 catches for 340 yards and one touchdown — cost him any semblance of NFL draft buzz a year before he is eligible for the draft. A breakout 2023 would obviously change that, but that was not the prediction. (17.5/35)

36) Blake Grupe fell two makes short of the predicted 80 percent field-goal rate, finishing at 73.7 percent on 14-of-19. A career 74.4 percent kicker before he arrived at Notre Dame, the Arkansas State graduate transfer’s 2022 fell in line with his career. (17.5/36)

37) Arguing Notre Dame would score fewer than 32.8 points per game in 2022 was based on the lack of depth at receiver, subsequently underscored by Styles’ struggles. Expecting the Irish to slow things down made a lower-scoring season a strong thought, though perhaps not as low as the 31.4 scored per game in 2018, the low of the last six years.

Notre Dame threaded that needle with 31.8 points per game, a number buoyed, though not shockingly, by the punt-block unit and Morrison’s contributions. (18.5/37)

38) The Irish had gone 54-10 in Brian Kelly’s final five years in South Bend, winning at least 10 games each year. Predicting a sixth season of double-digit wins was a mistake largely thanks to Audric Estimé’s fumble in the fourth quarter against Stanford. (18.5/38)

39) This final stretch of predictions focused on hitting a few tight windows. The spread against USC, the exact scoring average and … where Notre Dame would play in a bowl game.

“Notre Dame will play in Florida before New Year’s.”

As complicated as bowl scenarios get during the season and then even the week of selections with the Holiday Bowl in San Diego reportedly campaigning hard for the Irish, sticking with initial expectations would have been a smart travel-planning strategy. (19.5/39)

40) 

(20.5/40)

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: Notre Dame’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
Part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach
Part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment

Clemson v Notre Dame
Getty Images
2 Comments

Recapping these preseason predictions bit by bit has emphasized how much of a see-saw Notre Dame’s 2022 was. They expected decent Irish success at Ohio State to open the season, which was realized. They then plainly assumed Notre Dame would continue to wallop overmatched opponents as Brian Kelly made the default.

Instead, Marcus Freeman stubbed his toe twice as first-year head coaches are wont to do, rendering that stretch of predictions largely flawed.

Now, the predictions tilt into early November, expecting little from the Irish. Of course, that was exactly when Freeman delivered the defining moment of his debut campaign.

21) “Notre Dame will top last year’s 41 sacks, which was a Kelly Era high. The Ademilola twins, junior defensive end Rylie Mills and at least one linebacker will each make at least three sacks.”

The first part of that fell inarguably short, 38 clearly less than 41. But the next sentence held more merit. Defensive end Justin Ademiloa and twin brother tackle Jayson Ademilola each had three sacks while Mills added 3.5. No linebacker reached three unless willing to still count Jordan Botelho as a linebacker with his 4.5 sacks. Given two of those came in the Gator Bowl when Botelho was clearly a defensive end, that would be generous grading. Instead, this entire prediction should be considered wrong, alas. (12/21)

22) Did this space continue publishing as planned after the Minnesota Timberwolves home opener? The running content calendar says a “Leftovers & Links” column ran on Oct. 20, the day after. Take the wins where you can find them, especially as a Timberwolves fan. (13/22)

23) The Irish had won 25 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents entering the season. Predicting that would reach 27 meant predicting Notre Dame would beat North Carolina and Syracuse. Check and check. (14/23)

24) That did not push the Irish into the top 10 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, as predicted, thanks to the mishaps against Marshall and Stanford. (14/24)

25) And here comes a stretch of predictions predicated in pessimism, focused on how Notre Dame would fare against Clemson. The Irish had won 16 straight games in November entering the 2022 season. Suggesting that would end at 16 was suggesting Notre Dame would lose to Clemson on the first weekend of November.

Rather, that was the win in Freeman’s first season that will be long remembered. (14/25)

26) That expected loss was based on Clemson’s defensive front holding Notre Dame’s ground game in check. There was no expectation the Irish would dominate there with 264 rushing yards on 46 carries after adjusting for a single one-yard sack. Logan Diggs ran for 114 yards on 17 carries while Audric Estimé took 18 rushes for 104 yards. (14/26)

27) That loss did not knock Clemson out of the College Football Playoff. The Tigers messing around and finding out against South Carolina did that. But regardless, predicting Clemson would return to the Playoff was ill-fated. (14/27)

28) Notre Dame was 30-1 in its last 31 home games entering the season. Predicting that would reach 35-2 in step with suggesting the Irish would lose to the Tigers was wrong in all sorts of ways, most notably in that the stretch is now 34-3 after Notre Dame went just 4-2 at home last season. Again, Marshall and Stanford. (14/28)

29) Boston College receiver Zay Flowers did not have the predicted 40-yard catch on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. He had a long of 39 yards on a snow-covered field playing with a backup quarterback.

The spirit of the prognostication was valid, but alas. (14/29)

30) Former Irish tight end George Takacs did not catch a touchdown in his return with the Eagles. No one did. (14/30)

31) And former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec did not have a “perfectly adequate day in his return to South Bend, not dramatic enough in any regard to confirm or deny anyone’s expectations for him that day.”

Jurkovec did not play at all, so let’s call this wager a push. He did, however, make some headlines from the sideline.

There is a strong chance this prediction is rerun in its entirety in 2023 with Jurkovec and Pittsburgh heading to South Bend on Oct. 28. (14.5/31)

Leftovers & Links: Ohio State, Clemson & Pittsburgh hurt most by early NFL draft entrants among Notre Dame’s opponents

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Notre Dame at Ohio State
Getty Images
5 Comments

The first two notable dates of college football’s offseason passed last week, the deadline for players to enter the transfer portal before the spring semester and the deadline to enter the NFL draft. The former hardly warranted much notice at Notre Dame, only three players entering the portal after the 2022 season. While plenty did transfer from other programs, a mid-May look at that movement may better serve Irish purposes, as plenty of names will eventually leave Notre Dame.

The NFL deadline has no second passing. Players are either headed toward the NFL draft by now or they are not.

The Irish lost five players to early entry to the NFL, though two of those instances were offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson and defensive end Justin Ademilola, both of whom would have been returning for sixth collegiate seasons in 2023. So in a more genuine sense, Notre Dame lost only three players early to the NFL draft: tight end Michael Mayer, defensive end Isaiah Foskey and safety Brandon Joseph.

All five would have started for the Irish next season, obviously. But at most, Ademilola’s and Joseph’s declarations were surprises, and even those were only mild at most.

College football will slowly churn back toward college careers following “normal” timelines and more tenable roster management the further it gets from the universal pandemic eligibility waiver from 2020. That will not take all the way until the 2025 season. Coaches are already leaning toward it.

While Notre Dame would have gladly welcomed back Patterson and/or Ademilola, it also knew two realities.

1) Patterson should be a second- or third-round draft pick who could have gone to the NFL a year ago. His time is now.
2) A year of Ademilola’s production would come at the expense of the development of younger players that may already be on the verge, somewhat deflating the value of his return.

In a parallel way, coaching staffs fall into two categories.

1) Either they are doing well and trust they can recruit better players than any draft debaters now. Leaning into continued successful recruiting lengthens the timeline these coaches expect to continue to succeed.
2) Or they are failing and soon fired. A new coach would rather bring in new players, “his players,” to reboot the program.

In both scenarios, fewer and fewer sixth-year players will be seen around college football long before the 2025 season rules them out entirely.

All of that is to say, when discussing entrants into the NFL draft, it is more and more accurate to focus on the juniors (like Mayer) and the seniors (Foskey, Joseph) rather than the half-decade veterans. Those losses from Notre Dame’s 2023 opponents, in order of most severe to least …

Ohio State: Losing quarterback C.J. Stroud would top this list no matter who else was on it. Stroud alone would have made the Buckeyes the title favorites next season. Receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba also jumped to the NFL, though his final collegiate season was effectively nullified when a Joseph tackle in the season opener injured Smith-Njigba’s hamstring to an extent he never genuinely returned in 2022.

Center Luke Wypler and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. headed to the next level, as well, along with defensive tackle Dawand Jones and defensive back Ronnie Hickman.

But those latter losses are anticipated at elite programs. Ohio State has recruited to replace most of these players. The Buckeyes barely missed Smith-Njigba in 2022, and he may be the best receiver in the draft. Stroud, however, is a loss that will throw the early part of Ohio State’s 2023 into some question.

Clemson: Similarly, the Tigers losing three defensive linemen in Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and K.J. Henry along with linebacker Trenton Simpson may be too much to overcome in stride. As Clemson has so terribly struggled — throw some sarcasm on that phrasing — to just 10 and 11 wins the last two season, it has leaned on its defensive front.

The Tigers gave up only 102.7 rushing yards per game in 2022, No. 13 in the country, and 20.9 points per game, No. 22 in the country. A year ago, Clemson ranked No. 7 and No. 2 in the respective categories.

Replacing 29.5 tackles for loss from the 2022 season including 16 sacks will be a difficult task. Perhaps “terribly struggled” will no longer warrant sarcasm.

Pittsburgh: Not many programs saw two All-Americans jump to the NFL, but the Panthers did in running back Israel Abanikanda (1,431 yards on 5.99 yards per carry with 20 rushing touchdowns) and defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (14 tackles for loss with 7 sacks in 11 games). Safety Brandon Hill also provided Pittsburgh’s defense some versatility.

USC: The Trojans also lost two All-Americans to the NFL — which, come to think of it, Notre Dame did, as well, in Mayer and Foskey — in receiver Jordan Addison and defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. To be more clear, Addison was not a 2022 All-American, but one at Pittsburgh back in 2021. Injuries slowed him a touch in 2022, but overall, his talent is All-American in caliber.

Stanford: The Cardinal’s talent drain this offseason will warrant a deep dive. It is one to behold. The first line on it is quarterback Tanner McKee heading to the NFL with some draftniks thinking he should be an early-round pick.

When Stanford upset Notre Dame in October, McKee led the way with 288 yards on an impressive 26-of-38 completion rate. Losing him will drastically change the Cardinal ceiling in 2023, which is saying something considering how low that ceiling already was.

Central Michigan: Running back Lew Nicholls III did not have the statistical profile of someone who should head to the NFL already, with all of 616 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2022, but look back to 2021 and his choice makes more sense. He ran for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns with another 338 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Navy, Tennessee State, North Carolina State, Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest did not lose players to any early NFL decisions.

If this list seems abbreviated, that’s because it is throughout college football. Name, image and likeness rights have made it more enticing for players to return to school Reportedly, fewer players entered this draft early than at any time in the last decade.

To think, so many people insisted NIL rights would ruin college football. Here is hard evidence it has upgraded the talent in the sport.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Trio of early-enrolling Notre Dame receivers most likely of dozen arrivals to impact 2023
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: ND’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part II: Upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach

OUTSIDE READING
2023 NFL Draft Big Board: PFF’s top 100 prospects
‘Everything’s on fire’: NIL collectives are the latest patchwork solution for college athlete pay
Numbers show NIL benefits college football
Has legalized betting led to more hurtful social media actions? Some admins think so.
Best college football games of 2022 season
Blazers’ Justise Winslow’s ‘giant, little steps’ out of the darkness

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach

Marshall v Notre Dame
Getty Images
13 Comments

To continue a final look back at Notre Dame’s 2022 season through the lens of preseason predictions and the expectations they framed …

11) The most underappreciated part of the Irish resurgence since 2017 and thus Brian Kelly’s final years coaching in South Bend was that Notre Dame won 42 straight games against unranked opponents, the longest streak in the country. It was so taken for granted, this prediction thought the Irish would run that to 50 games in 2023.

Instead, Marcus Freeman lost his very first game against an unranked opponent. (8 correct predictions out of 11.)

12) A few predictions always delve out of college football, for variety’s sake. Maybe that should be forgotten moving forward, considering the Packers neither beat the Vikings to open the season nor won the NFC North. To make matters even worse for this scribe of a lapsed Packers fan, they also were not bad enough to draft a good quarterback in 2023. (8 out of 12.)

13) North Carolina leaned on dynamic receiver Josh Downs to prodigious amounts in 2021. An early-season injury slowed him this year, thus ruining any chance of him having “the most catches in a game against the Irish this season, though not the most yards.”

He caught five passes for 32 yards.

Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka set the catches mark with nine for 90 yards to open the season, while BYU’s Kody Epps caught four passes for 100 yards, the season high in yardage against Notre Dame. (8/13)

14) Notre Dame played a multiple-look defense this season, a layup of a prediction given the linebacker depth and versatility led by Jack Kiser and (eventually injured) Bo Bauer. That was emphasized at USC when the Irish leaned into a 3-3-5 look without both cornerback Cam Hart and nickel back Tariq Bracy. Kiser’s speed became the defense’s best chance.

It was not enough, but it was a valiant effort, and one to keep in mind in 2023. (9/14)

15) “The math says at least one Irish player will be ejected for targeting in 2022.”

Enter JD Bertrand, twice. (10/15)

16) “Notre Dame will beat BYU in Las Vegas.”

Despite a lackluster second-half, check.

“… This space will miss at least one day of publishing the following week. Who can say why.”

Let’s check the running content calendar. For Tuesday, Oct. 11, it reads, “Vegas won this round.” Sometimes it is best to foresee your own personal failures. (11/16)

17) Marcus Freeman’s recruiting emphasis never waned, underscored by the last two years of recruiting topping anything the Irish have ever done. (12/17)

18) The only area in which Michael Mayer fell short in his Notre Dame career was of this prediction, one saying he would casually break two of his own three Irish single-season records. To do so, he needed to exceed 71 catches, 840 receiving yards and/or seven touchdowns.

The surefire first-round draft pick merely caught 67 passes for 809 yards and nine scores.

Would he have reached all three metrics if he played in the Gator Bowl? Almost assuredly. But then again, he played in only 12 games in 2021, too. The prediction was wrong, regardless. (12/18)

19) Another thought about an individual record, defensive end Isaiah Foskey did not exceed Justin Tuck’s record of 13.5 sacks in a season. He did take down the quarterback 11 times, reaching double digits for a second consecutive season while setting the Notre Dame career mark. (12/19)

20) Similar to prediction No. 11, an underappreciated part of Kelly’s final five years in South Bend were that the Irish won 39 straight games when favored at kickoff, covering all of the 2018-21 seasons.

Both to suggest that would continue and to guess how many times Notre Dame would be favored in 2022, arguing that streak would reach 48 was right in that the Irish were favored in nine of 13 games. They just happened to lose the first of those (and then again against Stanford, the fourth time they would be favored this season).

Such blunders should have been expected from a first-year head coach. Those missteps seem to catch just about every such rookie. But forgetting or overlooking that led to dashed expectations in 2022. (12/20)