Pregame Six Pack: Time for the Tar Heels


After a week of imminent distractions, Notre Dame gets prepared to take to the field and get to 6-0.

On Saturday, only North Carolina stands in their way, not the Honor Code hearings (and likely appeals) still lingering on, nor the uncertainty of teammates still in a holding pattern after an academic indiscretion was uncovered in late July.

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Yesterday, Brian Kelly spent most of his time with the media answering questions that the school’s administration won’t. Tomorrow, life will be easier: He’ll coach a football game.

North Carolina and Notre Dame will meet for the first time since 2008, when the Irish squandered a double-digit lead in Chapel Hill and lost 29-24. In an 18-game series that’s only seen the Tar Heels win one other game, letting any off-field distraction get in the way — not to mention next weekend’s date with Florida State — could derail a season that’s been perfect so far.

Let’s get to the Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers or miscellaneous musings as Notre Dame welcomes North Carolina to South Bend at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC on online via Live Extra.


Joe Schmidt is more than just a good Hollywood story. He’s a really good middle linebacker for one of the best defenses in college football. 

We’re all suckers for a great story. With a tradition dominated by the heroic narratives provided by Rockne, The Gipper and Rudy, bunching Joe Schmidt’s rags-to-riches walk-on story in with the group makes sense. But it’d be doing a disservice to the senior linebacker.

Schmidt’s a good football player. Period. While he slid through the cracks as an averaged-sized, three-year starting linebacker at Mater Dei, one of the top high school football programs in Southern California, Schmidt’s belief in himself never wavered, and Notre Dame has been the beneficiary of that self-belief.

Yesterday, Schmidt joined Jim Rome on his nationally-syndicated radio program, and told everyone the story of that belief, and what makes him such a wonderful ambassador for the university.

“It starts as a little kid. Since I was five years old, I’ve wanted to come to Notre Dame,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been a Notre Dame fan, a Notre Dame guy. My older sister and my brother-in-law Greg, they went to Notre Dame. The bug bit me early and I became infatuated with the idea of Notre Dame.

“In the recruiting process, they kind of looked at me a little bit and I had some other opportunities to play some big time football other places. But for me, it was all about, I have this dream. If I go and do something and I’m successful at some school, I don’t ever want to ask myself, ‘Could I have done that at Notre Dame?’

“For me, it was about following my dream and just trying to do everything I could to make this university better and everything I could to make this team successful. It was never too much of a decision for me.”

Of course, Schmidt’s story isn’t a great one because he stepped foot on the field or was able to lean on his parents for the financial means to make that dream happen.

“I don’t think I really understood, with taxes, how much you have to make to pay a $60,000 college tuition bill,” Schmidt said, incredibly thankful to his parents.

But Schmidt’s no longer a walk-on with a great story. He’s earned his scholarship. He’s the undisputed leader on the defense. And he’ll leave Notre Dame a two-year starter who’ll likely captain a 2015 Irish squad with sky-high expectations.

So while even Notre Dame fans look at him as some type of placeholder or scrappy, undersized underdog, Schmidt’s almost on pace for a 100-tackle season as a starter in the middle of one of the best unit’s in the country.

Enough about the story. Let’s talk about the guy on the field.


A Notre Dame-North Carolina rivalry? Saturday’s game deserves a quick history lesson. 

The Irish and the Tar Heels have only played twice since 1975, splitting a home-and-home series in 2006 and 2008. In a series Notre Dame has dominated, the Irish’s .889 winning percentage is only bettered against Wabash and Illinois in team’s played a minimum of 10 games, a one-sided reboot of a series that’ll now be more frequent with Notre Dame’s ACC scheduling alliance.

But the first meeting in this series is a noteworthy one. Back in 1949, No. 1 Notre Dame met the Tar Heels in a sold-out Yankee Stadium. How hard were tickets to get? Well, this story, courtesy of North Carolina’s official athletic website, gives you a good idea.

Albert Earle Finley began a construction equipment business in Raleigh in 1931, and nearly two decades later it had grown into the largest distributorship in the United States. Finley was generous with the proceeds from his businesses, establishing a reputation as one of North Carolina’s most generous philanthropists. He was also an avid golfer and sports fan, following with interest the pursuits of university teams in the Triangle area. Like many others without direct connections to Carolina, Finley had become a fan of those late-1940s Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice-led teams.

He phoned the ticket office at Carolina in the fall of 1949 and was told that, unfortunately, there were no tickets available.

“Surely there are tickets somewhere,” Finley countered.

He was told demand was high and that, no, there were none for sale. Pressing the matter, Finley was directed to the university’s athletic director, Chuck Erickson. Finley phoned Erickson, who explained that hard-to-get tickets went to the university’s most generous financial boosters.

“If you need some money, let’s talk,” Finley said.

Erickson, who doubled as the Tar Heels’ golf coach, told Finley that the university had built a nine-hole golf course during World War II with labor from the Navy Pre-Flight and that each hole had two tees to vary the holes on a golfer’s second time through. UNC had the land for nine more and wanted to upgrade the original holes and build a second nine.

A deal was struck: Finley agreed to pay for the services of George Cobb to design the course and for construction costs. The golf course was named in his honor and remains today UNC-Finley Golf Course (though the layout was completely redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1999). And Finley got his tickets to the Carolina-Notre Dame game.

Finley joined more than 20,000 North Carolina fans traveling to New York to see the Tar Heels take on Frank Leahy’s Irish. But after an early 6-0 lead and a deadlocked 6-6 game at halftime, the Irish exploded in the second half and won 42-6.

Thought Notre Dame’s development office was good at finding donations? Chuck Erickson was no slouch either.


Another week, another test for the Irish defense. Why 17 is the magic number.  

Notre Dame has surrendered just 60 points through the season’s first five games, a 12-point average that’s tied for third-best in the country, and the best among teams who haven’t played FCS competition. But against Larry Fedora’s North Carolina offense, the Irish will face one of their stiffest offensive challenges.

The Irish defense has held their opponents to 17 points or less all five games this season, matching the 2012 unit in an accomplishment that hadn’t been achieved since 1982. Fedora’s North Carolina offense has been held to less than 17 points only once in his tenure in Chapel Hill, last year’s season opener against South Carolina.

Most Irish fans thought Brian Kelly was paying lip-service to Fedora’s athletic roster and offense, especially looking at their relatively mediocre 2-3 record with wins over just Liberty and San Diego State. But Brian VanGorder’s defense will face off against a tough dual-threat quarterback and some athletic playmakers.


With the next chapter of the season about to begin, expect the running game to get on track this Saturday. 

That we’re applauding a blue-collar effort last Saturday isn’t insignificant. But Notre Dame’s modest 4.0 yards per carry against Stanford — bolstered by long runs by C.J. Prosise and Everett Golson — is hopefully something to build on.

With the restacked offensive line continuing to grow into their roles, Saturday against North Carolina’s very suspect defense will be important to continue the midseason reshuffling. Earlier this week, Kelly was asked about the play of new center Matt Hegarty, who struggled early against Stanford’s three-down front, but settled into the game.

“What we were most pleased with is that in the third and fourth quarter, he played his best football,” Kelly said. “So I think once we settled into the game and started to get into the flow of the game, he graded out much better.  But not to take away, there were some of those big misses that we have to really eradicate from his game.”

Hegarty wasn’t the only one that needs to eliminate some ugly plays. Sophomore Steve Elmer was physically overwhelmed a few times by Stanford’s Henry Anderson. Christian Lombard had an early slip-up or two as well. (And that’s certainly not to say Nick Martin and Ronnie Stanley were perfect, either.) But getting these five working in sync before heading to Tallahassee has to be a priority for Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, and expect the game plan to reflect that.

Of course, the guys running the ball need to do a better job. And while it’s easy for those of us watching from the press box or the couch to spot cutback lanes, Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel all need to take advantage of their opportunities this weekend.

Folston should be ready to go after a thigh contusion. Kelly said that the medical staff took four cc’s of fluid out of Folston’s quad and that he responded with an excellent week of practice. After a breakout freshman season started down the stretch, Folston could be ready to step into that role, if Bryant or McDaniel let him.


With Golson for the Irish and Hood for the Tar Heels, it’s a friendly reminder that all is fair in love and recruiting. 

Everett Golson has likely been looking forward to the matchup with North Carolina for a long time. After envisioning himself starring for the Tar Heels on both the gridiron and the hard wood, Golson ended up in South Bend, a winding road that we’ve spent tens of thousands of words describing.

Golson was committed to North Carolina, ready to play basketball for Roy Williams and football for Butch Davis, until an NCAA academic investigation took root. That opened the door for Brian Kelly to come in, finding a perfect quarterback for his offensive system, though ending any opportunity to play basketball.

Of course, North Carolina turned the tables in the last recruiting cycle with their flipping of Elijah Hood. The five-star running back was an early Notre Dame commit, dazzling at The Opening as he showcased elite speed and a physique about as impressive as you’ll find on a high school senior.

Hood has quickly ascended to the top of the running back depth chart for the Tar Heels, averaging 4.3 yards per carry as a powerful, fall-forward running back behind a suspect offensive line. He’ll likely get his opportunity to impress early and often for the North Carolina offense with no offensive line. That says nothing about the numbers Golson could put up against a defense that’s allowing 42 points a game.

As we saw earlier this week with Notre Dame’s flipping of quarterback recruit Brandon Wimbush, the Irish coaching staff isn’t afraid to continue to recruit a prospect that’s committed. It’s helped define the Kelly era, with no quarterback in Notre Dame history winning games at a better clip than Golson.

So while the Irish may lose an occasional big name like Hood, they’ll win enough to make it all okay.


Distractions, suspensions and “getting it.” Any questions about Brian Kelly’s fit at Notre Dame have been answered. 

Remember this moment, Notre Dame fans. Because there’s a very real possibility that it might not ever get any better than this.

Ranked in the Top Five according to the now meaningless Coaches’ Poll, Brian Kelly has led a ridiculously young football team into October unbeaten. That feat alone has rarely been accomplished in the post-Lou Holtz era of Notre Dame football.

But even Holtz rarely had to deal with the difficulties and distractions that Kelly has endured, none more frustrating and culture-inflicted than the “imminent” demise of DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams. That university brass is still determining discipline for five athletes after suspected academic misdeeds were discovered in late July is ridiculous.

The university, led by Rev. John Jenkins, has deserved a lot of credit in recent years for moving out of the dark ages — in campus life and social issues — all while retaining their ideals as the preeminent Catholic university in the world.

But a lot of that good will has eroded these past two months, with administrators exhibiting the uneasiness that comes along with Notre Dame’s continued hopes to be among academia’s elite while begrudgingly acknowledging football’s role as the foundation that quite literally built most of the university.

That struggle had revealed itself for too long in the athletic department. But Jack Swarbrick has solved that problem. Under Swarbrick, the athletic department no longer operates like their antiquated facilities inside the JACC, but rather like one of the elite athletic outfits in the entire country. Mens and women’s sports continue to win at historic clips, finding a way to recruit athletes that fit inside a mold that even the university’s top administrators are still working to define.

Swarbrick has succeeded largely because he bet on the right man to run his flagship program. And in his relationship with Brian Kelly, the duo has found a way to thrive, mostly because Kelly understands his place in the big picture. That he’s able to win while constantly being examined under a microscope that includes social media and viral memes, HD zoom lenses focused on his every sideline move, and a rabid fanbase demanding a return to past glories is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

Nor should we discount his political acumen. Just look to Ann Arbor when you want to see what happens when you throw a football coach to the wolves. So while some still worry that Kelly’s just a smooth operator and opportunist looking for the next big thing, these past few weeks should end that discussion.

The university has released its last statement on the academic suspensions, delivering a heavily-scrubbed message on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of NFL bedlam, seemingly willing to ride out this storm and batten down the hatches. So its head football coach continues to speak uneasily on its behalf, capably handling a mess not of his own creation.

That’s a man that understands his role at Notre Dame. And a man you couldn’t blame for wanting an easier job, where winning football games was the only measurement of success or failure.

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