Mailbag madness: Questions, questions and (longer) questions

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Hope everybody had a spooky night and is ready for a hopefully less frightening evening against Navy.

Let’s get to your questions. Or should I say manifestos.

I stayed away from some repeats and also Heisman’d the post comparing turnovers between the Irish’s last two quarterbacks. At this point, I’m not walking back into the mistakes of the 2013 season, not with so many potential big things ahead for this team.

Here we go…

 

martyhealy: My question is, How much politicking behind the scenes is likely with the voting members to gang up on the SEC? In other words if a Pac 12, Big 10, or Big 12 team has no chance due to their top record with two losses they get a member or members to vote for their conference if that member(s) conference team has a bad 11-2 record or worse.

These aren’t electoral voters. The selection committee was purposely filled with some of the most ethical people surrounding the world of college football. So I think it’s a little bit silly to think that party lines are being drawn and backroom wheeling and dealing is already underway, especially with a month left in the season.

And remember, it’s not like the old system didn’t have this happening. It wasn’t that long ago where Mac Brown took to ESPN’s air waves during halftime of November games to push for the Longhorns to get their shot. And he was hardly alone.

There are a million questions about the playoff and ND’s spot in it. But let the process play out. Taking this poll as anything but a very fluid starting place is kind of meaningless.

 

blackirish23: In the BCS era, the AP and Coaches polls actually played a significant role (2/3) of the BCS poll. Now that we have an official playoff committee whose sole job is to rank the teams after week 7 or 8 without giving any consideration to the Coaches and AP polls, is it about time we did away with both those polls?

I’d love to see the polls abolished. Or at least have people openly acknowledge that the polls are essentially meaningless, especially considering that they don’t play a factor into anything, and likely get even less attention from pollster and coaches now.

Worth pointing out. B/R asked me to be a voter in their weekly exercise. I thought it’d be fun. But I absolutely HATE voting, and find myself moving the puzzle pieces around until I get frustrated and say, “this looks about right.”

 

ndoneill: Does Notre Dame have enough potential quality wins left on its schedule to make the playoff, even with winning out? It seems the committee is judging between one-loss teams based on “best win,” not “best loss.” Assuming ND wins out, will a win against (currently) #25 Louisville be enough to set them apart if the other one-loss teams currently ranked ahead also win out?

They certainly are judging it that way based on October results. But you didn’t see any two-loss teams up there, did you? So when all things are created equal, good wins probably should overrule good losses.

But again…. We’ve just gotta relax and let things play out. Notre Dame looked on the outside looking in back in 2012 before Oregon and Kansas State spit the bit. Six teams in front of the Irish play each other. A bunch of others are going to lose, too, and some in pretty shocking fashion.

Embrace the chaos and just enjoy the ride.

 

irishking: do you seriously believe that ND will win out? Do tell.

Why not? I don’t think Brian Kelly’s coached a team that wasn’t better in November than it was in September/October, and that should be the case with this group as long as no major injuries come along.

Should they win all the games? If they play well. Will they play well? I’d think so.

I tend to think tonight’s game is a big piece of the puzzle, and getting out of there without expending too much energy — and losing too many guys to injury — is critically important.

But you’re also looking at a guy that spends all August trying to figure out how ND can run the table every season, and practically talked himself into it again this year. (A horribly depressing habit until the past few years.)

 

irishmob89: Keith. Does Brian VanGorder’s aggressive defense match up better with Navy than Bob Diaco’s “bend but don’t defecate in your pants” defense? More specifically, does the Irish have the speed to prevent Navy’s backs from hurting Notre Dame on the edges?

Can I tell you tomorrow?

(My hunch? Navy will score some points, Keenan Reynolds is too good, and finally healthy. But ND will get their share of stops.)

 

goirishgo: Do you believe this lighter, faster ND defense matches up better against Navy’s option than in previous years?

I do. I like the idea of Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt chasing the option better than Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace.

 

newmexicoirish: Keith, I will try again. I asked about our coaching staff in the last mailbag and for whatever reasons you elected not to answer my question. Certainly your prerogative, but I’ll give it another shot!

As someone who is close to the program, do you believe the fiasco with the frozen five may have CBK taking a serious look at the NFL should the later show an interest? Lots of articles written in which the authors felt Coach Kelly was put in a very difficult and uncomfortable position by the university as front man for this whole mess, without providing him any information with which to answer some very pointed questions. Being rather savvy politically, I’m wondering if he is playing things close to the vest while seething behind the scenes?

I was one of the people loudly saying that Kelly was put in a brutal position. And I’m also someone who wouldn’t begrudge anybody in the world from taking a new job if the new position was paying you millions of dollars and at the height of your profession.

Who knows if this is a dealbreaker for BK? I don’t think it is, just because this has always been one of the cut-and-dry things that come with Notre Dame. Get in trouble/do something wrong in the classroom? It’s not in the coach’s hands anymore.

The university’s treatment of Michael Floyd after his DUI arrest shows that Notre Dame has made changes to their draconian student-life discipline process and that ultimately they trusted Kelly to handle things correctly. But don’t expect things to budge from an Honor Code perspective. Just look at the fiasco at North Carolina, which tarnishes a university and diploma about as much as you can.

Don’t expect any coach to let a school know in advance when they’re going to jump to the NFL. That’s why these guys have agents. But I don’t see Kelly going anywhere imminently. He’s built too good of a program to let someone else take this 2-3 year run.

 

ndlv: If I remember correctly, one of the Weis – Clausen games against Navy (2009?) was a disaster because of turnovers. To cut down on the possibility of interceptions (which can kill ND against Navy, as they limit the # of offensive possessions), is this the week when Notre Dame brings back some old school run-between-the-tackles football? Dust off the fullbacks (are there any on the roster?) and the blocking tight ends, then a steady diet of Folston running through tackles!

You asked this question before the Pregame Six Pack, but Kelly’s leaned heavily on the running game against Navy, with Tommy Rees only throwing 20 times last year. The Irish ran 46 times the last time Everett Golson faced the Midshipmen, and I expect the ground game to get churning, too.

If you want to slam your head into a table a few dozen times, go back and look at that 2009 football game. Notre Dame didn’t punt once. Jimmy Clausen threw for 450+ yards. Between the zillion red zone mistakes and the critical safety they gave up, the Irish literally invented a way to lose that football game.

 

tusconfan: Keith, did you know Willingham? If so what would you say his attitude towards ND is vis a vis his role on the committee?

I met Ty Willingham once. I was a student sitting in the bleachers at Eck Stadium and he came in after riding his bike around campus, just months after he was hired. So I don’t know him, nor could I speak towards his attitude.

But I think any worries that Ty or Condi or Pat Haden or X or Y or Z is going to screw Notre Dame makes people sound silly. Keep winning. Solves a lot of problems.

 

jerseyshorefannd1: ND changed to field turf and the world didn’t end. Actually, I think most would agree that it has been a real positive. Given that success, are there any other changes on the horizon that are being seriously discussed within the program (not just specifically the addition of a jumbotron)?

I might be the only one, but I think the remodel is going to be awesome. It will trap some of the noise in the stadium and give the university a chance to make some adjustments to the current set-up. (For instance, people’s butts have gotten a lot bigger over the past 20-30 years.)

One thing that I really think will help (other than a video board, which I’m also 100% in favor of) is the ability to have an open air press box. You want to know why media and reporters always talk about the crowd being relatively quiet at Notre Dame Stadium? It’s because you can’t hear anything from the press box. It’s sealed tight with seemingly sound-proof glass.

Not that it doesn’t come in handy on a chilly Saturday, but if your job is to capture the atmosphere at the stadium, you can do it better watching the NBC broadcast than up in the box.

 

dudeacow: We’re number 1 in overall GSR again. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why it’s so good to have a high graduation success rate. It seems to me that that means it’s really easy to graduate from the school. Can you explain why this is an important metric?

Seems to me that you might want to rethink that logic. Are you serious? Why is it good to have a high graduation rate? I don’t know, so the kids playing college football actually graduate from college.

Add that to the other ranking tools that list Notre Dame regularly among the top universities in the country and you can start to understand why the athletic department and university rightfully boast about the accomplishment.

 

deadman3020: So what do you think, % wise, that E. Golsen returns next year?

99 percent. (And it’s G-O-L-S-O-N.)

 

oldestguard: How soon will this playoff system be expanded to 8 teams?

Billion dollar question. The current TV deal states that this stay at four teams, but you’ve got to think the pressure to expand will be immense. A few months back BK threw his hat in the 8-team ring, and I can’t blame any coach for wanting it a little bit bigger.

Remember all those worries that a playoff would ruin the regular season? Sure doesn’t seem like it now.

 

wisner74: With the Navy game next, Eilar Hardy comes to mind because of his perhaps game-saving play late in the 4th quarter of last year’s game. Since he’s now back at practice, will he be on the field at all this season? The Irish could certainly use him with all of the injuries at safety. Also, if he does have a two semester suspension in front of him, is there any chance at all he’ll actually sit it out at ND and play his last year in the ’16 season, or is he likely to transfer and play somewhere else in ’15?

Kelly referenced some things that still needed to happen before Hardy was eligible to return. I think that’s a university matter, so this isn’t in BK’s hands. I’ve never reported that Hardy was gone or had a two-semester suspension pending. But I have no reason to think that what Pete Sampson is saying is incorrect, and I’d honestly be shocked if it wasn’t.

Having Hardy back on the practice field will be helpful. Having him in the secondary would be even better, but I tend to think that’s a pipedream.

It’s too bad that Hardy’s career wasn’t a bigger success. Between the knee injury, the self-inflicted blunders (he was suspended for two different games last season, one after he had found success at safety) even before this current mess.

I’ve got a feeling you’ll be seeing him start for Chuck Martin next season at safety.

 

NDunbound:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to deal with trolls and other problem posters. I believe the best thing to do is ignore them. They feed off attention, good or bad. Ignore them, and they’ll go away. But I noticed that even you give them attention, so maybe you know something I don’t.

I don’t like it when sites treat posters like kindergartners, even when some deserve to be treated as such. But I have to admit your recent threat has had a positive effect. We’ll see how long that lasts.
I just hate to see you wasting your time policing the comments when you should be researching and writing.

If your recent guidelines aren’t followed, I implore everyone to simply ignore the idiots. I know it’s not easy, but I think it’s worth a shot. What are your thoughts on this, Keith?

I’m answering this question because I’m trying to fight the good fight with commenters. And credit to some people for cleaning up their act. I implemented those “guidelines” (thanks for the help, Mom) to try and add some baseline expectations to the free-for-all.

But honestly people, I don’t have time to go through and be the arbiter of taste and appropriateness down below. Self-govern. Enjoy yourself. Debate among (cyber)friends. And if there’s ever a good rule, “Don’t feed the trolls.”

But I’m ready, willing and able to nuke posters. Especially if one or two people are ruining things for everyone. But everyone just be nice, talk about Notre Dame football and enjoy yourselves. I’m not asking you to solve any political crisis.

 

tampabayirish: Keith, I tried to get this question in last week but I missed the deadline. Does anyone know where the next “Navy home game” will be played on Nov 5, 2016 in the Notre Dame series. Let me first offer Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It is closest to my home and the midshipmen could board and take over the Buccaneers pirate ship in the north end zone. With the chronic poor of play of the Bucs, there is bound to be plenty of surplus Celebratory ammo on board.

Perhaps on a more serious note, we could make an argument for Navy moving the game to San Diego. It’s a great navy town. The weather is the best in the country. You would have to schedule around San Diego State. But that could be done. I am sure that the Irish would welcome a chance to make two California trips that season. In fact, what about playing Navy in San Diego as part of the Shramrock Series.

Not sure about Tampa, but I’m 100 percent in for a Shamrock Series game in San Diego. I’ll see you at Petco Park, because the football stadium is a dump.

Navy hasn’t announced where the 2016 game is being played yet. But with the Shamrock Series returning to San Antonio and Syracuse already playing in the Meadowlands, it’ll likely be a fun location. If you’re hosting, I’m sure the university will give Tampa Bay solid consideration.

 

 

iggynd90:

Hey Keith – long time listener, first time caller…

I’ve got a few questions for you:

1. Have you seen any indications that the team is extra motivated now after having the Florida State game “stolen” from them and/or the “disrespect” shown by the selection committee?

2. Regarding the 4 players who are out this year – what impact does this have on their remaining eligibility? Can they count this season as a redshirt?

3. Just how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?

In short:

1) No. But I wouldn’t blame them if they used it as fuel.
2) This is a bit tricky, but I was told by someone at Notre Dame that the year won’t could for eligibility, so Ishaq Williams can return for a fifth year and KeiVarae will have two seasons of eligibility left. The fact that DaVaris Daniels is potentially weighing a return leads you to believe that’s the case.
3) Ask the owl.

 

naptownfish:

First time commenter. I’ve read every Inside The Irish post for the last 5-10 years, and every ND article I can find on the internet daily for the past 10-15 years. This is hands down my default site for timely, well-reported news. So thank you. 2 Questions.

The Playoff Committee is to take into consideration injuries when a team plays sub-par. Do you think that should be a criterion for the Committee? What are they judging…football programs as a whole, or how they potentially could play on one special hypothetical day when all starters are healthy and are assumed to stay healthy the entire game? It’s a subjective way to justify overlooking a loss. Does the overall quality and depth of a program not matter?

Most CFP analysts (and common fans) say everything will play itself out, the SEC West will beat itself up, forcing the Committee to place other teams in the Top 4 at season’s end. Given the Committee’s first rankings, can we be so sure? Three of the top four one-loss teams (rankings #3 thru #6) are SEC West teams, implying their losses to each other are the least-penalized. Do you have any fear that if Miss St ends with one loss and all other teams in the Top 15 each add one loss (mathematically possible I believe), we’ll be in the same situation and the final playoff will have 3 teams from the SEC?

Sorry for length. Cut down as you see fit, I tried already. Will keep as short as possible in future.

Naptown, I read this question like five times. I’m not actually sure what the question is, though the committee will factor in all sorts of things when deciding who the Top 4 teams end up being. And I tell you what — If ND ends up 11-1 and sitting out, I’ll buy everybody beers at the Orange Bowl.

Thanks for asking a question. Next one is bound to be a bit more concise.

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 rivals.com, 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.

CAREER TO DATE
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.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
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.

QUOTES
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.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“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.”

2023 OUTLOOK
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.

DOWN THE ROAD
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.

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

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
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
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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

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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.

Rivals.com 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 rivals.com 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.

NOTRE DAME on NBC 2023 SCHEDULE
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

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Georgia Tech at Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 252 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A senior, Bauman has three years of eligibility remaining. Yes, he could end up playing a sixth year somewhere in 2025, if he so chooses. The universal pandemic eligibility waiver meant Bauman’s injury-shortened 2022 could serve as his traditional season preserving eligibility.
Depth Chart: A year ago, Bauman was considered Notre Dame’s second tight end, but he may be as low as No. 4 entering 2023, in part due to his injury and in part due to junior Mitchell Evans and sophomore Holden Staes making the most of their opportunities last season.
Recruiting: Bauman had the misfortune of being the same age as Michael Mayer, the latter ranked No. 3 among tight ends in the class of 2020 while Bauman was the No. 5, per rivals.com. Michigan gave late pursuit to Bauman, but the New Jersey native stuck with the Irish, the only program he genuinely considered.

CAREER TO DATE
Bauman was progressing gradually before his 2022 was cut short by a torn ACL after a broken leg delayed the start of his 2021. The ACL injury kept Bauman sidelined in the most recent spring practices.

2020: 4 games; 1 catch for 5 yards.
2021: 5 games; 1 catch for 10 yards.
2022: 3 games; 3 catches for 44 yards.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Bauman tore his ACL in September, making it quite plausible he is full-go when preseason practices commence at the end of July, which will be 10-plus months after the injury. Recovery from an ACL tear typically takes about nine months nowadays, wild to think about given Adrian Peterson first pioneered that timetable in football as recently as 2012.

QUOTES
Do not mistake a shortened ACL recovery timeline as an easier rehab.

“It’s been a journey,” Bauman said in March. “It’s been tough, a little more than five months out now from surgery. It’s been a grind. Toughest part has been committing to that grind, knowing it’s going to take some time. Have to have some patience.

“It’s going well. I feel great physically. I’m starting to long jump, all that stuff.”

There was never a timetable that included Bauman partaking in spring practices, but he held hope for summer work.

“I’m hoping by summer workouts, I should be 100 percent, fully cleared,” he said. “But then definitely by fall camp.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Bauman or Evans, one will be Mayer’s backup, and the other will be a piece of the offense, always just one snap away from being a core piece of it. Though a former high school quarterback, Evans’ 2021 may have given him the slight edge over the former highly-touted tight end recruit Bauman.

“The key thing to remember is, no matter the pecking order of tight ends Nos. 2 and 3, they will remain behind a likely All-American who will be both the fulcrum and the engine of the Irish offense.

“There should still be a role for Bauman, be it as the No. 2 or 3 tight end. A handful of catches is likely the minimum, with one perhaps coming in the end zone. …

“That ‘2022 Outlook’ is not meant to diminish Bauman. Any tight end at Notre Dame warrants the benefit of the doubt, simply because of the track record of ‘Tight End U.’ It is meant to continue to emphasize Mayer’s talent and how it looms over the rest of the tight ends.

“He’ll be gone after this season.

“Then it will be Bauman’s time, along with Evans and sophomore Cane Berrong, not to mention the two incoming freshmen. Who will emerge as the new lead is a parlor game better suited for next winter, but its best clues will come this fall.”

2023 OUTLOOK
When Evans took the field, coming off a July foot injury, Bauman and then-freshman Eli Raridon had already been sidelined by injuries. As Evans found his role, the futures of those like Bauman changed in step with Evans’s successes. That was through no fault of Bauman’s; it is irrational to criticize a former high-profile recruit for not breaking out when two unrelated injuries cut short his only non-pandemic seasons.

But it is a reality, nonetheless.

Evans and Staes are Notre Dame’s top-two tight ends at this point, with Raridon representing a higher ceiling than Bauman, though both remain bets on potential.

Thus, Bauman’s 2023 may be minimal. He should play and play plenty, but only in supplementary roles, barring injuries to Evans and/or Staes. That could result in a handful of catches for Bauman, a disproportionate number of them coming near the goal line.

Think back to the stat lines of Nic Weishar and George Takacs.

Weishar in 2017: Nine catches with two touchdowns.
Weishar in 2018: Three catches with two touchdowns.

Takacs in 2019: Two catches with one touchdown.
Takacs in 2021: Three catches with one touchdown.

Tight ends are simply more prone to those kinds of catches-to-scores ratios given the propensity to run multiple tight-end sets in goal-to-go situations.

DOWN THE ROAD
A transfer following this season seems the most likely route for Bauman. Barring a breakout, somehow leapfrogging Evans and Staes, there will simply be no realistic path to a leading role in South Bend in 2024.

With two years of eligibility remaining after this season along with his high-profile recruitment, Bauman should have plenty of options for landing spots. Cane Berrong just landed at Coastal Carolina with less collegiate statistics and a lower recruiting profile, for example.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
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
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth