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What We Learned: Notre Dame is Long’s offense, freshmen impact and more

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — We learned Notre Dame Stadium now holds 77,622 people. We learned Irish coach Brian Kelly still prefers to receive the opening kickoff. We learned Saturdays in September are best spent in the sun watching football.

Wait, we already knew that one.

What else did we learn?

This is Chip Long’s offense.
Notre Dame had three rushers gain more than 100 yards and four take at least half a dozen carries, with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush included in both categories. Long relying on the running game could be read as playing to one’s strengths, but it is also in-line with his career elsewhere to date.

Of those rushers, sophomore Tony Jones was the initial backup to junior Josh Adams. Jones took his six rushes for only 19 yards, but he was never taken down in the backfield and did score on a seven-yard touchdown. In his first collegiate action, that qualifies as acceptable.

Junior Dexter Williams excelled when he began to see runs behind Adams. Finishing with 124 yards on only six carries — even if removing his long of 66 yards, Williams averaged 11.6 yards per carry — Williams insured he will have plenty of chances moving forward.

Equally as telling that this is Long’s show, the Irish had the ball for only 26:11 in a game they entirely dominated. Long simply saw no reason to attack Temple slowly when doing so quickly would create more opportunities to continue, well, attacking. All indications are he called the plays throughout, including Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s comments after the 49-16 victory Saturday.

“My conversation with [Long] is pretty constant during the drive,” Kelly said. “I don’t want it to be over-chatter. He’s got to get in the flow and he’s got to be calling the game.

“I’m just keeping him on track relative to fourth down calls, whether we’re in this particular area of the field. He’s got a fourth down in his pocket, so call accordingly on second and third down.”

Notre Dame has more tight ends than realized.
Okay, not literally. A reading of the roster and the ability to count up one hand’s worth of fingers tells anyone the Irish have five tight ends. Yet, the four most-discussed contributed little-to-nothing Saturday.

Graduate student senior Durham Smythe entered the concussion protocol Saturday, and it is conceivable that keeps him out for a week. (That is not to say it will. Updates should come in due time.) Much-hyped junior Alizé Mack managed only two catches for 17 yards. Freshmen Brock Wright and Cole Kmet were offensive non-factors.

Nonetheless, a tight end still impacted Notre Dame’s offense definitively. Senior Nic Weishar pulled in three passes for 20 yards and a touchdown catch in very tight quarters.

“He’s had the best year that anybody can have in terms of his physical commitment to the position itself,” Kelly said. “He does not have the DNA of Alizé and [Weishar] will tell you that, he looks like a dad compared to those four stallions.

“But he can catch the football. It doesn’t matter where you throw it. We had a fourth down scrimmage where we just called fourth down plays and he made four tremendous plays on fourth down. He created that on his own, and he’s just had so much confidence in the way he’s been playing and it’s carried over.”

Wieshar’s emergence, at least for a day, may seem unnecessary. How many tight ends could Long possibly want to use? Well, in a system largely-contingent on using two tight ends, a third becomes a top-line substitute, possibly needed simply to keep the starters’ legs fresh, plus a usual contribution. Thus, the fourth tight end is but one injury away from being a needed cog to the offense.

In this scenario, a reliable Weishar creates a more viable path to preserving a year of eligibility for either Wright or Kmet.

Whether that is the case or not, Wimbush is ready to throw to whomever lines up on the end of the line or detached by a few feet.

“I feel pretty confident throwing all these guys the football. All the tight ends have done great,” he said. “Obviously Weishar came up with a couple big plays when we needed them. He’s made some tremendous catches, and sometimes I have to throw him a better ball, but all those guys will lay their bodies out and go catch the ball.”

For all this offensive certainty, right tackle will remain a question.
Entering the season opener, sophomore right tackle Tommy Kraemer’s status as the starter was already questionable. He had not grabbed ahold of the position like one might expect someone to when it has been waiting for them for a year. In recent weeks, freshman Robert Hainsey had emerged as a possible option.

Indeed, the two split snaps throughout Saturday. Per Kelly, that was planned and not a symptom of any lackluster play. When he checked with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand late in the game, the split was nearly exactly equal.

Such a distribution is unlikely to last the whole season. It simply is not Hiestand’s style, nor is it Kelly’s. Until it changes, though, the rest of the offensive line will proceed as normal. Graduate student senior right tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey said he hardly notices which one is in at a particular moment.

On a macro scale, McGlinchey can certainly relate to the pressures being felt by Kraemer and Hainsey. He has filled the shoes of Zack Martin and Ronnie Stanley. He knows the growing reputation of Notre Dame tackles. He has furthered it.

“They’re going to be great players here, and they had a good day today,” McGlinchey said. “It’s just those little things they need to keep improving on.

“The thing with them is everybody is pushing them to be the next big tackle, but for both of them, it’s their first time playing. They need to focus on doing their job and being who they are.”

Kelly intended to minimize some of that job heading into Saturday, but Temple’s defensive plan and the way the game unfolded led Notre Dame to rush to the right far for more frequently than anticipated.

“We expected to go left the whole time and we didn’t care if anybody knew about it,” he said matter-of-factly.

The bright side of this positional uncertainty is the development of Hainsey. For a true freshman to be ready to play 40-plus snaps the first week of his freshman season is quite a statement and one that bodes very well for his future.

“Rob Hainsey came in and was so impressive as a guy who was supposed to be a high school senior,” McGlinchey said. “He put himself by the way he played and the way he worked in a position to contribute to the offensive line as a true freshman. … Give him all the credit in the world for being able to do that. I know I wasn’t able to do that when I was his age.”

Punting isn’t the worst thing.
Yes, Notre Dame would like to score a touchdown every possession. But that is unrealistic. The Irish will punt on occasion. Maybe even frequently some weeks. And that will be okay.

Junior Tyler Newsome punted twice Saturday, and each boomed. Neither was in a position to pin Temple down inside its five-yard line, so Newsome could put his whole leg into it while giving his coverage team enough time to prevent a return. His 50- and 54-yard punts yielded returns of zero and two yards, respectively.

In time, that could be a weapon all on its own.

Freshmen will be involved.
Just a quick listing of freshmen who made quantifiable impacts Saturday off the top of the head late in the night: Hainsey, safety Isaiah Robertson, safety Jordan Genmark-Heath and defensive tackles Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa.

Tagovailoa-Amosa even notched a tackle for loss, one of Notre Dame’s 11. Hainsey, meanwhile, made the tackle on a Temple interception return, showing not only hustle but enough physicality to power through a few Owl defenders trying to form a convoy.

The four defensive youngsters contributed to a vital rotation on that side of the ball, especially on a thin offensive line.

“It’s really a matter of to keep these guys fresh and playing at the level that they need to, [the freshmen] are going to have to play,” Kelly said. “So we had a fixed rotation of how they were going to play early and throughout. We trust them. We’re going to stick with that.”

Campus Crossroads looks good.
The video board may take some adjusting from many. In time, such will occur. Frankly, it made the game go by quicker, providing a distraction during timeouts. During replays, it provided a resource. When a pass to Smythe was ruled incomplete upon review, the stands were not outraged, having already seen the reception was questionable at best.

It is a large facility, but any expansion to a place seating 80,000-plus would be large by nature. Accepting inevitabilities is a great way to lower stress, and the size of Campus Crossroads certainly feels like an inevitability.

Overall, it served the Saturday purpose quite well.

Lastly, Friday’s key four stats held up.

In Friday afternoon’s final piece, this space discussed four statistics to watch for as they pertain to overall success more than total yardage or such might: third down conversion percentage, turnover margin, average yards per pass.

One game is the definition of a small sample size, but these will be quietly tracked all season long. For now, compare Saturday’s metrics to last season’s, and for a further look back, just pull up Friday’s bit.

Notre Dame converted 46.15 percent of its third downs Saturday (six of 13). This was clearly aided by the strong Irish run game, a luxury Notre Dame did not much enjoy last season when the Irish converted 40.48 percent.
Temple converted 29.41 percent of its third downs Saturday (five of 17). Notre Dame opponents converted 38.95 percent last season.

The Irish were even on turnovers Saturday. This figure will need to shift for Notre Dame to have extended success this season. Last season, they averaged -0.33 per game.

The Irish averaged 6.13 yards per pass attempt Saturday. Chalk this up to a young Wimbush for now. Last season, Notre Dame averaged 7.86 yards per pass attempt.
Temple averaged 7.00 yards per pass attempt Saturday. Last season, Notre Dame opponents averaged 7.53 yards per pass attempt.

The Irish rushed 42 times Saturday. Notre Dame averaged 34.17 rush attempts per game last season.
Temple rushed 34 times Saturday. Irish opponents averaged 42.92 rush attempts per game last season.

Friday at 4: Notre Dame brings back the most important NFL possibilities in Kareem & Okwara

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This is not to diminish the losses of receiver Miles Boykin and consensus first-team All-American cornerback Julian Love. Notre Dame will miss both of them, Love in particular. But looking at the Irish depth chart, there are avenues to survival without both.

Notre Dame will return two starting receivers in rising senior Chase Claypool and fifth-year-to-be Chris Finke (speaking of which, see below). A number of options exist to replace Love, though obviously none will match his shutdown abilities. Either rising sophomore TaRiq Bracy will put on the necessary muscle to compete with receivers at this level or rising senior Donte Vaughn will return reinvigorated with health after recent surgery to repair a torn labrum surgery or rising sophomore Houston Griffith will move from safety to get his talent on the field or fifth-year Shaun Crawford will recover from an ACL tear quicker than expected or … or … or … If one of those pans out, the Irish defense should be comfortable in its coverage, buoyed by the stalwart safety combination of Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. (Imagine sincerely saying “stalwart safety combination” just six months ago.)

Look again at the depth chart, and such luxuries do not exist at defensive end. If rising seniors Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara had not opted to return, Notre Dame’s 2019 dreams would have hit a lowered ceiling nine months before the season began. By no means were they certain high-round draft picks, but the allure of athletic and talented defensive ends may have easily led to some outsized draft hopes.

Their backups are certainly more than capable — rising seniors Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji — but a talented second-unit is as important at defensive end as dangerous starters are. To replace the latter with the former is to diminish the entire enterprise outright.

The Irish could not have recovered from losing both Kareem and Okwara, at least not to the extent where Playoff talk would be viable again. Lose one and it would have still been dubious, at best.

Take a look at the teams expected to be in the mix for the Playoff. Using current championship odds … Clemson at 2-to-1, Alabama at just less than 3-to-1, Georgia at 6-to-1, Ohio State at 8-to-1, Michigan at 16-to-1 and then Oklahoma also at 16-to-1. Those first five have been known for their defenses more than anything else in recent years. Bookmakers put some faith in their ability to reload on the fly.

Notre Dame has not earned that trust, and its roster does not indicate it should have. As well as Justin Ademilola performed as a freshman in four games, inserting him into a pivotal role in 2019 would likely be a recipe for a mediocre season. He is another year of development away from being ready for that role, barring a Matt Balis-induced excellent offseason.

The Irish will need Kareem and Okwara to survive the losses of defensive tackles Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner, but if they play as they did in 2018, that is a reasonable ask. If they continue to develop, it becomes a probability more than a Notre Dame leap of faith.

The Irish will miss Boykin’s back-shoulder reliability and everything about Love, but Brian Kelly and his coaching staff coaxed back the two most-pivotal pieces from NFL draft consideration.


Speaking of Finke, he confirmed his intent to return for his final year of eligibility Thursday evening. And he did it in a way only befitting a man comfortable in his own skin.


And for the sake of context: Notre Dame is currently listed at 25-to-1 for the 2019-20 national championship, tied with Florida and Washington, just behind Texas at 20-to-1.

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

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

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

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

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

(@deundraymorgan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED READING: The quarterback Notre Dame needed, Brandon Wimbush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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