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And In That Corner … The Florida State Seminoles, in the midst of a program-low season


Florida State may be down this year, but if any claimed Notre Dame rival deserves a double dose of insights from beat writers watching the other sideline, it is the Seminoles. Others (Stanford, USC, Michigan) are more familiar due to the regularity of their Irish matchups, and Miami does not show up on the calendar again until 2024.

To explain how Florida State is 4-5 and in danger of ending an NCAA record-long bowl streak, let’s welcome Curt Weiler of The Tallahassee Democrat and Corey Clark of

DF: I am not sure where to start with the Florida State. Let’s begin with weaknesses, otherwise known as the offensive line. It has been an obvious issue since September, but has it improved at all as the season has progressed?

CW: Coming into the season, it was known that Florida State was going to need injury luck on its side with a lack of offensive line depth. There has been almost no luck in this regard. FSU’s most talented offensive lineman, Landon Dickerson, has played in only two games and looks to be done for the season. Two other experienced linemen, Cole Minshew and Derrick Kelly, have also missed time with injuries. Center Alec Eberle has started 41 straight games, but there’s been total flux everywhere else. FSU has been forced to use players out of position and far earlier than they were ready for playing time, trotting out eight different starting offensive lines in nine games this season.

CC: Well, in a word …. No. Florida State is left with a mess up front. It has a converted defensive lineman, Arthur Williams, starting at one spot and a backup center, Brady Scott, starting at one of the tackle positions. Center Alec Eberle is the only lineman with any real experience.

Last week, Florida State rushed for 24 yards. The Seminoles are currently averaging less than 2.4 yards per carry, and Florida State has two former five-star running backs (Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick) in the backfield. The offensive line isn’t just bad. It’s historically bad. And it gives the offense almost zero chance of moving the ball consistently against competent defenses.

This may be the most help Florida State’s offensive line has provided its quarterbacks this season. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Part of that struggle has been giving up 3.11 sacks per game. Meanwhile, one of the greatest reasons to believe in Notre Dame’s chances at running the table is its defensive line. Might the Irish front be able to feast this weekend?

CC: Well, in a word … Yes. I would be stunned if Notre Dame doesn’t just win the line of scrimmage but dominate it. Florida State has some playmakers outside — most notably Tamorrion Terry — and either one of the quarterbacks can make plays with his right arm. But neither is a great runner. That’s not part of their skillset. So if FSU is going to move the ball it will almost exclusively have to be through the air. And if Notre Dame knows that, if the FSU offense is as one-dimensional as it will likely be, if the FSU offense continually faces second- and third-and-long plays, then yes, I expect Notre Dame to harass the Seminoles QBs all night.

Deondre Francois led the way in the season’s first eight games for Florida State. His 254.9 passing yards per game were the primary source of any Seminoles’ offensive success, even if he completed only 60.9 percent of his passes and complemented 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Then James Blackman got the start last week at North Carolina State. My understanding is that tied to a Francois ribs injury, correct?

CW: It was first reported as a head injury, then a rib injury and then Francois said this week it was a concussion suffered against Clemson. Whatever it was, he said he’s 100 percent again and has practiced in a full capacity all week.

James Blackman (No. 1) has a higher completion percentage and yards per attempt than Deondre Francois, yet it is Francois that is expected to start at No. 3 Notre Dame this weekend. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Blackman played well, throwing for 421 yards and four touchdowns on 29-of-46 passing. Could there be a budding quarterback controversy on Willie Taggart’s hands? Who should Notre Dame fans expect to see this weekend?

CW: There’s been a quarterback controversy in Tallahassee for some time. Francois has been either unable or unwilling to keep the ball on read plays with any sort of consistency in Taggart’s offense and fans have been clamoring for a glimpse of Blackman for weeks. The glimpse they got last weekend did little to silence the noise. Francois has worked first all week in practice and went so far as to say Taggart made it clear to him he’s the No. 1 guy, but Taggart hasn’t yet announced a decision on the matter. I don’t expect him to before Saturday as Florida State needs every competitive advantage it can gain, but I expect it to be Francois as Blackman has only played in four games and can redshirt if he doesn’t play again this season.

CC: Much to the dismay of many Florida State fans, all indications are Francois will again be the starter in South Bend. He throws a nice ball. If he gets time, he can really pick a defense apart. But he rarely has time, as discussed. And since his injury (torn ACL in the season opener vs. Alabama in 2017) Francois doesn’t look like nearly the athlete he was beforehand. He just can’t move well. Being a sitting duck, behind this offensive line, is a recipe for a lot of turnovers and punts.

With the way Blackman played at NC State, albeit against a below-average secondary, it seemed like he did enough to get another chance to run this offense. He’s not exactly a great runner either. But he’s at least a little bit more mobile than this current incarnation of Francois. Plus, Blackman showed a propensity to just throw it up to Terry, who is one of the most talented receivers Florida State has ever had. It might be a bit of a “controversy,” but I think most FSU fans understand it doesn’t much matter who starts at QB in this one.

Before getting to Taggart, let’s take a look at Florida State’s defense. Advanced numbers consider it to be pretty good: S&P+ ranks it No. 39. That is hard to believe considering the Seminoles gave up 106 points across the last two weeks, part of allowing 30.4 per game this season. How do you square that ranking with those frequent trips to the end zone by the opposition?

CC: Florida State’s offense offers zero help. Against Clemson, the Seminoles set a school record for punts, most coming on three-and-outs, which meant Clemson was getting the ball in terrific field position. In fact, Florida State’s defense averages the worst starting field position in the country. Part of that is on the offense. Part of that is on the special teams, which have been an abject failure in Year 1 under Taggart.

Florida State’s defense is far from great, but it’s not quite as bad as the last two weeks would have you believe. They played two really good quarterbacks and got picked apart. Plus, they got down by so much early in both games that I think there was a bit of a give-in factor on that side of the ball. That’s still in the DNA of this program a little bit.

If Florida State can make Notre Dame go 75 or 80 yards every drive, then I think it has a chance of staying in the game for a while. But if the Irish continually get the ball at midfield or better — a frequent occurrence against this FSU defense — then it could get out of hand quickly.

Taggart has not shied from commenting on his team’s general effort. Of course, fans expected more from him on day one, no matter what difficulties Jimbo Fisher may have left for the new staff. How much of this year’s struggles do you put on Taggart and how much on his predecessor?

CW: Upon his arrival in Tallahassee, Taggart underestimated how much the culture at FSU had fallen off. From players skipping workouts to a mess of an offensive line left behind, there are remnants of FSU’s problems this season that can be directly attributed to Fisher. Still, Taggart is not blameless. He did himself no favors by talking up this team all offseason. More realistic expectations may have given him more breathing room from a rabid fanbase. Some facets of his drastic culture change have taken more time than anticipated and he’s struggled to find in-game adjustments when things start going south.

CC: This has been the biggest talking point down here all season. Personally, I put most of the blame on Jimbo. In his last three years as a head coach, Willie Taggart had rushing offenses that finished No. 11, No. 5 and No. 12 in the nation. With three different offensive lines, at two different schools, Taggart produced offenses that were elite at running the football. This year, behind the mess that was left for him up front, Florida State is 128th in rushing offense. Out of 129 teams. I can’t possibly blame Taggart for that, because we’ve seen that his scheme can work.

Even still … Taggart doesn’t get a complete pass either. He was given a mess, sure. But through nine games it’s hard to say he’s made much progress cleaning it up. The Seminoles are atrocious at special teams. That’s not Jimbo’s fault. And they’re second-to-last in the country in penalties. Hard to blame all of that on Jimbo, either. I think most Florida State fans realize that the program is in the situation it’s in because the previous head coach made some drastic and dire mistakes the last few years, but through nine games they’ve seen nothing from the new guy to make them believe this thing is about to turn around.

Now that we have covered both the weekend-specific topics and the big picture, let’s get to the one remaining piece … What is your prediction for a game in which the Irish are favored by 18?

CW: Nothing Florida State has shown me lately leads me to believe this one will be especially close. Yes, Notre Dame has sweat out a few close wins against less-talented teams this season, but three of its last five wins have been by 20+ points while FSU is coming off consecutive losses by 17+ points. I think the result is in hand by the beginning of the fourth quarter, if not sooner, in a 37-13 ND win.

CC: Notre Dame. By more than 18.

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.”


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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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

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.

Early Heisman odds came from an online sportsbook Tuesday, 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.

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

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.