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Friday at 4: 40 thanks to give, courtesy of Notre Dame’s unbeaten season

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LOS ANGELES — Hopefully, you spent yesterday forgetting about Notre Dame. On a day reserved for family, gluttony and the NFL, it would be understandable to focus the given thanks on mom’s cooking, dad’s reluctant sharing of the cheesy potatoes and the overall generosity of Matt Stafford.

That was yesterday. This is today. This is Friday, the afternoon before the No. 3 Irish can lock up their first bid to the College Football Playoff. If ever a Notre Dame season warranted thanks, it has been this one. Intermixed with what should be the thanks of an Irish fan, find the thanks of a writer covering Notre Dame. Combined, just more than three dozen appreciations. Thanks for …

— Beating Michigan to start the season. Without that win, the Irish never would have been in the mix as a Playoff contender, even if finishing 11-1. Losing a different game may have allowed for it, but without that win against the Wolverines, Notre Dame’s résumé would not have had enough meat on its bones, kind of like a turkey today.

— NBC’s ratings from that opener show just how much Irish fans were grateful for it even then, the most-watched Notre Dame game on NBC in 13 years with 7.195 million viewers.

In his first career game, sophomore Jafar Armstrong scored twice against Michigan, providing much of the end zone boost in the 24-17 Notre Dame victory. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

— Sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong ran for only 35 yards on 15 carries in the season opener, but he did score twice and his performance in the first four games of the year made the absence of senior Dexter Williams survivable. Rushing for 242 yards in that span had Armstrong on pace for nearly 1,000 yards this season before Williams’ return coincided with Armstrong missing three games due to a knee infection. He may not yet be back to full fitness, but Armstrong set the tone early, and in doing so preemptively eased some of next year’s running game concerns.

— The new NCAA rule allowing players to appear in up to four games before losing a year of eligibility. It does not actually change anything in the cases of sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa or freshman defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin, each sidelined by a broken foot early enough in the season the old standards would have still protected them, but it is nonetheless a good rule as a whole. Consider freshman defensive end Justin Ademilola: He has played in three games, made seven tackles and genuinely contributed to the defense. He could be heard from again against USC. Yet, he will still have a fifth year available to him in 2022. Given his potential, yet need for development, that is not a possibility to take lightly.

— Junior safety Jalen Elliott has four interceptions this season, but it was his pass breakup on Vanderbilt’s last drive that needs to be most-remembered. If Commodores receiver Kalija Lipscomb makes his 12th catch of the day, Vanderbilt would have been in the red zone with a viable chance of pulling off the upset. The Irish may not have recovered from that until 2019.

— Senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush led that win over Michigan with 229 total yards (247 if adjusting for sacks). Notre Dame managed only 302 total in that 24-17 victory. Wimbush went 4-0 on the field this season, raising his career record as a starter to 13-3.

— And then Irish head coach Brian Kelly benched Wimbush for junior Ian Book. That move has paid off so well, it seems more obvious in retrospect than it was. In a head coaching career covering nearly three decades, that may have been the riskiest decision in Kelly’s career, and it has worked. The whir of the season has deprived the gamble of receiving proper recognition.

— A big part of why that maneuver worked is how Wimbush handled it. After making the decision, Kelly admitted such dynamics cost him the locker room in 2016, two quarterbacks dividing the team. Wimbush has not stirred that pot. He has been the consummate teammate, a professional in every respect, and a winning substitute when needed against Florida State.

— Of course, the other reason Kelly’s switch has worked out so well has been the performance of Book, now No. 2 in the country in completion percentage. Quite simply, be it as a fan, an observer or a reporter, watching the Irish offense has been much more enjoyable with Book at the helm.

10 — Williams’ first run, a 45-yard touchdown to open the scoring against then-No. 7 Stanford, has been somewhat forgotten because of his excellence since. That dash set the tone in a huge-at-the-time win, and it could have been the moment best remembered from Williams’ career if he did not continue to produce week-in and week-out since. At this point, the peak was likely his three touchdowns and 178 yards at Virginia Tech, highlighted by that 97-yard touchdown to demoralize the Hokies.

— 16-ounce cans of Red Bull. A year ago the staple through the season was Five-Hour Energy, and it has proven reliable again this year, but that silver aluminum has been the 4-7 a.m. crutch throughout November.

— Sanity-preserving email filters. When begging for reader questions at insidetheirish@gmail.com, it inevitably brought about a litany of spam. Condemning that to eternal unread status has been quite the blessing.

— Notre Dame’s schedule this year was supposed to be too difficult. The lackluster seasons put forth by Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC all changed that, and fortunately so. If they had been what was expected entering the season, and Pittsburgh and Northwestern proved to be challenging top-25 teams, the slate really may have been too daunting, rather than evidently manageable.

— Speaking of schedules, thanks to the Ivy League for moving an early October game to a Friday evening right when the Irish were already headed to the Atlantic, allowing yours truly to pull off a convenient two-fer weekend.

— If Elliott saved the day against Vanderbilt, the entire Notre Dame defense did so against Pittsburgh. The Panthers gained 242 total yards, averaged 4.0 yards per play and 4.2 yards per pass attempt. That dismal offensive effort reduced the effect of their kickoff return touchdown, making it an unfortunate footnote in the story of 2018, not a stain on a season of lost Irish greatness.

— This appreciation will not be properly recognized until it can no longer be offered. In Kelly’s first five years at Notre Dame, his kickers hit 73.1 percent of their field goals, going 87-of-119. In the last four years, Justin Yoon has made 80.3 percent of his field goals, going 57-of-71.

— Drue Tranquill could have gone to the NFL. He had an engineering degree in hand, two surgically-repaired knees, and a good chance at a practice squad at the worst. Instead he returned for one more collegiate season, a high ankle sprain, a broken hand, 66 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and counting. His stubbornness, toughness and leadership have bound the Irish defense together perhaps as much as anything else.

Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello became very familiar with Jerry Tillery this September, much to Costello’s pain. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

— Jerry Tillery could have gone to the NFL. His length alone made him an intriguing pro prospect, someone worth taking a flyer on. Instead he returned for one more collegiate season and a chance to make plays at the three-technique, which he very much did with an Irish record four sacks against Stanford.

— Te’von Coney could have gone to the NFL. His stock was higher than ever considered following a junior season leading Notre Dame with 116 tackles, including 17 against LSU in the Citrus Bowl victory. Instead he returned for one more collegiate season and some further development, most notably in pass coverage, which showed itself a bit with an interception against Stanford.

20 — Coney’s 17 tackles on New Year’s Day stood out at the time, but he has since reached 14 twice (Ball State, Navy), showing that ball carrier-seeking showcase was not an anomaly. Since becoming a full-time starter against USC last year, Coney has racked up 173 tackles in 18 games.

— Promoting Clark Lea to defensive coordinator from linebackers coach was not a certain choice for Kelly. A first-year coordinator, Lea has made Kelly’s decision look brilliant. The Irish defense is allowing 17.3 points per game and deserves the credit for at least four wins this season when Notre Dame’s offense sputtered. Offensive coordinator Chip Long is a finalist for the Broyles Award, honoring the top assistant coach in the country, but Lea should get just as much recognition.

— This may not be a popular opinion. Rarely are seeming cash grabs later overshadowed by previous accomplishments. (Admittedly, that sentence was hardly a linear one.) But, let’s give a nod to Mike Elko. His exit to Texas A&M was not a good look, but he left Lea quite a defense to work with and clearly had prepared his protege to lead a team.

— 23-year-old rum enjoyed immediately after a massive Cajun dinner in New Orleans, the best drink in a weekend with more than a few libations.

— Vices, don’t undersell their virtue.

— The oversized bag check line available at NBA games, allowing the latter half of this very column to be typed a dozen rows up at Black Friday’s Los Angeles Clippers game. The “clear bag policy” at football games would never allow for this satisfied procrastination.

— That oversized bag policy is not just in effect at NBA games, having first been noticed at a Big East game at Madison Square Garden eight days ago. And no matter what the ACC or AAC may insist, Syracuse vs. Connecticut is Big East basketball.

— The ability to find an 800-square-foot dive bar in Midtown Manhattan and the empty stool there next to a Georgia native now considering going home for next year’s Irish arrival. That is a Georgia native in good standing in this space because she understood the difference between “for” and “about” without hearing the usual rant. We’ll have a drink then, and to stay true to form in these parts, let’s deem you “Claire.”

— The spread at Yankee Stadium. Major League Baseball does some things right.

— Notre Dame’s ability to stage a successful weekend in New York City: Notre Dame pulled off its Yankee Stadium showcase as only Notre Dame can.

The alternative? Syracuse lost a football game and two high-profile basketball games last weekend in the Big Apple, none of them particularly close defeats.

30 — The highlight videos put out each week by Fighting Irish Media, known as the “ICON” videos. In addition to the added camera angles on plays of note, there is almost always a small tidbit or two to enjoy, such as hearing an assistant coach (not entirely sure if it is cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght or safeties coach Terry Joseph) telling his secondary there are four more interceptions awaiting them against the Orange after Elliott snagged the first of what would become three for Notre Dame that day.

— NBC ratings all season were up 40 percent, to an average of nearly 3.5 million viewers. Broader appeal means more conversations at the bar means more enjoyable evenings, right? Those odds are best in Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; Fort Myers, Fla.; Dayton, Ohio; and Cincinnati, the top-five markets this season.

— Even streaming was up for NBC broadcasts of the Irish. Try to fathom this: 53.4 million minutes of Notre Dame football were streamed via one service or another this season.

— The ability to sleep on planes, if nowhere else.

— “… a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois.”

— Sometimes you get one right. From this column a year ago: Khalid Kareem “will certainly land in next season’s ‘Counting Down the Irish.’ He did, at No. 10, a moment where those dozen beat writers got one right, as well. Kareem’s season of 37 tackles, with 10 for loss including 4.5 sacks, has made him one of this defense’s most-vital contributors.

— Kareem has managed that stat line despite “fighting through a little bit of an ankle” every week, per Kelly. That determination put Kareem among Notre Dame’s toughest players in Kelly’s mind, along with Tranquill (obviously), sophomore tight end Cole Kmet (ankle) and Book (ribs).

“We don’t have guys that we would say don’t want to go back out there and compete because they’re nicked up,” Kelly said. “If they can’t go, they’re going to give you 100 percent of their 80. … That’s a good thing that we’ve been able to instill.”

— External battery sources are already taken for granted, but they really have been a game-changer. Even this laptop charges off a pocket-sized battery on road trips, rendering hotel wall outlets pointless, if not a fire hazard.

— This should be a stress-free finish to the 2019 recruiting cycle, with 21 commits already in the fold and the early signing period less than a month away.

— A thank you to those who spend any time reading this space, though your judgment is questionable at best.

40 — Now go have a drink. The concession stands at Staples Center are open.

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.