30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Lightning strikes twice in South Florida’s first visit

Notre Dame Stadium
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“It was hell.”

There is no hesitation behind former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr.’s first thoughts when he hears mention of South Florida. “Hell. That game was terrible.”

Unintentionally echoing Sherman’s definition of war is not usually applicable to a college football game, but Golic’s blunt thought can be forgiven.

When the Bulls visited South Bend to open the 2011 season, their only trip before this weekend’s quickly-scheduled meeting, it was expected to be a blowout sugar-coated with reminiscing sparked by South Florida head coach Skip Holtz. Instead …

Two rain delays, lengthening the game to exactly five hours and 59 minutes. Five Irish turnovers, including a goal-line fumble returned 96 yards for a touchdown within minutes of the opening kickoff. An unexpected and still controversial quarterback change at halftime. Golic remembers it all.

“There were so many things about that entire experience that are things I’ve tried in vain to wipe from my memory because it was an awful afternoon,” he said this week. “It was all bad, all things that were bad.”

Counterpoint: Not all of it was bad. I thought the 2011 season opener was a blast. I said as much when I was first introduced as the new scribe of “Inside the Irish” when Keith Arnold asked what my favorite game to date had been at Notre Dame Stadium:

“Either the 2012 Stanford game or the 2011 South Florida game. I realize how absurd that latter answer sounds, but that is part of why it stands the test of time. It was such a unique experience. Plus, being allowed to go back to the dorm for an hour at halftime made the whole day more entertaining.”

Truth is, I undersold how long our group of eight seniors spent in the closest dorm to the Stadium, enjoying the rewards of demanding the dorm pizzeria open for business during the interlude.

Golic had food, as well, the team ripping through anything edible in the locker room. Elsewhere, through no fault of anyone’s, the press box ran out of reserves. Stadium operations had, for obvious reason, not expected to host a full press box for a six-hour game, not to mention the severe weather threat eliminated the chances of any additional food being hustled in.

Then again, media members were not exactly twiddling their thumbs looking for something to do. Not only did they need to try to decipher how the No. 16 Irish were losing 16-0 to South Florida, but this was also the first weather delay in the history of Notre Dame Stadium. Everyone watching the game — in-person or on TV — had one question: When would the game resume?

“We had been live blogging the game,” said Allan Joseph, then a junior and Sports Editor of The Observer, Notre Dame’s independent student newspaper. “We got a fair amount of traffic that day because people thought someone in the press box might have an insight. We had no insight.

“I remember that being the source of my stress, too. It wasn’t like I could kick back and watch other games. I have to pretend to have knowledge on the inside that I didn’t have.”

Much like many sportswriters have scrambled to become amateur epidemiologists these days, Joseph and the rest of the press box were doing their best to gain five-minute certifications as meteorologists.

The press box did not have the NBC broadcast audio, so The Observer Editor-in-Chief funneled those weather updates to Joseph through the live blog, from the comfort of Alumni Hall with pizza and beverages at hand.

“Everyone could go back to their dorms,” Joseph said when reminded of that helpful assist. “I remember being very jealous of that. Here I was in a tie, there’s only so many press box hot dogs you can eat. This is bringing back memories in a way I don’t particularly enjoy.”

That NBC broadcast would be only so helpful for so long. With the usual “ND on NBC” producer assigned to South Korea to cover the track and field world championships, Tommy Roy stepped into the production truck. With golf his daily focus, Roy is a bit more familiar with weather delays than most of those associated with college football. (He took time away from U.S. Open Championship prep this week to reminisce about this unique endeavor; by the way, because of the U.S. Open, Notre Dame’s reunion with South Florida this Saturday [2:30 ET] is on the USA Network.)

“I’m a weather psycho because if we get just one lightning strike within 10 miles and they shut down a golf tournament, you have to be prepared for that,” Roy said. “Knowing that the forecast was not a promising one, I came prepared for a rain delay. In golf, we just air whole tournaments.”

Once the halftime studio had vamped for as long as was feasible, Roy cued up the 2010 home finale, an upset of No. 15 Utah in quarterback Tommy Rees’ first start.

We didn’t pay much attention to that in the dorm room. We’d been there the previous November. It was fun enough, but USC was considering blowing a 19-3 lead at home to Minnesota. Furthermore, there were other mini-fridges to empty.

Roy was at least dry. His wife and two children were at the game. He could only hope they had found shelter.

Notre Dame Stadium
An evacuated and thus truly empty Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Paul Reuvers, Class of 1988, had to corral his 78-year-old parents and his three siblings to all head back to their weekend getaway within walking distance of campus. By the time the entire clan had gotten back to their house about a mile away, they were soaked to the bone.

“That was probably the most terrible game ever,” Reuvers said. “Other than a family weekend, it was awful. We were trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

Reuvers at least found shelter. A group of freshmen, attending their first game as students, concluded the 17 minutes to Carroll Hall was too far a hike for what should be a short storm. The group of four made it all the way to South Quad before they found a tree to crowd under.

“We were very stuck on the fact that this was our first game as Notre Dame students,” Peter Hall said. “We are not going back to the dorm. We are sticking this out. We need to be here for this game. Very much — this is our first experience and we have to ride it out.

“It sucked, but we were stubborn.”

Only when Hall and his three friends — correction: “friends” is generous. “These were very much the people you met at first, you were friends for like a week or two, and then you realize you’re not going to get along.” — only when they saw rowdy groups departing Alumni Hall did the freshmen foolishly conclude their two hours of misery were worth it.

While his parents stayed indoors, Reuvers and his siblings and their children also returned to their seats. They had refueled in a fashion comparable to how dorm rooms handled the delay, and all logic suggested Notre Dame could come back from the deficit. After all, three turnovers had determined the first half. The 96-yard touchdown off a goal-line fumble the kind of chaos that would not repeat itself (for a few weeks).

South Florida 2011

South Florida 2011
Jonas Gray‘s fateful opening-drive fumble could not have bounced much better for South Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Similar thoughts held in the Irish locker room. As they sought the delicate balance of staying ready for the game and not wearing themselves out mentally during the interminable wait, the players essentially found a reset.

“It was kind of a microcosm of what we went through (the last few months) for some of the sports that had their seasons disrupted,” Golic said. “Everything that you did before goes out the window outside of the score. You’re going to have to get completely warmed up again, you’re going to have to get completely back into how you’re going to address the gameplan going forward. Some of these adjustments might still apply, but how you’re going to go about executing physically becomes basically a complete restart.

“You were getting dry. There were guys getting all the way out of their pads again, getting new jerseys on, trying to get as comfortable as you could. That was a difficult mental battle of it.”

More fans were filtering back in than Joseph expected. The stands were not filled as play resumed, but they were closer to full than any other adjective.

“When you have crappy weather and you’re down 16-0, whatever is in your dorm fridge starts to look a lot more appealing than going back to the game,” Joseph said.

I can confirm that was a debate between at least a few students. The compromise was to assume Stadium security would not be inspecting pockets very closely upon reentry, an assumption that proved correct.

After the Irish defense forced a quick three-and-out, with Rees having replaced starter Dayne Crist, the first Notre Dame possession of the second half ended with … a turnover at the goal line, this time an interception from the 5. Rees would finish 24-of-34 for 296 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Crist threw for 95 yards on 7-of-15 passing with one interception.

Notre Dame yet got within 23-16 and had possession of the ball when lightning struck twice, literally.

Another delay, lasting 43 minutes.

Hall and his freshmen acquaintances had connected with some Carroll Hall upperclassmen who assured the neophytes 1) the walk was not as long as they thought and 2) there would be refreshments awaiting them all in the upperclassmen’s fridges upon returning to the furthest dorm from the Stadium. Reuvers’ siblings could not be talked into heading back to the game yet again, only his wife would oblige the fanaticism.

Roy and NBC were essentially in a familiar holding pattern. Joseph simply hoped, “Please, just let this be over.”

Golic hoped it would not be.

“A lot of here we go again,” he said. “We figured we were close enough where it was probably going to finish out, hopefully. You’re just trying, it’s desperation mode, you’re trying to claw back in however you can.”

A completionist at heart, knowing reentry was not assured after this delay, I did laps of the concourse, trying to fathom the events of the day, more perplexed by the off-field dynamics than on-field. Whereupon, I came across what is my favorite moment tangentially-tied to college football to this day:

There was jubilation to their voices as they reached “19 bottles of …” They knew the end was in sight, something that was not true of the football game.

Resuming promptly at 9:24 p.m. EST, on the very first snap coming out of the second delay, Rees then all-but ended the game with his second interception. 15 minutes later, the sweet mercy of a 23-20 loss.

“I don’t think any of the players wanted to be interviewed afterward,” Joseph said. “I don’t know that I wanted to interview anyone.”

Pretty much.

“It was an exhaustive day, and to have the loss come the way it did,” Golic said. “The change, all the things, the ramifications that we knew were going to come from that one game, that was as ready as anyone’s ever been to get out of a stadium.”

With one exception. A group of seniors lingered until ushers politely asked them to depart. Perhaps their halftime refueling granted them expendable energy, maybe they knew their senior year dreams had already been dashed, mostly they were trying to comprehend the last six hours of their lives.

It was the last game Reuvers’ parents attended in the Stadium, one that cemented his realization that sometimes “the most miserable game experiences” yield the most fun, a thought he first pondered the weekend Notre Dame lost to Syracuse in the snow in 2008.

Despite his stubbornness to see as much of that game as he could, the only detail Hall remembers from that Saturday is that tree on South Quad. Really, it is all he recalls from his freshman season.

“I can’t underscore the point enough, I remember being under that tree way more than I remember any play from that football game.”

RELATED READING: Five Things We Learned: Notre Dame vs. South Florida

The losing team outgaining the winning by exactly double, 508 yards to 254. The winners converting only two of 14 third downs. Their leading rusher gaining just 40 yards while the defeated boasted a back efficiently into triple digits.

Four freshmen with bleached blonde hair, all wearing “The Shirt,” cowering under a tree for two hours.
Eight seniors ordering dorm pizza and emptying an RA’s stockpiles with reckless abandon.
A family bonding around a dryer as its token foolish brother headed back into the rain.
A press box out of food, a locker room actively trying to follow suit, a production truck relying on a finished product from nine months earlier.

I stand by my statement from my debut here. The 2011 South Florida game stands the test of time; it was such a unique experience.

“It was hell.”

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Three overtimes, two No. 2s, one goal-line fumble
Te’o’s emotions & interceptions overwhelm No. 18 Michigan
Night games return, ‘Crazy Train’ debuts
Blowing out USC completes Irish return
Tommy Rees’ first career start, an upset exaggerated
The Irish fell, but more importantly, football returned after 9/11
Godsey heroics provide Davie hope
Last-minute Golson-to-Koyack TD beats No. 14 Stanford in the rain
A dramatic, Pyrrhic victory over LSU in 1998
Beginning with ‘ultimate greed’ in 1990 and Indiana in 1991
Honorable Mentions

Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Ball State v Penn State
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Entering spring practices, Notre Dame looked stocked at running back, returning two juniors who each rushed for at least 800 yards last season as well as a senior with 285 career touches. With three underclassmen supporting them, the Irish were wealthy in both depth and experience at running back.

But then Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree to receiver, in part due to that bounty at running back and in part to be more assured the speedster would find playing time regardless, and Logan Diggs transferred to LSU. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Jadarian Price, is recovering from an Achilles injury that, on a common timeline following that devastating injury, could hinder him yet in August and September, if not longer should there be any version of a setback. Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love has yet to arrive on campus.

Junior Audric Estimé may look the part of a workhorse, but the Irish depth is no longer as thorough and the experience has quickly diminished.

Enter Penn State graduate transfer running back Devyn Ford, adding depth back into the Irish backfield and possibly some untapped talent with his Friday commitment. Ford fell out of the Nittany Lions rotation the last two seasons simply because younger players impressed. He had 131 touches in his first two seasons, gaining 622 yards and scoring six times.

Ford focused on kickoff returns in 2021, taking 12 for 258 yards, an average of 21.5 yards, while getting just 14 carries for 61 yards. Then he was only a special teams contributor in 2022 as a pair of freshmen took over the rushing workload (Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combining for 1,928 yards on 323 carries) and the kickoff return duties (Singleton had 14 returns for an average of 24.9 yards and one touchdown). Ford’s on-field roles were gone, so he called it a season after just four games in order to preserve a year of eligibility, transferring with up to two seasons still ahead of him.

Ford arrived at Penn State in 2019 as the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class, per rivals.com, and the No. 40 overall prospect. As anyone would expect from a recruiting profile like that, he was also sought by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, to name a few, as a high-school prospect. Players with that background somewhat rarely hit the transfer wire, making Ford an intriguing lottery ticket for Notre Dame.

Bringing in Ford gives the Irish 83 scholarship players expected for this fall, two less than the NCAA maximum allowed.

He wore No. 28 at Penn State, digits currently unclaimed on the Notre Dame roster aside from walk-on receiver Griffin Eifert, so unless Ford is proactively seeking a fresh start in all regards, he may end up in those familiar numbers in preseason practices. But let’s use his transfer announcement as an excuse to rattle off his “99-to-0” thoughts now.

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds per Penn State’s website.
2023-24 year, eligibility: Ford enrolled at Penn State in 2019, so he has played four years, but 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, and he stepped away from the Nittany Lions’ season after four games in 2022 in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility, meaning Ford has two years of eligibility remaining if wanted as he arrives in South Bend.
Depth Chart: Audric Estimé will start for Notre Dame in Dublin (88 days), barring injury. Behind him, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne is the most probable candidate to be the secondary Irish ball carrier, though he has his own history of injuries. Price should be given a lengthier runway to find full speed this season, a reason all on its own to want to bring in Ford. He could end up Estimé’s primary backup with an impressive preseason, but for now, presume Payne has that inside track while Ford begins his career in a gold helmet ahead of Love.
Recruiting: Some wondered if Ford’s collegiate career was concluded when he did not enter the transfer portal during the winter window. Instead, he entered the database in late April.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was Penn State’s receivers coach in 2019, Ford’s freshman year, giving the Irish some direct knowledge of Ford as both a player and as a person, as well as a connection while he looked for a new school.

Ford came out of the gates strong in Happy Valley before his playing time dwindled, the kind of start expected from a recruit of his caliber, no matter how his Penn State career ended.

2019: 12 games; 52 rushes for 294 yards and three touchdowns with five catches for 30 yards.
2020: 6 games; 67 rushes for 274 yards and three touchdowns with seven catches for 24 yards.
2021: 8 games; 14 rushes for 61 yards and three catches for 18 yards while returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.5 yards.
2022: 4 games; 7 rushes for 37 yards.

If Ford spent a chunk of May in Paris, then delaying his transfer decision was an exceedingly understandable decision.

Ford’s freshman year highlights show a player who should contribute for Notre Dame this fall. He does not run with the same force as Estimé — who does? — but Ford is an all-around back with able hands as a safety valve in the flat. Presuming he devotes himself to pass blocking, there should never be a moment when his being on the field gives away a play’s intention to the defense.

His tendency to keep his feet moving through contact allows Ford to maintain balance even after an initial hit, wearing out the defense a bit at the very least.

All of which is to say, Ford should be more than a place-filler transfer. Logically, at least one of Payne, Price and Love will be slowed by injury or fatigue this fall, a probability among any three running backs but a higher one among two with injury concerns and a third being a true freshman. If one of them gives pause, Ford will be no lower than Notre Dame’s fourth running back.

Because Estimé and Diggs were so durable last season, the Irish never leaned on a fourth back, but as often as not, one is needed. Consider the 2017-2019 averages from the fourth Notre Dame running backs in each season, taking 37.3 carries per season for 141.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Those were backs by the names of Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, respectively.

Ford could add something similar to the Irish backfield in 2023. He certainly once had the physical skillset to do so. And if that becomes reality, no one should be more grateful than Estimé.

Just because Ford will have eligibility in 2024 does not mean he will use it. That will be up to both the Irish coaching staff and Ford.

But given the likelihood Estimé heads to the NFL after 2023, keeping Ford around as an able body in the running back room would make sense. That may be where Diggs’ departure has the greatest impact. The odds were against both Estimé and Diggs having a strong enough 2023 season to justify jumping to the NFL, so one of them would have returned in 2024 and Notre Dame would have had four backs returning plus a freshman or two. (The No. 1 all-purpose back in the class, consensus four-star Aneyas Williams is currently the only Irish commitment at the position in the class of 2024.)

The Irish would now need Ford or yet another transfer to have those kinds of numbers, and the advantage of Ford will be familiarity.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023

Notre Dame Spring Football Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 220 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Thomas has three years of eligibility remaining thanks to playing in only three games as a freshman.
Depth Chart: Thomas’s moments of success in 2022 made him a clear starter for this coming season, the only question being at what position. By the end of spring practices, Thomas looked like the frontrunner at the boundary position, a similar big body as past boundary stars Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Kevin Austin, though significantly shorter than those predecessors.
Recruiting: Considered the No. 45 receiver in the class of 2021 by 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.

Thomas played all of 14 snaps as a freshman, spread across three November blowouts, but in practices leading up to the 2021 Fiesta Bowl, there was increasing hype around him possibly contributing. Then, Thomas did not play against Oklahoma State, despite then-Irish quarterback Jack Coan setting a program record with 70 dropbacks while throwing to effectively just three receivers.

That literal no-show threw Thomas’s progress into doubt. Was the hype real or the product of a fluke bowl practice?

Thomas proved it real with 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns last season, including five snags for 66 yards in the Gator Bowl win against South Carolina. Of those 25 receptions, 18 gained a first down, including eight on third down and another pair on second-and-long. When Notre Dame needed a chunk gain and tight end Michael Mayer was covered, Thomas was the most frequent beneficiary.

2021: 3 games.
2022: 13 games, 7 starts; 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by three catches for 80 yards and a score against Navy.

Thomas is an avid golfer, at least as much as a Division I football player can be. (Scroll to the last picture in this Instagram post to see evidence of such.) Given NBC may be the biggest broadcast partner in golf, one would think some opportunity could exist for Thomas down the road, be it with a sponsor or simply a day watching a tournament from an up-close vantage point.

Until then, Thomas offers personalized videos for fans via Cameo.

Thomas excelled out of the slot last season, many of those first-down gains coming when he worked downfield just past the linebacker level but still in front of the safeties. That positioning was advantageous for Thomas, and he knew it.

“In the slot, I definitely feel like I can get mismatches, whether that’s a nickel, smaller nickel, safety or even a linebacker,” Thomas said this spring. “None of those people can guard me at all.”

But with senior Chris Tyree moving to receiver from running back, slot is most likely filled by his speed. Moving Thomas to boundary will require some physical growth from him, even if some analysts already mistake him for a tight end.

“Definitely in the offseason, the spring, got to gain a little bit more muscle just to help me with my physicality and also speed,” Thomas said.

“The spring version of Thomas was tantalizing. A leg injury played a role in his hushed freshman season, as did the strong play of Kevin Austin. Now fully healthy and without any clear-cut starter ahead of him, Thomas broke through. He may not be towering, but he has a wide frame, its own version of a size advantage. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash before arriving at Notre Dame, better speed than one expects when looking at him.

“That combination is what the Irish had in mind when they chased the Peach State product. That combination could make him a 2022 starter. At the very least, he will be a contributor.

“Notre Dame needs him to be.

“When the Irish face Ohio State (104 days), they will have just six or seven healthy scholarship receivers. One of those will be a former walk-on, Matt Salerno. Another will be a freshman yet to partake in a single practice, Tobias Merriweather. The ‘or seven’ will be sixth-year Avery Davis, recovering from an ACL torn in November. It seems increasingly likely fifth-year Joe Wilkins is not yet full-go after suffering a Lisfranc injury this spring.

“Notre Dame will hardly have a two-deep depth chart at receiver, so each available will be needed.

“And this spring suggested Thomas will be up to that task. If all he needs is chances like he got this spring, then he will have them. If he can produce — especially before Wilkins returns later in the season — then the Irish will continue going to him; they will have no one else to go to.

“A dozen catches from Thomas this season may seem like minimal production, but that would be enough to force defenses to acknowledge him on routes, opening up the field for the likes of [Braden] Lenzy, [Lorenzo] Styles and star tight end Michael Mayer. If he builds that out to 20 catches, then suddenly Notre Dame’s offense may be nearing a worthwhile hum. …

“Lenzy should be gone in 2023. Davis certainly will be. Wilkins’ injury throws some uncertainty into his projections. But either way, the time will fully arrive for the Irish stellar 2021 receiver recruiting to pay off.

“Pulling in a trio of four-star receivers was unlike Notre Dame of late. It had not snagged that many four-star receivers in one class since 2015. In the five cycles between those two classes, the Irish snagged a total of 5 four- or five-star receivers, lowlighted by not signing a single receiver in the class of 2019.

“Things have bettered in this regard, or they at least seem to be, but for now, Notre Dame still needs to make the most of every possible perimeter playmaker it has on its roster. All three of Styles, [Deion] Colzie and Thomas need to pan out for the Irish to sniff the Playoff in the next two or three seasons.

“A full season of snaps with that dozen catches could propel Thomas into a strong offseason and such rewards.”

Thomas met and exceeded last year’s modest expectations, more impressive when remembering he was not a consistent starter until the season’s final month. Stepping into a more leading role with a far more prolific quarterback directing the offense should amplify Thomas’s stats by default.

Are 50 catches possible? Yes, though that may be about Thomas’s ceiling this season, given Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman should want to spread the ball around his targets, and 50 receptions could be nearly a fifth of Hartman’s completions.

More precisely, Thomas continuing to provide needed chunk gains would propel Notre Dame’s offense in ways that other receivers may be unable. Continuing at last year’s rate of first downs while catching 50 passes would equal moving the chains 36 times. That may be extreme, but doing so twice per week would make Thomas one of the more crucial receiving targets in recent Irish offenses.

All of Notre Dame’s receivers, aside from former walk-on Matt Salerno, may return in 2024, and the junior duo of Thomas and Deion Colzie should be the established leaders next year. With that acknowledged reality, pondering a transfer from Thomas would be foolish.

It would take a far more prolific season than 50 catches for Thomas to ponder the NFL, not boasting elite speed or shiftiness which are the usual musts for early draft entrants among receivers.

In other words, Thomas may be looking to snag triple-digit catches across the next two seasons, if not more.

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

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

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


Only a few hours after a consensus four-star defensive lineman de-committed from Notre Dame, the Irish landed a pledge from consensus four-star defensive end Loghan Thomas (Paetow High School; Katy, Texas) on Wednesday evening. After a visit to South Bend this weekend, Thomas chose Notre Dame over finalists Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Arizona.

LSU, Texas, Texas A&M and USC were among the others to offer Thomas a scholarship.

A two-year starter already in high school, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Thomas’s body-type alone likely caught some recruiters’ attention. On top of that, he tested well at recruiting events following his junior season.

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.

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