And In That Corner: Florida State looks to transfers to slow No. 9 Notre Dame

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Florida at Florida State
Getty Images

After waiting through the spring and summer, what is one extra day? Notre Dame and Florida State fans alike have to wait through a full day of college football and then a Sunday of idle time before the No. 9 Irish and the Seminoles return to a full stadium for the first time in nearly two years.

Notre Dame will trot out a new quarterback behind four new offensive linemen with a pair of new starting receivers. In that respect, Florida State hardly knows what it will face.

But the Seminoles brought in 14 transfers this offseason to bolster a roster that has gone through three head coaches in four years. To help grasp that new-look roster and the program trying to lay its foundation, let’s turn to Ira Schoffel, managing editor of and previously the sports editor at the Tallahassee Democrat

DF: Thanks for helping out, Ira. After the spring and summer, I don’t know if any of this will be new ground to cover, but such is the nature of season openers.

There is one piece yet unknown, though, at least to my knowledge. Florida State’s depth chart does not name either Central Florida transfer McKenzie Milton or sophomore Jordan Travis as the starter. How much of that is (arguably ineffective) gamesmanship and how much of that is a genuinely ongoing quarterback competition? Perhaps more to the point, is Milton healthy? (I should say, Milton having any role on a football team at this point is a feel-good story, given how severe his injury was in 2018. I think all college football fans just hope the story eventually ends in an end zone.)

IS: I think it has been a legitimate competition through fall practice, but I’m also sure Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham have had a good idea of who they’re going to start for at least a week or two.

DF: Maybe I am making too big a deal of the quarterback decision, but in my head, the two lead to very different offensive approaches. Travis’ strength is his legs, his arm enough to keep a defense honest but perhaps not a true strength. When healthy, Milton excelled in all facets, but right now, one would have to think his mobility may be limited and his strengths would be his arm and his experience. How much will this decision alter the Seminoles’ attack on Sunday night?

IS: Milton and Travis are similar in some ways but different at the same time. Neither one is a prototypical drop-back passer — someone who is 6-foot-4 and can stand tall in the pocket and see over the line of scrimmage. They will each try to throw from the pocket, but they’re probably more dangerous when they get outside. And at that point, that’s when their differences really emerge.

Travis is more likely to be a running threat at that point, whereas Milton is very creative and can throw from a wide variety of arm slots to weave the ball around defenders. While I don’t think Milton is quite the athlete he was in 2017 or 2018 at Central Florida, he still is pretty mobile — they even work on some designed runs for him in practice. Of course, he wears a non-contact jersey in practice, so that thought process could change once he starts getting hit. I think both quarterbacks will play this season, and maybe even Sunday, but my guess is we’ll see more of Travis. That’s just a guess though

No matter who the starting quarterback is, he will line up behind former Notre Dame offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons. How has Gibbons been received in Tallahassee? How has he looked with his first extended chance at a starting gig in his college career?

Gibbons definitely won over a lot of fans when he committed to the Seminoles during the summer, but that respect soared to another level when he launched a GoFundMe to pay for a young Notre Dame fan (with serious medical issues) to be able to come watch the game in Tallahassee.

Gibbons is very well-spoken and personable in interviews, so the fans have embraced him, and he seems to appreciate the opportunity he’s getting to be a starter here. Florida State’s offensive line has struggled for years, and he seems to be an improvement over a lot of the interior linemen they have started in recent years.

Transfers have been a storyline for Florida State, and not just in these questions. I count at least eight transfers who will contribute for the Seminoles this season. Was this an intentional step by head coach Mike Norvell and his staff, or one that simply developed as they saw available talent? I suppose those may go hand-in-hand. Did Norvell enter this offseason intent on raiding the transfer portal?

It was definitely intentional. When you transition between three different head coaches in four years (Jimbo Fisher in 2017, Willie Taggart in ’18-’19 and Mike Norvell in 2020), you have an awful lot of attrition. Not only did the Seminoles lose a lot of talent during those regime changes, but they also lost a slew of upperclassmen.

They were one of the youngest teams in the country last season, so Norvell was looking to bring in both better players and more experienced players. They’ve done that on both sides of the ball. There’s Gibbons, Milton and former Kansas receiver Andrew Parchment on offense, and a slew of guys on defense, led by Georgia defensive end transfer Jermaine Johnson and a pair of South Carolina transfers, defensive end Keir Thomas and defensive back Jammie Robinson.

The one of those transfers that most has my attention is not Milton or Gibbons, but Johnson. He had 7.5 sacks in two years as a backup in Athens, and anyone getting any defensive playing time at Georgia should be considered talented enough to handle a starting role most anywhere else, including with the Seminoles. How does he align in Florida State’s defense? I am curious which Irish tackle will face him most. Am I thinking too highly of Johnson already?

He might be the most important transfer they brought in. Florida State’s defensive line created no pressure at all last season, and that was part of the reason why their pass defense was so porous. Johnson gives the Seminoles a legitimate SEC-caliber pass-rusher, and he has been dominant at times during practice. I think he’ll be their best player on that side of the ball this season.

My impression is he’ll play on both sides of the line, but usually to the “field” side depending on where the ball is spotted, but I’m sure he can play both sides when needed.

Editor’s Note: So Johnson is likely to flip right and left, depending on where the ball is spotted. Notre Dame fans, Johnson is No. 11. File that away.

I bring up Gibbons and Johnson specifically because of the Seminoles’ problems the last three or four years, most of them began along the line of scrimmage. The weaknesses in the trenches compounded issues everywhere else. While the roster has improved, has it improved enough up front?

They have improved a lot on both lines of scrimmage, but they’re probably still not up to traditional Florida State standards. Some young offensive linemen could have that group in the top half of the ACC within a year or so, but the defensive line could be close to that right now. The major concern on the defensive line is depth — how big of a dropoff there would be if anything happened to the top-five or -six guys.

What kind of atmosphere will Sunday night bring? Sure, a loud Doak Campbell Stadium, but I am more referring to two years of pent-up energy. Are Florida State fans set for a full-throated release, or is there some hesitancy?

The atmosphere should be outstanding. As you said, it has been a long time since they’ve been allowed to fill the stadium, and there is a lot of excitement with a top-10 Notre Dame team coming to town. Add into that this is the first chance Florida State fans have gotten to see a Mike Norvell-coached team with a normal offseason to establish an identity, plus the emotions that will come with all of the Bobby Bowden tributes. It should be one of the best atmospheres in Doak in years, but we’ll have to see if the players can keep the excitement up once the game begins.

That noise may be part of why Notre Dame remains only a 7-point favorite. I would have expected that to be a double-digit edge, partly because the Irish rather easily dispatched the Seminoles a year ago. What do you expect to see Sunday night?

I think Florida State is going to have some success on offense, but what’s really going to determine the game is whether the Seminoles can slow down the Irish running game. If they can, then I think it could be a great game. If they can’t — like last year when Notre Dame averaged 8.4 yards per rush — then I could see the Irish winning by 10 or more. My hunch is Florida State’s defense will compete more this year and at least force Jack Coan to make some plays to beat them. If it can do that, then I think it should be a one-score game. I predicted Notre Dame 30, FSU 24.

Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility


Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need


Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
Getty Images

Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

Getty Images

There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

“We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

“USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

But it was, regardless.

His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.