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Things We Learned from the season: 10-3 Notre Dame is two glaring holes from being much more


How do you turn 4-8 into 10-3? Start with better coaching. Add in thought-out offensive scheming to hide an inexperienced quarterback’s deficiencies. Then rely on defensive strengths to compensate for undeniable weaknesses.

It also helps to have been more talented than that 4-8 reflected in the first place.

Now, how do you turn 10-3 into a College Football Playoff spot? That is the question facing Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly this offseason, a much less drastic task than dealt with a year ago, but a no less pressing one.

The change in direction after 2016 focused on staff changes, program overhauls and a general change in philosophy. Each of those maneuvers hit the right note.

Brian Kelly (Getty Images)

Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko found a worthwhile defense where a vacuum had been last September. Notre Dame may have tired by the end of the season, but the physical benefits created by a new strength and conditioning staff were apparent, nonetheless. Kelly’s relationship with the players appeared more genuine than it had in at least five years, most notably when senior left guard and captain Quenton Nelson didn’t think twice about wrapping his head coach in a spine-crushing bear hug from behind after the victory at Michigan State.

Building on those foundational blocks will be an equally-difficult task. That will need to come from a more tangible category, the players on the field. Specifically, success in 2018 — scoring against a top-flight Michigan defense in the season opener on Sept. 1, avoiding any mistakes in a raucous environment at Virginia Tech in early October, limiting what could be a potent USC offense to close the season — will hinge on two positions that underperformed in 2017: quarterback and safety.

Obviously, Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush and the rest involved in that starting competition will get the headlines. That was guaranteed as soon as Kelly dodged a question on the topic after Notre Dame beat No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Monday, 21-17.

“I don’t think I’m ready to get into all of those things,” Kelly said. “We just won a football game, and then we’ll make all those decisions later.”

That postgame was not the time for Kelly to begin prognosticating the futures of sophomore Ian Book and freshman Avery Davis. Nor was Orlando, Fla., the place. The time will be in early March at the beginning of spring practice, the place being the practice fields with “FIGHTING IRISH” plastered two stories high across its edge.

Sophomore quarterback Ian Book performed well enough leading Notre Dame to a Citrus Bowl victory, he will be right in the middle of a quarterback competition moving forward. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

When Kelly gave Book a lengthy leash throughout the Citrus second half, he immediately established there would be a chance for the season-long backup to wrest away first-string job before kicking off against the Wolverines. It may have happened anyway, even if Kelly pulled Book after an avoidable mistake of a red-zone interception. In fact, it should have either way.

That is not to say Book should have taken over as a starter earlier in the season. The scheme deployed by offensive coordinator Chip Long relied on the Irish offensive line and its running game. Wimbush made that aspect much more dangerous. His struggles with accuracy and passing progressions, however, limited the offense from any greater performances.

If Notre Dame wants to become more than an impressive 10-3, an arm cannot be tied behind its back like that. If Book doesn’t break loose, by offering him that opportunity in the spring, Kelly also inherently cracks the door open a bit to Davis. Come summer, incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec will have his chance, as well. Any coaching staff aversion to change has been dismissed already.

The Irish know they need to find a quarterback. He may already be around. He may have started 11 games this year and merely needs an offseason focused on his throwing motion.

He may be playing in the U.S. Army All-American Game on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET (NBC). If that is the case, Jurkovec will not shy from the challenge.

“I have no expectations for myself,” Jurkovec told ND Insider’s Tyler James while in San Antonio. “I’m going in, I’m competing. Nothing’s going to be given to me, so I’ll earn whatever I get.”

Let’s reiterate this: Jurkovec may not be 2018’s answer. This season only showed he could be.

Similarly, Notre Dame may need to turn to an incoming freshman to solve its greatest weakness — perhaps 2017’s only — on defense. The Irish safeties could not have impacted games much less. The three relied upon, senior Nick Coleman and sophomores Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill, combined for 105 tackles, one tackle for loss and five pass breakups. The leading tackler of the trio, Coleman with 44 tackles, finished behind six other defenders.

Sophomore safety Jalen Elliott simply did not make enough plays in 2017 to warrant assured playing time in 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

An argument could be made safeties not making many tackles is a sign of strong play from the front seven. It is not an inaccurate argument. This season, strong play up front kept the pressure off the safeties, lest their ineffectiveness manifest itself in more dramatic ramifications. For Elko’s defense to grow even further, a playmaker on the backline will be necessary.

And to be clear, Elko expects his unit to be even better next season.

“Year two really allows you to attack the details of what you’re trying to get accomplished,” he said Friday. “You get to a point where so much [of] year one is broad stroke because you’ve got to get it all in and you’ve got to be able to run and that clock is coming to start the first game.

“Now that the kids have a really solid base, you can really go back and refine everything you’re trying to do and you’ll see a group that understands the details of what we want to accomplish a lot better.”

Nine positions were ready by the time that first game came around in Elko’s debut campaign at Notre Dame. They had the solid base. Adding details at those spots is a tantalizing thought for 2018.

The safeties had not reached such a point even by the season’s end. When Tigers quarterback Danny Etling completed a 30-yard pass to a sliding receiver on a third-and-16 in Monday’s second quarter, it was more indicative of a safety’s failing than of anyone else’s blown coverage. In a third-and-long, the safety’s entire purpose is to prevent a big play, a break downfield.

Elko will need to refocus his efforts on the broad strokes at safety, if nowhere else, heading into year two, but he may not need to with both openings. Current sophomore Alohi Gilman would have started for the Irish this season if the NCAA had granted him a waiver for immediate eligibility following his transfer from Navy. There is every reason to think that will still be the case in 2018.

A move may be in the cards for Irish sophomore cornerback Julian Love, but only because he has proven he is that good. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Elko will have three options to place alongside Gilman. Stick with Coleman, move sophomore cornerback Julian Love or turn to incoming freshman Derrik Allen.

The late-season emergence of sophomore cornerback Troy Pride makes the thought of Love at safety tenable. Notre Dame has a number of viable options at cornerback in Pride, senior-expected-to-return Nick Watkins, junior Shaun Crawford and sophomore Donte Vaughn. Love is the best of the bunch, but he is presumably and likely the best of the safeties, as well. His instincts for the ball border on unteachable, as evidenced by his thirst for one final interception this season during LSU’s final, desperate drive.

As for Allen, Kelly pointed to his playmaking ability as a primary reason he was such a priority in recruiting.

“He was the first guy that we saw that had the ability to cover man-to-man, play the ball in the air and get the ball down on the ground with his size,” Kelly said on Dec. 20, the early signing day. “That was the trait that we had to have in this class. It was a must, must, must. It was underlined five times. We have to find this player.”

The Irish needed to find that player because he wasn’t around at safety this season. While the trio there tallied three pass breakups, Love managed 20 with three interceptions.

Aside from the two holes, Notre Dame looked to be a viable contender in 2017. Special teams need improvement, but they never cost a game and junior kicker Justin Yoon was as excellent as always. Long and Elko showed an acumen for their personnel, most obvious in outcoaching LSU’s rightfully-heralded coordinators. Statement wins over USC and North Carolina State, not to mention the at-the-time under-the-radar victory at Michigan State, proved the Irish had the talent to compete.

Except, quarterback and safety — neither performed nor showed ready potential necessary to push Notre Dame to the next level. In different ways, each of the three losses made that clear. Safety’s solutions are somewhat clear, and it is likely none of this year’s starters have that honor next season. That would be a step forward for the defense.

Quarterback may be a bit trickier. It may rely on development, it may come down to a phenom, it may not happen.

Things We Learned: Kelly is open to a Notre Dame QB competition; WRs emerge

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Notre Dame did not intend for sophomore quarterback Ian Book to lead the offense throughout all of Monday’s second half in its 21-17 victory over No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl. If anything, Irish head coach Brian Kelly expected to give opportunities to both Book and junior quarterback/season-long starter Brandon Wimbush.

“We went in with the idea of both of them playing,” Kelly said afterward. “This wasn’t a surprise to Ian. Brandon knew as well that both of them were going to play.”

Book’s effectiveness to close the first half, after three consecutive stalled Wimbush drives, showed the reserve would provide the best path to a season-ending victory. Much as he did when starting for an injured Wimbush at North Carolina, Book showed he is a more than capable collegiate passer. He is composed in the face of pressures big (a top-flight defense on national television) and small (an effective pass rush), and he works through his progressions well when needed.

“He really is extremely accurate in throwing the football,” Kelly said. “We took advantage of what his strengths are. … He’s a [redshirt] freshman, so he’s going to learn more within our offense.”

Book finished with 164 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-19 passing.

Learning he could perform against a defense as strong as the Tigers’ is notable knowledge moving forward. What is more ground-shifting is Kelly willingly opening the door to a quarterback competition simply by planning on playing Book in the first place. Following the regular season-ending loss at Stanford, Kelly declared Wimbush his starter with hardly any prompting. He left no room for qualifiers or wonderings otherwise.

“He’s our starting quarterback,” Kelly said then. “He’ll be starting in the bowl game.”

Technically, that was true, but something changed between Nov. 25 and Jan. 1. Book entered the gameplan. A conversation was started.

Perhaps that began with migraines keeping Wimbush out of two practices during bowl preparations, allowing Book to take every first-string snap those days. That may have been his moment to shine, forcing Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long to recognize he deserved a New Year’s Day opportunity.

Brandon Wimbush (Getty Images)

Considering that at all, and then following through on it, means Kelly, Long and the Irish expect a quarterback competition to unfold over the next eight months. Whether that expands beyond Book and Wimbush to include current freshman Avery Davis and/or incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec is a conversation for another day.

Brandon Wimbush will need to earn the honor of starting against Michigan on Sept. 1, 2018. He will not be the only one vying for the distinction.

Yes, Wimbush still deserves to be in the competition. He missed throws again on Monday, most egregiously throwing too high for junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on a drag route. Even if throwing over the defensive line, that ball needs to be within St. Brown’s range on a pattern designed for yards after the catch, a la his 75-yard touchdown reception at Stanford.

Wimbush also accounted for 30 touchdowns (16 passing, 14 rushing) this season. Kelly used that fact to illustrate Notre Dame’s depth at the position.

“We’re very talented at the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “Ian showed today. Brandon showed that he’s very capable of running. … We are just very deep at the quarterback position and very fortunate that we have [Book].”

That depth will produce a starter in the next eight months. It is no longer an assurance it will be Wimbush.

Junior receiver Miles Boykin‘s Citrus Bowl performance, including the game-winning touchdown catch, sets him up well to be a contributor in 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

That starter better be ready to throw to Miles Boykin.
The junior receiver finally broke through in the Citrus Bowl. With two of the top three Irish receivers sidelined, someone needed to step up. Boykin did so in such a manner his name will be in Notre Dame lore for decades to come. Three catches do not make for a great afternoon, but when the last of those is a one-handed, tackle-shedding, 55-yard game-winning touchdown, the spectrum shifts.

Boykin’s highlight reel catch also happened to lend itself to many fantastic photos. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Boykin’s frame makes him a threat. It was why he was considered a likely starter throughout all of spring practice and a good portion of preseason practices. That range made him an excellent counter to LSU’s excellent coverage cornerbacks.

“One of the things that was really important in this game was to get him the ball in a position where — their defensive backs were outstanding — that they couldn’t make a play on the ball,” Kelly said. “… That’s something that [Boykin] and Ian and Brandon work on.”

There is little-to-no chance sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson is with the Irish when the Wolverines arrive in South Bend. There is still a chance St. Brown declares for the NFL this month. New targets will be needed, and Boykin finally showed what he offers in a competitive environment.

Michael Young will also be in that conversation.
Kelly predicted the freshman receiver would be heard from. Indeed he was, even if to the tune of only two catches for eight yards and a touchdown. Young saw plenty of snaps, very much a part of Long’s planning. That faith alone indicates Young has moved up the depth chart enough to be involved from the outset of next season.

Same goes for Nic Weishar.
The senior tight end has already indicated he will return for his final season of eligibility. His two catches for 13 yards may be underwhelming, but they came within the scheme and demonstrated he may be a perfect fit as the attached tight end offering a large target in short-yardage situations. Twice on the same third-quarter drive, Book turned to Weishar along the sideline. Weishar caught both passes cleanly, converting a third down with the second grab.

Losing fifth-year senior Durham Smythe could be a step backward for the offense. He put together an exceptional final season. Instead, Weishar should be able to step right into that role.

On the other side of the ball, freshman safety Jordan Genmark-Heath joined what will be an active spring conversation.
Notre Dame needs better safety play. That is undeniable and, again, a topic for further discussion yet this week. Genmark-Heath saw extended action for the first time this season, making five tackles and avoiding any catastrophic mistakes.

Facing LSU is not a situation to trot out an inexperienced safety. Tigers offensive coordinator Matt Canada uses more motions and misdirections in one day than some teams do in an entire season. Genmark-Heath needed to be properly prepared to not be embarrassed, and Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko had him ready.

Revealing a gem like that is one of the purposes of bowl practices. Notre Dame did not need 15 sessions to focus on LSU. Instead, some of those were used to work on fundamentals and basics. That aspect moved Genmark-Heath into a spot where he could be counted on.

He may not start at safety in 2018, but as that position enters eight months of utter uncertainty, Genmark-Heath will get his chance.

Quenton Nelson is heading to the NFL, obviously.
The senior left guard removed any naïve hopes of him returning for another year of college football after the Irish victory.

“It was my last rep at Notre Dame and this week was sentimental,” Nelson said. “I’m so happy we finished strong.”

He is a presumptive top-10 NFL Draft pick. He should go.

Notre Dame senior left guard Quenton Nelson, left, will head to the NFL with a year of collegiate eligibility remaining. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

No other decisions were announced immediately after the bowl game. The likes of St. Brown, junior running back Josh Adams, junior tight end Alizé Mack and junior linebacker Te’von Coney have until Jan. 15 to make up their minds.

Kelly will once again hold one-on-one meetings with each and every player in the coming weeks.

Kelly credited that implementation for sparking many of the program-wide changes following last season’s 4-8 debacle. He intends to do it again.

Book and Boykin heroics give Notre Dame a Citrus victory

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Notre Dame had not put together a successful two-minute drive all season until sophomore quarterback Ian Book found junior receiver Miles Boykin for the winning score in Monday’s Citrus Bowl, topping No. 17 LSU, 21-17. The 55-yard touchdown delivered Notre Dame its 10th win of the season and first New Year’s Day victory since 1994.

“To get to 10 wins in two of the last three seasons, it’s really a nice mark for our football team,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.

Suffice it to say, sophomore quarterback Ian Book was an unlikely hero for Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Book took over for junior quarterback and season-long starter Brandon Wimbush late in the second quarter. The three preceding Notre Dame drives all failed to gain a first down, netting a total of five yards. Book preceded to lead an 11-play, 51-yard drive for a field goal four seconds before halftime, breaking a scoreless tie.

“We have confidence in Ian,” Kelly said. “He hasn’t played a lot of football, but we threw him right into the fire and he leads a winning drive in a game that was on the line. He has that ability. It doesn’t surprise us that he’s able to do that.”

Kelly said he intended to play both Book and Wimbush all along in bowl preparations, but that plan was apparently shelved at halftime. Wimbush never saw the field again, finishing the day 3-of-8 for 52 yards passing and 38 rushing yards on four carries.

After that initial success, it took Book a bit to find a sustainable rhythm. He threw an interception to end the first Irish drive of the second half, and then turned excellent field position into only another field goal toward the end of the third quarter.

In that interim, Notre Dame’s defense held the Tigers in check, barely. Though LSU gained 399 yards and averaged a strong 5.3 yards per play, the Irish forced three field goal attempts in the red zone, including two on drives that reached the one-yard line.

Book took one snap in the first-quarter, throwing an incomplete pass on a third-and-10. When he returned to the field to lead the two-minute offense, it seemed he would take that opportunity and then Wimbush would return after halftime. Book went 3-for-4 for 33 yards on the drive, rushing for 27 more.

He should not have taken a sack on a third-and-four at the end of the drive, but the six-yard loss did not knock Notre Dame out of junior kicker Justin Yoon’s range, and there was hardly time left to take more than one more shot at the end zone, anyways.

The first signs of production from the Irish offense ensured Book would remain at quarterback the rest of the afternoon.

LSU missed two first-half field goals. Those were hardly defensive successes. What was a defensive accomplishment, though, was tackling Tigers junior running back Derrius Guice inches from the end zone in the fourth quarter’s closing minutes.

Sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes and freshman safety Jordan Genmark-Heath brought down the future early NFL Draft pick on a third-and-goal from the three-yard line, but LSU going for the last few inches on fourth down seemed a certainty. Instead, head coach Ed Orgeron sent out his field goal unit, a questionable move on a good day but an even more surprising one given the two misses earlier.

“Obviously, you think about it, but you go ahead,” Orgeron said. “You go ahead with two minutes left to go. Your defense had played well. I didn’t think they were going to score. I thought we could stop them. I wanted to give our team a chance to win.”

Orgeron will now have eight months to second-guess that decision.

Obviously, Boykin’s game-winning, one-handed, tackle-shedding touchdown will be the moment to remember.

Book and Boykin gelled from the moment Book took to the field. Two of his five first-half pass attempts went toward Boykin, completing one for 18 yards and a first down on that drive for Yoon’s first field goal. Boykin finished with three catches for 102 yards, earning Citrus Bowl MVP honors.

“We were in practice, and we knew we were going to have to get a couple of one-on-one matchups on the outside, and I told Miles, you’re going to win the MVP trophy,” Kelly said. “He looked at me like I had two heads, but I felt like he had a chance.

“He has the ability if we can get him the football.”

Book may have had a stronger claim to the postgame hardware. For that matter, his first touchdown may have been more impressive than the deep ball to Boykin. Six yards from the end zone with five receivers and an empty backfield, Book had plenty of time but no open targets. When pressure did start to develop, he rolled out while keeping his eyes moving, surveying his targets.

Finally, he found a window to freshman receiver Michael Young.

Book finished the day 14-of-19 for 164 yards and two touchdowns passing, also adding 64 yards on seven rushes (sacks adjusted). His ability to genuinely consider both the run and the pass in run-pass options made life more difficult than LSU had expected.

“[Book] made a difference,” Orgeron said. “We had a plan. He came in and scrambled. Zone-read gave us problems. [He] extended plays.”

Junior linebacker Te’von Coney made 17 tackles Monday, underscoring Notre Dame’s hopes he will return for his senior season, a decision he said he has not yet made.

The Irish offense lacked three of its top four pass-catchers from the regular season, with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson and junior tight end Alizé Mack both suspended and sophomore receiver Chase Claypool out with a shoulder injury. Freshman tight end Brock Wright, used as a situational blocker, was also sidelined by a shoulder injury, and sophomore running back Deon McIntosh, the team’s third-leading rusher, was suspended, as well.

“We were a little shorthanded out there,” Kelly admitted afterward. “… Young players out there that I think started on scout team.”

Yet, Notre Dame averaged 6.07 yards per play against one of the country’s best defenses. For context, the Irish offense averaged 6.42 yards per play in the regular season.

With Book taking snaps, Notre Dame worked even more efficiently. Book’s offense gained 267 yards on 40 plays, an average of 6.68 yards. Wimbush’s time in the game gained 103 yards on 21 plays, an average of 4.90 yards.

Second Quarter
0:04 — Notre Dame field goal. Justin Yoon 46 yards. Notre Dame 3, LSU 0. (11 plays, 51 yards, 2:00)

Third Quarter
11:37 — LSU touchdown. Derrius Guice 20-yard reception from Danny Etling. Jack Gonsoulin PAT good. LSU 7, Notre Dame 3. (5 plays, 43 yards, 2:16)
2:47 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 49 yards. LSU 7, Notre Dame 6. (5 plays, 18 yards, 2:20)

Fourth Quarter
11:13 — LSU touchdown. Guice two-yard reception from Etling. Gonsoulin PAT god. LSU 14, Notre Dame 6. (12 plays, 75 yards, 6:34)
7:49 — Notre Dame touchdown. Michael Young six-yard reception from Ian Book. Two-point conversion good. Josh Adams two-yard reception from Book. LSU 14, Notre Dame 14. (10 plays, 75 yards, 3:24)
2:03 — LSU field goal. Gonsoulin 17 yards. LSU 17, Notre Dame 14. (12 plays, 76 yards, 5:46)
1:28 — Notre Dame touchdown. Miles Boykin 55-yard reception from Book. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 21, LSU 17. (3 plays, 73 yards, 0:35)

Notre Dame vs. LSU: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) vs. No. 17 LSU (9-3).

WHAT? The merits of bowl games have been discussed at relative length in these parts, but when kickoff comes, one would hope competitive juices and instincts take over on the field. The Citrus Bowl will have only some of the country’s attention, as two other notable bowls start within the hour preceding it, but it is the marquee matchup of the day’s early slate.

WHEN? 1:00 p.m. ET. Or, right about when that feeling of New Year’s-shenanigans-induced nausea is beginning to abate.

WHERE? Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. Formerly known as the Citrus Bowl Stadium, where Notre Dame met Florida State in the 2011 Champ Sports Bowl.

This will be the final game of the season broadcast on ABC. It will presumably also be available on all Watch ESPN platforms.

WHY? Both Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron and Irish head coach Brian Kelly have spent the week in Orlando pointing to a distinct want to get to double-digit wins. Amid bowl activities including go-kart races, amusement park visits and community service events, focusing on a 10th victory has been a motivational point. With a national championship out of the short-term picture, a New Year’s Day victory is seen as a building block to that long-term pursuit.

“You go into every season, and there’s … 120-plus teams all coming for the same goal, and that’s to be one of those four teams [in the College Football Playoff],” Kelly said Sunday morning. “If you’re not able to get that, you’re still on the same mission after this game, and that is to keep working toward a national championship.

“In the meantime, it’s to play on a Jan. 1 bowl game … 10 wins is usually the mark in college football. Everybody is looking to get to double digits, so it would be a big accomplishment to get to 10.”

AN ED ORGERON COMPLIMENT WORTH NOTING: Orgeron was asked what stood out from watching film of Notre Dame this season. Orgeron has spent more than three decades in coaching, almost all of them with an emphasis on the defensive line. He has studied more opposing offensive line units than most of us have simply seen in any capacity in our lives.

“The left guard [senior Quenton Nelson] and left tackle [fifth-year Mike McGlinchey], I can’t keep my eyes off of them,” Orgeron said. “They’re the best combo I’ve ever been against. They’re not only good players, they’re really well-coached.

“Their combo blocks, I remember watching an opponent, they had a defensive tackle that we know very well, and he was nine yards off the ball.”

This will be McGlinchey’s last game with the Irish and almost certainly will/should be Nelson’s, as well.

MEANINGLESS STAT: In watching Iowa’s 27-20 victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday, a graphic touting the Hawkeyes’ recent bowl struggles was noticed. Before the victory over the Eagles, Iowa had lost its last five bowl games, dating back to a 31-14 defeat to Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl. Since then, Iowa lost to LSU, Tennessee, Stanford and Florida. In many respects, drawing any type of conclusion from that stretch would have been foolish. Those five games hold no ties to each other, and hardly a tie to the seasons preceding each of them. In all five, the Hawkeyes drew a tough matchup as dictated by factors well outside of their control.

The somewhat-similar streak critics point to relating to Notre Dame is how long it has been since the Irish won a “major” bowl game. Pretending there is some connection between a Jan. 2, 1995, loss to Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and a Jan. 1, 2016, loss to Ohio State in the same occasion is beyond comprehension and filled with logical failings.

The Citrus Bowl may be junior running back Josh Adams‘ last day in a Notre Dame uniform, but he has a ripe opportunity to leave his name atop the Irish record books before heading to the NFL. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

EQUALLY MEANINGLESS BUT MORE INTERESTING STAT: This same topic filled this exact space leading into the regular season finale at Stanford. … Irish junior running back Josh Adams sits 91 yards shy of breaking Vagas Ferguson’s single-season Notre Dame rushing record. Including yardage lost, Adams has 1,386 yards this season. Back in 1979, Ferguson gained 1,477. If arguing Ferguson needed only 11 games to reach that mark, a counterargument can be readily made by pointing out Adams has only 191 carries thus far this season. Ferguson had 301 rushing attempts in that record-setting season.

This may or may not be Adams’ last game with the Irish. Even if he returns in 2018, expecting a chance to break this record again would be rather ambitious.

BY HOW MUCH? This line has consistently favored LSU by three points with a combined point total over/under of 51.5. That math indicates a finish of Tigers 27, Irish 24. Considering LSU gave up an average of 18.8 points this season and never more than 24 points since the end of September, the low expected point totals are symptoms of LSU’s stout defense and an average offense (28.1 points per game, No. 71 in the country) unlikely to easily exploit Notre Dame’s vulnerable secondary.

LSU 24, Notre Dame 20. (8-4 record on the season.)
To use the parlance of bowl season, this scribe put 23 confidence points (out of a maximum of 40) on LSU in his two bowl pool entries. It may warrant noting those entries are in eighth (of 11) and ninth (of 10) with only six games remaining. For pride’s sake, let’s also mention it is not mathematically possible for those entries to finish in last. Whew. (Tough break, Edgar.)

Notre Dame adds a third OL commit in Luke Jones
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s offense filled with questions for the Citrus Bowl
And In That Corner … The No. 17 LSU Tigers in the Citrus Bowl
Friday at 4: On Notre Dame’s six-star recruits
Notre Dame’s coordinators on the Irish and Tigers rushing attacks
Notre Dame sends RB McIntosh home from Citrus Bowl
Notre Dame’s Opponents: 5-4 in bowls thus far with Georgia to go

— Quarterbacks 
Offensive Line
Defensive Backs
Running Backs
Tight Ends
Special Teams
Defensive Line

 My Journey, by Notre Dame receiver signee Braden Lenzy
OL Luke Jones commits to Notre Dame 
Mike Elko back at Notre Dame in 2018
LSU, Matt Canada likely to part ways after bowl game
St. Brown looking for a bowl win before making an NFL decision
A Q&A with Brian Kelly on getting Notre Dame back on track — “I have to have our football team playing its best football in November, and that was not the case this year.”

Notre Dame’s Opponents: 5-4 in bowls thus far with Georgia to go

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Notre Dame’s foes have gone 5-4 thus far in their bowls, with only Georgia remaining to play. Taking a quick look at those results is a completist’s curse, much like the last three seasons of “The Big Bang Theory.” After spending the fall previewing and recapping the weeks of Temple, Michigan State and Stanford, it only makes sense to take a look at how they finished. If having spent half a decade watching Sheldon antagonize everyone around him, wasting a few more Thursday nights waiting for his demise is understandable, though not quite reasonable.

Do keep in mind, as it comes to seeing things through to their finish, closing New Year’s Eve strong may inhibit an Irish fan’s ability to see the end of Notre Dame’s season. The drunk tank will not have a TV showing the Citrus Bowl come Monday at 1 p.m. ET (ABC). Watching horizontally from your couch would be preferable in every conceivable regard, even if the local ride-sharing service charged a surge rate.

Temple (7-6): The Owls beat Florida International 28-3 in the Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 19. Temple’s defense supported a balanced offensive attack by forcing three turnovers.

Georgia (12-1): The Bulldogs meet Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on Monday at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN). Remember the brief moments when it seemed distinctly possible the Irish could be in the “Granddaddy of them all”? That was a nice few weeks of dreaming about New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles.

Georgia is favored by 2.5 points with a combined point total over/under of 60, hinting at a 31-29 –esque finish.

Boston College (7-6): The Eagles fell to Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl 27-20 on Wednesday. Freshman running back A.J. Dillon gained 157 yards on 32 carries, scoring one touchdown. This loss notwithstanding, Boston College finished 2017 as a team on the upswing — and Dillon’s class year should be noted; he will still be with the Eagles when they visit Notre Dame in 2019.

Michigan State (10-3): The Spartans blew past Washington State 42-17 in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday. The dominating performance solidified the verdict of Mark Dantonio’s team having fully rebounded from its lackluster 2016.

USC junior quarterback Sam Darnold will now have to make a decision of heading to the NFL Draft with two years of collegiate eligibility remaining or returning for a third season as the Trojans starter. (Getty Images)

USC (11-3): The Trojans lost to Ohio State 24-7 in the Rose Bowl on Friday. USC’s offense and junior quarterback Sam Darnold had no trouble moving the ball, gaining 413 total yards with 356 through the air, but four turnovers were too much to overcome.

North Carolina State (9-4): Senior quarterback Ryan Finley led the Wolfpack to a 52-31 victory over Arizona State in the Sun Bowl on Friday. Finley threw for 318 yards and a touchdown by completing 24 of 29 passes, the last marks of a good season that was oh-so-very close to great.

Notre Dame can ready for Wake Forest junior running back Matt Colburn, as he’ll presumably be leading the Deacons offense in 2018. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Wake Forest (8-5): Notre Dame faces the Demon Deacons again in 2018, and buckle up for that one. If Wake Forest can replace outgoing senior quarterback John Wolford, its offense may be ready to utterly bust loose.

Wolford threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-49 passing in a 55-52 victory over Texas A&M in Friday’s Belk Bowl. Junior running back Matt Colburn rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. For that matter, the Deacons raced up-and-down the field sans standout sophomore receiver Greg Dortch.

Miami (FL) (10-3): Despite the Orange Bowl taking place at Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes could not keep up with Wisconsin on Saturday, falling 34-24. Some version of a “Turnover Chain” joke feels appropriate here, given Miami lost three turnovers to the Badgers.

Navy (7-6): The Midshipmen never gave Virginia a chance, winning Thursday’s Military Bowl 49-7. Navy rushed for 452 yards while the Cavaliers gained all of 30.

Stanford (9-5): The Cardinal covered the spread, for anyone tracking such things, but could not beat TCU in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday. The Horned Frogs won 39-37 despite Stanford junior running back Bryce Love rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries in possibly/likely his collegiate finale.