Hope springs eternal at Notre Dame — and after the wonderful rebirth of Notre Dame football in 2012, that never rings more true than this year. The 84th annual Blue-Gold game is upon us this weekend, and there’s quite a few things that I’ll have my eyes on — here’s a few of them (in no real order):
5. Players returning from injury - Lo Wood. Alex Welch. Austin Collinsworth. Amir Carlisle. Chase Hounshell. These are just a few of the big-name injuries from last year, all guys that were primed to make significant contributions to the team. These guys still find themselves presented with serious opportunity — in several cases there are still starting spots up for grabs if they play well enough. Hopefully these players can show that they are healthy again and ready to make a positive impact.
4. The early-enrollees - These are the really fun guys to watch — not only are they shiny new toys for the coaching staff to play with, but there’s no real risk if they disappoint. After all, they are essentially seniors in high school, so they can’t reasonably be expected to contribute much right away. However, this year is pretty exceptional because WRs James Onwualu and Corey Robinson have both REALLY impressed in the spring — both are guys that are on place to not only play this fall, but play a lot. It will also be fun to watch Malik Zaire run around a bit (though there’s no way that he can have a real grasp of the offense yet) and see if Steve Elmer or Mike Heuerman can bring anything to the table.
3. The big voids - It’s college football, so of course players graduate or leave for the NFL — this year we have three positions that will be losing huge contributions from 2012: MLB, TE, and RB. With Manti gone, it’s a three-way race between Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, and Jarrett Grace. With Eifert gone, it’s Ben Koyack, Troy Niklas, and Alex Welch battling for the top spot (Alex Welch was picked to be my sleeper last year before going down with the ACL — I really still think that he will turn some heads). And with Cierre and Theo moving on, we have George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, and Amir Carlisle all fighting for a large portion of the reps. All three of these positions will likely have by-committee approaches to replacing the lost production, but it would be pretty nice to see some players elevate themselves above the rest and become stars.
2. Everett Golson’s improvement - Quite frankly, our offense couldn’t have been much worse last year, and it was mainly due to poor quarterback play. Fortunately we were able to win despite of its limitations, and now Golson has an almost-full season of experience under his belt, in addition to numerous offseasons of preparation. Brian Kelly has raved about the strides that Golson has made in leadership, and no longer should there be any excuses of not knowing the playbook. I expect him to be worlds better than last year, which should allow Notre Dame to rise to another level.
— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) April 16, 2013
Just to clarify, I’m still the biggest Tommy Rees fan in the world, so don’t get it twisted. But because of how things have shaken out, it’s Everett’s job to lose. <3 you guys.
1. The defensive line - This unit is probably the hardest and most frustrating to evaluate in the Spring Game considering it is going toe-to-toe with our offensive line, but I am just ecstatic thinking about how good it can be in 2013. I am thrilled that Kelly finally decided to make our line insanely huge by putting on more weight, and with Tuitt, Nix, Day, Schwenke, Springmann, Jones, Stockton all in the mix before we even add a stud set of freshman, all Notre Dame fans have to love the potential here. While Tuitt won’t play this weekend, it will still be interesting to see the push we get inside.
What won’t I be watching much? The scoreboard. We really need to find a new system and get rid of these crazy rules.
Okay, so we held out for as long as we could — we made it to April before starting to discuss Notre Dame’s 2013 football schedule. We’ll certainly have a number of pieces on this year’s upcoming slate throughout the offseason, so we’ll just get our feet wet a little bit here, but let’s get this out of the way immediately — 2013 will not present an easy set of opponents. Here’s just a look at our schedule, from UND.com:
So yeah, a lot of the usual cast of characters, but Temple and Arizona State add some new flavor to the mix — and quite honestly, it’s really not that often that we play Oklahoma even though we did last season. Of the teams on this year’s schedule, three of them finished in the AP Top 25 to finish last season: Stanford 7th, Oklahoma 15th, and Michigan 24th.
But as I’ll argue time and time again, the real difficulty of college football scheduling is NOT just getting up to beat the hard teams in big games — we see big, crazy upsets every week of the season. No, the true difficulty lies in being able to stay “up” for tough games each and every week, especially after emotional games. In 2012, we saw that the Irish were able to take teams’ best shots each and every week and remain unscathed — if they want to make another national championship appearance, they will have to do it against another similarly tough gauntlet.
Phil Steele, the wonderful college football statistician, compiled an excellent list of teams 2013 schedules, ranking them solely in order of how many teams that they will face that went to bowl games last season — spoiler, Notre Dame faces the most of any team (tied with Oklahoma and Kansas), facing 11 foes that played in bowls several months ago.
Here’s a few other not-so-randomly selected schools and how they stack up:
Oklahoma – 11
Pittsburgh – 9
Stanford, Michigan, BYU, Purdue, Arizona St – 8
USC, Navy – 7
Temple, Michigan St, Air Force – 6
Alabama – 5
My biggest takeaway from these is that Notre Dame continues to challenge itself as much, if not more, than any other team in the country, which is something I am a big fan of. It certainly presents us with a big challenge because we don’t give ourselves much opportunity to survive a letdown performance, but I think we’d prefer to just avoid those altogether (much easier said than done, obviously). Regardless, without even digging into the schedule much at all, we can see that there’s another tough road ahead.
Everyone hates the injury bug — it’s the unavoidable bearer of bad news that bites teams every year no matter how hard they try or how diligent they are.
And for the Irish, it didn’t take long for that bug to strike in 2013. Saturday was the first practice in pads for Notre Dame, and two players who are all-too-familiar with the injury report found themselves listed on it yet again — running back Amir Carlisle and defensive end Chase Hounshell.
According to Keith Arnold of NBC Sports, Carlisle suffered a broken collarbone after a fierce collision in practice. Carlisle missed last season with recurring ankle injuries, but had been drawing rave reviews from Coach Kelly in off-season workouts and the first few non-contact practices. The collarbone injury, while not a minor one, is likely to only keep Carlisle out for the spring. However, it has led our very own The Biscuit to question whether or not Carlisle is made of glass.
The injury to Chase Hounshell is a little more disconcerting. While Kelly has yet to speak on the injury (that will likely come next week after Easter Break for the Irish), it appears that Hounshell has another injury to his shoulder, though it is unclear if it is the same shoulder that has previously held him out. As Arnold indicates, some sources believe it may be a torn labrum for the defensive end, which would certainly not be good for the rising junior.
Here’s what Hounshell had to say about it:
Just can’t catch a break…
— Chase Hounshell (@chasehounshell) March 25, 2013
I’ve worked too hard to come within arm’s reach of the prize only to have my hand cut off just before I seize it.
— Chase Hounshell (@chasehounshell) March 25, 2013
While this batch of news isn’t particularly thrilling, injuries are bound to happen at some point, and hopefully these occurred early enough that the staff can take care of them before we really get rolling. Here’s to hoping that everyone else can stay relatively healthy as they move forward in spring practice.
In the past decade or so around this time of the year we have been using phrases such as “hope springs eternal” or “everyone’s undefeated in March” — this year it’s a little bit different.
And it’s not because there’s no longer hope in South Bend, it’s better than that — the mentality has switched from hoping for a good season to now expecting something great. That shift has to be attributed the success under Brian Kelly, and his continued work toward bringing home a crystal trophy.
This past week Brian Kelly sat down with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen and gave what was his most thorough interview since the national championship loss in Miami, and he had some very interesting things to say.
One of the biggest things that Kelly seemed to harp on was focus — that he himself undersold the enormity of the national championship game (compared to the other big games that Notre Dame played in 2012), and that the team needs to get back to football with a single, focused attention. One of those changes will be not allowing players to play multiple sports anymore:
“It was a mutual decision. Bennett is coming off a shoulder surgery, and then Josh and George are fighting for real playing time. Chris Brown similar situation. Academics played into it too. None of them are failing, but I want to make sure they’re on solid ground academically.”
While I’m sure the decision was indeed “mutual” (“Yes Coach, I will give up track if you say so”), the demand for increased focus is going to be a familiar refrain throughout the spring and summer, one beat into the team’s head again and again by its head coach. Kelly and the team have naturally set the bar for themselves at championship or bust moving forward, and with elevated expectations comes increased pressure — the only way to get around this pressure is to focus in as closely as possible. If that means giving up track for Chris Brown, Bennett Jackson, and the Atkinson twins, so be it, although they will undoubtedly miss the opportunity to succeed in two sports.
On the bright side, the speedsters (and the rest of the team as well) will get to showcase their talents after spring ball in the annual combine for returning players. Coach Kelly knows that all players would like to measure up with their counterparts that just left for the NFL, and especially in a year where Notre Dame’s athleticism is one again under fire, players are ready to rise to that occasion:
Buddy on the NFL network said ND guys aren’t guna wow you at the combine just are hard workers.. Let me run the 40 right now ill wow you lol
— Bennett Jackson Jr. (@B_Jax2) February 26, 2013
As with anything, Kelly knows that you must be careful with anything, even training for a Combine-like event.
“My experience is if you try to put a full combine together, somebody gets a hamstring (injury), and you lose a kid for spring ball, all because you’re trying to put a 40 time on paper? So I’ve always waited until after spring ball completes itself and then we try to get all of those numbers in.”
While Kelly, like many, shows skepticism in general over combine measures such as 40 times over actual football play, it does provide the team with an opportunity to markedly measure their athletic improvement and provide motivation for the upcoming season. Once players find out their weaknesses, they can really focus their attention on improving it most to become the best players and team possible — after what happened in January, that is going to be the exact plan for this 2013 team.
On Monday, NDTex did a fantastic job of laying out the three possible scenarios that seem to exist for Notre Dame when it comes to leaving the Big East for the ACC. In short, here are the three options:
1. Join the ACC a year earlier
2. Stay with the Big East for 2013-14
3. Join the Catholic 7 as a one-year stopgap.
For most fans, one solution seems to make the most sense and is ultimately preferable: get to the ACC as soon as possible.
I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed in Jack Swarbrick slow-playing this issue. It is clear that our time with the Big East is done — we have decided that the conference is not the best fit for us athletically and academically, and the ACC has better weather too — that’s just icing on the cake. Pitt and Syracuse will also be abandoning the Big East for the ACC in 2013, so the timing seems to make sense — we should all make the move together.
The big hold-up over whether we would shift to the ACC in 2013-14 or 2014-15 has always come down to one thing: money (doesn’t it always?). If Notre Dame wants to move to the ACC before the current contract with the Big East runs out (after 2013-14), the school would have to pay between a five-to-ten million dollar exit fee. However, if the school waits it out, the contract ends naturally and Notre Dame doesn’t owe the Big East a dime when it makes the move.
Of course, there’s several ways to look at this. One might say, if the ACC is where we want to be, let’s get there now, and if we have to pay a little extra, so be it. After all, we tout a building with a gold roof, right? What’s a few million here or there when you sport a nine billion dollar endowment?
On the other hand, why spend unnecessarily? Jack Swarbrick’s view on the situation has always been “If we can go to the ACC and pay ten million dollars, or go to the ACC for free by waiting a year, B is the correct option.”
But now the Catholic 7 has really started to complicate things.
Yesterday, USA Today reported that it is fact likely that Notre Dame will be accelerated into the ACC in 2013, after the Catholic 7 agreed to buy the Big East name and break away from the former conference in July:
Notre Dame, which is taking its teams (other than football, which remains an independent) to the ACC, is expected to join that league in the fall.
It cost the Catholic 7 $100 million to buy the Big East label, and it is a cost that they believe will be worth the lofty price (The Catholic 7 will get to have its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden as part of the deal, too). Also, with the official breakup of the Big East set to occur in July, Notre Dame should be free to choose its own course of action.
At that point, we won’t owe the former Big East a cent, and it makes little sense to take a one-year vacation as a part of the new Big East — especially when we are fighting with some of its members.
I think the stage is set for us to make the move to the ACC immediately. It is our future home for all sports except football and hockey, and is one that I, for one, am extremely thrilled about. Quite frankly, I’m ready to move in.