Notre Dame

Evaluating Notre Dame's strength of schedule at the bye week


Evaluating Notre Dame's strength of schedule at the bye week

Notre Dame heads into its bye week at 6-1, with that only loss a two-point defeat in brutal weather conditions on the road against a top-five or top-six Clemson side. After beating USC, 41-31, Saturday night, Notre Dame remains in the College Football Playoff discussion, with the selection committee's first ranking being released Nov. 3.

The only ranking that matters, of course, is the one released Dec. 6. The committee may initially ding the Irish for not having a win over a top-25 side, but strong showings from a pair of teams on the November schedule could work in Notre Dame's favor.

We'll look at the trends below, but first, Notre Dame's opponent power rankings:

1. Clemson (6-0)
2. Stanford (5-1)
3. Pitt (5-1)
4. Temple (6-0)
5. Navy (4-1)
6. USC (3-3)
7. Texas (2-4)
8. Boston College (3-4)
9. Wake Forest (3-4)
10. Georgia Tech (2-5)
11. Virginia (2-4)
12. UMass (1-5)

[NBC SHOP: Get your Notre Dame gear here]

Trending up

Clemson: Won, 34-17, vs. Boston College

DeShaun Watson threw for 420 yards against one of the nation's better defenses — BC hadn't allowed more than 14 points in a game until Saturday. Interestingly enough, Clemson has only played one road game this year — a three-point win at Louisville 16 days before beating Notre Dame — but has tricky road games against two solid quarterbacks in Jacoby Brissett (N.C. State) and Brad Kaaya (Miami) in the next two weeks. A home game against Florida State looms after those two road trips, so we'll know by Nov. 7 if Clemson is a legitimate contender for the College Football Playoff.

Pitt: Won, 31-28, at Georgia Tech

Kicker Chris Blewitt drilled a 56-yard field goal with just over a minute remaining to push Pitt to 5-1 and an undefeated ACC record in Atlanta. Tyler Boyd caught eight passes for 68 yards with a pair of touchdowns while Qadree Ollison carried 22 times for 83 yards with a score to pace Pitt’s offense to the top of the ACC Coastal. Pat Narduzzi’s first year is off to an excellent start — Pitt’s only loss was on a walk-off field goal at a very good Iowa team — and a win at Duke a week after playing Notre Dame could vault the Panthers into the ACC Championship.

Temple: Won, 30-16, vs. UCF

Matt Rhule's Owls entered both the AP top 25 and coaches poll this week, though a Thursday night road trip to East Carolina could be a tricky game before welcoming Notre Dame to Philadelphia on Halloween. Temple has a solid defense and a legitimate chance of pushing for a New Year's Six bid if it beats Notre Dame and Memphis in the regular season, then wins the American Athletic Conference championship.

[MORE: Notre Dame moves up to No. 10, No. 11 in coaches, AP polls]

Stanford: Won, 56-31, vs. UCLA

Christian McCaffrey thrashed UCLA for 243 rushing yards and had a 96-yard kick return as David Shaw’s Cardinal continued their post-Northwestern surge. Stanford’s point totals since losing 16-6 in that season-opening loss in Evanston: 31, 41, 42, 55, 56. The combination of a star running back in McCaffrey and a dominant offensive line is powering the offensive explosion, while quarterback Kevin Hogan has been efficiently solid. Stanford is playing like one of the best teams in the country, and with Washington, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon coming up, the Cardinal could lock up the Pac-12 North Nov. 21 against Cal and face Notre Dame in Palo Alto with a College Football Playoff bid potentially on the line Nov. 28.

Standing pat

Texas: Bye

After beating Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl Oct. 10, and after seeing the Sooners smoke Kansas State, 55-0, on Saturday, maybe Texas pulls over .500 by the time it enters a season-ending three-game stretch at West Virginia, vs. Texas Tech and at Baylor. The Longhorns get K-State at home, Iowa State on the road and Kansas at home over the next three weeks, all games this team should win if it can continue to ride its post-Oklahoma momentum through the bye week.

Virginia: Won, 44-38, in 3OT vs. Syracuse

Virginia isn't going to go to a bowl game this year, no matter how dramatic this win in Charlottesville was. But its Mike London's first win over an FBS team this year, so the Cavaliers' plummet was slowed at least for a week.

[RELATED: Corey Robinson stems slump with huge catch vs. USC]

Boston College: Lost, 34-17, at Clemson

Even in allowing its most points of the season, Boston College held Clemson to 3.1 yards per carry. This remains a good defense, one that could give Notre Dame some problems at Fenway Park. The problem is the offense: Quarterback Jeff Smith was just as ineffective as Troy Flutie, completing 7 of 22 passes for 87 yards in the loss at Death Valley.

Navy: Bye

The Mids still could make some noise in the AAC, but will need to win road games at Memphis and Houston to push for a conference championship.

Trending down

Wake Forest: Lost, 50-14, at North Carolina

In Year 2 of a massive rebuild, Dave Clawson did well to get his team to three wins, but there's a good chance the Demon Deacons lose the remainder of their games (NC State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson, Duke) and finish with nine losses.

[MORE: Notre Dame OL Alex Bars out for season with fractured ankle]

Georgia Tech: Lost, 31-28, to Pitt

The Yellow Jackets’ slide continued with a narrow loss to Pitt, and with Florida State looming next week, it’ll probably be a six-game losing streak when Paul Johnson takes his team to Virginia on Halloween. Chances are, Georgia Tech won’t win all four of its final games against Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia, leading to a below .500 season a year after torching Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

UMass: Lost, 15-10, to Kent State

UMass never was going to be a strength-of-schedule booster and looks doomed to leave the MAC after this season with only a handful of conference wins.

USC: Lost, 41-31, at Notre Dame

Trojans coach Clay Helton insisted after Saturday's game his team can still win the Pac-12 South, which would require a win over Utah next week and then the Utes to lose another game along way. And it'd also require USC to win out, which seems unlikely despite all the talent possessed on both sides of the ball in Los Angeles. USC will either need to beat three of four of Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Oregon (with the latter two games on the road) or win two of those games and upset either Utah or Cal to be bowl eligible. That should still happen, but the selection committee may not view Notre Dame's 10-point win over its historic rival as a schedule-making victory.

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

Is Brian Kelly out at Notre Dame if new QB Brandon Wimbush’s rocket arm doesn’t deliver for Irish in 2017?

A 4-8 season in 2016 has put Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly firmly on the hot seat as he heads into his eighth season with the Fighting Irish.

In response to a tumultuous season, Kelly made major changes to his staff this past offseason by hiring new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Mike Elko, who previously led Wake Forest to an FBS Top-40 total defense ranking, was hired by Kelly to be Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, and Chip Long — former offensive coordinator at Memphis — will now be in charge of the Fighting Irish offense.

However, the biggest change and arguably the No. 1 factor in Kelly's long-term future in South Bend, will be the person under center in 2017.

Barring an unforeseen circumstance, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — a former Rivals four-star recruit — will lead Notre Dame out of the tunnel in Week 1 vs. Temple.

Wimbush has only thrown five passes during his time at Notre Dame, but showed what kind of talent he has with a 58-yard rushing touchdown as a freshman in 2015.

Wimbush was one of the focal points of a recent Rivals story regarding quarterbacks who will be facing pressure in 2017

Earlier this week, Rivals Recruiting Director Mike Farrell gave his scouting report on the Notre Dame quarterback.

I’m a big fan of Wimbush but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s not that I didn’t like him when I first scouted him before his high school career took off, but what I saw way back when was a kid who had a rocket arm and zero touch. But throughout his high school career he improved every time I saw him, showed much more than just a strong arm and flashed impressive poise for his age.

I’ve seen very limited action when it comes to Wimbush in college as he hasn’t played often and his spring game performance had ups and downs, but I believe in this kid’s ability. He can extend the play, has that great arm and just needs to get comfortable in the Notre Dame offense and make sure he doesn’t try to use that cannon to fit the ball into tight spots. I can see him having some growing pains this season, but as he gets more comfortable and learns to take what the defense gives him while keeping defenses off balance with his athletic ability, I think he’ll finish strong.

Will Wimbush's rocket arm be enough to save Kelly from the hot seat?

That's still to be determined.

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

Two views of Notre Dame's 2017 signing day class

After a handful of late additions sent in their national letters of intent to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Notre Dame on Wednesday announced its 21-player recruiting class of 2017. There are a couple of ways to view the end of what was a volatile recruiting period for the Irish:

The glass-half-full take:

Two and a half months after wrapping up an embarrassing 4-8 season, Notre Dame's 2017 recruiting class ranks 11th by 247 Sports, 13th by Rivals, 13th by Scout and 16th by ESPN. In fact, Notre Dame actually ranks higher this year in 247 Sports' composite rankings (11th) than it did in 2016 (15th), when the Irish were coming off a 10-win season and a Fiesta Bowl berth. 

Nearly scraping together a top-10 class after going 4-8 and losing four assistant coaches in Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock, Scott Booker and Keith Gilmore is an impressive feat (Greg Hudson was only an interim defensive coordinator, and Brian VanGorder was far from a reliable recruiter). Plenty of kudos should be extended the way of recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Mike Elston for heading up the program's efforts to keep what began as a pretty strong class from disintegrating. 

Additionally, coach Brian Kelly pointed to the work of the 15 verbally-committed players who stuck with their pledges even as Notre Dame sustained a string of confounding losses and significant coaching turnover. 

"We couldn't be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish," Kelly said. "Really during a very difficult season, this group of 15 really had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season. Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had. Then there was them sticking together because of why they wanted to come to Notre Dame."

Five of those players enrolled early — tight end Brock Wright, offensive linemen Robert Gainsay and Aaron Banks, running back C.J. Holmes and safety Isaiah Robertson, all of whom 247 sports rated as four-star recruits — and guys like tight end Cole Kmet, quarterback Avery Davis and offensive linemen Joshua Lugg never wavered, too. 

That those players stuck together helped Notre Dame maintain a good base after the NCAA-mandated dead period lifted after the College Football Playoff title game last month, and new coaches Brian Polian, Mike Elko, Clark Lea, Chip Long and DelVaughn Alexander were able to bring in six late additions to the class: safety Jordan Genmark Heath, wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, kicker Jonathan Doerer, defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive lineman Kofi Wardlow. 

Armstrong, Tagovailoa and Wardlow all filled red-line positions of need, while adding more players to increase the pool of talent available to Elko is hardly a bad thing. 

But the optimistic viewpoint here is the deck was stacked against Notre Dame in recruiting, and they actually turned out a pretty good hand thanks to a complete effort from everyone in the athletic department. 

"Every weekend, Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, met with our recruits," Kelly said. "That's unusual. I don't think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself able to meet with recruits.

"In a lot of instances he had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it's going. There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future. So having Jack's involvement in this was absolutely crucial to get to where we are."

Now, for the glass-half-empty take:

Notre Dame had six players decommit, five of whom were at positions of need (defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver). Only four-star defensive end Robert Beal jumped ship before Notre Dame's fall tailspin was underway, and four of those six decommitting players were four-star recruits. 

Notre Dame wound up replacing them with six late commitments, but five of those late-deciding players were three-star recruits and one (Doerner) was a two-star player. That's a good recipe for slipping from having a top-10 class to one on the outside looking in. 

A common lament among fans is that Notre Dame has struggled to sign five-star recruits lately, and while it's true the Irish haven't done that since 2013 — Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield, as rated by 247 Sports — that's not as big an issue as it may seem. Just look at the disparity in college success between Smith and Redfield as a front-and-center example of how a five-star rating doesn't guarantee success in college. Signing more four/five-star recruits than two/three-star ones is far more important (more on that in a bit). 

But the bigger issue with Notre Dame's 2017 class perhaps has more to do with its 2016 class. Notre Dame lost ace recruiters Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks after the 2014 season and re-worked its entire recruiting operation in response, which led to little oomph in a 2016 class that, based on the prior season, should've been much better than it was. 

Last year's group could ultimately build a legacy as a less-heralded crop of recruits that went on to success — the strong debuts of 247 Sports three-stars in cornerback Julian Love and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson were good starts — but there's a long way to go there. 

If 2016 was supposed to be a more transitional recruiting class, though, then 2017 represents a massive missed opportunity. Going 4-8 with all the right recruiting machinations in place is a glaring shortcoming for the future of the program — even a nine-win season could've allowed Notre Dame to hang on to some of those four-star players it lost and earn a top-10 class ranking. 

More importantly than a top-10 class, though, is pulling in more four- and five-star recruits than two and-three star ones. Notre Dame didn't do that in 2017 (10 four-star recruits out of 21) or 2016 (10 four-star recruits out of 23) after hitting that benchmark each of the last three recruiting cycles. That's a worrying trend given the correlation between signing a majority of four- and five-star recruits and winning a championship

The last two recruiting cycles have been, in that context, significant disappointment. While strong classes in 2014 and 2015 could prop up a playoff run as soon as this fall, the future of the program may not be on solid footing even if the Irish engineer a major turnaround in 2017. Next year's class likely will be critical to the long-term success of the program under Kelly, presuming he's still around to usher in the next group of recruits in February of 2018.