Notre Dame

Navy’s surge good news for Notre Dame, headache for CFB


Navy’s surge good news for Notre Dame, headache for CFB

With Navy’s upset over Memphis last night, a scenario dreaded by college football — but welcomed by Notre Dame — could play out over the next few weeks. If Navy beats Houston on the road Nov. 27, and doesn’t slip up against SMU and Tulsa before it, the Mids will win the AAC West in their first year as a member of the conference. That’ll set up a conference championship game against, in all likelihood, Temple in what will be a de facto play-in game for a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

Except a week after the AAC Championship, Navy plays its historic rivalry game against Army. It’s the only game played on the second weekend of December every year, a great tradition that could muddle things for those premier bowl games. What if Navy loses to Army? Do the Mids still get in, or would Temple, Memphis or Houston slide ahead of them? What about Western Kentucky, BYU, Boise State, Bowling Green, or Toledo? Would those schools have to be sitting tight waiting to potentially play in a New Year’s Six game?

It’s a mess the College Football Playoff is ready to deal with, but one that would benefit Notre Dame. If Navy and Temple play for the AAC Championship, the winner of that game very well could be 12-1 and should be a top-25 conference champion — with a loss to Notre Dame.

And with Notre Dame’s margin for getting into the College Football Playoff awfully thin, it’ll take any help it can get. Outside of Navy, it was a good weekend for the other top teams Notre Dame’s played this year.

The Irish opponent power rankings:

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

On to the results:

Texas (4-5): Won, 59-20, vs. Kansas

The antidote to last week’s embarrassing shutout loss at Iowa State? Playing 0-9 Kansas, which might be the worst team at the FBS level. Texas still has to win two of its final three games at West Virginia, vs. Texas Tech and at Baylor. It’s not impossible, but heading to Waco needing a win for bowl eligibility would be daunting.

Virginia (3-6): Lost, 27-21, at Miami

The Cavaliers have to win out at Louisville, vs. Duke and vs. Virginia Tech to be bowl eligible. Most likely, they won’t, and Mike London will lose his job after Thanksgiving.

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Georgia Tech (3-6): Bye

The Yellow Jackets have to win out against Virginia Tech, at Miami and against Georgia to reach bowl eligibility. Given they lost to Virginia by six in their last game, that doesn’t appear likely.

UMass (1-8): Lost, 17-13, to Akron

UMass is 1-8 and 0-5 in MAC play. They’re leaving the MAC after this year to become an independent. This is not a good football program at the FBS level.

Clemson (9-0): Won, 23-13, vs. Florida State

This is probably the last hurdle Clemson had to clear on its way to the ACC Championship. Everett Golson was benched for Florida State and Clemson held Sean Maguire to 164 yards and an interception on 16/29 passing. While Dalvin Cook gouged the Tigers for 194 yards on 21 carries, Clemson rode a 17-point second half surge to its second-best win of the season (the best being Notre Dame). Up next for Dabo Swinney’s side: At Syracuse, vs. Wake Forest, at South Carolina. That’s an easy stretch that shouldn’t produce much in the way of chaos.

Navy (7-1): Won, 45-20, at Memphis

Not only did Ken Niumatalolo’s Mids win at previously-undefeated No. 13 Memphis, they did by 25 points. This was one of the best games Navy has played in years, probably since that 2009 win over Notre Dame. The Mids averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 66 rushing attempts, Keenan Reynolds threw a 75-yard touchdown and Ken Niumatalolo's defense held Memphis to its lowest point total of the season. Navy has SMU, at Tulsa and at Houston remaining in November, and a win over Houston likely puts them in the AAC Championship to face Temple.

USC (6-3): Won, 38-30, vs. Arizona

With a broken hand, JuJu Smith-Schuster reeled in a 72-yard touchdown and had eight catches for 172 yards as USC gained bowl eligibility. The Trojans, with a Utah loss, would win the Pac-12 South if they win out against Colorado, Oregon and UCLA. That'd certainly be a best-case scenario for Notre Dame, since USC would probably play Stanford in that game.

[MORE: Once again, nothing phases Notre Dame as it clears latest playoff hurdle]

Temple (8-1): Won, 60-40, at SMU

Facing a 1-8 SMU side, P.J. Walker threw for 268 yards and four touchdowns and the Owls combined to rush for another 268 yards and three scores in a game that got awfully close in the fourth quarter. Walker’s 36-yard touchdown run and an ensuing pick six sealed a win in a game that could’ve been a bigger letdown against a better opponent. But Temple is 5-0 in the AAC and can clinch a division title and conference championship game berth next week with a win at South Florida.

Wake Forest (3-6): Bye

Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons got the weekend off before heading to South Bend. Wake Forest is averaging only 18 points per game and — as was the case back in 2012 — shouldn’t be much of a match for Notre Dame on senior day.

Boston College (3-7): Lost, 24-8, at N.C. State

The Eagles were officially eliminated from bowl eligibility with another putrid offensive showing. Walk-on quarterback John Fadule completed 23 of 37 passes for 257 yards with a touchdown, but threw three interceptions. Boston College rushed 34 times for 28 yards. Even if C.J. Prosise isn’t healthy for Notre Dame’s Nov. 21 game at Fenway Park, it may not matter given how bad the Eagles are at scoring points.

Stanford (8-1): Won, 42-10, at Colorado

Josh Adams vs. Pitt: 20 carries, 147 yards. Christian McCaffrey vs. Colorado, 23 carries, 147 yards. Except McCaffrey threw a 28-yard touchdown in a dominant win over Colorado in what was, oddly enough, Stanford’s final road game of the season. Up next are three powerful offenses, though, in Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame. Some fun shootouts could be forthcoming in Palo Alto.

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.