Notre Dame

Notre Dame schedule watch: USC's loss a worst-case scenario


Notre Dame schedule watch: USC's loss a worst-case scenario

USC’s brutal home loss to Washington on Thursday could go one of two ways. Maybe the Trojans use it — and the extra day of preparation — as motivation to roll into South Bend and as well as their across-the-board skill would indicate they can.

Or maybe Steve Sarkisian just isn’t a good coach who’s on his way to being out the door at the end of the season (UPDATE: Sarkisian has been put on an indefinite leave of absence in a situation that doesn't sound good). Either way, the Trojans’ five-point loss to Washington was a worst-case scenario for Notre Dame, which very well may only have one more opportunity to beat a ranked opponent this year (Nov. 28 at Stanford).

Opponent power rankings:

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

Texas (2-4): Won, 24-17, vs. Oklahoma

The Red River Shootout seems to always produce strange results, so even though Texas was reeling and Oklahoma looked like a legitimate playoff contender, Charlie Strong’s Longhorns pulled off a massive upset at the Cotton Bowl. Quarterback Jerrod Heard completed eight of 10 passes and rushed 21 times for 115 yards while star Sooners running back Samaje Perine only carried 10 times for 36 yards. All of a sudden, all Texas has to do to be bowl eligible is not lose to the dregs of the Big 12 and win two games against Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Baylor. That’s not impossible.

[MORE: C.J. Prosise mastering the learning curve]

Virginia (1-4) Lost, 26-19, at Pitt

Matt Johns returned after being benched against Boise State and was ineffective, completing 17 of 33 passes for 209 yards with a touchdown and an interception. And yet, the Hoos weren’t out of this game, taking over on their own 28 down seven with about four minutes left. But that drive came up short, and Virginia’s long, grueling march toward firing Mike London at the end of the season continues.

Georgia Tech (2-4): Lost, 43-24, at Clemson

Georgia Tech managed just 71 yards on 42 carries (1.69 yards per carry) in losing its fourth consecutive game. This team’s only wins are against Alcorn State (FCS) and Tulane (a bad FBS program). Paul Johnson’s side limps into a tough home date with Pitt this weekend and is in grave danger of missing a bowl this year.

UMass (1-4): Lost, 62-38, at Bowling Green

UMass has a decent enough offense — quarterbacks Blake Frohnapfel and Ross Comis combined to throw for 486 yards and four touchdowns (on 37/61 passing, though) — but doesn’t have a defense. They allowed 48 points against Colorado, 62 against Notre Dame and now 62 against Bowling Green. Their last year in the MAC doesn’t look promising.

Clemson (5-0): Won, 43-24, vs. Georgia Tech

After throttling the sinking Yellow Jackets, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was asked about the term “Clemsoning” He went on a rant that should put an end to that term:

Clemson has a couple of tricky tests at home against Boston College and on the road at Miami and N.C. State before welcoming Florida State to South Carolina Nov. 7 in a game that’ll likely decide the ACC Atlantic (and both team’s College Football Playoff hopes).

[MORE: Notre Dame exits its triple option phase with two program wins]

USC (3-2): Lost, 17-12, to Washington

Despite being arguably the most talented team in the Pac-12, Steve Sarkisian’s Trojans managed just 12 points against a rebuilding Washington side. This is the kind of loss that can’t happen for a USC program that hasn’t been a player in the championship/playoff race since Pete Carroll bolted for Seattle after the 2009 season. USC, by virtue of playing on Thursday, has an extra day to prepare for Notre Dame, but as long as Sarkisian continues to tread water in Los Angeles, it may not matter. So maybe Chip Kelly will meet Notre Dame in Los Angeles next year?

Update: Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take over with Sarkisian on an indefinite leave of absence.

Temple (5-0): Won, 49-10, vs. Tulane

Temple limited Tulane to 110 yards — 102 passing yards on 30 attempts; eight rushing yards on 27 attempts. If Matt Rhule’s Owls can get past UCF at home and a tricky Thursday night game at East Carolina Oct. 22, they’ll welcome Notre Dame to Philadelphia on Halloween with not only a 7-0 record, but a chance of making a New Year’s Six bowl with a win over the Irish.

Pitt (4-1): Won, 26-19, vs. Virginia

Give Pat Narduzzi plenty of credit — he’s revitalized the Pitt defense and the Panthers are a walk-off Iowa field goal away from being 5-0. In a wide-open ACC Coastal division, there’s a very real possibility Pitt — even without its best player, injured running back James Conner — makes a run at a trip to the conference championship game.

Wake Forest (3-3): Won, 3-0, at Boston College

Demon Deacons kicker Mike Weaver connected on a 25-yard field goal with 10:18 left in the third quarter to account for this game’s only scoring. This wasn’t an epic defensive battle; it was what happens when two wholly inept offenses share the same field. Credit to second-year coach Dave Clawson for making Wake at least competitive this year, but they’ll need to pull off a number of upsets to sniff bowl eligibility.

[MORE: In ‘March Madness’ mode, Notre Dame capitalizes on Navy's errors]

Boston College (3-3): Lost, 3-0, vs. Wake Forest

Poor Steve Addazio. He doesn’t have an offense without injured quarterback Darius Wade and running back Jon Hillman, but that’s no excuse for Boston College’s brutal late-game management. Wake Forest fumbled on a third-and-three with just over a minute left, giving the Eagles the ball on the Wake 11-yard line. Boston College moved to the Wake Forest one-yard line without a time out and the clock running, and inexplicably huddled, again with the clock running. Running back Tyler Rouse was stuffed at the one-yard line and BC couldn’t get another play off. It was a fitting end to one of the worst football games of the year.

Stanford (4-1): Bye

The Cardinal took the weekend off with a home date UCLA looming this Thursday. If Stanford wins that, it likely will be in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 North by the time Cal goes southeast across the bay to Palo Alto Nov. 21.

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.