Notre Dame

Washington State's loss to Stanford is Notre Dame's gain


Washington State's loss to Stanford is Notre Dame's gain

Washington State was a 43-yard field goal away from indirectly dealing a blow to Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff hopes.

Cougars kicker Erik Powell missed a game-winning field goal attempt as time expired Saturday night in Pullman to hand Stanford a 30-28 win, keeping Stanford's playoff hopes alive. And by extension, the Cardinal's win means its season-ending date with Notre Dame should carry massive playoff implications, which is good news for an Irish team that saw its strength of schedule take a hit this week with Pitt falling and half of its opponents careening toward bowl ineligibility.

[MORE: Notre Dame's playoff push built on resiliency and big plays]

Opponent power rankings:

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

On to the results:

Texas (3-5): Lost, 24-0, at Iowa State

After beating Oklahoma and Kansas State, Texas laid an egg in Ames and now has to go 3-1 against Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Baylor to be bowl eligible.

Virginia (3-5) Won, 27-21, vs. Georgia Tech

Virginia played UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State in non-conference play and is 2-2 in the ACC. Had it scheduled cupcakes instead of UCLA and Boise State, it’d only need one win against Miami, Louisville, Duke and Virginia Tech -- not easy, but possible -- to be bowl eligible and possibly save coach Mike London’s job.

[SHOP: Gear up, Notre Dame fans!]

Georgia Tech (3-6) Lost, 27-21, at Virginia

The Yellow Jackets couldn’t ride the momentum of last week’s dramatic win over Florida State into Charlottesville and now must beat Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia to get to six wins. That’s not impossible, but it’s improbable the way things have gone in Atlanta this year.

UMass (1-7): Lost, 20-10, at Ball State

The Minutemen’s only win is over Florida International and they’re 6-37 since re-joining the FBS level. It doesn’t look like Brian Kelly was right when he said UMass looked like one of the best teams in the MAC (which they’re leaving to become independent after this season).

Clemson (8-0) Won, 56-41, at N.C. State

Jacoby Brissett and N.C. State represented a tricky road test for the Tigers, but DeShaun Watson took a flamethrower to the Wolfpack defense with 383 yards and five touchdowns through the air, and 54 yards and a score on the ground. Next up is a home date against Florida State, which if Clemson wins should tee it up to cruise to the ACC Championship and a shot at a 13-0 season.

[MORE: Brian Kelly explains sideline confrontation with Notre Dame assistant]

Navy (6-1): Won, 29-17, vs. South Florida

The Mids improved to 4-0 in the American Athletic Conference behind Keenan Reynolds’ two touchdowns, which tied him with Montee Ball atop the NCAA career rushing touchdown leaderboard. A critical trip to Memphis awaits this weekend, with the winner of that game on a collision course with Houston to determine the AAC West.

USC (5-3): Won, 27-21, at Cal

That’s now two solid performances in a row for USC, which beat Utah last week and held out to beat Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense in Berkeley. The Trojans are now one win away from bowl eligibility and, if they win out and get some help, could still worm their way into the Pac-12 title game. They’ll have to do it with a banged-up JuJu Smith-Schuster, though. 

Pitt (6-2): Lost, 26-19, to North Carolina

So much for Notre Dame playing back-to-back top 25 opponents in the state of Pennsylvania. Pitt’s offense was unimpressive and allowed Marquise Williams to throw touchdowns of 71 and 32 yards. The good news was Pat Narduzzi’s defense forced North Carolina to kick four field goals, all from inside the 30-yard line. But those explosive plays were crippling, and the Panthers averaged just a tick over four yards per carry (they still miss James Conner). This game was a bellwether for the ACC Coastal, with Pitt’s chances of winning the division looking slim with a trip to Duke following Saturday’s game against the Irish.

[MORE: Notre Dame S Elijah Shumate ejected for targeting vs. Temple]

Wake Forest (3-6): Lost, 20-19, to Louisville

This turgid Friday night game saw only three points scored after halftime. Wake Forest is now one loss away from bowl ineligibility with games against Notre Dame, Clemson and Duke remaining. The Demon Deacons do get a bye next week before heading to South Bend, but this is a young team undergoing a major overhaul, and the extra rest shouldn’t affect the outcome at Notre Dame Stadium Nov. 14.

Boston College (3-6): Lost, 26-10, to Virginia Tech

Freshman walk-on John Fadule started at quarterback and completed eight of 20 passes for 143 yards with an interception, and rushed 15 times for 53 yards. This is the state of Boston College’s offense without injured quarterback Darius Wade and running back Jon Hillman. The Eagles’ defense remains a solid unit — seven of Virginia Tech’s points came on a fumble return, and the Hokies took advantage of good field position for the rest of their points (their longest scoring drive was 55 yards). But without an offense, Boston College probably won't be much of a threat to Notre Dame at Fenway Park.

Stanford (7-1) Won, 30-28, at Washington State

This was hardly an impressive win for Stanford, with Kevin Hogan’s 59- and 40-yard runs largely powering the Cardinal offense. While this defense did allow 28 points, it held Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense to six field goals, the last of which would’ve been the game-winner had Erik Powell connected from 43 yards. Stanford has a tricky road game at Colorado — which nearly knocked off UCLA in Pasadena on Saturday — before welcoming Oregon and Cal to Palo Alto in advance of the Notre Dame game Nov. 28.

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.