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Friday at 4: A 2014 win over Stanford helped create Notre Dame’s current offense

Notre Dame v Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 16: Brandon Wimbush #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after Tony Jones Jr. #34 scored a touchdown against the Boston College Eagles during the second half at Alumni Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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In retrospect, Everett Golson’s career at Notre Dame will be remembered for only one year. It was a noteworthy year, to be sure. A 12-0 regular season and an appearance in the national championship game warrants memory for decades to come, no matter how that final game played out.

But then Golson missed a season due to an academic suspension, and 2014’s four-game losing streak to finish the year at 8-5 was unsatisfying in most every regard for Irish fans.

The highs of 2012 will rightfully keep Golson’s name in Notre Dame conversations. It may be another of his highlights, though, that affects Irish football long-term. When he connected with tight end Ben Koyack for a nearly-last-minute 23-yard touchdown to top Stanford, 17-14, on Oct. 4, 2014, a few particular high school seniors were in attendance.

They now make up the core trio of playmakers on Notre Dame’s offense, all juniors: quarterback Brandon Wimbush, receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and running back Josh Adams. At that point, only Adams had committed to the Irish.

“Great game, it was a cold one,” Adams remembered this week. “We ended up winning the game late in the fourth quarter. … That was a lot of fun, just me and [St. Brown and Wimbush]. That was the start of something special.”

Whenever anyone recites details from events three years later, those specifics should be checked. All of Adams’ recollection checks out, particularly that temperature.

Wimbush committed immediately after the visit, filling the quarterback void in the class created by the de-commitment of Blake Barnett. (Extra points if anyone can name where Barnett plays now. No cheating. Clue: He has completed 2-of-3 passes for 21 yards this season in one appearance. Answer at the bottom.)

St. Brown made the Irish coaching staff wait until National Signing Day to make his decision.

Now, the trio lead an offense averaging 41.6 points per game. Of Notre Dame’s 26 offensive touchdowns, 18 come from Adams, St. Brown and Wimbush in one way or another. Junior running back Dexter Williams may have been the more-heralded recruit and certainly is a contributor, but it is Adams’ physicality that sets the Irish rushing game’s tone. Wimbush has yet to find the needed accuracy in the passing game, but it is his multitude of ways to hurt a defense keeping opponents on their heels. St. Brown hasn’t broken loose this year like he did in 2016, but imagine the current underachieving receiver corps without him leading the way.

Admittedly, this is largely speculation, but it does not seem far-fetched. If Golson had not found Koyack on that fourth-and-11 with 1:01 left, Wimbush may have left Notre Dame Stadium notably less enthused about the Irish program. Should one play dictate an individual’s college decision? No, but when discussing high school seniors, let’s acknowledge the reality such an effect may certainly exist.

That is the pitfall of recruiting when struggling. It is the benefit of recruiting when Golson can spot Koyack’s 6-foot-5 frame in the corner of the end zone.

The win lifted Notre Dame to 5-0. Wimbush added another version of a win that week. In time, so did St. Brown.

Success tends to beget success.

Keep that in mind as the Irish look to go 5-1 this weekend at North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). It may not be a big recruiting weekend (it’s not), it may not catch much attention (then again, ABC), it may not be a close contest (it won’t be), but if success begets success, then this year’s continued momentum could yield unexpected rewards three years down the line.

This may be the perfect weekend to bring up this memory. Not only was Wednesday three years to-the-day from the dramatic victory, but Saturday may present a chance to see what Notre Dame would look like this season without Wimbush. Even if sophomore quarterback Ian Book excels, imagine relying on him for the entire year. If nothing else, it would lower this team’s ceiling.

Two NCAA notes
Two pieces of NCAA proposed legislation should at least be mentioned in these parts. Neither item is yet approved, and that will not come until January of 2018 at the earliest, but both seem uncontroversial enough such implementation should come.

On-campus recruiting may be limited to only 30 designated staffers. Included in those 30 would be the head coach, the 10 assistant coaches and the four graduate assistants. (The 10th assistant coach will come into effect this coming season. Currently, staff size is limited to nine, hence why Tom Rees is technically a Notre Dame graduate assistant, though he is referred to as the quarterbacks coach.)

The intention is to narrow the recruiting focus to the actual football staff, not everyone under the sun.

“We feel we have reinforced the rules that are already on the books,” said Bob Bowlsby, chair of the Football Oversight Committee and the commissioner of the Big 12. “The head coach, the soon-to-be 10 assistants and the four graduate assistants are the people who are supposed to be coaching student-athletes, preparing them for the game and doing the recruiting.”

Thirty may seem a high cap. Perhaps it is, but it being a cap at all is the worthwhile aspect.

A date to remember: Aug, 3, 2018.

That is four weeks and a day before the Irish host Michigan (Sept. 1) to open the 2018 season. It is also the first day Notre Dame could practice under the committee’s proposal. That time period allows for 25 preseason practices plus a mandatory day off each week.

In other words, Irish coach Brian Kelly will meet with the media Thursday, Aug. 2, to start another year of football.

But it’s still 2017. Notre Dame faces the Tar Heels in 23.5 hours. This posted about an hour before the New York Yankees face the Cleveland Indians in game two of the American League Divisional Series. That should be a suitable Friday night holdover until football commences tomorrow.

Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia will not have a drink. Perhaps you may.

Obviously, by a drink, I mean time travel.

Trivia answer: Blake Barnett is the backup quarterback for Arizona State these days. His only playing time thus far this season came with the Sun Devils up three possessions in the fourth quarter against New Mexico State.

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