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Friday notes: Big weekend ahead

Before we get to football, the Irish basketball team got bounced from their first round game against Old Dominion and fell about three wins shy of my bracket projections. As usual, I pick the Irish to pull through in a big game and then wish I didn’t do it. While many will call this loss an indictment on Mike Brey, it’s worth pointing out that while the Irish couldn’t make the necessary adjustments when ODU switched defensive schemes, its tough to win a game when your All-American leading scorer has a goose egg in the scoring ledger for 95 percent of the game. Either way, congratulations to seniors Luke Harangody, Tory Jackson and Jonathan Peoples, members of the winningest class in Notre Dame basketball history.

On to football...

* With the Irish hosting a premiere Junior Day this weekend, the South Bend Tribune’s Bob Wieneke takes a look at who’s coming, and gets Tom Lemming to break down the talent.

Lemming estimates that 60 players could attend the event, although the nature of unofficial visits is such that decisions to attend or not can change on a whim.

What Lemming has seen change positively already for first-year Irish coach Brian Kelly is ND’s fortunes with the current juniors - the recruiting class of 2011.

Because the new staff spent so much time holding together and adding to the class of senior signed last month, it fell behind with juniors.

“They got off to a slow start,” he said. “Now it seems like they’re picking up steam. This recruiting weekend could go a long way in building what could be an outstanding 2011 class.”

And one of the key pieces of the equation is building familiarity of the prospects with the campus and staff. Notre Dame will host another Junior Day on April 24, the day of the Blue-Gold Game.

“This is the first step. The second step is to get them (to visit) officially,” Lemming said. “The third step is to get them to commit.”

As I mentioned earlier in the week, this is an impressive collection of talent on campus, and a large group of the players visiting come from feeder states, while a few elite guys are national recruits. We’ll see how the strategy of owning your key states works and whether or not Kelly and Co. can get a commitment this weekend. (I feel like I should be a political commentator with that last line, and we’re collecting electoral votes...)

* Pete Sampson over at has a nice preview on the running backs, and asked the very good question of what the shift to a passing-prone spread attacked would do to the Irish running backs’ productivity. While Sampson focused on the duo of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes as they enter their senior seasons, he also included some interesting fun facts in his “Number Crunching” section:

* 3.8 -- Yards per carry by the Notre Dame ground game last year.
* 4 -- Ever Irish tailback had this many stars as a high school recruit
* 5.0 -- Yards per carry by the Cincinnati ground game last year.
* 7 -- Seasons since a lead Irish back averaged more than five yards per carry.

It’s amazing to me that it’s been seven years since the Irish had a running back average five yards a pop on the ground. It feels like eternity since Julius Jones rumbled for 5.5 yards a carry and 1341 yards in 2003.

* Joe Montana sat down with Fox Sports for an interview and eventually talked about Jimmy Clausen’s professional football prospects. Fast-forward to the two-minute mark if you want to skip some Brett Favre talk:

<a href="" target="_new” title="Montana back under center">Video: Montana back under center</a>

It’s clear that Joe thinks Jimmy’s going to be a good NFL quarterback, but even he wasn’t ready to say that Clausen had leap-frogged Sam Bradford as the first quarterback in the draft, if only because of his prototypical size. Montana’s media-savvy enough not to make waves in an interview like this, so it’s not entirely surprising that he chose not to make waves.

* Speaking of distinguished Notre Dame alumni, Raghib Ismail has a new TV gig:

Former and CFL and NFL wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail has a new job as a television announcer for bull riding.

Ismail will serve as a correspondent for some of the Professional Bull Riders telecasts on American cable channel Versus. He became interested in the sport when he took part in Ty Murray’s Celebrity Bull Riding Challenge on CMT.

Ismail will interview riders about their lives outside of competition, making his debut during Saturday’s broadcast from Fresno, Calif.

After listening to Rocket at the pep rally before the USC game, I’m tempted to give bull riding a chance.

* Stick with us this weekend. If any news breaks out of Junior Day, we’ll have it covered. In the meantime, I’ll be replacing wall paper and painting my bathroom. Fun times!