ACC: Brian Kelly

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

July, 31, 2014
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Surprise, surprise -- Florida State is the preseason No. 1 team in the Amway Coaches Poll.

The Seminoles received 56 of the 62 first-place votes as they enter 2014 looking to repeat as national champions.

Clemson and North Carolina were the only other ACC teams to be ranked, coming in at Nos. 16 and 23, respectively. For those keeping track, that means UNC is the only team from the Coastal Division to be ranked in the poll. This comes after Miami was chosen by the media in Greensboro, North Carolina, last week as the preseason Coastal favorite, in the same poll that saw Duke receive the most first-place Coastal votes. It is worth repeating again: This division race is wide open.

Notre Dame, which begins its football affiliation with the ACC this fall, checks in at No. 17 in the coaches' poll.

Miami leads the ACC contingent in the "others receiving votes" category of the coaches' poll, coming in at No. 34 overall. Right behind the Hurricanes? Duke and Louisville, at Nos. 35 and 36, respectively. Virginia Tech comes in at No. 40 while Georgia Tech is No. 48.

Half of the ACC's coaches vote in the poll: Frank Beamer, David Cutcliffe, Larry Fedora, Jimbo Fisher, Al Golden, Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly votes as well. Shockingly, all eight of those coaches saw their teams receive votes.
There will be familiar faces around weight rooms and in front of overhead projectors in football complexes this summer: coaches’ faces.

Big deal.

Except it is a big deal, at least to the coaches who can now occupy strength and conditioning sessions and hold film study with their players.

The NCAA partially adopted a rule from the hardwood in October allowing a maximum of eight hours of mandatory workouts for players for eight weeks of the summer. What football coaches really care about, however, is the ability to watch those conditioning sessions and meet with their players for up to two hours each week. Any on-the-field work with footballs is still prohibited.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AP Photo/Andy ManisIndiana coach Kevin Wilson is one of many coaches that can visit with players in the summer rather than relying on "spies" to get information on offseason workouts.
“You don’t need secret spies anymore,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson told ESPN.com. “You can just watch your football team now. ... It’s common sense that if I’m in control and if I want to walk in the weight room and watch them lift weights then I can watch them lift weights.”

It is uncharted territories for most coaches, who are used to relying on third-party word of mouth from the program’s strength coach and upperclassmen on how summer workouts are progressing and whether freshmen are adjusting. Some coaches began mapping out how they would use their eight hours when the rule was passed, while others will take the pulse of the team and adjust accordingly. For some, they’ll protect the details of those hour splits as if it were the playbook.

“We have to carve out [player meetings] with our strength coach, time that we can take away from his hours because you’re not adding extra time,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “There is this model that I’m not interested in giving up to anybody, that we think gives us a balance.”

Notre Dame is still debating between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire as its starting quarterback, so Kelly can spend part of the summer mentally preparing both for the upcoming competition. He will institute a “spring ball installation” of the core offensive plays and defensive structure, “something we’ve never been able to do in June.” He’ll also show his quarterbacks all of their mistakes in previous settings in hopes of limiting them once the season begins.

The vast majority, if not all, are in favor of the rule, although to varying degrees. Indiana’s Wilson has walk-on players who could eventually earn a scholarship, so those players feel a need to attend summer workouts. He knows that means some will take out additional loans for summer school.

For the coaches, with summers now filled with prospect camps and recruiting visits, there are fewer hours to break away from the football facility. Wilson will take advantage of the change, but he wonders whether coaches will suffer from the burnout a 365-day coaching calendar lends itself to. The NCAA implemented a two-week summer dead period to combat the evolving recruiting calendar, but Wilson knows some coaches will stick around to watch tape with players.

“It’s a little ironic they added a rule that for two weeks a recruit can’t come in but added a rule so you can spend that time with your players,” first-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson told ESPN.com.

Added Wilson: “How do we find the balance? It’s nice we can work with them, but it’s finding a balance where your coaches can find sanity. It’s nice we can talk legally but … I think you can overcoach.

“It will be interesting after year one, whether coaches will say they want to do more or do less.”

No school returns fewer starters in 2014 than Utah State, so coach Matt Wells is tasked with making sure those players who will be asked to step up this fall are physically and mentally able. He is also cognizant that his staff spending too much time with the team this summer could produce undesired results.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesThe new NCAA rules are a boon to first-year coaches such as Wake Forest's Dave Clawson, who get a chance to get acclimated with their new players.
In the early portion of the summer, Wells will meet with his team more often than he might in July. He will bring the program’s newcomers up to speed with scheme and terminology in meetings, but he also doesn’t want to overload them. With the upperclassmen, he believes it will become counterproductive to have extended and repetitive classroom sessions.

“We’re going to still lean on player-led meetings, voluntary meetings the coaches aren’t in because it builds leadership in your team and in position groups,” Wells told ESPN.com. “We’ve benefitted from that the last three summers from an increased leadership role, and I think it’s important for the players to have a break from the coaches.”

For first-year coaches such as Clawson, the new rule will narrow the learning curve this fall as his players continue to adjust to his offensive and defensive ideologies. Clawson is seemingly like most coaches, though, in that he does not favor using the full two hours for Football 101 seminars. Wake Forest’s new coach is not deviating much from the old summer status quo.

When he and his staff assessed the Demon Deacons following the spring, he felt strength and conditioning was lacking most. So when mandatory summer workouts kicked off, he decided he’d only spend 30 minutes to an hour each week meetings with players.

“It didn’t make sense to take two hours away from that,” he said.

That could change in the coming weeks, though. While some schools already have their entire incoming freshman class on campus, Clawson won’t see all of his until July. He said the previous rule preventing coaches from working with freshmen lacked common sense.

“It used to be awful, the first time a freshman’s ever on campus and you can’t be around them,” Clawson said. “When these guys first get here, you need to have some involvement. Part of recruiting is parents trusting you with their son, and first time they drop them off, to not be allowed around them was very hard.”
Another double dip? Why not ...

Week 13 schedule

Thursday, Nov. 20
  • North Carolina at Duke, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 22
  • Boston College at Florida State
  • Virginia Tech at Wake Forest
  • Syracuse at Pitt
  • Georgia State at Clemson
  • Miami at Virginia
  • Louisville at Notre Dame
Our pick: North Carolina at Duke AND Louisville at Notre Dame

Why you should come along: Another Thursday night game presents another opportunity for us to take in multiple games in a weekend ... and this one should be particularly good. Two of the Coastal Division's expected title contenders square off, and plenty will be on the line. Duke has won the last two matchups against its rival down Tobacco Road, the first time the Blue Devils have posted a winning streak against North Carolina since 1987-89. Both of Duke's wins the previous two years were absolute thrillers, as it clinched bowl-eligibility with the win in 2012 and picked off the Tar Heels late on the road in last season's regular-season finale, clinching win No. 10, the division crown and stopping the Tar Heels' five-game winning streak in the process.

On Saturday, we'll visit Touchdown Jesus in South Bend, Ind., to check out Notre Dame Stadium's new FieldTurf and watch Louisville and the Irish run all over it on Senior Day. This is the ACC's fourth and final game of the season against Notre Dame, and it might be our best chance to check out the Golden Dome in the first year of this scheduling agreement, which I highly recommend you do if the chance presents itself. The Irish enter 2014 with plenty of questions on defense after suffering major personnel losses, but they welcome back quarterback Everett Golson, who went undefeated during his only regular season under center, in 2012. Golson, fresh off a suspension and an autumn spent working out with George Whitfield Jr., should have the Irish offense looking more like the one his coach, Brian Kelly, had at Cincinnati. And we all know the fireworks that a Bobby Petrino offense is capable of putting on display. These coaches missed each other by a year in the Keg of Nails rivalry in the old Big East. The late-fall weather elements could try to slow these two teams down, but I'll take my chances. (Especially if it means one last postgame meal at Parisi's, just off the south end of campus.)

Irish, ACC seek scheduling flexibility

December, 3, 2013
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Notre Dame will be a partial member of the ACC in football after this season. In Year 1, the Irish might have just a one-third partnership.

The school is trying to move one of its five scheduled ACC games for next fall to the 2015 season, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told ESPN.com on Tuesday. That would free up a 2014 Irish schedule that currently has 13 contracted opponents for 12 available slots. Notre Dame would still play the obligated 15 ACC games over the next three seasons, since the 2015 slate would then have six ACC opponents.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly is hoping for some scheduling flexibility from the ACC.
"The ACC schedule bites a lot of that up, and then there's still some long-term commitments going back to Knute Rockne that tie our hands," Kelly said. "So when you're locked into some contracts — Navy for one, Stanford, USC, Purdue — now you're talking about six ACC games, and then another three or four. It doesn't give me much wiggle room. So as much as I'd like to say that I'm at the forefront of shaping a schedule, there's not a lot of wiggle room in these schedules right now. We're trying to do our best to balance it out, and I think 2014, you're going to see four ACC teams, and then in '15 I think we're going to get to six."

Notre Dame has yet to announce its 2014 schedule dates and times, though it had been under contract to play home games against Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Rice and Stanford, with road games at Navy, Arizona State and USC, in addition to a neutral-site game against Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J., as part of New York's College Classic. (That contest had long been scheduled for Sept. 27, 2014.)

The game against the Orange was then weaved into one of the five that Notre Dame would play against ACC opponents as part of their five-games-per-year agreement, which includes home contests against Louisville, North Carolina and Wake Forest and a road game at Florida State.

Kelly said the ACC has been flexible in working with Notre Dame on its schedules. Navy, Stanford and USC are the only schools virtually assured of staying on the Irish's annual schedule moving forward, essentially giving them eight set games each year when accounting for the five ACC games.

Notre Dame's 2015 ACC games are currently home contests against Boston College and Virginia Tech and road games at Clemson, Pittsburgh and Virginia.

For 2016, the Irish are currently scheduled to host Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech, and play a road game at NC State. They are also slated for that season's version of New York's College Classic as well, also against Syracuse.

Notre Dame only announces full-season schedules with dates, though the school has been hoping to unveil its 2014-16 schedules together once they are finalized.

Close games highlight Pitt-ND series

November, 6, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The package was called "Desperado," a phrase both Pittsburgh and Notre Dame fans would probably rather never hear or speak of again.

It was not discovered until the day after the Fighting Irish's triple-overtime win over the Panthers last year that cornerback Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown, both No. 2 for the Irish, were on the field together when Kevin Harper's potential 33-yard game-winning field sailed wide right after a bad snap.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh vs. Notre Dame in 2012
Matt Cashore/US PresswireEverett Golson's game-winning touchdown in the third overtime last season gave the Irish a heart-stopping victory over Pitt.
For the Panthers, it was an oversight that all but cost them a program-defining win for new coach Paul Chryst. For the Irish, it was a crisis averted, one of several minor miracles in a magical season.

It was another hold-your-breath moment in a series that, for one reason or another, has never lacked for drama. A primetime atmosphere awaits Saturday night at Heinz Field when the Panthers and the Irish square off. One team is fighting to clinch bowl eligibility, the other is clinging to BCS-bowl hopes and, well, here we go again.

"It happens," Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas said of the officials' error last season. "Two No. 2s on the field, it happens. Refs make mistakes, so everybody's not perfect. So it happens. So we just put the loss behind us and just carried on to the next week. But it happens. Everybody's not perfect."

Notre Dame has beaten Pitt by three points in each of the last two years, including a 15-12 tractor-pull of a contest in 2011 that both teams are best served to forget. The Irish are 6-3 against the Panthers since 2002, but eight of those games have been decided by eight points or fewer.

There have been seven total overtimes across two of those games -- a four-overtime Pitt win in 2008 and last year's three-overtime Notre Dame victory, its last close call on the way to the BCS title game.

"You know what, we're letting it go, it's old news," Pitt end Bryan Murphy said. "Whatever happened last year happened. We're not paying attention to it. We're just moving on from there. That's all last year. We were a different team, they were a different team. So we're not even concentrating on anything that happened last year."

Chryst echoed that sentiment during his Monday press conference in Pittsburgh, though tight end J.P. Holtz had a decidedly different tone when he told reporters that he did not like Notre Dame, calling their coaches "really cocky."

The comments seemingly made their way back here to Irish coach Brian Kelly, who said Tuesday: "They don't seem to like Notre Dame very much, and they want to beat Notre Dame."

Though in just his fourth year at Notre Dame, Kelly is more familiar with Pitt than any other opponent in the last seven years, having faced the Panthers in each of his three seasons at Cincinnati before playing them annually so far while with the Irish.

He has also faced the Panthers' new starting quarterback, redshirt senior Tom Savage, who appeared in Rutgers' 2009 season-opener against the Kelly-coached Bearcats.

"A big kid, strong-armed, and obviously they like to throw the football with him," Kelly said of Savage. "He's got some talented receivers. We're going to have to prepare ourselves for a kid that likes to throw the football and has some weapons."

The best of those weapons, redshirt senior Devin Street, is two weeks removed from becoming Pitt's career leader in receptions. Though winless and held to 42 or fewer yards in each of his three contests against the Irish, Street has no particular distaste for the team he will face this weekend.

"We don't go in disliking anyone, but we definitely have a respect for Notre Dame and the tradition and that type of team," Street said. "But we don't hate them or anything like that. I think they're a great team."

Both teams are coming off consecutive games against option teams -- Pitt losing to Navy and Georgia Tech, Notre Dame beating Air Force and Navy.

And both will reconvene in two years, and roughly every three years after that, as part of the Irish's five-game-per-year scheduling agreement that takes effect next year with the ACC, which Pitt is finishing out its first season in.

"Everyone knows Notre Dame; Notre Dame is one of the most historic football programs in the country, and they always will be," Murphy said. "I think it's amazing to have a team like that on your schedule. That's always a primetime game for us. I think it's huge for our team going forward to always have that game because we always play great against them. It's always just an amazing game between us two, so I think it's important that we continue that matchup."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Some of Notre Dame's seniors committed following a three-win season. Others hopped aboard amidst staff uncertainty.

Three and four years later, the Irish are staring perfection in the eye with one home game remaining against Wake Forest, and their coach is hoping that is not lost among the sea of emotions that will accompany many for this weekend's senior day festivities.

"The most important thing is for them to get the proper perspective through the week," Brian Kelly said. "In other words, yes, it is your last home game, but we've got a lot in front of us. What you'll remember most is whether you win the game, not that it was your last home game. So make sure that you keep the distractions to a minimum. And if there is any emotion let that be after the game. Let's have the emotion after the game celebrating a great victory.

"So, yeah, there is a little bit of dialogue and conversation about that. Our guys have been around it. They know what it's like. I expect them to handle it appropriately."

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Matt Cashore/US PresswireManti Te'o saw the raw emotions of senior day before he even committed to Notre Dame.
Consider the message the same for Saturday's visitors, who feel they let a huge upset chance slip away last year in a close loss at BB&T Field and are intrigued by the chance of eliminating a national title contender with two weeks left in the season.

"I feel like most of our team knows that it's football. This is a game that most of us have played since we were 5 years old," Demon Deacons fullback Tommy Bohanon said. "For me and a lot of the team, once we get out there and we're on the field with those guys, it's just business as usual, and we'll be able to play the game."

If the Irish are vulnerable this year, it has been at home.

Their starting quarterback, Everett Golson, has been pulled at one point or another in three home games and was knocked out of another, forcing him to miss one more contest. Notre Dame has needed four total overtime periods to come away with five wins by 23 combined points, and 10 of its 13 turnovers have come in front of the home crowd.

"I think what you find is that most good team find a way to win," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "It's not always the prettiest win, but a win is a win and they've won them all. You know that they know how to do it. I think if you have a chance late, you have to make plays. We have a big challenge. This is a really good Notre Dame football team."

Twenty-six Irish players will take part in a pregame ceremony to honor their final contest inside Notre Dame Stadium, and no one will draw a bigger reaction than Heisman candidate Manti Te'o.

The linebacker's first visit to Notre Dame was for the team's 2008 senior day, a loss to Syracuse that ended with the home players getting pelted with snowballs from the stands.

That memory has stuck with Te'o, though for a different reason.

"For that to be their last experience in that stadium, I could really feel that," he said. "So amongst the cold and the snow and all that, I think the worst part of that was to see the pain in the players' eyes as they were crying leaving the stadium -- not because they lost, but because that was their last experience playing under the dome."

Kelly has just one memory of his senior day, 29 years ago at Div. III Assumption, and he does not want it sticking with his players.

"I don't remember the emotion of the game as much as losing the game after," he said. "So I want to make sure that we don't have that experience for our guys."

Bowl offers redemption for storied teams

December, 29, 2011
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A pre-January bowl meeting and regular seasons that failed to meet lofty preseason expectations have provided no hiding for Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher. Just look at Wednesday, when the second-year head coaches were asked during their final pre-bowl press conferences about restoring their respective programs back to glory.

No, a Dec. 29 finale in the Champs Sports Bowl is not what Notre Dame or Florida State had in mind when summer talk focused on BCS bowl berths and returns to greatness. But the pair of 8-4 teams have found consolation in the opportunity to take down the other and go into 2012 on a high note.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/US PresswireNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly cited a bowl game's value in building team chemistry.
"I think it starts with the ability to keep your football team together for another month," Kelly said of what it will take bring Notre Dame back to its prominent status. "The ability to build more relationships and bonds with your players. You’re still evaluating and giving opportunities to freshmen that may not have that chance to go out and prove themselves. I think there’s a lot of things that go into having a bowl game. The game itself as a win/loss is not going to change the direction of your program. Certainly it’s going to make you feel good about yourself going into the offseason, but all of those other things are much more important than actually singularly one game."

Said Fisher, in response to a similar question: “Recruiting, a little bit of luck, and staying healthy. You have to understand the culture. It’s not been two years or three years since we’ve been on the top, it’s been 10. That’s something we have to change. I’ve said all year that I’ve been pleased with how our players practice. Their effort, their tenacity, they break out the distractions. And then the football gods have to be on your side a little bit, too. Sometimes the ball’s got to bounce your way. We’ve got a good recruiting class this year and I think we’ll have another great year next year. And hopefully a great game tomorrow.”

Ten turnovers and two mind-boggling defeats to start 2011 all but sealed Notre Dame's fate for Orlando, Fla., from the early going. An 8-2 finish that featured a brief return to the national rankings showed what the Irish were capable of, but the sour taste from an 0-2 start lingered.

Florida State, meanwhile, saw a 2-0 start give way to three consecutive losses, dampening its BCS-bowl hopes and, like the Irish, leaving many to wonder what could have been.

The offensive-minded Kelly saw the Irish notch at least 500 yards of offense five different times this season, as they averaged better than 45 more yards per game than a season ago. But that was tempered by 26 turnovers and the fact Notre Dame is closing the season with another quarterback controversy (Tommy Rees or Andrew Hendrix), albeit a different one from the beginning of the campaign (Rees or Dayne Crist).

"I would look at it as we’re still evolving," Kelly said. "From last year to this time there has been a process of evolution for our entire offense and it’s still ongoing. It’s ongoing as we speak relative to our offensive players understanding our system and of course in the recruiting area.”

The Seminoles saw their growth on the defensive side of the ball, where they finished the regular season sixth in the nation in total defense, fourth in points allowed and second against the run — way up in all categories from last season (when they finished 39th, 24th and 26th, respectively).

“Are we disappointed about the wins?" Fisher said. "Yes, we wish we would’ve won more games. I mean, you’d like to win them all. But for a young football team to deal with distractions, with criticisms, the things that come with not winning as many games as you’d like to, they never lost faith in each other. In fact, it maybe made them closer. I feel very good about the future.”

But the future must wait until this season is finished, and Thursday's matchup will provide one last opportunity for each side's seniors to end their careers on high notes.

And for Notre Dame, it's a chance to notch a nine-win campaign for the first time since 2006, before any current players came aboard.

"I feel like it's all that matters," senior end Ethan Johnson said of win No. 9. "It's all that matters. It's what we're focused on right now. Everyone says you take each game as it comes. That's very true. But there's a limited amount of time you can focus on each game in a season. And for this game we've had a long time to focus on it, and we're going to stay focused on it, and we're gonna continue to work and prepare and get ready to play our best football. And there's no reason why we shouldn't do that. No reason why we're not going to do that. We're going to do that.

"We're gonna continue to focus and practice hard and have fun while we're doing it. But yeah, it's really all that matters is getting this win, especially for the seniors. For the juniors, sophomores, freshmen, high school kids coming in — we're all pulling for it and we're all just gonna do the best we can because I came here my freshman year. And I'm a guy who believes you leave something better than it was when you came. I definitely wanna do that. I wanna leave this place better than when I found it."

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 28, 2011
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The ACC is 1-1 so far in bowl games and I'm 2-0 in predictions. We'll see how long that lasts ...

Banged-up Irish survive at Wake

November, 6, 2011
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Jimmy Newman's 42-yard field goal sailed wide right, and Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood immediately wanted the ball.

Five-minutes, 24 seconds remained. And even though Wake Forest had all three timeouts remaining, there was not a doubt in either back's mind that the Demon Deacons' luck had run out in an eventual 24-17 loss to Notre Dame.

"Definitely, definitely," Gray said. "That was the first mindset we had. The guys were doing a great job blocking on the perimeter and inside. We knew what we had to do was run the clock out, and by doing that we had to run the ball."

Wood got the first two carries, totaling 11 yards. Gray, who made his second straight start, took it from there, rushing it five straight times for 16 yards, the final carry a third-and-1 conversion that sealed the game with 1:40 left.

The Irish had let other hosts stick around in primetime games before, and they had been bitten, most notably when they struggled in short-yardage situations late in a last-second loss at Michigan. But Gray, who has improved as much as anyone during the course of the season, said the team takes on a different mentality now.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJonas Gray had 92 yards on 19 carries with a long run of 25.
"We welcome it," the senior said.

Gray finished with 92 yards on 19 carries -- again, ironically, hurting his yards per rush average in his chase of George Gipp's single-season school record of 8.1.

For that, he can blame a review that followed his 26-yard third-quarter rush into the end zone, as it got marked down at the 1, where he punched it in from two plays later for his ninth touchdown in the last six games.

That score tied things up at 17 after the Irish went into the half down seven, Wake Forest's offense keeping the banged-up defense on its toes with the elusive Tanner Price running the show.

Brian Kelly won his 14th straight November/December regular-season game, and his 20th in his last 22 tries. And he did it the hard way.

When a third-quarter flea-flicker resulted in a 54-yard interception return and eventually first-and-goal for Wake Forest, down seven in the third, Harrison Smith forced a fumble that was recovered by Gary Gray.

The next time the Demon Deacons got so close, Stephon Tuitt recorded a sack, Smith blew up a backfield pass for another loss and Newman missed from 42 yards.

Notre Dame played the majority of the game with Mike Golic Jr. at center instead of Braxston Cave, who left the game after the first play of the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. All-everything linebacker Manti Te'o "was playing on one leg," Kelly said, after the junior left Wake Forest's last drive of the third quarter before returning on the next series.

Defensive end Aaron Lynch had to leave the game on two separate occasions, further depleting an already depleted defensive line, and T.J. Jones somehow made it back after taking a vicious hit on an impressive six-yard grab early in the third quarter.

"We got a lot of guys banged up. A lot of guys banged up," Kelly said. "We'll give you a full report on that when I get a sense of, we got guys that are gonna be -- hey, listen, it's November, too. So there's gonna be some guys that come to practice on Tuesday not full-speed. But these guys are tough, they're gritty and they'll answer the bell."

Earlier, Kelly was less pleased with a question about Notre Dame's passing game. Tommy Rees finished the night 14-of-23 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.

"I mean is there a negative to everything? Is there a negative?" Kelly said. "We just won a football game, on the road. I mean, what kind of, really, what kind of question, what do you want me to say? What's the answer? We won 24 to 17 against a good football team, and you want to know what's wrong with the passing game. You know what's wrong with it? Um, the coach doesn't call good plays. How's that? There's nothing wrong with it. We're fine. We just won a good game."

It's the best game Notre Dame can win before Nov. 26, as it will face hapless Maryland and Boston College before traveling to what Kelly said will be "hopefully an undefeated Stanford team."

Kelly was later asked if he was looking forward to Stanford, and he made sure to not look ahead with two games left before the regular-season finale.

"No, no, we're on the right track," Kelly said. "We're not too far ahead. The guys know what they're playing for. We're playing for a consistent performance. We have a sign, I don't know if you know this, but we have a sign that says 'Play Like A Champion.' And to play like a champion you have to play consistently. You can't have spurts.

"Tonight was a great step in that direction, of playing on the road, against good competition, down at halftime, come back a couple of times -- that's resolve. That's toughness. That's gritty. We've been trying to build this and it's starting to come and you can see it. And that's why I'm proud of my guys tonight."
Jonas GrayMatt Quinnan/Icon SMIJonas Gray and the Fighting Irish will get a taste of ACC action the next three weekends.
Before Notre Dame can get to its regular-season finale at Stanford, it has to get through the ACC.

The Irish's next three games are against Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. Two of the three are away from South Bend, but two of the three serve as Irish home games. (Confusing, we know.)

With the Irish 5-3 and set for confere ... er, ACC, play, Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna and ACC blogger Heather Dinich preview this week's matchup in Winston-Salem, along with the other two contests.

Matt Fortuna: Heather, first off, what do you make of this Wake Forest team? It is tough to judge from the Midwest -- it beats FSU, gets rocked by UNC and Virginia Tech. Also, the decision to make this a night game struck me as interesting. Are the folks down there treating this one like their biggest home game of the season?

Heather Dinich: Matt, there’s no question the Deacs are taking this one seriously, especially after such a poor performance against North Carolina. What to make of Wake Forest? This is a much, much better team than the one that finished 3-9 a year ago. They’re one win away from bowl eligibility and would like nothing more than to wrap that up this weekend against the Irish. Heading into this game, I thought Wake was overmatched, but now I think they’ll make it an interesting game. With both teams at 5-3, are they more alike than many thought they’d be? It’s hard to tell with such different schedules, but I think Notre Dame has the better win over Michigan State. Turnovers were a huge factor last week for the Deacs. Wake had turned it over just five times all season and then against UNC it had five turnovers. It was an uncharacteristic performance, to say the least. If the Deacs can take care of the ball and get the passing game going, they stand a chance. The bigger question to me is, are the next three weeks a foreshadowing of what’s to come with Notre Dame and the ACC? What are you hearing out of South Bend?

MF: Five turnovers in one game? No kidding, they really are alike. As for your question, Notre Dame will strive to remain independent in football at all costs. Right now I think the Irish are content to watch the dominoes fall in front of them until they are forced to make a move. If that time does come, however, I do think the ACC would be its best bet. For one, Notre Dame would be marginalized in the Big Ten, serving as just another regional power along with Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State. In the ACC it can still expand its recruiting bases from as South as Florida to as North as New York and Boston. Mike Brey, the men's basketball coach, has stated his preference is to remain somewhere East if Notre Dame is forced to move. Also, it is pretty funny that, in addition to this slate of games, the Irish have already traveled to future ACC member Pitt this season, and they currently seem bound for the Champs Sports Bowl, where they would face another ACC school. That would be five out of 13 games this season against current or future ACC schools, for those keeping count at home. While we're at it, Heather, who do you think looks like Notre Dame's likely bowl opponent should it find itself in Orlando?

HD: Right now I’ve got Florida State heading to the Champs Sports Bowl, Matt, and it seems like the most likely scenario. That would be a great matchup of two traditional programs, but let’s stick with the ones we know right now. Heading into this season, I predicted the ACC would strike out against the Irish with an 0-3 record. I still don’t see BC winning at Notre Dame on Nov. 19, considering what a dreadful season it’s been for the Eagles, and if BC isn’t going to get the W, there’s no reason to think Maryland can, even though that game is a virtual home game for the Terps in FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Maryland can’t even fill its own stadium, though, let alone a pro venue, and the Terps just lost at home to Boston College. It’s been a rough first season for Randy Edsall. So, it looks like the Deacs are the ACC’s best hope at picking up a W against Notre Dame, at least from my perspective. What are you predicting the Irish do against the ACC in three games?

MF: I'm with you, Heather. I just cannot see Maryland or Boston College beating Notre Dame, making Wake the favorite among the ACC teams to do so. Even then, the Deacs are clearly overmatched and will have a tough time keeping up with the Irish on both sides of the ball. I circled this one as a potential upset when making second-half predictions a little more than three weeks ago, but Wake has done little since (its only win was over Duke ... by 1) to convince me it can pull off the victory. Who do you got?

HD: I’m sticking with my preseason prediction, Matt, and going with the Irish. I’ll leave the score for tomorrow’s predictions post, but I just don’t see Wake Forest beating Notre Dame’s offensive line or slowing down that running game. Notre Dame’s offense line averages 305.6 pounds. Wake Forest’s undersized D-line checks in at an average of 247.5. No wonder Jonas Gray is averaging 8 yards per carry, and the Irish didn’t allow one sack in October. And of course, they’ve got one of the top linebackers in the country in Manti Te’o. Wake Forest will correct a lot of the mistakes it made last week against North Carolina, but it will come up short in a close game. Since you’re the visitor to ACC country, though, I’ll give you the final word.

MF: Not sure if that qualifies as southern hospitality, but it is appreciated nonetheless. I expect Gray to have a huge game as well. He's a guy who had zero career touchdowns until Week 4 at Pitt. He has had eight since, including three this past Saturday. Brian Kelly's teams are built for November and December, as evidenced by his 21-6 mark in the regular season's final two months. I think Wake Forest has a chance to keep it close early, but it lacks the depth and size to hang with the Irish throughout the night.
Boston College fullback James McCluskey's best memory of playing Notre Dame is from 2008, when he broke his left fibula on the last play of the game with a minute left and had to be helped off the field by trainers.

Yes, that was his best memory. After all, BC won, 17-0.

As McCluskey said, the storied “Holy War” rivalry is “not just another game.”

[+] EnlargeBC/ND
Matt Cashore/US PresswireBrandon Robinson celebrated his touchdown with tight end Ryan Purvis during Boston College's 17-0 win over Notre Dame in 2008.
“Even though I broke my leg, we won,” he said, “and I was happy to be a part of that.”

It doesn’t matter that Notre Dame is 1-3, or Boston College will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and coming off its first shutout at home in over a decade. Beating the Irish carries a lot of weight in Chestnut Hill -- so much so that McCluskey would rather break his leg and win than stay healthy and lose.

“Yeah,” he said, “I would.”

Boston College and Notre Dame are the only two Catholic universities to play football in the FBS. The Irish lead the series 10-9, but the Eagles have won six of the past seven games. Boston College is coming off a 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech, but there’s no time to sulk, as Notre Dame appears on the brink of turning things around under first-year coach Brian Kelly, who was born in Everett, Mass., and raised in Chelsea, Mass. Notre Dame is looking for its first win in Alumni Stadium since 1998.

“Every Sunday after practice we always tell each other once we walk off the field today, on Sunday, we say that game’s over with, let’s move on,” McCluskey said. “We can’t afford to waste any days at practice looking at it like, ‘Damn, I wish we’d won last week.’ We know how prepared we have to be, how important it is to get good days of practice in. For what we want to do, what our team goals are, it’s just as important as an ACC game even though it doesn’t have an effect on our chances to go to the ACC championship.”

It does have an effect on bragging rights. Boston College’s defense was able to force Virginia Tech to kick four field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, but will face one of the better passing offenses in the country on Saturday. No other Notre Dame quarterback has passed for more yards through his first four career starts than Dayne Crist, who has 1,155. The Irish are averaging 315.5 passing yards per game, but have lost three in a row to Michigan, Michigan State and No. 16 Stanford -- hardly a string of cupcakes.

“Despite their 1-3 record they’re a very good football team,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “They’re big, strong and fast and extremely well-coached. They have all the pieces to the puzzle, they just ran into a little bit of a buzz saw early on in a new regime. We’re looking for a very good football team to come in here, a very hungry team.”

Boston College safety Wes Davis, a native of San Diego, said he has embraced the rivalry and can sense how much it means to the fans and the students on campus.

“The students are a little more interested,” he said. “I think you’ll see some more butts in the seats before game time. This is my fifth year here. I know how it’s going to be, how excited people are for it. There’s definitely a different atmosphere, but from a team perspective it’s status quo.

“It would be ridiculous for us to say we’re preparing any different for Notre Dame than we did for Virginia Tech,” he said. “That would be asinine. I don’t think Notre Dame is doing that either. As a whole we respect how much our fans enjoy this atmosphere and the game. It means a lot to the folks here.”

It also means a lot to the players -- just ask McCluskey.
Catholic schools Boston College and Notre Dame renew their rivalry this weekend, and both teams are praying for a victory. ACC blogger Heather Dinich and Notre Dame blogger Brian Bennett take a look at the issues surrounding this matchup:

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAfter getting off to a 1-3 start, coach Brian Kelly needs a win badly against Boston College.
Brian Bennett: Heather, you can throw the records out when these two play. And Brian Kelly would really, really like you to throw the records out. Kelly is off to just a 1-3 start in his first season as Irish head coach, and now he's returning to his roots in Boston desperately needing a win to keep this season afloat -- and to keep the wolves at bay.

Notre Dame got manhandled last week against Stanford, but it was just a play away from beating Michigan and Michigan State before that. So we know this team is capable of playing with good opponents. What do we know about BC, which faced two weak teams before getting shut out by Virginia Tech at home last week?

Heather Dinich: We know that quarterback Dave Shinskie has been benched. Yes, Virginia Tech’s defense finally looked like what Hokies fans are used to under Bud Foster, but still … after two interceptions and a fumble, the competition is up for grabs this week between Mike Marscovetra and freshman Chase Rettig. The staff had wanted to redshirt Rettig -- he is supposed to be the quarterback of the future. But the Eagles might not have the luxury of waiting. Will it even matter, though? It looks like Notre Dame’s defense has been pretty friendly the past month, although it has faced some ranked competition. It seems to me running back Montel Harris might have a good day against the Irish.

BB: You're talking about the 93rd-best rushing attack in America having a big day? Look, the Notre Dame defense is what we thought it would be. The Irish give up some big plays and points, but honestly, I think their defense has been good enough to win so far this year. The offense has, surprisingly, had some trouble. If Dayne Crist doesn't miss most of the first half against Michigan that's probably a victory. Against Stanford last week, the offense didn't produce a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. The passing game has been inconsistent, the running game hasn't been reliable on short-yardage downs and the Irish have hurt themselves with turnovers.

[+] EnlargeDave Shinskie
AP Photo/Michael DwyerBC quarterback Dave Shinskie was benched in the second half against the Hokies.
I look at both teams' issues and see a fairly low-scoring game on Saturday. What do you think?

HD: “Issues.” So polite. You could say BC has a few of those after being shut out at home last week for the first time since 1998. BC’s defense deserves credit, though, despite the 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech. It’s a typical Frank Spaziani-coached team: blue collar, hard-nosed tacklers holding opponents to about 17 points per game. They’re coming off a performance that held Virginia Tech to four field goals, and once again, sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly is among the nation’s leaders in tackles. There’s no time for BC to dwell on that loss, though. They know this game means a lot on campus, to alumni and to the community. Plus, it’s not going to get any easier with back-to-back Atlantic Division road trips looming to NC State and Florida State. BC needs this win badly, but I think Brian Kelly needs it more.

BB: Not just Kelly, but the Irish as a whole. A 1-4 start really puts them in a bind, even with the schedule easing up soon. Remember they've still got to play Pitt, Utah and USC, as well as always-tricky Navy, so they may struggle to get to a bowl game if they lose this week.

I can't see a Kelly offense struggling for two straight weeks. I think Notre Dame will score at least 21 points. BC has a good defense, but let's not confuse Virginia Tech with an explosive attack. Crist will be crisper this week and he won't be getting hit every down like he was against Stanford. With a new quarterback, I think the Eagles will be one-dimensional enough that the Irish defense can handle them. How do you see it?

HD: This is supposed to be a debate, right? It pains me to agree with you, but let me point out that BC has won six of the past seven in this series. Besides, which Crist will show up? The one against Michigan State, or the one that was clobbered by Stanford? I think BC’s defense will make it a little tougher than Kelly would like to see -- most likely a score similar to last year’s 20-16 Notre Dame win.

More movement at Virginia

February, 19, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Today is Bob Diaco's 36th birthday, and he's celebrating it with a new job. 

The former Virginia defensive coordinator has officially been hired at Cincinnati for the same job, and the Roanoke Times is reporting Ron Prince will return to Virginia, most likely as associate head coach and special teams coach.

Diaco spent the 2005 season on Brian Kelly's staff at Central Michigan where he served as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, so it's not a completely random move.

However ...

At 36 years old, when you're trying to move up in the grand hierarchy of college football, the title of defensive coordinator at Virginia is more prestigious than the same title at Cincinnati, regardless of the recent success Kelly has had there. (And that's with all due respect to Kelly, a smart, young coach who is going to quickly ascend the college football ranks).

The problem is, at Virginia, it's just a title. It's no secret coach Al Groh is the man behind the defense. And everything else in Charlottesville. Without having spoken to Diaco, it's the one explanation for this move that's hard to ignore. Nobody questions Groh's work ethic, his desire to win or his passion for the game. But his reputation as a micromanager has followed him throughout his career.

Roanoke Times reporter Doug Doughty ran into Diaco after a hoops game recently and tried to ask him about the Cincinnati job, but Virginia assistants aren't allowed to talk to the media. It's what Groh calls his "one voice" policy -- his voice.

"To me, Al Groh is the voice for Virginia football," Diaco told Doughty. "I'll have to take my directive from coach Groh."

Anyone who doesn't is free to hand in their resume.

Cincinnati's Kelly not interested in BC

January, 8, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Well, I don't know how seriously BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo would have considered Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, but you can scratch him off of my list. Not because he's not a good candidate, but because Kelly is close to finalizing a new contract and because, well, he doesn't want the BC job.

Here's what Kelly had to say about it:

"I grew up there and watched BC," he said. "We've got a great deal of respect for their program, but that's not a job I would be interested in. At the end of the day, I've got a better situation here at the University of Cincinnati."

Top five suggestions for the BC job

January, 8, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Let's say, hypothetically, that I was Gene DeFilippo for a day. Here is the list of resumes I'd have on my desk, in order of interview priority:

1. BC defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani
He has been with the program for the past 12 seasons, including the last 10 as defensive coordinator. He is a family man who has settled in the area, and every year his defenses are consistently among the best.

2. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly
He is a rising star who has ties to Boston and would reportedly love to come back. His parents and most of his family still live there. He led the Bearcats to the Big East championship and the program's first BCS game.

3. Richmond coach Mike London
In his first season as head coach at his alma mater, London led the Spiders to the program's first FCS national title. The former Virginia assistant knows the ACC, and knows BC, as he was defensive line coach there from 1997-2000. He knows he has to recruit, and knows how to recruit, because he was Virginia's recruiting coordinator from 2001-04. With it only being his second head coaching gig, though, would he stay?

4. Jack Bicknell Jr.
He snapped the ball to Doug Flutie for the "Miracle in Miami" pass in 1984. What more could you ask for? Bicknell, currently the assistant head coach and offensive line coach, was BC's center from 1981-85. He received his masters degree from BC in 1987. His father was head coach at BC from 1981-90.

5. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley
If the Nittany Lions aren't ready to reward him with a guarantee, Bradley should finally say goodbye. He can recruit the Northeast and at this point in his career would be happy to stick around the length of his contract.

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