Chicago Colleges: Brian Kelly

Kelly, Irish push through rare slump

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
1:00
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly will coach his 63rd game at Notre Dame on Saturday, which is remarkable for the simple fact that the three men in his chair before him never made it this far.

Not Charlie Weis (62 games). Not Tyrone Willingham (36). Not Bob Davie (60).

No, the last time a Fighting Irish coach took the field for Game 63 of his tenure came Sept. 21, 1991, when Lou Holtz's squad rolled over Michigan State, 49-10. So much has changed since then. And yet so little has changed, too.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAfter some recent struggles, Brian Kelly's Irish look to finish the season strong.
 A win this weekend over Louisville would make Kelly the first Notre Dame coach to start his tenure with five straight seasons of eight-plus wins. No Irish coach has done that during any five-year stretch since 1987-93, a run that saw Holtz coach the program to its last national title.

Notre Dame will go yet another season without a title in 2014, a drought that now stretches 26 years, and a goal that probably looked like a distant dream this past weekend as the Irish fell to Northwestern for loss No. 3 on the year.

Of course, as recently as two weeks ago, before losing at Arizona State, the Irish were right in the thick of things. A month ago they looked ready to break through that title ceiling, unbeaten as they took defending champion Florida State down to the final seconds in a loss.

Reconciling the fall from grace has been a maddening task for the Irish as they enter Senior Day against the Cardinals.

"I think college football is such that it comes down to a couple of plays and a fine line," Kelly said. "And that's why it's so critical that when you turn the ball over like we do, and when we turn it over, it's critical. I mean it's catastrophic turnovers."

Of course, the frustration that comes with a three-loss season is a far cry from what those seniors experienced upon entering Notre Dame at the ground level of the Kelly era.

"I think definitely from freshman year to now, we definitely turned the program around," said offensive tackle Christian Lombard, who, like Kelly arrived to the Irish for the 2010 season. "It's a winning program now, and we expect to win every game. We expect to win every game at home, we expect to be right there with teams, it's just the way it is around here now. It's one of those institutions [like] it was back in the day, so we're all really proud of that."

Added end Justin Utupo, a fellow redshirt senior: "We're obviously the first class that was brought in and [the coaches] looked at us to help build what they were trying -- this winning culture. I was here from the start. I've seen when we were bad. I've seen when we were really good."

Holtz said Kelly has been able to implement such expectations because of his vision and because of his plan to execute that vision. It comes from the benefit of being a head coach at three other stops beforehand, a luxury Holtz was afforded as well, having been in the big seat at five different college and pro stops before taking the Notre Dame job.

Kelly's last three coordinators at Notre Dame earned head-coaching jobs elsewhere. Last year's Irish team had eight players drafted, the program's most in a single draft in 20 years. That the Irish started 6-0 without them -- and without four players lost to academic suspensions two weeks before the season -- speaks to what is in place. That three losses in their past four games has sparked a world-is-ending feeling around the fanbase speaks to the climb left to be done.

 "He's got a young football team this year," Holtz said of Kelly. "And I think next year may be his best football team."

Depending on one's preferred math, the Irish could be returning 20 starters in 2015. And that does not include the potential return of several of their currently suspended players.

That could make this final stretch all the more important for the near-term future of a program that is toeing the line between a 7-6 and a 10-3 campaign this year, a program soon-to-be filled with a new cast of characters that had little part of that 12-1 run to the national title game two years ago.

"They understand that there are some tough times," Kelly said. "But, relatively speaking, I remind them of some tough times, that we were here just a few years ago, when we were 4-5. Those are tough times. Those are difficult times. This pales in comparison. You're now in a winning environment. And you've won a lot of football games. Our seniors win on Saturday, that would be 182 in the last 20 games at home. So keep it in perspective."

Holtz, who lasted 132 games on the Notre Dame sideline, is doing just that when it comes to the man currently in charge.

"I hope Brian Kelly reaches the next 63," he said.

Golson, Irish defense grow up in win

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
10:36
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Let’s begin with The Moment because Everett Golson -- after a wet, windy, mostly maddening day -- deserves that much.

If Golson goes on to win the Heisman Trophy or Notre Dame goes on to reach the College Football Playoff or both, the seminal moment could be a 23-yard touchdown strike from Golson to tight end Ben Koyack on fourth-and-11 against the nation’s No. 1 defense. Golson evaded the Stanford rush and found Koyack inexplicably alone in the northwest corner of the end zone for the score with 1:01 remaining.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsEverett Golson delivered in the clutch and got plenty of help from his defense on Saturday against Stanford.
Forget Golson’s two turnovers earlier in the day. Forget that Stanford coach David Shaw, when asked to describe the coverage on the doomed play, simply responded, “There was no coverage.” When it mattered most, Golson delivered, lifted Notre Dame to a 17-14 win and improved his record as the Irish starter to 15-1, the highest win percentage for a quarterback in team history.

"The kid's a winner," coach Brian Kelly said.

"That's big-boy time," Golson said.

This was a big-boy game in nasty conditions. Before kickoff, the press box announcer said there was a "wall of water" over South Bend with another wall behind it. The game’s longest play turned out to be a 39-yard return after a botched Notre Dame field-goal attempt.

While Golson played hero, the Irish won the big-boy game by playing man ball on defense, and a unit with glaring questions entering the season is growing up right before our eyes.

Koyack's touchdown catch occurred in the same end zone where Notre Dame stuffed Stanford in overtime two years ago. But the Irish defense has gone through several facelifts since then.

Notre Dame lost six defensive starters from 2013 to graduation. Another returning starter, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, has been suspended in the university’s investigation into possible academic fraud. Lineman Ishaq Williams, also among the suspended players, had been pegged to start.

And yet here they were, holding Stanford’s once-feared power offense to 3.0 yards per play -- its lowest average since 2006 -- and 1.5 yards per rush. Stanford finished with 47 rush yards and converted just two of its first 13 attempts on third down. Two Notre Dame sophomores -- linebacker Jaylon Smith (14 tackles, 2.5 for loss) and cornerback Cole Luke (two interceptions, forced fumble, sack) -- led the defensive charge, but many others contributed.

"It's all about now," Luke said. "We can't get 'em back, we can't play with one player down or anything, so it's all about how you step up."

And whom Notre Dame stepped up against, a Stanford offense that provides a "measuring stick," according to linebacker Joe Schmidt.

"It's great for our confidence," Schmidt said. "Any time you want to get in 22, 23 personnel and you want to run the ball, it's going to be fun for us and, hopefully, very few yards for you."

Stanford's offense came in struggling, particularly in the red zone, but it still brought the beef up front and the objective to overpower its opponent. But Notre Dame subdued the Cardinal, who failed to hit the 50-yard rushing mark for the first time since Oct. 27, 2007, under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh.

"Our quarterback got hit a lot today," Shaw said. "Counting for the guys they lost, they did an outstanding scheme on the defensive side, and their guys played hard. They played fast. And you can tell they're very well-coached."

First-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has Notre Dame’s defense playing near 2012 levels, despite the new faces. VanGorder’s plethora of pressure proved too much for Stanford’s retooled line, and quarterback Kevin Hogan spent much of the game on the run.

Fittingly, the game ended with a harried Hogan intentionally grounding the ball, which resulted in a 10-second runoff. Stanford’s once-promising playoff hopes are likely dashed.

"Grin and bear it, I guess," running back Remound Wright said. "It is what it is."

By all accounts, Notre Dame’s defense shouldn’t be here, bullying the bully with a bunch of underclassmen. Or perhaps it should. Maybe it’s all part of Kelly’s master plan.

"We should be here in five years," Kelly said. "Year 1, we got knocked around. I mean, physically."

Notre Dame allowed 37 points, 166 rush yards and 25 first downs to Stanford in 2010, Kelly’s first year.

"This is where you should be going into Year 5 of your program," Kelly repeated. "Even though you lose [Stephon] Tuitt and you lose [Louis] Nix and you lose [Prince] Shembo and you lose [Dan] Fox and [Bennett] Jackson, all these guys playing on NFL teams, you bring in the next batch of guys, and they’re physically able to compete with one of the more physical teams in college football."

Maybe Notre Dame is right on schedule, ready for another run at a championship. On a weekend when most of the top-5 lost, the No. 9 Irish found a way to maintain their perfect record.

They needed their quarterback to deliver. And he needed his defense to give him a chance to deliver.

"Holding those guys to 14 points, it’s pretty hard," said Golson, who has surpassed his touchdown pass total (now 13) from 2012 (12). “We didn’t always capitalize on the things we should have, when they gave us the ball and great field position. "I definitely felt like I owed it to them."

Notre Dame still needs work. Golson has six turnovers in his past two games. The offensive line play is spotty.

If Stanford had won, many would point to Notre Dame’s two botched field-goal attempts, and the trials of holder Hunter Smith.

"We found a revolutionary idea that will probably be now the biggest thing in college football,” Kelly said. “We're going to put gloves on the holder. That seemed to be the way to accomplish greatness in this game. Unbelievable."

Fortunately for Kelly, Notre Dame fans were shouting the same word after the game, but for different reasons. Their perfect season continues. So does Golson’s comeback story.

The Florida State showdown is two weeks away.

"There's nobody walking around feeling like we can't win every game we play," Kelly said.

Especially the Irish defenders.

ND 30, Purdue 14: Three things we learned

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:31
AM CT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Remarkably, Purdue gave Notre Dame a good game. Again. This one was in doubt until the fourth quarter before the No. 11 Fighting Irish pulled away with a 30-14 win to improve to 3-0 and remain undefeated in Shamrock Series games. They now enter a bye week before facing Syracuse on Sept. 27 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson, Jalani Phillips
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesDespite being sacked four times, Everett Golson was able to make big plays with his arm and his legs against Purdue.
1) The Irish handle "adversity" well. Yes, that was the buzzword following a 16-point win, appropriate or not. In the context of the number of injuries Notre Dame's secondary suffered, that will work, as starting cornerback Cole Luke left the game with what coach Brian Kelly said was a neck injury and safety Nicky Baratti left with yet another shoulder injury. The unit was already down safety and captain Austin Collinsworth because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain. The Irish also lost receiver Amir Carlisle early in the game with an MCL sprain, were without defensive end Andrew Trumbetti, who was still banged up from the Michigan game, and did not use starting right guard Christian Lombard, still nursing a high-ankle sprain. That doesn't include the five players suspended due to the academic probe.

But seven penalties did not help matters, especially with starting safety Max Redfield getting ejected in the second quarter for targeting, further depleting a thin secondary. Hats off to true freshman Drue Tranquill, a former Purdue commit who was thrust into plenty of meaningful action and performed well.

"He did great," Kelly said. "He doesn't know what he's doing, but he's awesome. He's running around there. I say that kiddingly because he does know what he's doing. But we're trying to really keep it simple for him out there. He was such a locked-in kid. We're able to do some things with him, and he's only been here, what, eight, 10 weeks? Where would we be without that young man? It's really pretty incredible."

2) Everett Golson's still got it going. At times, Notre Dame's offense looked like it went with the gameplan of "let Golson dance around and make something happen." More often than not, he did just that, hitting running back Greg Bryant for his first career catches -- a pair of 17-yarders off broken plays -- and finishing 25 of 40 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and, most importantly, no turnovers. Golson also was the Irish's leading rusher, notching 56 yards on the ground and another touchdown despite being sacked four times being hurried six times by the Boilermakers. His leaps will continue to be a big storyline all season long, and he now boasts a 13-1 record as a Notre Dame starting quarterback (.929), second to only Johnny Lujack (20-1-1, .932).

He has said and done all the right things off the field as well.

"I also missed a wide-open pass, I don't know if y'all watched the film," Golson said, critiquing his 15-yard touchdown run. "I definitely missed a pass. Yeah, it was good for us, we got a touchdown, but as far as me, I want to be more of a pocket-passer. I missed the pass. I just have to execute better."

3) Paging the offensive line. Far too early to hit the panic button here, but the play up front could use some improvements before Stanford comes to town Oct. 4. To be fair, the unit was missing its fifth-year senior in Lombard (Matt Hegarty replaced him), and though only one of the Irish's five offensive penalties came from a lineman (a Steve Elmer false start), Golson was sacked four times by Purdue. That number probably could have been higher if not for Golson's mobility. Notre Dame averaged just 3.7 yards per rush after averaging just 1.7 yards per rush in last week's rout of Michigan. Take away the quarterback on Saturday and that average against the Boilermakers drops to 3.46 yards per rush. Again, it is very early, but if there's one unit that needs to pick up its play as Notre Dame readies for the meat of their schedule, it is the offensive line.

"We're not sustaining," Kelly said. "I mean, we're in position. We're falling off a block here. We miss a fit here. And maybe it's just the continuity took us a little bit longer. It's nothing big, but it's everything.

"It's going to get better. They will get better. It's just we're not where we need to be. We're going to keep working, keep grinding. We'll get there. We're just not there yet. We're on the 3-yard line, we're running a double-team into the B-gap, we slip and fall. Somebody fires through the B-gap. Little things like that. They got to get cleaned up before we get to where we want to be offensively."

Notre Dame prediction: Week 3 vs. Purdue

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
9:00
AM CT
No. 11 Notre Dame "hosts" in-state rival Purdue in Indianapolis. Do the Boilermakers have a shot?

How Purdue can win: For all the talk of the end of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry as we know it last week, this is also marks the final Irish-Boilermakers matchup for six years, ending a 69-year streak of matchups between the Indiana schools. This game seems to brings out the best in Purdue, and they certainly will try to catch Notre Dame off guard as the Irish ride high off a shutout over the Wolverines. Take chances. Hit them hard, fast and first. Try to establish a ground game, the thing Purdue has succeeded most at through two games. If Danny Etling starts under center, continue to let him loose a little, to try to keep the Irish defense honest. And hope for the Irish to lay an egg, on top of all that.

How Notre Dame can win: Show up early and don't let the pesky Boilermakers hang around. That's the easiest formula for an Irish W. As for what would look like progress, let Everett Golson continue his magic, and try to get as many receivers involved as possible. Chris Brown, for one, could use a little love his way. Don't abandon the ground game, either, as there is a plethora of talented backs who surely were glad to see Brian Kelly continue to trust them last week, even when things weren't going so smoothly in that department. Defensively, the safeties can build off last week's success.

Breakout player: Amir Carlisle has certainly looked the part the last two weeks, but we'll go with him here as he faces his father's team. (Duane Carlisle is Purdue's director of sports performance.) Last year's trip to West Lafayette is when things began to come apart for Carlisle last year, with a late-game fumble. But he has turned things around after converting to slot receiver from running back, giving the Irish another dimension in the passing game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Purdue 10. Purdue has played Notre Dame ridiculously close the last two years, but the Boilermakers were also facing Irish teams that had some questions on offense. The 2014 version of Golson brings a different dynamic to Notre Dame.

Irish deliver final blow in Michigan rivalry

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
3:06
AM CT
video
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Joe Schmidt is a former walk-on who worked his way to a scholarship before earning Notre Dame's starting middle linebacker role. He is a coach's dream who never makes one game or snap out to be bigger than it really is.

Yet when Schmidt entered the media room after Notre Dame's 31-0 win over Michigan, the optimist in him was outdone by the sheer absurdity of the goodbye his young and unproven defense had just delivered the Wolverines.

"You want to believe that this is something you can accomplish every time you go on the field," Schmidt said. "And there's still a lot of things we could've done better today, but …"

He paused for three seconds and collected himself with a deep breath.

"Shoot. This is a great feeling right now."

As finales go, this was more Sopranos than Breaking Bad, a much-hyped shootout that turned into a dramatic letdown. Notre Dame didn't just send Michigan back to Ann Arbor with a 1-1 record and a bad taste in its mouth from being on the losing end of these programs' final meeting. No, the Irish flat-out demoralized the Wolverines. They bullied their hapless offensive line, shredded their patchwork secondary and delivered one indignity after another following a week that did nothing but suggest the visitors would be the ones who would enter with chips on their shoulders.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Cody Riggs and Joe Schmidt
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsCody Riggs, right, and Joe Schmidt celebrate one of Notre Dame's three interceptions against Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner.
Michigan had played 365 straight games in which they scored points before Saturday. These Irish met them in a dark alley here in Week 2, and they rendered them rudderless.

"I just got the stat from [SID Michael] Bertsch: 1984 was the last time these guys were shut out?" Schmidt said as he double-checked with reporters. "I think that kind of speaks for itself on how great this feels right now for me and for this defense and for this team."

Michigan left here last time feeling disrespected, with athletic director David Brandon on the receiving end of a cancellation letter from counterpart Jack Swarbrick. The Wolverines had said what Notre Dame did to them was a slap in the face. To add insult to injury, the Irish announced Thursday they would play a future series against Michigan's arch-rival, Ohio State.

What Notre Dame did to Michigan before a sellout crowd under the lights was far more humiliating.

The Wolverines seemingly dared Everett Golson to beat them with his arm. He looked every bit as lethal as he did last week against Conference USA member Rice and completed 23 of 34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns.

Michigan's quarterback, Devin Gardner, received help from no one but Devin Funchess, which led coach Brady Hoke to defend why he stuck with his signal caller after Gardner threw three interceptions and lost a third-quarter fumble on a reckless spin move Schmidt saw coming from a mile away.

"Sometimes it just opens up, and as a defensive player, that's the stuff you lay awake at night dreaming of," Schmidt said. "Quarterback's back, ball's right there, you know you can force the fumble."

Gardner's predecessor, Denard Robinson, had tossed four picks and lost one fumble in a 2012 loss to Notre Dame. That was against the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, the catalyst behind an Irish team that went all the way to the BCS title game.

This year's defense started eight new faces from a year ago in its second game under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who himself turned into an overnight internet celebrity for a raucous late-game celebration.

"I would say it really just ceases all the doubts about, We're young, 'Can we execute?'" Jaylon Smith (10 tackles) said.

VanGorder can be forgiven for his excitement, but the best was yet to come.

Whereas Hoke had quipped last year that Notre Dame was chickening-out of this rivalry — a brushfire Michigan threw gasoline on by playing the "Chicken Dance" after its win over Notre Dame in 2013 — Notre Dame fans took matters into their own hands in the closing minutes and started a stadium-wide rendition of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye."

And that wasn't even the final indignity.

On what looked like it would be the final play of the game, Gardner was picked off one last time by Elijah Shumate, who returned it 61 yards for a touchdown. Michigan personnel had already made their way to the locker room, having escaped the hysteria engulfing Notre Dame Stadium — except the officials ruled Max Redfield had roughed the passer on the return, the touchdown didn't count and the game couldn't end on a defensive penalty. This made for an awkward delay, as the playing grounds cleared and a chunk of the Wolverines' roster made the long walk back through the tunnel and onto the FieldTurf before going right back up after the Irish showed mercy and took a knee.

"We temper it by knowing that we got a long season ahead of us, and it counts as one, it doesn't count as two," said coach Brian Kelly, who tried so hard all week to not give in to the hype. "If it counted as two, we would probably be a little bit happier, but it counts as one.

"But there's no question -- I would be lying if I told you that it doesn't feel great to shut out Michigan 31-0."

Michigan-Notre Dame: It's complicated

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
10:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Divorce is always messy, especially when the opposing attorneys are two of the biggest fan bases in all of college football.

[+] EnlargeMichigan, Notre Dame
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesA rocky relationship may finally come to an end when Notre Dame and Michigan meet Saturday.
Notre Dame broke up with Michigan. Heck, the Fighting Irish had been flat-out flirting with other prospects beforehand, arranging to see the ACC five times a year from 2014 to 2025. The Wolverines are the scorned ex-spouse, refusing to see the Irish for the foreseeable future while letting it be known at every turn that "they" started it, not "us." The Wolverines accused the Irish of chickening-out, and in case that had gotten lost on anyone, they made darn sure to serve a reminder by playing the visitors out of the Big House last year to the tune of the "Chicken Dance."

The Irish? Why, the Golden Domers are way too cool for Michigan anyway. It's the Wolverines who are distraught, remember? "We" dumped "them." "They" need "us" more, because Michigan doesn't have another big game (or two) to circle on its calendar every year. Nope. And in case you weren't already convinced just how little Notre Dame concerns itself with Michigan, Irish fans are shelling out only $349 per person to get into the building Saturday. You know, just to prove that they don't care.

Michigan and Notre Dame will have gotten together only 42 times after this weekend. But the fact this relationship has been put on hiatus so often speaks to the complicated feelings between the two sides. Breaking up is hard to do.

Want mixed messages? Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick may have delivered the divorce papers to Michigan AD David Brandon before the 2012 game, but the Wolverines had given off the vibe that this was an open relationship. Less than three weeks before delivering the edict, the Irish had set up future dates with the ACC and were feeling a little claustrophobic. There was a three-year out clause in the Michigan agreement that simply made this affair the easiest for Swarbrick to get out of. Four months beforehand, Brandon himself had been non-committal about anything long-term. And there was already a fork in the road awaiting both parties in 2018 and 2019.

Brandon said he was blindsided in 2012. Swarbrick told the AP this week that he had let Brandon know in a phone call beforehand. In case that wasn't clear, Notre Dame announced Thursday -- two days before its last meeting with Michigan -- that it has a pair of dates with Ohio State.

We've heard you've been talking about us, Michigan. Now excuse us while we make arrangements to see the homecoming queen down the road ...

"For a team to opt out of that contract, and to opt out of playing another team that is a great rival and is one of those great games, it's almost like a slap in the face," Michigan defensive end Frank Clark told reporters.

Countered Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson: "I don't think I get into all of the hype of the game and things like that. But at the same time, you have to take care of business and you have to prepare."

This latest wave of accusations from each side of the family simply follows what's in their bloodlines.

Michigan may have taught Notre Dame how to play football ... but then the Wolverines blocked the Irish from Big Ten entry.

Michigan may have canceled the 1910 game a year after its first defeat in the series ... but Notre Dame had been using ineligible players.

On and on it goes, from the Fielding Yost-Knute Rockne feud that kept the union on ice for a 32-year stretch, to the tit-for-tat on the all-time winning percentage record -- a battle that, fittingly, is at stake Saturday.

"Who knows when is going to be the last game?" Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said. "We just know we aren't going to play them in the near future."

Irish coach Brian Kelly is also looking ahead.

"We understand the great tradition and the rivalry of the Michigan game, and if it could have worked, it would have worked," Kelly said. "But it does open up some pretty exciting games in the future."

It was hardly a picture-perfect marriage, but it was far more than a fling. Here's to one more fond memory Saturday night.

The Notre Dame-Michigan series goes on pause Saturday night, most likely for a while. Some are sad to see the annual game go, but there are positives for both sides.

So which team benefits more from the series ending: Notre Dame or Michigan?

Reporters Matt Fortuna (Notre Dame/ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) debate.

Take 1: Matt Fortuna

We can probably agree that each side will blame the other for ending this series. We can probably agree that the losing side of Saturday's game will end up doing most of the complaining. But if we're looking at who benefits more from this rivalry ending, it has to be Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly wouldn't say that ending the series with the Wolverines is a good idea. What Kelly did say was that not playing Michigan "opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us."

First things first, though: Notre Dame's scheduling concerns. The Irish now have five mandatory ACC games a year. They have their three non-negotiable rivalry games in Navy, Stanford and USC, the latter two ensuring one trip to California every year. That leaves them four games a year in which to get creative, and they have done what they can within that framework to not abandon some of their Midwest rivalries (Michigan State, Purdue) in the Big Ten.

There is also a future series with Texas and one with Georgia, both later this decade.

For Michigan, losing Notre Dame means adding a neutral-site game with Florida in 2017, a home-and-home with Arkansas in 2018-19 and a whole lot of meh. Yes, Virginia Tech, UCLA and Oklahoma all make for enticing opponents, but they are very far down the line, and it would be foolish to think Notre Dame doesn't have a comparable slate of games it is looking into. This is a Notre Dame program, after all, that opened its 2012 season in Ireland and had once discussed playing a game against Stanford in Japan.

Notre Dame is set up for the immediate future with one of the nation's most appealing annual slates. With the way Michigan has started to schedule, the Wolverines might not be far behind in the next decade.

It would be great if they can find a way to play again, but both have already gained plenty on their own. And if you're going to blame Notre Dame for ending this late-summer classic, then you have to credit the Irish for all of those attractive future opponents, too.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

I'm worried about you, Matt. You and Brian Kelly already have the same stylist, and while those blazers are fashion-forward, no matter what anyone tells you, I'm concerned that being around him has brainwashed you about who really benefits from this series ending. It's Michigan. Hands down.

There are several factors that go into scheduling, but the top priority always should be the new playoff. Notre Dame and Michigan can exalt the past all the way, but if both don't start making the playoff relatively soon, they will become less and less nationally relevant.

While you're right that Notre Dame's scheduling gets trickier with the ACC partnership, the Irish will have a playoff-worthy schedule every year, barring all hell breaking loose around the country. They'll almost always get credit for playing Stanford and USC. Not all of the ACC games will help Notre Dame's playoff cause, but Florida State and/or Clemson will in most seasons. And if other programs rise up (North Carolina, Duke, Miami, etc.), the Irish will get a bump. I really think the playoff comes down to the one-loss and two-loss teams with the strongest résumés. Notre Dame is in that category with or without the Michigan series.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, desperately needed more diversity in their schedule (diversity that Notre Dame naturally has as an independent). Don't gloss over future opponents such as Florida, Arkansas, Washington, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. Many of these games don't happen if Notre Dame remains an annual opponent, especially with the Big Ten adopting a nine-game league schedule in 2016.

Beating Notre Dame hasn't helped Michigan's national profile in recent years. The Wolverines should get a bigger playoff boost from beating some of their future opponents.

Coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon make it clear that Notre Dame is at fault for ending the annual series. But in terms of reaching the playoff, Touchdown Jesus might have provided Michigan a blessing in disguise.

Kelly, Irish sing right tunes after opener

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
9:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- All of that drama surrounding the Notre Dame Fighting Irish the entire month was seemingly reduced to a pair of plays Saturday that yielded different results.

There was the first Everett Golson bomb to C.J. Prosise, which Prosise dropped. And there was the second Golson bomb to Prosise, which Prosise caught.

The 55-yarder was Golson making something out of nothing before launching a rocket that went right through the unguarded receiver's hands. The 53-yarder, two plays after a turnover and just five seconds before halftime, was Golson again making something out of nothing -- avoiding a sack, barely setting his feet and absorbing a hit as he threw the ball roughly 62 yards through the air and into the hands of Prosise for his first career touchdown.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame will need Everett Golson's big arm and big plays when Michigan visits on Saturday.
"He has a cannon, as you can see," Prosise said of Golson. "He winds up and that thing flies. It's really nice to have that."

That Golson shook off the small bit of in-game adversity to deliver Prosise his first career touchdown is one thing. That the Irish's quarterback made a pair of otherworldly throws look so routine is quite another.

Notre Dame was entering its 48-17 season-opening win against Rice under the cloud of four players being suspended as part of an internal academic probe. The Irish learned Thursday that a fifth would be held out. The same day, they lost another safety, this one a captain in Austin Collinsworth, who will also miss at least Saturday's game against Michigan with a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

They turned in about as complete of an opening-game performance as coach Brian Kelly could have hoped for, with Golson looking every bit like the key piece that can finally make this offense roll. They enter Michigan week, their last Michigan week for the forseeable future, uncertain about their five suspended players, three of whom would almost certainly be factors in a game as big as this one. The game is, seemingly, the biggest obstacle before October. It's part of a slate Kelly himself described last week as "manageable" before the heavy-hitters line up, and a game the Irish absolutely need to have if they are to go on to a successful season.

There is the anticipation of the last meeting for a while against the Wolverines, whom Kelly knows best as a team that has beaten him three times in four years. There is the Notre Dame Stadium night-game atmosphere, which has not exactly been kind to the home team since it returned in 2011 -- first with an embarrassing loss to USC, then with two strenuous wins against Michigan and USC by a combined 27-16 margin.

But the Irish should have little trouble avoiding the noise, as Kelly likes to say. They graded out spectacularly in that area in Week 1, and they had much more on their plates going into Rice than they do going into Michigan.

Kelly's answer Sunday when asked about avoiding this week's outside influences was telling:

"Similar to what I've done in past years," he said. "We really keep our focus on what our technique and our own individual work needs to get better at. For example, (Elijah) Shumate and Max Redfield, they can't be thinking about Michigan because they have to learn how to communicate better, really focus on that. Chris Brown has to do a better job of getting in and out of his breaks. We're really, really focusing on the individual and what they have to get better at this week.

"If we really focus on those things and really drill hard on those, it keeps their mind at what they need to get better at instead of thinking about big-picture items. That's kind of how we go about it. It keeps the guys so much on what will help them win."

So he mentioned Michigan, once. He mentioned little else as it relates to peripheral opponents. On the same day-after-opener teleconference last season, he had more or less fueled week-long hate talk by suggesting the Wolverines weren't a rival. Last season's Irish team, fresh off a title-game appearance, probably needed the fire lit under it more than this season's team does.

Kelly saw what this group did Saturday with bigger distractions when facing an inferior opponent. Now comes a truer test that will likely dictate what kind of season this could be.

ND 48, Rice 17: 3 Things We Learned

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
9:00
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson looked much better than the last time he took the field for Notre Dame, tallying five total touchdowns and protecting the football as he led the No. 17 Fighting Irish to a 48-17 season-opening win over Rice.

Here are our three biggest takeaways from this game, starting, of course, with the man under center:

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEverett Golson was a one-man wrecking crew for Notre Dame in its 48-17 rout of Rice on Saturday.
1) Golson is back and he's better than ever. Brian Kelly finally has an elite quarterback running his offense, and that is not a Week 1 exaggeration. Save for one errant throw he was able to survive -- a mistimed third-down toss intended for Ben Koyack, which could have been six the other way had Rice's Gabe Kaper reacted quicker -- Golson was on-point all day. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns -- a 75-yarder and a 53-yarder. He ran for three touchdowns himself, part of his 12 carries for 41 yards. Two of those touchdown runs came on third down, as Golson proved to be the red-zone threat the Irish have sorely lacked in recent years. They went 6-for-6 in the red zone Saturday. And let's not forget C.J. Prosise's 55-yard touchdown drop, a marvelous throw Golson made under pressure that would've given him six total touchdowns and a career high in passing yards.

"Obviously the story of Golson was electric," Kelly said. "He kept his eyes downfield. Knew when to run, knew when to throw it, and those are things we really talked about. We didn't want to overcoach him in that we were going to allow him today to get outside the pocket and be a football player, and just naturally go play the game. And I thought he did that today extraordinarily well. He came back today and I think really showed the kind of player that he can be."

2) Golson's weapons aren't too bad either. Will Fuller was the receiver of a choice Saturday. And while his line (four catches, 85 yards, TD) is hardly eye-opening, it's worth noting that three other players eclipsed the 50-yard receiving plateau. Golson hit seven different targets against the Owls, and with the signal caller being one of five Irish players to rush for 40 or more yards, he showed just how explosive this offense can potentially be later on this season. The Irish showed great balance, tallying 295 passing yards and 281 rushing yards.

"I think I needed to polish a lot of things," Golson said. "There was a couple throws where I stayed in there and made a throw. That's what is in my mind now, but I think just being more on timing I think a lot of stuff today, I was kind of getting out of the pocket and making plays and having the guy scramble and things like that. Definitely going to get the timing down and be more precise."

3) Special teams might finally be a threat. Florida cornerback transfer Cody Riggs' biggest attribute Saturday was as a punt returner, as he brought back the first two punts for 24 and 25 yards, respectively. Greg Bryant added three returns for 31 yards (including a 10-yard return that he probably should not have picked up at the 1.) Notre Dame's average starting field position was at its own 36-yard line. They punted it just three times. Add that with an offense capable of spreading the field and the strain on a young defense is lessened considerably.

"It was driven by personnel and it was driven by wanting to improve in that area," Kelly said. "We had (80) yards in punt returns, and we only had (106) the entire year last year. I think we've improved there. We need to do it consistently.

"Cody Riggs was gassed and we had to take him out. He had not played that much football at Florida I think in a couple years. But Greg Bryant is fearless and does not know what a fair catch is. So all those people wondering why he was catching the ball, he came up with the, 'I can't hear you, my earplug is in.'

"So we have got guys back there that are fearless, that will catch the football and stick their foot in the ground and get north and south, and that is absolutely crucial. And we have guys that are committed to covering people up. So we have got the want to and the resolve to do and we have to continue to do it."

Fighting Irish morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
7:00
AM CT
Well that was fun last night ...

Fighting Irish morning links

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
7:00
AM CT
Bravo, Kyle McCarthy.

Newcomers stepping up on Irish D

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
9:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- OK, so there was some pretty big news Wednesday out of Notre Dame. You can read and hear all about that here and here. But Brian Kelly did name some other starters for Week 1 against Rice.

The biggest surprise? Early enrollee Andrew Trumbetti will be the starter at weak-side defensive end, where Romeo Okwara had appeared to have the initial leg-up. Ishaq Williams is the other starting end.

"We think that he’s got a huge upside for us in so many areas that sometimes I don’t talk about him enough," Kelly said of Trumbetti. "But a great motor, physical, smart, does all the things that we ask him to do. But again, you’ve got to keep in mind we’re talking about first-and second-down players."

Another first-teamer, a name that is considerably less shocking than Trumbetti's, is Florida transfer Cody Riggs, who will start opposite KeiVarae Russell at cornerback.

Kelly repeatedly praised the approach of his defensive freshmen, saying that tackle Jonathan Bonner is in the two-deep, that linebacker Kolin Hill and lineman Jhonny Williams are third-down pass-rushers, and that linebacker Nyles Morgan will play.

While Kelly admitted that he probably would have been uneasy counting on so many rookies to contribute in the front seven, he says his eyes tell him different when he watches them every day on the practice field.

There is also, of course, a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder. Kelly was asked if the new scheme is easier to grasp than what former coordinator Bob Diaco ran.

"They can go. There’s a lot more going on. There’s a lot more pieces to this," Kelly said. "But Brian let’s them run and let’s them go. And so that’s why a lot of these young guys can just, in the places that he’s putting them, in the fronts that he’s calling with Nyles Morgan, he’s not asking him to two-gap anybody. He’s saying, ‘Listen, we’re going to cover everybody. Just go run. Go make a play.’ And some of the freshmen are getting similar kind of front calls where they can just pin their ears back and go."

Irish's lunch links

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
11:00
AM CT
Made it to Culver and back, all for the sake of providing you links ...

Irish lunch links

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
11:00
AM CT
This is Pat Riley's world, and we're just living in it.

Kelly happy to have Daniels back

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
2:00
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A broader-looking DaVaris Daniels walked into the Loftus Sports Center on Tuesday night donning a bucket hat, whatever aches from his first summer workout with the rest of his Notre Dame teammates earlier in the day having given way to some lighthearted activity with the hundreds on hand for "Football 101."

"He’s obviously physically done a lot of work in the time away and he’s in very good shape and now it’s just a matter of getting his legs back," coach Brian Kelly said minutes earlier, before the annual charity event put on by him and his wife, Paqui.

[+] EnlargeDaniels
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsDaVaris Daniels has rejoined the Irish and looks to be in excellent condition.
"I think that’ll happen in very short order."

Kelly is happy to have Daniels back after his spring-semester suspension for what the receiver deemed as academic-related shortcomings. Daniels brings another dimension to an Irish offense looking to take off in Year 5 of the Kelly era, as the redshirt junior is the team's best vertical threat and the only wideout with any extensive game experience playing with quarterback Everett Golson.

Daniels has 80 career catches for 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns. He spent this spring working out at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, Illinois.

Getting to spend more summer time with Daniels and the rest of the roster as part of relaxed NCAA rules this year, Kelly is eager to reinstall offensive and defensive packages, especially with 20 of his 21 incoming freshmen arriving this weekend and starting classes Monday.

"We'll get a chance to work with them next Wednesday, so they'll come in on Sunday, they'll get their physicals on Monday," Kelly said. "We should be able to clear them all -- except for Tyler Luatua, who will not be here because of graduation, until Wednesday -- so they should all be cleared for our OTA on Wednesday. We'll get our first look at it, and we've got kind of an idea of where we'll move those guys, and then I'll probably have a better sense by next week."

Another one of those newcomers, transfer cornerback Cody Riggs from Florida, is already on campus and working with the team, as are freshmen Justin Brent and Andrew Trumbetti.

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