NCF Nation: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

ACC bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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If predicting the order of finish in each division is tough duty this time of year, figuring out the bowl scenarios is an even crazier endeavor. Still, we'll take a crack at it each week of the season, beginning with our preseason projections.

A few quick caveats:
  • If the Orange Bowl selects a Big Ten team this year, a spot would open up in the Capital One Bowl for the ACC. We're not banking on that just yet.
  • Either the TaxSlayer Bowl or Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl gets an ACC team, but not both. For the purposes of our preseason projections, we're slotting a team into the TaxSlayer Bowl, but that could change down the road.
  • For bowl selection purposes, Notre Dame is treated as an ACC team, meaning the Fighting Irish will grab one of the conference's tie-ins unless it is invited to the College Football Playoff.
  • The Birmingham Bowl serves as a backup for the ACC should enough teams become eligible. We're not projecting that yet either.
  • After the playoff committee makes its selections and the Orange Bowl makes its pick, the Russell Athletic gets the next choice of teams. After that, the next group of four work together to decide on selections with geography and a fan base's likelihood to travel to the game playing a role. We attempted to account for that below.

With all that said, here's our best guess at what awaits the ACC in December and January.

College Football Playoff: Florida State Seminoles
Orange Bowl (Miami): Clemson Tigers
Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, Florida): Virginia Tech
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida): Miami
Belk Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina): North Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas): Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, New York): Notre Dame
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman (Annapolis, Maryland): Pitt
Duck Commander Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana): Duke
Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit): Syracuse
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Georgia Tech
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish:

Key returners: QB Everett Golson, RB Tarean Folston, RB Cam McDaniel, RB Greg Bryant, TE Ben Koyack, LT Ronnie Stanley, C Nick Martin, RG Christian Lombard, DT Sheldon Day, LB Jaylon Smith, LB Joe Schmidt, S Matthias Farley, S Max Redfield, S Austin Collinsworth

Key losses: QB Tommy Rees, RB George Atkinson III, WR TJ Jones, TE Troy Niklas, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, DT Louis Nix, LB Dan Fox, LB Carlo Calabrese, CB Bennett Jackson

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 6 vs. Michigan, Oct. 4 vs. Stanford, Oct. 18 at Florida State, Nov. 8 at Arizona State, Nov. 29 at USC

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondEverett Golson returns as the starting quarterback at Notre Dame after missing all of the past season due to issues related to academics.
Projected win percentage (from Stats & Info): 0.538 (pre-suspensions)

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 (pre-suspensions)

Instant impact newcomer: Redshirt senior cornerback Cody Riggs did enough this summer and in fall camp to earn a starting job after transferring from Florida. But Riggs' role has become even more important after KeiVarae Russell (and three others) were suspended amid an academic probe. Riggs is a physical, versatile corner who brings along plenty of SEC experience and has proven to be a stabilizing force in light of Russell's suspension. He will likely prove to be one of the bigger fifth-year pickups in college football this season.

High point from 2013: It certainly didn't look like it at the time, but a 17-13 victory over Michigan State on Sept. 21 proved to be a huge win for the Irish and one that might have ended up changing the landscape of the national title race. The game was ugly, with poor offensive play all afternoon. Little did anyone know the Spartans would win the rest of their games, finish 13-1 and win the Rose Bowl. How much MSU learned from that defeat is anyone's guess, but it's not a stretch to think a 13-0 Spartans squad could have been No. 2 at the end of the regular season and facing Florida State in the BCS title game. Instead, one-loss SEC champion Auburn earned the shot.

Low point from 2013: A Nov. 9 loss at Pitt was a huge letdown, as the Irish entered the game with just two defeats and BCS bowl hopes still alive. Turnovers and mental mistakes in the Steel City did them in, though -- characteristics unbecoming of a Brian Kelly team in November. When Kelly said after the season that 2013 was a good year that could've been great, it is safe to assume the Panthers game was the one at the top of his mind. A Week 2 loss at Michigan also hurt -- because a loss to Michigan always hurts. But the ramifications of the Pitt defeat were bigger.

Best-case scenario for 2014: The optimistic view sees a young Notre Dame team that does not play a true road game until Oct. 18 at Florida State. Until then, Golson and the Irish take care of business early and race to a 4-0 start before stumbling into Stanford. A back-loaded schedule makes even a confident team trip into a few road blocks, but Notre Dame manages to finish 9-3 and heads to one of the better ACC bowl games. All in all, it's a very strong season for a team facing so much uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball, especially given the camp suspensions. (We could see 10-2 and an access bowl as a best-case scenario with all of the currently suspended players on board.)

Worst-case scenario for 2014: This is a tough one to project, given the uncertainty surrounding the currently suspended Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore, but the weight of those players' losses might actually be more than the sum of their parts. Yes, three are starters, and Notre Dame will struggle to replace them, but if the academic probe lingers far into the season, it creates one more obstacle for a young team that faces a very difficult schedule. Notre Dame is favored in most of its games, but it has zero cakewalks. A worst-case scenario has the Irish scrapping for bowl eligibility.

They said it: "You never want to lose any of your players, so that's always difficult. To lose any of your players, especially given the circumstances, that's always difficult. But I'm responsible for not just four players [but] 105-plus [and] over 30 support staff [members]. I've got to get going. I've got to move immediately to getting better as a program and as a football team. I don't spend much time on the past [and] don't mortgage the future. I try to stay in the present." — Kelly, on moving forward as four players serve an indefinite suspension amid Notre Dame's academic probe
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame players and coaches came and went during last season's media day, posing for pictures and shuffling out of the stadium to resume preparations for their looming opener. But Tony Alford remained behind, alone with his thoughts. Alford's younger brother Aaron died from a blood clot 10 days earlier, on Aug. 12. He was 39. Alford had been back at work as the Irish's running backs and slot receivers coach for just four days after burying his best friend in Park City, Utah. Much of his mind remained there.

First-year graduate assistant Tyler McDermott recognized the look on Alford's face and took a seat next to his mentor, who let the emotions of the month pour out.

"He was very open and very honest about it, and he told me some things I don't think he would have told many other people," said McDermott, who connected with Tony through Colorado State, their alma mater. "Before we got up to walk back, he goes, 'Hey, Aaron had a camp, and it was in Park City.' And I just said, 'In the summer?' He's like, 'Yeah.' I said, 'You don't even need to ask. I'm there.' "

That set in motion preparations for the second annual Aaron Alford Greatest Of All-Time football camp, which took place June 30-July 2. The Alford brothers always talked about starting their own camp as a way to get more kids involved in football. Aaron made it happen when he was out of coaching last summer, drawing a crowd of about 75.

 

An event like that was always Aaron's dream, Tony said. Yes, a shoulder injury Aaron suffered at Colorado State opened the coaching door early. And yes, he made a difference as an assistant at five different colleges, Utah the most notable among them. But he wanted to spend more time with his family and impact his community in a different way.

He opened a local branch of the New Beginnings Behavioral Treatment Agency, a center for youths having trouble at home, last July. He was, according to several accounts, literally signing the papers to make him Park City High's next athletic director right before he felt light-headed and stood up to get some fresh air. A blood clot from deep vein thrombosis had moved to his heart. He collapsed.

Everything was coming back into play for Aaron. And then he was gone.

At Aaron's funeral service, a boy no older than 10 approached Tony, telling him how much fun the camp was, and how Aaron got the boy interested in football.

"If the camp was still going on, would you do it?" Tony recalled asking the boy. "And he goes, 'Yeah, I would.' I said, 'Well I guess we'll have the camp.' I said it and it just kind of came out. It was an emotional time. 'Yeah, we'll run the camp.'"

A month later, Aaron's widow, Linda, called Tony asking if he was really going to run it. Plenty of area kids, including her three boys, were asking about it.

"I guess I better run the camp," Tony said, laughing.

So Tony rounded up his brother's friends in the coaching fraternity and got them involved. Brent Myers from Weber State, Bo Beck from Montana State and former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator John Pease were soon on board, flying themselves to Utah for the second week of summer. Most of the area youth coaches participated, too.

Kelly Cares, Irish head coach Brian Kelly's foundation, offered support. Linda and Gloria, the Alfords' mother, helped with registration. Former Notre Dame players Louis Nix, TJ Jones and Theo Riddick reached out afterward, pledging their support for future years.

More than 170 kids showed up at Park City High's Dozier Field. Heads-up tackling, blocking techniques and catching drills were part of the itinerary. So, too, were super-soaker battles and water-balloon fights.

Tony played the role of supervisor for three days. And walking from group to group and interacting with each kid turned out to be more rewarding than running drills.

When McDermott and the rest of the visiting coaches explored town after each session, they inevitably found themselves locked in conversations with locals, sharing stories of Aaron's favorite meal or Aaron's favorite bar. When they returned to camp each morning, it was like the discussion never ended, as a parent always had another story to share.

[+] EnlargeTony Alford
Robin Alam/Icon SMINotre Dame running backs and slot receivers coach Tony Alford has carried on his brother Aaron's memory, as well as his legacy as a friend, mentor and coach.
"His deal was he was going to go out and try to be a positive influence on as many people as he could," Tony said. "He had a passion for young people, and watching them grow and mature. I stayed at his home and all the kids in that neighborhood, they just kind of flocked to him. That was his personality, it really was. He was a gregarious guy, high energy, always had a smile on his face and a positive word for everyone."

That youth center Aaron had opened? It was kick-started by Cedric Pittman, who ran the Las Vegas branch, whom Aaron had taken under his wing after Cedric's brother was murdered as a teenager, and who came back around to give Aaron this opportunity to bring a center home.

Those three boys of Aaron? The oldest, 15-year-old sophomore Elijah, is a promising two-way lineman for Park City. And he and his brothers, 10-year-old twins Max and Sam, are comforted by their uncle Tony, who flies them into South Bend, Indiana, regularly and looks after them the same way he does his own three sons.

"There's a lot of great single moms -- I get it, and they all need to be applauded," Tony said. "But when I'm talking about my sister-in-law, she's amazing. Those boys are sure lucky to have her. My brother was lucky to have her in his life, and he said that to me a lot. To watch them and the way that they're growing -- they're mature, they're responsible, they're polite, they're well mannered. All of the above."

Two months ago, for Father's Day, Linda gave Tony a handmade book of memories of Aaron, filled with pictures, old journal entries and quotes he lived by.

Tony paused for a few seconds when talking about the gesture, trying not to choke up. A full year later, and that old adage about time healing all wounds has been just that -- an adage. Everyone tells Tony his brother is in a better place now. He gets it, sure. But the pain has yet to subside, not even close.

Tony has that picture book to turn to at any point. He has a green "G.O.A.T." bracelet he wears at all times. Those are for him. Tony knows that to truly honor his brother, he must impact others.

"If I can do anything to prolong, to enhance, to move along his legacy, then that's what I'm going to do in his name," Tony said. "Because for those that knew him, we were very lucky to have him in our lives for as long as we did. And it was way too short, but the time that he did have with us was special, and he affected and he left an imprint on many, many people."

What you need to know about CFB's Top 16

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
8:30
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videoHave you watched the video headlining this post? If not, check it out. Because if you weren't ready for college football already, you will be then.

But who are we kidding? Of course you're ready for college football. After seven grueling offseason months, actual games are almost here.

So with just 16 days left until Texas A&M and South Carolina kick things off on the SEC Network, @ESPNStatsInfo has compiled a few things you should know about each of the top 16 teams in ESPN's preseason Power Rankings.

Florida StateESPN Illustration
1. Florida State Seminoles

  • Florida State will almost assuredly be No. 1 when the AP preseason poll is released Sunday. FSU has been ranked preseason No. 1 five times in school history. The last time? The Seminoles won the national championship in 1999.
  • Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston threw 40 touchdown passes last season, most by any freshman in FBS history.
  • The Noles outscored their opponents by 39.5 points per game last season, the best differential for any FBS team since Houston bested opponents by 39.9 in 1989.
AlabamaESPN Illustration
2. Alabama Crimson Tide

  • Since the bowl era began in 1936, Alabama has won 10 national titles, most of any FBS team.
  • The Crimson Tide have been in the preseason top 5 each of the last five years, tying the longest streak in school history (1978-1982). Expect that record to be broken when the AP poll is released this weekend.
  • The Crimson Tide continues to dominate in recruiting, Alabama signed five of the ESPN Recruiting Nation's 15 five-star recruits in the 2014 class, most by any FBS school.
OklahomaESPN Illustration
3. Oklahoma Sooners

  • Oklahoma has gone 14 seasons without losing consecutive regular-season games.
  • Since Bob Stoops took over as head coach in 1999, OU has never gone longer than two years without winning a Big 12 championship. Baylor is the league's defending champ.
  • The Sooners have been ranked in the AP preseason top 10 in 13 of the last 14 seasons -- and are expected to be once again this season.
OregonESPN Illustration
4. Oregon Ducks

  • Oregon joins Alabama, Nebraska and LSU as the only teams to win at least nine games in each of the past five seasons.
  • Ducks' quarterback Marcus Mariota led FBS with an 89.5 Total QBR in 2013. His 88.7 career-QBR is the best of any QB since 2005
  • Mariota has thrown a touchdown in 26 consecutive games. Only Marshall’s Rakeem Cato has a longer active streak (32).
AuburnESPN Illustration
5. Auburn Tigers

  • Auburn, which finished 12-2 in 2013, has won 10-plus games in back-to-back seasons just once in school history (1988-1989).
  • If the Tigers begin the season in the AP top 5, it'll mark the first time that's happened since 2006.
  • No quarterback finished the season hotter than Nick Marshall, whose 88.3 total QBR in the final eight games was the best in FBS during that span.
Ohio StateESPN Illustration
6. Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Quarterback Braxton Miller is 11 wins away from passing Art Schlichter as the winningest quarterback in Buckeyes’ history.
  • The last eight times Ohio State has been ranked in the preseason top 6, the Buckeyes have finished the season somewhere inside the top 12.
  • OSU gained at least five yards on 55 percent of its carries last season, the highest percentage in the nation.
Michigan StateESPN Illustration
7. Michigan State Spartans

  • Last season, Michigan State’s defense allowed opponents to complete a mere 23.4 percent of their passes of 15-plus yards, best in the nation.
  • Running back Jeremy Langford has rushed for more than 100 yards in eight of his last nine games, and averaged 61 rushing yards after contact last season.
  • In the last 14 times the Spartans have been ranked in the preseason, they’ve finished the year unranked 12 times.
UCLAESPN Illustration
8. UCLA Bruins

  • In 2013, Myles Jack became the first player in Pac-12 history to win Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year.
  • Quarterback Brett Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his passes in 2013, the highest percentage of any returning quarterback in the Big 5 conferences.
  • On the flip side, Hundley has been sacked 87 times the last two seasons, 17 more than any other FBS player.
South CarolinaESPN Illustration
9. South Carolina Gamecocks

  • The Gamecocks have started and finished in the AP top 12 in each of the last three years.
  • South Carolina lost Jadeveon Clowney to the NFL, but the Gamecocks had a better defensive rating in the three years prior to Clowney than they had in three years with him.
  • South Carolina finished last season ranked fourth in the AP poll, its best ranking in school history.
StanfordESPN Illustration
10. Stanford Cardinal

  • Stanford will appear in the preseason rankings for the fourth straight year, tying the best streak in school history (1969-1972).
  • Quarterback Kevin Hogan has posted an .842 win percentage as Stanford’s starting quarterback, including a 10-1 mark against AP top-25 opponents.
  • The Cardinal has finished in the Top 11 in each of the last four seasons.
BaylorESPN Illustration
11. Baylor Bears

  • Baylor averaged 52.4 points per game last season, third-most in modern college football history.
  • In 2013, the Bears' offense scored 60 touchdowns in drives lasting less than two minutes -- nine more than any team has over the last 10 seasons.
  • Baylor hasn’t been ranked in the AP preseason poll since 1986. That will change come Sunday.
GeorgiaESPN Illustration
12. Georgia Bulldogs

  • This will be the 12th straight year Georgia is ranked in the AP preseason poll (2002 was the last time the Bulldogs were unranked heading into the season).
  • Todd Gurley set a UGA freshman running back record with 17 rushing touchdowns in 2012 and followed it up with 10 more touchdowns in 2013.
  • Georgia was one of six teams last season to pass for at least 4,000 yards and rush for at least 2,000. Those six teams averaged 10.5 wins. UGA won eight.
LSUESPN Illustration
13. LSU Tigers

  • LSU has had 18 players drafted by the NFL in the last two seasons, including a nation-high nine in 2014.
  • The Tigers have been ranked in the AP preseason poll in each of the last 12 years and are a virtual lock for No. 13.
  • LSU signed running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2014 ESPN 300.
USCESPN Illustration
14. USC Trojans

  • USC won four BCS bowls with Steve Sarkisian as an assistant coach. He returns this year as head coach.
  • In 2013, USC’s quarterbacks threw six interceptions in the first five games but finished the year strong, only throwing three picks in the last nine games.
  • The Trojans return Nelson Agholor, who is the nation’s second-leading punt returner and contributed 56 catches and 1,444 all-purpose yards last season.
Notre DameESPN Illustration
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

  • Notre Dame welcomes back quarterback Everett Golson, who has been gone for 19 months, but owns a perfect 11-0 regular season record with the Fighting Irish.
  • The Irish have 21 wins in the past two seasons, the most in back-to-back seasons since 1992-93 under Lou Holtz
  • Six of the last nine times Notre Dame has been ranked in the preseason, it has finished the season unranked.
ClemsonESPN Illustration
16. Clemson Tigers

  • Quarterback Cole Stoudt replaces Tajh Boyd, who won 32 games for the Tigers, tying him as the winningest quarterback in school history.
  • Clemson returns all four of its starting defensive linemen, who combined to record 28 sacks in 2013, fifth-most among Power Five conference teams.
  • In each of the last two years, Clemson has begun and finished the season ranked. Prior to 2012, the Tigers hadn’t been ranked to start the year since 2000.

Irish kick camp off at Culver

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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CULVER, Ind. -- Brian Kelly spending the day with the wide receivers was probably the biggest oddity emerging from Day 1 of Notre Dame fall camp. Everett Golson returned to run the first-team offense Monday, the defense's "D-Boys" chant went on without coordinator Bob Diaco and the punt returners could probably do a better job of fielding undefended kicks, first day of practice or not.

Oh, and a pair of horses looked on at the new artificial turf fields here at Culver Military Academy, where the Irish will practice the rest of the week before returning to campus Saturday.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Everett Golson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondEverett Golson was running the first-team offense on Monday.
"It was good, it was fun for me," Kelly said after the two-hour padless session, the entirety of which was open to reporters. "Obviously you're in this business because you want to teach and being able to get in here and just give them a good base and foundation and some of the fundamentals, I think we've got really top notch athletes at that position. Just really spending a little more time with fundamentals on releases, transition, some of the things I think can really help them develop a solid foundation, they've got a great skill set."

Kelly said that his time with the receivers has not affected his ability to evaluate the quarterbacks, as the fifth-year Irish head coach subs in for offensive coordinator/outside receivers coach Mike Denbrock, who is out for the first several weeks of camp following an undisclosed operation.

Kelly said the program is happy to accommodate Denbrock however it can, as the staff is relaying video to him on an iPad. The date of Denbrock's return remains up in the air.

As for what else went down on Day 1 at Culver:

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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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.

Best cross-conference recruiting battles 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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Some recruits get attention from all over the country. Whether it’s their prowess or proximity to multiple teams, top prospects will have schools from multiple conferences pursuing them. ESPN.com’s conference recruiting reporters look at five players in the recently updated ESPN 300 who have different conferences after them and have recruiting battles that could carry throughout the fall.

NOTE: For battles with multiple teams, reporters chose reported leaders or best fits.

For all those people fretting that a playoff in college football would somehow water down the regular season, I offer up the blockbuster weekend of Sept. 3. 2016.

Yes, it’s still a couple of years away and we’re supposed to be focusing on what’s right in front of us. But, geez, that Saturday to open the 2016 season could very well provide the most attractive lineup of nonconference games on one day that we’ve ever seen.

For that, at least in large part, we all have the College Football Playoff to thank.

Some of the matchups were already set or in the process of being set. But the real impetus in beefing up all these nonconference schedules was that a playoff was coming.

And, now, with a selection committee holding the keys to those coveted four playoff spots, we’re going to be in store for some terrific nonconference showdowns in the regular season for years to come. Simply, teams that don’t play and win those types of games are going to be on the outside looking in, which makes the regular season as important as ever.

My only knock on that weekend to kick off the 2016 season is that there are too many good games. I want to watch them all.

We’ve all been clamoring for an Alabama-USCmatchup. Well, we’re finally going to get it in Arlington, Texas to open that season.

And if you like your football Southern style, Clemson at Auburn has a nice ring to it. Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist, once said that Clemson was Auburn with a lake. In a lot of ways, they’re virtual clones of each other right down to their break-neck style of offense. Even more enticing, this is a home-and-home series with Auburn traveling to Clemson the next year.

There won’t be a more unique game that weekend than LSU facing Wisconsin in historic Lambeau Field. Perhaps we’ll get to see Les Miles perform the “Lambeau Leap” if the Tigers win.

Have the remote control ready because we also get UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas and BYU Cougars at Arizona (in Glendale, Ariz.).

That’s just the first weekend, too.

A week later, Tennessee and Virginia Tech will “trade paint” at Bristol Motor Speedway. And two weeks later, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and Oregon visits Nebraska.

So much for opening the college football season with a tune-up … or two.
Notre Dame begins its football scheduling and bowl arrangement with the ACC this season, and hopes are high the Irish will help the league across the board -- especially when it comes to strength of schedule.

But will the Irish end up helping or hurting? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna debate.

Andrea says: Jury is out on the Irish.

Imagine this scenario playing out: Oct. 18, Doak Campbell Stadium. Notre Dame and Florida State, putting together an instant classic. The Irish have the Seminoles on the ropes, threatening their perch atop the college football rankings.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAdding Notre Dame to the schedule makes Florida State's task of repeating as champs that much more daunting.
These two programs have played their fair share of nail-biters. This one would join the list, after Notre Dame kicks a last-second field goal to take down the defending national champions. The loss ends up ruining Florida State's chances of repeating.

Think having Notre Dame as a quasi-partner would go over well in that nightmare scenario?

Not exactly. And while hypotheticals are generally a meaningless exercise, in this case they cannot be ignored. Because we really have no idea what the addition of Notre Dame will do to the ACC this year. The Irish could help, or just as likely, they could hurt the league.

Florida State is but one example, though it is the most important. The Seminoles are playing a much more difficult schedule than a year ago. Not only do they have a neutral-site game against Oklahoma State, they have to play rival Florida, expected to be improved.

Two difficult nonconference games against power-five opponents is challenging enough. Adding Notre Dame into the mix gives Florida State the toughest nonconference slate in the ACC AND the toughest nonconference slate among the other teams expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 5.

Nobody else has to play two power-five opponents and Notre Dame. Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Auburn play one power-five opponent each. Notre Dame is not on their respective schedules.

Notre Dame is expected to be a preseason Top 25 team, so that means the Irish certainly have the capability of pulling an upset. And the placement of that game on the schedule is not exactly ideal. After a bye, Florida State has to travel to Louisville for a Thursday night game, the toughest two-game stretch on the schedule.

Now, it is well within the realm of possibility that a one-loss Florida State would make it into the playoffs, but nobody even knows how the committee is going to start evaluating candidates. Nothing can be accepted as a given.

Then there is the bowl partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC. Say Florida State is out of the playoff and into the Discover Orange Bowl. Say the Irish and Clemson finish with the same record. Well, the Russell Athletic or Capital One Bowls would be well within their rights to take Notre Dame over Clemson. Can't imagine that would go over very well, either.

There’s no doubt the partnership looks good on paper. But there may be a time it backfires.

Matt says: The Irish will be a huge plus.

Notre Dame football's affiliation with the ACC moving forward is far from a one-sided affair. Yes, the Irish do get to expand their schedule after finding a safe (and natural) home for their other sports. And yes, the Irish do gain access to a ton of postseason opportunities that simply did not exist for them when they were entirely independent. But the school and the conference are now friends with benefits, and that means that the ACC receives some perks from this relationship as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's partnership with the ACC has already boosted the conference's profile.
For one, Notre Dame is a sudden boost to the league's schedule strength. Getting the Irish once every three years on their slates undoubtedly alleviates some of the stress that conference athletic directors are under to fulfill league requirements each year. And, in years in which ACC schools host Notre Dame, the home team is almost guaranteed to sell out its stadium for that contest, along with gaining the priceless exposure that comes with hosting a prime-time, nationally televised contest. (And when Notre Dame comes to town, sure as you're born, the game will be under the lights. The Irish have not played a road matinee since 2011, at Pitt.) On top of that, the opportunities could be there for one fewer road game, if not exactly an extra home one. Look no further than next year's clash with Boston College, scheduled for Nov. 21, 2015 at Boston's Fenway Park. That is an Irish home game, as the program takes one of its games off-site each year as part of the "Shamrock Series." So it is one fewer road trip for the Eagles next year, and it is possible that others in the ACC could find themselves in similar situations in 2017 and beyond. The Irish "hosted" former league member Maryland in Landover for their 2011 Shamrock Series contest game as well.

Let's not overlook what the semi-addition of Notre Dame has already done for the league's exposure, either. As part of Notre Dame's ACC agreement, the Irish can take an ACC team's place in a non-access bowl if their record is better than, equal to or within one win of the ACC team -- or if the Irish are ranked higher. The Irish would share in the revenues of the non-access bowl. And, well, what do you know? The ACC bowl lineup that starts this year -- the same year that the Irish begin their football partnership with the league -- is deeper and better than before, with the Capital One Bowl and New Era Pinstripe Bowl among the league's new 13 postseason partners. Some coincidence.

Sure, Notre Dame could upset an expected national title contender like Florida State this year and potentially ruin the league's chance at reaching the four-team College Football Playoff, but "potentially" is the key word there. The Seminoles have, after all, opened as 24-point favorites over the Irish, so there really shouldn't be much to worry about. And heck, it's not like Notre Dame hasn't beaten FSU when it supposedly mattered before, only to see the Noles crowned as national champions later. (Lest we forget about the '93 Game of the Century.)

And if the Irish were to win in Tallahassee? Well, chances are they would be having a really good season then. Playoff good. Which would mean one less spot in the ACC bowl lineup for them to take from a team with the same or better record. And, perhaps, give the ACC an even stronger presence in the playoff, which is supposed to reward strength of schedule, meaning a 12-1 FSU team with nonconference wins over Oklahoma State and Florida would, theoretically, still have a very strong case.

A case strengthened by Notre Dame.

Video: Rudy's 'Lost Playoff Speech'

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
10:45
AM ET
video

In a recently discovered clip from his impassioned locker room speech in the movie "Rudy," Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger lays out his idea for a college football playoff.
Troy AikmanUSA TODAY SportsTroy Aikman played under Barry Switzer in Oklahoma before enrolling at UCLA.
Have you logged on Twitter today? Turned on the TV? Went to the grocery store or picked up your child from the babysitter? Then chances are you know the King has returned.

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.



That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.

If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.

QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)

The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

 Joe FlaccoMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco transferred to Delaware to play near his hometown in southern New Jersey.
QB Joe Flacco, Delaware (by way of Pittsburgh)

Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.

QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)

Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)

The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)

Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.

Cameron NewtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeorgia native Cam Newton won a Heisman Trophy after transferring to Auburn.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn (by way of Florida and Blinn College)

Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)

So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.

 

This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.

QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)

Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.

QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)

The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)

Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.

LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)

A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.

DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)

This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.
Ricky WattersJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRicky Watters is back on the Notre Dame campus, working to finish his degree in architecture.
Brad Malkovsky was launching icebreakers on the first day of his summer theology class when a chiseled student sitting in the front row caught the associate professor off guard with his introduction. The student said he had not been in a classroom in more than 20 years. He said he was in his 40s. He said he had a wife and two kids.

"I thought he was a 25-year-old," Malkovsky laughed. "I'm thinking to myself, 'If this guy's in his 40s and he's back at Notre Dame -- and he certainly looks like an athlete -- I'll bet I can Google it and find out what's going on.' And I Googled it and it turned out, ‘Oh, I used watched to watch this guy 20 years ago.'"

"This guy" was Ricky Watters, who played 11 seasons for three NFL teams, was named to five Pro Bowls, rushed for more than 10,000 yards and won a Super Bowl with the 49ers in 1994. Now he's back in class, more than two decades after a four-year career at Notre Dame, during which the school won its last national title in 1988 and finished the season ranked No. 2 the next year.

"We talk about reincarnation and some of those things that they believe in other religions and stuff," Watters said. "And [Malkovsky] is like, 'Man, did you reincarnate right in front of me? What's going on here?'"

Not quite, but Watters' second act at Notre Dame is proving to be, in his mind, as memorable as the first.

He uprooted his family from their Orlando, Florida, home for the summer, moving into an apartment complex right off campus. His two boys, 13 and 7, have enjoyed their father's old stomping grounds, getting round after round in on the nearby golf course and enjoying the premature college life.

Watters exhausted his eligibility during a four-year college career that saw him rush for 1,821 yards and 21 touchdowns. But he never obtained the architecture degree -- which often takes five years to complete -- that he started.

It’s an itch that hasn't really left since he was drafted in 1991.

[+] EnlargeRicky Watters
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonRicky Watters rushed for 10,643 yards in 10 seasons in the NFL.
Watters considers himself an artistic person, and his parents encouraged him to pursue something involving his childhood passion of drawing, so he sought schools that offered architecture degrees while coming out of Bishop McDevitt High in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

"The reality of it set in at a high football school like Notre Dame," Watters said. "It's obviously about academics, but it's also playing big-time football, and the demands that are placed on you doing that and the demands that are placed on you trying to do architecture, they just don't fit, not if you plan on getting any sleep or eating or surviving.

“So I think it was a noble thing to want to do, but if I had to do it all over I probably would've taken business or something like that. Once I realized that football is such a business even, it could've helped me."

With his football career over, though, Watters has reverted back to his original passion. He said he'll finish with a graphic design degree, because he was able to transfer over so many of his credits.

His final three classes, which run for six weeks through the end of July, are in liberal studies, theology and, perhaps toughest of all, ceramics, a four-night-a-week, 150-minute-a-session course. The other two, which meet two and three times per week, respectively, are hardly cakewalks, with the reading assignments for Watters' liberal studies class carving out a good chunk of the remaining time in his week.

"I remember so vividly times that people would announce me as a Notre Dame graduate; everyone even thinks that I'm a Notre Dame graduate," Watters said. "I know I'm not, and I have that feeling every time someone would say that. So I said, 'You know what, that's also a big part of it.'

"It's for your soul, just to feel complete and to feel like you finished it. You did what you set out to do. Both my parents, they've passed away now, and I know they're looking down on me, and when they see me get that degree it's going to be a happy time for them, too."

Of course, in Watters' return, he hasn't been completely negligent of the program where he began to make a national name for himself. Fighting Irish running backs coach Tony Alford invited Watters to speak to his position group, with Watters stressing to the players the importance of immersing themselves with the rest of the student body and recognizing the power of their platform. And Watters has familiar company in Malkovsky's theology class, with offensive lineman Steve Elmer among the handful of players he can call classmates.

"I'm now sitting up front, they're in the back," Watters laughed. "I remember being in the back."

Watters' renaissance in the classroom also comes at a time when increased benefits for college athletes is a hot topic amid the backdrop of several high-profile lawsuits. While the former NFL running back said the finances behind his return to Notre Dame are still being sorted out, he did allow that he believes more should be done to help current athletes obtain their degrees one way or another.

"I think definitely if someone wants to finish, let them have that right and that chance to finish, because it is important, No. 1, to the person," Watters said. "But it should be important to the university, and I love the fact that our university at Notre Dame, they care about that, they care about their guys graduating. Everyone graduates. Everyone has a chance to graduate if they want it, but you have to want it. You have to be willing to do what it takes. They're not going to just give it to you. It's definitely not a situation like that.

"I have to do the work, I had to come here, I had to bring my family -- any way you look at it, I'm paying something. I'm definitely going to have to pay just to come here, but that is part of the sacrifice that you make to finish what you started, and I'm just so close that I think it would be a shame not to finish, and I know there are other guys that are working right now trying to figure out how they can get back and finish, and I think that they should."
So Notre Dame has finally scheduled an SEC opponent for its future slate, checking a box, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick said, that had been missing among its pool of "top-drawer opponents."

That's a pool that had already included heavyweights Michigan, Stanford, USC, Michigan State and Stanford. A pool that had already included five ACC opponents a year. One that had already included teams such as Arizona State and Northwestern for this fall, enough frequent-flyer miles on-deck to make George Clooney's character from "Up in the Air" jealous.

A home-and-home with Georgia gets the Irish more exposure in the Peach State, especially with a home game against Georgia Tech in 2015, and a return trip to Atlanta likely coming sometime between 2017-2019. That last year, of course, is when the Irish will visit the Bulldogs, a team that came oh-so-close to squaring off with Notre Dame on the biggest stage of all, two seasons ago.

We know all about the Stephon Tuitts and the TJ Joneses, two Georgia-born Irish stars picked up in last month's NFL draft. Georgia is a talent-rich state, and a stronger pipeline there can do the Irish wonders, especially with the addition of the in-roads assistant Kerry Cooks and Co. have made in recent years through Texas.

That pipeline to the Lone Star State should only enhance with the upcoming series between Notre Dame and Texas, an intersectional matchup that Swarbrick told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Wednesday could be reduced from four to two games.

That would eliminate the 2019 trip to Austin for Notre Dame, a welcome reprieve for a team that otherwise would have been visiting both Georgia and Texas within a four-week span to open that season. Nonetheless, the road will hardly be a cakewalk for the Irish, as you can all but pencil-in an end-of-November date at Stanford for that year, in addition to another two or three trips to ACC venues.

Who knows what the state of all those programs, let alone the state of this sport, will be like five years from now. Notre Dame's 2012 schedule -- with trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC -- had looked like murderer's row, and all the Irish did that season was go 12-0 and reach the BCS title game. But as it stands, this fall's schedule may end up being the easiest among future Irish slates, what with no true road games among the first half of the season, just three overall, and four ACC opponents instead of five. This is still a 2014 slate, mind you, that includes trips to defending national champion Florida State, to ASU and to USC.

Now comes an SEC power, a Georgia team that, under Mark Richt's tenure, during the height of the SEC's supremacy, has played in five league title games, and made three BCS bowls. It gives Notre Dame that coveted SEC notch under its belt, finally, and it gives fans of both schools plenty to get excited about, especially with the name programs keeping these games on campus.

It further erases the ridiculous notion that Notre Dame doesn't play anyone, and it further expands one of college football's most powerful brand in a key territory.

But with expectations at Notre Dame as high as they've been in two decades, is it practical?
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.”

Position U: Linebacker

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
9:30
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video
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Linebacker U” for the 2000s?


1. Ohio State (222 points)


Move over Penn State. Ohio State is the new “Linebacker U” -- and the Buckeyes claimed the title in a blowout. In many of these positional rankings, only a handful of points separate first and second place. At linebacker, the Buckeyes finished nearly 50 points ahead of second-place Alabama. But when your players stockpile national awards and All-America honors and then many more go on to become NFL draft picks, you put your program in position to rank at the top of this list. Players such as A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis and most recently Ryan Shazier have done that in Columbus.

Award winners: A.J. Hawk, Lombardi (2005); James Laurinaitis, Butkus (2007), Nagurski (2008), Lott (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008).
First-team all-conference: Joe Cooper (2000), Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2003, 2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008), Ross Homan (2010), Brian Rolle (2010), Ryan Shazier (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: A.J. Hawk (2006), Bobby Carpenter (2006), Ryan Shazier (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cie Grant (Round 3, 2003), Matt Wilhelm (Round 4, 2003), Anthony Schlegel (Round 3, 2006), James Laurinaitis (Round 2, 2009), Thaddeus Gibson (Round 4, 2010), John Simon (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Courtland Bullard (Round 5, 2002), Rob Reynolds (Round 5, 2004), Larry Grant (Round 7, 2008), Marcus Freeman (Round 5, 2009), Austin Spitler (Round 7, 2010), Brian Rolle (Round 6, 2011), Ross Homan (Round 6, 2011).


T-2. Alabama (174)


The Crimson Tide has claimed two Butkus Awards and has had four consensus All-Americans at linebacker since 2009, when Alabama won the first of its three BCS titles under Nick Saban. Alabama also has had three linebackers picked in the first round (Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley) and five linebackers overall drafted during that run of dominance.

Award winners: DeMeco Ryans, Lott (2005); Rolando McClain, Butkus (2009); C.J. Mosley, Butkus (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
First-team all-conference: Saleem Rasheed (2001), Derrick Pope (2003), Cornelius Wortham (2004), DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2008, 2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), Courtney Upshaw (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rolando McClain (2010), Dont’a Hightower (2012), C.J. Mosley (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Saleem Rasheed (Round 3, 2002), DeMeco Ryans (Round 2, 2006), Courtney Upshaw (Round 2, 2012), Nico Johnson (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derrick Pope (Round 7, 2004), Cornelius Wortham (Round 7, 2005).


T-2. Oklahoma (174)


Hey, what do you know? Oklahoma is near the top of the rankings at another position. At linebacker, the Sooners’ position is largely because of the early-2000s run when Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman cleaned up on the awards and All-America circuit. It also helps that Oklahoma has had 12 linebackers drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Rocky Calmus, Butkus (2001); Teddy Lehman, Bednarik (2003), Butkus (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Curtis Lofton (2007).
First-team all-conference: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Jimmy Wilkerson (2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Dan Cody (2003), Lance Mitchell (2004), Rufus Alexander (2005, 2006), Curtis Lofton (2007), Travis Lewis (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Torrance Marshall (Round 3, 2001), Rocky Calmus (Round 3, 2002), Teddy Lehman (Round 2, 2004), Dan Cody (Round 2, 2005), Clint Ingram (Round 3, 2006), Curtis Lofton (Round 2, 2008), Keenan Clayton (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Lance Mitchell (Round 5, 2005), Rufus Alexander (Round 6, 2007), Nic Harris (Round 5, 2009), Travis Lewis (Round 7, 2012), Corey Nelson (Round 7, 2014).


T-4. USC (140)


It should come as no surprise that the greater portion of USC’s linebacker point total came during its mid-2000s run, when it was an annual BCS title contender. Standout linebackers such as Rey Maualuga -- the 2008 Bednarik Award winner, consensus All-American and three-time All-Pac-10 selection -- Keith Rivers, Matt Grootegoed and Brian Cushing helped the Trojans become the nation’s most dominant program during that period.

Award winners: Rey Maualuga, Bednarik (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Grootegoed (2004), Rey Maualuga (2008).
First-team all-conference: Matt Grootegoed (2002, 2004), Lofa Tatupu (2004), Rey Maualuga (2006, 2007, 2008), Keith Rivers (2006, 2007), Brian Cushing (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Keith Rivers (2008), Brian Cushing (2009), Clay Matthews (2009), Nick Perry (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Markus Steele (Round 4, 2001), Lofa Tatupu (Round 2, 2005), Kaluka Maiava (Round 4, 2009), Rey Maualuga (Round 2, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Zeke Moreno (Round 5, 2001), Oscar Lua (Round 7, 2007), Dallas Sartz (Round 5, 2007), Thomas Williams (Round 5, 2008), Malcolm Smith (Round 7, 2011), Devon Kennard (Round 5, 2014).


T-4. Miami (140)


When your program has 12 players from one position drafted and four of them go in the first round, chances are you’ll rank toward the top of the board. That’s the case with Miami, which had Dan Morgan (who won three national awards and was a consensus All-American in 2000), Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams and Jon Beason all become first-round picks after standout careers in Coral Gables.

Award winners: Dan Morgan, Bednarik (2000), Nagurski (2000), Butkus (2000).
Consensus All-Americans: Dan Morgan (2000).
First-team all-conference: Dan Morgan (2000), Jonathan Vilma (2001, 2002, 2003), D.J. Williams (2003), Sean Spence (2011), Denzel Perryman (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dan Morgan (2001), Jonathan Vilma (2004), D.J. Williams (2004), Jon Beason (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky McIntosh (Round 2, 2006), Leon Williams (Round 4, 2006), Tavares Gooden (Round 3, 2008), Darryl Sharpton (Round 4, 2010), Colin McCarthy (Round 4, 2011), Sean Spence (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Darrell McClover (Round 7, 2004), Spencer Adkins (Round 6, 2009).


6. Penn State (134)


The old “Linebacker U” still makes our top 10. In fact, Penn State still has plenty to brag about at the position where it has long been known for producing stars. The Nittany Lions earned four national awards and three All-America designations between Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, plus they had nine players drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Paul Posluszny, Butkus (2005), Bednarik (2005, 2006); Dan Connor, Bednarik (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007).
First-team all-conference: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007), NaVorro Bowman (2008, 2009), Gerald Hodges (2011), Michael Mauti (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Paul Posluszny (Round 2, 2007), Dan Connor (Round 3, 2008), Sean Lee (Round 2, 2010), NaVorro Bowman (Round 3, 2010), Gerald Hodges (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tim Shaw (Round 5, 2007), Josh Hull (Round 7, 2010), Nathan Stupar (Round 7, 2012), Michael Mauti (Round 7, 2013).


7. Georgia (110)


Two-time All-American Jarvis Jones and fellow 2013 first-round pick Alec Ogletree might get most of the glory, but this group is chock full of talent. Justin Houston is making his mark as a pass-rusher in the NFL and there are a bunch of old war horses such as Will Witherspoon, Kendrell Bell and Tony Gilbert who hung around the league for several years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Boss Bailey (2002), Odell Thurman (2003, 2004), Rennie Curran (2008, 2009), Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012), Ramik Wilson (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jarvis Jones (2013), Alec Ogletree (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kendrell Bell (Round 2, 2001), Will Witherspoon (Round 3, 2002), Boss Bailey (Round 2, 2003), Odell Thurman (Round 2, 2005), Rennie Curran (Round 3, 2010), Justin Houston (Round 3, 2011), Akeem Dent (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tony Gilbert (Round 6, 2003).


8. Texas (108)


Texas snuck into the top 10 on the back of Derrick Johnson, who won both the Nagurski and Butkus awards in 2004 and was a consensus All-American in 2003 and 2004 before becoming a 2005 first-round draft pick. The current Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl linebacker accounted for 62 of the Longhorns’ 108 points in the linebacker rankings.

Award winners: Derrick Johnson, Nagurski (2004), Butkus (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Derrick Johnson (2003, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Cory Redding (2001), Derrick Johnson (2002, 2003, 2004), Aaron Harris (2005), Sergio Kindle (2008), Emmanuel Acho (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Derrick Johnson (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Roddrick Muckelroy (Round 4, 2010), Sergio Kindle (Round 2, 2010), Sam Acho (Round 4, 2011), Keenan Robinson (Round 4, 2012), Alex Okafor (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Emmanuel Acho (Round 6, 2012).


9. Boston College (104): Luke Kuechly is responsible for most of the points here. The four-time award winner in 2011, was twice named a consensus All-American, earned all-conference honors three times and became a first-round draft pick. That's a grand total of 84 points for the Carolina Panthers star. The Eagles also have an active string of first-team all-conference linebackers that started with Mark Herzlich in 2008.

Award winners: Luke Kuechly, Nagurski (2011), Lombardi (2011), Lott (2011), Butkus (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Luke Kuechly (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Mark Herzlich (2008), Luke Kuechly (2009, 2010, 2011), Nick Clancy (2012), Kevin Pierre-Louis (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Luke Kuechly (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Pierre-Louis (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


T-10. Maryland (100)

E.J. Henderson accounts for more than half of Maryland’s points thanks in large part to his two national awards and two consensus All-America designations. Henderson is among three Terrapins linebackers who made the All-ACC first team twice (along with D’Qwell Jackson and Alex Wujciak), while Shawne Merriman is the only Terp during the 2000s to be selected in the first round of the draft.

Award winners: E.J. Henderson, Bednarik (2002), Butkus (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002).
First-team all-conference: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002), D’Qwell Jackson (2004, 2005), Erin Henderson (2007), Alex Wujciak (2009, 2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Shawne Merriman (Round 1, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: E.J. Henderson (Round 2, 2003), Leon Joe (Round 4, 2004), D’Qwell Jackson (Round 2, 2006)
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Moise Fokou (Round 7, 2009).


T-10. Notre Dame (100)


There are times when a single player’s excellence is the difference between a school's spot falling near the top of the rankings and its sitting further down the list. Such is the case with Manti Te’o, who accounted for 82 points in his incredible 2012 season alone (seven national awards, a consensus All-America selection and then becoming a second-round NFL pick). Notre Dame is penalized in these team rankings by not earning points for all-conference honorees, so its spot in this top 10 speaks to how impressive Te’o’s 2012 season truly was.

Award winners: Manti Te’o, Maxwell (2012), Camp (2012), Nagurski (2021), Lombardi (2012), Bednarik (2012), Lott (2012), Butkus (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Manti Te’o (2012).
First-team all-conference: Not applicable.
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky Boiman (Round 4, 2002), Courtney Watson (Round 2, 2004), Manti Te’o (Round 2, 2013), Prince Shembo (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Anthony Denman (Round 7, 2001), Tyreo Harrison (Round 6, 2002), Darius Fleming (Round 5, 2012).

REST OF “LINEBACKER U” RANKINGS
98 – Florida State; 92 – UCLA; 72 – Florida, Stanford; 66 – Iowa, TCU, Wisconsin; 64 – Nebraska; 62 – Michigan State, Oregon State, Tennessee; 60 – LSU, Pittsburgh; 58 – Virginia Tech; 56 – West Virginia; 48 – NC State; 46 – Michigan, Ole Miss, Purdue; 44 – BYU, California, Kansas State; 42 – North Carolina; 40 – Illinois; 38 – Clemson, Iowa State, Texas A&M; 36 – Arizona, Auburn, Syracuse; 34 – Arizona State, Utah, Wake Forest; 32 – Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia; 30 – Arkansas, Georgia Tech; 28 – Kentucky; 26 – Northwestern, Vanderbilt; 24 – Colorado, Oregon; 20 – Washington; 18 – Oklahoma State, Rutgers; 16 – Mississippi State; 14 – Kansas, Louisville; 12 – Baylor; 10 – Washington State; 6 – Duke; 4 – Texas Tech; 2 – Minnesota; 0 – Indiana

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