NCF Nation: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Everett GolsonMatt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsA young Notre Dame offense now looks to Everett Golson as the team's leader.
Ivan Simmons is the cousin who gives Everett Golson tough love, the guy who hosted Golson in Chicago two summers ago before the quarterback flew to San Diego to work with position guru George Whitfield Jr.

But with a 3-0, turnover-less start from Golson that has generated some early Heisman talk, Simmons is finding it harder and harder to nitpick.

"Sometimes I talk to him about just body language, the way you carry yourself on the field," Simmons told ESPN.com. "He's had some bad throws here and there. Just more telling him how proud I am. He's made some good steps in the right direction, and [he needs] to keep going forward. There's no going backward."

That demeanor, ironically enough, may be the area Golson has improved the most since his last stint as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. The 780 passing yards and 11 total touchdowns speak for themselves. But Golson's assertiveness as the Irish's leader is a big reason why coach Brian Kelly thinks this team has the highest ceiling of any of the five he's coached in South Bend, Indiana.

Take last week in Indianapolis, with the Irish slogging through the first half against an overmatched Purdue team. Golson saw an opportunity to establish his footing as the director of the offense, bringing the unit together on the sideline and telling his teammates to stay on-course when things weren't coming as easily as they did in the previous two weeks.

"Just really try to encourage them, make sure everybody had a sound mind, make sure everybody wasn't dropping off the bandwagon," Golson said of the impromptu gathering. "So just making sure everybody was good."

Said receiver Corey Robinson: "It turned the game around. We were down and he pulled us together and said, 'Look, guys, we need to pull together, not for anyone else, for us as a team.' … It really does help having a central, focused leader telling us to come together and fight for each other."

Golson said he understands that role better now. Notre Dame has accommodated that, making him available for post-practice interviews every week so far this season, a far cry from his last stint as starter, when Kelly had said that he was not ready to put Golson out in front as the face of the program.

Now? Kelly laughed off a Heisman Trophy question following a Week 2 win with a "why-not" approach. He reiterated later that week that he has no worries about his quarterback possibly becoming suffocated by the extra attention.

"It's been the journey that he's on and that journey started when he was a freshman," Kelly said. "Obviously when he got his opportunity to come back here, he wanted to obviously take control of his destiny on offense and that means be a leader. Since he's been here, he's gradually been more assertive every single day, and as he's become more comfortable with who he is, he's holding others accountable."

Kelly said there is still room for growth in that department, as he hopes to see Golson speak up even more.

Robinson's first experience with Golson had come after the receiver enrolled early in the spring of 2013, right before Golson's suspension. Though Robinson admits he was just trying to get his feet under him at that point, even he can see a noticeable difference in Golson since then.

"I didn't really have time to think about what Everett was doing," Robinson said. "But just looking at him then, looking at the tape, he's more comfortable out there. He's more of a natural leader. Whatever he says, everyone's going to listen because everyone respects Everett and everyone respects the work he does off the field and the work he produces on the field."

Simmons, Golson's 34-year-old cousin, sees it all coming together at once for Golson, who had enrolled at Notre Dame just days after his 18th birthday and admittedly struggled with schoolwork while redshirting during his freshman year in 2011.

Now the 21-year-old redshirt junior has returned from exile and improved his career mark to 13-1, the guy everyone looks to on a young offense.

"You have to step up and be that man at that time, and that's what he's trying to do," Simmons said. "You've got to watch your body language; you want your teammates to see that you're confident and they're going to thrive off of you, so you lead by showing examples."
Notre Dame completed its sixth Shamrock Series this past weekend. This year's stop for the Irish's home-away-from-home game series was Indianapolis.

There were several academic functions held in the area. There was the game morning Mass, at Saint John the Evangelist. There were three community service projects, including a restoration of a high school.

And, of course, there was a football game at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Irish beat Purdue 30-14 to improve to 3-0.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCoach Brian Kelly has led Notre Dame to a 3-0 start despite being without three starters and two other lineup regulars.
They did this without four players who have been suspended from games and practices for a full month, since news of an internal academic investigation became public Aug. 15. (A fifth player was suspended 13 days later.) The investigation was launched by the Office of the General Counsel on July 29, when the compliance office was given evidence. Coach Brian Kelly said Aug. 28 that the investigation was complete. He said Sunday that, as of this past Friday, the five players had not yet had honesty committee hearings to voice their responses to whatever the findings were.

Kelly has said he does not know much. Anyone with a Twitter account can tell that those being investigated are also in the dark. They are far from alone.

This is fine and all, assuming business is being taken care of in a proper, timely manner behind the scenes. And there is no reason to think that it is not. But as the Irish enter their bye week with little clarity regarding if or when they will get any of those suspended players back — and as those players continue to attend classes with their fate at the school still hanging in the balance — it begs the question of how long is too long when it comes to dealing with this matter. At what point do these kids, however innocent or guilty they may be, deserve an answer that could have major implications for their academic and athletic futures?

There is no set public blueprint for this, to be clear. Yes, Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey, who lost leading scorer Jerian Grant for the spring semester last season because of an academic mishap, said recently that the entire honor-code process with Grant took about three weeks. But these cases are often apples and oranges: Grant's ordeal presumably took place with classes still in session last fall, while Notre Dame fall classes this year did not start until Aug. 26, 11 days after the investigation into the football players became public. Grant's case was also not as widespread as with the football players.

To Kelly's credit, he has been remarkably diplomatic publicly, going through the season's first three games without three starters and two other potential contributors to a football team he is paid handsomely to coach to success, and doing so without complaint.

"This is separation from church and state in the sense," he said Thursday. "This is the deans, and they have their domain and that's their business, and it truly is their business, and I respect that. They don't give me advice about play calling, and that's the truth of the matter. Whether that's a poor analogy or not, they handle academic honesty and they handle those things, and that's their domain and that's their world, and I want my guys back. But I get it, and they work and that's their job, and so I really don't have any say on it."

Notre Dame is about more than athletics; we know. Athletes and nonathletes will receive the same treatment; we get it. But the idea that this whole ordeal cannot be completed too soon for fear of unequal treatment or misguided priorities is a bit much, especially in light of another successful Shamrock showcase of Notre Dame in a major metropolitan area.

"The Shamrock Series has activated our city," Indiana Sports Corporation spokesman John Dedman told the school's athletic website. "Notre Dame has made this so much more than an athletic event. The university has been involved in service projects in the city, and there have been academic events, and the city has embraced it. It's just been great for Indianapolis."

More than an athletic event, but only possible because of athletics. Those are still pretty important, too. And there's no shame in acknowledging that.

ACC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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The ACC makes no sense right now. Virginia Tech thumps Ohio State on the road, then loses to East Carolina at home. Boston College coughs up 214 rushing yards to James Conner one week, then holds USC to 20 yards on the ground the next. Georgia Tech is 3-0, but has hardly looked impressive yet. Oh, and there’s that little matter of the conference’s top two teams facing off this coming Saturday.

For now, we’re doing the best we can with a fluid situation, so fair warning that these projections are a moving target at this point in the season.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Virginia Tech
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Pittsburgh
Belk Bowl: Duke
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Louisville
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Virginia
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: North Carolina
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Georgia Tech

*Note: Notre Dame is eligible for a bid to any ACC tie-in game unless it is selected for a New Year’s Six game, which can include playing an ACC team in the Orange Bowl.

Kelly: No update on suspended five

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The waiting game continues for No. 11 Notre Dame as it approaches its third game of the season still without answers regarding the five players being held out amid an internal academic investigation.

Coach Brian Kelly said Thursday that he still has not been updated on the status of the suspended players since he last shared information on the matter with reporters. Whether he was referring to his comments on Sept. 4 that none of the players had been through honesty committee hearings yet is unclear. What remains clear, though, is that Kelly and the Irish would welcome the players back for Saturday night's game against Purdue if they were cleared Friday.

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Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsDaVaris Daniels and four other Notre Dame players remain suspended as an academic investigation continues.
"We'd get them down there as quickly as we could and welcome them and put them in the uniform," Kelly said, two days before the Irish face the Boilermakers in Indianapolis. "Whether we could get them to know what we're doing offensively, defensively and special teams, who knows about that? But they would certainly be welcomed as part of our football team."

Kelly reiterated that he does not know much about the process that has been going on for nearly a month now, after the school announced Aug. 15 that it was withholding DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams, Kendall Moore and KeiVarae Russell out from practices and games as it investigated academic misconduct. The school later announced, on Aug. 28, that Eilar Hardy would be withheld as well, and Kelly said that same day that the investigation was complete, meaning only hearings and potential appeals remained.

The players attend classes and have been welcomed back in the football complex, eating with teammates and working out with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, though Kelly has chosen to hold them out of team meetings.

The school had said that the Office of General Counsel initiated an immediate investigation when the compliance office was referred to evidence July 29.

Kelly said Thursday that he is anxious, that the players are anxious and that reporters are anxious, but that he does not know much, choosing to let the academic arm of the school conduct matters as it sees fit.

"This is separation from church and state in the sense," Kelly said. "This is the deans and they have their domain and that's their business, and it truly is their business, and I respect that. They don't give me advice about play-calling and that's the truth of the matter. Whether that's a poor analogy or not, they handle academic honesty and they handle those things and that's their domain and that's their world, and I want my guys back but I get it, and they work and that's their job and so I really don't have any say on it."

Notes: Kelly said that former Irish and NFL player and current graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy has not missed a day of practice despite undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer. The NCAA allowed the school to hire former player Pat Eilers as a GA in light of the matter, but Kelly said Eilers cannot coach a unit during practice while McCarthy is still there.

"Incredible," Kelly said of McCarthy. "His resolve and his [desire] to be out at practice, just [a] pretty inspirational young man. It's been awesome to be around him and to get to know him even more, it doesn't surprise me why he's been such a favorite around here. He's a pretty inspirational kid."

Kelly also said Torii Hunter Jr. (Grade 3 groin tear) will not play Saturday despite showing progress throughout the week.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has put together a top 15 recruiting class that should only get better as we head toward signing day, and Rutgers has a real chance to slow down Penn State’s recruiting momentum in New Jersey this weekend.

Ties run deep between Cutcliffe, Weis

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David Cutcliffe can't help but think sometimes at how he ended up where he is now. Duke's head coach -- the reigning winner of numerous national coach of the year awards -- had been hired by Charlie Weis at Notre Dame just nine short years ago, but never got to coach a down with the Fighting Irish.

He suffered chest pains. He underwent open-heart surgery. He had numerous other complications, and he eventually had to walk away from a potential dream opportunity.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsDavid Cutcliffe agreed to join Charlie Weis' staff at Notre Dame before health problems prevented that.
"It was an emotional time for me and I knew that at that point, and I told Charlie Weis, 'I can’t earn my paycheck there,' " Cutcliffe said. "No way that I can get myself back and ready to benefit Notre Dame’s football program. I was very appreciative of the opportunity he had given me there."

Cutcliffe and Weis will meet again Saturday when Duke hosts Kansas, and it's hard not to look at how each's career has played out since initially agreeing to hook up in South Bend. Adding to the layer is the fact that Cutcliffe's current boss, Blue Devils athletic director Kevin White, was in charge of Weis back when both were with the Irish.

Weis couldn't overlook the connections this week, opening his Tuesday press conference by thanking White for the opportunity that the AD allowed the first-time head coach less than a decade ago.

"Probably one of the finest men that I've ever met in my entire life," Weis said of White. "He taught me a lot about college football. He taught me patience."

The parallels between Weis and Cutcliffe run a little bit deeper. Weis had initially hired the ex-Ole Miss head coach because of his reputation working with quarterbacks and calling plays. With eventual Heisman Trophy finalist Brady Quinn waiting in the wings, the pairing seemed perfect.

There are also the ties that linger in the NFL -- Cutcliffe from his well-publicized work with the Manning brothers, Weis with his three Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady's offensive coordinator. Weis said this week that he's never debated with Cutcliffe whose pro pupils are better, joking that he's too biased about Brady to even bother with an argument.

"I’m telling you, he’s the most knowledgeable, smartest football coach I’ve been around," Cutcliffe said of Weis. "He was like a machine, just the system. It was pretty amazing to watch him work and watch how his mind worked, and not only his football knowledge, but his motivational skills and his energy."

The little time Cutcliffe and Weis did spend together came on the heels of what Cutcliffe said was an unusual time in his life. He was unceremoniously fired from Ole Miss after his only losing season. Upon Weis hiring him, Cutcliffe lived with then-Irish and current Duke offensive line coach John Latina in South Bend before the health scare forced him out of coaching for a year.

Weis, meanwhile, made consecutive BCS bowls in his first two years at Notre Dame before getting fired after going 16-21 during his final three years. Assistant stops with the Kansas City Chiefs and Florida gave way to his hiring as the Jayhawks' head coach, where he's now 5-20 in his third season. During that time, Cutcliffe moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where his two sons attended college. He eventually became Tennessee's offensive coordinator from 2006-07 before landing the head job at Duke, where his work in getting the Blue Devils to the ACC title game in six years has further cemented his respect within the profession.

"What he's done there is what I would expect him to do anywhere," Weis said. "Just about anywhere he's gone in an ample amount of time he gets things going the right way, especially offensively. He's a very, very good coach."

How would things look today had the two quarterback gurus gotten the chance to collaborate with the Irish? That's for others to debate. Cutcliffe, for one, is content with how things turned out, as strange as the path that led him there might have been.

"I’d never been without a job in my life," Cutcliffe said. "We lived (in Knoxville) that spring, summer and fall. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know if I’d coach again, but I always think there’s purpose to things that happen if we do what we should do with them. I believe the couple years I spent back at Tennessee were rewarding, but I think I found my right place here.

"Not to be eerie and now to be, 'Oh this is all destiny.' I’m not saying that. I was able to find my right place, and that’s Duke University."
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To win at the highest level in the SEC, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knows he has to recruit well in Memphis, Tennessee, and Charlie Strong's job of returning Texas to the top just got more difficult after the loss to BYU this past weekend.


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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- So often during last year's nine-win season, and even in the 12-win campaign before that, an exasperated Brian Kelly would emerge from the locker room, seemingly having to defend another strenuous triumph and reaffirm that all was well with the state of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame would beat USC 14-10. The Irish would beat Michigan State 17-13. They would beat Michigan 13-6. A win is a win is a win -- 37 in all through his first four seasons, best start ever by a Notre Dame coach -- and Kelly would remind everyone, including his own players at times, that you take it and move on.

The Irish stand 2-0 following Saturday's shutout of Michigan, halfway through the "manageable" first third of their schedule. And while the competition level through two weeks can be debated, and while all that premature Heisman talk is, well, premature, it is a whole lot easier this time around to look down the road and envision the tantalizing possibilities that could await these Irish if all comes together.

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Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame couldn't ask for a better start than it's gotten from QB Everett Golson, who has completed 66 percent of his passes and accounted for eight TDs.
Notre Dame's 31-0 win over Michigan will go down in history as the game that ended the nation's longest streak without being shut out. And yet so much of the discussion in the game's aftermath was about the offense. More specifically, its quarterback.

This was far from an overnight revelation for Kelly. It has, nonetheless, breathed new life into a program amid a new era of scheduling (ACC deal) and postseason possibilities (playoff/access bowls).

"When I came to Notre Dame, I didn't think it would take us five years to kind of get to the offense that we wanted to run," Kelly said Sunday. "It's just the circumstances have been such. But we're starting to evolve into the kind of offensive and defensive structure that allows us to play fast and play aggressive, play the kind of style of football we want to play. It's taken some time to get there, and we've still got a long way to go. But it's obviously been a good start."

It begins with Everett Golson, the once-beleaguered signal-caller who has bounced back from a season-long suspension to do everything asked of him and then some through two games. He has completed 37 of 56 passes for 521 yards, tallying eight total touchdowns and avoiding a single turnover. He has shown much more command of the offense and a better understanding of the game as a whole, zipping passes before defenses can get to him and making something out of nothing when under duress. He has done all this despite being the victim of a number of drops, despite missing his best target in DaVaris Daniels, one of five suspended players whose status perplexingly remains unclear.

"I think they also use him well," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke, whose team forced Golson out of action two years ago before being picked apart by him the second time around, Saturday.

"I think Brian does a good job. There's a lot of three-step game in it, a lot of slants. I think that he's matured. I think I said that this week coming in, he's a much better quarterback than he was two years ago. Just watching the Rice game, I would say the same thing after watching our game."

The Stanford vulnerabilities that an undermanned USC squad revealed Saturday make the Irish's Oct. 4 matchup with the Cardinal look all the more winnable. Notre Dame may very well be favored now in its next four games and, frankly, should win those next four games.

The math isn't all that difficult, not with that Oct. 18 date at the national champs' house standing out a little bolder than the rest: Can Notre Dame enter Tallahassee with a 6-0 record?

Who knew three weeks ago, when news of the school's internal academic investigation broke, that that would be a question asked so soon? Who knew that Kelly and Golson would be fielding Heisman Trophy questions two games into the season?

"Avoid the noise," Golson said, "avoid the noise."

"Yeah, let's put him up for it," Kelly was cracking minutes earlier. "Sure. Throw him in there."

The novelty of a new season has brought on new questions through two games. And the man answering most of them no longer looks worse for the wear.
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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."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Divorce is always messy, especially when the opposing attorneys are two of the biggest fan bases in all of college football.

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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.
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Notre Dame had already made its intentions to leave Michigan clear, and both sides had seemingly put on a brave face with the end of their relationship looming on Saturday.

But it turns out the Fighting Irish already had a dance partner lined up and actually couldn't wait to rub it in the faces of the Wolverines. The new flame obviously had no misgivings about coming public either, since Ohio State was surely giddy at the chance to show off its sparkling new dates after swooping in for a couple of matchups that used to belong to their most hated rival.

OK, maybe the love triangle isn't quite accurate. And compared to what Michigan has had for years, the Buckeyes are only going to get a brief fling anyway. But Ohio State and Notre Dame teaming up to announce the storied programs would be meeting in 2022 and '23 just two days before the last scheduled edition of the series between the Irish and Wolverines definitely seems like more than mere coincidence.

For Notre Dame, it's another example that it will be just fine on its own, like it always has been. It doesn't need Michigan around to ensure that the schedule is filled with marquee matchups, even though it's still weird to picture a season that doesn't include those two teams hooking up and comparing historical résumés.

 And while the Buckeyes have been steadily, aggressively stocking up on powerhouse programs to add to their future slates, including a two-game set with Texas that will impressively coincide with the Notre Dame series, the Irish now becomes the crown jewel of the matchups down the road -- and it probably could have never happened without Michigan being spurned in the process.

That's a win for both sides in the new series, and if Michigan's feelings get a little hurt in the process, that's just a bonus for Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer.

After so long together and all those unforgettable moments, perhaps the Irish could have waited a couple days to pay proper respect to the relationship. But maybe those "chicken" comments wore them down, and they couldn't resist fighting back in some small way before the teams even hit the field this weekend.

Notre Dame now gets to show off how easy it is for them to move on and find somebody new, and Ohio State is never going to miss out on a chance to try to make its rival jealous. That just leaves Michigan alone on the outside -- with nothing to cheer for but mutual destruction in Columbus in 2022 and South Bend in '23.
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As a placekicker, Justin Tucker abides by the philosophy of focusing on the action and not the consequence. On Thanksgiving Night 2011 in College Station, Texas, as he lined up with a one-point deficit and just three seconds left in the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry as all knew it, Tucker couldn't help but betray that creed.

"I can tell you in that particular situation it was very difficult to put those emotions into the back of my mind and just focus on the task at hand," said Tucker, now with the Ravens. "But we were able to do it, and I'll tell you what: That place shut up real quick; 88,000 people -- you could probably hear a pin drop in there."

This is the lasting memory of one of several college football rivalries that has gone by the wayside in the era of realignment. This is, on a smaller scale, the opportunity that awaits Michigan and Notre Dame on Saturday night in their final scheduled meeting.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEverett Golson can etch himself further into Notre Dame lore if he leads the Fighting Irish to a series-ending victory over Michigan on Saturday.
Brian Kelly said the first thing he thinks of regarding the Wolverines is that he's lost to them three times. That image can change in a hurry with a signature blow in one final matchup under the lights.

Just ask those from other dormant rivalries, Pittsburgh-West Virginia among them.

"When I think back of all the frustrating losses of my career, and we had a few, that's the worst by far," former Panthers defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said of the 2011 finale of the Backyard Brawl.

Pitt entered Morgantown looking to upset the eventual Orange Bowl champs. The Panthers were ACC-bound in two years; the Mountaineers Big 12-bound the next fall. Todd Graham, in his lone year coaching Pitt, relayed how he'd been told he could lose 11 games in a year so long as he beat WVU. Former players talked to the team about how important it would be to end the series on top.

A 13-point Pitt lead eventually gave way to a 21-20 defeat, punctuated by a Tino Sunseri fumble on the last play.

"I just remember as the clock ran out I just fell on my face, I just hit the ground for about 30 seconds, man," Alecxih said. "I just remember that agony, and just knowing that that was going to be the last game, and we were always going to say we lost the last Backyard Brawl."

All this from a player and program that, four years earlier, had been part of an upset that changed the college football landscape.

WVU was a four-touchdown favorite and a win away from a BCS title-game berth when the three-win Panthers visited to close 2007.

"It was just so gloomy, and all I really remember is just getting whacked with beer cans," then-freshman quarterback Pat Bostick said of the bus ride in. "I go, 'OK, this is everything people say it's going to be.' There weren't necessarily batteries being thrown or nickels or dimes being thrown, but there were certainly some obscenities."

Bostick threw a wrench into the Mountaineers' plans, orchestrating a 13-9 win that knocked WVU out of title contention. Coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan less than three weeks later.

For the entirety of the hour-plus ride home, Bostick and his teammates sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads," the official song of the state they were departing.

"To be honest with you, I don't know if I can count on one hand how many people I actually saw after the game," Bostick said. "It was like the place died. It was just a ghost town after. I don't know where they all went, how fast they (left), but they got out of their quick."

Bostick was at the 2011 finale in his current role as the team's radio analyst, and he joked he wasn't sure he'd make it down to the locker room alive in his Pitt polo.

The intensity was considerably less hostile the last time Missouri and Kansas faced off, a 24-10 Tigers win in 2011. Part of that can be attributed to the neutral-site atmosphere at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, where the game was played from 2007-11. Part of that can also be attributed to the overall apathy of Kansas fans, former Missouri receiver TJ Moe said.

"They were so horrible in those days," Moe said. "We were trying to get a win and move along there. We certainly didn't like those guys, but they came in so defeated after losing nine games before they even got to us that it really wasn't that bad."

An O'Fallon, Mo., native who grew up on the Border War, Moe said it still remains a point of pride that he went 3-0 against the Jayhawks during his career. He finds it hard to believe the game is no longer played after the Tigers moved to the SEC. From his perch, the ball is in Kansas' court.

"We just want to play you guys because the rivalry is fun, so if you don't want to play, fine, we'll get somebody else," Moe said. "It's a rivalry that's a big deal to fans on both sides. Everybody at Kansas is saying, 'You guys left us. You screwed us. We're not playing you anymore.' Which is fine."

Michigan-Notre Dame lacks the longevity of the others, as it has been played just 41 times, thanks to several interruptions. The Backyard Brawl was played 104 times, the Border War was played 120 times and Texas-Texas A&M was played 118 times before the Aggies' SEC move.

Realignment might have other ideas, but everyone interviewed for this story expressed hope his rivalry would return.

"What is truly lost at its core is a great football matchup between two -- I won't say two 'great' teams -- I'll say one great team and their little brother," Tucker said, laughing.

For now, he has his forever moment in rivalry lore, and that could be at-stake again this weekend should the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup resemble those of recent past.

"The fact that we got to end it with a bang, the Texas Longhorns got to put the dagger in that 118-year rivalry," Tucker said, "that's a great feeling."
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.

ACC bowl projections: Preseason

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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

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