NCF Nation: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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It's tough to imagine a more exhausting and stressful conclusion to a recruiting process than the one Iman Marshall orchestrated. Over the past 10 days, Marshall has taken official visits to Florida State, LSU and Michigan, as well as hosted several coaches at his home and school. But just like on the football field, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect doesn't appear to be fazed at all by what's being thrown at him.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft has passed. Now let's take a quick look at the biggest draft deadline winners and losers across the ACC:

Winners

Clemson: The Tigers did lose an underclassman: punter Bradley Pinion. Head-scratching, yes. But the reason the Tigers are winners this year is that they held on to all their top offensive talent. While nobody was in position to declare early, it still is notable that this is the first time Clemson has not had an underclassman on offense turn pro since 2010. That could very well change once these freshmen start growing up, but for now, it is good to be co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott.

Duke: The Blue Devils had only one player who could have potentially left early: safety Jeremy Cash. When he announced he would return to school, there must have been a huge sigh of relief. Not only does the Duke secondary now return all its starters, it returns its best player. Cash had 111 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles this past season. With linebacker Kelby Brown (ACL) expected healthy for 2015, Duke potentially has two of the best defensive players in the ACC.

Notre Dame: So the Irish have only one toe in the ACC football waters, but they did end up a huge winner, and that is something teams with Notre Dame on the 2015 schedule need to know. All underclassmen who could have returned did: defensive lineman Sheldon Day, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center/guard Nick Martin and quarterback Everett Golson (at least for now). Stanley was the biggest surprise because some had projected him as a first-round pick on a few early mock drafts. While Golson's status remains unclear, getting Day, Stanley and Martin back means expectations will again be high in South Bend, Indiana.

Losers

Florida State: The Seminoles might be the biggest draft-deadline loser in the country, with five players turning pro early this year: quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Of that group, Winston and Goldman are listed on the first Mel Kiper Jr. mock draft. Losing players to the draft is nothing new for the Seminoles, but they have taken heavy losses from their underclassmen in the past three years: 12 in all. Add to that losses from a terrific senior group, including Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, and 2015 might end up being a bit of a rebuilding year for the Seminoles as they get a boatload of young guys ready to play. On the bright side, kicker Roberto Aguayo and linebacker Terrance Smith announced they would return to school.

Louisville: Many expected safety Gerod Holliman to leave after he tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions, despite some questions about his pro potential. But losing defensive backs Charles Gaines and James Sample has to be a blow the Cardinals were not quite expecting. Louisville, which ranked No. 5 in the nation in pass efficiency defense, must now replace five of its top six defensive backs in 2015. Put another way, Louisville is losing players responsible for 21 of the 26 interceptions it had last season.

Miami: While we all expected running back Duke Johnson to leave, losing him is still tough for a Miami offense that revolved heavily around him in the past three seasons. Johnson leaves as the school's all-time career all-purpose yards and rushing yards leader. Add the departure of offensive tackle Ereck Flowers and now Miami has to replace its two best underclassmen, plus top seniors Clive Walford and Denzel Perryman.
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Few recruiting battles are more intriguing than the ones going on in Texas for high-profile players such as Daylon Mack, Soso Jamabo and Chris Warren III. What schools they pick could tilt recruiting supremacy in the Lone Star State moving forward


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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Most coaches at AFCA agree an early signing period is a good thing, but when to have it will be a hot topic at Tuesday’s NCAA recruiting seminar.


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About two dozen schools have expressed interest in Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, if the Irish quarterback decides to transfer, a source told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Golson did not start the Irish’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl victory against LSU, prompting speculation that Golson would leave the school after the spring semester. Golson is scheduled to graduate from Notre Dame in May. At that point, he could transfer to another school, if he desires, to play his final season this fall.

Of the two dozen schools expressing interest in Golson, six were SEC schools, the source said. Golson has not contacted any schools about transferring, the source said.

Last Monday, the Times-Picayune reported that Golson had reached out to LSU about possibly transferring to the school. Later that day Golson tweeted: “Don’t believe everything you hear.”

On Thursday, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said: “I expect (Golson) to be back and competing for the starting position. I know he expects to be the starter.”

Golson has thrown for 5,850 yards, 41 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in two seasons with the Fighting Irish. He started 23 of 25 games. Sophomore Malik Zaire started for Golson in the Music City Bowl, with Golson coming off the bench in the second quarter.

Golson did not play during the 2013 season after he was suspended from Notre Dame for “poor academic judgment” and was not enrolled in the school. He returned to Notre Dame before the 2014 season.
Several players, like Notre Dame commitment Shaun Crawford, have already surprised with how well they’ve played at the Under Armour All-America Game.

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Instant Analysis: Notre Dame 31, LSU 28

December, 30, 2014
12/30/14
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In an entertaining back-and-forth affair, two storied programs traded blows at LP Field before Notre Dame finally topped LSU 31-28 on Tuesday in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Here are the high points from the game:

It was over when: Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza connected on a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give the Fighting Irish the win. It came at the end of an impressive final drive as Notre Dame marched 71 yards in 14 plays and took 5:41 off the clock to close it out. The Irish used both of their quarterbacks, Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, throughout the day and on the final drive.

Game ball goes to: Brian Kelly. The Notre Dame coach handled the quarterback situation masterfully, starting Zaire, who played well (96 rushing yards, 96 passing yards, two total touchdowns). Zaire started the game with an impressive scoring drive and the Irish rotated Golson (90 passing yards on 6-of-11 attempts) in throughout the day. The plan, though unorthodox, was effective overall. Kelly has won eight games in each of his first five seasons at Notre Dame.

How the game was won: The Fighting Irish were terrific offensively and controlled time of possession. Notre Dame only outgained LSU 449 yards to 436 but held a 37:00-23:00 time of possession advantage. The Irish were 11-of-17 on third downs. Defensively, they got some key stops late and got an important -- yet controversial -- stop at the end of the first half on an LSU fake field goal try. Referees ruled that LSU holder Brad Kragthorpe did not cross the goal line, and upon official review the play stood, which turned out to be a key sequence in such a close game.

Stat of the game: Leonard Fournette became only the second freshman in LSU history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and now holds the LSU freshman record for rushing yards, passing Justin Vincent. Fournette concluded the season with 1,034 rushing yards and had five games of 100 yards or more in his final nine games. On Tuesday he was a handful for Notre Dame, rushing for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries and adding a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The only question is whether the Tigers got him the ball enough on Tuesday.

Best play: The game-winning field goal was the most important, but the most highlight-worthy plays belonged to Fournette, who gave us a couple to choose from. While his 100-yard kickoff return was impressive, we’ll go with his 89-yard touchdown run that gave the Tigers a 28-21 lead in the third quarter. It looked like two Notre Dame defenders were closing in on Fournette, only for him to maintain top speed and sprint to the end zone. What a freshman.
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Two storied programs with rich football tradition meet Tuesday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) when LSU takes on Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Let's look ahead to the matchup:

What's at stake: Not as much as either team would hope. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 nationally at one point this season but stumbled down the stretch. Notre Dame (7-5) dropped its last four regular-season contests; LSU (8-4) lost two straight, including a shutout at the hands of Arkansas, before getting a road win Thanksgiving Day at Texas A&M. That said, the two big-name programs should be fired up to meet, and getting a win would be a nice positive for either squad. Brian Kelly has won eight games in each of his first four seasons at Notre Dame, and a win would give him a fifth straight such season. LSU has won eight games in a season for the past 15 years, and it is the longest such streak of any Power 5 conference team.

Players to watch:Notre Dame receiver William Fuller is tied for third in the nation in touchdown catches after hauling in 14 this season. He leads the Fighting Irish in receptions (71) and receiving yards (1,037). LSU true freshman running back Leonard Fournette leads the Tigers with 891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and has four games of 100 or more rushing yards in LSU's past eight games.

Out-of-conference success: Under Miles, LSU has enjoyed plenty of success against teams outside the SEC. Since 2005, LSU is 45-2 against non-SEC teams, with the only two losses coming in bowl games (Penn State in the 2010 Capital One Bowl; Clemson in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl).

Evening up with the SEC: Notre Dame is 3-4 in bowl games against SEC teams and looking to make that mark .500. They have only faced two SEC teams in bowl games in the past 17 years. The past two came in the BCS championship vs. Alabama in 2013 and against LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl, both Notre Dame losses.

Watching the QBs: Kelly announced Monday that Notre Dame redshirt freshman Malik Zaire will get the start over previous starter Everett Golson. Zaire relieved Golson in Notre Dame's regular-season finale against USC, a 49-14 loss. There has been much talk about LSU's quarterback situation and how much time true freshman Brandon Harris will see, but expect starter Anthony Jennings to get the lion's share of the snaps. Jennings told reporters "I'm getting all the one's reps right now. I expect to start and play well."

Stiff defense: LSU's defense, ranked eighth nationally in yards per game, was strong down the stretch. The Tigers allowed only eight touchdowns in regulation in the past six games. Of those eight, only three were on drives of 75 yards or longer.
Notre Dame is going with Malik Zaire as its starter for the finale, and he is really the only choice.

What, you thought status quo would get the job done after an embarrassing four-game losing streak to end the season? After a second-half meltdown in which the once-high-performing offense could not give the young, beaten-up defense even the slightest break? After 22 turnovers over the season's final nine games, the last one ultimately forcing Brian Kelly to pull the plug on Everett Golson?

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame is turning to redshirt freshman QB Malik Zaire in hopes of snapping a four-game skid.
No, you don't lose to rival USC by 35 points — in a game in which Kelly basically thanked Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian for showing second-half mercy — and do nothing about it.

So the Irish now turn to Zaire, a redshirt freshman who has said and done all the right things whenever the camera's been on him, who possesses plenty of tools but otherwise remains a mystery. He has nine completions for 170 yards on 20 pass attempts to his name, all in garbage time against the Trojans, and he has rushed for one score. He also broke off a 56-yard run on his first career play — again in garbage time — back at the end of a Week 1 rout of Rice, when things still seemed so promising for Notre Dame.

So the southpaw gets his first career call, capping a season in which Kelly insisted again and again that he would not pull a healthy Golson, a stance that does not hold up so well when the public's last impression of your team is a 49-14 loss to a similarly underachieving — and even more beaten-up — rival.

Golson will still play some, Kelly has said, and how else do you keep a fourth-year player who has brought on no shortage of highs and lows for himself focused for a game against an 8-4 team? As good as Golson looked when racing to a 6-0 start and No. 5 ranking, as poised as the one-time Heisman contender was in defeat at defending national champ Florida State, his late-season undoing is as much of an indictment on Kelly as it is the signal-caller. When your quarterback gets overwhelmed as the defense and special teams collapse around him, a lot can be forgiven. When that happens as Year 5 of your regime rounds to a close, when you're supposedly a quarterback whisperer who is still looking for an answer at quarterback after all these years, you have to wonder if it is time to look in the mirror.

For now, though, there is the finale against LSU, a name and a roster big enough to provide a bit of salvage to an otherwise lost season.

A season that was lost under center, more than anywhere else. Making a change at QB underscores that. Whether it was the player or the coach underachieving will become a whole lot clearer for all to see once the lights come on Tuesday for Zaire and there is nowhere to hide.
Kevin White thought he would be a career track-and-field coach before the persistence of the Loras College administration paid off. The Division III school had acted on the recommendation of White confidant Joe Piane, a former longtime Notre Dame cross country coach, and the Dubuque, Iowa institution sought White out as its athletic director.

"I think I'd have buyer's remorse if I left track and field. I don't think I can do it," White remembered. "And then about a month later they came back at me, and I remember sitting with my wife and saying, 'Gosh, do you really think we should consider this?' And of course three or four days later there's a press conference.

"As I tell people all the time: My career has been by absolute happenstance, and I've been the luckiest guy on the planet."

Who knew three decades later that White's influence would possess a chunk of the college sports landscape? His proteges currently call the shots at athletic departments across the country, most notably at a handful of programs in the nation's Power 5 conferences. Forget the Hayden Fry or Nick Saban coaching trees -- the White AD tree covers more ground. And, given its administrative status, it may be even more powerful.

One of its branches is seeking its second national title in as many years (Florida State's Stan Wilcox). Another found himself on the periphery of that title discussion and is readying for Thursday's Goodyear Cotton Bowl (Baylor's Ian McCaw). There are recent Rose Bowl winners (Stanford's Bernard Muir) and departments undergoing heavy makeovers (Penn State's Sandy Barbour). There is also one of White's five kids, Danny, who just made his first football coaching hire in his first athletic director job, at Buffalo.

"I like classic movies, and I really think he's the Godfather in college athletics," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "I just don't think any of us make any kind of move or make any major decision without checking in with the Godfather."

Phillips said he leaned on White this past year when faced with the unprecedented unionization movement from Northwestern football players. One year earlier, Phillips fired Wildcats men's basketball coach Bill Carmody and ended up hiring the only assistant coach among the candidates he interviewed: Duke's Chris Collins.

"It was important for me to get an honest evaluation of a guy that hadn't been in that seat before but certainly seemed to be ready," Phillips said.

The communication between White and Phillips is hardly unique among the White AD tree. Like so many in the inner-circle, Phillips, who started as a hoops graduate assistant at Arizona State, was brought into the administrative world by White, then ASU's athletic director. The two later reunited at Notre Dame when White was the Irish's athletic director, and the Chicago-born Phillips eventually took the top job at Northern Illinois and then Northwestern.

Similar brain-picking occurs during White's twice-a-month conversations with Todd Turner, the founder and president of Collegiate Sports Associates, a search and consulting firm. Former up-and-coming ADs back in the old Yankee Conference -- White at Maine, Turner at UConn--— the two exchange thoughts on the state of college sports, and Turner finds himself in new his day job coming across White's fingerprints with regularity.

"In the number of the searches I've helped manage, his lineage shows up almost every time. And it's because they're prepared and have had a good mentor," Turner said, adding. "I think Kevin has taken his role as a mentor really well. He sees that as part of his responsibility, and I think the proof is in the fact that so many of his proteges have not only gotten jobs, they've been really good at them."

Penn State president Eric Barron has used Turner's firm in each of the past two years, having made AD hires at Florida State (Wilcox) and Penn State (Barbour). Wilcox, who worked under White at Notre Dame and Duke before taking the Seminoles' job, joked that he had never wanted to be an AD during his previous life working in the Big East office, having seen all that was on their plates on a daily basis. White convinced him otherwise, and Barron trusted in that connection, regardless of Wilcox's experience.

"It was very clear that what (Barron) needed was somebody to come in and really run the department," Wilcox said, adding. "And I think he saw that in me, he saw that in the people that Kevin helped train that came from his tree, that these are individuals that are ready, and that they know how to run the department. And I think he felt very comfortable that he wouldn't have to always be looking over my shoulder."

Added Barbour, the former Cal athletic director who worked under White at Tulane and Notre Dame: "That speaks to Kevin's reputation. And in Eric's case, how much confidence Eric has in Kevin's recommendation. Kevin's not just going to recommend, or they're not just going to support people off his tree. But everybody in America is calling Kevin: 'Who would you recommend for my opening at the AD job?' "

Many of White's colleagues were in New York earlier this month to see him accept the John L. Toner Award, for excellence in athletic administration. The social club, so to speak, gets together often on the road at receptions and dinners, with Barbour joking that the AD with the biggest department budget -- now her -- buys for everyone.

"What's so fun about it is that at our cores, we all carry those principles and, more importantly, values, but we're really different people," she said. "Very different personalities, but we're a wide variety of principles among the group and we kind of execute it in very different ways. But when it comes right down to it, you can see Kevin's influence in every one of us."

Wilcox, who has seen a wide range of success and turmoil in barely a year on the job at Florida State, finds himself repeating quips White would often say to bring levity to day-to-day situations: That's why God made beer. Or: This too shall pass.

All of White's kids have followed in his footsteps to some degree, in the sports or education industry. In addition to Danny, the Buffalo AD, there is Mike, Louisiana Tech's head men's basketball coach, and Brian, Army's associate AD for development. His daughters, Mariah and Maureen, are studying sports law at Tulane and teaching high school English in Arizona, respectively.

As silly season winds to a close, and as new hires get acquainted with their bosses, a prevalent pop-culture axiom rings particularly true within college athletics.

"It's like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon," Wilcox said. "It's the six degrees of Kevin White."
When LSU and Notre Dame were ranked in the top 10 at points earlier in the season, nobody would have predicted that they would eventually meet in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. And yet here we are.

LSU (8-4) and Notre Dame (7-5) stumbled down the stretch to land in Nashville, Tennessee, and set up their 11th all-time meeting -- the most between Notre Dame and any SEC program.

A bowl win will put a positive spin on a disappointing season for the Tigers or Fighting Irish. Here, LSU writer David Ching and Notre Dame writer Matt Fortuna discuss what a win would mean, as well as best- and worst-case scenarios for the two teams.

What a win would mean for LSU: From a bragging-rights perspective, a win on Dec. 30 would give LSU a winning record (the programs are currently 5-5 head-to-head) against the Fighting Irish. Obviously that would make for a nice historical footnote. As for its modern-day impact, the Tigers are hoping to repeat what happened the last time they met Notre Dame in a bowl. LSU’s 2006 team blasted Notre Dame to end that season and went on to win a BCS title the following year. LSU has some questions to answer this offseason -- particularly at quarterback -- but after enduring some growing pains with a young roster, the Tigers believe they can be playoff contenders next season. A win in Nashville would be a good way to kickstart the offseason.

What a win would mean for Notre Dame: A win over No. 23 LSU would easily be Notre Dame's best victory of the season. More importantly, it would stop the bleeding that comes with a season-ending four-game losing streak. The Irish need positive momentum going into next season, especially with so many familiar faces expected to return in 2015. A lot of that could go out the door if this same cast of characters enters riding a five-game slide and wondering how it all went south so fast following a 6-0 start and No. 5 ranking.

LSU’s best case for bowl: Minus the narrow margin of victory, a game like LSU’s regular-season finale against Texas A&M would be ideal. The Tigers’ defense held a potent offense to just 228 total yards and their offensive scheme was perhaps the most ambitious it has been all year. Quarterback Anthony Jennings was outstanding on quarterback runs (he rushed for 119 yards) and completed passes to seven different teammates, freshman tailback Leonard Fournette was outstanding, and speedy receiver Travin Dural did some damage on jet sweeps. If LSU is to move back toward contender status in 2015, the offense has to be much more effective than it was this fall. Finishing the season with a productive outing against an underwhelming Notre Dame defense would do wonders for the young Tigers’ confidence.

Notre Dame’s best case for bowl: In a weird way, the best-case scenario for Notre Dame would be that Malik Zaire emerges as a star, carves up a really, really good LSU defense, runs the offense to a T and looks like the Irish's quarterback of the future. That is not to say that the Irish cannot win with Everett Golson, or that it would necessarily be good to see him struggle in any way, shape or form. But the fact of the matter is that the Irish have seen all that Golson can and cannot do throughout the course of this season, with his 22 turnovers -- all over the final nine games -- contributing largely to this losing skid. Zaire has yet to start or see meaningful action in a close game, and if he looks great against a great defense, the Irish may just know where to start when it comes to finding the right guy to lead their offense in 2015. The defense needs to play better, sure, but much of that unit's demise can be chalked up to youth, inexperience and a litany of injuries. There are no excuses for the offense being as inconsistent as it has as of late, which means success from a fresh face could simplify things for this program moving forward.

LSU’s worst case for bowl: As with Notre Dame, another ugly outing on offense would be the wrong way to enter the offseason. Both teams have good reason to believe their defenses will be strong in 2015, but they need to figure out where they’re going at quarterback (in LSU’s case, is it going to be Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris?) and develop a dependable offensive identity. The power running game will continue to be LSU’s bread and butter, but another game where its quarterback struggles to make drive-extending completions won’t create much confidence that next season will be different for the Tigers’ offense.

Notre Dame’s worst case for bowl: If the Irish look listless on offense, and if neither quarterback can get things going against the Tigers' defense -- or worse, turns the ball over frequently -- it will be back to the drawing board for Brian Kelly and his offense, which would be entering Year 6 with still no answer at quarterback. Golson cannot afford another outing like his last month of work, and Zaire cannot botch his first major opportunity to make a public statement and to show he is capable of answering the bell with the spotlight on him.

Early Offer: Isaac Nauta keeps FSU rolling 

December, 15, 2014
12/15/14
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The addition of No. 1 2016 TE Isaac Nauta shows that the Florida State recruiting machine shows no signs of slowing down. Plus, Tennessee continues to impress with its 2015 defensive class.


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Wisconsin landed a four-star running back on Thursday despite not having a head coach. Plus, Nebraska is already impressing rival recruiters with its effort on trail.


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In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Louis Nix III, No. 64 in 2010 class

Nix came out of Raines High in Jacksonville, Florida, as one of the most highly coveted defensive tackles in the country. Nix was committed to Miami (FL) for an entire year before Notre Dame eventually won out in December of 2009 over the Hurricanes due in large part to the work of Tony Alford, and the life experiences Notre Dame offered. Nix committed to the Fighting Irish when Notre dame was between head coaches following the firing of Charlie Weis. Nix was a member of a Notre Dame class that included Tai-Ler Jones and Prince Shembo.

Nix did not see action as a freshman in 2010, but moved into the starting lineup in 2011 starting 11 of 13 games. He recorded 45 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Hix backed up his impressive sophomore campaign with a strong junior season in 2012 tallying 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 11 starts.

The 2013 season would be his last in South Bend, and the beginning of knee issues that have continued to plague his career. Nix recorded 27 tackles in seven games as a senior. He started the first seven games before a knee injury sidelined him the last half of the season.

Following his career at Notre Dame, Nix was selected in the third round (No. 83-overall) in the 2014 NFL draft by the Houston Texans. He has missed his entire rookie season due to a trio of knee surgeries.

Honorable mention: Ryne Giddens, No. 64 in 2009 class. Giddens selected South Florida over Florida and North Carolina in January of 2009 out of Armwood High in Seffner, Florida. He played in 51 games for the Bulls over five seasons totaling 118 tackles, 32 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks.
The four-loss football power dressed just 48 scholarship players for a showdown with a rival -- attrition that bubbled to the surface in an embarrassing blowout defeat.

Then USC came back a week later and beat its other rival 49-14 Saturday in a game that even head coach Brian Kelly would admit was not nearly as close as the score indicated.

Notre Dame is hurt, especially on defense. We get it. The Fighting Irish are not exactly alone, though, as we can see from USC. And they are not all that hurt when compared to last season.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
The defense entered last year's New Era Pinstripe Bowl with nine regular contributors having missed a combined 44 games due to injury.

They will enter a similarly-underwhelming postseason destination this winter with 11 regular contributors having missed a combined 44 games due to injury.

No, that does not include the lost seasons, and lost half-season, of four defensive starters implicated in the school's summer internal academic probe. And that does not include the casualties of this weekend's nightmare in Hollywood: Max Redfield (broken rib), Austin Collinsworth (separated shoulder), Greer Martini (quad), Jay Hayes (high ankle sprain) and Jacob Matuska (shoulder).

But it is unlikely that any of those wounded at the Coliseum would have made much of a difference against a Trojans team that actually showed mercy on the battered Irish after racing to a 35-0 start in the first 25 minutes.

The 2013 edition of Notre Dame entered last fall as somewhat of a deflated group, having endured an offseason of questions following the Alabama beatdown, Kelly's NFL flirtations, the Lennay Kekua saga and the season-long dismissal of starting quarterback Everett Golson.

It made do with what it had. It handed eventual Rose Bowl champ Michigan State its only loss, it withstood a never-ending run of defensive depletion and it finished the regular season 8-4, a game better than this year's 7-5 team.

Asked 13 months ago if he ever coached a unit so decimated by injuries, Kelly said at the time: "I think this is probably close to the pinnacle."

He added then: "They don't give you any points for complaining about it. If they did, I'd complain every minute. So we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."

Problem this season is there were not all that many next guys ready. The 2013 unit returned eight starters from a 2012 unit that finished second nationally in scoring average. The 2014 unit returned three starters and was breaking in a new scheme under new coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Everything changed when the quarterback of that group, linebacker Joe Schmidt, had a season-ending ankle injury in a Nov. 1 win at Navy. Anyone around the program will tell you how he was the MVP of that unit, how he got those green guys ready, how he helped simplify things for his overloaded teammates.

Save for the Northwestern game, it is no surprise that Notre Dame is now 0-4 without Schmidt, a former walk-on. That Schmidt finished the regular season as the Irish's second-leading tackler (65) despite missing so much time speaks to just how little there was to work with after losing plenty of pro talent from last year, and especially after losing two preseason starters to academic matters.

None of this is breaking news. Notre Dame raced to a 6-0 start this season and was a play away from knocking off Florida State because that defense had played above its head, because it had some great injury luck, because, frankly, the competition it had played was nothing special.

Everything for these Irish hinged on Golson's arm to begin with, and his unraveling has been too much for that now-banged up defense -- and a special teams unit that remains M.I.A. -- to overcome against better competition. A Kelly offense hinges on quarterback play, and how that position shakes out with Golson and Malik Zaire will dictate everything about a 2015 Notre Dame outfit that will be more experienced than this year's, and even more seasoned than anyone had initially anticipated.

The same can be said of the rivals out west who just left these Irish beaten in a manner foreign to this regime.

"They got punched in the nose today," Kelly said Saturday. "You want to see a response too, right? They're young, but I want to see some bite, too. I want to see some bite. The bowl preparation, we're going to have to see a response. All jobs are available and we're going to have to see something from this group."

Example A may just come from, of all places, the Trojans who left them like this.

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