NCF Nation: Aaron Lynch

The hardest part for Aaron Lynch was not Notre Dame's sudden resurgence without him. The Fighting Irish did just fine after his departure -- they ran the regular-season table and making the BCS national title game -- but it did not really matter much to the ballyhooed South Florida defensive end.

But Lynch could not avoid the talk last season of what he was missing out on roughly 1,000 miles to the North -- be it from classmates on his new campus in Tampa, Fla., or from teammates inside the Bulls' locker room, where the televisions were always tuned to ESPN, inevitably serving as a talking point about what could have been.

[+] EnlargeAaron Lynch
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAaron Lynch never looked back with regret on leaving Notre Dame, even as the Fighting Irish were making a run to the BCS title game.
"The only thing that was tough was always having to hear about it," Lynch told ESPN.com. "People were always talking to you about it; that got annoying. I was like, 'You're the reason why I came here, and you need to understand that none of that really matters to me because I left that place for a reason.'

"If I was feeling a certain way about that then, I should have never left. People would be like, 'Why are you so mad?' That's all you guys talk about: 'Oh, you could've done this and done that.' I don't want to hear that, because if that's what I wanted, I would've stayed there."

A precocious pass-rusher who was out of his comfort zone two years ago at Notre Dame finds himself more at home now as a junior, some two hours away from his mother, Alice, who is now in Fort Myers. He had his long-awaited breakout for the Bulls in his last game, returning a fumble 44 yards for his team's only touchdown in a 13-10 win over UConn. He recorded his first sack in a USF uniform as well. Teddy Bridgewater and a Louisville team that -- for now, at least -- sports a worse league record than the 2-0 Bulls come to town this Saturday, a rare American Athletic Conference matchup that features two potential high first-round draft picks.

It is another contest that Lynch is just happy to be playing in after a frustrating year as a transfer. The sting of knowing he would not play in 2012 became too much to bear as the season approached, so he sat down with his fellow defensive linemen and then-coach Skip Holtz and asked if they would mind if he did not join them on the sideline for home games.

They granted his wish, with plenty of homework assignments accompanying his home viewings of the games.

"I was never like, 'Awww man, I can't believe this' -- I was more of a coach because that's what the D-line wanted," Lynch said of watching games from home. "They said if you're not going to be at the game, then we want to see how we're doing on TV so you can tell us what we need to do, or things that we don't see on the field that you do see that's off the field. You can pause and rewind and stuff like that.

"So that's what I did. That was really my job as a D-line brother and as a teammate. When I watched the game, I wasn't watching the game as if I was watching the Patriots and the Ravens go at it. I was watching it as if I was watching game film."

For a former freshman All-American who had 5.5 sacks in 2011 while causing as many headaches for his own team as he did his opponents, this was a different kind of challenge. Weight disappeared from what was a 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame at Notre Dame, with Lynch entering this season officially listed at 244 pounds. (He says he is currently around 250, with the hope of that number rising.) Adjusting socially, meanwhile, presented obstacles of its own on a campus with an undergraduate enrollment more than four times the size of Notre Dame's 8,000-plus student body.

That atmosphere, however, also allowed him to grow at his own leisure.

"I would say I matured more since I've left there, because when I got here I had to do a lot of things, I'd say, on my own in a way, because things were smaller there at Notre Dame; it was a smaller university, there wasn't a lot for me to get into," Lynch said. "When I got here, I feel like I matured more because there's so much more out there for me to get into and I kept myself from getting myself into those types of things.

"In other words, my freshman year I probably would've gotten into a lot more things than I do now."

Lynch cut his nearly out-of-control hair going into spring practice, a sign his new coach, Willie Taggart, has pointed to as a sign of his growth.

"To me when a guy does something like that, it's a sign of maturity, and a guy that's willing to change and make himself better," Taggart told ESPN.com this spring. "I know nowadays it's hard to do that when a lot of your peers are doing it and look at those guys. But for a guy like that to cut his hair off and get himself sharp and think about the way people look at him and want to represent himself the right way, it's really impressive."

A one-time aspiring poetry and literature major, Lynch has left those desires behind in South Bend. He still talks regularly with former Irish defensive line teammates Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III -- all three players could be first-round picks come May -- and he often utilizes the "Snapchat" application on his phone to exchange funny messages with running back Cierre Wood, who has since joined the Houston Texans.

Lynch now majors in interdisciplinary social science. As for social media, he has kept his distance from a world that ballooned his reputation as a can't-miss prospect before turning him into a virtual pinata once he decided Notre Dame was not for him.

He says he cannot even remember his Twitter password. His Facebook account received the ax after he left the Midwest.

"The way I blocked that out was really just being with my family, because that's what I was worried about most, because my mom had gotten threats from Notre Dame fans and things like that," Lynch said. "So having my family close to me, that's how I got through it. Just my mom -- she always had my back on everything, and if I knew I was with them and there was nothing wrong with them, then I never had nothing to worry about. The reason why I made the move from Notre Dame was, one, the environment, it wasn't me; and then two, I needed to be with my family, because my family is my everything."

South Florida season preview

August, 15, 2013
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South Florida Bulls

Coach: Willie Taggart

2012 record: (16-20 career)

Key losses: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetri Murray, LB Sam Barrington

Key returnees: LB DeDe Lattimore, WR Andre Davis, DT Luke Sager

Newcomer to watch: TE Sean Price

Biggest games in 2013: at Michigan State (Sept. 7), Miami (Sept. 28)

[+] EnlargeWillie Taggart
AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Daniel WallaceOne of the top priorities for first-year USF coach Willie Taggart: finding the right fit at quarterback heading into the season opener.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: South Florida is the only American Athletic team that doesn’t return its quarterback from last season. Under Taggart’s new reign, the Bulls will look to Bobby Eveld, Matt Floyd, incoming freshman Mike White or Steven Bench -- a Penn State transfer. Taggart has been mum on who’s leading the quarterback race thus far, telling the quarterbacks he won’t make his decision until later in training camp. Having lost the three top rushers from last season, the Bulls are looking for an identity on offense under Taggart and the quarterback that will lead the young unit.

Forecast: While many teams in the American Athletic boast a powerful offense with a rebuilding defense, South Florida has the opposite. In Taggart’s first year, the Bulls have two senior defensive ends with Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch. Lattimore was third on the team last year with 76 tackles and is on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, and USF returns both of its starting safeties. In contrast, the Bulls have just three returning offensive players who started at least half of USF’s games last year. Taggart will set the tone offensively, having four quarterbacks to choose from for the starting role. The most established player will be Davis, who tallied six touchdowns on 534 receiving yards.

With some of USF’s players on their third coach with Taggart, he said one of the challenges has been getting players to buy into his training regimen and his system. With a schedule that has the Bulls traveling to Michigan State in the second week of the season, then hosting the Hurricanes in the same month of September, USF needs to find its chemistry sooner rather than later if it wants to capitalize on its challenging schedule.

“If we're going to be big time like I say we are, we got to play big-time people,” Taggart said. “And we have great opportunities this year to do it.”

In the preseason media poll, the Bulls were picked to finish fifth in the conference, just behind in-state rival UCF. Taggart took Western Kentucky from a 20-game losing streak to the school’s first bowl appearance, and he wants to build the program at USF in similar fashion.

“We're a program that really hadn't lived up to our potential,” Taggart said. “But it's on us. And a big reason why I'm the head coach there now is to try to get our guys to live up to the potential.”
Almost every mock draft or board looking at next season has Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater placed at No. 1 or No. 2 overall. Andrea and SEC blogger Edward Aschoff had a spirited debate about this earlier this week, with Aschoff siding with South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney.

Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay has chimed in this week as well, and he is going with Clowney , though the Big East is hardly overlooked on his initial 2014 draft board.

Two players from the conference make the top 32, with one just missing the cut.

Bridgewater is at No. 2, USF end Aaron Lynch is at No. 28 and Rutgers wideout Brandon Coleman is on the "10 more to monitor" list.

Of course, this is all assuming that Bridgewater and Lynch leave school early. Coleman, too, is eligible for a fifth year in 2014. Lynch still has three years of eligibility remaining, and would jump based off just two years of college ball, as he sat out the 2012 season following his transfer from Notre Dame.

While there is no denying Lynch is a first-round talent -- his 5.5 sacks in Year 1 with the Irish demonstrated that -- maturity issues are obviously a question mark following a 2011 season that saw him get called for his six penalties (and refuse to apologize for them). Notre Dame running the regular-season table without him in 2012 is hardly a glowing endorsement, and he won't be facing the same competition this fall that he had while in South Bend, Ind., though Bulls coach Willie Taggart spoke about Lynch turning a corner this spring.

Coleman, meanwhile, has quietly crept up on a few recent draft boards after a season in which he amassed 718 yards and 10 scores. He sat out this spring while recovering from minor knee surgery, but given Rutgers' lack of experience at receiver, and the return of Gary Nova under center, he is in position to have another breakout year in 2013.
1. Bob Stoops has won 149 games in 14 seasons at Oklahoma. He is nine wins shy of surpassing Barry Switzer as the all-time leader in Sooners coaching victories. And for the first time in his tenure, the Sooners failed to reach a BCS bowl in consecutive seasons. It’s not time to panic -- Oklahoma went 10-3 last season -- but the Sooners didn’t measure up to his standard, especially on defense. Stoops discusses his career, college football and his 2013 team with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast posting Thursday.

2. Notre Dame returned to national prominence when it got bigger and faster. It was no coincidence, as I pointed out last season, that the Irish defensive linemen came from Texas (Kapron Lewis-Moore), Georgia (Stephon Tuitt) and Florida (Louis Nix). Here’s the other side of the geographic coin: Top punt returner Davonte' Neal (Arizona) and receiver Justin Ferguson (Florida) have left the program. A year ago, defensive lineman Aaron Lynch (Florida) left. Perhaps the margin of error on national recruits is thinner.

3. For as long as I can remember, athletic administrators have sprained their wrists wringing their hands over the rising cost of college football. And yet with the announcement that FCS powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are moving to the Sun Belt Conference, the number of FBS schools will increase 127, up from 119 five years ago. That means schools are choosing to spend more money. Perhaps because they are chasing more money, too, not to mention the glue that college football can provide a campus.

Q&A: USF coach Willie Taggart

March, 20, 2013
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Willie Taggart has wasted no time since arriving in Tampa, Fla. The former Western Kentucky coach and Bradenton, Fla., native has made a strong first impression after taking over the South Florida program in December.

Taggart opens his first spring with the Bulls on Wednesday, and we caught up with him earlier this week to talk about his expectations as USF takes the first steps toward turning around a 3-9 campaign from a season ago.

Does it feel like it's been three months already?

Willie Taggart: It seems like it's been longer than that. It's like, geez, can we just out here and play a little football? It seems like it's been forever, but it's been good though. It gives us a lot of opportunities to get to know our players and pretty much get to know everyone around here. In a new environment you want to get a good feel for how things operate around here and try to get to know everyone, so it's been awesome from that standpoint.

How nice is it to finally take off the suit and get to work with this group?

WT: Oohhhh, it's nice. Can't wait to put on the shorts and go out and have my whistle on, go back to -- this is what I do, coach ball. And more importantly just to get around our guys. I'm really anxious to get out there, watch our guys compete. They've done a great job this offseason, winter conditioning. I'm really seeing them compete in football. I think that's what we all are waiting to see and see what we're going to have going into the fall.

You've promised to kick up the intensity. What are the challenges of doing that with a first spring?

WT: I think more than anything it's just teaching them how you're going to do things, and once they see how you do it, you do it constantly day in and day out. Then it becomes a part of them. We always talk around here,"We've got to train them." Either you're trained or you're untrained. And we've got to train them to do it how we want and come out every single day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

Think they're used to your enthusiasm yet?

WT: It seems like they've bought in. They get fired up and we get them going every day. When we went out for winter conditioning they had a lot of juice, a lot of excitement. I know spring ball, whether it's me or anyone else here, beginning of spring ball, those guys come out fired up. But I think our guys now are more anxious to go out and learn the new system and impress the coaches. They all have to do that. They all compete for jobs, so I think they'll all be fired up about that.

What are you looking for from the quarterback position?

WT: A smart guy, first and foremost. Guy's got to be smart, a workaholic. Football is everything to them. That they're going to be in that film room constantly to get better. Guys that are competitive, competitive guys. And they've got to be tough. I think that's one position you've really got to be tough, mentally and physically, and being a leader. But I want those guys to go out and compete and lead this football team on and off, the way they carry themselves and the way they compete. It's hard to be a leader if you're not making plays.

What about running back?

[+] EnlargeWillie Taggart
AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Daniel WallaceOne of the top priorities for first-year USF coach Willie Taggart: finding the right fit at quarterback heading into the season opener.
WT: I know Mike Pierre and Marcus Shaw have done a great job this offseason in winter conditioning and in the weight room. They've done a great job of doing all the things we've asked them to do. Really been impressed with those guys. Looking forward to seeing those guys come out and competing on the football field. Want to see them translate what they've been doing in winter conditioning to the football field. Marc is one of those guys I sat down with when I first got here, told him he looked the same way he did when I first met him when he was getting recruited. It's time now. We don't have much time. It's time now to be the player that we all intend for you to be and that you intended to be when you decided to come to school here. I think he's taken that and used it to motivate himself to be the player that he wants to be. Now we need to see it on the football field on Wednesday. And I told him -- this offense, it's been pretty successful for running backs. So if any one of these guys is not successful, it's not the offense. They proved it, the last few backs. There's a high standard that you're living up to right now and we're going to keep that standard going. But they're excited about it.

What do you think of the UCF game being played on Black Friday?

WT: I haven't even thought about that, to be honest with you. To be flat-out honest with you, I haven't thought about it being on Black Friday and really haven't thought much of playing Central Florida. Been all about playing McNeese State [in the Aug. 31 opener] and even before them, just playing each other this spring. I haven't thought that far ahead. Now's just more getting our guys together. But I think it's going to be great -- just the rivalry, which I think drives college athletics, is these rivalries. Great to have one.

I know UCF catching up in recruiting isn't ideal for you guys, but between your arrival and them joining the Big East, how invigorating is it to have that kind of local rival as you start at USF?

WT: It's a good thing. Both of us in the same conference and we're competing, trying to do the same thing, win the conference championship. And we all know that it all starts with recruiting. You've got to get the players in that can play football and help you win and coach them up. It's awesome. Anyone we're playing and competing against, we've got to beat them all. Not just on the field but off the field, too, we're trying to.

I don't want to say easier, but how much different has it been on the I-4 corridor talking to coaches, kids and parents as a South Florida coach?

WT: I think it's easier because a lot of kids we're recruiting are here in Florida and we're not trying to convince them to come to Kentucky, to leave and go up in the cold and play ball. So I think from that standpoint it's a little easier. But if it's anything, it's just that we have a lot of contacts down here, a lot of previous relationships that are helping us. It's not like we're trying to get to know anyone; we know them. A lot of these kids nowadays, especially in this area, they've been growing up wanting to be a South Florida Bull, unlike when I was growing up around here -- I wanted to be Florida, Miami or Florida State. That's changing with these kids as they grow up. I think a lot of their parents grew up like I did, enjoying those schools. But these kids now are growing up and they're seeing South Florida around now. And a lot of them are intrigued and a lot of them wanted to be a Bull from way back when, and that's exciting to see, especially when we're coming off a 3-9 season. To get the interest and seeing the kids that are excited about being South Florida Bulls has been really, really impressive.

Defensively, what's your philosophy? I know you want to blitz a lot. Anything you're specifically looking to see this spring from that side of the ball?

WT: You want to be sound. You want to be a tough, physical defense. When teams play us I want guys saying, "That's a physical football team. That team's going to hit you no matter what. They're going to hit you and make plays." I do believe defense wins championships, and we've got to have a great defense. There's too many good offenses out here now, you've got to be able to stop them, and we have a lot of talent on this team. There's no reason for us not to be really good on defense, but you've got to be sound, you've got to be disciplined at what you do. And then at the end of the day you've got to make plays. Once you get in those positions and the coach puts them in those positions, the kids make that play. But we've got to find the right kids that can make those plays and then put them on the field so they can do it.

One of those kids is a pretty talented recruit, he had a great first year at Notre Dame, Aaron Lynch. What's it been like being around him so far, and how do you think not playing for a year has maybe put a bit of a chip on his shoulder?

WT: It's been fun being around Aaron. He's one of those guys, my first days on the job I sat down and talked with him, talked with him about expectations on this football team and him making himself better as a football player. And he's been committed to doing that. His winter conditioning has been great. Watching him go out and run and compete, making himself better. He's becoming a mature kid. He got married last year. He's one of the guys on the team that's married. He just came back from spring break and he cut all of his hair off, looks sharp now. First it was wild. We had a team meeting, I'm looking for all the wild hair and I don't see him. I'm at the whole team, I'm like, "Where is Aaron Lynch?" And they're like, "Oh, he's back there, Coach." I'm like, "Wow, this is what spring break'll do for you! Can we have another week of spring break around here?" Again, to me when a guy does something like that it's a sign of maturity, and a guy that's willing to change and make himself better. I know nowadays it's hard to do that when a lot of your peers are doing it and look at those guys. But for a guy like that to cut his hair off and get himself sharp and think about the way people look at him and want to represent himself the right way, it's really impressive. And if he'll continue to work hard and do those things it'll pay off on the football team. He can be everything that he wants to be, and I don't think he'll fail at football.

Kapron Lewis-Moore relishes journey

January, 3, 2013
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In his darkest moments, when he saw his teammates stumble their way to the finish line of another pedestrian season, when he heard his name less and less as a freshman sensation broke out and delivered the promise of more, Kapron Lewis-Moore was not thinking of any scenario like the one that played out Thursday.

"Never. Never in a million years," the Notre Dame defensive end said.

The medial collateral ligament in Lewis-Moore's right knee was torn, and Aaron Lynch was rocking quarterback after quarterback in his first year with the Irish. Three years of first-team reps and the 29 starts that came with it seemed to matter little, especially with Lynch racking up 5.5 sacks despite plenty of untapped potential.

[+] EnlargeKapron Lewis-Moore
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Kapron Lewis-Moore has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback this season.
Lewis-Moore may as well have been damaged goods; Lynch was the future.

An unwavering work ethic and a seemingly devastating transfer by Lynch to South Florida changed all that. And now 12 games and more than a year later, Lewis-Moore found himself fielding questions four days before the Discover BCS National Championship, dozens upon dozens of reporters seeking answers from a captain of the nation's No. 1 team that has been bolstered by its No. 1 scoring defense.

"I think about it because that kind of keeps my edge about myself," Lewis-Moore said of his ups and downs. "You've got to appreciate this game, because you can be one injury away from never playing again. I missed six games, and it was the longest half-a-year ever — I want to be out there and play.

"So this year, something that my knee injury really taught me is just how to appreciate the moment. Play-by-play, day-by-day, that's kind of like a motto I keep to myself and keeps my head going."

His 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks are both good for third-best on the Irish. He has added nine quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles.

"He just shows the belief and commitment that we all know what we're capable of, and watching that is motivating," linebacker Danny Spond said. "Having him go from last year kind of being injured and down a little bit to now, out here and starting as a captain for us, is something that's just remarkable and something we all work for, just to be that tough, if anything."

Alabama and an offensive line with legendarily positive buzz await on Monday, and how much Lewis-Moore & Co. can get to quarterback AJ McCarron is as big of a question mark as any.

Lewis-Moore is more than just happy to be here, and remembering where he was after going down in Week 7 of last season against USC has helped him spring forward to this point and perhaps beyond.

"I went through the knee injury — that sucked," he said. "So I kind of just rehabbed, prayed a lot, had a bunch of cards and people saying, 'Oh gosh.' Stuff like that. But going back out there playing in the spring game, I knew that I had to fight for my spot back, and that's something I'm always going to do. I'm a competitor.

"Even if Aaron was still here, I was still going to compete to my best ability. And obviously it's unfortunate he left, but now being a captain of a Notre Dame team that four years ago, if you would have asked me that, I don't think I could've said this."
Fortunately -- for me, anyway -- the Notre Dame blog wasn't around yet to do these the week before last season. Therefore, I am not one of the thousands of embarrassed prognosticators who felt last year's Notre Dame team would roll through USF behind Dayne Crist en route to a BCS-bowl season. Nope, I thought 10 turnovers amid an 0-2 start, three quarterbacks and, yes, four different helmets were in the cards all along.

This time, there will be proof for touting my genius. Away we go …

1. Notre Dame will finish the regular season 8-4 and play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Losses at East Lansing, Norman and Los Angeles seem unavoidable, though I do think this is the year the Irish finally take down Michigan. Surely, though, another roadblock sits among this year's gantlet of opponents. Keep an eye on that Oct. 20 tilt with BYU, which has won 10 games five of the last six years and has an experienced QB in Riley Nelson. As for the bowl? The Irish take the Yankee Stadium field as the Big 12's No. 7, which will open this year because the conference will get two teams in BCS bowls. (Here comes the bold part … ) To make matters more fun, the Pinstripe Bowl, not wanting another Pitt/Notre Dame matchup in 2012, picks fifth-place Cincinnati to square off against the Irish. I wonder if there will be any storylines in the lead-up to that one.

2. Cierre Wood will have a hard time winning back his starting job. Theo Riddick has impressed everyone this offseason, and he seems to be most comfortable in the backfield. Of course, the uniqueness of the offense will have him catching passes at certain points and allow for both Riddick and Wood to be on the field together. But don't expect a production drop-off from the backfield in Weeks 1 and 2.

3. Gunner Kiel will redshirt. Everett Golson, today at least, looks like the quarterback of the future. Andrew Hendrix will probably get some time at some point, and Tommy Rees is the perfect emergency signal-caller, given his experience and knowledge. Everyone wants to see what Kiel can do, but it would probably be short-sighted to burn a year of eligibility if it's really unnecessary.

4. Miami -- yes, the big, bad Hurricanes -- will be Notre Dame's easiest opponent. The Hurricanes' thin offensive line will have trouble against Notre Dame's defensive front. They are also coming off back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and NC State, while whatever fatigue issues the Irish had from their Dublin trip should be gone with the Sept. 29 bye. Chicago will be jacked for the Irish's Oct. 6 appearance.

5. Stephon Tuitt will make a lot of people forget about Aaron Lynch. He is more versatile, and he is more reliable. He is much bigger, too. Let's not forget that he missed three games last year because of a missed class and mono, so his numbers didn't leap off the page the way Lynch's did in Year 1. Tuitt is primed for a breakout sophomore season that will put him on the national radar, along with the radar of many pro scouts entering 2013.
USF defensive end Aaron Lynch had his NCAA waiver for immediate eligiblity denied and will sit out this season, coach Skip Holtz said Thursday.

Lynch transferred to the Bulls from Notre Dame during the offseason, after playing in 12 games for the Irish last season as a freshman, with six starts. He ended the year with 33 total tackles, seven tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

USF held out slim hopes that the NCAA would rule in his favor. Now he must wait to be eligible in 2013.

When he is able to play, the Bulls should have some outstanding players on the defensive front. Ryne Giddins is going into his second year as a starter, and is poised for an outstanding season. USF also has linemen Elkino Watson, Tevin Mims, Todd Chandler, Clavion Nelson, JuJu Forte and Luke Sager.

The only significant player the front loses after this season is senior tackle Cory "Pork Chop" Grissom.

One other note: Holtz said reserve tight end Isaac Virgin has decided to transfer.
As Thursday's media day wound down, Kerry Cooks was asked by yours truly about the progress of Notre Dame's cornerbacks.

Here are the words that came out of the Irish cornerbacks coach's mouth over the ensuing 37 seconds:

"I think that Lo Wood wright now is probably playing outside of himself. He's playing, really, better than what I would have anticipated him playing at this point. He's our most experienced cornerback as far as actually going into the games and playing, and now it's really starting to show up. He's just playing with a different edge. It's one of those things that's really hard to explain. But he's confident, he's making plays, he's smart, he's being savvy, he's doing all those things that a guy who's played a lot of football for you will do. And he really hasn't played a lot. He's played the most, but he hasn't played a lot."

Now Wood won't be playing at all in 2012, a victim Monday of an Achilles injury that will rob him of his junior season. He has a redshirt year remaining and will presumably be back for 2013 and, depending on circumstances, 2014. As Cooks noted, Wood was the Irish's most experienced corner and their biggest surprise of camp, a notion head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged earlier this month.

What now? Bennett Jackson had the boundary spot locked up, but playing alongside him will likely be Jalen Brown, converted running-back recruit KeiVarae Russell or Josh Atkinson. Running back Cam McDaniel was moved to corner in the spring to add depth but had been cross-training at both positions as recently as late last week. Freshman safety recruit Elijah Shumate was moved to cornerback during camp. Versatile fifth-year safety Jamoris Slaughter saw some action at corner in the spring, but the Irish are already down a man at safety with the loss of Austin Collinsworth (shoulder surgery). And, of course, the Tee Shepard experiment lasted less than two months, something the four-star cornerback reminded us all about once again earlier Monday in another tweeting barrage.

For those keeping count, that's two (Brown, Atkinson) remaining healthy Notre Dame cornerbacks who were actually recruited at the position.

Aaron Lynch transferred this spring, but Notre Dame's defensive line has enough talent to still be strong. Tommy Rees got arrested a short while later, but three other highly touted quarterbacks had been waiting in the wings to start the season. As for Wood's injury? Well, the Irish never exactly knew what they would be getting from a first-time starting corner, and they will still have to wait until Sept. 1 to get an answer.

It's just much less certain.
We're two days removed from Friday the 13th, and no bad news has come for Notre Dame.

That wasn't the case three months ago, when a hastily called news conference was set up the morning of April 13 to announce the decision of Aaron Lynch to transfer. The move wasn't without its drama — Lynch had been sent home days earlier, his mother pleaded on Twitter with former Irish lineman Justin Tuck to convince her son to stay — but when the dust cleared, Lynch was heading closer to home.

The Cape Coral, Fla., native will play for Irish alum Skip Holtz at South Florida, where he will look to build on a freshman All-America season that saw him start six games and lead the Irish in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (14). He also had 33 tackles, including seven for a loss, and forced one fumble.

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Lynch has first-round NFL talent, getting to the quarterback with ease and capable of making a game-changing play at any given moment. He was expected to key an Irish pass rush that would ease the burden of breaking in two new starters in the secondary.

But if one position group can handle a defection, it is the defensive line. Stephon Tuitt is more versatile and, possibly, more valuable than Lynch, able to play inside or out. Kapron Lewis-Moore is back for one more year and a proven starter, and Kona Schwenke emerged in the middle this spring, creating the potential for a very strong interior with him and Louis Nix splitting snaps. Lynch also picked up six penalties last season, mostly after the whistle, and he didn't exactly apologize for them when given the chance.

While the energy, athleticism and overall threat of Lynch on the field can't be replaced, the Irish do have plenty of talent that is capable of filling the void and still producing a strong pass rush this season.
Notre Dame placed 20 players on Phil Steele's preseason all-independent team, including 13 on the first team.

BYU was a close second with 18. Army and Navy each had seven.

The usual suspects (Cierre Wood, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert) make the first team, as does Notre Dame's entire starting defensive line, even without transfer Aaron Lynch. There are some leaps of faith here, but that's to be expected when picking 52 total players from a pool of just four schools, as many players are unproven. Bennett Jackson and Christian Lombard will likely be first-year starters, and who knows if Davonte Neal will even get the chance to return punts during his first year with the Irish.

Here are all of the Notre Dame players on Steele's preseason all-independent team:

FIRST TEAM
SECOND TEAM

100 Days Countdown: Notre Dame

May, 22, 2012
5/22/12
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As part of the "College Football Live" 100 Days 'Til Kickoff countdown, here's a look at Notre Dame's top 10 players.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Manti Te'o
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesManti Te'o could be the best inside linebacker in all of college football.
1. Manti Te'o: The senior passed up NFL millions and returns as perhaps the top inside linebacker in the nation. He will look to build off consecutive 120-plus-tackle campaigns and anchor a front seven primed to take the next step under third-year coordinator Bob Diaco.

2. Tyler Eifert: Like Te'o, Eifert deferred NFL dollars and dreams to return for one more year. And, like Te'o, Eifert may just be the nation's best player at his position. But the tight end will resemble more of a receiver this season, moving all over the field and serving as the No. 1 target for whoever ends up throwing the ball for Notre Dame.

3. Cierre Wood: Coming off a 1,000-yard season in which he lost snaps to Jonas Gray late in the campaign, Wood returns as the Irish's No. 1 running back. Depth in the backfield may keep carries down again, but Wood figures to have another strong season with a proven line blocking for him.

4. Jamoris Slaughter: He probably won't be a first-round draft pick the way Harrison Smith was, but the fifth-year senior is a versatile playmaker who can move up and play linebacker while serving as the voice for a young secondary.

5. Stephon Tuitt: He didn't put up the big numbers of fellow class member Aaron Lynch, but he may be even better. Tuitt has shown the versatility to play end and nose guard, and he will only get better after bursting onto the scene as a freshman.

6. Zack Martin: Want to know what helps with the quarterback transition the most? A proven offensive line. At left tackle, Martin keys that group as he enters his senior year with 26 straight starts under his belt (two at right tackle).

7. Theo Riddick: You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who stood out more this spring. The running back/slot receiver is a playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands. If he can stay healthy and succeed as a punt returner, he will find his name much higher on this list a few months from now.

8. Braxston Cave: Another veteran piece on this line, Cave stars in the middle and is an important locker room voice. Limited this spring after a foot injury sidelined him late last season, Cave is back for a fifth year, his third in a row as the starting center.

9. Louis Nix: A subpar spring forced Nix behind Kona Schwenke on the depth chart, but the nose guard is an invaluable cog in the middle for the Irish's young line. A strong preseason camp -- and a capable replacement in Schwenke -- should only make Nix better in his second year of game action. (He redshirted his freshman year.)

10. George Atkinson III: Atkinson returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns as a freshman. Now, he's hoping that playmaking ability translates on the offensive side of the ball. He netted 178 yards of offense in the spring game but coughed it up twice, and he'll have to ease the staff's concerns since Wood and Riddick are ahead of him.
USF is on the cutting edge of some pretty cool social networking.

Skip Holtz became Hip Skip earlier this week when he became the first coach from an automatic qualifying conference to host a Google Hangout with fans. Essentially, Holtz sat in front of a Web cam for 30 minutes and answered questions from USF fans in a pretty relaxed, casual setting.

[+] EnlargeUSF's Skip Holtz
Kim Klement/US PRESSWIRECoach Skip Holtz did a video chat with fans for about 30 minutes this week.
If there is any coach who is perfectly suited for this type of social networking it is Holtz, one of the most outgoing, gregarious coaches in all of college football. He is easygoing, personable and does not give out the same old tired clichés. He puts thoughts into his answers, and he always does it with a smile.

Needless to say, his Hangout on Google+ was a hit, and USF plans on doing another one closer to the season with either Holtz or perhaps quarterback B.J. Daniels.

So how did USF come up with the idea? Several folks in the athletic department were searching for ways to use social media to their advantage. They initially had an idea to try it out with men's basketball coach Stan Heath around the NCAA tournament. But they didn't have enough time to get the particulars laid out, so they figured they would try with Holtz after spring football ended.

They approached Holtz with the idea and he immediately gave the green light. USF asked fans to submit questions for Holtz, then selected a handful of fans to appear on the chat with Holtz. On Wednesday afternoon around lunch time, Holtz sat in his office and chatted amiably for 30 minutes.

Among the topics he hit:

Holtz reiterated the need for USF to win the Big East. “I would much rather lose one of the nonconference games and represent the Big East in the BCS bowl than have a great nonconference win along the way,” he said.

On the potential for a playoff and where the Big East stands in the BCS: "I would tell you I am a big fan of the bowl system. College football's hard. You look at the number of surgeries, the aches and the pains, the bowl game is a great reward for these teams. If they can take the top four teams they think should play for the 'national championship' and keep the bowl games, I would be in favor of it."

On Aaron Lynch: The plan is for Lynch to enroll for the second summer session. USF will look to see if there is a way for him to be eligible immediately. If not, he has to sit out a year because of NCAA transfer rules.

It was a great way for Holtz to not only interact with his fans, but to get USF's message out and show that the Bulls are among the most forward-thinking programs when it comes to social media.
Following consecutive 8-5 campaigns, Notre Dame entered this spring with a re-shuffled staff, a wide-open quarterback competition and arguably one of the nation's best defensive lines.

So, uh, about those three new assistants ...

"I love the energy out there, I love what I'm hearing in terms of teaching," head coach Brian Kelly said April 4, roughly halfway through the spring. "Guys are teaching and I can hear it. So for me it's exactly what I need to hear from our coaches. There's a lot of teaching going on, there's a lot of energy. So for me I feel really good about going out to practice, and what I hear I really like."

Nine days after that comment, defensive end Aaron Lynch announced his decision to transfer, eventually ending up with Notre Dame alum Skip Holtz at South Florida. A series of cryptic Twitter posts by nose guard Louis Nix in the days after Lynch's departure unsettled an already-uneasy fan base, and Nix's admittedly honest public comments afterward about having missed his Florida home did little to quell Irish fans' worst fears.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondCoach Brian Kelly, left, still has issues with how QB Everett Golson (1) manages the game.
Then came the spring game, Everett Golson's coming-out party. The rising sophomore quarterback completed 11 of 15 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns, adding 25 yards on six rushes. Most importantly, he was the only of the four quarterbacks to not turn the ball over.

If that wasn't enough for Golson to improve his chances of starting in 2012 -- Kelly said afterward that he had trouble getting plays in on time -- the events of May 3 certainly did.

Tommy Rees, the only of the four signal-callers with starting experience, was charged with four misdemeanors as a result of his arrest at an off-campus house party. Police said that they had to use pepper spray to subdue Rees, who faces two counts of resisting law enforcement, in addition to minor consumption and battery.

So begins an offseason whose storyline, like last year's with Michael Floyd, will be dominated by an off-field run-in by a big-name player. Rees is due in court May 17, but his status with the Irish remains up in the air. Discipline of any kind -- even an offseason suspension -- would strongly diminish his hopes of taking the first snap Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland.

Kelly said after the spring game that the guy to emerge as the starter will be the one who commits to all the details in the summer. Golson and Andrew Hendrix — in addition to early enrollee Gunner Kiel — would be in much better positions to do that should Rees be dealt a ban. Regardless, leadership issue becomes an obvious question in light of the arrest.

Whoever does start should have plenty to work with in proven playmakers like Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and Tyler Eifert. He will also be protected by an experienced offensive line, which returns four players with starting experience.

Linebacker Manti Te'o, who passed up NFL millions this offseason, returns to lead a defense that should still be strong enough up front, though a depleted cornerback corp could have benefited from playing behind an elite pass-rusher like Lynch.

A season that begins overseas is still four months away, but the drama attached to the hip of the nation's most polarizing program has only increased with spring ball in the rearview mirror.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Aaron Lynch would often call Manti Te'o his big brother, the two most talented Notre Dame defensive recruits in years bonding over the high expectations and even the distance away from home that each had to deal with in college.

So Te'o was a little surprised once he heard the news Friday that Lynch would be transferring at semester's end. But the linebacker knows there is a line that should not be crossed, and he is protective of his former teammate when it comes to the vitriol Lynch has dealt with from outsiders in light of his decision to go to another school.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireManti Te'o says he and the Irish will miss defensive end Aaron Lynch, who will be transferring at semester's end.
"It hurt, because like I said, I cared about Aaron the kid, not the player," Te'o said. "Everybody else cares about what he does and it's obvious, because the poor kid is getting heat. That's not fair. That's not fair for a 19-year-old to be hounded by people online on his Facebook and stuff like that. So as an older brother I look at that and I'm just there for him — 'Hey, don't read that stuff. Just you do what you've got to do. And your family here at Notre Dame will always love you no matter what.' And he knows that, and like I said, I'm going to miss the kid."

Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who had been working with the second team this spring, will move into Lynch's spot. The fifth-year senior started a majority of the past three seasons for the Irish anyway, though he missed the last six games of 2011 because of a right knee injury.

"It's always shocking when you have somebody that talented leaving this university," Lewis-Moore said. "We're really going to miss Aaron, but at the same time we wish him the best. But we've got to kind of move on from that, there's no hard feelings."

Kelly said several times following Saturday's practice — the team's first since Lynch announced he would transfer — that the transition without the 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end had been "seamless."

The third-year Irish coach acknowledged that the balance of coaching football and playing team psychologist is part of his job description, something he has gotten used to doing every day in what is going on a 22-year college head-coaching career.

"They're 18-21 year-olds, and they're going to have good days and bad days, so I think I'm constantly trying to be in touch with it," Kelly said. "I know our coaches try really hard, but that social worker, that psychologist, I think that all goes into being a good coach and a good teacher."

Lynch, who had not been shy in acknowledging the difficulties of his transition to college in a new region, is likely transferring to a school closer to his hometown of Cape Coral, Fla.,

Te'o dealt with many similar challenges upon his arrival to Notre Dame three years ago, especially coming all the way from Laie, Hawaii.

"When I was young there were many times after practice where I just said, 'I don't want to be here,' you know what I mean?" Te'o recalled. "But it's a growing process, you have to mature. It's hard. I think it's hard wherever you go, whether you're at Notre Dame, you're at USC — you're away from home. And for a young 18-, 19-year old, not being able to come home and see Mom and Dad and your siblings and have a home-cooked meal waiting for you, and coming here and you finish practice and you have to find out, what are you going to eat? Where am I going to go? Do I got to wash my clothes? Do I got to wash the dishes?

"It's a culture shock, so there were those days though. Fortunately for me, I just fought through it and I stuck it out, and that's one thing I want my little brother to experience. I wanted him to stick it out and reap the benefits of sticking it out and being here at Notre Dame and taking care of his family, but I know he'll take care of his family wherever he goes."

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