NCF Nation: Chris Brown

Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard made his 29th career start last Saturday against Youngstown State. Safety Isaiah Lewis missed the game with injury but still has 30 starts under his belt, tied for the most of any Spartan.

But when it comes to The Bus, Dennard and Lewis are glorified special teamers, barely hanging onto roster spots. See, The Bus doesn't care about career starts. All of its regular riders have those. You need to bring something more: All-Big Ten honors, All-America honors, a national award or two. Helping your team to a Big Ten championship -- and possibly more -- moves you up a few rows.

What is this magic bus? Let's let Pete Townshend, er, Mark Dantonio explain.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsCB Darqueze Dennard, like many other MSU players, wasn't considered an elite prospect coming out of high school but has developed into a top performer.
"I tell them I've been a secondary coach all my life, for 30 years," Dantonio told ESPN.com in August. "I kid them that we only travel 10 on my bus, on the All-Coach Dantonio secondary team. And Isaiah and Queze, they're both on the bus.

"So they're traveling, they're playing on special teams, but they've got to become a starter this year."

It won't be easy, looking at the group sitting at the front of The Bus.

There's Mike Doss, the former Ohio State safety who Dantonio coached in Columbus, a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and a unanimous consensus All-American in 2002, when the Buckeyes won the national title. Next to Doss is former Buckeyes teammate Chris Gamble, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2002 who also contributed on special teams and offense before becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. Other D-Bus starters include Kwamie Lassiter, who Dantonio coached at Kansas; and safeties Aric Morris and Renaldo Hill, who Dantonio mentored at Michigan State during his first go-round as an assistant for Nick Saban.

"It's very humbling," Dennard said. "Me and Isaiah, we both think we are very blessed to be mentioned with those guys. Those are great players he always mentions on his bus. It’s a great thing to even be talked about at the same time. We have to have a mindset how it is, we have to be the top of the top of the top of the bus."

It's a lofty goal, but one that Dennard could reach as a senior. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches last year after recording 52 tackles, three interceptions and seven pass breakups for one of the nation's best defenses. More impressive, he played most of the season with a sports hernia, likely suffered in September. Dennard underwent surgery after the season.

"He could have had his intestines hanging out, and he wouldn't have done anything about it," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "The kid's that tough."

Dennard entered the fall on the watch lists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back, as well as the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, which go to the top defensive player. The 5-11, 197-pound senior should push Ohio State's Bradley Roby for the Big Ten's Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award.

He's also a potential high pick in next April's NFL draft.

"He's probably the best corner we've coached," Narduzzi said this spring. "And he's a fun kid to coach."

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Lewis
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsIsaiah Lewis ties up South Florida running back Marcus Shaw.
Lewis also is on the Thorpe Award watch list after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a junior. He has recorded 154 tackles, six interceptions and nine pass breakups the past two seasons as Michigan State has blossomed as a top 10 defense.

Dantonio doesn't bring up names like Doss and Gamble with his current players, but he lets them know where they stand.

"For Coach Dantonio to tell you you're one of the best guys he has ever seen play this position, one of the best guys he has ever coached at this position, it means a lot, man," Lewis said. "You want to be the best and want to do better."

Dennard knows firsthand how preseason praise, whether it stems from his coaches or the outside, means nothing unless he can back it up on the field. Last year, he played opposite cornerback Johnny Adams, who entered the season projected as a potential first-round pick -- Mel Kiper had Adams at No. 14 on his initial Big Board -- but didn't take his game to the next level. Adams earned All-Big Ten honors but missed Michigan State's bowl game with an injury, wasn't drafted and twice was waived by NFL teams last month before making the Buffalo Bills' roster.

"Knowing all the things he did throughout his career here, it kind of gets you down," Dennard said. "But at the same time, I too much don’t think about it. … It's definitely motivation. Just going in every day, from my standpoint you can't be complacent with everything. Preseason is preseason."

Lewis is expected to join Dennard this week when Michigan State faces its first major test of the season on the road against No. 23 Notre Dame. Although the Spartans finally looked like a functional offense last Saturday against Youngstown State, they'll lean on their defense against an Irish team averaging 236 pass yards a game and deep threats T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown.

Big plays have been a theme early this season for the "Spartan Dawgs," who already have eight takeaways, tied for sixth most nationally and nearly half of their total (20) from all of 2012. Dennard and Lewis look to continue to trend in South Bend.

"We have to make more plays," Dennard said. "We have to make more interceptions for touchdowns and have to do more exciting things, like forcing fumbles or scoring touchdowns or doing whatever, big hits or whatever to make Coach D happy."

If they do, they'll earn permanent spots on the bus, seated toward the front.

" After this year, are they going to belong with the likes of Mike Doss, Chris Gamble, Kwamie Lassiter, Aric Morris, Renaldo Hill?" Dantonio said. "Those guys who are starting in front of them right now, guys that we've coached, they're very, very good players. [Denard and Lewis] are making their way onto the field, onto that team."
Get comfortable, Oregon State fans. It's going to be a long quarterback competition.

Addressing the media Tuesday in a pre-spring conference call, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said it's doubtful anything will be decided between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz this spring. Mannion is listed No. 1 on the depth chart -- only because Riley and Co. didn't include an "or" between the two names. Anyone looking for meaning to Mannion being No. 1 can keep looking.

"You can't read anything into that," Riley said. "We're going to split their time evenly. You don't need to ask them daily about what's going on because I probably won't make a decision until the end of fall camp. I'm just going to let them play and grow and try to get better this spring. We'll give them absolute even turns as we go -- unless somebody just takes the bull by the horns and separates. But I don't know if that's going to happen. I think they both did a lot of good things and they both had some rough moments. It's a matter of who comes out of it with the most consistent, best play. And that might take some time. I think they are both knowledgeable. They both work hard and are well-respected. We're going to let them get as much preparation as they can."

This will be one of the more closely watched quarterback competitions in the conference -- and nationally, as the Beavers are expected to start the season in the preseason top 25.

Mannion helped the Beavers to a hot start in 2012, guiding them to victories in their first four games before hurting his knee against Washington State. That paved the way for Vaz, who engineered back-to-back wins at BYU and against Utah.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireSean Mannion is listed as Oregon State's No. 1 QB, but nothing's been decided, coach Mike Riley said.
Then came the first loss of the season, to Washington, in which Mannion threw four interceptions. Oregon State was off and on the rest of the season -- as were its quarterbacks. After a 6-0 start, the Beavers went 3-4 down the stretch, culminating with a 31-27 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Mannion finished the year with 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns to 13 interceptions on 64.7 percent passing. Vaz completed 58.9 percent of his throws for 1,480 yards, but also had 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

"We've talked to both of them about the fact there is going to be competition," Riley said. "They have to learn to handle that and be a great leader and a great teammate and focus on doing their best. I think it will be good for both of them. I think it will bring the best out in both of them and then we'll have to see what we're going to do from there. I suppose in the long run we could come out of it stronger."

Other notes:

  • Players who will miss spring ball include: Safety Tyrequek Zimmerman, left tackle Garrett Weinreich, defensive end Scott Crichton, wide receiver Richard Mullaney and fullback Tyler Anderson. Left guard Chase Eldredge and center Isaac Seumalo will be limited.
  • Riley talked about the competition between Sean Martin and junior-college transfer Steven Nelson to replace departed cornerback Jordan Poyer: "[Martin] got more opportunities to play last year and that was all good for him, and we'll see if he can step up into what can be a reliable starting role. ... [Nelson] is always around working out, and in a short amount of time has seemed to fit in real well. I anticipate good things from him in spring ball. The best thing that can happen to this team is really develop good competition with good players at the corner. "
  • Riley on the depth at running back with Storm Woods, Terron Ward and Chris Brown: "That right there is good depth. I hate losing Malcolm [Agnew] because he's a good football player. He's all over special teams and when you watch our cutups or games, he's always doing something. But I think we have good players there. Storm can build on his freshman year for sure and Terron Ward looked really good in the offseason running and has really worked hard. Chris Brown is a young talent trying to break in where he can hopefully fill some of those roles that Malcolm Agnew played and bust into the rotation of playing in the game."

Irish creating own luck

November, 6, 2012
11/06/12
9:00
AM ET
Manti Te'oMatthew EmmonsManti Te'o's fourth-quarter pick against Oklahoma is just one of many plays that broke in the Irish's favor this season.
"I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." -- Thomas Jefferson

What better way to start off a post on election day than with a quote from one of our nation's Founding Fathers?

One that is true, I might add.

A football team does not get to 9-0 on the back of luck, as Brian Kelly re-iterated Sunday.

"Most of the time you're making your luck, and you're playing through some rough spots," Kelly said. "I've never had a team that won because it was lucky. But I've had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win, if that makes sense. Does that make sense?"

Yes, though it's tough to explain how Notre Dame won a game Saturday after losing the turnover margin 3-0, after what some would call a phantom pass interference call on a key fourth-down fourth-quarter play, and certainly after a dooming 33-yard field goal sailed wide right -- after the officials did not penalize the Irish for having two players on the field who wore the same jersey number (No. 2s Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown).

The simple fact is that the Irish have won every game they have played. They have done more than enough in tough situations to earn those victories, ones that probably don't come in years past, and certainly not during last year's remarkably unlucky campaign.

(Is it a coincidence, as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Sam Werner pointed out, that Notre Dame outscored Pitt 23-6 Saturday after the stadium played the Rudy theme song at the 14:06 mark of the fourth quarter? … OK, probably.)

In any event, here's a look at just how close this perfect season is to being imperfect, with a similar break shown from last year to illustrate some of the differences.

As Jerry Seinfeld says, these things usually have a way of evening out.

Sept. 8 versus Purdue, 20-17 win: On third-and-6 from his own 49, Tommy Rees tried to call a timeout, then took the snap after the play clock had expired. Delay of game was not called, Rees hit John Goodman near the Irish sideline for 10 yards, and Notre Dame ended up capping the drive with a game-winning field goal with seven seconds left. 2011 equivalent: Dayne Crist marching the Irish downfield on the season's first drive against USF, only to have a Jonas Gray goal-line fumble get returned all the way back, changing the course of the game and setting an ominous tone for the season.

Oct. 6 versus Miami (in Chicago), 41-3 win: OK, so this had no effect on the game's outcome. But if Phillip Dorsett catches either of the deep balls thrown to him on the Hurricanes' first drive of the game, he scores. The complexion of this contest is forever changed then, though there is simply no way the Irish don't still overpower and wear down Miami en route to win No. 5. 2011 equivalent: If we're going by passing plays, then it's hard to overlook Michigan marching 80 yards in three plays over 28 seconds in Week 2 against the Irish last season, completing a 17-point fourth quarter comeback en route to a BCS-bowl season.

Oct. 13 versus Stanford, 20-13 win (OT): Where do we begin? We can skip the mis-spotted ball the officials gave the Cardinal in the fourth quarter, since they converted on the ensuing third-down play. But how about the whistle that coach David Shaw said was blown from the crowd, causing his players to let up while Matthias Farley tackled Stepfan Taylor for a seven-yard loss on third-and-2. That drive ended in a field goal to make it 13-10, and the Irish forced overtime on the next drive. (For my money, kudos to Farley for playing through, phantom whistle or not.) Then, of course, there's the game-ending goal-line stand. Was the whistle blown too soon? Does it matter? It's hard to imagine Taylor crossing the goal line any way since he was surrounded by seemingly the entire Notre Dame defense. And you can't overturn a call like that. And that would have just sent the game into double-overtime any way, with no guarantees either way. (I still contend that the Irish got jilted on Everett Golson's third fumble of that game, as he looked to have stepped out of bounds before losing it.) 2011 equivalent: Notre Dame about to complete a 17-0 comeback against USC before a Crist goal-line fumble gets returned the other way for a touchdown, crushing any remaining BCS-bowl dreams in the seventh game of the season.

Oct. 27 at Oklahoma, 30-13 win: Manti Te'o made a diving interception with Notre Dame up seven in the fourth quarter, a play that was upheld. Based on the initial Twitter reaction, I'm guessing that Oklahoma fans are probably still complaining about this one, but it's tough to overturn. And, well, the Irish were winning at the time and there's no guarantee that the Sooners would have mounted another scoring drive that game against that defense. 2011 equivalent: Notre Dame sacking Florida State five times, holding the Seminoles to 1.4 yards per rush, scoring a defensive touchdown, holding a 14-0 second-half lead … and still losing the Champs Sports Bowl.

Big East weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
10:00
AM ET
One last look back at the weekend that was in the Big East:

The good: Louisville continued to carry the conference flag, improving to 9-0. Cincinnati snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Syracuse. South Florida snapped a six-game losing streak by beating Connecticut.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThere are 34 players from Florida on Louisville's roster, and Charlie Strong recruited 27 of them, including QB Teddy Bridgewater.
The bad: Some of the losing teams from Saturday surely will be scratching their heads, particularly Syracuse, which turned the ball over twice (leading to two Cincinnati touchdowns), committed 12 penalties and had one field goal blocked and missed another. And Pitt blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in the house of the now-No. 4 team in the country, missing a potential game-winning field goal in double overtime and going with some questionable play calling late in regulation against Notre Dame.

The ugly: UConn fell at USF for its fourth straight loss. The Huskies did not reach the end zone, and though they kicked a third-quarter field goal, they still have not scored a second-half touchdown since the third quarter of their Sept. 29 home win over Buffalo.

Uh, refs: Losing the way Pitt did hurts enough. But it turns out after the fact that the Panthers should have gotten another chance. Tied at the end of double overtime with a chance to win the game with a 33-yard kick, Kevin Harper booted it wide right after a bad snap. But Notre Dame had two players wearing No. 2 on the field at the same time -- corner Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown -- which the refs didn't see. Pitt should have been awarded a first down and would have had another chance to score and seal the win. "It was a coaching mistake," Irish coach Brian Kelly said afterward.

About time: USF had not one but two picks in its 13-6 win over UConn, becoming the last FBS team to record an interception this season. Better late than never.

Take a bow: USF quarterback B.J. Daniels' college career is over after he suffered a broken left ankle. Sad to see the senior go under those circumstances, especially less than 400 yards from breaking Matt Grothe's Big East record for total yards (10,875).

No more Munchie magic? Munchie Legaux was pulled from the Bearcats' win over Syracuse and backup Brendon Kay did not disappoint, leading consecutive scoring drives to put his team back in front. Kay's numbers don't say much -- 3-of-3 passing for 32 yards and a touchdown, three rushes for 18 yards -- but he played well, and the competition will reopen this week between him and Legaux.
Brian Kelly saw a different team post-victory Saturday night than the one he did a week earlier.

Such is the difference between a tight home win over BYU and a program-defining road triumph over a top-10 team.

"They were very excited about the win," Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference of a 30-13 win over No. 8 Oklahoma. "They felt really good about how they won the game. It wasn't a giddy group; it was a group that felt like they had earned the win and celebrated accordingly. And we got on the bus and we got on the plane and you could barely hear a pin drop. The guys were out sleeping. You know when you gauge a win how your team reacts, and I thought it was an appropriate reaction after the game."

One that coincided with the best performance of the three-year Kelly era.

"It was in the four areas that we've asked our kids to play this game, it was on point," Kelly said. "We wanted to be smart, disciplined, physically and mentally we wanted to be tougher than our opponent, and we hit all four of those. So as it relates to what the message was and what we wanted to accomplish, it hit all four points for us."

Specificifally, Kelly was pleased to see a number of young players step up in big spots, particularly Chris Brown, whose game-changing 50-yard catch in the fourth quarter set up the go-ahead score.

The reception was the first of Brown's career.

"Three true freshmen making an impact in Chris Brown, Elijah Shumate and KeiVarae Russell — I think the tackling of our secondary against a very skilled group," Kelly said of what stood out the most Saturday. "We were going to give them the ball in space and we were going to have to make tackles, and I was very, very impressed with a guy like KeiVarae Russell, who's a true freshman who moved over there just a couple months ago, the way he tackles in space. And then Elijah Shumate, a guy who again, is just a true freshman playing in a very big environment.

"The way they handled themselves in that kind of environment — I wouldn't say surprised me, but those are the things that we're talking about in terms of guys really impressing us."

Flu-ridden: Six players had a stomach flu during the week, but Gunner Kiel was not one of them. Kelly said he left the freshman quarterback home because the team had several administrators on its plane and had to make some tough travel decisions.

Clean bill of health: Bennett Jackson (shoulder) and Matthias Farley (hand) are both fine, Kelly said.


Fifth-ranked Notre Dame sent a message to the rest of college football with a 30-13 win over No. 8 Oklahoma at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Here's a closer look at what happened and what it means for both teams.

How the game was won: In the trenches. Notre Dame shut down OU’s run game while rushing for 215 yards of its own. The Fighting Irish offensive and defensive lines manhandled the Sooners as Notre Dame improved to 8-0.

The game was over when: Irish kicker Kyle Brindza hit a 46-yard field goal to give Notre Dame a 23-13 lead with 3:22 remaining. The Irish tacked on a late touchdown to win by 17 points.

Turning point: After OU tied the game at 13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Irish stormed back on their next possession, sparked by a 50-yard reception from Chris Brown. It was a remarkable response to the Sooners. Everett Golson’s 1-yard touchdown run capped the drive and secured the win.

Stat of the game: 0.6. That’s the yards-per-carry average for Oklahoma. The Irish run defense was highly regarded when they arrived in Norman. And they didn’t disappoint, holding OU to 15 yards on 24 carries.

Player of the game: Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker was all over the field for the Irish. He sealed the victory with his fourth-quarter interception and finished the game with 11 tackles, one sack and one interception. He played like a Heisman candidate, leaving his mark on the game with his aggression and hustle.

Unsung hero of the game: Golson. The redshirt freshman quarterback showed exceptional maturity and savvy. He made plays when they were there, tossed the ball out of bounds when they weren't. He finished 13-of-25 for 177 yards with zero turnovers and added 11 rushes for 64 yards and one touchdown. He didn't play like a first-year player.

What Notre Dame learned: Brian Kelly’s rebuilding job appears to be nearing completion. Programs are built on wins like this. With a road win against the Sooners, Kelly’s team made its case earn a spot in the BCS title game. And, at the very least, Irish fans must be thrilled with the progress of Kelly’s program during his third season in South Bend.

What Oklahoma learned: Winning home games against top-25 opponents isn’t as easy as it seemed under Bob Stoops. After heading into the season undefeated against top-25 teams at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium under Stoops, the Sooners suffered their second loss to a Top-25 opponent this year. No. 3 Kansas State knocked off the Sooners on Sept. 22.

What it means: The Irish are for real. Notre Dame is making a strong case to rise to No. 2 in the BCS standings. With wins over Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State and OU, the Irish have a solid résumé and can make a case for a spot in the BCS title game.

What to Watch: Week 9 at Oklahoma

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
10:15
AM ET
Here are three things to keep an eye out for Saturday night.

1. Deep throw early. Look for Chris Brown to make an early cameo and for Everett Golson to try to hit him behind the secondary early. That could do wonders for the offense and complexion of this game -- if successful.

2. Irish front seven vs. "Bell"-dozer. If Oklahoma gets deep in the red zone, this will be very fun to watch. A Notre Dame defense whose biggest win has come on a goal-line stand going up against a 6-foot-5, 254-pound freshman quarterback? Football in its purest form.

3. A composed Golson. Don't expect the young QB to get rattled by the hostile environment or turn it over multiple times. He already handled a trip to then-No. 10 Michigan State very well. The problem, of course, is that Oklahoma is much better than MSU, and a sound game might not be enough, though I don't expect any Tommy Rees appearances Saturday.
1. This ground game is good: And it's going to be even better when Cierre Wood returns. Of course, not every defense will be as easy to run on as Navy's was, but there are several valuable options -- don't forget about USC transfer Amir Carlisle, either -- that will help alleviate the pressure on Everett Golson.

2. Golson has poise: Yes, that's a vague, cliche term coaches and writers alike love to throw around. But give the redshirt freshman credit: First start, overseas, the pressure of playing quarterback for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly -- and he was never rattled. Golson was an efficient game manager, which was more than enough against the Midshipmen.

3. There may be a punt-return game: Notre Dame averaged 3.7 yards per punt return in 2011 -- and that was after Michael Floyd's 41-yard return in the Champs Sports Bowl. Davonte Neal returned one punt 11 yards. Earth-shattering? No. But after last season's opening-week fiasco, it's enough reason to think this could be a source of production for the Irish, with the true freshman leading the charge.

4. Freshmen will contribute: Neal had the punt return (and a negative-5-yard catch), Justin Ferguson had a 9-yard reception. Ferguson, Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti were special teams regulars. KeiVarae Russell became Notre Dame's first true freshman starting corner. Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Sheldon Day saw some time. And even Ronnie Stanley played with the second-team line, a rarity for a freshman offensive lineman.


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson wanted a visor for his helmet. Brian Kelly gave him much more than that.

In naming Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback Thursday, the third-year Irish coach is showing a commitment to stabilizing the position once and for all, entrusting the car keys to the guy who ultimately can take the spread offense to the level everyone's been waiting to see since Kelly's arrival in 2010.

"You're starting DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown, two guys that are gonna play a lot for us on the perimeter that are first-time starters, and then George Atkinson didn't play very much at running back. You're gonna see a lot of him," Kelly said. "Troy Niklas. I could go on and on. So Everett Golson, there's four or five guys right there that are gonna be impactful in the games. So yeah, certainly there's gonna be some learning there. But one thing we don't have a lot of time on is that curve. We gotta come out running and doing our thing right away."

That starts with the redshirt freshman whose strong arm and nimble feet make him the ideal man behind this wheel. It's not like Notre Dame's offense is composed of all first- or second-year players, either: The Irish return seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, in addition to the nation's best tight end, Tyler Eifert, and an offensive line that is as solid as they come.

Those weapons present a perfect opportunity to help break Golson in, as will the relatively tame defenses he is set to face in the season's first two weeks -- Navy on Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland, and Purdue the following Saturday in South Bend.

"I would say what makes me more comfortable back there is just my teammates," Golson said. "You talk about the veterans, you’ve got the O-line, you’ve got veteran wide receivers. Like I said, the quarterbacks out there just helping me. That’s made me more comfortable."

Mistakes will come because they always do, especially for first-year players. Golson, calm and collected in facing every badgering reporter's question so far, showed a glimpse of some of that child-like giddiness when describing how he found out he won the job.

Golson had wanted a visor for his helmet before Wednesday's practice, an item Kelly said he would get once he was officially named the starter. Golson rushed over to the Romano Family Locker Room before class Thursday, only to see the same old gap between his facemask and helmet.

"I came back in [after class] and it was just there," he said of the visor. "I was kind of happy about that."

If Golson lives up to his potential, those happy times will continue for Notre Dame.

National signing day overview

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
9:00
AM ET
National signing day is in the books. And though it was not without its surprises for Notre Dame, we won't know the true impact of Wednesday's additions until years from now.

With that, we take our best shot at predicting the future while recapping what went down.

Biggest surprise: There's only one choice to make here, and it's the flip of Deontay Greenberry to Houston on Wednesday morning. Notre Dame's 17-man class seemed all but set entering the day, but Greenberry changed that with the last-minute decision. Having his cousin, Tee Shepard, already enrolled at Notre Dame certainly makes this more surprising.

Player you'll see next season: Shepard figures to see playing time in the secondary upon his arrival. Brian Kelly called him the best cornerback in the country, and with the lack of depth there currently on the Notre Dame roster, Shepard will have the chance to earn extended minutes with an impressive spring and summer.

Dark horse contributors: Chris Brown and Nicky Baratti are both three-star prospects, but Kelly thinks they are both steals. Neither has a physique that will help him stand out on the field, but Brown is a versatile threat with the ball in his hands, short or deep. Baratti, labeled an "athlete," projects as a safety but displays the kind of adaptability and attitude that Kelly loves.
John Turner kicked things off for Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class shortly after 7 a.m. today, becoming the first of what is expected to be 14 high schoolers to fax in his signed letter of intent.

The names trickled in after — Romeo Okwara, Mark Harrell, Justin Ferguson, C.J. Prosise, Chris Brown, William Mahone, Scott Daly, Jarron Jones, Nicky Baratti and Elijah Shumate.


Gunner Kiel, Tee Shepard and Sheldon Day have already enrolled.

We'll speak to coach Brian Kelly in less than two hours, by which time the Irish hope their three verbal pledges from the West Coast -- Deontay Greenberry, Ronnie Stanleyand KeiVarae Russell -- make their new homes official.

Where ND stands on signing day

February, 1, 2012
2/01/12
6:00
AM ET
Happy New Year?! Well, not quite. But it is national signing day, a chance for fans of every team to celebrate the promise of the future.

For Notre Dame, that future is brighter than most. The Irish are expected to sign the No. 9 recruiting class for the Class of 2012, according to ESPNU. And barring anything unforeseen, the class might just stand at 17 prospects when the day is done.

Brian Kelly will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. today, but until then, here's a recap of who you should expect to see in a Notre Dame uniform next season. (*indicates early enrollee already on campus)

OFFENSE
*Four-star QB Gunner Kiel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East)
  • 6'3", 215, No. 3 QB, No. 52 overall, 82 Scout Grade, Signed Jan. 17, 2012

Four-star WR Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pikes, Fla./Flanagan)
  • 6'1", 205, No. 14 WR, No. 85 overall, 81 Scout Grade, Committed May 2, 2011

Four-star OT Jarron Jones (Rochester, N.Y./Aquinas)
  • 6'6", 295, No. 11 OT, No. 102 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed April 12, 2011

Four-star WR Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union)
  • 6'2", 185, No. 17 WR, No. 106 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed May 27, 2011

Four-star OT Ronnie Stanley (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman)
  • 6'6", 285, No. 34 OT, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Dec. 15, 2011

Four-star RB William Mahone (Youngstown, Ohio/Austintown Fitch)
  • 5'10", 206, No. 16 RB, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Sept. 30, 2011

Four-star OT Mark Harrell (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Catholic)
  • 6'5", 260, No. 41 OT, 79 Scout Grade, Committed May 19, 2011

Three-star RB KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash./Mariner)
  • 6'0", 175, No. 26 RB, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Dec. 29, 2011

Three-star WR Chris Brown (Hanahan, S.C./Hanahan)
  • 6'2", 170, No. 66 WR, 78 Scout Grade, Committed Sept. 18, 2011

Two-star LS Scott Daly (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South)
  • 6'3", 228, No. 3 LS, 73 Scout Grade, Committed April 16, 2011
DEFENSE
*Four-star CB Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union)
  • 6'0", 180, No. 9 CB, No. 90 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed March 2, 2011

*Four-star DT Sheldon Day (Indianapolis/Warren Central)
  • 6'2", 280, No. 14 DT, No. 143 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed Aug. 3, 2011

Four-star S Elijah Shumate (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco)
  • 6'0", 205, No. 14 S, 80 Scout Grade, Committed Jan. 7, 2012

Three-star S C.J. Prosise (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest)
  • 6'1", 190, No. 22 S, 79 Scout Grade, Committed May 27, 2011

Three-star DE Romeo Okwara (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell)
  • 6'4", 223, No. 96 DE, 77 Scout Grade, Committed July 10, 2011

Three-star ATH Nicky Baratti (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak)
  • 6'1", 190, No. 87 ATH, 77 Scout Grade, Committed April 16, 2011

Three-star S John Turner (Indianapolis/Cathedral)
  • 6'0", 194, No. 62 S, 76 Scout Grade, Committed June 28, 2011
Note: Amir Carlisle (Sunnyvale, Calif./Kings Academy) has also enrolled this spring after a semester at USC. He was a four-star recruit, ESPNU's No. 17 athlete, and the 114th-best player overall in the Class of 2011. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder rushed for 118 yards on 19 carries and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown with the Trojans in 2011.

Notre Dame recruiting needs

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
3:19
PM ET
With national signing day less than a week away, here's a look at what Notre Dame needs from its 2012 recruiting class:

Running backs: The reliable Cierre Wood has one more year left, and the answers behind him remain a mystery. We have not seen nearly enough of George Atkinson III or Cam McDaniel to know how they will turn out, and who knows where Theo Riddick will line up once the 2012 season kicks off? Help is on the way, however, in the form of William Mahone (Youngstown, OH/Austintown Fitch) and KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash./Mariner), ESPNU's No. 16 and No. 26 running backs, respectively. Throw in USC transfer Amir Carlisle, and things are looking bright in the Irish backfield moving forward.

Wide receivers: You can't expect to replace Michael Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books. But the drop-off after Floyd is noticeable, and finding targets for the plethora of quarterbacks on the roster is a must. Fortunately for the Irish, they may have those coming in Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Flanagan), Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) and Chris Brown (Hanahan, S.C./Hanahan) — ESPNU's 14th, 17th and 66th best receivers from this class, respectively.

Cornerbacks: Two new starters will take the field next year. Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood saw playing time as reserves this past season, but the unit is pretty thin, with the inexperienced Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown behind them. ESPNU No. 9 cornerback Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) enrolled early and could provide immediate help, but depth could be an issue at this position.

Safety: Speaking of the secondary, Notre Dame will have to replace captain Harrison Smith and, soon enough, co-starters Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter, too. Austin Collinsworth could be a starter next season, and Eilar Hardy figures to see the field after redshirting this past season. ESPNU No. 14 safety Elijah Shumate (Ramsey, N.J/Don Bosco), No. 22 C.J. Prosise (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest) and No. 62 John Turner (Indianapolis/Cathedral) are on the way, as is No. 87 athlete Nicky Baratti (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak). Chris Badger returns from a Mormon mission, too.

Irish make presence felt in Carolinas

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
10:15
AM ET
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — What's one implication of playing Wake Forest inside 31,500-seat BB&T Field, almost 50,000 seats fewer than Notre Dame Stadium? How about exposure.

No, Notre Dame doesn't lack for drama or attention, but maybe the Carolinas do. And the Irish have made it a point of making their presence felt in that area.

Just take a look at these numbers:
  • Seven current Notre Dame players hail from North Carolina or South Carolina.
  • Three more, Mark Harrell and Romeo Okwara (both North Carolina) and Chris Brown (South Carolina), have committed to play for the Irish next season.
  • Eight ESPNU 150 players hail from either North Carolina or South Carolina, which, together, puts the area sixth behind Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Alabama.

"It's started to grow in terms of its significance in the recruiting grand scheme of things — even when I was at Cincinnati we started to get in there because the high school football was growing and that population growth in that area, as you know, made that the reason for it," Brian Kelly said Sunday. "So it's been on our radar. We've just really worked hard at it, and we've obviously got some players from that area that have allowed us to continue to build those relationships."

"Yeah, North Carolina, South Carolina has been an area now that we've had a number of coaches on our staff, it's not just one coach, that are in there recruiting it hard. So getting down and playing Wake Forest, you know, obviously we're gonna be able to have a number of kids come up — they won't be our guests obviously, but they're certainly gonna check us out."

Irish cornerback Robert Blanton, from Matthews, N.C., said he will have a dozen family members in attendance.

"It's about an hour and 15 minutes [northeast] of Charlotte, and it takes about 45 minutes if you drive fast," Blanton said of his hometown, laughing.

Linebacker Prince Shembo, from Charlotte, will get to see his father, Maurice, in the stands for just the second time since the elder Shembo suffered a brain aneurysm Sept. 16.

On Tuesday, Kelly again cited population growth for the number of recruitable football players in the Carolinas, a place he said he recruited wide receivers and defensive backs from while at Central Michigan from 2004-06.

In addition to Blanton, Kelly's other starting cornerback Saturday, Gary Gray, hails from the area, having played high school ball at Richland Northeast in Columbia, S.C.

"Just have always felt that that's been — when I was at Central and Cincinnati — kind of an under-the-radar state or states," Kelly said. "It's not that anymore. So I've always felt the importance of it because it was a big growth area demographically. And then I think Notre Dame has always been in that area, and we've just kind of carried that on from my beliefs that it's a very good football state."

Irish recruiting update

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
5:00
PM ET
If two straight losses to start the season didn't hurt Notre Dame in recruiting, a convincing win against the defending co-Big Ten champions had to have helped, right?

The Fighting Irish walked away from Saturday with win No. 1, 2012 commit No. 15 and 2013 verbal No. 1.

Chris Brown, a three-star receiver out of Hanahan (S.C.) High School, became the Irish's third receiver to join the Class of 2012. The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder is ranked as the 58th best wideout in his class and runs a 4.44 40. He committed Sunday.

Steve Elmer, meanwhile, will add some meat to Notre Dame's offensive line two years from now. He became the Irish's first commit for the Class of 2013 before their 31-13 win against Michigan State on Saturday. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle from Midland (Mich.) High School is one of the top prospects from Michigan in his class. According to our guy Jared Shanker, it would take a major meltdown in South Bend over the next two seasons for the big fella to change his mind.

The only thing missing from this past weekend might have been a commitment from William Mahone, but good things might be on the horizon. Shanker said Mahone, a four-star running back out of Austintown-Fitch (Ohio) High School, loved his visit to Notre Dame so much Saturday that he will pay his way back for the Irish's Oct. 22 primetime showdown against USC.

That weekend will be a huge one for Notre Dame on the recruiting front, especially since it has only one more home game, Oct. 8 against Air Force, before then. Don't be surprised if things are a little quiet for the next month. The week leading up to the Irish's game against the Trojans, however, should be a busy one.

SPONSORED HEADLINES