NCF Nation: DaVaris Daniels

Kelly: No update on suspended five

September, 11, 2014
9/11/14
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The waiting game continues for No. 11 Notre Dame as it approaches its third game of the season still without answers regarding the five players being held out amid an internal academic investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly also said Torii Hunter Jr. (Grade 3 groin tear) will not play Saturday despite showing progress throughout the week.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- So often during last year's nine-win season, and even in the 12-win campaign before that, an exasperated Brian Kelly would emerge from the locker room, seemingly having to defend another strenuous triumph and reaffirm that all was well with the state of Notre Dame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The novelty of a new season has brought on new questions through two games. And the man answering most of them no longer looks worse for the wear.
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They said it: "You never want to lose any of your players, so that's always difficult. To lose any of your players, especially given the circumstances, that's always difficult. But I'm responsible for not just four players [but] 105-plus [and] over 30 support staff [members]. I've got to get going. I've got to move immediately to getting better as a program and as a football team. I don't spend much time on the past [and] don't mortgage the future. I try to stay in the present." — Kelly, on moving forward as four players serve an indefinite suspension amid Notre Dame's academic probe

Notre Dame spring preview

March, 5, 2014
3/05/14
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The keys to Notre Dame's future arrived Monday, when Everett Golson took the field for the first time in nearly a year as the Irish opened their fifth spring practice under Brian Kelly.

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Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesThe Irish offense hopes to benefit from the return of quarterback Everett Golson.
This spring will probably not look all that different from last spring, when Golson, coming off a redshirt freshman season that ended in the BCS title game, was officially handed complete control of the vehicle that was Kelly's offense before being exiled the following fall for an academic mishap. Yet the Irish may be shorter on all-around playmakers this spring than they were last year.

But with Golson back -- 15 pounds heavier and seemingly much more mature after spending two months with well-known quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr. in San Diego -- it is finally all in for Notre Dame. Its fan base has been anxiously awaiting the offensive theatrics that a Kelly team last displayed five years ago at Cincinnati, and the most important component to that is Golson.

"Absolutely," Kelly said, speaking about the quarterback position, specifically. "Your offensive line has to play well; it has to protect the quarterback. We've got to run the ball effectively, take care of it. But I think we all know college football and where it is: The quarterback is really going to be the centerpiece of this offense and the way we run it. It's going to fall on him.

"We all live in the same world when it comes to the Notre Dame quarterback. We're going to heap a lot on this kid's shoulders. And he knows that. That's why he came back to Notre Dame, because he wants that. Clearly, he's going to be the one that drives this for us."

Replacing the top protectors of Golson (and every other QB of the Kelly era) is paramount, as stalwarts Zack Martin and Chris Watt are gone after manning the left side of the line so well together for more than three years.

Finding reliable weapons in a passing game down its top three pass-catchers from last season is important, too. (One of those targets, DaVaris Daniels, is expected back this summer after making a Golson-like academic gaffe.)

Defensively, potential first-round picks Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix are gone, as are three of the four starting linebackers. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco -- along with offensive playcaller Chuck Martin -- are gone, and longtime college and NFL veteran Brian VanGorder brings aboard the potential for a more aggressive defense, which should complement a much more aggressive offense.

A running game that lacked punch at times last year will be greatly strengthened by the dimension presented by Golson's legs, which he says got quicker despite the added weight.

It is weight his body and mind are ready to carry as he looks to bring Notre Dame's offense to a place it has longed for.

"I think if leadership ability is in you, it'll show eventually when you're called on," Golson said. "I think only being a freshman, I was still leading to a certain extent. I think now it's more heightened, I would say, because our team is so young this year. But it's been great. That's the spot that I want to be at and I was kind of born to be at, I would say, in a sense. So when it happens, leadership steps to the front."


On Saturday, Oklahoma will make its first trip to Notre Dame Stadium in 14 years. The Irish won that 1999 contest, 34-30, and have won eight others against the Sooners, as they hold a 9-1 all-time mark in the series. Last season's game turned on several big Notre Dame plays on both sides of the ball, lifting the Irish to a 30-13 road win and an 8-0 record.

What will happen this time around? We turn to Big 12 reporter Brandon Chatmon and Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna to preview this weekend's tilt in South Bend, Ind.

Matt: Brandon, Blake Bell earned the noble distinction last year of becoming the first player to rush for a touchdown against Notre Dame. That was eight games into the Irish's season, and this year they have already given up two scores on the ground. Obviously, Bell has a lot more on his plate this time around. And he is making his first career road start, in a stadium where the Irish have won 10 straight games. What can Notre Dame's defense expect to see from Bell on Saturday?

Brandon: The Irish will actually have to account for the possibility they will see No. 10 throw the ball when he's behind center. Notre Dame will have to be prepare for Bell to test its secondary with his arm more than his feet, and he showed he might be a better passer than people think in his first start against Tulsa. Undoubtedly, the windows will shrink against ND but the fact remains that the Irish will have to prepare for Bell, who could test them with his arm and feet, unlike their preparations for Landry Jones, who doesn't put fear into the heart of any defense with his legs. The overriding question in Norman is: how have the Irish changed in the trenches after manhandling OU in Norman last season? Can they do that again?

Matt: The depth of Notre Dame's defensive line took some hits this offseason -- first with the transfer of Eddie Vanderdoes to UCLA, then with the ACL tear suffered by Tony Springmann. Still, the front-line guys remain very dangerous, though the numbers have not exactly depicted that through four games. The Irish's opponents have done a good job of establishing a quick-strike passing game, effectively negating the strengths of the Irish's defensive linemen. A mobile quarterback like Bell will likely present more challenges Saturday, and it us up to the Irish to continue to adjust. The other side is a bit of a mystery as well. Notre Dame has struggled to establish much of a run game so far, but its offensive line has done a tremendous job of keeping Tommy Rees standing up straight through four games, and the offense has again limited the turnovers. Rees and this year's group of running backs just don't pose the kind of threat that Everett Golson and last year's backfield did, so it's hard to imagine the Irish running to set up the deep pass in the same way they were able to last year, when they connected with Chris Brown for a game-changing 50-yard strike in the fourth quarter. They may have more weapons at receiver this year, though. How does Oklahoma's pass coverage match up with TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels and company?

Brandon: Well, Matt, the Sooners' secondary would like to think it's ready for the challenge against Rees and Notre Dame's receivers. All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin won't be a concern, but the rest of the secondary is somewhat untested. Senior Gabe Lynn is starting at safety, a new position, after spending his first three seasons at nickelback and corner, and he has played well. OU's three new starters, nickelback Julian Wilson, cornerback Zack Sanchez and safety Quentin Hayes, have looked good but haven't yet played a quarterback who will capitalize on their mistakes. That said, the OU secondary, without question, is faster and better in coverage than the 2012 version. Whether it will it hold up mentally in a hostile environment is the unanswered question, so I can't wait to see how it all plays out. Anyway, who do you like this weekend?

Matt: Notre Dame's defense played its best game Saturday, responding to Brian Kelly's mid-week challenge. But I'm just not sure it has completely turned the corner yet. I think the Irish are getting Oklahoma at a more opportune time, as Bell is making just his second start and the Sooners have yet to really be tested. But I have not seen enough so far that makes me believe Notre Dame will be able to handle everything Oklahoma will throw at it offensively. Oklahoma has had one more week to prepare, and I sense a bit of wounded pride coming from the Sooners after the Irish out-muscled them late last year and, eventually, ended up ruining the their BCS-bowl hopes. How do you see this one unfolding?

Brandon: I think everything falls on the shoulders of the quarterbacks. Rees is much more experienced than Bell and I have a feeling that's going to show itself on Saturday as the Irish make Bell uncomfortable in the pocket and force a couple of mental mistakes from the junior during his first road start. OU's defense will hold up and play well, giving the Sooners the chance to remain in the game no matter what happens offensively. But turnovers will be the difference and ND will win the turnover battle and win a close, hard-fought game at home.

Irish take wins however they can get them

September, 21, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Kyle Brindza walked into the postgame interview room and took a seat, his voice hoarse from a week-long cold, thoughts of suffering his first career blocked punt -- and of missing his second field goal of the season -- nothing but a thing of the past.

Back in the locker room was a gift that Brindza, Notre Dame's do-it-all special-teamer, wanted to give to his nephew: a game-ball he received for his efforts in the Irish's 17-13 win Saturday over Michigan State, their third straight win over the rival Spartans.

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AP Photo/Michael ConroyNotre Dame tailback Cam McDaniel rushed for 40 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in the Irish's win over Michigan State.
"People talk about stats and everything, but it's just pretty much, for me, to be able to -- when our offense is backed up -- flip field and put our defense in good position," Brindza said. "So I'm glad I was able to do that for our team."

Yes, it was that kind of afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium, with the Irish getting out-gained in a game that featured less than 500 total yards of offense between the two squads, on a day that began with the program suffering its first blocked punt in five years, in a contest that saw TJ Jones fumble one punt and inadvertently touch another.

Notre Dame recovered both, and in the end, its zero turnovers to Michigan State's one might have been the difference. The Irish won their 10th straight home game, a feat they have not accomplished in 14 years. They made it seven for their past seven in games decided by one score. And they improved to 12-0 under coach Brian Kelly when they do not give the ball away.

This team learned all about winning ugly during last season's run. The question now is if a similar path is what it will take to have another successful campaign.

"I would characterize it a little bit differently," Kelly said when asked about an ugly win. "I think both defenses really carried the day here today. I think Michigan State has a great defense. They're very difficult to play against in so many fashions.

"If you would have asked me last week about what this kind of game was going to be, it wasn't going to be a beauty contest. I felt like it was going to be this kind of game."

Quarterback Tommy Rees had his worst game of the season, but avoided costly mistakes. He went 14-of-34 for 142 yards on a day that Kelly said that the senior simply missed open receivers.

Notre Dame's biggest offensive weapon, however, might have been the yellow flag.

Four pass-interference penalties gave the Irish 60 yards, with another hold, a 10-yarder, coming on a third-and-9 play in the first quarter on a drive that ended with a Brindza field goal.

One pass-interference call came on third down. Another came on a fourth-and-1 on a drive that ended with a Jones touchdown right before halftime.

DaVaris Daniels drew one on a third-quarter play that could have easily been ruled against him. Two plays later, Corey Robinson drew one. Two more plays later, and Cam McDaniel was in the end zone with a 7-yard touchdown.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had his view of pass-interference calls in a rather humorous postgame news conference. Kelly had his own view.

"When you know that the quarterback is going to throw it back shoulder, the defensive back does not know where it is, you have an advantage in that situation," Kelly said. "You're going to get some pass-interference calls when you put the ball in a good position."

Added Robinson, the 6-foot-4 freshman who led all players with 54 yards on three catches: "When the ball's in there I have to go get it, regardless of whether it's inside, outside, high or low, it doesn't matter. And I have to get around the cornerback to get the ball, and if I get the call then I get the call.

"But I have to make the catch regardless, and today I didn't make a couple of the catches, but I was fortunate to get the call. I don't got for pass interference; I'm trying to get the ball every single time, and that's the goal every time."

Matthias Farley accounted for the game's lone takeaway when he picked off Spartans freshman R.J. Shelton on an ill-advised halfback pass in the third quarter. Notre Dame scored on the very next drive.

The Irish came no closer to solving their backfield riddle, as they netted just 82 yards on 32 carries, with McDaniel again serving as the end-of-game back, getting the team's final 12 carries and even getting an unsportsmanlike-conduct call to boot.

Trailing by four with 3:12 to play and two timeouts left, Michigan State punted the ball from its own 35-yard line.

Which offense that was a bigger indictment of is a matter of debate, as Notre Dame returned favor with a three-and-out, only to see new Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell fall 12 yards short on his decisive fourth-and-20 run.

Notre Dame is 3-1 as it readies for Oklahoma. The Irish handed the nation's top defense its first loss of the season. And perhaps that's all that should be said about that.

"We know how to win close games," Rees said. "That's something we've done for a while now. I think all the guys understood what it took to close out a close one."
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."

Michigan-Notre Dame writers roundtable

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
2:00
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Michigan StadiumAP Photo/Tony DingCan anything top Michigan's 35-31 win in 2011, which was the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium?

Under the lights ... and two of college football’s oldest rivals in one of their last scheduled meetings … and College GameDay. Does it get any better than this? Only when Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett, Dame reporter Matt Fortuna and Michigan reporter Chantel Jennings get together to talk about it. Today, they discuss a few topics surrounding the highly anticipated matchup.

1. Over the past few years, this rivalry has seen its fair share of big stars excel during this game -- Denard Robinson's 502 yards in 2010, Roy Roundtree's game-winning catch in 2011, Manti Teo's defensive performance in 2012. Which player could you see having a mega game on Saturday?

Bennett: How about Jeremy Gallon? The Michigan receiver had the huge 64-yard catch that set up Roundtree's game-winner in 2011. While he wasn't as active in last year's game, that's primarily because the Wolverines were busy throwing the ball to Notre Dame. Gallon has been more effective ever since Devin Gardner started running the show, and I could see him burning the Irish secondary for some big plays.

Jennings: The heroes this game has helped create have kind of come out of nowhere in some instances. So I’m going to pick a guy who has been flying under the radar statistically, who I think has the ability to show up in big games, and that’s Michigan tight end Devin Funchess. He had a fine freshman year and a better offseason. I think we could see him be a big difference maker on Saturday.

Fortuna: If I'm Notre Dame, I'm gearing up for Gardner, since Michigan quarterback play has essentially decided these contests in one form or another in each of the past four years. From the Irish side, though, I think wide receiver DaVaris Daniels could break out. He was Notre Dame's best offensive player in the national title game loss to Alabama, hauling in six catches for 115 yards. On Saturday against Temple, the redshirt sophomore had three catches for 69 yards, including a pair of 32-yard touchdown receptions on the Irish's first two drives.

2. Which mismatch between these two teams are you most intrigued to watch?

Bennett: On paper at least, it's the Michigan interior offensive line vs. Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III. Center Jack Miller and guards Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow are talented and played well together last week, but they have very little experience. Nix, meanwhile, is a 357-pound man-mountain who helped anchor a championship-level defense last season. He commands double teams, and it will be up to Michigan's young inside guys to keep him in check so Stephon Tuitt and others can't wreak even more havoc.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan tackle Taylor Lewan will have his hands full with Notre Dame's talented defensive line.
Jennings: Left tackle Taylor Lewan on whomever or whatever Notre Dame tries to throw at him. He’s so crucial to Michigan’s offense, and I really don’t see him not dominating any matchup this season. Lewan came back for games like this and matchups like what he’ll have against Tuitt.

Fortuna: I'll say Notre Dame's offensive line against Michigan's defensive line. The Irish have three starters back from last season, along with a very talented center in Nick Martin. One of the reasons they were able to jump out to a 17-point lead in Ann Arbor two years ago was because of their ability to run up the middle, as the Irish averaged six yards per rush on the night. Notre Dame is now in its third straight year of starting Zack Martin and Chris Watt together on the left side, and it has started using pistol packages in 2013 to tailor to the strengths of some of its young backs in hopes of establishing a downhill run game. This is far from a "mismatch," but with Michigan returning just three starters from last season's front seven, and with the teams so evenly matched across the board, I'd say this is where Notre Dame probably has the biggest edge. Conversely, I can't wait to see Tuitt and Lewan go head-to-head. Both will be a lot richer eight months from now.

3. Is there any way this game could one-up the last time these two teams met in the Big House?

Bennett: It's possible that this could be an even better overall game than the one in 2011, just not as flashy. People remember the Michigan comeback and the crazy fourth quarter, but it was a pretty lopsided affair until then. That wild finish was made possible by major defensive breakdowns on both sides, and both teams are much more sound defensively now. I believe these are two legitimate top-15 teams, so we should expect a tight game. The atmosphere won't be quite as special because it won't be the first time under the lights at the Big House. But Notre Dame-Michigan usually finds a way to amaze us.

Jennings: I was on the sideline for the final minutes of that matchup two years ago, and to call the atmosphere electric would still be selling it short. I don’t know if the Wolverines have had a game as exciting since, so I’m going to go with no. I think it’ll be a great game and the fact that it’s the last in Michigan Stadium for the foreseeable future adds a lot. But as far as the plays themselves, jam packed into that short amount of time, I just don’t see that being topped.

Fortuna: I said no to this same question two years ago and was sadly mistaken, so I'll try not to be as definitive in my answer this time around. Whether it was Denard Robinson or Tate Forcier before him, magic seems to always happen in the late moments of this game. I'll just go ahead and make the bold prediction that if Notre Dame takes the lead with 30 seconds remaining this time, its secondary will hold up and secure an Irish win. Like I said, bold.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
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Notre Dame had a number of players stand out in Saturday's 28-6 win over Temple. Here's who stood out above the rest:

Tommy Rees, QB: Rees had a career-high 346 passing yards, completing 16 of 23 passes with three touchdowns and no picks. This was just the kind of start Notre Dame needed to see from Rees, who has endured a barrage of questions throughout his college career but has managed to keep an even keel throughout it all.

TJ Jones, WR: Jones also turned in a career-best effort in recording 138 receiving yards. He caught six passes, made several shifty maneuvers after the catch and looked very much like the go-to threat Brian Kelly kept calling him throughout camp. He also netted 23 yards on three punt returns, something worth noting on a Fighting Irish return unit that has struggled mightily the past three years.

DaVaris Daniels, WR: Like Jones, Daniels also picked up right where he left off. The Irish's two best receivers from the Discover BCS National Championship loss had strong outings Saturday. Daniels notched his first two career touchdowns, both 32 yards, and finished with three catches for 69 yards despite sitting out the second half for precautionary measures because of a groin problem.

Stephon Tuitt, DE: So much for all that weight talk. Tuitt, who put on 19 pounds this offseason after undergoing a hernia operation, picked up right where he left off, notching four total tackles and a sack. Don't be surprised if he makes another run at Justin Tuck's single-season school record of 13.5 sacks.
Notre Dame's long offseason comes to an end Saturday, as the Irish play host to Temple at 3:30 p.m. ET. What can they expect against the Owls?

When Temple has the ball: Under former coach Steve Addazio, the Owls were a ground-and-pound team. Now they are without their top two backs from last season in Montel Harris and Matt Brown. They have a new coach in Matt Rhule, who has implemented a pro spread offense, which allowed quarterback Connor Reilly to ascend from the fourth team to starter since the start of this past spring. Leading receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick (30 catches, 363 yards, 2 TDs) is back. But Cody Booth, who led the Owls last season with four touchdown catches, has moved from tight end to left tackle. Former signal-caller Chris Coyer added 30 pounds this offseason as he moved to H-back. Notre Dame will likely look to pressure Reilly in his first career start and force him into some early mistakes, especially now that the Irish have a secondary that is better equipped to seize opportunities than it was last season.

When Notre Dame has the ball: Tommy Rees is Notre Dame's quarterback, again. So what changes? For one, Rees is two years older than he was the last time he started extensively for the Irish. He's a bit bigger, too. He has two proven receivers in captain TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels, and some unproven talent behind them. Notre Dame's pistol package in camp has caused some buzz in South Bend, and it figures to help a crowded but mostly green backfield. Those tailbacks, by the way, should try to avoid linebacker Tyler Matakevich at all costs, as he is the reigning Big East rookie of the year and already one of the leaders of the defense as a sophomore captain.

Intangible: This is 38-year-old Rhule's first game as a head coach. The former New York Giants assistant returned to the Owls after serving as an assistant under Al Golden. You never know how a new coach and his players will come out early, especially when entering a place with as much history as Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish, meanwhile, should know better than to look ahead to Michigan, as they had their 2011 opener ruined by what turned out to be a 3-9 Big East team (South Florida).

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Temple 6. The Owls may be the worst team the Irish face this season. Some early first-game hiccups will keep it from eventually getting too far out of hand.

Notre Dame season preview

August, 15, 2013
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Today we're looking at Notre Dame, which looks to build off its best season in more than two decades.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Coach: Brian Kelly (199-68-2 overall, 28-11 at Notre Dame)

2012 record: 12-1

Key losses: RB Theo Riddick, RB Cierre Wood, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
AP Photo/John BazemoreBrian Kelly's Irish should once again be in the hunt for a BCS bowl game.
Key returnees: QB Tommy Rees, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix III, LB Dan Fox, LB Prince Shembo, CB Bennett Jackson

Newcomer to watch: RB Greg Bryant. The Delray Beach, Fla., native was ESPN's No. 2 running back prospect for the Class of 2013 and walks into a crowded but opportune situation. Bryant, an Oklahoma de-commit, is one of six backs vying for extensive playing time after the Irish said goodbye to their top-two rushers from a year ago. Coach Brian Kelly has already gone on record as saying that his young running backs are guys who will help the Irish win some games this fall, and Bryant may turn out to be the best of the bunch.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 7 at Michigan, Sept. 21 vs. Michigan State, Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State (in Arlington, Texas), Oct. 19 vs. USC, Nov. 30 at Stanford

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The most pressing question may be how Notre Dame adjusts on the fly after learning after the spring that it would be without quarterback Everett Golson for at least the fall (academic misconduct). Luckily for the Irish, senior Tommy Rees and his 18 starts are back, though he will need some new playmakers to emerge around him after the Irish lost their top two running backs and first-round pick Tyler Eifert at tight end. Six men are vying for carries in the backfield, while TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels anchor the receiving corps.

Forecast: Kelly made it clear that 2012 was in the past by taking his team to Camp Shiloh in Marion, Ind., for the first week of fall camp. No social media or television and, more specifically, no more talk about the Alabama game, Manti Te'o or the other headlines that followed the program during a wild offseason. In helping to get that message across, Kelly has the perfect quarterback in Rees, who has overcome negative headlines of his own and, last year, overcame losing his starting job. He went on to save the Irish in three of their first six games last season and proved to be as valuable as anyone on the roster. Never will that be more evident than this season, as he steps up again in Golson's absence. A stronger Rees took control of the offense during the offseason, and better decision-making should pay dividends for the Irish this fall.

They finished second nationally in scoring defense last season and return eight starters from that unit, including potential 2014 first-round draft picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. They are also much deeper, with a plethora of linebackers and defensive backs ready to spare the starters at a moment's notice, a far cry from last season, when the team broke in three new starters in the secondary -- with all three having been on the offensive side of the ball earlier in their careers.

Kelly returns all of his assistants after a renaissance 2012 campaign that saw the team notch a perfect regular season before meeting Alabama in the BCS National Championship. He brought in ESPN's No. 4 recruiting class for 2013. And he brings back more than enough talent to prove that last season was not a one-year wonder, and that the Irish are, in fact, here to stay. Another BCS bowl game -- despite the late loss of its starting quarterback -- should be well within reach for Notre Dame in 2013.

Where ND fits in on watch lists

July, 24, 2013
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Watch list season came and went, and if the releases are any indication, Notre Dame is in serious trouble at quarterback, running back, center, defensive back and punter.

Well, not really. But those positions are notable considering the Irish did not land anyone on the watch lists for the Davey O'Brien, Doak Walker, Rimington, Jim Thorpe or Ray Guy awards.

(Never mind that cornerback Bennett Jackson made the watch list for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player.)

Still, it was quite a run for the Irish, and particularly for Louis Nix, who made six different watch lists. (Stephon Tuitt wasn't too shabby himself, making five.)

Below is a roundup of the dozen different Irish players who made watch lists in the past two weeks. Notre Dame is the only school with multiple defensive players on the watch list for the Maxwell Award and the only school with multiple defensive players on the watch list for the Walter Camp player of the year award. The Irish's four Bednarik watch listers are the most in the nation, and their three players on the Butkus watch list are tied for the most in the nation.

Maxwell (best player): Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Bednarik (defensive player): Bennett Jackson, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo, Stephon Tuitt
Mackey (tight end): Ben Koyack, Troy Niklas
Lou Groza (kicker): Kyle Brindza
Nagurski (defensive): Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Outland (interior lineman): Zack Martin, Louis Nix
Butkus (linebacker): Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo
Rotary Lombardi (offensive/defensive lineman, linebacker): Zack Martin, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo, Stephon Tuitt
Biletnikoff (receiver): DaVaris Daniels, T.J. Jones
Walter Camp (best player): Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Jim Kelly Streeter Lecka/Getty Images"Pretty darned good football team," coach Brian Kelly said of his Irish, "but not good enough."


MIAMI -- The "Rudy" theme is playing over the loudspeakers. And when the Rudy theme is playing over the loudspeakers, it is usually playing late in a tight game to inspire Notre Dame to pull out one more thriller in a season full of them.

This was the case two months ago against Pittsburgh. The Fighting Irish defied everyone by winning at Oklahoma a week earlier, got off to a lethargic start against Pitt and fell behind 14. But this was Notre Dame and this was the Irish's year, and so the Notre Dame Stadium speakers blared that famous tune less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Notre Dame scored 23 of the game's final 29 points, won in triple overtime, extended its perfect campaign and marched onward.

Now the song is playing inside Sun Life Stadium, Notre Dame again needing another miracle. The Irish have just failed to convert on fourth down. Alabama has gotten the ball back. The Crimson Tide have had the ball plenty already, and they have scored every single time they have had it.

This is with 13 minutes, 20 seconds left in the second quarter.

This is with Alabama boasting a three-touchdown lead, well on its way to a 42-14 victory in the Discover BCS National Championship.

This is reality crashing down hard on a team amid a renaissance campaign, no history nor luck nor year-three magic on its way to the rescue.

"Maybe Alabama doesn't come back in the second half," an almost-resigned coach Brian Kelly says at halftime. "It's all Alabama. I mean, we can't tackle them right now, and, you know, who knows why? You know, they're big and physical; I guess I do know why. It's just that our guys have not tackled the way they have all year. We've got to go in there and we've got to get after it and play with some pride in the second half and try to get this thing closer so we can try to find a way to win."

Notre Dame gets the ball back first, and its offense finally gets something going. A 6-yard run here, a 21-yard pass there, nine more yards on a completion … and here the Irish are at the Alabama 36-yard line, the closest that they have come to the end zone all night.

Everett Golson takes a shot deep down the right sideline to DaVaris Daniels, and Dee Milliner is ready to pick it off, except he doesn't. No matter, because Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is close enough to dive and catch the tip while falling out of bounds, one more blow to a Notre Dame team that has already taken all it can handle.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesManti Te'o couldn't find the momentum-shifting play that marked his, and Notre Dame's, run to Miami.
This was the case all night for the Irish, from a highly questionable kick-catching interference call on Matthias Farley that took away a chance for early momentum, to Manti Te'o's diving attempt at a second-quarter interception going just off his fingertips -- or the exact opposite of what happened to him in a season-defining pick at Oklahoma.

Breaks? There was Davonte Neal's fumble of a second-quarter punt return bouncing out of bounds, allowing the Irish to keep the ball. Or AJ McCarron's inches-too-long throw to Amari Cooper, who had outrushed two Irish defenders and fell just shy of a ball that would have accounted for a 59-yard score and a 28-0 Tide lead.

Instead, the Tide simply scored on their next possession to make it 28-0. They rushed for 265 yards against a defense that had allowed 92 per game. They had scoring drives of 82, 80, 97 and 86 yards; Notre Dame had not allowed one longer than 75 yards entering Monday night.

"I think Coach Kelly told us before the game that there are eight minutes that are very important in the game," said Te'o, whose legendary career came to a close. "The first two minutes of the game, the last two minutes in the second quarter, the first two minutes of the third quarter and the last two minutes of the game."

Alabama scored on the first drive of the game and on the last drive of the second quarter. The Tide picked off Notre Dame in the first two minutes of the third quarter, and by the last two minutes of the game the "S-E-C" chants were making their final appearance of the night.

Just before then, a pin drop could be heard on the Irish sideline, players staring everywhere and nowhere at once, the hopes and dreams of capping this magical season with a crystal football all but officially dead for three hours now.

"Pretty darned good football team," Kelly would say, "but not good enough."

Robby Toma walked off the field first, helmet on, a stoic stride into the tunnel. Everyone soon followed, and when the locker room opened Theo Riddick was crying all by himself in front of his stall. Roommate and backfield mate Cierre Wood eventually appeared, tapping his left hand on Riddick's head every now and then for comfort during interviews. Eventually the emotions of this season and a four-year, whirlwind career gave in, and soon a towel was covering Riddick's face in its entirety.

Kelly was the last to emerge from the locker room, his mission to fulfill the third-year destiny of great Notre Dame leaders falling short, the coach stopping to thank a couple of men in orange jackets for their hospitality while a fan's cry of "Get 'em next year, Coach" faded in the background.

There were 25 teams ranked ahead of his in the Associated Press preseason poll, and there were 23 mostly unfulfilling seasons preceding this year's outfit.

Loss No. 1 came four months later than anyone had expected, and it was on to 2013 and finishing the gap-closing that the 125th team in the history of Notre Dame football thought it was so close to completing.

"There are 121 FBS schools," Kelly's boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, would say, "and we're in pretty good shape relative to all but one of them."

Video: DaVaris Daniels back from injury

January, 6, 2013
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DaVaris Daniels is back from injury and expected to help boost the Notre Dame passing attack.
DAVIE, Fla. — Everett Golson was much more vocal Thursday than he was in fall camp, naturally. That was one of the first things that jumped out during the media's first viewing of Notre Dame practice since August.

Here are a few other notes and observations from Nova Southeastern University — the practice facility of the Miami Dolphins — as media members were allowed to watch the first 15 minutes, which consisted mostly of tempo drills. (Defense was on an opposite field, so the offense received most of the visitors' attention.)
  • DaVaris Daniels looks pretty much recovered from the broken left clavicle he suffered Nov. 10 at Boston College, as he was active throughout. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin jumped on the redshirt freshman at one point, telling him if his running wasn't better on a particular route, then the Irish would have no chance.
  • Freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel, normally No. 1, was wearing a No. 10 jersey to play the role of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron on the scout team.
  • Head coach Brian Kelly alluded to depth concerns on the offensive line, and he wasn't kidding. The second-team offensive line consisted, from left to right, of Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty, Mark Harrell, Bruce Heggie and an unidentified walk-on wearing No. 76. (Hanratty and Harrell were both wearing No. 65, too.) Tate Nichols (knee) and Ronnie Stanley (elbow) have been out, as has Matt Hegarty for a non-football medical issue.

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