NCF Nation: Tommy Rees

Tommy Rees ends Irish career on top

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
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NEW YORK -- Notre Dame finished a disappointing season with a win Saturday at Yankee Stadium. For Tommy Rees, it was a fitting end to an up-and-down career.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsTommy Rees threw for 319 yards in his final game at Notre Dame.
The senior quarterback completed 27 of 47 passes for 319 yards, leading the Fighting Irish to a 29-16 win over Rutgers in the fourth-annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

“Hats off to Rutgers for playing a great game, but I’m really proud of the way we persevered and were able to pull it out,” Rees said.

It certainly wasn’t pretty. The heavily favored Fighting Irish mounted long drive after long drive but repeatedly had to settle for field goals. They racked up 258 more yards of offense (494-236) and nearly twice as many first downs (31-16) as the Scarlet Knights, but the game was tied at halftime and Notre Dame led by only three points with under nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Rees engineered the game-clinching drive, leading his team 79 yards in 10 plays -- capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Tarean Folston -- to put away Rutgers.

At this time last year, Notre Dame was preparing to play Alabama in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7. This year, Notre Dame’s season ended three days after Christmas, with a record of 9-4 and thoughts of what might have been.

“A good year that could have been a great year,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said when asked to assess this season. “Some really good victories. ... A couple of missed opportunities in some games where we very easily could have been a team that’s looking at double-digit wins, and that’s where we want to be every year.”

Kelly’s comments -- and the fact that they don’t sound outlandish -- show just how far Notre Dame has come in his first four years at the helm. Kelly’s 37 wins tie him with Lou Holtz and Dan Devine for the most by a Notre Dame coach in his first four seasons.

Correspondingly, Notre Dame’s current senior class finished with 37 wins -- the most since the Class of 1994.

That group includes wide receiver TJ Jones, who had 1,042 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on the season entering the Pinstripe Bowl. Jones had five receptions for 66 yards against Rutgers plus four carries for 16 yards and a touchdown. The five catches moved him into second place on Notre Dame’s career receptions list with 181.

And Jones came back in the game despite suffering a second-degree shoulder sprain.

“I wasn’t gonna be done for the day -- not with my last game in a Notre Dame uniform,” Jones said. “I had to come back and contribute.”

That class also includes Rees, who wasn’t even supposed to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback this season. He stepped in due to injury his freshman year and started 12 games as a sophomore but lost the job to freshman Everett Golson as a junior and figured to play behind Golson as a senior -- until Golson was suspended for academic reasons.

Rees stepped in again and ended up throwing for 3,257 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions -- becoming only the third Notre Dame quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.

His erratic play over the years might have infuriated Notre Dame fans at times, and Rees was far from perfect against Rutgers; in fact, an offensive lineman, Zack Martin, won the game’s MVP award.

But numbers don’t lie. Rees finished his career third in school history in passing yards (7,670) and second in touchdown passes (61) and joined Tom Clements, Joe Montana, Tony Rice and Rick Mirer as the only Notre Dame quarterbacks with two bowl game victories as a starter.

“I’m a Tommy Rees fan for life,” Kelly said. “He’s gonna go keep chasing that football dream. He’s gonna play in the East-West Shrine Game, and he’ll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. But I told him he’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly any time.”

The last time Notre Dame played at Yankee Stadium was three years ago -- a 27-3 win over Army. A freshman named Tommy Rees, making just the second start of his college career, completed 13 of 20 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Afterward, the wide-eyed freshman gushed about being given Derek Jeter’s locker in the Yankees clubhouse.

Three years later, Rees looked and sounded like a different person.

“To be honest, I’m not as emotional as I thought I’d be after my last game,” he said. “I’m just really enjoying the moment.”

Asked to evaluate his just-completed collegiate career, Rees politely declined.

“I’ll let you guys [in the media] judge that,” Rees said. “As long as I’ve got the respect and the commitment from my teammates and coaches, that’s all that’s ever mattered to me. I know I can leave here with my chin held high. I love the game of football. It’s pretty special to start at quarterback at Notre Dame, and that’s something I’ll hold with me for the rest of my life.”

Say what you want about Tommy Rees, but he finished on a high note.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl preview

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
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Rutgers and Notre Dame take the Yankee Stadium field at noon ET today (ESPN) with the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy on the line. Here is a preview of the action today from the Bronx, N.Y.:

Who to watch: TJ Jones is playing in his final college game. Notre Dame's team MVP from this season has caught 65 balls for 1,042 yards with nine touchdowns, becoming Tommy Rees' most reliable target. And he is facing a Rutgers defense that has been susceptible to the big play, as the Scarlet Knights have allowed an FBS-high 153 pass plays of 10 or more yards, an average of 13 per game. Look for Rees and Jones to connect early and often.

What to watch: This could also be Stephon Tuitt's final game. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound end is a nightmare for offensive linemen, tallying 18 sacks over the past two seasons. Seeing how much he -- along with a now-healthy Sheldon Day opposite him and what is likely to be a revolving door in the middle at nose guard -- can pressure Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd into mistakes will probably dictate the flow of this game. The Scarlet Knights are tied for 98th nationally in sacks allowed, surrendering 2.58 per game, and Saturday could provide a nice opportunity for Tuitt to leave a final impression on NFL scouts, as the draft advisory board gave the junior a second-round grade, according to Brian Kelly.

Why to watch: This is the finale for a group of Notre Dame seniors who have, in large part, turned the program around. Many committed to the Charlie Weis regime -- or, in some cases, to no coach at all before Kelly was hired. They have gotten the Irish to a point where Pinstripe Bowl berths and eight- or nine-win seasons are disappointments, and they are a big reason why Kelly, the fourth-year coach, gave them such a strong say in where they would go bowling once a BCS bid was off the table. This could, in theory, be an audition for the Irish's two interim coordinators as well, as Mike Denbrock (offense) and Kerry Cooks (defense) will run their units after Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco left for head-coaching jobs at Miami (Ohio) and UConn, respectively.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Rutgers 14. The Irish offense will have its way with an uncharacteristically bad Scarlet Knight defense (one that is also with an interim coordinator, in Joe Rossi).

The last stand of Tommy Rees

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Danny Rees was talking about his little brother's legacy the other day when he allowed for an idea that Notre Dame was recently faced with, and one the Irish will have to get used to when Tommy Rees is no longer an option for them at quarterback.

"I think he's a winner," Danny Rees told ESPN.com. "Obviously there's been some tough losses, but if you look at his overall record I think he's won a lot of games, and I'm not sure where Notre Dame would be without him over the last four years, and I think he would probably say the same thing. I think he wants to be remembered as a guy who came in and won some big games."

Just where Notre Dame would be without Tommy Rees is hard to fathom, especially in light of last month's win over USC, when a neck strain forced him to the sideline for most of the second half, giving way to an offense that totaled 30 yards and one first down.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsTommy Rees has seen his share of ups and downs and it often gets overlooked that he's led the Irish to 21 wins and thrown for nearly 7,000 yards and 58 TDs.
Or in light of last year's perfect regular season, when Rees accepted his diminished role after an offseason arrest, relieved Everett Golson in three of the first six games and carried Notre Dame to victory without complaint.

Or in light of his freshman year of 2010, when he filled in for an injured Dayne Crist and led the Irish to four straight wins, including their first over the rival Trojans in nine years.

Yes, it is hard to imagine Notre Dame without Rees. But life after him is approaching fast, as the senior will take the Notre Dame Stadium field for the final time Saturday against BYU, a home send-off to a career that has made him part-hero, part-goat and seemingly everything in-between.

Brian Kelly had some trouble gripping with the idea of a Rees-less Notre Dame when asked Tuesday to think about impending days without the one constant of his four-year Irish coaching tenure.

"Look, we want to win football games -- you're hired and fired for winning football games here; I get that," Kelly said. "But he really loves Notre Dame and understands Notre Dame and understands the distinctions of Notre Dame."

It was just a decade ago that Lake Forest (Ill.) High coach Chuck Spagnoli met an 11-year-old Rees, then visiting a practice of older brother Danny, who went on to punt at UCLA. Rees did not immediately pass the eye test then, nor does he now at a hardly-imposing 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. But within three years, Spagnoli knew he had himself a three-year starter at quarterback who would eventually turn into one of the best captains his program has ever had.

"I don't think it's an accident that he's there and in the position he's in right now," Spagnoli told ESPN.com. "He's a fighter and he's a survivor, and he isn't going to just assume that things are going to be given to him by any stretch. He's going to work for everything he gets."

Rees remembers his father Bill, now a scout for the Buccaneers, telling him at an early age that he had three options with football: Liking it, loving it or living it.

"For me it's been about living it," said Rees, who has not ruled out a coaching career.

Added Kelly: "You'd never think of Tommy Rees being two seconds late for a meeting or not at a workout. He's always the first one in and the last one to leave. That's living it."

That means understanding what he signed up for, too.

Rees has not always gotten a fair deal from segments of the fan base, some of which booed him when he replaced Golson in the home opener last year before he led a game-winning drive against Purdue. Three losses this year have led to his name on social media getting linked with words that would not be uttered within earshot of the Basilica, though a #ThankTommy movement has been growing on Twitter this week with his home finale approaching.

He has tuned it all out, though, insisting that the sport has never become a burden.

"You've got to commit yourself fully to the game, and at times people get down on it after losses, but you think about not sharing those moments with your teammates, you think about not putting on that helmet," Rees said. "There are people that would give a lot to feel that bad after a game, to even play the game. You've got to be grateful, and you've got to look at it in perspective."

Others bolted at the first sight of adversity, or failed to understand those Notre Dame distinctions that Kelly referred to.

But through nearly 7,000 yards, 58 touchdowns, 21 wins and yes, those seven losses and 34 interceptions, too, Tommy Rees' resolve has persisted. And he still has one last stand left at Notre Dame.

"I mean, shoot, at the end of the day he's the quarterback at Notre Dame and that's a really special thing to be," Danny Rees said. "There's going to be criticism that comes along with it, but I bet you there are thousands of kids out there who would love to put up with that criticism and do what he does, so I don't think at the end of the day it's a big deal."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Maybe if Tommy Rees were like the rest of us, he would have laughed to himself throughout the second half Saturday.

Maybe, with his hoodie on and his night done after a vicious third-quarter hit, he would have looked out to the field and watched a Notre Dame offense that had been forced to run six meaningful drives without him. Maybe he would have struggled to contain an I-know-something-you-don't smirk as the Fighting Irish, accounting for penalties, netted 30 total yards and gained one first down in his absence. Maybe he would have offered a hearty chuckle when seeing his backup and friend, Andrew Hendrix, misfire on all four of his pass attempts.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBefore getting injured, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees was efficient vs. USC, completing 14 of 21 passes for 166 yards and two scores.
Yes, Notre Dame's offense was that ugly without Rees in its 14-10 win here over rival USC. And yes, the Irish's defense deserves plenty of credit for bailing out the offense with its back against the wall time and time again, even if the Trojans -- already without top running back Tre Madden -- lost star receiver Marqise Lee for the second half and did themselves no favors with several costly penalties late.

But a glimpse at life without Rees left everybody outside the program eating their words for most of the second half. Notre Dame wasn't just bad offensively; it was downright brutal, with even the sure-handed Cam McDaniel coughing up the ball late and not a soul among the raucous sellout crowd exhaling until the final zeroes were on the clock after Hendrix's two kneel-downs on his seventh and final drive.

And as it turns out, Rees had been one step ahead of everyone. His biggest play had actually come at halftime, two drives before he would be on the receiving end of a big knock from USC linebacker Lamar Dawson with just more than nine minutes to play in the third quarter. Rees was slow to even sit up, then walked gingerly off the field under his own power. He was standing up on the sidelines being interrogated by team medical personnel before heading to the locker room for further evaluation. Coach Brian Kelly said afterward that Rees had suffered a neck strain and was all there mentally, and that the team should know more in the next 24 hours.

But when the teams had gone to their locker rooms for halftime Saturday, Rees had taken it upon himself to deliver a speech that proved to be prescient in a game that featured no scoring during the final 30 minutes.

"It was a passionate speech, one of the more passionate things I've ever heard Tommy say," captain TJ Jones said. "It was really, 'Just keep your head in the game, don't give up. We've got this, 30 minutes wasn't enough. We need another 30 to win this game.' He had a lot of the guys almost in tears. It's the first time Tommy spoke out like that, and it was definitely emotional."

It had come after one of Rees' better performances to date. The senior finished the game 14-of-21 passing for 166 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers over the course of one half and one more series. He had run the offense at a much quicker pace, and the unit even left some points on the board on the game's first drive after McDaniel failed to reach the end zone on four consecutive runs.

Rees had also passed Rick Mirer on the school's all-time passing yards list, becoming the fifth Notre Dame quarterback to eclipse the 6,000-yard mark for his career.

"I think it does say a lot about the kid and his perseverance," Kelly said of the milestone. "He's just a tough kid, and he just keeps battling. I'm sure he'll look back on that a little bit later and be able to point out, 'Hey, I did play at Notre Dame and I wasn't that bad.' "

No kidding. From stepping up for an injured Dayne Crist and leading Notre Dame to four straight wins as a freshman, to surviving a turnover-plagued 2011; from getting arrested and then being relegated to a glorified graduate assistant role as Everett Golson took control, to then bailing Golson out late throughout last year's 12-0 run, Rees has nearly seen it all.

He has taken plenty of heat, too, whether it was getting booed by his home fans in his 2012 debut or withstanding a recent social-media firestorm that is coming his way only because of the poor academic judgment that the man initially in front of him displayed this past spring.

Golson, by the way, does not have to worry about schoolwork or bad weather the way Rees does, as he is training with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield out in sunny San Diego.

From there, Golson could see what the rest of us saw once his old teammate was no longer an option against the Trojans.

"As you could tell, our performance in the second half was a little difficult to adjust," tight end Troy Niklas said. "But I think we were able to make do with what we could."

Rees might have provided that extra lift just moments earlier, the son of an NFL scout always worrying about what's next.

"He was just kind of reiterating what the coaches had said, and probably a little something else," team captain Zack Martin said of Rees' halftime speech. "But we had an opportunity to beat SC at home and we hadn't done that in a long time. But to be able to win three out of four years for this class is pretty special."

Whatever checks Notre Dame had written to the devil before last season had been cashed since the calendar turned to 2013 -- Manti Te'o's girlfriend hoax, four notable transfers and Golson's suspension getting sandwiched between the Alabama beatdown and the two losses the Irish had suffered through six games this season.

Then came Saturday night against USC, and everyone got a look at just how much worse it could get if the starter everyone wanted gone could no longer return.

Up for debate: USC-Notre Dame

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
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USC travels to Notre Dame Stadium for a Saturday night showdown in what is one of the nation's top rivalries. Both teams are 4-2 and unranked, but the Trojans appeared to have been granted a new lease on life under interim coach Ed Orgeron, as they topped Arizona in their first game without Lane Kiffin in charge. The Irish, meanwhile, are coming off a much-needed win over Arizona State and a bye, as they look to make it three-for-their-last-four against USC after previously dropping eight in a row.

Matt Fortuna and Ted Miller take a look at this weekend's matchup.

Matt: We'll start with the obvious, Ted. USC is a talented team that just got a bit of a second wind this past week under Orgeron. Was the performance against Arizona simply the culmination of weeks of frustration? Or do you think these Trojans have new life and need to be looked at as the kind of threat many of us have been expecting them to be the last two years?

Ted: Is it fair for a know-it-all sportswriter to type that he has no idea? USC has been so difficult to read the past two seasons. You look at the 22 starters and think, "That's a lot of talent." But it doesn't translate to execution. Was that all Kiffin's fault? I don't think so, though the offense looked significantly better with Clay Helton calling the plays. Even the quasi-redemptive win over Arizona revealed the Trojans' tangible Achilles heel -- depth. USC jumped to an impressive first-half lead but seemed to wear down in the second half. I do think the locker room will continue to unite around Orgeron, as fiery a motivator as there is. The question is whether USC will be as motivated and focused on the road as it was at home. And can it maintain that in the fourth quarter?

Speaking of mercurial teams, the Fighting Irish. I picked Notre Dame to beat Arizona State (reaches around, pats self on back), but I did that as much because of the Sun Devils' tendency to throw up on themselves just when they seem to take a step forward as believing the Irish were better. Where does this team stand? How did the week off help -- or hurt -- the cause?

Matt: Well, this answer may sound quite familiar, too, but I think we're all still trying to figure out the Irish. A loss to ASU would have been brutal, as BCS hopes would have been eliminated by the mid-point of the season. Of course, USC can erase those scenarios this week, too, much the same way it did two years ago in a similar situation -- seventh game of the season, prime time at Notre Dame Stadium, Irish coming off a bye. Everyone slept on those Trojans that time, and they ended up turning in a 10-2 campaign while the Irish locker room nearly revolted on its head coach in that game's aftermath.

Notre Dame's front-loaded schedule looks a little less daunting in retrospect -- losses to Michigan and Oklahoma look worse by the week, as does a tight win at Purdue. But there is that small matter of Stanford underwhelming, too, and the Cardinal are easily the toughest opponent the Irish have left after the USC one, so it is not out of the question to see Notre Dame make a final push for a 10-2 mark and BCS bid.

That said, it needs to take some of the lessons from the ASU win and apply them moving forward. Coach Brian Kelly showed his players a highlight tape of three tight wins from 2012 leading up to that game in an effort to demonstrate just how razor-thin the margin for error was. We saw a much more complete performance from the Irish against the Sun Devils, but there was still a pick-six and a defense that looked little like last year's dominating unit.

I'll say this: USC's improved play under the one-game regime of Orgeron has seemed to add a much-needed jolt going into this matchup. It's USC-Notre Dame, with the Irish looking like they may have turned a corner in the rivalry last year and going for three wins out of four this year. Do you think the Trojans, having seen the Irish clinch a title-game berth on their field last season, carry a bit of a chip on their shoulder coming into this year's game? I know it sounds cliche, but from over here it looks like USC's 2013 issues have been more mental than anything else.

Ted: This is one of the truly great college football rivalries, one that is unique with its cross-country feel. If the Trojans can't get fired up for this one, then that will show you the Trojans' problems were as much the sort of player they recruited as the guy leading them onto the field. And, of course, in a rivalry game, the players who lost the year before should be particularly motivated to exact revenge.

Still, I see that as an uphill slog for USC. For one, the Trojans are banged up, with receiver Marqise Lee and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin, among others, highly questionable for the game. Second, Notre Dame is superior on both lines. I see USC hanging early but then getting worn down. Further, the pass defense has been poor, which means Irish quarterback Tommy Rees could again look like the solid decision-maker he was against Arizona State.

That said, if USC does manage to get the upset, we might have to re-evaluate USC's prospects this season. And, perhaps, even raise an eyebrow at what Orgeron is doing leading the Trojans.

Instant Analysis: OU 35, Notre Dame 21

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
7:11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Oklahoma escaped Notre Dame Stadium with its second-ever victory over the Irish, winning 35-21. Here are a few quick takeaways from this contest:

It was over when: Facing a third-and-3 from his own 46 early in the fourth quarter, Blake Bell hit Sterling Shepard for a 54-yard touchdown pass in which Shepard simply outran Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace. Shepard then caught the two-point conversion pass to give the Sooners a 35-21 lead.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma's defense gets to share this honor today. The Sooners picked off Tommy Rees three times and brought pressure early and often. Oklahoma was able to convert all three turnovers into touchdowns, including a 24-yard pick-six by Corey Nelson on the game's first drive. Frank Shannon's interception on the next Notre Dame offensive play helped set the Sooners up with a 14-0 lead not even three minutes into the game.

Stat of the game: During a contest in which Notre Dame finally established its ground game and got creative on offense by sprinkling in backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix here and there, the easy answer is turnovers. Notre Dame gave the ball away three times; Oklahoma gave it away zero times. It is sometimes that simple, as we saw last week in an ugly offensive game that the Irish were able to pull out against Michigan State thanks in large part to forcing the game's only turnover, which they turned into a touchdown.

What it means: At 4-0, Oklahoma has to feel good about its chances in the Big 12, especially after seeing Oklahoma State lose to West Virginia earlier Saturday. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will likely have to win out to make a BCS bowl game after falling to 3-2 on the season. The Irish's next test comes next week against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.


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
9/21/13
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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.

[+] EnlargeCam McDaniel
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."

Big Ten predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
9:00
AM ET
Three weeks in and we're all square in the season standings. Get ready for a tightly contested race most of the way.

The Week 4 slate isn't nearly as appetizing as its predecessor, although there are a few sneaky good games on the docket. Big Ten play officially begins at Camp Randall Stadium and 11 league squads are in action (Illinois is off).

Let's begin …

SAN JOSE STATE at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: Mitch Leidner could start at quarterback for the Gophers as Philip Nelson is questionable with a hamstring injury. That's not good news against a San Jose State team led by a future NFL draft pick in David Fales. The Spartans are the best team Minnesota has played, and I say they pull off the road upset. … San Jose State 24, Minnesota 20


Adam Rittenberg: A tough one here as the Gophers haven't been tested and San Jose State's Fales could stress a secondary already down one starter (Briean Boddy-Calhoun). There's some uncertainty on offense at quarterback, but I like the fact the Gophers have a full stable of running backs. Minnesota racks up 200 rush yards and three touchdowns to survive with a win. … Minnesota 27, San Jose State 24

FLORIDA A&M at OHIO STATE

Adam Rittenberg: The scoreboard operator will be busy as Buckeyes backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde combine for six touchdowns. The quarterbacks don't have to do much in this one as Ohio State rolls on to 4-0. … Ohio State 59, Florida A&M 7

Brian Bennett: This is a ludicrous matchup. Buckeyes can name their score. … Ohio State 63, Florida A&M 10


WESTERN MICHIGAN at IOWA

Brian Bennett: Oh boy. We get to watch Western Michigan take on a Big Ten team for the third time in four weeks. The first two times didn't go well for the Broncos, and Mark Weisman will add to their misery with 150 yards rushing. … Iowa 35, Western Michigan 7


Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern ran roughshod on Western Michigan and Iowa will do the same. Coach Kirk Ferentz gives Weisman a bit of a breather and spreads the ball around, as both Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri reach the end zone. Iowa pulls away in the third quarter. … Iowa 31, Western Michigan 10

MAINE at NORTHWESTERN

Adam Rittenberg: Expect another vanilla offensive game plan from Northwestern as the coaches save the goods for Week 6 against Ohio State. Five different Wildcats rush for touchdowns, including true freshman Warren Long, in the team's final tune-up before Big Ten play. … Northwestern 48, Maine 13

Brian Bennett: Please don't feed the Black Bears! Ibraheim Campbell makes it six games in a row with a pick as the Wildcats roll. … Northwestern 45, Maine 17


MICHIGAN STATE at NOTRE DAME

Brian Bennett: The Spartans finally have a bit of confidence and stability at quarterback, but Connor Cook still has a ways to go and this is a tough road spot. The Irish jump out early on a special-teams touchdown and manage to hold on in a defensive struggle. … Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's renewed offense comes in with confidence and scores early. But reality begins to set in on the road, and the Spartans stall midway through the second quarter. The defense keeps it close as always, but Notre Dame rallies late behind Tommy Rees and his receivers. … Notre Dame 19, Michigan State 16

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE at NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: The Huskers rest top quarterback Taylor Martinez (toe), and backups Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong both play and combine for three pass touchdowns. Imani Cross sparks the rushing attack in the second quarter and Nebraska fans can smile a little after a brutal eight-day stretch. … Nebraska 59, South Dakota State 14

Brian Bennett: The Jackrabbits are just what Nebraska needs right now. The Huskers get off to a sluggish start without a healthy Martinez, but Randy Gregory forces a fumble for a defensive score and the running game is too much for SDSU to handle. … Nebraska 38, South Dakota State 10


KENT STATE at PENN STATE

Brian Bennett: I think the Penn State defense comes out mad after last week's performance, and Kent State has had a tough time scoring so far this season. Zach Zwinak scores twice and the defense comes up with three turnovers. … Penn State 28, Kent State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Unless Blake Bortles secretly suits up for the Golden Flashes, Penn State should be OK in this one and takes control in the second quarter. Chalk up two more touchdown passes from Christian Hackenberg to Allen Robinson, and defensive end Deion Barnes finally shows up for the Lions. … Penn State 31, Kent State 20

PURDUE at WISCONSIN

Adam Rittenberg: No officiating blunders in this one as Wisconsin starts a bit slowly before getting Melvin Gordon and the run game going in the second half. Gordon records his first 20-carry performance and racks up 180 yards and two touchdowns. Purdue jumps out to an early lead but once again struggles in the fourth quarter. … Wisconsin 34, Purdue 21

Brian Bennett: Purdue hasn't been able to stop the Wisconsin running game the past couple of years, and it's no different in this one. Gordon and James White each eclipse 100 yards and the Badgers take out some frustration on the Boilermakers. ... … Wisconsin 42, Purdue 14


MICHIGAN at CONNECTICUT

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines haven't been quite the same team on the road as they have been at home for Brady Hoke, but Rentschler Field ain't exactly the Horseshoe. UConn doesn't have enough offensive talent to do much damage, and Devin Gardner bounces back with four total touchdowns and just one turnover. … Michigan 38, Connecticut 9


Adam Rittenberg: Last week's near disaster against Akron will heighten Michigan's focus. So, too, will a road game under the lights (even if it feels more like a home game). Gardner delivers a turnover-free performance, and Fitz Toussaint has a big game on the ground (130 rush yards, 2 TDs). … Michigan 35, Connecticut 17

MISSOURI at INDIANA

Adam Rittenberg: This should be the most entertaining game of the day, as both offenses will put up points. Maybe I'm buying into Indiana too much after last week's impressive performance, but I like what I saw from the defense, which does just enough against Mizzou and records a game-ending takeaway. Expect another balanced offensive performance as Tevin Coleman rushes for two more touchdowns. … Indiana 41, Missouri 37

Brian Bennett: I expect a wild shootout where the punters can probably chill out on the sidelines. Ultimately, I don't have enough faith in the Hoosiers’ defense and think James Franklin and Henry Josey will be too much to overcome. But take heart, Indiana fans: I've been wrong on your team each of the past two weeks. … Missouri 48, Indiana 42


You've heard from us. Now it's time to see what this week's guest picker has cooked up. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

We felt a little sorry for this guy after what happened last week in Tempe, Ariz. Garret Olsen from Madison, Wis., the floor is yours:
I am a born-and-raised Wisconsin fan and 2010 University of Wisconsin Grad in complete shock this week. I'm in need of a win. I attended my first Badger football game with my grandparents when I was 5 years old and have attended many more Badger games over the years with them. I never missed a home game during my time as an undergrad and traveled to many of the B1G stadiums and followed the Badgers to Indy and Pasadena. Each week my former Mifflin Street college roommate and I have a friendly pick-off between us and I can proudly report that I have beaten him the last two years. The blog is a daily read for me and I would be honored to pick alongside you and Adam and I promise not to botch any last-second pick situations.

Here are Garret's Week 4 selections:

San Jose State 35, Minnesota 34
Ohio State 45, Florida A&M 7
Iowa 28, Western Michigan 14
Northwestern 55, Maine 10
Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10
Nebraska 42, South Dakota State 21
Penn State 33, Kent State 24
Wisconsin 49, Purdue 17
Michigan 34, Connecticut 13
Missouri 42, Indiana 38

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 31-5
Brian Bennett: 31-5
Guest pickers: 27-9

Video: Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
12:48
AM ET

The Fighting Irish's senior signal-caller talks about his team's 31-24 win at Purdue.
Ten items to track around Big Ten football in Week 2:

1. House party: If the second night game at Michigan Stadium is anything like the first, we'll all be thrilled (well, except for those Notre Dame folks). Michigan and Notre Dame delivered the drama two years ago under the lights, and the spectacle Saturday night in Ann Arbor should once again be incredible. The teams' past four meetings have all been decided by seven points or fewer (19 points total). The series sadly disappears after the 2014 meeting in South Bend, so enjoy it while it lasts.

2. Rees vs. Gardner: Notre Dame-Michigan features another appetizing quarterback matchup. While Tommy Rees remains a polarizing figure for some Notre Dame fans, it's hard to argue with what he has done against Michigan. Before last Saturday's opener against Temple, Rees' only 300-yard passing performance came against Michigan two years ago, and he led Notre Dame to victory last fall. Rees can stretch the field, as he had more passes of 20 yards or longer against Temple (7) than Everett Golson had in any game last season. Devin Gardner was Michigan's leading receiver last year against Notre Dame, but he's firmly entrenched as a quarterback. Gardner has been deadly in the red zone for the Wolverines, converting 19 touchdowns in 22 red zone trips as the starter.

3. Spartans looking for a spark: Michigan State basically has two more weeks to get its offense right before facing one of the nation's top defenses on the road at Notre Dame. The unit's opening act was highly disappointing, as Michigan State averaged just 3.8 yards per play against a Western Michigan defense that ranked 61st nationally in 2012. Head coach Mark Dantonio has kept mostly quiet about his quarterback situation this week as four players continue to get reps in practice. The Spartans need a solution there and at other offensive spots against South Florida, which allowed 56 points to McNeese State in its opening loss.

4. Illini aim to continue big-play ways: One of the nation's most feeble offenses in 2012 broke out last week against Southern Illinois, as Illinois recorded six plays of 30 yards or longer -- matching its total from all of last season! Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase recorded a career-high 416 pass yards and featured weapons like Josh Ferguson and Ryan Lankford. The question is whether the Illini can come close to that type of production against a much, much tougher opponent in Cincinnati, which held Purdue to one short scoring drive and only 226 yards last week. We'll get a much better gauge about Illinois' offensive progress against Tommy Tuberville's defense.

5. Northwestern's health: After a mostly injury-free season in 2012, Northwestern already has been bitten by that pesky bug early this fall. The Wildcats will be without starting cornerback Daniel Jones (knee) for the rest of the season, putting redshirt freshman Dwight White in the spotlight against Syracuse. Top quarterback Kain Colter (head) and running back Venric Mark (leg) both are questionable for the game. If Northwestern can survive again like it did last week against Cal, it has a chance to get healthy in the next two weeks against weaker opponents before a two-week prep for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesQuarterback Devin Gardner was 10-of-15 passing for 162 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in Michigan's season-opening rout of Central Michigan.
6. Roby watch in Columbus: After playing nine new defensive starters in last week's opener against Buffalo, Ohio State regains a very big piece in All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby, who returns from suspension. Coach Urban Meyer wanted Roby to re-prove himself as a starter this week in practice, but it's only a matter of time before the junior distinguishes himself. Ohio State is looking for a cleaner performance in all three phases against struggling San Diego State, and it will be interesting to see how Roby performs.

7. Indiana's offensive efficiency: Kevin Wilson's Hoosiers scored touchdowns on five of their first six offensive possessions in last week's opener against Indiana State, en route to a Memorial Stadium-record 73 points. If Indiana can come close to that type of efficiency Saturday against Navy, it will improve to 2-0. Possessions likely will be limited against the Midshipmen, as Indiana found out last year when it had only 10 offensive drives in a 31-30 loss. The Hoosiers had to settle for three field goals of 30 yards or less and need to be better about punching it in against Navy. "You don't get as many at-bats," Wilson said.

8. Second chances: Purdue and Iowa didn't get off to the starts they wanted in Week 1, and neither did Nebraska's defense, which surrendered 35 first downs and 602 yards to Wyoming in the opener. Fortunately, all three teams should redeem themselves against weaker competition on Saturday. The Boilermakers need to boost quarterback Rob Henry's confidence and fix their communication problems on offense against Indiana State. Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock must rebound from his late interception against Missouri State. The Huskers defense, meanwhile, aims to clean things up against a Southern Miss team that has lost 13 straight and scored just 15 points against Texas State last week.

9. Wolverines' youth put to test: Don't be surprised if Michigan-Notre Dame comes down to how well the Wolverines' young interior offensive line performs against an elite Fighting Irish defensive front led by nose guard Louis Nix III and end Stephon Tuitt, two potential first-round picks in next April's NFL draft. Michigan will start redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at right guard, true sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow at left guard. They'll be challenged all night long (especially Miller) as they try to create running room for Fitzgerald Toussaint and protect Gardner.

10. Hack's home debut: Penn State fans have been waiting more than a year and a half to watch quarterback Christian Hackenberg take snaps at Beaver Stadium. They'll finally get their chance Saturday as the Lions face Eastern Michigan in their home opener. Hackenberg had a few expected hiccups in his collegiate debut against Syracuse but also showed why he can be such a special player for Penn State's offense. Head coach Bill O'Brien vows to put Hackenberg in better positions to succeed this week. Hackenberg also will have top weapon Allen Robinson at his disposal from the start, which should make a big difference.

Big Ten predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
8:02
AM ET
We went a combined 23-1 in our first week of predictions, so let's see if we can keep that robust pace going. And how will our Week 2 guest picker fare?

Let's get to it:

Eastern Michigan at Penn State

Brian Bennett: Not much to see here, as Eastern Michigan has long been a Big Ten sacrificial lamb. This is a good opportunity for Christian Hackenberg to work out some kinks, and the kid throws three TD passes. ... Penn State 35, Eastern Michigan 9.

Adam Rittenberg: The Hackenberg-Allen Robinson connection will link up for two touchdowns, and Penn State coach Bill O'Brien will keep to his word and call better plays, sparking the run game to 175 yards and two scores. Lions roll. ... Penn State 31, Eastern Michigan 10

Indiana State at Purdue

Adam Rittenberg: Rob Henry gets the confidence boost he needs and Purdue fixes its communication issues on offense as running back Akeem Hunt goes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The Boilers come out fast and get a first-quarter forced fumble from big Bruce Gaston. ... Purdue 38, Indiana State 14

Brian Bennett: The FCS just had a great weekend, so maybe we should take the three Big Ten games against FCS opponents seriously on Saturday. Nah. A team that just got done giving up 73 points to Indiana is just what the sputtering Purdue offense needs. ... Purdue 45, Indiana State 17.

Missouri State at Iowa

Brian Bennett: Iowa finally snaps its seven-game losing streak, using its superior beef to run for 200 yards, and getting a special-teams score. ... Iowa 31, Missouri State 13.

Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, this game has Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock written all over it. The tandem combines for three rushing touchdowns and Jake Rudock adds two more through the air to C.J. Fiedorowicz and Kevonte Martin-Manley. ... Iowa 38, Missouri State 10

Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin

Adam Rittenberg: James White rushing touchdown, Melvin Gordon rushing touchdown, Corey Clement rushing touchdown. Rinse and repeat. ... Wisconsin 63, Tennessee Tech 3

Brian Bennett: Yawn. Are we done with the FCS games yet? ... Wisconsin 56, Tennessee Tech 7.

South Florida at Michigan State

Brian Bennett: If the Spartans can't move the ball against a Bulls team that gave up 53 points to McNeese State last week, they've got even bigger problems than we realized. Three different QBs play for MSU, and two of them throw for TDs. ... Michigan State 30, South Florida 10.

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that Michigan State can't be much worse on offense than it was in the opener and will move the ball better, especially on the ground. Jeremy Langford and Riley Bullough both reach the end zone, and Tyler O'Connor makes the quarterback race a little more interesting. ... Michigan State 34, South Florida 3

Cincinnati at Illinois

Adam Rittenberg: The Illini start quickly and jump ahead on a Nathan Scheelhaase touchdown pass to Josh Ferguson. But reality begins to set in as a superior Cincinnati team takes charge behind its athletic defense. ... Cincinnati 28, Illinois 17

Brian Bennett: Illinois will put up a more respectable showing against the Bearcats than Purdue did. Scheelhaase throws for 300 yards and the game is close until midway through the third quarter. But there's just too much Munchie Legaux (I can't help myself). ... Cincinnati 42, Illinois 27.

San Diego State at Ohio State

Brian Bennett: I was interested in this game until San Diego State gagged against Eastern Illinois. The Buckeyes turn in a better overall effort than in Week 1, and Bradley Roby has a pick in his first game back. ... Ohio State 45, San Diego State 20.

Adam Rittenberg: My concern is Ohio State might be less interested than you are, BB. The Buckeyes overcome a sluggish start as Braxton Miller fires two second-quarter touchdown passes. Freshman Dontre Wilson scores his first touchdown for the Scarlet and Gray. ... Ohio State 41, San Diego State 13

Southern Miss at Nebraska

Adam Rittenberg: After a passionate postgame speech last week, emerging leader Ameer Abdullah takes matters into his own hands. The Huskers running back piles up 200 yards and three touchdowns. The defense has its typical hiccups early before settling down. ... Nebraska 42, Southern Miss 17

Brian Bennett: I expect -- and would hope -- that the Nebraska offense comes out mad after not finishing key drives last week. The Huskers go for the jugular this week behind Taylor Martinez's five total TDs, and the defense makes slight improvements. ... Nebraska 49, Southern Miss 24.

Navy at Indiana

Brian Bennett: It's never easy or fun to play Navy, but the Hoosiers got some experience against the option last year. The Midshipmen will shorten the game and frustrate the IU offense some, but Nate Sudfeld throws a fourth-quarter TD pass to Kofi Hughes to seal it. ... Indiana 28, Navy 20.


Adam Rittenberg: Sudfeld and the Hoosiers will finish drives better than they did last year against Navy, as Tevin Coleman twice reaches the end zone. IU forces a key third-quarter fumble and pulls away midway through the fourth quarter. Tre Roberson sees more field time in this one. ... Indiana 34, Navy 23

Syracuse at Northwestern

Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern's injury issues are worth monitoring, but the Wildcats have enough weapons on offense to outscore a Syracuse team that didn't impress me much last week against Penn State. Trevor Siemian connects with Dan Vitale on two touchdowns, and the defense comes up big again with a fourth-quarter takeaway. ... Northwestern 28, Syracuse 20

Brian Bennett: Hard to know what to expect from Northwestern because of the iffy status of both Venric Mark and Kain Colter. But Syracuse looked limited offensively last week, and I think Siemian rescues the 'Cats once again. ... Northwestern 31, Syracuse 24.

Minnesota at New Mexico State

Brian Bennett: It was a tough call between Ann Arbor and Las Cruces for the "GameDay" crew this week -- seriously, what is Minnesota doing here? Are the Gophers just big "Breaking Bad" fans who are planning a side trip to Albuquerque? Anyway, it's close for a half but the defense comes up with another score to send the Aggies to Belize. ... Minnesota 37, New Mexico State 20.

Adam Rittenberg: Maybe the Gophers can take a side trip to Roswell and check out the UFOs. Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson will provide a few identified flying objects in this one, firing two touchdown passes in the second half. It's not a pretty game, but it's a win as Minnesota improves to 2-0. ... Minnesota 34, New Mexico State 21

Notre Dame at Michigan

Adam Rittenberg: Can't wait to witness this one under the lights at the Grande Casa. Although Michigan struggles early with Notre Dame's fearsome defensive front, the offense settles down late as Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon connect for two second-half touchdowns, including the game-winner in the final minutes. Tommy Rees' mastery of Michigan ends with two second-half interceptions. ... Michigan 24, Notre Dame 21

Brian Bennett: I just keep remembering how Michigan mostly outplayed Notre Dame last year except for all those picks, and I don't think Gardner will make the same mistakes. Gardner finds Gallon for a pair of scores, and Blake Countess intercepts Tommy Rees on Notre Dame's final series to turn the lights out on the Irish. ...Michigan 27, Notre Dame 24.

Now it's time to hear from our guest picker. As we announced last week, we'll be choosing one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find them easily.

The response so far has been overwhelming. This week's guest picker is Nick Schmit from West Des Moines, Iowa. The floor is yours, Nick:
"As a graduate of the University of Iowa, I have been following the conference and teams for as long as I can remember. I have plenty of insight and knowledge to offer. Besides, my wife is due with our first daughter on 10/19 (Iowa vs. OSU). Other than her birth, I need something to be excited about in what looks to be another long, depressing, mediocre (or worse) season for the Hawks."

Nick's picks:


Penn State 28, Eastern Michigan 13
Purdue 28, Indiana State 21
Iowa 34, Missouri State 10
Wisconsin 70, Tennessee Tech 3
Michigan State 35, South Florida 10
Cincinnati 31, Illinois 21
Ohio State 42, San Diego State 6
Nebraska 51, Southern Miss 17
Indiana 41, Navy 31
Northwestern 42, Syracuse 20
Minnesota 33, New Mexico State 21
Notre Dame 27, Michigan 24


SEASON RECORDS

Brian Bennett: 12-0
Adam Rittenberg: 11-1
Guest picker: 9-3
1. Boston College head coach Steve Addazio described in his press conference this week his instructions to offensive coordinator Ryan Day not to gamble this season when his offense is in the red zone. The reason: kicker Nate Freese, who made 18-of-20 field goals last season (all 16 inside of 40 yards). “The last thing you want to do is get inside field goal range and then somehow take a sack or something and lose field goal range,” Addazio said. “When you know you have that kicker you have that mindset where you don’t want to give away points. That’s how I view it now when I get there.”

2. The Notre Dame-Michigan game features quarterbacks who toiled in the shadow of more accomplished players. The Irish’s Tommy Rees, who lost the starting job last season to Everett Golson, looked polished and comfortable against Temple. The Wolverines’ Devin Gardner, who replaced the injured Denard Robinson last season, has been astounding. According ESPN Stats & Info, in six starts, Gardner has taken Michigan into the red zone 22 times and scored 19 touchdowns. That’s a Miguel-Cabrera-like number.

3. Guess the author of this Facebook post Tuesday: “Woke up feisty and looking forward to traveling to Athens on Sat. If you know fans who act more like they’re at a tennis match or watching a round of golf please buy their ticket and give it to someone on Adderall who’s willing not to take it on Sat. If you don’t have the stamina to stand on your feet & yell for several hours please give your ticket to someone who can. If you let down after the 1st sign of adversity, please sell your ticket. I’m tired of other fans out yelling and out lasting us. We MUST be a factor Saturday! That is all.” Aaron Murray’s mother Lauren wrote that post. Dawg fans, you have been challenged.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame Week 1

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
11:00
AM ET
Here's a look back at the opening weekend that was for Notre Dame:

The good: Notre Dame ended a one-game losing streak that no one would stop talking about. The Irish's 28-6 win over Temple got them off to a sharp start in 2013, as they did not turn the ball over and had strong play from quarterback Tommy Rees and the rest of the offense.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTommy Rees was sharp in the opening victory over Temple.
The bad: Nick Tausch missed his only field goal attempt, a 39-yard try. Kyle Brindza then missed one from 44 yards, making the Irish 0-for-2 on the day. Head coach Brian Kelly had wanted Saturday to be somewhat of an audition for his kickers, and the Irish are now left with a crucial decision to make heading into this Saturday's game at Michigan.

Biggest surprise: Kelly had harped on it throughout camp, but Rees' ball distribution was evident Saturday, as he connected with seven different receivers, including four who hauled in multiple catches. Not among them were freshmen Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, or redshirt freshman C.J. Prosise, either.

Best quote: Kelly won his 200th career game, becoming the fifth fastest to accomplish the feat (270 games) and second youngest (51 years, 310 days old, second only to Pop Warner) to do it, per Notre Dame, among college coaches with at least five years of service or 50 victories at a school that was classified as a major college. Asked during a Sunday teleconference what 200 career wins mean, Kelly said: "That I'm a pretty good coach when I recruit good players."

Next up: Notre Dame travels to Michigan for the final scheduled time, and for the second-ever night game at the Big House. College GameDay will be in town, just like it was last time. And we all know how that one ended. If the past four years are any indication, this one will likely come down to the wire. And it will likely give the winner a huge boost on the path to a potential BCS bowl berth.

What we learned about ND: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
10:00
AM ET
Here's what to take away from Notre Dame's 28-6 season-opening win over Temple.

ND1. Rees looks better. There's no such thing as a perfectly clean opening game. But Notre Dame delivered about as crisp of a performance as one could have asked for offensively, starting with Tommy Rees. He led the Irish to touchdowns on their first two drives and avoided the bad decisions that had plagued him earlier in his career, allowing Irish nation to rest easy as Notre Dame heads to Michigan for Week 2.

2. Carlisle might become a major factor. Notre Dame's first play of the game? A 45-yard rush for Amir Carlisle, who was playing in his first game with the Irish after a broken ankle cost him last season after getting a waiver to play immediately following his transfer from USC. Carlisle had a team-best 68 rushing yards on just seven carries, adding two catches for 5 yards. He looked like the best of the five running backs the Irish used Saturday, and he could grow into a bigger role in the offense as the season progresses.

3. Kicking woes need to be resolved. Brian Kelly wanted Week 1 to be somewhat of a tryout between Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza. Kelly could not have liked what he saw, as each missed his lone field goal attempt. Michigan will be far less forgiving of such mistakes next week if Notre Dame cannot work out the kinks there.

4. Freshmen make presence felt. Notre Dame played 10 true freshmen in the opener, with Corey Robinson and Jaylon Smith earning the starts. Receivers James Onwualu and Will Fuller, cornerback Cole Luke and end Isaac Rochell saw action early, with Max Redfield and Devin Butler getting special teams action. Running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston carried the ball late in the game, finishing with 35 total yards. Folston was the only freshman to catch a pass, hauling in a 9-yard grab.

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