Notre Dame Football: 3-point stance

1. Texas Tech sophomore Davis Webb is a reason to look forward to next season. Webb threw for 403 yards and four scores in the upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. He went 25-for-37 for 354 yards and four touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ spring game on Saturday. Afterward, he said that Tech fans should expect this team to be one of the best in school history. Can’t wait to find out how that turns out.

2. Junior Maximo Espitia came to Cal after playing fullback at an Oregon high school. He got issued a running back’s number (No. 19), and then former Bears coach Jeff Tedford moved him to tight end. Tedford got fired, and his replacement, Sonny Dykes, shifted Espitia to inside receiver. Late in the nightmare of last season, when Cal went winless against FBS opponents, Espitia moved to safety to plug a hole in the depth chart. This spring, he is playing linebacker. At least he knows everyone on the team now.

3. I understand why Notre Dame is installing FieldTurf at Notre Dame Stadium. After resodding the field three times last year, the athletic department might be sick of fertilizer. But what I love about Notre Dame is the lengths the university has gone to maintain the stadium's look and feel as it did when Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz coached there. Virtually no signage, no field paint, and, yes, a grass field. Oh well.
1. The NCAA Football Rules Committee tabled the 10-second rule, and Alabama coach Nick Saban says the pace of play needs a closer look, which means we are in the exact same place as we were before the committee ready-fire-aimed its way toward passing the 10-second rule three weeks ago. That is, save for everyone on both sides being a lot more riled up. Until the data shows this is a player-safety issue, it’s a style-of-play issue. Those rules are tougher to pass, if only because trends in the game develop slowly.

2. In a discussion on the ESPNU Football Podcast on Wednesday, my colleague Matt Fortuna made an interesting point in favor of the idea that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has established himself as a success in South Bend despite having had only one BCS-bowl season. Three of Kelly’s coordinators have been hired as head coaches: Charley Molnar (UMass), Chuck Martin (Miami of Ohio) and Bob Diaco (UConn). Here’s another point in Kelly’s favor: he is in year five in South Bend without questions surrounding his job security. Since Dan Devine retired in 1980, only Lou Holtz has passed the five-year threshold.

3. Has it occurred to anyone else that this is the golden age of college football in the state of South Carolina? The Gamecocks have finished 11-2 and in the top 10 in the last three seasons; Clemson has done both in the last two seasons. This from the flagship programs of a state best known in recent years for exporting its talent to national powers such as Florida State and Penn State. What Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have achieved gets lost because they have one conference title between them in their present jobs. But the state of South Carolina stands behind only Alabama in recent success.
1. Cleaned out my closet over the weekend and found a promotional poster from a trip I covered in 2008 in which five Division I head coaches visited U.S. troops in the Middle East. The trip was six years -- and a cumulative eight job changes -- ago. Charlie Weis has gone from Notre Dame to Florida to Kansas; Tommy Tuberville from Auburn to Texas Tech to Cincinnati; Jack Siedlecki from Yale to Wesleyan; Randy Shannon from Miami to TCU to Arkansas. Only Mark Richt from Georgia has remained in place. I’m guessing you could select randomly five head coaches in 2008 and come up with a similar result. What a business.

2. Everett Golson returned to the football field at Notre Dame on Monday. How much did the Irish miss him last year? While total yardage and touchdowns remained virtually the same from 2012 to 2013, look deeper. The run/pass yardage ratio in 2012 was 46/54. Last season, it shifted to 37/63. Trips into the red zone dropped from 60 to 45. Notre Dame missed Golson’s ability to run. Quarterback rushing yards went from 285 yards to minus-30. Every defense is stressed by a running quarterback. The Irish have that threat again.

3. I love that Paul Chryst canceled Pitt’s spring game because his young team would benefit more from another practice than a pretend game, especially with the relatively low number of available players (seniors are gone, freshmen haven’t arrived, and the injured are recuperating). And I love that Chryst felt the need to apologize for doing so. Spring games are a valuable marketing tool to rekindle interest among fans during the long offseason. But I bet more teaching goes on in practice than in a spring game.
1. Pete Carroll joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win a national championship and a Super Bowl. But he is the fourth head coach to win a national championship and an NFL title. Paul Brown finished No. 1 at Ohio State in 1942, and won three NFL Championships with the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s (and four titles in the All-America Football Conference right after World War II).

2. What strikes me about Carroll’s double is how few men who won a national championship even tried to coach in the NFL. Beginning in 1936, when the Associated Press began its poll, I counted 15: in addition to the four coaches above, add Dan Devine, Dennis Erickson, Lou Holtz, John McKay, John Robinson, Bobby Ross, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Gene Stallings, Jock Sutherland and Bud Wilkinson.

3. It’s early, I know, but Notre Dame is already shaping up as one of the most interesting stories going into the 2014 season. Quarterback Everett Golson is back, but the anchor of the defensive line, nose tackle Louis Nix III left early for the NFL, and coach Brian Kelly has new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Not to mention slipping from 12-1 in 2012 to 9-4 last season. This will be Kelly’s fifth season in South Bend. The last coach employed at Notre Dame for more than five seasons? Lou Holtz (1986-96).

3-point stance: Notre Dame luxuries

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
5:30
AM ET
1. It took Notre Dame 67 years to perform its first facelift on Notre Dame Stadium in 1996. It took 17 years for the university to announce plans for a new iteration of The House That Rockne Built. The new construction will give Notre Dame the club seating and the suites that every other major stadium has. My favorite part of the news release: Father John I. Jenkins, the university president, said that he didn’t think raising $400 million to fund the construction would be an issue. With that fan base, he’s dead right.

2. The good and bad of Twitter: the travel nightmare endured by Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman in Atlanta, when he spent 19 hours stuck on an icy interstate, is only a slight exaggeration of the road-warrior sagas that FBS recruiters go through every January. Herman used Twitter as lifeline and diary during his overnight stay. Then there’s Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who, unaware of how serious conditions were, tweeted that Atlantans were “softnosed.” Shafer meant it as a chain-jerk, but it was a classic ready-fire-aim use of the medium. We’ve all been there.

3. Alabama has a commitment from kicker J.K. Scott of Denver Mullen High, which rings a bell for anyone who remembers Wide Right I and II. After Florida State lost to Miami in consecutive seasons, knocking itself out of the race for No. 1, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden had enough. In Feb. 1993, he signed the best high school kicker in the nation, Scott Bentley, also from the Denver area. Less than a year later, Bentley kicked the field goal that gave Bowden the 1993 national championship.

3-point stance: Super Bowl coaches

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
5:30
AM ET
1. In four consecutive seasons, from 1992-95, the Super Bowl featured a coach who had won a college football national championship. Jimmy Johnson won Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII (1992-93) with Dallas. Barry Switzer won Super Bowl XXX with the Cowboys, too. Between Jimmy and Barry, Bobby Ross lost SB XXIX with San Diego. No national championship winners before Johnson, and none after Ross -- until this season. Pete Carroll gets his shot with Seattle next week.

2. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher almost sounded frustrated over the course of last season as he would tell reporters that Jacob Coker almost beat out Jameis Winston to be the Seminoles’ starting quarterback. Yeah, right. But Fisher continued to say it all the way through the BCS Championship Game. Now it seems Coker, who followed AJ McCarron at St. Paul’s in Mobile, now will follow him at Alabama, once he graduates from FSU this spring. He will be a godsend for the Crimson Tide.

3. The ACC released its 2014 schedule Wednesday, and Florida State got the NFL treatment. The defending national champion’s schedule is harder. Pittsburgh and Maryland are gone. In come new members Louisville and Notre Dame, which begins its ACC semi-schedule. The Cardinals have quite the league initiation. They are the only ACC team to play four road games in five weeks. That doesn’t include playing in the two northernmost ACC outdoor stadiums, Boston College and Notre Dame, in November.

3-point stance: Dressed for success

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
5:00
AM ET
1. In 1997, Under Armour outfitted its first college football team, Georgia Tech, which opened the season at Notre Dame. Under Armour made $110,000 in sales that year, which is why its founder, Kevin Plank, spent the night before the game in the Yellow Jacket locker room -- he couldn’t afford a hotel. On Tuesday, Plank and Notre Dame announced a 10-year deal, worth a reported $90 million, for Under Armour to outfit all Fighting Irish teams. That’s the quintessential American success story.

2. A longtime reader emailed me to complain about the price of the $2,000-and-up premium tickets for the College Football Playoff final next year. He worried that the grab for cash will prevent the father-and-son bonding that takes place on fall Saturdays at campuses across America. I think that ship sailed some time ago. Iron Bowl tickets went for $300 each on StubHub last November. Face value for Texas-Oklahoma last season: $110.

3. Manny Diaz, looking for a chance to coach, and maybe redeem his reputation after the flame-out as Texas defensive coordinator, has been hired for the same gig at Louisiana Tech, where Skip Holtz landed last year, looking for a chance to coach, and maybe redeem his rep after South Florida, etc, etc. Ruston might be the place: After Tony Franklin fizzled as Auburn offensive coordinator, he spent three seasons in the same job with the Bulldogs. Franklin left a year ago with Sonny Dykes for the Cal Bears, back among the big boys.
1. The American Football Coaches Association named David Cutcliffe of Duke its FBS coach of the year, and I hope a little part of him is seething. Yes, the Blue Devils had never won 10 games before this year. But Duke went to a bowl game in 2012. It’s not as if this season came entirely came out of the blue. Coaching awards are mostly about expectations. The AFCA voted that Duke winning 10 games is more outlandish than Gus Malzahn taking Auburn from 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC, to within nine seconds of being No. 1. That makes no sense.

2. The run of assistant coach hirings over the last few days serves as a reminder that coaches change jobs but relationships endure. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hired Brian VanGorder as his defensive coordinator. VanGorder, the Jets’ linebacker coach, worked for Kelly at Division II Grand Valley State in the ‘90s. Bo Davis, who is returning to Alabama as defensive line coach, is the fourth of the Crimson Tide’s nine assistants whom Nick Saban has rehired. He might be hard to work for, but they keep coming back.

3. Longtime Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker died Monday, at age 72, only three seasons after retiring because of complications from diabetes. Parker was a coach’s coach. He didn’t look for the spotlight. He just delighted in coaching his players, teaching them the fundamentals of the basic, solid defense that has been a hallmark of Kirk Ferentz’s teams in his 14 seasons in Iowa City.

3-point stance: Seems like old times

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
5:00
AM ET
1. At Utah State last season, with the running/passing threat of Chuckie Keeton at quarterback, Gary Andersen’s Aggies ran the ball on 53 percent of their plays. Now that Andersen is coaching Wisconsin, where he has three very good backs and a veteran line, the Badgers are running the ball on 63 percent of their plays. That nearly matches the 66 percent that Bret Bielema’s Badgers ran the ball last season. It’s official -- Andersen has gone native.

2. After weeks of practicing and playing, five Pac-12 schools on the quarter system are just now starting classes. It can be quite an adjustment, especially for freshmen, to become students and athletes. Oregon, which begins class on Monday, brought in a time management expert to talk to the Ducks. Added Stanford football ops director Matt Doyle, “When you constantly emphasize things like time management, responsibility and organization, the first week of school really isn’t that big of a deal.”

3. You don’t have to be Brian Kelly to figure out that Notre Dame is not playing as well as it did a year ago. During the 2012 regular season, the Irish allowed only eight touchdowns in their opponents’ 33 drives into the red zone. This season, in four games, Notre Dame has allowed nine touchdowns in 15 drives. That they are 3-1 as they welcome No. 14 Oklahoma shows the benefit of knowing how to win. But that only works in close games.
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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Official Visit: Imminent ESPN 300 Decisions
Recruiting reporters Erik McKinney, Damon Sayles, Derek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren join ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss some upcoming decisions for ESPN 300 recruits and a pair of five-star prospects who recently postponed their commitment date.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video