Notre Dame Football: California Golden Bears

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.

Weekend recruiting notes

January, 9, 2012
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Four-star safety Elijah Shumate (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco) committed to Notre Dame during Saturday's Army All-American Bowl, choosing the Irish over Rutgers and South Carolina.

Shumate is the No. 14 safety in the country and No. 6 player in New Jersey.

Here is what our Damon Sayles and William Wilkerson have to say on Shumate:
Shumate had one of the more impressive offer lists in the country. In addition to his finalists, he had offers from UCLA, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona, USC, Colorado, Connecticut, Boston College, Maryland, Michigan State, North Carolina, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Illinois, Central Florida and Miami.

He is one of four players from Don Bosco to play in this season's U.S. Army All-American Bowl. It's believed to be the first time that many players from the same high school played in this game at the same time.

Shumate showed off his versatility in helping Don Bosco win its sixth consecutive Non-Public 4 title with two rushing touchdowns and an interception returned for a score in the state title game. Don Bosco went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the 2011 Fab 50.

Targets the Irish missed out on during the weekend include four-star receiver Jordan Payton (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) and four-star safety Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, Calif./Grant), who both chose California.

The Irish are still in the running for four-star offensive lineman Arik Armstead (Elk Grove, Calif/Pleasant Grove), who said Saturday he will choose in "a couple of days to a week."

The No. 15 overall player and USC de-commit played on the defensive line Saturday and said his finalists are all recruiting him for defense. Those finalists are Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal, Auburn and Texas.

Our Craig Haubert writes:
He is a big kid and can be tough versus the run and provide some pressure as a bull rusher, but we came away from this game even more convinced that his best fit and better upside is at offensive tackle, the position where he is ranked in the ESPNU 150.
Michael Floyd, Robert WoodsUS PresswireCan Michael Floyd and Notre Dame make it two in a row against Robert Woods and USC?

USC-Notre Dame, the nation’s best intersectional rivalry, kicks off for an 83rd time on Saturday in South Bend under the lights, and it feels like the Trojans' recent dominance might be at an end.

The Fighting Irish won a tight one, 20-16, last year in the Coliseum, ending an eight-game Trojans' winning streak. While Notre Dame got off to a slow start, it seems to have righted the ship in Year 2 under Brian Kelly. Meanwhile, USC, though 5-1, has as many questions to answer as it plays through its second year under coach Lane Kiffin, yoked with NCAA sanctions, including a postseason ban.

Seems like a good time to check the pulse of the rivalry, so the Pac-12 blog and Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna decided to have a little intersectional chat.

Ted Miller: Matt, there were high expectations to start the season for Notre Dame. Things got off to a slow, and sometimes controversial start -- see Kelly getting red-faced with rage on the sidelines -- but things seem to be on the uptick. First, why did the Irish struggle and, second, what are they doing better now?

Matt Fortuna: Ted, I think my face would have also turned a couple different colors had I been in charge of this team at the beginning of the season. Ten total turnovers, two quarterbacks and a fourth-quarter collapse at the Big House made this team a must-watch ... for everyone but Irish fans. I'm not convinced we would have seen such complete performances in recent weeks without the sting of those early defeats, though. The defense really took an edge with it, both into press conferences and into games, and it has helped set the tone for a team that knows it cannot afford to slip up any more this season. Offensively, Tommy Rees has continued to clean up some sophomore mistakes and the running game is better than anyone could have possibly hoped for at the beginning of the season.

I'm curious about how the Trojans see this rivalry. I know Lane Kiffin called last year's defeat his toughest as a head coach, but then he referred to this game as the Irish's Super Bowl because it comes after a bye. Did last year's game really re-charge this rivalry, or does USC look at that as an aberration to what has pretty much been a one-sided contest for the past decade?

TM: Well, if USC sees last year as an aberration it may be alone. What a lot of folks see is a re-energized Notre Dame program that finally hired a good coach -- big fan of Brian Kelly here, red face or not -- while the Trojans are about to negotiate the loss of 30 scholarships combined over the next three recruiting classes due to NCAA sanctions.

The feeling in Heritage Hall is they blew last year’s game and would have won if QB Matt Barkley had played. But woulda, coulda, shoulda, you know? The Trojans have no excuses this year. They have yet to be hit by scholarship reductions. While they got killed last year by transfers, they’ve had a year to adjust to their new personnel. What I suspect USC fans might see is their best chance to notch a win -- at Notre Dame, no less -- during a period when the Irish look to be rising and the Trojans sagging. Further, with no postseason chances -- also due to NCAA sanctions -- this big rivalry game away from home almost functions as a midseason bowl game.

So I think USC is taking this one very seriously.

I’ve been hearing about how much better the Notre Dame defense is. What do you think the Irish have planned for Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods, who had an off-game against California and figures to be highly motivated this weekend?

MF: In Week 4 Michael Floyd was held to just four catches at Pitt. He responded with a 12-catch, 137-yard performance at Purdue. I think the Irish have that in mind and understand that whatever Cal did to contain Woods this past week, there really is no blueprint for shutting down an elite receiver like that.

Going off the woulda, coulda, shoulda theme, this defense has been very good for 23 of 24 quarters this season, with the fourth-quarter collapse at Michigan being the lone --- albeit gigantic -- blemish. Manti Te'o, who once looked like a sure thing to attend USC, may just be the best inside linebacker in the country, and the rest of the front-seven has been outstanding against the run. The secondary is less established, which is why I think getting to Barkley early and often will make life a lot easier defending the passing game.

OK, prediction time. Who do you got, Ted?

TM: The Trojans believe Matt Barkley will be the difference this go-around. I don’t. I think the Notre Dame defense will do enough to contain him and receiver Robert Woods and the Trojans' inconsistent rushing attack. And the Irish defense looks superior to USC’s, which has continued its mediocrity in year two under Monte Kiffin.

So I’m picking the Irish, 28-24.

What about you?

MF: I think the Trojans have enough offensive firepower to stay within striking distance, but I don't think their defense, despite its progress at Cal, will be able to contain Notre Dame's offense, which was on a tear before the bye week.

I expect more of the same from the Irish this Saturday, and I'm picking them to win, 35-24.

Notre Dame Prediction: Week 8 vs. USC

October, 20, 2011
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Lane Kiffin called this game Notre Dame's Super Bowl because it is coming off the Irish's bye week. He is also upset that the Irish announced it was a night game in March, somehow messing with USC's travel plans.

No, this isn't the '70s, when this annual intersectional matchup often had national title implications. Neither team is ranked, and USC won't even be able to play in a conference title game, let alone a bowl game, due to NCAA sanctions. But Kiffin has done what he can to inject some juice into this showdown, which will certainly make for an enhanced atmosphere under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium.

On the field, USC is the better team in the standings, at 5-1. But Notre Dame has the better personnel. This is a Trojans team that managed just a two-point season-opening home win against Minnesota, after all.

Did USC's defense turn a corner last week against Cal? A unit that gave up 40-plus points in consecutive weeks shut down the Golden Bears in a 30-9 victory. It remains to be seen, but one thing I'm certain of is USC's offense has the firepower to hang with the Irish.

I see this one similarly to the way I saw Notre Dame-Air Force -- to an extent. Both offenses are capable of exploding, but only the Irish's defense appears capable of making a stop when push comes to shove. And, for the second game in a row, I think the Irish jump to an early lead and never look back, leaving USC to play catch-up in another high-scoring affair.

No alleged flukes here. And no injury excuses, either, regardless of how much Marc Tyler can actually play, if at all. The Irish start a winning streak of their own against USC with their second win in as many years, and just maybe help restore this rivalry in the process.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, USC 24

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