Notre Dame Football: Florida State Seminoles


July 1 could be a big day for the Oregon Ducks. After narrowly missing out on five-star quarterback Kyler Murray and then QB Blake Barnett (No. 56 in the ESPN 300), No. 141 Travis Waller is set to announce with the Ducks and Notre Dame considered the top two. After being considered a lean to Notre Dame in recent weeks, a June 21 offer by Oregon is a potential game-changer. With the offer to Waller, Oregon is in position to not get left out of the quarterback sweepstakes in 2015. The Ducks offered No. 89 Sam Darnold on June 16 following Barnett's pledge to Alabama. With the offer to Waller five days later, they have a very good chance to snag one of the two remaining top quarterback prospects on the West Coast.

[+] EnlargeTravis Waller
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTravis Waller, the No. 6 QB-DT in the ESPN 300, is set to decide between Oregon and Notre Dame on July 1.
There are currently four five-star prospects committed in the Class of 2015. On July 2, another will come off the board when No. 13 Justin Hilliard announces his decision. The day should be a great one for either Ohio State or Notre Dame with the Buckeyes having been the team to beat headed into last weekend's unofficial visits to South Bend and Columbus. As decision day closes in, Ohio State remains the team receiving the behind-the-scenes chatter as the most likely destination for the outside linebacker. Should the Buckeyes reel in Hilliard next Wednesday, it will be a huge shot in the arm for Ohio State as he is close with a number of top prospects in the Midwest with the ability to impact a class with more than just his pledge.

ESPN 300 No. 226 Sage Hardin will announce his decision Friday at 6 p.m. via Twitter (@SageHardin75). While the athletic offensive tackle hasn't been tipping his hand in regards to a favorite, he did tell RecruitingNation on Wednesday night that Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, California, Miami (Fla.), Georgia Tech and NC State are in the running. The Georgia offer June 16 was a huge one for the Atlanta-area prospect, as was the offer from Tennessee June 17. The Hurricanes have placed the full court press on Hardin, and a June 7 unofficial visit to NC State impressed more than anticipated. There are family connections to Virginia, but the uncertainty of the Cavaliers' future is cause for concern. This one is likely to come down to the home state Bulldogs, the Volunteers and Cavaliers with Georgia having gained the most mention since offered 11 days ago.

Three-star safety P.J. Locke has announced that he will make his commitment on July 1 at Beaumont Central High. He has a final 10 school list of Arizona State, Baylor, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Penn State, Stanford, TCU, UCLA and Wake Forest. Since an early June unofficial visit to Eugene, the Ducks have been the team trending with Baylor and TCU working hard to try to keep the physical safety in-state.

ESPN 300 No. 63 Abdul Bello had plans to make a number of summer camps, and for the first time see college programs outside the Sunshine State. The plans changed in early June with Bello taking summer school classes. After only having the time to attend Florida camp in early June, Bello and his coach are currently working to scheduled July trips to LSU and Auburn, along with a trip to Florida State and likely back to Gainesville for Friday Night Lights.

Florida State will hold its annual July camp on the 16th through 18th. Although the Class of 2015 will be the main focus of the Seminoles' camp, the top prospect in attendance may well be 2016 quarterback Malik Henry. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Henry will be in Tallahassee and is scheduled to work out all three days of the camp. Henry is at the top of the quarterback board for Florida State in 2016, and is also at the top of the board for UCLA with the hometown Bruins having had the full court press on Henry for months already.

No. 48 Richard McBryde continues to have Auburn in front with Miami (Fla.), Florida and Alabama in the mix. The Under Armour All-America Game selection said Thursday that Auburn is recruiting him the hardest, and is pushing him to commit. With that said, McBryde said he hopes to make unofficial visits to Miami (Fla.) and/or Florida. McBryde said the pressure from Auburn to commit does not hurt the Tigers, but shows how much they value him as a player.

Four-star athlete Shaquery Wilson continues to have Georgia on top of his list followed closely by Arkansas. The month of July will prove to be impactful in the wide receiver and cornerback prospect's recruitment. Wilson is scheduled to camp at Alabama for three days in July at wide receiver, and an offer would definitely be a game-changer. Wilson will also attend Dawg Night in July, as well as make unofficial visits to Tennessee and Auburn.

In the Class of 2016, cornerback Trayvon Mullen has enjoyed about as impressive of a week as is possible, picking up offers from Alabama and LSU on the same day, as well as getting offers from Wisconsin and Ohio State on Thursday. While the Crimson Tide's offer is a big one, a May offer from Clemson was just as big because the 6-foot-2, long-armed corner has been a Tigers fan for a few years.
MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Nike SPARQ combines have grown with each passing year, and on Saturday there was a record turnout. If the 1,993 prospects who attended weren't impressive enough, the performances by several top prospects who came to compete certainly left spectators turning heads.

Here is a rundown of some of the event's top performers.
  • ESPN Junior 300 running back Taj Griffin posted one of the top SPARQ scores of the day. Griffin checked in at 5-foot-10, 174-pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.35 shuttle, had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 36-foot power ball toss for a combined score of 124.29. On the recruiting front, Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee continue to stand out the most.

  • No. 3 junior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga posted an impressive score of 94.65. After measuring at 6-4 and weighing 276 pounds, Edoga ripped off a 5.01 40-yard dash, a terrific 4.69 shuttle and had a 33.8-inch vertical jump and 37-foot power ball throw. Following his impressive effort, he said his top four schools in order are Tennessee, Southern California, Georgia and Stanford with a decision likely on May 25, his birthday. The big news might have been that he currently prefers the Volunteers, but his mother is in the corner of the Bulldogs and Cardinal.
  • No. 252 prospect C.J. Sanders made the trip and did not disappoint. He checked in at 5-9 and 176 pounds, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, had a blazing 4.09 shuttle run, leaped 36.5 inches and tossed the power ball 41 feet. On the recruiting front, USC, Notre Dame and Georgia are the latest to offer, joining Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He visited USC last week, and lists Reggie Bush as his childhood idol. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. His mom played basketball at Michigan. He reports his family favors Duke and USC early on with a decision slated for the summer.
  • Class of 2016 prospect Ben Cleveland is already considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and the 6-7, 317-pounder showed why Saturday. He clocked a very impressive 5.22 40-yard dash and 4.87 shuttle, and had a 25.8-inch vertical leap and 41.5-foot power ball throw for a score of 99.78. He has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas with Alabama expected in the near future. He made an unofficial visit to Clemson two weeks ago.
  • Class of 2015 running back Jaylen Burgess posted a 118.44. The 5-10, 214-pounder ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and a 4.38 shuttle, and had a 36.7-inch vertical leap and 42.5 power ball throw. He is receiving interest from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Duke and a number of other ACC schools. Duke and Tennessee are the coaching staffs Burgess talks to the most. He posted more than 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
  • Class of 2016 linebacker and defensive end Charles Wiley checked in at 6-3, 203 pounds. He clocked a 4.68 40-yard dash and 4.45 shuttle, and also leaped 35 inches and threw the power ball 34.5 feet. He has an early offer from Virginia Tech.
  • Class of 2015 athlete Jeremiah Mercer is flying completely under the recruiting radar. While he had to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, he made his mark Saturday posting a score of 97.47. The 5-11, 163-pound running back and wide receiver ripped off a 4.48 40-yard dash and 4.18 shuttle, and added a 36.2-vertical leap and 31-foot power ball toss. He is receiving interest from Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and lists Florida State as his dream school.
  • Class of 2016 inside linebacker Tyler Reed posted a very impressive score of 104.91. After measuring 6-2, 234 pounds, Reed ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and 4.59 shuttle, and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 41-foot power ball throw. He recorded 130 tackles as a sophomore.
  • Class of 2015 running back Eric Montgomery posted a 115.47, one of the day’s top scores. The tailback checked in at 5-11, 185 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.19 shuttle, and jumped 36 inches and threw the power ball 38 feet. On the recruiting front, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, among others, are showing interest.

Is Miami this year’s Notre Dame?

November, 1, 2013
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Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsMiami has needed 4th quarter comebacks in its last two wins to remain unbeaten.

No. 7 Miami (FL) enters its Week 10 matchups with No. 3 Florida State undefeated and looking to jump into the BCS National Championship conversation.

The Hurricanes needed two fourth-quarter comebacks in their last two games in order to remain undefeated. In both of those games, they had less than a 25 percent chance of winning at one point in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN’s win probability model.

Miami’s win against Wake Forest was its third win by seven or fewer points, which brings up the question, “Could Miami be this year’s Notre Dame?”

Last season, Notre Dame won five games by seven points or fewer en route to its 12-0 record entering the BCS National Championship.

The Fighting Irish had a difficult schedule, but also failed to dominate some of their lesser opponents. Notre Dame’s average margin of victory against its unranked FBS opponents was 18.6 points compared to 35.9 for Alabama last season.

Further, their average in-game win probability ranked ninth in the FBS entering the BCS National Championship, meaning that despite winning all of their games they were not dominant in those wins. In-game win probability measures the chance that a team has of winning across all of its plays.

Miami currently has the 18th-best average in-game win probability, but has faced only one ranked opponent. Adjusting for strength of schedule, Miami’s in-game win probability rank falls to 34th, according to ESPN’s win probability model.

Another potential similarity upcoming
Arguably, Notre Dame’s biggest win of last season came at No. 8 Oklahoma in its eighth game of the season. The Irish entered the game as double-digit underdogs, and, like Miami, they needed fourth-quarter comebacks in their previous two games against Stanford and BYU to remain undefeated.

Miami enters its eighth game of the season as more than a three-touchdown underdog at Florida State. The Hurricanes’ offense was slowed in its last two games, and it will face a Florida State defense that has held its last two ranked opponents to 14 combined points.

One of the keys to Notre Dame’s win against Oklahoma was its run game. The Irish gained 179 yards and all three of their touchdowns on designed runs. They were able to control the clock and keep Landry Jones off the field.

Look for Miami to employ a similar plan Saturday. In the fourth quarter of its past two games, Miami ran the ball on 76 percent of its plays and averaged 99.5 rush yards.

They scored all four of their fourth-quarter touchdowns on the ground in those two comebacks. If Florida State has a weakness, it is its run defense; the Seminoles lead the nation in pass defense, but rank 29th in rush defense.

Florida State has scored a touchdown on 52 percent of its drives, second best in the FBS. If Miami is able to keep them off the field, the Hurricanes might be able to continue their unbeaten season.
Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.)

Yes, the college football punditry and peanut gallery can sound like a broken record. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 and ranked seventh, and almost every sign suggests legitimacy, but, well, we've been down this road before. And not only with Notre Dame. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was blowing kisses at Florida State -- the Seminoles are finally back -- before it became a national punch line or cautionary tale, however you wish to view a loss at NC State.

Notre Dame plays host to No. 17 Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal might present the Irish their toughest test yet. Stanford, after all, beat USC. Whipped the once-No. 2 Trojans at the line of scrimmage, no less.

Of course, Stanford also wilted against Washington, making a Huskies defense that would get decimated by Oregon look stout.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
George Nkitin/AP PhotoStepfan Taylor and Stanford can perhaps clear the national title picture a bit by toppling undefeated Notre Dame.
The gist here is there is still a lot of fog over the college football season. We all say stuff, perhaps even with a feigned certainty -- Alabama is unbeatable! -- but we don't really know. The season remains rife with variables and plot twists, even with the first BCS standings being released Sunday.

There are 14 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions). Some teams mostly feel -- fairly or unfairly -- like curiosities: three in the Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers), Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and Mississippi State. Others own undeniable heft: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and, yes, Notre Dame.

Odd that this weekend's Red River Rivalry feels so far off the radar, although both Texas and Oklahoma could play roles in winnowing the contenders and pretenders. The Sooners still have dates with Notre Dame and West Virginia, while the Longhorns conclude the season against Kansas State.

The "what ifs" are rampant. Such as: What if Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon all finish undefeated; who then plays for the title? Or switch out Oregon with West Virginia or Kansas State. There are the multiple unbeaten quandaries, and then there are all the best of the once-beaten comparisons, such as: Can USC get back into the national title hunt?

Again, so many variables in our penultimate season yoked by the lovely BCS system. It's difficult to predict how pollsters will react. And don't even start with the computers. With strength of schedule, it's not just what your team has accomplished, but what all its foes did. And all its foes' foes. Etc., etc.

What's also interesting is that the march toward clarity isn't always linear. At any moment, a couple of upsets can put a boot print in our consensus expectations. For example, what might have happened last season if LSU had been nipped in the SEC title game?

The good news is a page will turn next week. If Kansas State and West Virginia both survive tricky road games this weekend -- the Wildcats are at Iowa State, and the Mountaineers are at Texas Tech -- they meet in Morgantown on Oct. 20, so one of the Big 12's two unbeatens will fall.

Same goes for the SEC East. If No. 3 South Carolina manages to win at No. 9 LSU on Saturday, a visit to No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20 seems like the Rubicon for the division. Only one unbeaten will remain in the division, just as only one unbeaten -- Alabama or Mississippi State -- can emerge from the West.

And, if everyone then holds serve, we could have an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the SEC title game.

But, alas, that's getting ahead of ourselves.

We started with the notion that Stanford will provide a nice test for Notre Dame's legitimacy. The Cardinal, after all, are riding a three-game winning streak in the series.

But we know past success doesn't guarantee future results. Just look at your 401K. Or the Fighting Irish's storied history.

Is Notre Dame for real? Heck, is anyone for real?

It's probably best to turn to one of history's great college football pundits at times like this. As Socrates once noted when his preseason picks imploded, "I know one thing, that I know nothing."

Or, more charitably, at least very little.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Recognizing the length of his question for Brian Kelly about Gunner Kiel, an inquiring reporter could not help but ask the coach if he had just asked a stupid question.

"It's a great question," Kelly immediately responded with a smile on his face. "All questions today are great questions."

The message, one Kelly would repeat throughout Wednesday's news conference, was clear: We won't worry about those who aren't at Notre Dame; we're happy with what we got.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/US PresswireIrish head coach Brian Kelly speaks at a news conference for national signing day Wednesday.
Sporting a dark-grey suit and kelly-green tie, the Notre Dame football coach began his national signing day media session by praising those behind the scenes at the school -- the associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, the director of admissions, the V.P. for student affairs -- before getting into specifics about the Irish's incoming class, though questions about two players dominated the 47-minute discussion.

Headlining the newcomers is Kiel, the prized quarterback prospect from Columbus, Ind., who enrolled in January. Headlining national signing day, however, is Deontay Greenberry, the four-star wide receiver from Fresno, Calif., who stunned virtually everyone by signing with Houston, nearly nine months after he verbally pledged to Notre Dame.

"Again, I think we painted the picture being clear about what we were about, and we made sure this is what you're gonna get at Notre Dame," Kelly said when asked what happened with Greenberry. "And for me it's hard to be disappointed about something you never had or you never coached. I'm more excited about the guys that signed because they are the right kind of guys."

Greenberry's cousin is four-star cornerback Tee Shepard, who had already enrolled at Notre Dame in January and whom Kelly called the best cornerback in the country. The common belief was that Greenberry would commit to the same school as his cousin.

Kelly said he talked to Greenberry on Tuesday night before finding out he was Houston-bound Wednesday from Jeff Freitas, Greenberry's high school coach. The Irish coach said he knew from experience that he had to brace himself for surprises when dealing with high school kids.

"I don't know that anybody would think differently when 17- and 18-year-olds are making decisions for the next five years," Kelly said. "It's arguably the biggest decision they've ever made and they're putting themselves in that position for the first time, many of them. So I don't think you ever go into signing day and say, 'Ah, this thing's over with.'

"I've been doing it now 23 years, and I've had surprises every single recruiting day. And some are good, some are not so good. As it relates to this one, I'm happy about the guys that signed with us because they know why they're here, and that's really the most important thing."

Greenberry was the not-so good. The good, however, came 15 days earlier, when Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame after previous verbal commitments to LSU and Indiana.

Kelly said the expectations for Kiel, who will be competing with three others for the starting quarterback job, are the same as they are for every recruit. He stressed that he wanted recruits who wanted to compete, not those who wanted a free year to redshirt.

"Honestly, we never really felt like we were done recruiting," Kelly said of Kiel's commitment. "In terms of, even though Gunner had made his decision, there just seemed to be a connection there that we weren't ready to give up on. And we were right, because Gunner's happy, he's happy to be here. Those stories happen. Some don't. Some you know, it's over. We felt like this was the right place for him, and maybe it was our belief that this was the right place, Notre Dame, that kept us involved."

In all, Notre Dame announced the signing of 16 high school prospects, in addition to sophomore running back Amir Carlisle, a transfer from USC. While last year's recruiting centered around the power position, Kelly said, this year's centered on the secondary and receiving corp, something he believes was addressed despite the losses of Greenberry and four-star cornerback Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac), who de-committed from the Irish nearly a month ago before signing with Florida State on Wednesday.

By the end of Wednesday's festivities, the Irish had walked away with eight new offensive players, seven new defensive players and a new long-snapper. Nine of them were rated four-star prospects by ESPNU, six were three-stars and one was a two-star. They came from 12 different states and from each region of the country, and they all signed with Kelly and his staff following the vetting process that determined they would be a right fit for Notre Dame.

"I think that our coaches do a great job, and it starts with making sure that we talk about our distinctions and not shy away from them," Kelly said. "We talk about a faith-based education. We talk about, 'You gotta live in the dorms.' We talk about those things as they relate to Notre Dame, because we don't want to get here and you've signed a letter of intent and it wasn't the right fit — you just got sold a bill of goods. It does you no good to get sold a bill of goods, you come to Notre Dame, and it's not the right fit for you. So that's why you have a signing day, because you're going to have to make a decision based upon what we are talking about in the recruiting process.

"So I think it starts with immediately talking about what our distinctions are, and I think I mentioned it earlier: We're not better than anybody else, but you're shopping down a different aisle. And we make sure that's clear in the process."

Notre Dame's All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
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It's time to hand out some last-minute hardware for those who stood out for Notre Dame in its 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. Since we're dealing with one team and not one conference, we'll limit it to sides of the ball and not position.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Tyler Eifert
Douglas Jones/US PRESSWIRETyler Eifert made six catches for 90 yards against Florida State.
Offense: Tyler Eifert. The junior caught a game-high six passes for 90 yards, hurting the Seminoles over the middle time and time again. His performance was all the more important with Michael Floyd sidelined much of the second half after suffering an upper-body injury during his third-quarter touchdown catch.

Defense: Manti Te'o. Another junior who could have been playing in his final college game had he wanted to, the linebacker had a game-high 13 tackles and set up Notre Dame's first touchdown, forcing a fumble in the first quarter that Zeke Motta returned 29 yards for a touchdown.

Special teams: George Atkinson III. Ben Turk deserves an honorable mention for pinning FSU at its own 1 with a 49-yard punt with 5:02 to go, setting up a three-and-out and great field position for the Irish's last chance. Floyd deserves recognition for his 41-yard punt return in the first quarter. But Atkinson stood out on both sides, returning the second half's first kickoff 37 yards to set up Notre Dame's only touchdown drive. He tackled Lamarcus Joyner on the following kick, which Joyner returned 77 yards, setting up an FSU field goal.
Here are the highs and lows from the Irish's 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State:

Best play: Michael Floyd's 100th and final catch of the season -- and of his college career -- featured an impressive juggling act, as Floyd tipped the ball to himself five times before hauling in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees, the Irish's only offensive score of the game. The game captain suffered an upper-body injury during the third-quarter catch and did not play the rest of the way.

Worst play: Rees' pass for John Goodman was picked off in the end zone by Terrence Brooks with less than three minutes left in the game, erasing the Irish's last true chance. Brooks doubled the post; Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said afterward that Rees was supposed to hit the dig route if the safety doubled the post. "Attention to detail, the little things, obviously it hurt us in that situation," Kelly said.

Biggest reason for optimism: Notre Dame recorded five sacks, held the Seminoles to 1.4 yards per rush and came up with a defensive touchdown. The front seven, particularly freshman Aaron Lynch, showed plenty of promise and will be a force for the Irish moving forward.

Biggest reason for pessimism: Thirteen games later, Notre Dame is without a quarterback. Rees and Andrew Hendrix combined to throw three picks against FSU -- including two in the end zone -- and will battle it out with Everett Golson in the spring and summer for a job that is there for the taking.

Biggest surprise: Floyd returned the game's first punt 41 yards. Not bad, considering Notre Dame averaged a nation-worst 0.3 yards per punt return during the regular season. Yes, the Irish had 3 net punt return yards entering their bowl game. Floyd had nearly 14 times that on one return.
One can argue that the Champs Sports Bowl was Notre Dame's season in a nutshell.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame head coach Brian Kelly
AP Photo/Bill FundaroBrian Kelly and Notre Dame got off to a frustrating 0-2 start to the 2011 season.
Multiple turnovers. Quarterback questions. Michael Floyd making another spectacular play.

The 18-14 loss to Florida State left the Irish where they started the season, who went 8-5 for the second straight year and ended the campaign with another quarterback controversy, albeit not the same one they started the season with.

The fact that, at least on paper, there was little progress from Year 1 to Year 2 under Brian Kelly has to be frustrating for Notre Dame fans, especially since this season began with BCS-bowl expectations. The fact that Kelly, who entered Notre Dame with the reputation of a quarterback guru, has not settled on an answer at signal caller two years into his job also has to be troubling.

"I guess I'm not an offensive guy," Kelly quipped in Orlando, Fla., following Notre Dame's final loss.

Still, there are some positives to take away — namely, the defensive progress. Linebacker Manti Te'o returns to a unit that, at least on the front-seven, is primed to take a step forward. It had its way with Florida State throughout the bowl game. The Seminoles surrendered five sacks and averaged just 1.4 yards per rush. The talent on Notre Dame's defensive line will only continue to foster, as many of the standout performers this year — Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, to name a few — were in their first year of playing college football.

Kelly acknowledged as much after the loss, saying: "It's nice to be able to talk about a Notre Dame football team that plays championship defense, because they did that today. Now we've got to get our offense obviously to play that level as well, and that will be the next step for our football program, is getting our offense to play at the same level that our defense is evolving to."

Last season Notre Dame rode a season-ending four-game winning streak, including a 33-17 Sun Bowl thrashing of Miami, into an offseason that seemed to have all the momentum pointing the Irish's way. Optimism floated all around South Bend, Ind., preseason expectations went through the roof and then the season began, with Notre Dame committing 10 turnovers over two opening losses that virtually crushed all preseason goals.

Irish players and fans would be wise to remember that when thinking of what may have been lost at the end of 2011.
Notre Dame's 2011 season has been over for nearly two full weeks, but things haven't exactly been quiet in South Bend, Ind. Here's what has gone down in the young offseason.

1. Tyler Eifert is back. This is the best news for Notre Dame in the wake of its 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. Eifert was the Irish's second-leading receiver in 2011, will be the key to the passing attack next season and joins linebacker Manti Te'o in passing on a potentially high NFL draft selection to return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

2. There are still staff uncertainties. Tim Hinton (running backs) and Ed Warinner (offensive line/running gamer coordinator) are gone, not long after Charley Molnar took over head-coaching duties at Massachusetts. Offensive intern Scott Booker is now a full-time staff member, though his position has yet to be announced. Chuck Martin has moved from safeties coach to offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is now an assistant head coach. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks is now a co-defensive coordinator. Everyone has received a contract extension as well, as Brian Kelly received a two-year bump through 2016 on Tuesday. There are still two open positions on staff, however.

3. New face in the backfield. Former USC running back Amir Carlisle is transferring to Notre Dame. The freshman will have to sit out the 2012 season under NCAA rules after a first year with the Trojans that saw him tally 118 rushing yards on 19 carries and 41 receiving yards and a touchdown on seven catches.
Notre Dame comes in at No. 23 in colleague Mark Schlabach's way-too-early 2012 top 25.

Florida State, which beat the Irish in the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl, is No. 8. (Outside the top-five, which is surprising to some of you who took Schlabach's pre-bowl prediction a little too seriously.)

Irish opponent USC comes in at No. 2, behind LSU. Oklahoma, another Irish opponent in 2012, is at No. 5. Michigan State is No. 9.

Michigan (No. 11) and Stanford (No. 17) make it five Notre Dame 2012 opponents in the way-too-early top 25.

On Notre Dame, Schlabach writes:
The jury still seems to be out on whether coach Brian Kelly can return the Fighting Irish to national prominence. There's no question the Irish are a better defensive team under Kelly, but the offense continues to struggle because of turnovers and poor quarterback play. Kelly will again oversee a quarterback battle during the offseason, with Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson battling for the starting job. They'll be without star receiver Michael Floyd, but tight end Tyler Eifert decided to come back for one more season. The defense should continue to improve as young linemen like Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt get stronger. Notre Dame's schedule in 2012 is daunting, with nine games against teams that played in bowl games, including road contests at Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC.

Final 2011 opponent power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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The 2011 college football season is officially over, leaving us 234 long days between now and Notre Dame's Sept. 1 showdown in Dublin against Navy.

In the meantime, let's look back at the Irish's 2011 opponents, seven of whom played in bowl games and three of whom (the Big Ten slate of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue) won bowl games.

1) Stanford (11-2, beat Notre Dame, 28-14, on Nov. 26): This was a close call between the Cardinal and the runner-up, the USC Trojans. But given Stanford's road win against USC and the fact it beat the Irish convincingly from start to finish — whereas Notre Dame had its chances to close in on the Trojans — the Cardinal get the edge here.

2) USC (10-2, won at Notre Dame, 31-17, on Oct. 22): It's a shame we couldn't see this team in a big bowl game against another quality opponent. These Trojans didn't really register on the national radar until their impressive showing in South Bend, jumping to a 17-0 lead to top their rival for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

3) Michigan State (11-3, lost at Notre Dame, 31-13, on Sept. 17): Few could have envisioned Sparty coming within a few plays of the Rose Bowl following the beating it suffered at Notre Dame Stadium. But the way Kirk Cousins and Co. handled the rest of their Big Ten slate proved that, if nothing else, the Irish certainly had at least one big "quality" win in 2011.

4) Michigan (11-2, beat Notre Dame, 35-31, on Sept. 10): Another case in which a team's game against the Irish was not at all telling about what the rest of the season had in store. You wonder what would have happened to the Wolverines in coach Brady Hoke's first year had the fourth quarter against Notre Dame never happened. Instead, Michigan rode the momentum of a miracle comeback to a renaissance season that culminated with a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech.

5) Florida State (9-4, beat Notre Dame (in Orlando, Fla.), 18-14, on Dec. 29): The Champs Sports Bowl proved the Seminoles were the most worthy of opponents for the Irish. Both followed disappointing four-loss regular seasons with a defense-dominated, turnover-plagued contest that featured a late FSU comeback, allowing one team to end 2011 on a high note.

6) Wake Forest (6-7, lost to Notre Dame, 24-17, on Nov. 5): The Demon Deacons were responsible for one of the more surprising close contests the Irish played in all season long, jumping ahead early but not having enough gas left in the tank to finish off Notre Dame. Wake Forest did manage to beat FSU earlier in the season and gave eventual conference champion Clemson all it could handle a week after its loss to the Irish.

7) Air Force (7-6, lost at Notre Dame, 59-33, on Oct. 8): The Falcons certainly didn't lack for excitement, helping to put on an offensive clinic in their loss to the Irish and averaging nearly 35 points per game on the season. Their 42-41 Military Bowl loss to Toledo in many ways encapsulated all that was good and bad about this one-sided team.

8 ) Purdue (7-6, lost to Notre Dame, 38-10, on Oct. 1): What is it about Notre Dame and these Big Ten teams? The Irish were clearly much better than the Boilermakers all season long, but their thrashing of them at Ross-Ade Stadium looked all the more impressive after Purdue managed a solid season the rest of the way, beating a ranked Illinois team, Ohio State and winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Western Michigan.

9) Pitt (6-7, lost to Notre Dame, 15-12, on Sept. 24): An underwhelming Panthers squad made the Irish earn their second win of the season in the ugliest of fashions, as their meeting at Heinz Field was brutal on the eyes before a late Tommy Rees touchdown drive sealed the win for Notre Dame.

10) Navy (5-7, lost at Notre Dame, 56-14, on Oct. 29): Perhaps no team had worse luck on the field all season long. Navy lost a couple nailbiters on a couple of questionable calls but managed to win three of its final four games after getting blown out in South Bend.

11) South Florida (5-7, won at Notre Dame, 23-20, on Sept. 1): No excusing this loss. The Bulls followed this win and three more nonconference victories by falling flat on their face, losing their first four Big East contests en route to a 1-6 record in conference play this season. Oh, and Pitt beat them 44-17 five days after the Panthers' loss to the Irish.

12) Boston College (4-8, lost at Notre Dame, 16-14, on Nov. 19): Two wins in the Eagles' final three games was too little, too late for a team that could never get it together this season. BC's defense was stingy — and that unit and its special teams units made for a much tighter contest in South Bend than anyone had reason to expect — but the Eagles could never get it clicking on all cylinders this season.

13) Maryland (2-10, lost at Notre Dame (in Landover, Md.), 45-21, on Nov. 12): Where do we even begin? The Terrapins lost their final eight games of the season, beat just one FBS opponent all year and capped their campaign by blowing a 27-point second-half lead in a 56-41 loss at North Carolina State.

Lynch honored by FWAA

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
5:18
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Aaron Lynch was named to the Football Writers Association of America freshman All-American team Monday.

Lynch started six games at defensive end for Notre Dame, tallying 33 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.

The roster includes both true freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Lynch was one of 14 true freshmen honored.

Irish opponents Marqise Lee (USC), Dion Bailey (USC), Timmy Jernigan (Florida State), Marcus Rush (Michigan State) and Merrill Noel (Wake Forest) were honored as well.

West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen claimed first-year coaching honors.

Darby de-commits from Notre Dame

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
3:30
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Four-star cornerback Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac; No. 69 in the ESPNU 150) has re-opened his recruitment after de-committing from Notre Dame, according to multiple reports.

Darby, who committed to the Irish in April and had been their highest-rated recruit for this year's class, is expected to visit Florida State and Clemson, and is considering trips to Ohio State and LSU as well.

Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class is down to 17 members.

Notre Dame picks rewind

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
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Here at the Notre Dame blog, we are all about accountability. So with 2012 upon us and the bowl season winding down, it is now time to (painfully) revisit game predictions from yours truly from Notre Dame's season. (As a side note, the blog got started after prediction time for the Irish's opener against South Florida. For what it's worth, like everyone else outside of Tampa, Fla., I did not expect Notre Dame to lose that game.)

In recapping my season, I'll choose to stick with the mantra of a former Irish coach: "9-3 is not good enough."

Sept. 10 at Michigan
Predicted score: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 27
Actual score: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31
Hindsight: I was feeling pretty good about myself with 30 seconds remaining in this one, as the Irish held a 31-28 lead. Alas, a Denard Robinson drive for the ages created a memorable first night game at the Big House, pushing Notre Dame to 0-2 and starting my picks off on the wrong foot.

Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State
Predicted score: Notre Dame 23 Michigan State 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 13
Hindsight: Aaron Lynch didn't even play the week before, so we still had no clue what to expect from him. A sack, forced fumble and six quarterback hurries later, and our eyes were open. Lynch keyed an angry Irish team that unleashed the frustrations of an 0-2 start on Kirk Cousins and the Spartans, notching what was the Irish's biggest win of 2011.

Sept. 24 at Pitt
Predicted score: Notre Dame 35, Pitt 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 15, Pitt 12
Hindsight: Do we really need to relive this one? It wasn't easy on the eyes, but Tommy Rees' eight straight completions on the Irish's game-winning drive were enough for Notre Dame to edge out the Panthers and get to .500.

Oct. 1 at Purdue
Predicted score: Notre Dame 24, Purdue 13
Actual score: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10
Hindsight: Purdue ended up playing much better later in the season, but the Irish's offense was simply too much in this one. Gary Gray's pick on the game's first play, Michael Floyd's ensuing touchdown catch and Notre Dame's first zero-turnover performance keyed this rout.

Oct. 8 vs. Air Force
Predicted score: Notre Dame 31, Air Force 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 59, Air Force 33
Hindsight: And we all thought Air Force had the offense that could be the difference. If you blinked you might have missed something in this one, as the Irish scored touchdowns on their first six possessions in a game that featured 1,125 yards of total offense.

Oct. 22 vs. USC
Predicted score: Notre Dame 35, USC 24
Actual score: USC 31, Notre Dame 17
Hindsight: No apologies here. The Trojans had shown nothing before this game to indicate they would jump all over Notre Dame, let alone go on to a 10-2 season that has them as an early title favorite for 2012. Despite an early 17-0 deficit, the Irish managed to come within a play of tying the game in the third quarter, a play that ultimately resulted in a fumble that USC returned 80 yards to stomp out any chance the Irish had.

Oct. 29 vs. Navy
Predicted score: Notre Dame 34, Navy 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 56, Navy 14
Hindsight: This prediction was in the books before Brian Kelly's controversial comments about his players and Charlie Weis', but that doesn't really change anything here. The only thing working for Navy was recent history, and that was not nearly enough to stop an Irish team that came together the day before in a team meeting that helped them move on from what could have been a debilitating episode.

Nov. 5 at Wake Forest
Predicted score: Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 24, Wake Forest 17
Hindsight: A slow start plagued Notre Dame in this one, but a key forced fumble deep in its own territory closed the door on the pesky Demon Deacons, who hung around all game but ultimately didn't have enough to break through and notch the upset.

Nov. 12 vs. Maryland (in Landover, Md.)
Predicted score: Notre Dame 34, Maryland 10
Actual score: Notre Dame 45, Maryland 21
Hindsight: Maryland was bad, as expected. Notre Dame's offense didn't take its opponent for granted, playing at a pace unforeseen in routing the Terrapins in a "home" game in the home state of its opponent.

Nov. 19 vs. Boston College
Predicted score: Notre Dame 38, Boston College 16
Actual score: Notre Dame 16, Boston College 14
Hindsight: Jonas Gray's season-ending ACL tear took a bit of the life out of the stadium and Irish offense, and BC's defense nearly capitalized. The Eagles pinned Notre Dame deep in its own territory time after time and scared everyone on Senior Day, which almost went the wrong way for the Irish. Sensing disappointment in his injury and the close result, Gray gave a speech in the locker room afterward to remind all that Notre Dame had just won.

Nov. 26 at Stanford
Predicted score: Stanford 31, Notre Dame 20
Actual score: Stanford 28, Notre Dame 14
Hindsight: Stanford's front-seven made life miserable for Tommy Rees and the running game, Andrew Luck was his top-pick self and the Cardinal's tight ends were too big for the Irish's secondary as Notre Dame missed its chance at a marquee win.

Champs Sports Bowl vs. Florida State
Predicted score: Notre Dame 21, Florida State 13
Actual score: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14
Hindsight: Another game where I felt really good about my pick until the fourth quarter. Notre Dame jumped to a 14-0 lead and FSU's offense could not do a thing until late in the third. A timely forced turnover and ensuing touchdown pass changed everything, and the Irish offense was no better, turning it over three times in the season-ending loss.

Champs Bowl draws 3.8 rating

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
4:37
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Thursday's Champs Sports Bowl drew a 3.8 rating on ESPN, the third-highest rating among bowl games through Dec. 31.

Saturday's Chick-fil-A Bowl between Auburn and Virginia drew a 4.2 rating and Thursday's Alamo Bowl between Baylor and Washington drew a 5.1.

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