Notre Dame Football: Luke Kuechly

Early '12 opponent Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
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Our Mark Schlabach took another crack at his way-too early top 25 today. In response, we'll try again to rank Notre Dame's 2012 opponents.

1. USC (Nov. 24, away): Virtually every early outlook has the Trojans slated as the preseason No. 1 or No. 2 team, and rightfully so. Matt Barkley enters 2012 as the Heisman front-runner and USC will return to the familiar position of having the target on its back throughout the season.

2. Oklahoma (Oct. 27, away): Considering Notre Dame is the only current official, penned-in game that is absolutely going to happen for the Big 12 favorites next season, I'd imagine the Sooners would get up for that.

3. Michigan State (Sept. 15, away): A growing defense will keep Sparty plowing ahead in Year 6 of the Mark Dantonio era, which may just begin with MSU as the Big Ten favorite.

4. Michigan (Sept. 22, home): A number of early polls suggest Michigan as the leading Big Ten contender, but I think some of its losses on defense will be tough to replace. Nonetheless, any team with Denard Robinson under center has a chance to make big things happen, as Notre Dame fans are all too aware of.

5. Stanford (Oct. 13, home): Who needs Andrew Luck when you have that much time in the pocket? Throw anyone under center behind that offensive line and he'll have all the time he needs to make something happen.

6. Miami (Oct. 6, Chicago): The Hurricanes make the biggest jump from the last time we looked at the Irish's opponents. An experienced defense and a great recruiting year for Al Golden suggest this program is back on the rise, pending NCAA sanctions.

7. BYU (Oct. 20, home): I said it before and I'll say it again: If Riley Nelson has a big year, watch out.

8. Purdue (Sept. 8, home): This contest scares me if I'm an Irish fan. First game back from what is sure to be an exhausting season-opening trip in Dublin, with a hungry in-state rival waiting for them and looking to build on momentum following a strong 2011 finish and weak 2012 opener (Eastern Kentucky).

9. Wake Forest (Nov. 17, home): Jim Grobe teams usually perform better than they should, but the Deacs must recover from a weak finish in 2011.

10. Boston College (Nov. 10, away): No more Luke Kuechly means happier offenses everywhere. The Eagles just hope that means theirs, too, which will be in its first year under coordinator Doug Martin.

11. Navy (Sept. 1, Dublin): The Midshipmen have a brutal start to the 2012 schedule, facing the Irish in Dublin before going to Happy Valley to face Penn State, but things get easier afterward. Can they put the awful luck of 2011 behind them and beat the beatable opponents?

12. Pitt (Nov. 3, home): Paul Chryst seems like the right fit, but asking him to lift the Panthers out of their underachieving ways in Year 1 is a bit much.

Early 2012 opponent power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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With 2011 in the rearview mirror, here is an early look at Notre Dame's 2012 opponents, with the game date and site in parantheses.

1. USC (Nov. 24, away): Matt Barkley's return makes the Trojans a trendy preseason national title pick and Barkley a likely preseason Heisman frontrunner. They host the Irish in the regular-season finale, and how sweet it would be for Notre Dame should they knock their rivals off with the highest stakes on the line.

2. Oklahoma (Oct. 27, away): Like the Trojans, the Sooners return their prized quarterback (Landry Jones) and will, at the very least, enter 2012 as the Big 12 favorite.

3. Michigan State (Sept. 15, away): Kirk Cousins and Keshawn Martin are gone, but the Spartans return four offensive linemen and plenty of production on the defensive side of the ball as they go for a third-straight 11-win season.

4. Michigan (Sept. 22, home): Denard Robinson and several key skill players likely return, but the Wolverines lose a lot on each line and will rely on several young players to fill the void.

5. Stanford (Oct. 13, home): Perhaps the biggest mystery entering 2012. We just don't know how much this team will drop off following the likely loss of Andrew Luck. Time will tell.

6. BYU (Oct. 20, home): Another wild card. Much will depend on the growth of dual-threat QB Riley Nelson and the Cougars' offense.

7. Purdue (Sept. 8, home): The Boilermakers finished 2011 with back-to-back wins for the first time this season and have a bit of momentum under Danny Hope. Some see them as a darkhorse Leaders Division contender in 2012.

8. Miami (Oct. 6, Chicago): The Hurricanes will likely be led by a defense that returns eight starters for Al Golden's second year.

9. Wake Forest (Nov. 17, home): Quarterback Tanner Price is back, but the Demon Deacons must eliminate the mistakes that cost them five of their final six games and two assistants their jobs.

10. Boston College (Nov. 10, away): The Eagles got better as the season went on and hope new offensive coordinator Doug Martin can bring the unit up to speed with the defense, which loses Luke Kuechly.

11. Navy (Sept. 1, Dublin): Can Trey Miller build off 2011, when he was forced in midseason for the injured Kriss Proctor?

12. Pitt (Nov. 3, home): New coach Paul Chryst will have his work cut out for him on a team with quarterback, protection and, at least in the past calendar year, coaching issues.
We're going to try something different here. Let's revisit a mailbag question (and my answer) from earlier this season and try to answer it now.

From Dec. 5:
Ryan from McSherrystown, Pa., writes: Hi Matt,Love your work. Just finished reading your last chat on ESPN and just wanted to see what you think about my optimism for ND next year. This is mostly about the schedule. You point out these games as being the tough ones. USC, OU, STANFORD, MSTATE, MICH, MIA..right? Here is my case. The top 3 QB's in next years NFL draft will come from 3 of those schools. Barkley, Jones, Luck will all be gone and all those schools will be playing with new or young QB's. We are due to beat Mich and Cousins is gone at MSTATE..I don't see MIA as being that tough and they weren't very good this year. Mich is the only one of those teams who brings back their QB and we had them beat at MICH this year. Thoughts...Thanks

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Ryan. You bring up an interesting point with the quarterbacks, but I still don't see Notre Dame entering 2012 as a better team than most of the ones you mentioned. I think we'll learn a lot about Stanford when it no longer has Andrew Luck, so the Cardinal remain up in the air. Being due to beat Michigan means nothing when the Irish have lost three close ones to the Wolverines the last three years. Michigan will only get better in Brady Hoke's second year and with one more year of Denard Robinson. Michigan State, even without Kirk Cousins, is a program that is on the rise. None of this is to say the Irish can't win any of those games, but they do face an awful lot of opponents who are at least capable of beating them — even more than this year, and this was a more experienced team that lost to South Florida.

Today, on Jan. 6, here is what we know:

Landry Jones is coming back.

Matt Barkley is coming back.

Denard Robinson, barring anything unforeseen, is coming back.

Andrew Luck ... OK, he most likely isn't. (Boston College's Luke Kuechly probably isn't, either, though he has taken quite a while to announce a decision. ... Michigan State's Jerel Worthy is NFL-bound.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying Notre Dame's 2012 schedule will indeed be every bit as tough as advertised, and then some. The Irish face the Sooners and the Trojans on the road. Jones is Oklahoma's all-time leading passer, would have likely been a first-round pick had he opted to enter the draft and will key another Sooners team expected to contend for the national title. Barkley may just be the 2012 Heisman front-runner for the preseason national title front-runner.

If Notre Dame manages to make it to a BCS bowl game in Brian Kelly's third season, the Irish surely will have earned it.

Te'o's return an early gift for Irish

December, 11, 2011
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Merry Christmas, indeed.

Manti Te'o will spend one more year in a Notre Dame uniform. And oh what a gift this is for the Irish for next season.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Manti Te'o
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Manti Te'o will again be leading the Notre Dame defense from his linebacker position next season.
Te'o's skills are already proven, which is why this decision is a bit of a surprise. He was widely projected as a first-round pick and the No. 2 inside linebacker selected behind Boston College's Luke Kuechly, who beat him out for the Lott IMPACT Trophy Sunday night.

For the Irish, this means a sure-fire leader returns to a defense that is already losing plenty going into next season. The team itself will lack the star power it carried into this season, and it will face a much tougher schedule as well.

Head coach Brian Kelly often referred to Te'o and current captain Harrison Smith as the defensive quarterbacks this season. Smith and at least two other starters in the secondary are gone next season. At least two season-opening starters from the three-man defensive line will not be back, either. Senior Darius Fleming, the Irish's next-best linebacker, will play his final game Dec. 29 against Florida State, too.

Te'o will provide the star power that is missing when Michael Floyd is gone. He will provide a face for the program and a leader for the younger guys to look up to when the Irish visit hostile locations such as East Lansing, Mich., Norman, Okla., or Los Angeles next season.

Te'o will be the first to tell you he's not a rah-rah guy; he'd rather lead by example. He got away from his comfort zone midway through this season and had a sub-par performance in a loss to rival USC, where he initially committed to out of high school. He responded the next week with seven tackles on the first two drives against Navy, finishing the game with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack.

"Hey, Coach, I hope you don't mind -- I'm just gonna be pretty quiet," Te'o then recalled telling defensive coordinator Bob Diaco before the Navy game. "I'm gonna be humble. I'm not gonna say anything. If I need to say something I will say it, but I'm not gonna yell. I'm not gonna try and get everybody pumped up."

But with one announcement in Newport Beach, Calif., on Sunday night, Te'o did just that. He was scheduled to later board a red-eye flight back to South Bend, Ind., where it may as well be Christmas morning when he returns.

Kuechly tops Te'o for Butkus Award

December, 5, 2011
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Boston College junior Luke Kuechly won the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.

Notre Dame junior Manti Te'o was one of six finalists for the award and finished in fourth place in the voting, notching 20 points and one first-place vote.

Kuechly, whom Te'o and the Irish defeated Nov. 19, received 58 points and 19 first-place votes after finishing second to Texas A&M's Von Miller last season.

Alabama's Dont'a Hightower (33 points and five first-place votes) and Courtney Upshaw (23 and three) finished second and third, respectively. Nebraska's Lavonte David (16 and one) and Georgia's Jarvis Jones (14 and one) finished fifth and six.

Manti Te'o named Butkus finalist

November, 22, 2011
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Manti Te'o is one of six finalists for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's top linebacker.

The junior leads Notre Dame in tackles (103), tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (4.5) this season.

Te'o is coming off a team-best 12-tackle performance in Saturday's 16-14 win against Boston College, his seventh game this season with at least 10 tackles. The performance earned him FBS independent defensive player of the week honors and Lott IMPACT player of the week honors.

The man who had the most tackles in Saturday's game, the Eagles' Luke Kuechly (14), is one of the other five finalists for the award, joining Nebraska's Lavonte David, Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Alabama's Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame enters halftime with a 13-7 lead over Boston College. Here's how it went down:

Turning point: Boston College marched 80 yards on nine plays on its second-to-last drive of the half, ending the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run from Josh Bordner. The score cut the Notre Dame lead to 10-7 and made this a game, as the Eagles will receive the ball to start the second half.

Stat of the half: Notre Dame began three separate drives in the first half from inside its own 6-yard line. The Irish managed as many as 45 yards on one of those drives, but were eventually forced to punt, resulting in a touchback. Boston College then scored on its next drive.

Best player in the half: Boston College's Luke Kuechly became the ACC's career leader in tackles and currently has nine on the day, leading all players. He has one tackle for loss and a pass break-up as well, and he has keyed an Eagles' run defense that has looked very impressive after an awful opening series, holding the Irish to a manageable 5 yards per carry through the first half.

End of first: Irish 10, BC 0

November, 19, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Another opening drive touchdown from Notre Dame had many thinking this would be another rout early, but the Boston College defense and punt coverage unit have given the Eagles a chance to stick around so far.

Jonas Gray added to his spectacular senior campaign by rushing for a 26-yard touchdown, his eighth straight game with a score and his 12th during that stretch. The Irish added a field goal on their second drive, but they have been pinned inside their own 10 to start their last two possessions.

Luke Kuechly and Manti Te'o have played their lead roles fittingly so far, recording six and four tackles in the first period, respectively. Kuechly added a tackle for loss as well.

The Irish defense has been the better unit thus far, however, allowing just 43 total yards of offense. Boston College's defense could do its offense a big favor by creating a turnover deep in Irish territory and taking full advantage of the field position game. Notre Dame will start from its own 17 when the second quarter begins.

Brian Kelly radio show recap

November, 17, 2011
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Massachusetts native Brian Kelly's final regular-season radio show Thursday preceded Notre Dame's Senior Day matchup Saturday with Boston College.

Sentimental? Hardly.

"I'm past that," Kelly said of facing a school from his home area. "Going out there last year and being back on the East Coast, some of the feelings about taking Notre Dame back to where I grew up, but no, Boston College is like any other team on our schedule for us. Just another opportunity to get a win."

While coaching Cincinnati, Kelly recruited Eagles standout junior linebacker Luke Kuechly, and he said he would have done the same had he been coaching the Irish then.

"We can get to kids that maybe are not four- or five-star players but are three-star players, but we know their character, we know about their school, we know where they're from," Kelly said, adding that Kuechly's high school, St. Xavier (Cincinnati), is the same school current Irish sophomore receiver Luke Massa attended.

With next Thursday being Thanksgiving, the radio show will not air. There will be one more prior to Notre Dame's bowl game at a date yet to be determined.

Irish Lunch Links

November, 17, 2011
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What? Baseball awards season?

What to watch: Week 12 vs. Boston College

November, 17, 2011
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Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday when the Irish host the Eagles:
  • Manti Te'o: The junior linebacker says he is healthy. The projected first-round pick might just be playing his final game at Notre Dame Stadium. And he has certainly heard all the talk about Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. All of this should add up to another strong Te'o performance, much like his most recent game in South Bend, Oct. 29 against Navy.
  • Another strong performance from Robby Toma: Theo Riddick is not expected to start, leaving Toma, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior, to fill his shoes at wide receiver. He was more than capable last week, just as he was last season. If we've learned anything about Toma, it's that he knows how to make the most of his limited opportunities.
  • Steve Filer and Mike Ragone: These two seniors won't be on the field for their class' final home game, but the two will be honored for their Notre Dame careers. Each has suffered a season-ending ACL injury, and Filer even put off surgery until after this game to enjoy his final walk through the tunnel. It will be nice to see this duo get proper recognition.

Irish Lunch Links

November, 16, 2011
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Coach K. Respect.

Kelly's message to seniors: Win

November, 15, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Notre Dame's senior class readies for its final home game, Brian Kelly's message this week is a pretty simple one: Win.

"You'll remember this a whole lot better if you win," Kelly said at his Tuesday news conference. "And so I want them to prepare, do all the things necessary to put themselves in a good position. There will be some emotions because it's the last game and that's natural, but we've really focused on little things -- get your ticket taken care of earlier in the week, let's not wait till Thursday or Friday when you get a crush of all those things -- so you can really focus on this game being just like any other game. And I think that's been or message during the week."

The Irish face 3-7 Boston College this Saturday for their Senior Day, which is also their third consecutive game against an ACC opponent.

While coaching Cincinnati, Kelly heavily recruited Eagles linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is re-writing the school record books in his junior year and will be a handful for the Irish to contain this weekend.

"We loved him," Kelly said. "We felt like he was the kind of linebacker who has shown to have great instincts."

Keeping up with Kuechly

November, 15, 2011
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Boston College will enter Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday with just a 3-7 record, a 2-5 mark in ACC play and four losses by double-digits. But the Eagles do boast Luke Kuechly, a bright spot that cannot be ignored in an otherwise forgettable season.

The 6-foot-3, 237-pound junior linebacker from Cincinnati is currently No. 11 in Todd McShay's 2012 rankings of draft-eligible players. He is No. 12 on Mel Kiper's Big Board. But if and when he does move on to the NFL, he will leave behind a college legacy that will not easily be re-written.

Among the notable accomplishments:
  • In Saturday's 14-10 win over North Carolina State, Kuechly missed time in the third quarter after suffering a bruised right elbow. He re-entered and finished with a game-high 18 tackles, extended his nation-best streak of double-digit tackle games to 32 and recorded nine tackles during one 13-minute span in the fourth quarter. Kuechly became the third player in ACC history to reach the 500-career tackle plateau, and his 509 career tackles are now the fourth-best in conference history. He was named the ACC linebacker of the week, in addition to earning Lott IMPACT player of the week honors.
  • Kuechly's 286 career solo tackles, 509 career total tackles and 14.1 career tackles per game are tops among all active FBS players.
  • His 168 total tackles this season are 30 more than any other FBS player. He also leads the nation in solo tackles with 89.
  • With two games remaining this season, Kuechly is just 15 tackles shy of Boston College's career record of 524, held by Steve Boyd (1991-94). He is also 15 tackles shy of the school's single-season record of 183, which he set last season.
  • Kuechly is just six tackles shy of the ACC career record of 515, set by Clemson's Bubba Brown (1976-79).
  • With 168 total tackles this season, Kuechly is 25 tackles shy of the NCAA single-season record of 193, set by Texas Tech's Lawrence Flugence in 2002.
  • With 509 career total tackles, Kuechly is 36 tackles shy of the FBS career record of 545, set by Northwestern's Tim McGarigle (2002-05).
  • He has recorded at least 10 tackles in 33 of 36 career games.
  • The junior has four career 20-tackle games.
  • Kuechly is a semifinalist for both the Lott Trophy and Butkus Award, and he is a finalist for the Lombardi Award.

Suffice it to say that Notre Dame will have its hands full trying to stay away from Kuechly this Saturday.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 14, 2011
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It's time to take a look back at the weekend that was in Landover, Md., where the Irish notched their third consecutive victory.

The Good: Notre Dame played its most complete offensive game of the year Saturday, beating Maryland 45-21. The Irish notched more than 500 yards of total offense for the fifth time in 10 games this season, jumping out to a 17-0 lead early and never looking back. The victory — along with several other dominoes falling into place — has the Irish ranked for the first time since the season began.

[+] EnlargeLo Wood
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireLo Wood's 57-yard interception-return touchdown was the turning point against Maryland.
The Bad: Time to nitpick, and in this case the offensive line (and Tommy Rees) are the unlucky recipients of an extra big microscope in a week the Irish left little to complain about offensively. Still, Notre Dame surrendered three sacks Saturday after not allowing a single one in its last five games. The Irish had allowed just five sacks on the season prior to Saturday.

The Ugly: Maryland's uniforms? Or the Terrapins' play? Tough call here, though watching quarterback Danny O'Brien's season come to an early end because of a broken bone in his upper left arm added injury to insult.

Turning point: Inserted for Robert Blanton (stinger), cornerback Lo Wood came up with a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, the Irish's second third-quarter score, to make it 38-7. It probably would not have been much of a competitive game anyway, but this one sealed the deal with plenty of time remaining.

Call of the day: Jonas Gray punched it in from 1 yard out on fourth-and-goal in the final minute of the first half, making it 24-7 Irish at the half. Sure, it's not that difficult to gain a yard (or have faith in your team to), but Maryland had just scored on the previous possession to cut the lead to 10, and a Terrapins stop there could have changed the momentum of the game.

Next up: Notre Dame's next challenge after beating a two-win Maryland team will be beating a three-win Boston College team. The Eagles are coming off a 14-10 win over North Carolina State, their second victory in three games. Keep an eye on linebacker Luke Kuechly, who could finish this season as the leading tackler in the FBS for the second consecutive season. Saturday will also be Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium.

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