Tag Archives: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football

The New Era of College Football: The Haves Trump The Have-Nots

The evolution of college football has created a new reality. Thanks to the college football arms race in facilities, fan support, and money as well as the nascent playoff system, there are two types of college football programs:

  1. Those that have a chance to win a national championship
  2. Those that have no chance to win a national championship

There is no migration between the types of programs. You either have a chance to win it all or you don’t. The rich teams get richer, everyone else treads water or drowns.

While there are two types of college football programs, there are three types of college football fans:

  1. Those fans who correctly recognize that their teams have a chance win a national championship
  2. Those fans who correctly realize their teams have no chance to win a national    championship
  3. Those fans who incorrectly believe their team has a chance to win the national championship, when in reality, they have no chance.

No convinced? Take a look at the following videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVC3UziHeGk and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU4NXtu2T5E.

These are, theoretically, facilities for college students. But we all know what these really are. Recruiting tools to draw top athletes to Texas and Texas A&M. These are “in-kind” payments to players who are ostensibly amateur athletes.

I have no doubt that the other programs with a chance to win a national championship have (or will soon have) facilities on par if not better than these. We all know the names of these programs – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Ohio St, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, & Oklahoma. You could probably add Oregon, Tennessee, Notre Dame and a small handful of other programs to this list, but that’s it. No other programs have a chance.

It is not shocking for fans of programs like Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Vandy, Kansas, and Northwestern that they have zero chance to win a national championship…ever. I think the fans of these programs understand that they will never have facilities like Texas or Texas A&M. They will never compromise their integrity to the extent that the contending programs must to get the numbers of top players needed to compete for a national championship. Fans from these programs and many more like them realize their role in the world of college football. They are fodder for the teams with a chance to win it all. They can have successful seasons and win bowl games, but they will never hoist the national championship trophy. Maybe that’s okay. The point of college, after all, is to educate young minds, not win national championships. College athletics is supposed to be entertaining, so if you recognize your place and revel in reaching the heights of success within the boundaries of your possibilities, college football is a great deal of fun.

What might be shocking to the vast majority of the fans of programs not listed above, is that their teams also have no chance to win a national championship. None, zero, zilch, nada… they just don’t realize it. Many programs fit this description…we can all name these programs with perpetually frustrated fans who mistakenly think they are on the cusp of breaking into the top tier of college programs – Virginia Tech, NC State, UNC, West Virginia, Michigan State, South Carolina, TCU, Baylor, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas St, and Arkansas among many others, have no chance to win a national championship. Unfortunately, their fans think they do.

Think about how excited fans of these programs are when they land a big-time recruit. A 5-star or high 4-star kid who is a “can’t miss” prospect. There are high-fives all around and dreams of winning the college football playoff. The sad reality is, the teams that have a real chance to win it all, get at least a half a dozen of these players – every year. Not one per year or every other year like the wannabe programs. So the teams with a real chance to win it all have 30 or more can’t-miss players on their teams. The wannabe teams might have 5.

None of this is lost on the best coaches in the industry either. Do you think Nick Saban is going to leave Alabama to coach Northwestern anytime soon? Urban Meyer going to Wake Forest? Which programs have huge donor bases that make space-age locker rooms possible? (hint: it’s not Duke and it’s not Virginia…nor NC State or West Virginia) The best coaches go to the programs with the biggest donor bases that pay the biggest salaries & fund the best facilities, which draw the best talent…and so the cycles continues.

Like gambling in Vegas, the college football game is rigged. Over the course of any season, there will be exciting times when wannabe teams beat the odds and score big upsets. But over the course of a full season (including the playoffs), a single wannabe program cannot beat the system. There are too many 30+ mega-recruit teams out there, getting better every day and one of those teams will win the national championship every time. It’s why house wins over time in Vegas. The swanky trappings of the Bellagio are not there because gamblers go home winners. The odds favor the house, so it always wins. The system favors the top programs, so they will always win.

As we begin the 2017 college football season, we could create a list of 18-20 programs with a chance to win it all. It would be the same list from 2016. The participants in the football championship will be from that list – with no chance for an upstart to crash the party. It’s like the list to get into the VIP section of a popular night club. Not on the list? Not getting in.

The downside of this could be that as more college football fans realize the game is rigged against them, fans will lose interest and the game’s popularity could begin to fade. Then again, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to be losing its steam and state lotteries continue to be wildly popular. Maybe the fans of the wannabe programs understand their fate better than they let on. Maybe they are like the lottery players, thinking that someone is going to win this jackpot, if I buy a ticket it might be me, so every season, misplaced hope springs eternal. Unfortunately, the odds of winning the Powerball are better than their team winning the national championship.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Recent losses reveal Notre Dame’s weaknesses

Breaking News report, the Notre Dame basketball team is mortal. A hard-fought loss on the road to Florida State was a minor setback, but the Irish were severely exposed on their home court against a very talented Virginia squad. The Irish now sit at 17-4, 6-2 in the ACC.

These losses, as well as the wins surrounding them, showcased the weaknesses that may plague the Irish during a tough upcoming stretch.

The Irish are small–dangerously small. In three road games in January, the Irish were blocked an average of 9 times per game. Junior Martinas Geben brings some height at 6-10, but he’s averaging 4.1 PPG and 4.5 RPG; he’s not exactly a key player. Bonzie Colson is the main man in the post, but at 6-5, he’s vulnerable against taller opponents, which is to say essentially every forward in the ACC and some guards.

V.J. Beachum is 6-8, but he spends most, if not all of his time at the free throw line and above, where he is either a lethal jump shooter or a non-threat. Flip a coin on that one. Steve Vasturia is 6-6, and Matt Farrell is 6-1. The Irish’s lack of size has been masked by their ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line, but they’ve been figured out as of late.

The lack of size has hurt the Irish dearly on the glass as well. Against Virginia, Notre Dame was outrebounded 38-22. Against Florida State, the Irish were outrebounded 34-29. They had a combined 10 offensive rebounds in those two losses. If opponents continue to control the glass, that’s going to force Notre Dame to shoot the ball extremely accurately.

Fortunately for the Irish, that seems to be a strength. But if the Irish don’t get it done inside, they’ll just have to beat teams from the perimeter. Heading into the showdown with Virginia, the Irish were shooting a league-best 40.8% from behind the arc. Virginia shut that down with a tight defense that allowed the Irish little to no room to shoot the ball. In fact, after the abysmal 3-17 performance from 3-point land last Tuesday, Virginia overtook Notre Dame as the best 3-point shooting team.

The Irish looked completely lost when cold from outside. Colson’s 20 points kept it close for as long as possible, but a combined 11 points from Farrell, Geben, and Beachum was far short of what the Irish needed, considering those three average a combined 32.2 ppg.

Despite two recent losses, Notre Dame sits second in the ACC with a showdown with leaders UNC on February 4. All is not lost for surprise ACC title contenders Notre Dame, but the road will be tougher than it has been if these weaknesses aren’t protected.

E-mail John Horlander at [email protected] or follow John on Twitter @John_Horlander.

Image via Flickr -Thomson20192

Mike Brey and Irish Basketball: A Winning Combination

In the nascent stages of ACC conference play, the Irish seem to be firing on all cylinders once again. A strong 9-0 start was derailed after the Irish blew double-digit leads against No. 1 Villanova and  No. 15 Purdue, but Notre Dame got back on track with a big road win in overtime against Pittsburgh, and a hard-fought win at home against No. 9 Louisville. This Notre Dame team remains on the periphery of the College Basketball elite, but it is never to be taken lightly.

The reason for that: Mike Brey. In his 17 seasons at the helm in South Bend, the Irish have locked down the fundamentals of the game and truly become feared opponents. Each year Brey and the Irish are among the best in the NCAA in offensive efficiency, free throw percentage, and assist-turnover ratio. This year the Irish are third, first, and first, respectively, in those categories. Brey has emphasized time and time again that his philosophy uses veteran leadership and solid, fundamentally-sound basketball to win games, and that he does.

After back to back Elite Eight appearances, the expectations were high but fans and critics alike anticipated a drop in performance following the departures of essential playmakers Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson. But then again, they expected a drop in performance after Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant left after the 2014-2015 season. A third straight Elite Eight is not at all unrealistic for this Irish team. Matt Farrell has proven that he can take care of the ball and lead the Irish offense, while sharpshooters V.J. Beachum and Steve Vasturia provide a lethal threat from behind the arc and driving to the basket. Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben are the brute force rebounders and post players. Year after year, Mike Brey seems to be able to resist the inevitable personnel turnover and maintain a high level of success.

Those are just the tangible, statistical aspects of this Irish team. On paper, they’re efficient, lethal, and fundamentally-sound. But it’s the intangible that really stands out. On the sidelines, Brey is fired up like any other head coach. But Brey exerts a positivity almost unheard of among the likes of college basketball’s elite coaches. In a world of Jay Wright, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roy Williams, it seems like the level-headed positivity of Mike Brey wouldn’t find its place at the top. Yet it does, and it permeates the team. No matter what five players are on the floor, they all seem to radiate the hope and positivity that Brey embodies. No matter the opponent, no matter how big the task, The Irish always seem to be within striking distance. Since the 2014-2015 season, the Irish have notched wins against top 15 North Carolina and Top 10 Duke on the road, as well as at home against No. 4 Duke and No. 1 North Carolina. The Irish are 4-1 against Louisville in the last five years. When the big games arrive, Notre Dame is there to withstand the challenge and emerge victorious.

There is just an aura of hope and confidence that surrounds Brey and his troops that can’t help but lead to success. I was tentative to make a prediction earlier in the season, but I am confident now. This Notre Dame can certainly make a third straight Sweet Sixteen, but I think they could make a third straight Elite Eight and possibly earn their first birth in the Final Four since 1978.

Mike Brey and Notre Dame Basketball are on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.

Contact writer John Horlander via email: [email protected], or on Twitter: @John_Horlander

Image – Google Images

Total Coaching Overhaul Gives Kelly Fresh Start

On Monday, DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL draft. On Tuesday, Notre Dame announced Special Teams Coach Scott Booker would not be returning for 2017. On Wednesday it was announced that Offensive Coordinator Mike Sanford would be returning to Western Kentucky University to serve as head coach. Defensive Coordinator Greg Hudson is entering his first full year as Irish Defensive Coordinator, and Brian Kelly has a brand new team ahead of him for next season.

The pressure will be immense for him, and his seat may be starting to get warm. He must succeed next year, and I think for him that means winning a New Year’s Six bowl at minimum. He’s got the coaching ability to do it, and he’s proved it before. In 2012, with brand new starting quarterback Everett Golson, the Irish went 12-0 and played for the National Championship. In 2015, behind a brand new starting QB in Malik Zaire, the Irish won their opener against Texas and then a combined effort from Zaire and Kizer following the former’s injury earned a win against Virginia. Kizer won 9 of the next 11 games, and the Irish played in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2017, Brandon Wimbush will take over. Kelly knows how to coach a first-year quarterback and Wimbush has been touted as more talented than all the aforementioned shot-callers.

Despite the disappointing 4-8 season, the Irish did not play bad football. According to S&P+ rankings, the Irish were 25th in the country. Ranking top 40 in both offense and defense, it was mental mistakes and big plays that killed the Irish. Despite 7 losses by 8 points or less and a tough loss against Adoree Jackson and USC, and not once did the Irish lay down, quit, or throw a temper tantrum.

The offense will be good again next year. A standout receiver core will return all key playmakers, with the exception of Torii Hunter, Jr. Josh Adams and Dexter Williams will look to run through holes created by an offensive line that hopes to be much improved from last year.

Defensively, after the tumultuous beginning to what was the end of Brian VanGorder’s reign as Defensive Coordinator, Greg Hudson took over and reformed the defense. Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Te’von Coney return to lead the Irish linebacker core, and a young and beat up Irish secondary will be healthy and experienced next year.

On the Special Teams side of things, mistakes killed Notre Dame. Kickoff returns, punt returns, missed field goals, bad punts, all cost the Irish precious points on both sides of the ball. Kickoff man John Chereson is graduating, thus leaving an opening for new specialist playmakers, such as fellow walk-on Jeff Riney, Riney spent this season as the backup to Tyler Newsome, but with a new coach and player turnover, Riney may find himself taking the weight off Newsome or field goal kicker Justin Yoon.

A brand new Notre Dame team will take the field against Temple next season, but there is one key consistency: this team still believes in Brian Kelly. Despite the fairly large outcry against him, Kelly has the backing of the players, the donors, and the Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. While there is a lot of time before the 2017 season kicks off, the Irish squadron is looking primed to succeed. I should know, I already wagered they’d finish 11-1 or better. Go Irish, beat Temple.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – Daniel Hartwig

Notre Dame Basketball is What Football Needs to Become

After a disappointing 4-8 campaign this year, Brian Kelly and the Irish football program are under an immense amount of pressure to succeed next year. Rumors are circulating every day about the future of Kelly, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, backup quarterback Malik Zaire and more.

Just a few steps east of Notre Dame Stadium, however, things are going just fine for Mike Brey and the Irish basketball squad. Sitting at 7-0 and coming off of a big win against Iowa in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Brey’s ragtag bunch of hustle players are still exceeding expectations.

Against Iowa, the Irish seemed to be cruising heading into halftime, but with 3:30 left the Hawkeyes turned it on. Iowa finished the half on a 13-0 run, cutting the Irish lead to two.

Coming out of the break, the two teams were evenly matched until Matt Farrell buried a three-pointer with 14:36 left in the second half. That shot won the game for the Irish. Of course, there was much more game to be played, but for the next 5 minutes of the game, the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center was rocking. The Irish were invincible, as they went on a 17-4 run and took physical and emotional control of the game before winning 92-78.

The point is that the environment in the arena was everything these past few years have not been for the football team. Notre Dame has historically been a very welcoming place, where traveling fans feel respected and accepted. However, in the past few years, the atmosphere has declined greatly.

While Notre Dame Stadium has never been on the level of Death Valley, Doak Campbell, or the Big House, it has historically been a difficult place to play. When visiting teams took the field, there was a climate and culture of “Welcome to Notre Dame, we’re going to destroy you.” Teams visiting Notre Dame for the first time struggled to establish themselves and win in South Bend. Teams that were used to playing there, like Michigan, USC and Stanford, didn’t expect to come in and win easily. That has definitively changed.

Teams tend to assume the persona and attitude of the coach. Mike Brey, the energetic, hyped, motivational coach has charged this basketball team and propelled it to exceed expectations year after year. Brian Kelly has transformed from explosive, volatile, purple-faced monster to emotionless, resigned, disappointed coach. The team has transformed into the same. The Irish teams since the miraculous 2012 run have been lacking a spark, a fire that is essential to a culture of winning.

Since Kelly has taken over, eight teams have ventured to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time: Virginia Tech (L – 2016), UMass (W – 2015), Louisville (L – 2014), Temple (W – 2013), Wake Forest (W – 2012) South Florida (L – 2011), Tulsa (L – 2010), Utah (W – 2010). A .500 record is not a culture of asserting dominance and winning at home.

Now, don’t take that to mean that I think he should be fired. Notre Dame cannot upgrade from him right now. With that in mind, it’s better to choose the known evil with a possible upside than to dive headfirst into the cesspool of head coaching vacancy. So, the Irish are in the undesirable position of being stuck with an underwhelming head coach instead of being behind him and fully supportive of him. Kelly has underperformed in almost every way as head coach at the University of Notre Dame: He hasn’t won a title, he’s been the focus of two academic scandals and he’s had a losing season (three, technically, if you count the two seasons of wins that were vacated). He must succeed next year, and I think that means winning at least 11 games, whether that be 11 in the regular season or 10 games and a bowl game.

The atmosphere surrounding Notre Dame football will improve as the team starts winning – that’s just how it goes. But even still, it’s difficult to improve when the traveling fans out-cheer and sometimes seem to outnumber the home faithful. Until next year Irish fans, keep your heads up and remain hopeful. 275 days, beat Temple.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander, or via email: [email protected].

Flickr: Eric Fredericks

Misery Compiled: Another blown lead costs Irish

In the bitter cold of a vintage November Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, The Notre Dame Fighting Irish warmed up the 80,000 in attendance with the dumpster fire that was the second half against Virginia Tech. For the third straight time at home this season, the Irish blitzed out to an early lead, before suffering a total collapse.

Against Stanford, the Cardinal fell behind 10-0 at halftime, but then went on to score 17 unanswered and beat the Irish by seven. After a bye week to recuperate and fix their mistakes, the Irish assumed that a 20 point lead would be safe against Miami. 27 unanswered points for the Hurricanes debunked that theory, but the Irish were fortunate to scrape their way back and win that one.

Now, this week, Notre Dame took a quick 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Hokies, led by dual-threat quarterback Jerod Evans, scored 34 points in the next three quarters. They went on to win 34-31, capped off by 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

The “what-ifs” surrounding this game are brutal to consider. What if the Irish had punched it in when they had 1st and goal from the 1, instead of settling for a field goal? What if DeShone Kizer’s head hadn’t been slammed into the turf when he scrambled for a first down (The incident is at 2:13:45 in the video)? What if he hadn’t been knocked out again on the penultimate play of the game? What if Cole Luke hadn’t been wrongfully called for pass interference (2:47:30 in the video) in the fourth quarter? What if?

Unfortunately, all of those things did happen. Now, the reality is that Notre Dame has now lost seven games by a combined total of 32 points. In each loss, the Irish have had the ball in crunch time with a chance to win or tie the game. 5 times this season, the Irish have had the ball and failed to score with under 2 minutes left in the game. The absence of a consistent, clutch playmaker has hurt the Irish time and time again. DeShone Kizer, after throwing for 199 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, went 3-of-15 for 36 yards as the Hokies stormed back to take the lead.

There were some positives to be gleaned from this game, however, the most significant of which being that Josh Adams ran for 100 yards, and Notre Dame as a whole ran for 200. Kizer hit 8 different receivers for passes of over 10 yards, despite being under pressure for almost the whole game. James Onwualu got a sack on Senior Day, and Jarron Jones recovered a fumble.

There’s not a lot to celebrate right now as a Notre Dame Football fan, but a big rivalry game against a talented USC team and the optimism that comes with a new season are enough to keep the hope alive. A lot of talent returns next year, and I’m calling it now, 11-1 next season for the Irish. Come back next week to read why I’m right about that prediction. But for now, Happy Thanksgiving and beat Trojans.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter:John_Horlander or by email: [email protected]

Flickr – Neon Tommy

Irish Proved They Still Have Much to Play for

After falling short by one point against a Navy team that played the game of its life, Notre Dame rebounded with a convincing 44-6 dismantling of Army. Defending the triple option is always hard, but it’s much easier when Army doesn’t complete 4-5 fourth downs and holds the ball for half a quarter at a time.

The Irish dominated from start to finish, roaring out to a 21-0 lead and finishing the game with twice as many yards and three times as many first downs as the Black Knights. It was exactly the type of commanding performance that Notre Dame needed; it proved that it won’t be going away easily to end this year.

But the road is the toughest it has been so far. The Irish welcome a tough Virginia Tech squad to Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day. Jerod Evans, the Hokies’ dangerous dual-threat quarterback, promises to make life difficult for an Irish defensive unit that, while showing great improvement since Brian Van Gorder was fired, is still young and inexperienced. They follow that up with a trip to Los Angeles to face USC in the mausoleum colosseum. USC has looked much better since it was obliterated by Alabama, and the Irish will need to be careful to avoid another beatdown like the last time they visited the Trojans.

The Irish, especially freshman Julian Love, looked good against Army. Love began to stand out against Navy, finishing with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a blow to the head that many thought would rule him out against Army. After tests showed that Love had no concussion, he stepped up again and had three tackles, an interception and a pass break up this weekend. Love, smiling like only a freshman on the sidelines after his first career interception could, symbolized to Irish critics and fans alike that Notre Dame is not done yet.

A season filled with tough, close losses can often lead to uncertainty and separation in the locker room for a program like Notre Dame. There has been a great deal of debate and speculation as to whether or not Brian Kelly will retain his job next season (he will, by the way) and whether or not the players still like him (they do, by the way).

At 4-6, with two tough games remaining, the Irish proved that they aren’t just looking to fast forward to next season. An absurdly talented offensive group seems to have alleviated the problems which befell it against Stanford and NC State. Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, Kevin Stepherson, and more headline a standout wide receiving corps. Balanced with Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tarean Folston in the run game, Notre Dame has a lot of weapons with which to strike. If the defense can keep up the good work, Kelly may have just turned this season around. Kind of. Beat the Hokies. (Time to play some real football).

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – West Point – The U.S. Military Academy

Special Teams Causing Special Problems for the Irish

Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami was precisely the type of game that sends my emotions every which way before finally settling in one of two places: complete and total jubilation, or utter, gut-wrenching heartache. Luckily for everyone sitting near me in section 32, it was the former.

A 41-yard Josh Adams touchdown tied the game with 5:53 to go, and after a quick defensive stop, a 34-yard, soul-sucking drive saw Brian Kelly and the Irish milk every bit of the clock, though not intentionally. After efficiently marching down to the 7-yard line, a short dump-off to Durham Smythe looked sure to score the go-ahead touchdown. I leaped with joy as he seemed to cross the goal line and then screamed in terror as the football popped out of his arms.

Much to the dismay of the Miami player who came sprinting out of the pile, fist pumping exuberantly, the referee signaled that the Irish retained the ball. That set up a 23-yard chip shot for which I was far more nervous that I should have been (for no reason at all).

If Justin Yoon hadn’t made this field goal, if Notre Dame didn’t recover that fumble, this would have been a much different article. Instead, the Irish are 3-5, and with 2 games against the military academies coming up, they will hopefully be back to .500 by the next time there’s a kickoff at Notre Dame stadium.

But there was a deeply concerning factor in the game against Miami that has reared its ugly head over the course of this season: special teams errors.

Brian Kelly has come under fire over the past few seasons regarding his special teams decisions. He went for two against Clemson last year and failed, which forced him to go for two later in the game, which the Irish also failed to convert. This year against Stanford, Kelly had DeShone Kizer punt the ball on 4th and 8 from the Stanford 37; later in the game, he went for it on 4th and 7 from the Stanford 38, during which Kizer’s pass was intercepted.

But aside from poor special teams play calling, the specialists’ unit has made plenty of mistakes, including crucial mistakes in four of the five Irish losses.

Against Texas, a Justin Yoon field goal was blocked in the third quarter. Punter Tyler Newsome shanked a punt for 24 yards, which gave the Longhorns excellent field position late in the game, and they wound up scoring on that possession.

Against Michigan State, C.J. Sanders muffed a punt in the second quarter and the Spartans scored to take an 8-7 lead. Then Michigan State scored 28 more points.

Against Duke, Justin Yoon missed a 42-yard field goal attempt (the Irish lost by three) and the Blue Devils returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown.

Against NC State, the lone touchdown of the game came off of a blocked punt which the Wolfpack returned for a touchdown.

Stanford was the only loss in which the Irish did not have a special teams execution mistake, but as I mentioned earlier, Kelly’s decision making when it comes to punting versus going for it on 4th down is ambivalent.

This weekend against Miami, a short punt from the Canes bounced off of Troy Pride Jr.’s hand, which allowed Miami to score. Miami surprised the Irish with an onside kick, and Tyler Newsome had a punt blocked. C.J. Sanders also inexplicably tried to recover a punt that he had already tried to let go, but instead, he fumbled it into the endzone, where it was recovered by Miami.

If you’re keeping track at home, the Irish have had three blocked kicks, three muffed punts, and a kick return for a touchdown. That’s not great.

The good news for the Irish is that the two upcoming games against Army and Navy are chances to clean up mistakes and prepare for a tough senior day matchup with the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Go Irish; beat stupid mistakes.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – Daniel Hartwig

Brian Kelly’s Seat Is Quite Comfortable, Actually

Notre Dame is bad this year. If you’ve been living under a rock since August, a Notre Dame team composed of four top 13 recruiting classes and a top 10 preseason ranking now sits at 2-5, in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

However, Notre Dame is talented. Notre Dame has a bunch of good players and a good coach, but it’s having a bad year. The players are behind coach Kelly, and coach Kelly is behind his players. Despite all of that, this Irish team has dropped 5 games out of 7 by a combined 28 points. The Irish have put themselves in a position to win every game, but for whatever reason, they haven’t been able to do it. That’s not an attempt to rationalize the bewildering disappointment that I’ve seen on the field, but rather a statement on the current situation of Notre Dame football.

Each week, I hear the griping about how Kelly should be gone before the end of this season, and even read a blog post about why Notre Dame should never have hired Kelly. Those people must have forgotten that Kelly is responsible for recruiting and managing two of the best teams Notre Dame has had in the last 20 years (2012 and 2015).

Why, all of a sudden, are Notre Dame fans’ memories so short? For a fanbase that endlessly harkens back to the “good old days” and the last championship in ‘88, the Irish faithful seem ready and willing to forget that just last season the Irish were two plays and four points away from an undefeated regular season. Successful two-point conversions against Clemson and Stanford paint a very different picture for last season.

Yet many still insist that Kelly should be out of a job right now. I wholeheartedly agree that Kelly had made a slew of bad decisions and has mishandled this season in general. However, those are in no way grounds to fire him. He’s a great football coach, and as things stand right now, he’s the only available coach who can handle this job.

I’m strongly opposed to perpetuating the superiority complex that permeates the Notre Dame football community and fanbase, but the Notre Dame head coaching position is radically different from and more challenging than any other job in the country. There is no available coach who can fill that role successfully right now. Who can replace Kelly with success? Nick Saban isn’t leaving the SEC, let alone Alabama, and while Urban Meyer has said that he would be interested in the Notre Dame job, why would he take it when he has the momentum he does at the school in Columbus? Bobby Petrino is objectively a stellar football coach, but Notre Dame would never risk alumni donations by hiring a coach with such a checkered past. Other coaching options are Tom Herman from Houston, Kirk Ferentz from Iowa, or Bob Stoops from Oklahoma. Not to take anything away from any of these coaches, but right now, they wouldn’t be a better coach at Notre Dame than Kelly is right now.

The head coaching position at Notre Dame is an entirely different animal. The constant scrutiny and borderline unrealistic expectations put the head coach of the program in a perpetual ultimatum: win or be fired. And that’s just with regards to the football. The head coach of Notre Dame is also supposed to be a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way.

For instance, Kelly came under fire early in his tenure for being too angry and explosive on the sidelines. “Purple Face Kelly” was mocked and criticized nationwide, and soon after we saw a new Brian Kelly. The 2012 coach was more relaxed and seemed less inclined to curse out and berate his players. Kelly was now a coach and mentor, no longer a drill sergeant, and it paid off. Kelly and the 2012 Fighting Irish went undefeated and contended for the National Championship for the first time in 19 years.

Kelly’s job is only made more difficult by the fact that Notre Dame’s admissions standards are higher than most elite football schools. Kelly has to find players who will go to class, take care of business in the classroom, not get in trouble, and at the same time win football games. The University will not sacrifice for the football team, so Kelly has to make sure that his team can win football games, while at the same time being students at Notre Dame.

Kelly is Notre Dame’s coach. And while this season has not gone at all according to plan and the Irish are at risk of finishing 2-10, Kelly will not be fired this season, and rightfully so. He has proven that he can win at Notre Dame, and with the talent this team has, he is capable of winning again. He will be under slightly more pressure come next season, but Kelly is not on the hot seat.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected].

Image from Flickr – Matt Velasquez.

Brian Kelly’s 2016 season, who else can he blame?

Brian Kelly recently came under fire from SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum for his shifting of blame to other people. I hate to agree with anyone who associates himself with the SEC, but Finebaum has a point.

Kelly is a phenomenal football coach. Don’t get me wrong. He’s achieved great things at this great school, and he’s achieved great things at his previous schools.

In his seven years in the toughest coaching job in the country, he’s reinvigorated a Notre Dame team reeling in mediocrity and took it to a national championship. Last year Kelly took a beaten and battered squad to a New Year’s Six bowl. These high points just mask the reality of the Notre Dame situation.

Kelly is, almost without debate, the best coach this school has had since Lou Holtz, and I don’t think it’s time for him to go, in fact, I don’t think he’s on the hot seat yet. He must take responsibility for this season.

First, his equivocation on choosing a quarterback was a hindrance against Texas. I won’t go as far as to say that playing Malik Zaire for that handful of drives cost the Irish the game, but his continued efforts to stick to what he said about playing two quarterbacks, even after Kizer proved he was the guy, was confusing, to say the least.

Second, the defense is a wreck, and it’s not all Brian VanGorder’s fault. Kelly stuck his neck out for him at the end of last year, when there was talk of firing him. Then, when the defense turns out to be more porous than Swiss cheese and the entire student section is bellowing to fire the defensive coordinator instead of cheering on the team, only then does Kelly panic and fire him. It didn’t have to come to that.

Those things are not the coups de gras to a season, much less to a coaching career. What has sunk the ship this year has been Kelly’s unfathomable inability to take responsibility for what has happened on the field. After the Irish fell to Duke, 38-35 at home, he said that he was going to reevaluate all 22 positions. Then he turned around and said that he and his staff “did what [they] wanted in terms of coaching”. Um, wrong. After a loss like that, he shoves blame off on the 18-22-year-olds who follow his every barking order? That doesn’t fly.

Lucky for him, he turned it around and beat Syracuse the next week. Things settled down, and he dodged the spotlight, at least until last weekend. The “football” (I use parentheses because I didn’t know that football was played underwater) game that was played in Raleigh should never have happened. Hurricane Matthew has claimed multiple lives in the state of North Carolina alone and has displaced and affected countless more. Nevertheless, the game was on, and Kelly, as head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, had to adjust his game plan accordingly.

I’ve never coached football before, I only played for a week when I was 11 years old. But I know for a fact that when it’s raining sideways and the wind is blowing at 30+ mph, it’s not a good idea to throw the ball. Yet Kelly insisted on throwing the ball 26 times? I understand that DeShone Kizer is the best player on the team, but that doesn’t mean a team shouldn’t run the ball in a hurricane.

And then, after the game, when given a chance to justify his decisions, he blamed the center for snapping atrociously, in a hurricane.

It’s. His. Fault. And if he just accepts that and then moves forward from there, things can only get better. But instead, Kelly incessantly shifts blame to other people. The fact of the matter is that now the Irish are 2-4 and Kelly has apparently no clue how to right the ship because it’s always someone else’s fault. Oh, and have I mentioned that the Irish are yet to play a good team? The combined record of the Irish’s previous opponents is 17-17, and the only record above .500 in that group is NC State (4-1). The combined record of the Irish’s future opponents you may ask? It’s 23-10. Navy, Virginia Tech, and Miami are all top 25 teams, and the other three teams are no cupcakes (Stanford, USC, and Army).

It’s been a long year for Irish players, coaches, and fans alike, and it has the potential to only get longer. The first step on the road to improvement is to take responsibility for making it better, Coach? That’s on you.

E-mail John at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @John_Horlander.

Flickr: Matt Velasquez

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