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Yolanda Kumar was a Willing Participant in Academic Fraud at the University of Missouri

I’ve been a fan of college sports for close to 30 years. In that time, there’s been one narrative that has been repeatedly stressed and that is the idea of the student-athlete. These players aren’t just athletes. No. They are student-athletes. 

However, the concept of the student-athlete is just that. A concept. An idea. A thought. It’s not real.

These kids go to college to play sports and for more than a few of them, going to class and learning something is nothing more than a casual inconvenience. It’s such an inconvenience that many athletic departments allow the kids to not only skip class but also provide tutors to take their exams for them. We’re talking about academic fraud.

Allegations of academic fraud recently came to light at Notre Dame and Missouri, with the most infamous example having taken place at North Carolina.

Here’s what’s important to remember about academic fraud. It takes more than one person to commit the fraud. I don’t say this in an attempt to minimize the responsibility that the athletes hold. The reason I say this is that the tutor who made the personal decision to go along with the fraudulent activity is equally at fault. This is particularly true in the activity that allegedly occurred at Missouri.

The tutor at the center of the Missouri controversy is Yolanda Kumar. Kumar was a tutor with the Total Person Program and recently decided that she could no longer carry the burden of what she claims to have participated in. She confessed to her academic sins on her Facebook page:

“I have knowingly participated in academic dishonesty in my position as a tutor at the University of Missouri-Columbia Intercollegiate Athletic department, which is not limited to assistance with assignments. I have taken and assisted with entrance assessment, completed entire courses, and I been present to provide assistance with online assessments. It was encouraged, promoted, and supported by at least two Academic Coordinators for athletes in revenue generating sports, however, the wide spread desperation to succeed by other student-athletes at the bottom of an inverted pyramid of the organization’s construct cross (sic) multiple sports. I self-reported on November 2 and naively wanted to close the door on the manner after seeking counsel. I immediately resigned from my position on November 7 prior to meeting with a member for compliance, general counsel, and an individual that reports to the chancellor.

“You are able to see this post because I respect and honor your thoughts of me. I wanted you to hear it from me first. I apologize for disappointing you.

“I just can’t carry this burden anymore.”

It was noble of her to step forward and to come clean with what she had taken part in, but it doesn’t negate the fact that she was a willing participant. It’s for that reason that I have no sympathy for her and her request for $35,000 via her Whistleblower Legal & Expense Fund GoFundMe page.
I suppose that I can appreciate her effort to raise money for her legal defense. Legal representation isn’t cheap regardless of the reason that the defense is needed. However, her attempt to use the fundraising page to generate living expenses is disingenuous.
The reason she needs help with living expenses is because she’s a teacher who engaged in academic fraud. I can’t imagine that there are many institutions at any level of education willing to hire someone with this transgression on their record. And that is solely on her.
Nobody truly forced her to commit academic fraud. Her job may have been held over her head and, if so, that’s unacceptable but not surprising. She would have been better off taking a principled approach at the time, even if it meant losing her position with the Total Person Program. At least she would still be considered employable as a teacher. Being principled in hindsight gets her nowhere.
Now go back and examine her GoFundMe page once more. Do you recognize the name of Mary Willingham? You should. Willingham was the whistleblower at North Carolina. But Willingham was a true whistleblower. Not an opportunistic whistleblower like Kumar.
Willingham did it the right way. She was principled in her actions. Willingham saw what was happening at North Carolina and stepped forward with the widespread instances of fake classes. Unlike Kumar, Willingham was not a willing participant. Part of the reason she won $335,000 in a settlement with North Carolina was because she had to work in a hostile environment after stepping forward.
As for the solidarity that Willingham is showing Kumar with her $250 donation? While it’s admirable of Willingham to show her support for Kumar and disdain for academic fraud, the role that each woman played at their respective schools could not be any more different.
My advice to Kumar would be this – be remorseful for not stepping forward when she was first approached about taking part in academic fraud and to let the NCAA issue whatever sanctions it may levy on Missouri. Beyond that, I believe Kumar just opens herself up to added scrutiny.
E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Pixabay

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College Football Playoff: A Rose By Any Other Name Wouldn’t Smell As Sweet

Fixing the Bugs

Everybody needs to understand that the College Football Playoff is still a work in progress. It will at be at least a few more seasons before the committee works out all the glitches of the brand new system.

One of the glitches the committee was recently forced to deal with was the failure of the New Year’s Eve semi-final games, to which the committee has officially decided to move the semifinals away from.

This decision comes on the back of a pair games that saw ratings drop 35% from the previous CFP semis. It is important to note that these games were not very close.

However,  no major sporting event’s TV ratings should drop that much simply from the result. It was clear to everyone, and eventually to the committee, that the New Year’s Eve semifinals needed to change.

So, everyone should be excited that, starting in the 2018 season, the College Football Playoff semifinals will be moving to December 29.

Wait that can’t be right…December 29, really? Oh, and in 2019 they move to the 28, splendid.

Yes, because we all know nothing screams “college football” like New Year’s Eve-Eve-Eve-Eve.

The Numbers Game

In all seriousness though, why has the committee had such a problem with this? They keep moving the date around instead of going back to the one day when people are guaranteed to watch Bowl Games: New Year’s.

In most college football families, watching the Rose Bowl and the other New Year’s games are a tradition. Thus, it is incredibly nerve-racking to see the committee moving further and further away from this date.

Even when NFL games steal New Year’s Day, the Rose Bowl always puts up great numbers. In 2012, when played on the 2nd of January, the Rose Bowl TV ratings didn’t drop any significant amount.

Even when the Rose Bowl ratings dropped to a record low 7.4 last year, on the backs of two teams, Stanford and Iowa, with rather small followings compared to the behemoths, such as Ohio State or Norte Dame, whom often compete in the Game of Rose, the Rose Bowl’s ratings were still relatively close to the CFP games, whose low numbers should have dwarfed that year’s Rose Bowl match-up.

A Permanent Fix

My addendum to the College Football Playoff is this: From now on, The Rose Bowl will always be one of the two CFP semis, on January 1 or 2. Then, the follow-up game immediately after will be the second semi, and will rotate between bidding cities and the former BCS bowl locations. Because, as much as people may try to argue, we all know that the Rose Bowl is on another level.

I mean, come on, it’s literally called “The Granddaddy Of Them All.”

People will always care more about the Rose Bowl than any other generic Bowl that is made. The Rose bowl is the ultimate in the College Football world, and it needs to be the permanent centerpiece of the CFP.

Lets make the Rose Bowl the start of the College Football Playoff from here on out and allow it’s ratings to help boost the following Semifinal. Stop trying to make other games as prominent as the Rose, and simply use the Rose to boost TV ratings, viewership and corporate interest as much as possible.

At the end of the day, wouldn’t it make sense to center the biggest event in college football around the biggest single game in college football? Truly, in order to keep people fully engaged in the CFP, we should make sure that they are watching the best game they can.

The Rose Bowl is the heart of all things college football, maybe even all things college sports. As such, I think it would be wise for the CFP committee to make the Rose Bowl the official start of the College Football Playoff.

It will really help cement the brand of the CFP, and provide college football with a bright future for years to come.

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

Photo courtesy of Ken Lund – Flickr

Notre Dame and Michigan Renewing Rivalry

After a hiatus, Notre Dame and Michigan will renew their rivalry on the football field to start the 2018 season.

The two teams last met in the 2014 season with Notre Dame winning that matchup 31-0 in South Bend. The rivalry was put on pause due to the agreement that the Irish have with the Atlantic Coast Conference. That agreement states that Notre Dame has to put five ACC schools on the schedule every year. This forced Notre Dame into a decision between keeping Michigan, Navy, USC, and Stanford on the schedule. It would not be possible to retain schedule flexibility while having all four rivalries in addition to five ACC games.

The reunion on the gridiron isn’t permanent, but it opens the door for more future matchups. The two meetings scheduled for 2018 and 2019 are all that are on the docket for now, but that is certainly something that could change.

Obviously, 2018 a few seasons away, but looking ahead, Notre Dame certainly has made things difficult for that season. The Irish will have Michigan, Stanford and Florida State in South Bend, and road contests against Virginia Tech and the Trojans of Southern Cal. As hard as it is to predict what level teams will be playing at in future years, these programs have certainly given no reason to think they won’t be playing at a high level.

Aside from setting up a difficult 2018 schedule, this matchup brings back a little bit of life that college football was missing. That’s not to say the game suffered without the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry not there, but it will always be a welcomed rivalry.

In today’s world Jim Harbaugh has become one of college football’s most polarizing figures, both on the field and in the Twitter world as well. Harbaugh and the Wolverines are in the spotlight regularly, as is Notre Dame. Both of these games are locks to be nationally televised. The first matchup will be on NBC, as every Notre Dame home game is, and it is highly likely that Fox or ESPN will pick up the rematch in Ann Arbor the second year.

This will be a chance to renew a great rivalry with both teams trending up. As I said earlier, there is no telling how strong the teams will be when 2018 arrives, but the safe money is on both of them being relatively powerful. I could even say we will see a game with national championship implications, but I’d just be guessing as would anyone else.

It certainly was sad that Notre Dame had a tough choice to make when it came to which rival ties needed to be cut with, and the debate over whether or not they picked right will rage on forever. It is refreshing to see the Wolverines back on the schedule for Notre Dame. Hopefully this will be able to set up the teams playing at least four times a decade. The fact that the Big Ten is going to a nine game conference schedule may further complicate things as well. In order to make this happen they had to cancel a home-and-home they had previously set up with Arkansas.

2018 is a long way away, but this matchup is something for college football fans to look forward to.

I too, hope Jim Harbaugh breaks out his khaki shorts when the 2018 season gets here.

Non-Schedule Games Important for Notre Dame’s Title Hopes

By now, Notre Dame fans know which games are most critical to the Irish’s hopes of running the regular season table this fall. Michigan State, Stanford, Miami, and Southern California are the marquee matchups featured on the 2016 docket for the Irish. If the Irish take care of business in these games, there will not be much debate about their place in the College Football Playoff picture.

However, should the Irish stumble along the way, style points will be at a premium. A few games not featuring a team in all-gold helmets will play a large part in the Irish’s ability to gain style points.

September 3rd – USC Trojans vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

The first week of the season features perhaps the most important game of the year in terms of Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. This matchup between the Trojans and Crimson Tide will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. USC is projected to finish at or near the top of the Pac-12, along with fellow Notre Dame opponent, Stanford. A win for the Trojans would validate the Pac-12 and deliver a blow to the SEC. This would be huge for the Irish, who have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves against Pac-12 opponents, but lack a matchup against the SEC. At season’s end, a debate between Notre Dame and Alabama for playoff positioning could be settled by how each performs against a common opponent.

October 29th – Michigan at Michigan State

On the day Notre Dame hosts the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium, there is another major midwest college football game that has plenty of bearing on Notre Dame’s path to the playoff. With Ohio State reloading after losing numerous starters, the Wolverines and Spartans figure to be the two teams contending for a spot in the Big Ten title game. Outside of Michigan State, Michigan and Notre Dame have no common opponents. In fact, Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State is the only time the Irish will face a Big Ten opponent this season. For this reason, Michigan State dominating the Big Ten would once again be beneficial for the Irish.

November 25th – TCU at Texas

Despite losing Josh Doctson and Trevone Boykin to the NFL, the TCU Horned Frogs still figure to be a contender for the always wide-open Big 12. This game, which takes place the day after Thanksgiving, is a potential trap game for the Horned Frogs. If Notre Dame takes care of Texas in the first game of the season and the Longhorns can steal a late-season game against the Horned Frogs, the Irish will certainly have a decided tiebreaker against teams from the Big 12. Much like the situation with Michigan State, Notre Dame’s only game against a Big 12 opponent comes against Texas. If Charlie Strong’s team can surprise college football experts, Notre Dame benefits.


Other games that should gain considerable notice from Irish fans include Florida State at Miami (October 8th) and Ohio State at Michigan State (November 19th). With a pseudo-Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, Notre Dame should have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate its worth against ACC opponents. If Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team can pick up where it left off last season, however, the matchup with the Spartans in East Lansing is arguably more important than the aforementioned Michigan – Michigan State matchup.

Whatever the case, Notre Dame has plenty of opportunities to add wins against opponents from many of the Power 5 conferences to their resume. If the Irish take care of business at home (with the exception of the game against USC, all of their marquee matchups take place in South Bend), Notre Dame just may find its way into the College Football Playoff for the first time since its inception.

Featured image is courtesy of wikipedia.com. 

Way-Too-Early Schedule Game: Notre Dame Edition

Well, it’s that time of the year. Summer is upon us and it’s almost okay to start dreaming of the college football season. Yes, it is only June, and still way too early for a legitimate top 25 and too early to count anyone out – or in, for that matter – of the national championship race.

Where does that leave us, you ask? I think it puts us in the perfect place to play everyone’s favorite game, the schedule game.

Over the course of this column I’m going to take a look at each of the 12 opponents Notre Dame will be facing during the 2016 regular season, give a quick breakdown and background information, and make a “way-too-early” pick on the game. Sound simple enough? Good!

Week 1 at Texas – Sunday, September 4 – Austin, TX

In a rematch of last season’s opener, Notre Dame will travel to the University of Texas to take on the Longhorns to begin the season. Last year, the Irish smoked Charlie Strong’s squad 38-3 in South Bend. Just as there was last year for Texas, there is a quarterback competition heading into camp. The difference between Notre Dame’s QB battle and Texas’ is the talent level. The pressure is building on Strong at Texas, and I don’t expect the Notre Dame game to help ease any of it.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Texas 17

Week 2 vs Nevada – Saturday, September 10 – South Bend, IN

Unlike last year, the Irish won’t open up the home portion of their schedule with a marquee opponent. While that isn’t meant to be a knock on the Wolf Pack, it’s the truth. Nevada projects to be a borderline bowl team this season and Notre Dame has higher aspirations than that level. The strength of the Wolf Pack will be their offense, specifically the backfield made up of Penn State transfer Akeel Lynch and James Butler. Nevada very may well have a nice season, but I doubt that this game is one of their highlights.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 42 – Nevada 20

Week 3 vs Michigan State – Saturday, September 17 – South Bend, IN

The third week of the season may be Notre Dame’s first real test. Michigan State is coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance and the Spartans have won two out of the last three Big Ten titles. Yes, last year took a lucky bounce at the Big House and a sick Zeke Elliott at The Shoe to get their two biggest wins, they were wins nonetheless. Sparty should be heading into 2016 ranked in the top 25. It will certainly be interesting to see who replaces Connor Cook under center for the Spartans. MSU will open the season with Furman at home followed by a bye week before their trip to South Bend. A night game at Notre Dame Stadium will be the first real test for this young team.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 27 – Michigan State 20

Week 4 vs Duke – Saturday, September 24 – South Bend, IN

While the Blue Devils are traditionally known for their success on the hardwood, they have been much improved on the gridiron lately as well. The Blue Devils are coming off a win in last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl, however their team is not without its share of question marks. The biggest one of these may be the quarterback position. Last year the offense was driven by Thomas Sirk. Sirk was due to return to the helm this season, however he ruptured his Achilles for the second time during offseason conditioning drills in February. It is unknown if Sirk will be back and how effective he will be. If he is unable to play look for Parker Boehme to fill in. Just like their brothers on the hardwood, I think the Blue Devils will struggle with Notre Dame on the gridiron.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 38 – Duke 17

Week 5 at Syracuse – Saturday, October 1 – East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)

Syracuse is entering a new era with Dino Babers taking over as head coach of the Orangemen. This season looks as if it is going to be a rebuilding year for Cuse, and a win against Notre Dame is highly unlikely. It would be surprising to see Syracuse in a bowl game, with many schedule predictions having them at or around four total wins. Notre Dame certainly shouldn’t be one of them.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Syracuse 3

Week 6 at North Carolina State – Saturday, October 8 – Raleigh, NC

For the second time in the first six weeks the Irish will be taking on the Wolfpack, although this breed is based in Raleigh, NC. NC State has the task of replacing Jacoby Brissett who graduated last year. Last season, the Wolfpack scored 33.2 points per game with Brissett in control. I would look for that number to drop a little bit, although I do think new offensive coordinatior Eliah Drinkwitz will do a good job keeping that number around 30. This is a tough spot for Notre Dame. The Irish haven’t recently played that well on the road (cough Virginia 2015 cough) and the Irish could be caught looking ahead to Stanford. I think this game is much closer and tougher than people think.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 31 – NC State 28

Week 7 vs Stanford – Saturday, October 15 – South Bend, IN

Stanford-Notre Dame has quickly become one of my favorite rivalry games in college football. Since the rain-soaked overtime classic in 2012 this series has produced some extremely memorable games, including last year’s Stanford victory at the end of the regular season on a last second field goal. I think this game could certainly be another classic in this rivalry. If Stanford figures out how to replace departed QB Kevin Hogan in the first six weeks, then I see no reason why this shouldn’t be a great game.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Stanford 17

Week 8 – BYE

They won’t win, they won’t lose. Not much to see here.

Week 9 vs Miami – Saturday, October 29 – South Bend, IN

This game hasn’t gotten much run yet, but I definitely think that this will be one of the best games on Notre Dame’s schedule. I think Miami is set to return to a product similar to their glory years, with Mark Richt at the helm. This is a tremendous opportunity to not only kick-start that resurgence for the Canes, but also to reignite the rivalry between Notre Dame and The U. Junior QB Brad Kaaya is one of the more underrated signal callers in the country. This is a game Notre Dame very well could lose. The biggest thing I think they have in their favor is that they are coming off the bye week. Truthfully, I think this one could go either way, and is a start to bringing back one of college football’s most missed rivalries.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Miami 20

Week 10 at Navy – Saturday, November 5 – Jacksonville, FL (EverBank Field)

Going from one rivalry that college football misses to one of my absolute favorites. Obviously the reasoning for this rivalry are more for off-the-field traditions rather than the competitive play on the field, but the respect shown between Notre Dame and Navy is one of my favorite things to witness. This year the game shouldn’t be as close as it has been in recent years. Navy lost Keenan Reynolds to graduation and he will arguably be the program’s biggest loss since Roger Staubach. Notre Dame shouldn’t have any problem with the Midshipmen.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 34 – Navy 14

Week 11 vs Army – Saturday, November 12 – San Antonio, TX (Alamodome) SHAMROCK SERIES

I don’t think that this game will be very competitive. Truthfully, I think that the most interesting part of this will be seeing how Notre Dame looks in their yet-to-be-released alternate uniforms. The Irish have yet to lose a Shamrock Series game, and I would be stunned if this is the first.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 41 – Army 9

Week 12 vs Virginia Tech – Saturday, November 19 – South Bend, IN

What does life after Frank Beamer look like for the Hokies? By this point in the season we will know the answer to that. Justin Fuente is in to replace Beamer as head coach. Fresh off coaching first round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch at Memphis, Fuente will have his work cut out for him in deciding between Brenden Motley, Jerod Evans, and Dwayne Lawson to run the offense. Evans is a junior college transfer and many expect him to win the job. I think this is a game that Notre Dame should win, but it is one I could see them looking past with the date with USC the following week.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 28 – VT 27

Week 13 at Southern Cal – Saturday, November 26 – Los Angeles, CA

If all goes according to my predictions (it likely won’t), Notre Dame will be entering this showdown in LA unbeaten, just like in 2012. That being said, I don’t think that this matchup turns out the same as it did in Brian Kelly’s third year on campus. In my opinion, USC is one of the most underrated teams in the country and this game will ultimately decide which of these teams heads to the final four and which doesn’t. I give a slight edge to Southern Cal at home, but I feel as if this one truly is a toss up.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Southern Cal 24 – Notre Dame 21

I think Notre Dame will be very good this year and on the cusp of playoff contention once again. There are obviously a few games I think could be trap games as well as a few games I think are going to be toss ups. I could be right, I could be wrong, I guess we will find out in November how I did.

Why Joining the Big Ten Would be Bad for Notre Dame

Long before the Big Ten, Pac 12, Big 12, ACC, and SEC gained the prominence that they lay claim to today, the landscape of college football was extremely different. In that day, there were many more independents and far less conference ties. Obviously, those days are long gone as the college football world seems to revolve around the Power 5 group of conferences as it has become known.

This has left Notre Dame as the last powerful independent standing alone. There are two other independents in the FBS, Army and Brigham Young University. Army is obviously a service academy funded by the United States government and Brigham Young is the most well-known school of the LDS Church.

Those two programs are able to stand as independents, but not thrive in the way Notre Dame is able to.

Recently, there has been much talk of conference realignment. There have been written wonderings of what super conferences of 16 schools would look like. Many of these have placed Notre Dame the Big Ten, which makes more sense regionally as opposed to the ACC which Notre Dame is a member of for all sports other than football.

Joining the Big Ten would make sense regionally, however that is where it starts and ends with Notre Dame. There is the financial reasoning where Notre Dame has shown it is able to be successful without the help of a conference money wise, and joining any conference would mean Notre Dame terminating its TV deal with NBC. Sure, the dollars generated via a conference deal would be nice, but it may not be what Notre Dame has with NBC, and they would no longer be one of a kind in that sense.

The other big reason that would be harmful for Notre Dame is the Big Ten’s scheduling procedures. Starting this season, the members of the conference are no longer allowed to play against FCS (formerly 1-AA) opponents, and each team will also play nine conference games.

The first provision would be no issue for Notre Dame, seeing as it is one of only three schools to never play against an FCS opponent (along with USC and UCLA). The second change the Big Ten is making would be a big deal for Notre Dame. Filling up nine of 12 regular season slots with conference opponents really handcuffs the way Notre Dame would be able to schedule its nonconference games. The Fighting Irish have long-standing rivalries with USC, Navy, and Stanford as well as part-time rivalries with Army and Pitt. Joining the Big Ten would obviously re-ignite the rivalries with Michigan and Michigan State (whom is on the 2016 schedule for Notre Dame), but would put the other rivalries in jeopardy.

This would specifically cause an issue with recruiting. Notre Dame is able to showcase its program on the West Coast at the end of every season with a trip to California to play either Stanford or USC during the last week. It has been typical for Brian Kelly to stay out west for a few days after the game in order to get recruiting visits in. Eliminating one, or both of these, would be a hindrance on that for the Irish.

The easy answer for a reason not joining the Big Ten is monetary, but protecting rivalries and recruiting may be just as important as the tradition of remaining independent for the Irish.

Draft Success is Proof that Irish are Officially Back

Since Brian Kelly took over the program before the 2010 season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have taken more than a couple steps forward. The three head coaches before Kelly, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis combined for a 91-68 record and one bowl victory. This was far from the excellence many had come to expect from a program that ranks first all-time in college football win percentage and third all-time in total wins.

Under Davie, Willingham, and Weis, there were glimpses of a Notre Dame return to glory, but those moments were fleeting. Davie lead the Irish to nine wins twice. Willingham had great success in his first season, going 10-3, but subsequent 5-7 and 6-5 seasons lead to his termination. With Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija leading the way, Charlie Weis was able to help the Irish to back-to-back BCS bowls (both of which were losses), but a 3-9 season that saw the Irish lose to Navy for the first time in nearly half a century and then back-to-back .500 seasons were Weis’ undoing.

But Brian Kelly has contributed something those coaches lacked: the ability to recruit and keep star power in South Bend.

Both Willingham and Weis were soft-spoken, matter-of-fact guys. When they walked into the living room of a recruit, it’s hard to imagine that there was a lot of buzz that followed them. Weis, at least, could get out his multiple Super Bowl rings he won as an offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, but his personality was undoubtedly less-than-exciting for the 18-year-old mind.

Notre Dame has always had plenty of tools in the toolbox when it comes to hitting the recruiting trail. First of all, the campus has a certain mystique that can’t be duplicated anywhere in college football. It’s a feeling that some know and understand, while others don’t. Other recruiting pitches include a top-notch education, a game in California every season, a program that features one of the most famous legacies in college football, a national television contract that guarantees exposure, and much more.

But to many recruits, Notre Dame was a boring program. The songs played before games were boring, the field was boring, and the uniforms were boring. There wasn’t enough flash to the program.

Kelly brought change.

Before games, modern music plays. Prior to the 2014 season, Notre Dame installed a synthetic turf playing field, which also meant there would be a monogram “ND” at the 50 yard line. Every year, the Irish play a game on a neutral field while wearing an alternate jersey. The changes allowed Notre Dame to compete with flashier programs while keeping much of the tradition. Many of the changes were Kelly’s doing.

Perhaps the biggest change during Kelly’s time at the helm of the Irish, however, has nothing to do with the optics of a football game.

Under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame football teams have had more talent and more speed than they have during the times of Kelly’s predecessors. This increase in talent is evident by Notre Dame’s success at this past weekend’s NFL draft.

Notre Dame had two first-round selections: tackle Ronnie Stanley was selected sixth overall by the Ravens, while Will Fuller went twenty first overall to the Texans. Jaylon Smith, who was an easy top-five selection before being injured in the Fiesta Bowl, went early in the second round to the Cowboys at thirty fourth overall. CJ Prosise became the first Notre Dame running back taken in the draft since 2004 when the Seahawks selected him with the ninetieth overall selection. In all, the Irish had seven players drafted, while five more signed with teams as undrafted free agents.

Under Kelly, six Notre Dame players have been selected in the first round. Davie, Willingham, and Weis combined for just one first-round selection.

Kelly has yet to have a losing season as coach of the Irish, nor does a losing season appear to be on the horizon. The success on the field and in the draft is a clear indication that, under Kelly, the Irish have once again arrived to the party and are here to stay.

How Notre Dame Can Replace Will Fuller

Notre Dame is not often thought of as a school that needs to replace a big time wide receiver. While this has been the case following the departures of standouts such as Jeff Samardzija, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and (arguably) Tyler Eifert, Brian Kelly may be facing one of his most difficult tasks yet by having to replace recently departed Will Fuller. While Fuller will certainly be missed, and no one specific wideout may be able to replace him, Notre Dame does have plenty of assets capable of stepping up.

One player that may be most ready to break out on the scene is sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown. Last season, St. Brown played minimally, totaling only one catch for eight yards in Notre Dame’s blowout win over UMass, but did contribute on special teams before a shoulder injury ended his season.

While St. Brown might be looked at as someone to help fill the void left by Fuller, they certainly are not the same type of player. Fuller, who measured at 6’ 186lbs at the combine is considerably smaller than St. Brown is. The German born St. Brown is listed at 6’4” and 205lbs, which is closer to a Michael Floyd body type as opposed to Fuller.

Aside from St. Brown, Notre Dame is also returning Torii Hunter, Jr., Corey Homes, Corey Robinson, and CJ Sanders at the receiver position. The star power is a big question among that group. Hunter, Jr. has played well in the past, however not to the extenet that Fuller did, and newly elected Student-Body President Robinson seems to have a great deal of things on his plate and leads one to question where football stands in his mind.

The best option for replacing Fuller could potentially be St. Brown. It just so happens the receiver on Notre Dame’s current roster with the most star potential only has one catch to his name at this point. With that being said, Fuller only had six receptions as a freshman before his breakout sophomore year that included 76 receptions for over 1000 yards and 15 scores.

Notre Dame also is bringing in three wide outs with high ceilings in the recruiting class set to hit the field next fall. Kevin Stepherson is already on campus and turning heads during spring football. Javon McKinley from California and Chase Claypool from British Columbia, Canada, are set to join Stepherson when the summer rolls around.

Stepherson and McKinley are built similar to Fuller, and Claypool is built just like St. Brown.

Adding these three into an already talented receiving corps will help to make up for the loss of Will Fuller. The star power may not be there right away, but the talent to replace the former Irish star will be.

Time For Notre Dame To Show Up

It’s time for the Irish to show up.

Notre Dame is revered as one of the best programs in college football. The Fighting Irish have the best winning percentage of any FBS program and have a storied history.

That being said, the Irish haven’t showed up in a big moment in quite some time. Notre Dame hasn’t had a big win to hang their hat on since 2012 in Norman against Oklahoma and at home against Stanford.

Sure, 2014 saw the Irish defeat LSU in the Music City Bowl, but that LSU team was 8-5.

This season saw Notre Dame lose their two biggest games against top opponents. Yes, they both were close losses, down to the wire on the road, losing by two points in both cases, but a loss is a loss. Winning at Clemson or at Stanford would have been two big wins for any program, including Notre Dame.

There have been many times throughout the years that have given Notre Dame fans hope that they’re almost there. The talk of Notre Dame’s depth, recruiting and talent being up is all well and good, but this program needs validation.

Notre Dame needs to start winning these types of games. The program has made a habit of losing games that have given false hope to Irish fans. Losing to Nebraska in overtime in the 2000 season, the Bush Push game in 2005 against USC, the loss at the wire against Florida State in 2014, and the losses to Clemson and Stanford this year are moments like that. Those games left Irish fans walking away muttering, “They’re so close, a play here or there and that is a win.”

That very well could be true, but a loss is still a loss.

Close isn’t good enough for Notre Dame. Yes, the Irish are on the map, but they need a marquee win to tell the rest of the country that they’re here to stay.

A win in the Fiesta Bowl would be just that.

Beating Ohio State would be a win for Notre Dame that would put them back on the map.

Beating Ohio State is easier said than done.

Since Urban Meyer took over in 2012, the Buckeyes are 49-4, including winning a national championship, something the Irish haven’t done in nearly 30 years.

In fact it has been 21 years since the Irish have won a major bowl, with the last victory of that type coming against Texas A&M in a 24-21 victory on New Years Day of 1994. A loss against the Buckeyes would further that streak.

This is an opportunity for Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly to put his mark on this Irish program. The wins against Stanford, USC, and Oklahoma are big wins, but this would be on another level.

All too often Notre Dame has been a turnover, red zone mistake, or defensive stop away from winning games against elite programs.

Much has been made nationally about Clemson losing their big games in recent years. The term “Clemsoning” has even popped up. This year, the Tigers shook that, gathering two big wins over Notre Dame and Florida State. The argument can be made that Notre Dame has done more “Clemsoning” than Clemson has.

The Fiesta Bowl is the perfect opportunity for Notre Dame to shake the “Almost There” title, stop “Clemsoning,” and finally arrive.

Fighting Irish Look Ahead to Bowl, 2016 Season

Despite a disappointing end to the regular season, Notre Dame’s 2015 campaign was an overwhelming success. Going into the season, the Irish had high hopes, as they eyed a spot in the illustrious College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, close road losses to top-1o opponents dashed those hopes, but for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish the dream and the overall goal remains the same for the upcoming season.

The Irish have every reason to be proud of the season the team assembled. When the Irish lost starting running back Tarean Folston for the season on their first offensive series, the team knew it would be without someone they were going to count on heavily to carry them to the playoff. Little did the Irish know, however, that soon they would be without their starting quarterback, and later, their starting tight end, a starting safety, a starting cornerback, a starting offensive lineman, and numerous other contributors on both sides of the ball.

The Irish were perhaps the most snake-bitten team of 2015, but still somehow came up just 30 seconds and a made field goal short of the College Football Playoff.

Here are a couple storylines to keep an eye on for the Irish going forward:

Which bowl will the Irish play in (and who will be their opponent) this bowl season?  

Many have the Irish slated to finish somewhere around the 10th spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, which would make the team a likely candidate to participate in a New Year’s Six Bowl. Since the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl both have conference tie-ins, the Irish are looking at a berth in either the Fiesta or Peach Bowl, with the Fiesta Bowl perhaps being the more likely of the two, given Notre Dame’s history with that specific game. Since the winner of the B1G title game between Michigan State and Iowa is almost a sure lock for the playoff, the loser of the game will likely head to the Rose Bowl, meaning that another B1G in the top 10, Ohio State, could be in the mix for a date with the Irish in the desert on January 1st. The two have history meeting in the game, as the Buckeyes beat the Irish in 2006. Given the proximity of the two schools and the overlap of two national fanbases, a Notre Dame-Ohio State matchup might break the internet. If the Fiesta Bowl powers that be fail to cash in on that potential, then shame on them.

Is Brian Kelly going to stick around long enough to guide the team to the playoff?

I can say with as much certainty possible that Brian Kelly will be around next season. Many speculate that Kelly would bite at the right NFL job. It makes sense—Kelly has worked his way up the football coaches’ hierarchy, coaching at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and finally Notre Dame, so the next logical move would be one to the NFL.  Those near Kelly have indicated that the coach most likely is not ready to leave South Bend, however, at least for the time being.

And why would he be?

In his tenure at Notre Dame, Kelly’s teams have shown promise. In just 3 years, he took them to a National Championship, mostly with players he himself didn’t recruit. In the two seasons that followed, the Irish perhaps underachieved, but those teams were perhaps the first teams Kelly had that were truly “his.” The Irish capped last season with a significant bowl win over an up-and-coming SEC opponent in LSU, and this year they took the next step in the progression toward a National Championship in what they did was a depleted lineup.

Kelly has referenced the “problem” he’s sitting on—having both Deshone Kizer and Malik Zaire healthy at the beginning of next season—so that language doesn’t indicate a guy who is thinking about taking the next step. Also, with Will Fuller coming back and Notre Dame receiving many starters back after injury during this season, the Irish should be pretty loaded once again. Kelly has put his stamp on this program and has laid a solid foundation. Also, Kelly has indicated a love for being autonomous when it comes to personnel decisions, a luxury he may not have at the next level. Kelly will not be contacting a real estate agent any time soon.

It is fully expected that Kelly will leave Notre Dame in the next few years—in this era, it’s rare for college coaches to stay in one place for any length that approaches 10 years. At age 54, Kelly still has the opportunity to make his leap to the NFL once his time at Notre Dame is up.

About that quarterback position…

Your guess is as good as mine. After Everett Golson transferred to Florida State, Malik Zaire was the go-to guy because his limited experience was the only experience the Irish had at the position. Unfortunately, Zaire’s injury means that he no longer has the experience. Factor in the up-and-coming Brandon Wimbush—who looked impressive in limited action this season—and the Irish have a logjam at the position. Next spring will likely feature a significant battle at the position.