Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2018*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 OCT. 8, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Not Even Close, It's USC By Lou Somogyi Prior to the kickoff of the 2018 season, Notre Dame was perceived as having five "marquee" games: Michigan and Stanford at home in Septem- ber, Virginia Tech on the road the first weekend of October, and then the November showdowns with traditional top-10 powers Florida State (at home) and USC (away). A shocking loss to Old Dominion while also suffer- ing some severe attrition, including the loss of quar- terback Josh Jackson, has taken some luster off the Virginia Tech game. Meanwhile, Florida State has floundered out of the gate under new head coach Willie Taggart, including getting outscored 54-10 by Virginia Tech and Syracuse. There will be at least one and maybe two major scares thrown at the Irish by Pitt, Navy, Northwestern and Syracuse, but it's no contest that the finale at USC presents the greatest roadblock to, at minimum, achieving a Big Six bowl bid. The Los Angeles Coliseum has been Notre Dame's version of "The Wailing Wall." Yes, USC was unimpressive in September, too, but two years ago they started 1-3 before finishing No. 3 in the country. Oh, and they will be seeking restitution from last year's 49-14 debacle at Notre Dame, just like the Irish did in 2015 after losing by the same score to the Trojans the previous season. When you have won only twice in your last 12 trips to a venue, as Notre Dame has at the Coliseum, the ghosts have a way of coming out no matter what the records are for either team. Florida State Will Have Much To Prove By Bryan Driskell USC is certainly an understandable choice. The Trojans are talented and it's a rivalry game. Notre Dame also hasn't played well in its last two trips to Los Angeles, but I have a feeling the Irish will be prepared for that game, especially if USC can turn things around and start winning games. Florida State is the most concerning team on the schedule for a host of rea- sons. They are just four games into a new coaching staff, and the Seminoles looked to be slowly turning the corner during their 37-19 victory over Northern Illinois in which they put up a season-high 473 yards. The Seminoles are a young but highly skilled team, and by November they should be a much more experienced unit. It is likely their record won't be all that glittering, but that plays into my concern for that game. Not only has Notre Dame struggled most years on Senior Day — which will be the Satur- day they play Florida State — there is a danger that the Irish could end up overlooking the athletic and dangerous Seminoles. Florida State is young on defense, with 11 sophomores and freshmen get- ting action thus far in the season. However, their defense is as athletic as any Notre Dame will face in 2018. By November that unit will be more seasoned, and coming to South Bend will give that young squad an opportunity to make a statement against what is likely to be a highly ranked Irish team. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHICH REMAINING REGULAR-SEASON OPPONENT WILL BE THE TOP CHALLENGE? Tom Lemming is regarded as one of the best in the business when it comes to football recruiting. Lemming hosts "The Lemming Report" on CBS Sports Network and has worked with ESPN, USA Today and Sporting News. His annual magazine, Tom Lemming Prep Football Report, is regarded as the "bible" of football recruiting. Lemming spends months on the road scouting prospects coast to coast in preparation. BGI: Where do you see Notre Dame's 2019 class ranking among the top programs na- tionally right now? Lemming: "It's a little too early to compare classes, but for me it's a top-10 class for 2019. There's still so many good guys out there that I don't want to jump on it. When Notre Dame gets off to a slow start, everyone wants to kill the staff. If they get off to a fast start and don't get anyone, then they jump on them again. "I really like the class. … Overall, I would put them somewhere between eight and 12. They are falling into that category right now. If they can stay there, that's another good class to follow last year's, which was outstanding." BGI: Which position is the strength of the class? Lemming: "At offensive line, I think Jeff Quinn has taken off where Harry Hiestand left off. … Now, I think they need another guy with length that could possibly be a left tackle. The four guys they have are outstanding. They all have potential to be NFL guys in the next four or five years. That's how good the class is. "Linebacker, with last year and this year, they've done well. They have two of the premier players in NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Osita Ekwonu. NaNa can play outside and he's not at de- fensive end size yet, but he is terrific. He has the length and speed and could become a dev- astating defensive player. Both of them I recommended for the Butkus Award, along with Jack Kiser. They are all versatile and athletic guys. All three of them are big-time guys as far as linebackers are concerned." BGI: Are there any areas that concern you when it comes to Notre Dame's current class? Lemming: "I would like to get a game-breaker at wide receiver, which they don't really have. A guy that can run a 4.3 40-yard dash, but I don't know if there are any out there. Wide receiver wise, I'm a little disappointed in what they've got. Kendall Abdur-Rahman can play receiver, but he's a quar- terback now. So, they have to project him there. When you look at the class, Notre Dame has a lot of big, strong receivers, but do they have anyone to stretch the defense and help the running game? "They could use a great cover cornerback and a big running back. Those are the three places they should key on." BGI: Who is the top player in the class? Lemming: "One of the two linebackers in NaNa and Osita. I like them both. They both look like guys that will be in the NFL in four years. They play like it on the high school level, too. They are dominating players right now." BGI: Who is the sleeper in the class who doesn't get discussed enough? Lemming: "It'll be Kyle Hamilton from Atlanta. I went through there three times — November, January and February — he was a kid that was mentioned, but not really by the powerhouses like Alabama, Georgia or Florida State. They were look- ing at him, but he wasn't their priority when I went through. He has length and is a good ball player. "He's picked up his game this year and could be an instant impact guy at Notre Dame, even though a year ago I thought he was just a three-star." — Corey Bodden Five Questions With … FOOTBALL RECRUITING GURU TOM LEMMING Lemming rates Notre Dame's 2019 class as top-10 caliber so far. PHOTO COURTESY TOM LEMMING

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