Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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14 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME The 2016 Rio Olympic Games held from Aug. 5‑21 were well represented with a dozen former Notre Dame athletes and coaches. • Rower Amanda Polk, a 2008 Notre Dame grad‑ uate and four‑time All‑American, was a member of the United States women's eight that won in 6:01:49 over the 2,000‑meter course (about 1.25 miles) in the grand finale. She became the first Notre Dame rower to earn a gold medal at the Olympics. • Former Notre Dame basketball star Monty Wil‑ liams (1989‑90, 1992‑94), whose wife Ingrid tragi‑ cally died in a car accident on Feb. 10, was an as‑ sistant coach for Mike Krzyzewski on the Team USA men's basketball squad that won the gold medal. • Fencers Gerek Meinhardt and Mariel Zagunis each won team bronze medals in men's foil and women's sabre, respectively. Meinhardt led a 45‑31 comeback victory against top‑seeded Italy in the bronze‑medal match to bring home the first medal for a U.S. men's foil squad since the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. With the U.S. trailing 20‑17, Meinhardt ripped off eight straight touches to give his team a 25‑20 lead it would never relinquish. At his first appearance in Beijing in 2008, the 2013 Notre Dame graduate became the youngest U.S. Olympic fencer of all time at the age of 17. A day later, Zagunis — who was the flag bearer for the United States at the 2012 London Olympics — closed out the United States women's sabre team win over Italy by outscoring her opponent 15‑9. It was the fourth career Olympic medal for Zagunis, who also collected individual gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Games — the first American fencer to win a gold medal in Olympic competition. Winning a medal alone was not a symbol of how well someone may have performed, and no one better reflected that than long‑distance runner and 2006 graduate Molly Huddle. On Aug. 12 she finished sixth in the 10,000‑me‑ ter final — but finished the course in a new Amer‑ ican‑record time of 30:13.17, which shattered the previous 2008 mark of 30:22.22. Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana smashed the 23‑year‑old world record by 14 seconds, with a time of 29:17.46. Huddle is also the national record holder in the 5,000 meters, which she completed in 14:42.64 in July 2014. She did not participate in the 5,000‑me‑ ter race because she wanted to begin preparations for the 2016 New York City Marathon. Other Notre Dame graduates or current students in Rio who represented the United States included women fencers Kelley Hurley ('10), sister Courtney Hurley ('12) and Lee Kiefer ('17). Two alumni represented their native Canada: women's basketball player Natalie Achonwa ('14) and women's soccer player Melissa Tancredi ('05), who won a bronze medal. Two other Notre Dame women represented other nations: 400‑meter track & field performer Margaret Babgbose ('16) for Nigeria and former volleyball player Angie (Harris) Akers ('98), who was on the Netherlands' coaching staff for beach volleyball. Notre Dame Olympians Shine In Rio 14-0 = .750 Through six seasons at Notre Dame, head coach Brian Kelly's career record is 55‑23 for a .705 winning percentage. That puts him in what might be classified as the school's version of purgatory. Not "heav‑ enly" enough to merit a statue, which comes only with a national title, but not "hellish" to be fired in three to five sea‑ sons the way his three predecessors were. Generally, the standard a Fighting Irish head coach is measured against is a .750 winning percentage, or three wins per four tries. While the career winning percentages of former Notre Dame head coaches Knute Rockne (.881), Frank Leahy (.864) and Ara Parseghian (.836) are ridiculous, Kelly — whose contract runs through 2021 — could realistically near the marks of Elmer Layden (.770), Lou Holtz (.765) and Dan Devine (.764), with Layden lasting seven years and Devine six. In fact, over the past four seasons (2012‑15), Kelly is at exactly .750 with a 39‑13 ledger — and the best should be ahead for him in the coming years. Ideally, Kelly could get to .750 this year in one fell swoop. That would require a 14‑0 record to win the national title, put‑ ting him at 69‑23 (.750) overall. Rower Amanda Polk, a 2008 Notre Dame graduate and four-time All-American, helped the United States win a gold medal in the women's eight at the Rio Olympics. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS NOTRE DAME & THE TOP 10: ON THE CUSP AGAIN After finishing No. 11 in the Associated Press poll last season with a 10‑3 record, Notre Dame is ranked 10th in the preseason poll in 2016 while again placing among the top dozen teams — and maybe even a dark horse to make the four‑team College Football Playoff. During the month of August, the following outlets released their preseason rankings: CBS Sports: No. 8 USA Today Coaches Poll: No. 9 Associated Press: No. 10 Sports Illustrated: No. 12 FOX Sports: No. 12 Earlier this summer, Athlon (No. 8), Sporting News (No. 10) and Lindy's (No. 11) also had Notre Dame in the same range. ESPN's Football Perfor‑ mance Index (based on prior years' efficiency, information on returning starters, recruiting and coaching tenure) was the outlier with a No. 19 ranking. CBS Sports bowl expert Jerry Palm, however, did have Notre Dame as the No. 4 seed in the 2016 four‑team College Football Playoff. His first three teams — Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama — were also in it last year, but this time Palm has the Fighting Irish in place of Michigan State, which comes to South Bend Sept. 17. Palm has No. 1 Oklahoma meeting No. 4 Notre Dame in the first semifinal, held Dec. 31 in the Fiesta Bowl at Glendale, Ariz. The other semifinal that same day would have No. 2 Clemson squaring off against No. 3 Alabama in the Peach Bowl at Atlanta. Popular belief is Notre Dame will be productive with whoever is at quarterback, but how far it can go will be predicated on the often maligned defense. Said Sports Illustrated: "A unit that lost 57.6% of its tackles and 64% of its sacks needs career years from everyone." Said FOX Sports' Stewart Mandel: "Either QB DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire can capably lead the Irish … Defensively, the Irish lost a ton of experience up front but should get a boost from DT Jarron Jones' return from injury. The secondary may be a work in progress." Fifth-year senior Jarron Jones missed last season, but should be back at full strength this fall to help boost the defensive line. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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