Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 31, 2016

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 OCT. 31, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he Notre Dame media relations office is our friend. Without them and their cooperation, this publi- cation is not possible. Every now and then we will chal- lenge certain data. The most recent example occurred a couple of days before this year 's Stanford game when head coach Brian Kelly noted how Notre Dame's current roster is the youngest it's been since 1972 (the year freshman eligibility began). It is highlighted in the press release that the seven "re- turning starters" this season among a possible 22 on offense and defense are the fewest in 44 years. I imagine the seven starters included quarterback DeShone Kizer and line- men Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson on offense. On defense they would be linemen Isaac Rochell and Daniel Cage, linebacker James On- wualu and cornerback Cole Luke. Yet I would be inclined to say run- ning back Josh Adams had a "start- ing" type of role in 2015 considering he rushed for a Notre Dame fresh- man-record 835 yards. That's not even including fellow running back Tarean Folston, who had 13 career starts entering his junior season be- fore getting injured. Maybe it's semantics, but if the graduated Amir Carlisle could be considered a "starter" last year at slot receiver, so could current senior Torii Hunter Jr., who split snaps with him last season while totaling 363 receiv- ing yards compared to Carlisle's 355. I suppose academically ineligible tight end Alizé Jones would be con- sidered the "starter" last year be- cause he caught the most passes at his position. However, current junior Nic Weishar unofficially did take 286 snaps there last year compared to Jones' 239 — plus once senior Dur- ham Smythe returned from surgery, he was technically the "starter." Over on defense, sophomore line- man Jerry Tillery did have only three "starts" in 2015 — but do you realize his 351 snaps were more than seven- game "starter" Cage's 262? What a bonus to have both back! Oh, did we mention that fifth- year senior Jarron Jones actually had started 12 games prior to an injury that sidelined him for all but the bowl game in 2015? In reality, that's at least about seven more "starting" figures, but that's not what is important. Such inexperi- ence, however you want to present it, doesn't justify the 2-4 start, while ignoring Texas' own youth, Michi- gan State's plethora of departures and even Duke losing its two best players (Thomas Sirk and Devon Edwards) to injury. In Phil Steele's more realistic pre- season look at starters returning in 2016, he had Ohio State with the few- est (six) and Navy with the second least (eight). Both still excel — includ- ing the Midshipmen recently van- quishing then-No. 6 Houston — be- cause they are "programs," whereas the Irish remain a year-to-year "team" (we've covered this many times). That doesn't make Navy better than Notre Dame personnel wise by any means, just more proficient with its "plug and play" operation, which Kelly trans- lates to "next man in." N o t r e D a m e w a s a p o o r l y coached/led football team the first half of 2016, and that is the major reason why it began 2-4 when it had no business to do so. These type of seasons happen. It could conceivably finish under .500 — which would be as difficult for Kelly to bounce back from perception wise, as it was for recently deposed defensive coordina- tor Brian VanGorder after last year's final drive debacle at Stanford. That doesn't mean I am on the "Fire Kelly" bandwagon. When I go through my realistic short list of potential replacements (Urban Meyer not included), no one im- presses me as an upgrade for all this job mandates. My minimum on-field "standard" for a Notre Dame football coach is one bona fide national title contention per five years, which I define as entering the last game of the regular season, you are still in the conversation. If you can achieve it twice over that period, that's extra credit. Kelly achieved that in 2012 and 2015. Kelly and Meyer are the only two active coaches who have had two 12-0 regular seasons at two different schools. That has to account for some- thing, too. Has Kelly reached his plateau here? That's the scary thought, which prompts the angst. Yet just three years ago there was similar discon- tent with Mike Brey, who had just one Sweet 16 appearance in 14 years, and in year 14 was 15-17. Today, the perspective is different on him. Maybe it changes with Kelly like- wise, but the college game yearly having an influx of underclassmen or relying some on youth is an age- old occurrence. ✦ Youth An Age-Old Aspect Of College Game THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Notre Dame's 2-4 start had more to do with coaching then it did the number of returning starters on its two-deep depth chart. PHOTO BY RICK KIMBALL

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