Ex-ND president Hesburgh dies

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
12:11
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The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh transformed the University of Notre Dame into a school known almost as much for academics as for football, even if it meant challenging popes, presidents -- or legendary football coaches.

Avery Sebastian to play for Irish

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
12:04
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Former Cal safety Avery Sebastian's final year of college football will be played at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish announced Wednesday.

Sebastian recorded 96 career tackles in his career with the Golden Bears, starting six of 33 career games. He added two interceptions, two tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

"I'm very thankful to head coach Brian Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff and administration for giving me the opportunity to come play at the University of Notre Dame," Sebastian said in a release. "I think academically, spiritually and athletically will make Notre Dame a perfect fit. I've got one year to make an impact, and I plan on making the most of this opportunity. I look forward to joining the Notre Dame family."

Sebastian graduated from Cal in December with a degree in sociology and will enroll at Notre Dame in June. He will be immediately eligible to play in the 2015 season, and he could push for a starting spot, as the Irish are thin at safety.

The McDonough, Georgia, native was ESPN's No. 68 player from the class of 2011, and he is the second fifth-year player to transfer to Notre Dame in as many years. Defensive back Cody Riggs started for the Irish in 2014 after transferring from Florida.


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Roquan Smith got it right by waiting

February, 16, 2015
Feb 16
10:48
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1. So Roquan Smith went on ESPNU on signing day and put on a pair of UCLA gloves to announce his decision, and 10 days or so later, he signed with Georgia. The fact is, the description of Smith and the other saviors riding to the rescue of their nationally-ranked teams, didn't match what ESPNU televised, which was a lot of wide-eyed 17-year-olds scared to death of being on a national television stage. They were, essentially, a lot of boys pretending to be men. Good for Smith -- he had the luck to do his second-guessing before he sent in his paperwork.

2. The NCAA Football Rules Committee recommended that the distance that offensive linemen may go downfield to block on a pass be trimmed from 3 yards to 1 yard, and every defensive coordinator in the Pac-12 yelled, “Halleluyah!” No teams have done a better job of turning that 3 yards into 5 or 7 than Oregon and Arizona. NCAA rules editor Rogers Redding said that officials had a tough time keeping an eye on where the linemen were while seeing when the quarterback released the ball. It will be interesting to see if this change impinges on the offenses, or merely makes it easier for the striped shirts to do their jobs.

3. Charlie Weis didn't win enough at Notre Dame and he went to Kansas, which, if it's not a dead-end job, is certainly a cul de sac, and didn't win at all. He's been getting $2 million a year not to coach Notre Dame since he was fired five years ago. He's still getting $2.5 million from Kansas, where he's no longer the coach. Did he coach himself out of the game? Of course. He could latch on as an assistant, but he told the South Bend Tribune he'd rather go try to do some good somewhere. Good for him -- he has the money and the time to do so. I still believe, all things being equal, Weis would prefer to do his good on the practice field. The Weis I know would rather coach.
COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- The 2015 Pylon 7-on-7 tournament at Cocoa Beach High drew many of the top prospects in Florida in the 2016 class Saturday. More than 15 skill players in the ESPN Junior 300 competed throughout the day, including nationally recruited juniors such as Trayvon Mullen, Darnell Salomon and quarterback Ervin “Woody” Barrett.

Here are notes on some of the top players in attendance:

Weis doubts he'll coach again

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
2:32
PM ET
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Charlie Weis told the South Bend Tribune it's "highly doubtful" that he'll ever coach again, which would bring an end to a career that produced three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots, a five-year run at his alma mater Notre Dame, and a final stop at Kansas, where he won only six games in two-plus seasons.

Weis, 58, told the Tribune that, if this indeed is the end of his career, he wouldn't miss the spotlight of coaching and that he isn't bitter with being dismissed by both the Fighting Irish and the Jayhawks -- his sole head-coaching jobs.

"I'm not mad at Notre Dame, and I'm not mad at Kansas," Weis said. "I don't have one regret about leaving the NFL to take the Notre Dame job. I just wish I could have lasted longer."

Weis, who built his coaching reputation as the offensive mastermind behind three Patriots Super Bowl championships, was fired by Notre Dame in 2009. After South Bend, he worked as a Kansas City Chiefs assistant, helping the team return to the playoffs. But the following year, as offensive coordinator at Florida, Weis presided over a unit that struggled to score.

At Kansas, he had a largely forgettable tenure that ended with his firing four games into the 2014 season. Kansas is on the hook for the remainder of Weis' five-year contract, which guaranteed him $2.5 million annually.

Weis said he realizes there's a chance that his 6-22 stay at Kansas might be the lasting impression some have of his career.

"Would you like the last thing people remember you by in coaching as being great and walking out on top? Of course, you'd like that," Weis told the Tribune. "But, realistically, if you're not a hypocrite about the things that are really important to you, why just go take a job in the NFL just so people will say, 'Well, you went out with a better taste?'


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Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.


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Early New Year's Six predictions

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
10:12
AM ET

If you'd been asked at this time last year to predict the participants in the inaugural New Year's Six bowl games, like me, you probably wouldn't have included TCU, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Arizona (all unranked in the preseason). Having a Cinderella or two is common, but having four climb that high is unusual.

Another surprise was that the four playoff teams were all preseason front-runners. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State were all picked to win their respective conferences, and all were ranked in the AP preseason top five. But as I wrote last August, the top four at the end of the regular season usually features a couple of risers from outside the preseason top 10. In other words, if you're going to attempt to pick the next group of New Year's Six teams -- as I'm about to do here -- using last season's blueprint is probably not a good idea. Therefore, I'm utilizing four other reference points as predictors -- quarterback play, recruiting, returning starters and schedule.

Quarterback play

It's no secret that football -- at all levels -- has become more quarterback-driven in recent years. Look no further than the Heisman Trophy, which has been won by a quarterback 13 times in the past 15 seasons. Great quarterback play is almost a prerequisite for being a playoff contender. There are still instances in which a team can manage to be top-10 caliber with average efficiency and production from the QB, but those have become outliers in today's game.

"Defense wins championships" is a saying that has been true for most of the sport's history, but we seem to have reached a point where even the best defenses can't stop a good offense; they can only hope to slow it down.

Because 12 teams will reach the New Year's Six bowls, and 10 or 11 of them figure to come from the selection committee's final top 12, to the right is a look back at the committee's dandy dozen at the end of the regular season and how those teams stacked up statistically in two key areas: Total QBR and opponents' Total QBR.

What this shows is that high-level QB play correlated much more with being a New Year's Six team than did the ability to defend the other team's quarterback well. Nine of those 12 teams were in the nation's top 20 for Total QBR at the end of the regular season, but only four of them ranked in the top 20 for QBR defense (also known as opponents' Total QBR).

This is also true for Boise State, which won the Fiesta Bowl and was the only New Year's Six team not on this list. The Broncos entered the bowl season ranked 18th in Total QBR and 37th in opponents' Total QBR.

So I have my eye on teams that should produce quality quarterback play in 2015. But that's not the only predictor of success.

Recruiting

Oregon is the poster child for why recruiting rankings don't mean everything. Despite not having a signing class ranked any higher than 14th from 2007 to 2014, according to ESPN RecruitingNation, the Ducks have reached the national championship game twice with players from those classes.

But for every Oregon, I can give you three teams like Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State that have had great success on the recruiting trail and seen it translate to on-field results. Having great talent doesn't guarantee championships, but it sure makes them more attainable.

From 2011 to 2014, the best average recruiting class rankings in the nation belonged to the Crimson Tide, Seminoles and Buckeyes. It's no coincidence that they were all part of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Composite recruiting rankings from 2012 to 2015 therefore will be another big part of my analysis. But as important as talent may be, having experienced talent is an even bigger deal.

Returning starters

(Returning starter numbers come from Phil Steele)

I've already mentioned the importance of quarterback play, but having solid players around the quarterback is also worth a lot in college football. Exhibit A: Eight of the past 12 teams to reach the national championship game had a first-year starter at QB, and five of those teams won the title.

In other words, a team doesn't need experience at quarterback to get quality production from that position. Having him surrounded by talented players who know what they're doing can help a new QB through some growing pains.

And while having a lot of starters back on either side of the ball is certainly an asset, I place the most importance on the number that return in the trenches, especially on the offensive line.

Schedule

We often overreact to perception of a schedule prior to a season, because the truth is that some teams on that schedule won't be as good as we thought, and others will be better. Much also depends on when and where you play teams. We think we know a lot, but we don't know nearly as much about the difficulty of a schedule now as we will by mid-October.

That said, having too many games against good teams (or at least teams we expect to be good) is a major hurdle for potential contenders, especially when most of those are on the road, as we saw with Auburn and Kansas State last season.

I'm more likely to downgrade teams with schedules that seem too difficult than I am to elevate teams with schedules that look easy. As I've heard ESPN "College GameDay" host Rece Davis say for about 15 years: "If you're not good enough, a loss will find you." Not to mention, the selection committee's job is to identify the best teams, and that's not necessarily the ones with the fewest losses.

So after much deliberation -- way more than I should've given to a prediction this far ahead of the season -- here's how I combined the four factors, with a little intuition.


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Source: Ohio St. hires Tony Alford

February, 7, 2015
Feb 7
12:52
PM ET

Ohio State has hired Notre Dame assistant Tony Alford to its staff to replace departed running backs coach Stan Drayton, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.

Alford, who was the Fighting Irish's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator, told Scout.com that he will be the Buckeyes' assistant head coach and running backs coach.

The move is Notre Dame's latest staff departure this week, as secondary coach Kerry Cooks left for Oklahoma and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur is expected to leave for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

Alford is also the third different Notre Dame assistant to leave for Ohio State since head coach Urban Meyer arrived there before the 2012 season, joining Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton.

Drayton had left Ohio State after national signing day to join the Chicago Bears' staff.

Alford had been the lone holdover from Charlie Weis' staff at Notre Dame, lasting six total seasons with the Irish. As Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator the last three seasons, Alford was instrumental in the Florida area, having just landed ESPN No. 5 running back Dexter Williams this cycle.


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National signing day came and went, unless you're one of those highly regarded recruits who can't seem to make up your mind.

College football's rich continued to get richer, as three of the four teams that played in the inaugural College Football Playoff landed top-10 recruiting classes. Alabama signed the No. 1 class in the country, while Florida State's was No. 2 and Ohio State's was No. 6. Oregon had the No. 15 recruiting class.

With national signing day behind us, and most of the coaching moves complete, it's the perfect time for the second edition of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

Ohio State is the new No. 1 (we heard you loud and clear, Buckeyes fans), and Alabama now joins OSU, TCU and USC in the top four.

Say goodbye to Utah, Oklahoma State and Minnesota. Say hello to Texas, Missouri and Louisville.

Here's the rest of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Top 25:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

2014 record: 14-1, 8-0 Big Ten

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams

Key personnel losses: WR Devin Smith, DT Michael Bennett, DE Steve Miller, MLB Curtis Grant, CB Doran Grant


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Best recruiting classes of independents

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
10:45
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Here's how Notre Dame and BYU fared in the final ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings:

Grade

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

National rank: 13

Notre Dame attacked the offensive line for 2015, reeling in No. 131 and top-ranked center Tristen Hoge, No. 280 Jerry Tillery, No. 288 Trevor Ruhland and three-star Brandon Tiassum. ESPN 300 WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Jalen Guyton and ultra-quick four-star C.J. Sanders will give quarterback and No. 45 overall Brandon Wimbush plenty of options to throw to. Wimbush and Alize Jones (No. 52 overall and No. 1 TE) flipped from Penn State and UCLA, respectively. Dexter Williams, a top-five back, should provide ND with dynamic presence in the backfield. Versatile four-star outside linebacker Bo Wallace out of Louisiana power John Curtis Christian is a key get. Four-star linebacker Te'Von Coney is a key pledge out of South Florida.

Grade

BYU Cougars

National rank: 50
ESPN 300 defensive end Mika Tafua is the jewel of a Cougars' class that includes three-star signal-callers Beau Hoge and Kody Wilstead. Offensive tackle Kieffer Longson has a high upside. Three-star defensive end David Lui is physically ready to pay from Day 1. Outside linebacker Devin Kaufusi is another prospect with a high ceiling. A trio of three-star recruits from Texas add depth to the class, led by speedy playmaker Charles West.

Completed class: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
8:50
PM ET
Notre Dame has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Brandon Wimbush, QB-DT -- Saint Peter's Prep, New Jersey
Alize Jones, TE-Y -- Bishop Gorman High School, Nevada
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR -- Servite High School, California
Dexter Williams, RB -- West Orange High School, Florida
Tristen Hoge, OC -- Highland High School, Idaho
Shaun Crawford, ATH -- Saint Edward High School, Ohio
Jerry Tillery, OT -- Evangel Christian Academy, Louisiana
Trevor Ruhland, OG -- Cary-Grove High School, Illinois
Te'Von Coney, OLB -- Palm Beach Gardens High School, Florida

Four-stars
Josh Barajas, IllinoisB -- Andrean High School, Indiana
Miles Boykin, WR -- Providence Catholic High School, Illinois
Asmar Bilal, OLB -- Ben Davis High School, Indiana
Bo Wallace, OLB -- John Curtis Christian High School, Louisiana
C.J. Sanders, WR -- Notre Dame High School, California
Jalen Guyton, WR -- Allen High School, Texas

Three-stars
Elijah Taylor, DT -- Moeller High School, Ohio
Ashton White, CB -- Bishop McNamara High School, Maryland
Micah Dew-Treadway, DE -- Bolingbrook High School, Illinois
Justin Yoon, K -- Milton Academy, Massachusetts
Brandon Tiassum, OG -- Park Tudor School, Indiana
Nick Coleman, ATH -- Archbishop Alter High School, Ohio
Josh Adams, RB -- Central Bucks South High School, Pennsylvania
Mykelti Williams, S -- Warren Central High School, Indiana
Nicco Fertitta, S -- Bishop Gorman High School, Nevada
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Only at Notre Dame.

This was what Everett Golson had tweeted last Wednesday, a cryptic message that naturally sent fans and media into a minor panic, though the source of the Irish quarterback's amusement remains unknown.

Turns out Golson was a week early with the sentiment, regardless of its intent.

On a day when Brian Kelly welcomed 24 new members to his football program, the additions naturally took back seats to news and apparent non-news regarding looming departures and potential replacements.

Brady Hoke? Contrary to a media report Wednesday morning, the ex-Michigan head coach has not joined Notre Dame's staff, both parties said during several media appearances later in the day. That could be because neither side has made any overtures, or it could be because it is just not true as of national signing day, as the Irish technically entered this day with no official openings.

"We've got nine coaches today," Kelly said, smiling. "We've got nine coaches today. We're going to talk recruiting today. Any changes that we have on the staff, we will definitely get you up to date on it, but I'm not going to get into today talking about coaches and who's coming, who's staying.

"I'm staying. You guys happy? Yeah, right. Big round of applause. I'll be here."

What appears to be much clearer is that the Irish will have vacancies to fill in the immediate future, with multiple outlets reporting that secondary coach Kerry Cooks is Oklahoma-bound and that quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur is going back to the NFL to join the Atlanta Falcons' staff.

That last nugget, it seems, might have also dripped out via social media, this time with another Irish quarterback — Malik Zaire — seemingly alluding to as much Wednesday morning.

Good news, however, did roll in, with the Irish landing a pair of targets who held off their pledges until signing day announcements: They received national letters of intent from four-star running back Dexter Williams of Winter Garden, Florida, who chose the Irish over Miami, and from four-star receiver Equanimeous St. Brown of Anaheim, California, who shunned Stanford, USC and UCLA and who, more notably, announced his decision in French, German and English.

"I'll have to figure out what language to talk to him in," Kelly quipped.

Kelly said there would be no more high school prospects on the way after Williams and St. Brown -- a pair of ESPN 300 prospects -- faxed in their commitments. The sixth-year Irish coach did, however, leave room open for some offseason transfers, along with two players who missed all of last season as part of the school's internal academic probe: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell and end Ishaq Williams.

"KeiVarae's situation is that he's working on classes right now at the University of Washington, and he's had conversations with the appropriate people to get those classes transferred back here to meet the needs that he has relative to transfer requirements and meeting eligibility," Kelly said. "There's still some work to be done there, but I know he's working toward getting that done, and our expectations are to have him back.

"I think Ishaq has a similar kind of criteria. His bar is a little bit more complicated, but he knows what he needs to do as well. So we're hoping that both of them can get it done."

So more good news could be on the way for Notre Dame, which hauled in the nation's No. 13 recruiting class, a group headlined by nine ESPN 300 prospects. Before then, though, clarity must arrive on who will coach some of these players, and that remained the prevailing storyline on a signing day like few others for Notre Dame.

Notes: Linebacker Jarrett Grace (multiple knee surgeries) is close to returning after missing the last year and a half, Kelly said. ... Safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be noncontact this spring. ... Safety Drue Tranquill (ACL) is ahead of schedule, Kelly said, while defensive linemen Jarron Jones (foot) will get his boot off Monday and linebacker Joe Schmidt (ankle) got his boot off several weeks ago. ... Kelly also said guard Conor Hanratty has decided to stop playing football. ... Kelly said there is no set spring game or location yet, though he thinks there likely will be one somewhere on campus. Notre Dame Stadium is currently undergoing renovations.
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This year's National Signing Day had everything from a Chuckie Doll to Snoop Dogg to a tri-lingual commitment.

SVP & Russillo : Notre Dame's Brian Kelly talks about recruiting

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
3:40
PM ET
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly talks about the process of recruiting, the occurrence of last minute commitment changes, the challenges behind switching players positions at the collegiate level and more.

To listen to the full interview, click here.

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Weis Likely Done Coaching
Jake Trotter discusses former Notre Dame and Kansas coach Charlie Weis' comment that it's "highly doubtful" that he'll return to coaching.
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