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CFT preseason No. 18: Notre Dame

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2010 record: 8-5

2010 bowl: 33-17 win over Miami (Fla.) in the Sun Bowl

2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Coach: Brian Kelly, second year; 8-5 overall

Offensive coordinator: Charley Molnar, second year

2010 offensive rankings: 67th, scoring offense (26.3 ppg); 61st, total offense (379.7 ypg); 92nd, rushing offense (126.6 ypg); 34th, passing offense (253.1 ypg)

Defensive coordinator: Bob Diaco, second year

2010 defensive rankings: 23rd, scoring defense (20.2 ppg); 50th, total defense (357.2 ypg); 50th, rushing defense (142.2 ypg); 54th, passing defense (215.1 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: 9

Returning defensive starters: 8

Location: Notre Dame, Ind.

Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium (grass; 80,795)

2011 schedule: [view]

2011 roster: [view]

2010 statistics: [view]

Snapshot: There will be many a voter in the polls that “matter” who will place the Irish firmly inside the Top 10 based solely on the fact that they have 17 returning starters — 19 if you include kickers. I’m not of those individuals, even as my vote doesn’t mean squat as I don’t have one.

A four-game winning streak to end the season — with backup quarterback Tommy Rees under center — certainly lends an air of optimism for the Irish’s prospects for the 2011 season, and I’m really close to drinking the green Kool-Aid. The defense certainly isn’t a cause for not taking a sip, however, as Brian Kelly returns more than three-quarters of a defense that finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring — well, preventing it. Health is likely the only concern on that side of the ball as the Irish are somewhat thin at certain positions.

Speaking of health, and despite Rees’ heroics as a true freshman, the starter at the position will likely depend on Dayne Crist as he recovers from a season-ending knee injury that set the table for his young understudy to close out the year in winning fashion. There’s also the possibility sophomore Andrew Hendrix and/or freshman Everett Golson could work their way into the mix by being perhaps a better fit athletically for what Kelly would ultimately like to accomplish with his version of the spread.

Of course, there’s a lot of the optimism on the offensive side of the ball because of the return of Michael Floyd. The star wide receiver was fully reinstated to the program Aug. 3 following his third alcohol-related brush with the law since coming to South Bend. With Floyd, there’s a talented veteran target for whatever QB wins the job. No, Floyd’s presence won’t mean that much to the won-loss bottom line, but it surely couldn’t hurt as the Irish attempt to claw their way back into national prominence sooner rather than later.

Make-or-break game: Oct. 22 vs. USC

For the sake of argument, we’re going to assume the Irish will be able to get through their first six games of the season — including the first night game in the history of The Big House against Michigan — relatively unscathed, with “relatively unscathed” for our purposes being 5-1 or better. If that were to happen, their annual showdown with the Trojans looms very large. A home win over what will be a very good USC team (you’ll see how good in very short order) could potentially send the Irish shooting toward what could become a (gasp!) BcS berth. Could, mind you; a lot of other variables would be involved, mainly that six-game stretch to start the season that includes USF, road dates with Michigan and Pittsburgh and games with two teams in my Top 25 in Michigan State and Air Force. Of course, there’s also that regular-season finale against a team that’s in my Top 5, but the Irish will have to navigate a schedule full of potential potholes before chopping down that particular tree.

Heisman hopeful: Floyd

Floyd should be able to put up numbers — he’s already on the verge of shattering every major school receiving record that he doesn’t currently already own — that would garner some attention from Heisman types, particularly if the Irish are winning and especially because the Irish are winning as there is still a certain block of voters who hold a special place in their football hearts for South Bend and would love nothing more than a player from that school to be relevant again.

Postseason projection: Champs Sports Bowl

Special section: Notre Dame Central

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

Independents preview, vote

Temple adds recent NFL assistant, long-time college coach

MIAMI - 2009:  George DeLeone of the Miami Dolphins poses for his 2009 NFL headshot at photo day in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by NFL Photos)
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With the Cleveland Browns (again) changing regimes, George DeLeone found himself on the outside of the coaching profession looking in.  A couple of weeks later, DeLeone is back on the inside, and in a familiar locale at that.

While the school has yet to officially confirm it, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that DeLeone has been added to Matt Rhule‘s coaching staff at Temple.  Bruce Feldman of FOXSports.com subsequently confirmed the report.

According to both outlets, DeLeone will serve as the Owls’ running-game coordinator.

The past two seasons, DeLeone worked as an assistant line coach with the Browns.  Prior to that, however, the vast majority of his 46-year coaching career had been spent at the collegiate level.  And a sizable chunk of that time was spent in the Northeast.

DeLeone’s first FBS job came at Rutgers from 1980-83.  Two different stints at Syracuse (1985-96, 1998-2004) were sandwiched between his the job at the NFL level with the Miami Dolphins (1997).  Temple was his home from 2006-07, and then UConn from 2011-13 before the Browns called.

Demoted by BC, Todd Fitch takes over as LaTech’s OC

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 19:  Head coach Skip Holtz of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs objects to a call during the first half of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 19, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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A promotion in 2015 was quickly followed by a demotion a year later for Todd Fitch.  Not long after the latter went down, Fitch left town for a fresh start to his coaching career.

Friday, Skip Holtz announced that Fitch has been hired as his offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech.  Additionally, Fitch will serve as the wide receivers coach for the Bulldogs.

Fitch had spent the past three seasons at Boston College, first as receivers coach and passing-game coordinator in 2013-14 before being promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015.  However, BC head coach Steve Addazio announced in mid-January that he had hired Scott Loeffler as his coordinator, effectively demoting Fitch back to receivers coach.

Three weeks later, Fitch headed south.

“I am excited to be joining a staff that is part of growing something special,” Fitch said. “This coaching staff has laid the groundwork for a program that has already done some great things and is building a foundation for future success. I am excited for the opportunity to be on a staff with Skip Holtz again and to keep growing this program.”

In addition to BC, Fitch had also been a coordinator at East Carolina and USF. Holtz was the head coach at both of those stops.

San Jose State QB Malik Watson latest to take grad transfer route

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The San Jose State Spartans marching band plays their fight song against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second quarter on November 29, 2013 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California.  The Spartans won 62-52.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to ply his final season of college football wares elsewhere.

The latest to take that tack is Malik Watson, who announced via Twitter that he has “decided that I will not be returning to San Jose State for my senior and will be seeking elsewhere to pursue my dream.”  As Watson will graduate from SJSU this May, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if he lands at another FBS school and enrolls in a grad program not offered at his former school.

Watson added that, as he awaits a new destination, he “will continue to train with my private QB coach in this meantime.”

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A California high school product who was born in Hawaii, Watson transferred from the junior college ranks to SJSU in 2014. After redshirting that first year, the 6-3, 208-pound Watson played in two games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.

In that time, Watson completed 9-of-15 passes for 59 yards and an interception. Of the 15 attempts, 14 came in the Week 3 loss to Oregon State.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.