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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

Western Michigan dismisses pair accused of alleged stick-up

KALAMAZOO, MI - SEPTEMBER 4: Western Michigan Broncos fans get fired up before the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Waldo Stadium on September 4, 2015 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Western Michigan has dismissed a pair of players accused of sticking up a female WMU student after committing an on-campus robbery, the program announced Sunday. The players, linebacker Ron George and wide receiver Bryson White, were both freshmen.

The pair are accused of holding the student up with a semi-automatic firearm and a knife. It is not clear which player is accused of holding which weapon. “He had the gun to the back of my head and he slammed the back of my head with the gun,” the woman said.

The woman says the players stole “hundreds of dollars, along with a stereo speaker.”

“I’m so scared. I couldn’t sleep last night,” the woman told WWMT-TV. “I haven’t ate anything since. I’m so scared. I don’t want to live here anymore.”

“This has been a difficult time for our University, community and football family,” head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. “With this action we are moving forward and we are focusing our attention on Northwestern.”

George was a three-star signee out of Pittsburgh. White was a walk-on from Ohio.

Western Michigan visits Northwestern Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU).

Texas Tech boss Kirby Hocutt becomes latest million-dollar AD

LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 16: Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt answers questions from the media after being named the chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee on January 16, 2016 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
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It’s been a good year for Kirby Hocutt. His basketball team returned to the NCAA Tournament, then made a nice rebound hire in Chris Beard when Tubby Smith bolted for Memphis. His baseball team won its first-ever game at the College World Series, then held onto head coach Tim Tadlock when Texas came calling. His football program is positioned for a solid year, with rare stability at the defensive coordinator position and perhaps the most talented quarterback in school history in Patrick Mahomes. He reached a new level of professional currency when he was named chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

That last bit has led to a handsome new contract that pushes his salary to north of $1 million a year.

As detailed by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Hocutt has inked a seven-year contract that pays him a sum of $7.525 million. He’ll earn $1 million in the first year and net raises of $25,000 each year, plus bonuses that could reach as much as $225,000 each year. All told, theoretically, Hocutt could earn $1.4 million by the final year of his contract.

“I couldn’t feel more fortunate to have the support that I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy at Texas Tech University,” Hocutt told the paper. “The leadership continues to be tremendous. I couldn’t be more excited about President Schovanec. The support he provides, that Chancellor (Robert) Duncan provides, I couldn’t be more fortunate as an athletics director.”

Salaries for athletics directors aren’t as easy to track as coaches but, according to the most recent data on file, Hocutt appears to be one of just eight active ADs to earn seven figures — and more than the ADs at both Texas and Texas A&M.

In addition to Tech’s success in the big three sports — the Red Raiders were the only Big 12 program to reach the postseason in football and men’s basketball while also reaching the College World Series — 11 of the school’s 14 other programs also reached the postseason, including Big 12 titles in soccer, men’s tennis and baseball.

Lombardi Award changes criteria so ‘a Johnny Manziel’ can’t win it

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 09:  Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies drops back to pass in the first half during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Kyle Field on November 9, 2013 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Lombardi Award had a nice thing going. Run by the Rotary Club of Houston, the award had chugged along since 1970, honoring college football’s best offensive lineman, defensive lineman or linebacker. Past winners include the likes of Lee Roy SelmonSteve EmtmanOrlando PaceAaron Donald and Scooby Wright, to name a few current and future College Football Hall of Famers.

Essentially, the Lombardi Award was the Heisman Trophy for players who never had a snowball’s chance in Tempe to actually win the actual Heisman.

Except the Rotary Club this week announced it will open the Lombardi’s criteria to all players…. exactly like the Heisman, therein rendering itself totally irrelevant. And the reasoning makes even less sense after they explain it.

“If someone were to push me in a corner and ask me, ‘What’s the difference between this award and the Heisman Trophy award?’ I would tell you this. The difficult truth is a Tim Tebow could have won this award, but a Johnny Manziel could not have won this award. That’s the difference,” former Oklahoma running back and longtime college football television analyst Charles Tillman told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

Ignoring the brain-melter that Manziel himself wouldn’t have been eligible for the Lombardi Award’s stiffarm under the previous system, the character-based system presents a couple questions:

A) Where is the “character” line drawn, and who draws it? As the Plain-Dealer points out, all we knew of Manziel by the time he collected his Heisman in December 2012 were some viral photos of him (obviously) drinking underage in a Scooby Doo costume and a misdemeanor arrest for being involved in a fight and producing a fake ID. That doesn’t make him Tebow, but it doesn’t make him significantly worse than a lot of other talented players, either.

B) Hasn’t the Jerry SanduskyJoe Paterno saga taught us anything? Sandusky and Paterno were exalted as saints among mere mortals until the passage of time exposed them as something far worse. The same could happen to Tebow. It probably won’t, but it could. And that’s the problem: we don’t know these guys. All we know is the image they project. On-field performance never changes, but our awareness of players’ supposed character could irrevocably flip at any moment.

There are dozens of college football awards, each elbowing for a glimmer of sunshine the Heisman doesn’t grab for itself. The Lombardi Award had some of that sunshine. It had history, it had a niche and it had credibility. To render itself irrelevant is already strange, but to do so for such a dubious reason is even more perplexing.

Report: Pac-12 reaches deal with Fox Sports Australia

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 02:  Larry Scott, CEO of the WTA speaks to the media during the draw for the Sony Ericsson WTA Championships at the Pearl conference centre on Novemeber 2, 2008 in Doha, Qatar. The Championships willl take place in Doha from November 4-9, 2008.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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What, you thought Cal was going all the way to Sydney for…. fun? The student-athlete experience?

No, there was always a pot of gold at the end of that transpacific rainbow.

According to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News, a good of a source as there is for all things Pac-12, the league has reached a content agreement with Fox Sports Australia to show Pac-12 football and basketball.

Wilner reports that Fox Sports Australia will show 21 men’s basketball games and 13 football contests, with the possibility of other Pac-12 teams heading Down Under in the near future.

Globalization has been a key charge of Larry Scott‘s commissionership. Washington opened the 2015-16 college basketball season by “hosting” Texas in Shanghai last November and, of course, there was Cal’s game with Hawaii Friday night.