Everett Golson, Brian Kelly

CFT Top 25: No. 15 Notre Dame

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2013 record: 9-4
2013 postseason: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Rutgers (29-16 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 20/No. 24
Head coach: Brian Kelly (90-37 overall; 37-15 in four years at Notre Dame)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Denbrock (first season as OC; 5th year under Kelly at Notre Dame)
2013 offensive rankings: 81st rushing offense (150.92 YPG); 39th passing offense (254.8 YPG); 68th total offense (405.8 YPG); 74th scoring offense (27.2 PPG)
Returning offensive starters: RB Cam McDaniel, WR DaVaris Daniels, OL Ronnie Stanley, OL Nick Martin, OL Christian Lombard
Defensive coordinator: Brian VanGorder (first season at Notre Dame)
2013 defensive rankings: 71st rushing defense (168 YPG); 15th passing defense (198.2 YPG); 31st total defense (366.2 YPG); 27th scoring defense (22.4 PPG)
Returning defensive starters: DT Sheldon Day, LB Jaylon Smith, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Austin Collinsworth
Location: South Bend, Ind.
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795, FieldTurf)

THE GOOD
Notre Dame’s offense should be much improved with Everett Golson at the helm — he’s the playmaking quarterback Brian Kelly has wanted ever since coming to South Bend from Cincinnati. In 2012, Golson “rode the bus” to the BCS Championship, as Kelly put it, running a relatively basic offense. And in 2011 and 2013, Tommy Rees quarterbacked the Irish to eight and nine — not where Notre Dame wanted to be in either year.

In Year 2 of Golson, even with his 2013 exile from campus, Notre Dame finally looks to have the kind of offense that can win the team big games. Golson has loads of talent around him, from sophomore running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant to wide receivers DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown and Corey Robinson to tight end Durham Smythe — remember that last name going forward. The offensive line looks solid, too, and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot holding back the Irish offense outside of a little inexperience heading into the fall.

Notre Dame has a number of stars on defense, too: Linebacker Jaylon Smith is the best player on the team, while defensive tackle Sheldon Day looks primed for a breakout season if he can stay healthy. The Irish secondary is stout, led by junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, sophomore safety Max Redfield and graduate student/Florida transfer Cody Riggs. It’s a deep unit, too, and one that should play well in Brian VanGorder’s aggressive defensive scheme.

THE BAD
I mean, have you seen Notre Dame’s schedule? Road games at Florida State, Arizona State and USC — all of which come in the second half of the season — are tough as it is, but throw in home games against Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina and Louisville and the Irish have an awfully difficult minefield to navigate this fall.

There’s a chance Notre Dame actually is a better team than it was last year — the Irish finished 26th in F/+ — but wind up with the same 9-4 record…or worse. The toughest stretch comes in early to mid October, when Notre Dame faces Stanford and UNC at home on back-to-back weekends before traveling to Florida State.

Stanford and Florida State certainly are tough, but that North Carolina game has all the makings of a dangerous trap game for the Irish. UNC has a good enough offense to give the Irish defense fits, and if Notre Dame goes into Oct. 11 looking ahead to Florida State the Tarheels could be primed for an upset.

THE UNKNOWN
Notre Dame lost five starters off its front seven from a year ago: Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox. Sliding in for those guys is a group of inexperienced players who potentially could be good…but also who could potentially struggle to stop a number of the high-powered offenses Notre Dame has to face.

Guys like defensive tackle Jarron Jones and linebacker Joe Schmidt performed well in limited duty a year ago, but will they be able to succeed in larger roles? Can a converted safety (John Turner) and a converted wide receiver (James Onwualu) play Sam linebacker? Will freshmen defensive linemen Daniel Cage, Pete Mokwuah, Jonathan Bonner and Andrew Trumbetti be ready enough to provide much-needed depth up front?

The X-Factor with Notre Dame’s defense is how the unit performs running a defense that’ll take more chances under VanGorder than it did under Bob Diaco. The last few years of stats don’t really apply to Notre Dame’s defensive outlook this fall, given there’s a greater emphasis on forcing turnovers and sacks rather than two-gapping and preventing big plays. We won’t know how this defense really shakes out until it actually takes the field this fall under VanGorder, so that makes it very much an unknown.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 at USC
Hypothetically, if Notre Dame heads to Los Angeles with one loss (likely to Florida State), a win over USC and an 11-1 season could be enough to get the Irish into the four-team playoff.

That’s the best-case scenario for Notre Dame. But there are plenty of other hypotheticals that involve Notre Dame either salvaging a disappointing season (say, a 7-5/8-4 year) or generating some early hype for 2015 (say, a 10-win year) that involve beating USC. That it’s a rivalry game doesn’t hurt, either.

There are plenty of other games that could’ve fit here: Michigan, Stanford, Florida State and Arizona State. But given it’s the final game of the season and Notre Dame-USC always carries weight, it gets a make-or-break designation.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Everett Golson
Six hundred days will have passed since Golson last played in a competitive game when he takes the field for Notre Dame Aug. 30 against Rice. But that long layoff hasn’t prevented Golson from seeing his name pop up as a Heisman dark horse, and the latest Bovada odds have him at 20/1 to win the trophy.

Golson threw for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2012, but expect those numbers — as well as his rushing totals — to go up this fall. It’ll take a big leap for Golson to legitimately get in the Heisman competition, but if Notre Dame has a better season than most are expecting Golson very well could find himself in the discussion.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

JJ Stankevitz is CSNChicago.com’s Notre Dame Insider. Follow him on Twitter @JJStankevitz.

Reports: Lane Kiffin to FAU hits stumbling block

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks on the field before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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As of last night, there was a deal in place for Lane Kiffin to become the next head coach at Florida Atlantic.

As of Saturday morning, it appears the deal is off.

FootballScoop, who broke the news of the two sides’ talking, reported Saturday morning that the talks hit a “stumbling block.” (Full disclosure: I also write for FootballScoop.)

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit corroborated that report on SportsCenter.

Herbstreit went as far as saying Kiffin, back in Tuscaloosa, was back on the market pursuing offensive coordinator jobs. That would be good news for LSU, who has placed him as their top target to serve as Ed Orgeron‘s offensive coordinator.

How do Jackson, Mayfield and Watson stack up with recent Heisman QBs?

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals  runs for a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles  at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The 82nd Heisman Trophy winner will be crowned tonight, and it will probably be Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. If not him, it will almost certainly be Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. And if some freak accident occurs where most of the votes from east of the Mississippi River somehow become destroyed, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will take home the trophy.

With three quarterbacks among the five finalists, we thought it was time to trot out this old feature and compare this year’s signal-callers with recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

First, let’s recap the Heisman-winning signal callers since 2000, when college football’s most prestigious honor shifted to becoming a much more quarterback-centric award:

2000 – Chris Weinke, Florida State
2001 – Eric Crouch, Nebraska
2002 – Carson Palmer, USC
2003 – Jason White, Oklahoma
2004 – Matt Leinart, USC
2006 – Troy Smith, Ohio State
2007 – Tim Tebow, Florida
2008 – Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
2010 – Cam Newton, Auburn
2011 – Robert Griffin III, Baylor
2012 – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2013 – Jameis Winston, Florida State
2014 – Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Without further ado:

Passing Efficiency
1. Mayfield – 197.8
2. Griffin – 189.5
3. Winston – 184.9
4. Newton – 182.1
5. Mariota – 181.8
— Watson – 154.0
— Jackson – 153.3

Yards Per Attempt
1. Mayfield – 11.1
2. Griffin – 10.7
3. Winston – 10.6
4. Newton – 10.2
5. Mariota – 10.0
— Jackson – 8.9
— Watson – 8.0

Completion Percentage
1. Griffin – 72.4
2. Mayfield – 71.2
3. Mariota – 68.3
4. Manziel – 68.0
5. Bradford – 67.9
— Watson – 67.6
— Jackson – 57.6

Touchdown Percentage
1. Mayfield – 11.5
2. Newton – 10.7
3. Bradford – 10.44
4. Winston – 10.42
5. Smith – 9.6
— Jackson – 7.9
— Watson – 7.6

Interception Percentage
1. Mariota – 0.9
2. Griffin – 1.5
Leinart – 1.5
4. Bradford – 1.7
Tebow – 1.7
— Jackson – 2.4
— Mayfield – 2.4
— Watson – 3.1

Yards Per Carry
1. Manziel – 7.0
2. Jackson — 6.6
3. Mariota – 5.7
4. Newton – 5.6
5. Crouch – 5.5
— Watson – 4.1
— Mayfield – 1.9

Rushing Touchdown Percentage
1. Mariota – 12.0
2. Bradford – 11.9
3. Tebow – 11.0
4. Manziel – 10.4
5. Jackson – 9.0
— Mayfield – 8.1
— Watson – 4.7

Yards Per Play
1. Mayfield – 9.4
2. Winston – 9.08
3. Bradford – 9.06
4. Mariota – 9.0
5. Weinke – 8.8
— Jackson – 8.0
— Watson 7.21

So, what did we learn? Other than an appreciation for RG3’s 2011 season, not much.

Mayfield is clearly having a historically efficient season. For the year he’s 235-of-330 passing for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions while adding 74 carries for 143 yards and six touchdowns. But that can be written away by a historically poor Big 12 schedule. Add in that Mayfield had his worst performance of the season in Oklahoma’s biggest game — he was 17-of-32 for 226 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 45-24 loss to Ohio State in September — it’s clear to see why Mayfield is running a distant third in Heisman projections.

Watson has had a nice year — he’s 329-of-487 for 3,914 yards with 37 touchdowns against 15 picks while rushing 129 times for 529 yards with six scores — but his candidacy is built around his career accomplishments. Two straight ACC championships and back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances say more than his numbers ever could.

Jackson’s argument is built around bulk numbers over efficiency. He’s 220-of-382 for 3,390 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing 234 times for 1,538 yards with 21 touchdowns. That 30/20 number — a club occupied only by Newton and Tebow until this season — is likely what will push Jackson over the top tonight.

 

Report: Cincinnati will name Ohio State’s Luke Fickell as new head coach on Saturday

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 26:  Head coach Luke Fickell of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on from the sideline while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 40-34. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Looks like Cincinnati didn’t need to go far to find their replacement for Tommy Tuberville.

According to Toledo sports reporter Jordan Strack, the Bearcats will make the hire of Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell official on Saturday.

A person told USA Today that talks between the two parties were progressing on Friday night but not yet complete.

The move makes plenty of sense for Fickell, a Columbus, Ohio native who has spent nearly his entire career in the state not too far from Cincinnati. He did serve as interim head coach of the Buckeyes back when Jim Tressel was fired and was retained by Urban Meyer and served as one of the mainstays of the defensive staff.

Cincinnati has served as a bit of a stepping-stone job to major openings around the Midwest and has proven to be one of the more desirable jobs in the AAC given the resources at the school and the local talent base. The hiring of somebody like Fickell makes plenty of sense on both ends and it seems like the only unknown at this point is whether he sticks around for Ohio State’s semifinal game against Clemson or heads to Cincinnati right away.

Reports: FAU pursuing Alabama OC Lane Kiffin as next head coach

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks off the field after their 33-14 win over the Texas A&M Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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After missing out on becoming head coach at Houston, it appears Lane Kiffin’s pursuit of a new job is moving on.

Moving on down to Boca Raton apparently.

First reported by FootballScoop, two sources confirmed to the Associated Press on Friday evening that Florida Atlantic is pursuing Kiffin to become the Owls’ next football coach.

Kiffin has also reportedly been in the mix at South Florida but it looks as though the Bulls are moving quickly to getting a deal done with Charlie Strong. If the former Texas coach turns USF down, the Alabama offensive coordinator could get back in the running in his old hometown of Tampa.

The Owls would represent an interesting destination if the two parties come together however. Combined with his offensive background and ability to recruit, the area known as a retirement mecca could instead be the perfect place for the young Kiffin to continue to rehabilitate his image. The program is looking to replace Charlie Partridge after three 3-9 seasons but FAU has solid facilities for a CUSA team and is located in a talent-rich area.

It seems like quite the drop from being the offensive coordinator at a program like Alabama but the drive to be a head coach is clearly a strong one for Kiffin.