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.

Starting LSU safety Grant Delpit tweets he’s set for surgery

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LSU didn’t come out of its spring game this past Saturday completely unscathed.

On his personal Twitters account Sunday, Grant Delpit tweets that he’ll undergo surgery Monday morning. While the defensive back didn’t specify the nature of the medical procedure, both Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge Advocate and Andrew Lopez of the New Orleans Times-Picayune are reporting that Delpit sustained a broken collarbone.

In his tweet, Delpit wrote that he’ll “be back soon ready to work!”; Dellenger’s and Lopez’s reports put the timeline at 6-8 weeks for a return, which means the rising true sophomore would be healed well before the start of summer camp in early August.

A four-star 2017 signee, Delpit was the starting safety for 10 of the 13 games in which he played as a true freshman last season. The Houston native finished fourth on the Tigers with 60 tackles and was fourth as well in passes defensed with nine. He was also one of six Tigers players with one interception on the year, second to Andraez Williams‘ team-leading six.

Ex-Michigan LB who directed threatening tweets at Jim Harbaugh says he’s ‘being harassed by police… being told I’m mentally ill’

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And the disturbing trainwreck continues.

Elysee Mbem-Bosse sent out a string of alarming and threatening tweets last Monday night that seemed to be directed at U-M head football coach Jim Harbaugh.  Even as U-M’s athletic director expressed concern for a player who left the football program in mid-November, the University of Michigan Police Department had already confirmed that they had launched an investigation into the social-media threats; the man the tweets were directed at subsequently called them “a serious matter.”

In a tweet posted Sunday morning, Mbem-Bosse “apologize[d] fully” for his social-media missteps, writing that “I take full responsibility for the tweets i (sic) made regarding the safety of Coach Harbaugh.” The former linebacker, though, went on to accuse the university’s police department of harassing him and telling him he’s “mentally ill without proper evaluation.”

The latter accusation came a day after the football player posted a photo of a form in which it shows that a psychiatrist personally examined Mbem-Bosse at the University of Michigan Health System for 35 minutes on Friday, April 19, of this year. That psychiatrist determined that Mbem-Bosse is mentally ill, meaning he “has a substantial disorder of thoughts or mood that significantly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality, or ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life.”

Mbem-Bosse tweeted the photo of the form to Harbaugh’s Twitter account, describing the determination made by the university’s doctor as “Mafia work.” “[U]nbelievable the extent men will go [to] just to cover up their mistakes and flaws,” Mbem-Bosse wrote, presumably alluding to Harbaugh, whose grandfather was born in Sicily and moved to Italy as a young child, dismissing the player back in November amidst what Mbem-Bosse has described as a family crisis.

Other than confirming that an investigation had been initiated, there has been no update from the university’s police department on the probe’s status.

Baylor lands commitment from player born without femurs

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Plenty of programs landed commitments on Saturday, but none like the one Baylor got from a Plano West (Texas) athlete.

Ricardo Benitez agreed to continue his football career at Baylor, which is remarkable since he never should have had a career in the first place. Benitez was born with a condition called Femur Hypoplasia Bilateral, which means he does not have femurs in his legs.

“Doctors told my parents I had a condition called Femur Hypoplasia Bilateral and it might be best to stop the pregnancy,” Benitez told MaxPreps last year. “They said I had a hole in my heart, would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life and never play sports. But my parents saw me as a gift from God and went on with the pregnancy. I crawled until I was two and didn’t start running until I was five.”

Benitez stands 4-foot-2, dresses out with his Wolves team every week and runs routs just like everyone else. Here he is at an SMU camp last year.

Benitez also camped with Baylor last summer and committed to the Bears on Saturday. “I played four years of high school football, and cherished every second of it. When the season ended I knew I was not done being a football player,” Benitez wrote in a Twitter post. “I did not know where, but God did. I received a call from Coach Brown at Baylor University. After a long process, and with tears in my eyes, I can finally announce I will be given the chance to go to college, and play football at Baylor University.”

(Helmet Sticker: Dr. Saturday)

Sam Ehlinger, Shane Buechele exit spring ball still vying for Texas QB job

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For 16 months now, Tom Herman has waited for one of his quarterbacks to take the bull by the horns. And for 16 months, the bull still hops freely around the ring.

Junior Shane Buechele and sophomore Sam Ehlinger quarterback opposite teams in Saturday night’s Orange-White game, and exited the spring the same way they began it: to be the guy who quarterbacks the Orange and White on Sept. 1 at Maryland. Ehlinger was 13-of-22 for 151 yards while Buechele hit 12-of-21 throws for 130 yards and a score; Ehlinger’s White team won the game, 23-13.

On the balance, Herman indicated that whoever ultimately wins the job will be the guy who can make plays without turning the ball over.

“At quarterback, when you hold the ball in this game, you have the hopes and dreams, goals, aspirations, everything of your teammates, of your loved ones in your hands,” Herman said. “When you think about it that way, you tend to be a lot more is cautious with it. Now that being said, from day one of spring ball, I told the QBs, experiment, rip it in there, man. Try to fit it in tight windows,
because I want you to have that confidence when you do. They’re never going to get yelled at for an interception in the spring that is, ‘Coach, I was trying to fit it in and I just missed on a couple inches’ or whatever. Now, if he does something really dumb, if he tries to throw an out route into a cloud corner or something like that and that gets picked, yeah, he’s going to hear about it. But I think building
confidence in your abilities and in the spring is important.”

Ehlinger would be the clear-cut quarterback if not for a handful of late-game mistakes in his true freshman season. He fumbled the ball away in double overtime of the USC loss, threw an end zone interception to clinch an overtime loss to Oklahoma State and tossed an across-his-body interception to allow Texas Tech to come from behind and beat Texas in November.

Whoever does win the job will wind up approaching the job the same way: throw the ball to Collin Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey as often as possible. Johnson caught six passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, while Humphrey hauled in a game-high seven balls for 100 yards and rushed four times for 14 yards and two touchdowns.