Everett Golson, Brian Kelly

CFT Top 25: No. 15 Notre Dame


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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Todd Graham drops ‘chicken****’ on Mike Leach in postgame handshake

RAMOT HASHEVIM, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 26: Israeli egg farmer Dan Aronheim sprays pesticide to kill the flies that breed in the mounds of feces under the cages of his 3,500 Highline breed egg-laying chickens in his small family farm October 26, 2005 in Ramot Hashevim, in central Israel. The livelihood of thousands of small farmers is being threatened by the migration of the H5N1 Avian Flu virus from the Far East to Western Europe. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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At least postgame, #Pac12AfterDark lived up to its NSFW billing.

Last season, Washington State’s Mike Leach accused his counterpart at Arizona State, Todd Graham, of stealing signs.  Ahead of the Cougars’ Week 8 trip to Tempe to face the Sun Devils, Leach again broached the sign-stealing allegations; that broaching earned Leach a reprimand and a $10,000 fine from the Pac-12.

While Graham had personally stayed relatively mum on the subject, the coach’s athletic director stated they fully supported the conference’s actions as “[o]ur professional integrity was questioned for two straight years by Mike Leach’s irresponsible comments and we will not allow that to happen.” Graham may have been relatively mum during the week, but, in the aftermath of Wazzu’s 37-32 win Saturday night, the coach apparently could no longer bite his tongue.

Leach, of course, was asked about the situation in his postgame presser.

Pirate’s gonna pirate, regardless.

Defense a mere rumor as Oklahoma outlasts Texas Tech in record-setting shootout

LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 22: Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders passes the ball during the first half of the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on October 22, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
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Certainly there are deceased defensive purists who are rolling over in their graves at the moment.  In fact, there are likely amongst-the-living defensive purists who are currently digging six feet down, jumping in and rolling over just to prove a point.

To what are we referring?  Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59 in a game that spanned just four quarters.  Didn’t even go into a single overtime let alone multiple ones to at least buttress the video game-like numbers.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so screen snaps of the offensive carnage are just visually staggering in their breadth and scope:



Where to start?

Well, the teams collectively broke the NCAA record for combined offensive yards in a single game, with their 1,708 yards — exactly 854 for each, incidentally — easily surpassing the 1,640 of San Jose State and Nevada in 2001.  The combined 1,279 yards passing also broke the record of 1,261 yards set during the 2014 Washington State-Cal game.

That Pac-12 game also produced the individual passing record, with Wazzu’s Connor Halliday throwing for 734 yards; Tech’s Patrick Mahomes matched that record in this wild affair.  Mahomes’ 88 pass attempts were just one off the record of 89 set by Halliday in 2013.

Add in 85 yards rushing, and Mahomes became the first player in FBS history to account for more than 800 yards of offense in a single game. The previous record was Halliday’s 751 two years ago.

On the OU side, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred from Lubbock to Norman, set a Sooners record with his seven touchdown passes.  The 1,383 combined yards for Mayfield and Mahomes is an FBS record as well.

Additionally, running back Joe Mixon, with 262 yards rushing and 114 receiving, became just the third FBS player in at least 15 years to go for 250-plus in the former category and 100-plus in the latter.  Dede Westbrook also caught nine passes for 202 yards, making Oklahoma the fifth team in FBS history and first since Oklahoma State in 2008 to have a 300-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in the same game.

The Sooners also became the first FBS team with a 500-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in a single game.

I’m quite certain that there are myriad school and conference and national records that I missed, but, yeah, you get what was a very offensive point.  And, for that, there’s just no defense.

Leonard Fournette sets school record as LSU runs all over Ole Miss

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 22:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs past Zedrick Woods #36 of the Mississippi Rebels for a 76-yard touchdown during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for LSU and Leonard Fournette but the two reunited in a big way on Saturday night to run right over Ole Miss in a 38-21 win that put the rest of the SEC back on notice about the team from Baton Rouge.

Fournette needed just eight carries to set a new LSU school record for rushing yards in a game and finished the night with a whopping 284 yards on just 16 carries. The one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner scored three times as well and each one was a highlight in itself: from 59 yards out, another from 76 yards and a final one from 78 yards to embarrass the Ole Miss defense.

Backup Derrius Guice saw his string of 100 yard games come to an end after filling in nicely for Fournette but he did rush for 57 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Danny Etling didn’t have to do much as a result of that attack, throwing for 204 yards, a score and an interception.

Ole Miss was a controversial selection in the top 25 this week at 3-3 entering the game and failed to live up to the hype by dropping their second in a row. Chad Kelly was rattled on just about every throw, finishing with only 209 yards and a touchdown while throwing two picks and getting sacked twice. He didn’t get much help from the Rebels defense either, which was flattened by Fournette and gave up 515 total yards.

The win was LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron’s third in a row and gives the team plenty of momentum heading into their bye week. A home night game against No. 1 Alabama awaits after that and it’s not a stretch to say that the school would make him the permanent head coach if the win streak stretches to four.

There’s a long time between now and then however, but at least on Saturday night LSU looked a lot like the team that was ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls and had a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield.

Blocked field goal gives Penn State huge upset over No. 2 Ohio State

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is hurried by Brandon Bell #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions in the first half during the game on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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James Franklin was on the hot seat with many Penn State fans earlier this season. After Saturday night, he might be getting a contract extension.

The Nittany Lions gave their head coach his first signature win in State College in front of a White-Out crowd in Happy Valley as they upset No. 2 Ohio State 24-21 with a wild fourth quarter and some clutch plays down the stretch.

Penn State hung around most of the game and came up with a timely score just about every moment when it looked like they were going to lose control to their highly ranked division rivals. Case in point was right before halftime when quarterback Trace McSorley (who completed just eight passes on the night) led a 74 yard touchdown drive in just 65 seconds to pull to within 12-7.

Nothing caused the crowd to erupt quite like what the defense did in the fourth quarter however. Ohio State appeared to be driving to all but wrap up another tough road win with just over four minutes left in the game when they ran the field goal unit onto the field to attempt a 45-yarder.

The kick came off a little low though and junior safety Marcus Allen entered PSU lore by getting just enough of the ball to block it. Grant Haley found himself in the right place, at the right time, and promptly scooped and scored from 60 yards out to cause pandemonium among the Nittany Lion fan base.

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett didn’t quite get going like he did last week against Wisconsin but was solid as the only reliable source of offense for the Buckeyes. The quarterback finished with 245 yards passing and a touchdown but was sacked five times in the second half as he failed to rally the team many expected to roll through the rest of the season undefeated.

The loss snaps a 20 game road winning streak for Ohio State and throws all sorts of postseason scenarios out the window. To start with, rival Michigan should ascend to No. 2 in the polls come Sunday and instantly become the favorites in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes can still win their division, and even make it back into the running for a College Football Playoff semifinal, but the night belonged to what Penn State did in a marquee win for their head coach and their program on Saturday night.