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.

Boise State losing one-time starting corner Reid Harrison-Ducros to transfer

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For the third time since the 2017 season kicked off, Boise State is losing a player to transfer.

The father of Reid Harrison-Ducros (pictured, No. 27) confirmed to the Idaho Press-Tribune that his son has left the Broncos football team and will transfer. The cornerback met with Bryan Harsin Thursday morning to inform him of the decision to move on, with the head coach granting him a release from his BSU scholarship.

“This tears me up,” Gary Harrison-Ducros told the Press-Tribune. “We love everything about Boise, the faculty, geography, and oh my gosh the community and fans. However, Reid wants to be on the field and he believes he has to pursue that goal somewhere else.

“We will follow and support BSU always. I am keeping my tattoo and we’ll always bleed blue, we’re just expanding the HD family to another campus.”

A three-star member of the Broncos’ 2016 recruiting class, Harrison-Ducros played in 10 games as a true freshman. After starting the first four games of the 2017 season, he lost his starting job and has played sparingly since.

Previously, a pair of little-used wide receivers, Julian Carter and Bryan Jefferson, parted ways with the football program as well.

Starting QB Kenny Hill officially ruled out for TCU vs. Texas Tech

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This certainly makes things interesting.

Earlier this week, Gary Patterson revealed that starting quarterback Kenny Hill and starting linebacker Travin Howard were somewhere between “probable and questionable” for the Week 12 game against Texas Tech in Lubbock.  Both players suffered unspecified injuries in the Week 11 loss to Oklahoma.

Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, it’s been confirmed that Hill will not play against the Red Raiders.  Additionally, strong safety Niko Small and kicker Jonathan Song have been ruled out as well.

Howard, the team’s leading tackler, will travel to Lubbock but be a game-time decision.

With Hill sidelined, true freshman Shawn Robinson, who has attempted 10 passes in five games this season, will make his first career start in a game that will carry significant weight in the chase for the Big 12 championship tilt.

Unless Oklahoma (6-1), which beat both TCU (5-2) and Oklahoma State (5-2) earlier this season, loses its last two games — ROTFL one of them is against Kansas — the Sooners have all but clinched one of the two spots in the conference title game. TCU needs to either win one of its last two games (at Tech, vs. Baylor) and have OSU lose at least one, or win out regardless of what OSU does in order to claim the other spot. OSU, meanwhile, needs to win out (vs. K-State, vs. Kansas) and have the Horned Frogs lose at least one. West Virginia (5-2), which lost to both TCU and OSU, needs to beat Texas and win at OU while TCU and OSU lose at least one game apiece.

K-Statement: Bill Snyder ‘will remain coach until he decides otherwise’

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Kansas State has responded to the events of Thursday and, wow, what a response.

Early yesterday afternoon, a report surfaced that indicated K-State had a verbal agreement with Jim Leavitt to ultimately take over the football program in place but that arrangement was nixed by legendary current head coach Bill Snyder, who wants his son to take the reins when he steps down. Subsequent to that, Leavitt, the defensive coordinator at Oregon who was an assistant under Snyder at KSU in the nineties, told GoPowercat.com that he has “no desire nor I ever had a desire to be a coach in waiting.”

Not long after, with FootballScoop.com refuting the original report, the Manhattan Mercury confirmed at least a portion of it; however, that newspaper said Snyder nixed the arrangement “because he did not want to commit to a timetable for his own retirement.” Per the original report via Facebook from former ESPN college football insider Brett McMurphy, Leavitt would’ve been paid $3 million if he wasn’t named head coach prior to Jan. 1 of 2018.

Given all of that he-said, he-said drama, the university released a statement that indicates Snyder maintains the autonomy to choose the when of his departure.

As has been the case and stated many times, Coach Snyder is our football coach and will remain coach until he decides otherwise.

Left unsaid is whether Snyder will get to handpick his successor whenever he decides otherwise.

In the past, the 78-year-old Snyder has made it perfectly clear that he wants his son, 48-year-old Wildcats special teams coordinator and associate head coach Sean Snyder, to take over when he steps down for good.

“I have a strong belief, and my preference is Sean,” Snyder said back in July of 2015 when asked his preference for a successor. “He knows more about our football program than anyone. He runs our program. I have great confidence in him.

“It’s easy to say, ‘He’s your son,’ but I don’t wish coaching on anyone.”

“If I were to step down today, I certainly would [recommend Sean for the job],” Snyder said in October of 2012, “I think he’d be absolutely fantastic at it, but I wouldn’t encourage him to take the job.

“I’d rather see him live a more complete life than this.”

The younger Snyder has actually spent more time as part of the K-State football program than his Hall of Fame father, transferring to KSU from Iowa after the 1989 season. The lone exception being 1993, Sean Snyder has been a Wildcats player, football staffer or assistant coach for 27 of the last 28 years. Since 1989, Bill Snyder has spent 26 years as K-State’s head coach, with a three-year sabbatical in the middle of the last decade splitting up his first and second tenures at the school.

Whether that makes him qualified to take over for his dad is a question that will very likely be answered in the coming months.

Tanner Lee on verge of being cleared to play for Nebraska vs. Penn State

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It’s looking more and more likely that Nebraska’s starting quarterback will be available for Week 12. Whether he starts seems to be another matter entirely.

In the second quarter of last Saturday’s embarrassing beatdown at the hands of Minnesota, Tanner Lee suffered a head injury that knocked him out of the game and left him in concussion protocol ever since. With No. 10 Penn State looming this Saturday, all signs are pointing toward Lee being cleared.

“He’s actually going through the protocol and if he does not have a setback as of today — if everything checks out OK after this practice, heading into tomorrow’s walkthrough — he will be cleared to play,” Mike Riley said according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

The embattled head coach stopped short of declaring the redshirt junior would be the starter if cleared, saying that’s something “[w]e’re going to talk about” prior to kickoff.  If Lee doesn’t get the start, those duties would fall to redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien.

Only two quarterbacks at the FBS level have thrown more interceptions this season than Lee’s 13. On the other hand, his 2,539 yards passing are more than all but three other Big Ten quarterbacks.

Nebraska needs to win its last two games, at No. 10 Penn State and at home against 6-4 Iowa in the Black Friday regular-season finale, to become bowl-eligible.