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.

ESPN extends broadcast agreement with BYU football through 2019

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BYU’s future as an independent appears to be on solid ground through at least the next couple of seasons.

That’s the biggest takeaway from Friday’s announcement at the Cougars’ annual football media day in Provo as the school confirmed ESPN had exercised their contractual option to extend broadcast rights for BYU home games through 2019.

“We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with ESPN for decades and that relationship seems to get stronger every year,” athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a release. “There is great collaboration, and I feel really good about what we are doing together. We’ve had good dialogue about extending the contract and felt this option would give us some time for additional conversations.”

ESPN agreed to an eight-year deal with the school when they originally opted to become a football independent back in 2011. The network holds the rights to all BYU home games aside from at least one game a year that will be aired on the school’s own network, BYUtv.

In addition to extending the broadcast deal another season, BYU also secured a slot in a bowl game thanks to ESPN’s backing. The Cougars, if eligible, didn’t have a set bowl game to go to in 2017 and their slot in the Poinsettia Bowl for 2018 went away when the bowl folded earlier this year. The end result is that if BYU hits the necessary six wins in the next few seasons, they’ll wind up playing in one of the many postseason games that ESPN owns, operates or televises.

Ole Miss adds Troy to 2022 non-conference slate

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The schedule-makers in Oxford were pretty busy on Friday.

Not content to just add a non-conference game against Texas Tech in Houston to the Rebels’ slate of future games, Ole Miss has also added Sun Belt foe Troy to the schedule in 2022. According to a release from the Trojans, the two teams will open the season that year on September 3rd in Oxford.

The game will be just the second ever between the two programs despite being in neighboring states and about a five hour drive away from each other. The Rebels won the previous meeting back in 2013 by a score of 51-21.

The one-off game will complete the Ole Miss non-conference schedule for 2022 and leave just one opening between the upcoming season and 2023 left for the school to fill. In addition to hosting Troy for the opener, the Rebels will also play Central Arkansas and Tulsa in Oxford, plus Georgia Tech up in Atlanta.

Troy has played their fair share of SEC programs over the years and also has a future date with Missouri on the docket as well.

Auburn looking into scheduling UAB for future football game

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2017 will mark the return of UAB football after a brief absence on the scene following a controversial disbanding of the program. As part of that return to college football, the school is in the market to schedule several future games down the road and it appears one of the Blazers non-conference games could include a trip up the highway to play in-state power Auburn.

“We’ve had conversations with them,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs confirmed to AL.com this week. “We’d love to play them again if we can work it out on the schedule, but finding a common date is often difficult to do some times.”

As Jacobs alludes to, finding a match in terms of dates could prove to be tricky. The Tigers have filled all their non-conference slots through 2019 and already have already agreed to home games against two fellow CUSA programs in 2020 and 2022.

On the flip side, UAB also has signed up their fair share of top-flight SEC competition as well. The school will play at Florida this season and will travel to Texas A&M in 2018 and Tennessee in 2019. Meetings with the state’s two SEC programs are rare (Auburn and UAB last played in 1996) but it could be fun to see the recently revived Blazers find a way to schedule their neighbors up the road at some point in the future.

Based on comments from both schools, the only question left now might be what the date actually is.

Walk-on USF TE arrested on misdemeanor fraud, theft charges

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Another day, another resetting of ye olde arrest ticker.

According to multiple media outlets, South Florida’s Adrian Palmore was arrested this past Monday on one count of fraudulent use of a credit card and count of petit theft.  The tight end’s arrest came at a Tampa-area IHOP.

From WFLA-TV:

In the arrest report obtained by News Channel 8, officers say Palmore tried to pay for a meal with a credit card that the victim, Rigoberto Torres Meza, claimed was stolen.

Before the meal was served, police say the victim contacted the restaurant, telling them the card had been stolen after his bank told him that someone tried to use the card.

The report went on to say that Palmore had initially said a friend gave him the card. Palmore then admitted he took the card after finding it at school and decided to use it “due to being hungry.

“We are aware of the situation and are in the process of collecting information,” the school said in a statement. “The student-athlete has been removed from participation in team activities at this time.”

Palmore is a walk-on who played in one game last season.  He’s also the third Bull to be arrested this offseason, Charlie Strong’s first as USF head coach.

Defensive end LaDarrius Jackson was arrested in May on charges of sexual battery and false imprisonment.  Not long after, he was arrested again on the same charges and dismissed by Strong.

Bulls defensive back Hassan Childs was hospitalized in stable condition after being shot in late March.  A day later, Childs was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault and one count of misdemeanor marijuana possession in connection to a road-rage incident the night he was shot.  Childs allegedly pointed a gun at least twice at a man, Jovanni Jimenez, and his family and was ultimately shot three times by Jimenez.

Childs too was dismissed from the football program.