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.

No charges filed in alleged rape at Nebraska players’ house

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 14:  Tommy Armstrong Jr. #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers congratulates teammate Jordan Westerkamp #1 after he scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights  on November 14, 2015 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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An investigation into an alleged sexual assault at the home of three current Nebraska football players will not result in charges, Lancaster County (Neb.) officials announced Wednesday.

An unidentified 20-year-old female claimed she was raped Nov. 15 at the residence of NU quarterback Tommy Armstrong (pictured, left), tight end Trey Foster and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (pictured, right). The subsequent investigation could not prove that any type of an assault had taken place.

“Filing charges would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That simply is not there,” district attorney Joe Kelly stated in announcing the decision.  Armstrong had previously claimed that “[f]rom what we’re hearing, everything was consensual.”

The university’s athletic department released a statement in the wake of today’s announcement.

We are aware of this morning’s announcement by the Lincoln Police Department and the Lancaster County Attorney. There is no change in the status of any student-athletes. We will continue to follow University policies.

The school is in the midst of conducting its own investigation into the situation. As it stands now, all three players will be available for Friday’s game against No. 4 Iowa..

Baylor loses QB Jarrett Stidham to broken bone in ankle

Jarrett Stidham, Lemaefe Galea'i
Associated Press

If Baylor’s designs on a national championship are to come to fruition, it appears the Big 12 school will be forced to go the Ohio State route and do it with their third-string quarterback.

The university has reportedly confirmed Wednesday that Jarrett Stidham sustained a broken bone in the back of his ankle in the second quarter of Saturday’s win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma State.  As a result, the true freshman will miss the remainder of the 2015 season.

Stidham had started the last three games in place of Seth Russell, who will miss the rest of 2015 as well because of a broken bone in his neck.

With Stidham and Russell sidelined, the Bears’ title hopes will fall in large part to Chris Johnson. The redshirt sophomore had been moved to wide receiver during summer camp before becoming Stidham’s backup a month ago.  In the win over OSU, Johnson completed five of his 10 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Should Johnson find himself injured, the only other player listed as a quarterback on Baylor’s roster is Zack Bennema. A true freshman, Bennema joined the Bears earlier this year as a walk-on.

Baylor will travel to TCU and host Texas to close out the season.  Because of a loss to Oklahoma earlier this month, the Bears will need a Sooners loss in Bedlam in addition to winning its last two in order to claim a Big 12 title and, potentially, a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Federal fugitive arrested at home of Buffs players following hours-long standoff

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre argues with lines judge Michael Feldman during their game against the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Every year I type a headline that I never thought I’d have to type. Welcome to at least the third one of those in 2015.

Tuesday, 24-year-old Donte Faison, the subject of a manhunt led by the U.S. Marshals Service, was arrested following a six-hour standoff that involved the Boulder Police Department SWAT team. Faison was wanted in connection to a shooting in Baltimore — he’s facing first-degree attempted murder charges once he’s extradited — although the fact that the standoff took place at the residence of a current, unnamed member of the Colorado Buffaloes football team brings this under the CFT purview.

According to a statement from the university, Faison is “a childhood acquaintance” of the unnamed Buffs player, and neither the unnamed player nor any of the other CU players who interacted with him since his arrival in the state Monday were aware of his status as a wanted fugitive.

Mr. Faison is a childhood acquaintance of a CU football player and recently asked to reconnect and stay in his home with other players. Every indication we have is that the players had no knowledge that law enforcement agencies had an active warrant for Mr. Faison’s arrest. Our players are cooperating with Boulder police during this investigation.

Faison is originally from Washington D.C.; three current Buffs, defensive backs Ken Crawley and John Walker and defensive lineman De’Jon Wilson, claim the nation’s capital as their hometown on the football program’s official online roster.

Exactly two weeks ago, athletic director Rick George very publicly stated that Mike MacIntyre, 10-26 overall and 2-24 in Pac-12 play, “is going to be our coach next year.

Bowl-eligible Cal might need another win to actually become bowl-eligible

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 20:  Head coach Sonny Dykes of the California Golden Bears reacts on the sidelines during the second half of the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 20, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Golden Bears 49-45.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Following a Week 10 win over Oregon State, Cal won its sixth game of the season and became bowl-eligible… or did they?

Cal opened the 2015 season against FCS Grambling State, a win that is supposed to count toward the six needed for bowl eligibility. According to USA Today, however, a scholarship issue on Grambling’s side could lead to the win not counting for Cal’s bowl eligibility.

More to the point, Cal has already requested a waiver from the NCAA that would allow for the win to count toward bowl eligibility regardless of the scholarship accounting that’s currently ongoing. From Steve Berkowitz‘s USA Today report:

Grambling is a Football Championship Subdivision School, and Cal athletics spokesman Wes Mallette told USA TODAY Sports that the request was made because Grambling officials are trying to determine whether the school has awarded a sufficient amount of financial aid to football players for the game to count without a waiver.

Under NCAA rules, FBS schools generally can count one win against an FCS team per season toward the six needed for bowl eligibility. However, for the game to count without a waiver, the FCS school needs to have awarded — on average — at least 90% of the 63 scholarships allowed under FCS rules during a rolling two-year period.

According to Grambling’s 2013-14 financial report to the NCAA — the most recent one available — the school awarded the equivalent of 52.55 football scholarships in 2013-14. However, that document covers only financial aid awarded by athletics department sources — not all forms of aid that can count toward the scholarship limit. In response to an inquiry from USA TODAY Sports, Grambling’s interim assistant athletic director Patricia Simmons said the school’s athletics department and financial aid office had determined the school awarded the equivalent of 56.44 football scholarships, including all countable aid, in 2014-15. That’s fractionally short of meeting the NCAA’s 90% requirement.

Should the NCAA decide that Grambling falls under the scholarship threshold and Cal’s waiver is denied, it’d mean that the 6-5 Bears would need to beat 6-5 Arizona State Saturday night in Berkeley to become bowl-eligible for the second time this season. Bowl eligibility has served as a flashpoint issue of late, with Cal’s potential postseason plight shining a harsher and much-needed light on the oversaturation of the bowl market.

This year there will be a record 40 bowl games — including the two College Football Playoff semifinals, not including the stand-alone CFP title game — that will need filled with 80 teams. Entering Week 13, and including Cal, there are 71 teams that are currently bowl-eligible. There are 14 five-win teams that could get to that six-win mark this weekend: Buffalo, East Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Old Dominion, San Jose State, South Alabama, Tulsa, Virginia Tech and Washington. There are also four 4-6 teams that could get to six wins with victories the last two weeks of the season: Georgia State, Kansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas.

It should be noted that South Alabama is currently 5-5 and needs a win either this weekend or the next to become bowl-eligible.

It should also be noted that there are way too damn many bowl games, and the issue of whether a 5-7 team — or teams — will get rewarded for a sub-.500 season will continue annually until the postseason market corrects itself. I’m all for more quality football, just not more football for the sake of more football. I fear, though, I’m in the minority.