Everett Golson, Brian Kelly

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.

Iowa DE says he was held at gunpoint while playing Pokemon Go

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs past Faith Ekakitie #56 and Cole Fisher #36 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 102nd Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2016 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie (No. 56, above) nearly became a tragic combination of two of this nation’s hot button topics, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Ekakitie says he was in an Iowa City park playing Pokemon Go when officers approached him with guns drawn, suspecting him of being involved in a nearby bank robbery. Ekakitie wrote his profile — a large black man dressed in black clothes — led five Iowa City officers to approach him, but the Hawkeye defender did not hear their approach due to having headphones in his ears — which led the officers to draw their guns. Ekakitie wrote police searched him before letting him go.

“My pockets were checked, my backpack was opened up and searched carefully, and I was asked to lift up my shirt while they searched my waistband,” Ekakitie wrote. “Not once did they identify themselves to me as Iowa City Police officers, but with four gun barrels staring me in the face, I wouldn’t dare question the authority of the men and woman in front of me. This is what happened from my point of view.”

Sgt. Jorey Bailey confirmed Iowa City offers stopped Ekakitie, and an Iowa spokesman confirmed Ekakitie’s version of events.

“In this situation, what the media would fail to let people know is that the suspect had his headphones in the entire time the Police Officers approached him initially,” Ekakitie wrote. “The suspect had actually just pulled up to the park because he was playing a newly popular Game called Pokémon Go. The suspect didn’t realize that there were four cops behind him because his music was blaring in his ears. The suspect had reached into his pockets, for something which was his phone, but for all the cops could have known, he was reaching for a gun. The suspect could very well become another statistic on this day.

“I am not one to usually rant on Facebook or anywhere else, but with all of the crazy things that have been happening in our world these past couple of weeks it is hard to stay silent. I am thankful to be alive.”

A senior from Brampton, Ontario, Canada, Ekakitie recorded 13 tackles in 12 appearances last season.

Georgia Southern vacates three wins from 2013-14 seasons

STATESBORO, GA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Players of the Georgia Southern Eagles sing the school's alma mater after defeating the Western Michigan Broncos 43-17 on September 12, 2015 at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia.  (Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages)
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Georgia Southern has vacated three wins from the 2013-14 seasons stemming from a two-year investigation into its football program, the school has announced.

The violations occurred when the Eagles played an ineligible athlete in three games over those seasons. The wins came against Savannah State and St. Francis in 2013 and Louisiana-Monroe in 2014. Georgia Southern’s 2014 Sun Belt championship will not be impacted by the ruling.

“While it is disappointing to vacate these three victories, we get to put this chapter behind us,” Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein said in a statement. “The student-athletes on this year’s football team, and teams moving forward, are not affected by the NCAA’s ruling and our goals are still in front of us. In addition to graduating student-athletes and developing leaders, we look forward to competing for conference championships and bowl berths this season and in the future.

“Compliance and academic integrity are of the utmost importance here at Georgia Southern; we will continue to reinforce these values and ensure that our department is operating in a manner that consistently upholds the proud tradition of this University.”

The player — who was unnamed — will also have his statistics removed from the record books, while Jeff Monken will have his Georgia Southern win total reduced by two and Willie Fritz by one. Each coach has since moved on to a new school; Monken is at Army and Fritz at Tulane.

 

BYU says it would be open to football-only Big 12 membership

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 1:  BYU  Athletic Director Tom Holmoe announces that BYU football will become independent in football in 2011 separating from the Mountain West Conference, September 1, 2010 in Provo, Utah. The remaining BYU sports will become affiliated with the West Coast Conference in 2011. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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While not preferred, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said his conference would be open to football-only membership as it pursues expansion.

That would work for BYU, too.

“We’re obviously open to listening to what they want to do. We’re going to go through this process with an open mind to listen to what they have to say,” BYU AD Tom Holmoe told ESPN.

A football-only addition of the Cougars would solve a number of problems for the Big 12:

1) The conference is starting a championship game in 2017 and, as an independent, BYU would be available immediately. Holding a title game with 10 teams is a clunky option the conference would prefer to avoid if possible, so the Cougars’ immediate availability helps both sides.

2) Adding only BYU’s football program eliminates the question of what to do with the Cougars’ no-Sundays policy.

3) Stretching a conference from Morgantown to Provo is, obviously, geographically challenging. Sending your football team across two time zones is one thing, asking your women’s basketball team to do the same on a Wednesday and turn around and play again on Saturday is something else entirely. It may serve both parties well to keep the Cougars’ Olympic sports in the West Coast Conference.

However, if the Big 12 is interested in bringing BYU aboard as an all-sports member, Holmoe is confident the two sides can make it work. After all, they’ve done it in the WAC, the Mountain West and now the WCC.

“I believe that’s something that can be worked out,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of leagues through the years, and we’ve been able to work it out.

“There would be a difference in the Big 12 because that would be a Power 5 conference. They’re going to ask questions. We’ll have our solutions, creative ideas of what we can do. We’re going to do everything we can.”

Florida LB Cristian Garcia stops sexual assault behind Gainesville bar

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 13: The Florida Gators take the field before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Florida linebacker Cristian Garcia stopped a sexual assault behind a popular Gainesville bar, according to a police report.

Garcia told police he was taking out the trash early Thursday morning at 101 Cantina, where he works security, and witnessed a couple having sex by the dumpsters. Upon closer inspection, he says, Garcia noticed the woman was unconscious. He and a coworker approached the man, a 34-year old named Christian Shaw, who managed to escape but has since been arrested on sexual battery charges.

“I was taking out the garbage, and I saw the man pressing the woman up against the Dumpster. At first the guy said she was his girlfriend, but about five seconds later I realized the girl was unconscious,” Garcia told the Gainesville Sun. “I turned around and pulled the guy by the shoulder and said ‘get off.’ That pretty much ended the situation then. He was intoxicated and attempted to throw some punches, but he slipped and busted his face on the wall.”

The Sun notes that police video shows “the victim was mentally and physically unable to give consent due to her level of intoxication.”

Garcia is a walk-on from Miami who appeared in one game in 2015.