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.

Starting Northwestern CB ruled out vs. Ohio State

Michigan State tight end Josiah Price, left, catches a pass for a touchdown against Northwestern's Trae Williams during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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Struggling mightily in the passing game, Ohio State may have caught a bit of a break as the Buckeyes look to rebound from just their fifth in the four-plus years under Urban Meyer.

On Northwestern’s official injury report, cornerback Trae Williams is listed as out for the Wildcats’ Week 9 matchup with the Buckeyes in Columbus. Williams is dealing with an injury that the school has not specified.

The redshirt freshman also missed the Week 8 win over Indiana because of the injury.

Prior to that, Williams had started the previous four games, the first four starts of his collegiate career. This season, Williams has been credited with 20 tackles and has one of the Wildcats’ seven interceptions.

With Williams sidelined, Alonzo Mayo will get the start opposite Montre Hartage. The redshirt freshman made his first career start in place of Williams last weekend.

Louisville, WKU announce three-game series

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 06:   Louisville Cardinals cheerleaders perform during the game against the Murray State Racers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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A pair of FBS schools from the state of Kentucky will be getting back together on the gridiron after a sabbatical of nearly two decades.

Louisville and Western Kentucky announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement on a three-game series that will actually be played in the not-too-distant future. Two of the games will be played at the U of L’s Papa John’s Stadium in 2018 and 2020.

The third will be played at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium in 2019.

“It’s great for both schools that we were able to resume this series against an in-state school of Western Kentucky’s caliber,” U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said in a statement. “Because of the proximity of both schools, I think it’s a tremendous win for the state of Kentucky and each fan base. I’m thrilled we were able to lock down a three-game series versus WKU.”

“We are excited to begin a football series with the University of Louisville,” Jurich’s WKU counterpart, Todd Stewart, said in his statement. “These three games will be exciting for both fan bases and good for college football in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We continually try to develop strong non-conference schedules each year while also focusing on regional match ups that enable our fans to attend games outside of Bowling Green. A series with Louisville checks all of those boxes, and we appreciate Louisville’s administration and football program for their efforts and cooperation.”

The two teams have met 31 times previously, with the first coming in 1922 and the most recent in 1998. The Cardinals hold a 19-12 advantage in the series.

The Hilltoppers are currently coached by former Cardinals quarterback Jeff Brohm.

Virginia Tech grabs control of ACC Coastal with win over Pitt

Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans (4) throws the ball against Pittsburgh in the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/John Heller)
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It’s not quite over, but No. 25 Virginia Tech will be firmly entrenched in the driver’s seat of the ACC Coastal heading into the final month of the regular season.

Thanks in large part to 406 yards passing from Jerod Evans, Tech was able to survive off a fourth-quarter rally by Pittsburgh and secure a 39-36 road win Thursday night.  Evans’ performance was easily the best of his career, and just the second time he’s gone for 300-plus yards.  The first (307) for the first-year starter came just two weeks ago in a loss to Syracuse.

Evans was also part of an offense that rolled up a season-high 556 yards on the night.

With the win, Tech improves to 4-1 in conference play, tied with North Carolina for the Coastal lead.  However, by virtue of the Hokies’ Oct. 8 win over the Tar Heels, they control their own destiny in the division.  Tech has three league games remaining — at Duke (0-3) and home games against Georgia Tech (1-3)  and Virginia (1-2) — and, if they win all three, they will represent the division in the ACC championship game.  UNC would need to win out plus see Tech lose at least one game in order to win the division.

Pitt fell to 3-2, with those two losses coming to VT and UNC, meaning they have essentially eliminated themselves from Coastal contention.  In a losing effort, Pitt running back James Conner contributed 141 yards and three scores on the ground on just 19 carries.

Jury awards former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary $7.3 million after defamation suit

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JANUARY 24: Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary stands in line with other mourners as they wait to pay respect to former Penn State Football coach Joe Paterno during a public viewing at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the campus of Penn State on January 24, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. Paterno, who was 85, died due to complications from lung cancer on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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A Pennsylvania jury has awarded former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary a whopping $7.3 million on Thursday evening in a case that found the school defamed him for his role in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the jury (which included two PSU employees) took just under four hours to render the verdict. While the lawsuit is not completely over because a judge has to rule on McQueary’s whistleblower claim, the verdict is nevertheless a blow to the Nittany Lions after the school was found guilty of defamation and misrepresentation in the case.

McQueary, a former quarterback in State College and an assistant under Joe Paterno, was at the center of the Sandusky scandal back in 2011. He allegedly witnessed Sandusky’s sexual assault of a boy in team facilities back in 2001 and reported what he saw to Paterno and others, but nothing was done about the crime. The revelations a key part in a case against Sandusky and eventually led to the ouster of Paterno and McQueary’s subsequent loss of his own job at the school.

The timing of the news is probably not what Penn State fans wanted to hear about this week after they celebrated the program’s biggest win since the scandal last Saturday in a come from behind victory over then-No. 2 Ohio State.