Why people are buying Notre Dame as College Football Playoff contender (and why some might hold off)

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It’s about that time of the year again when Notre Dame starts generating some buzz as a national title contender. This seems to happen every few years or so. If we’re not asking if Notre Dame will be back, we are asking if they will be in the championship conversation. Perhaps those questions are the same for some. Whatever the case is, the Irish appear to be entering the 2015 season with high expectations by many around the college football universe. Are you buying the Irish as a College Football Playoff contender, or are you holding off to see how they start the new season?

Associated Press college football writer Ralph Russo placed Notre Dame in a College Football Playoff semifinal, against Auburn (Ohio State and Baylor are in the other semifinal). Russo’s early summer bowl projections are not the only place you will see preseason hype for the Irish. Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports said in a recent mailbag post he views Notre Dame as a legit playoff contender. The always knowledgeable Matt Brown, of Sports On Earth, lauded the playoff talent on Notre Dame’s roster, suggesting Notre Dame may actually be underhyped. Fresh off Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU at the end of last season, Chicago Tribune writer Chris Hine set the bar for the Irish at the College Football Playoff level. Anything short of a playoff game won’t cut it for the Irish in 2015, Hine suggested. Travis Haney of ESPN.com reviewed first-time starting quarterbacks for this upcoming season’s supposed playoff contenders, which naturally included Malik Zaire of Notre Dame.

So here we are on June 10, with many respected names around college football’s media coverage dropping Notre Dame in the playoff conversation. Are they on the mark with the Irish, or is it a tad early to suggest Notre Dame will have everything in place to make a postseason run?

A quick review of what the Irish have shows why so many seem to be optimistic about Notre Dame in 2015. First, the Irish return 19 starters from last season. This does not account for the possible returns of potential starters Ishaq Williams at defensive end and KeiVarae Russell at defensive back. As mentioned above, Zaire is set to take control of the offense without anybody standing in his way following Everett Golson transferring to Florida State. Zaire has shown some promise, but now the job is his. Let’s see how he and head coach Brian Kelly handle it.

Notre Dame’s defense was hampered by injuries down the stretch of the season in 2014, and it showed. What will ultimately place Notre Dame in the playoff hunt will be an improvement in turnover margin. When the Irish defense was beat, it was torched. Last season the Irish forced 23 turnovers, but gave the football away 26 times. It was the third time Notre Dame had a negative turnover margin in a season since 2008. Not so coincidentally, when Notre Dame made a run to the BCS Championship Game in the 2012 season, the Irish had their highest turnover margin in that stretch, with a +8. The Irish will also have to improve inside the red zone. Last year the Irish entered the opponent’s 20-yard line 62 times. On 40 of those trips the Irish scored a touchdown, good for the 45th best red zone touchdown percentage in the country. Three of the four playoff teams had a higher percentage last season (Florida State was significantly lower).

If Notre Dame can improve in these two areas, then the schedule does set up well for the Irish to remain in the playoff discussion into November, but there are some significant hurdles along the way. Notre Dame opens the season at home in primetime against Texas, but the Longhorns are still in a bit of a rebuild state right now under Charlie Strong. Georgia Tech can be a stingy test early on for the Irish as well, but the defending ACC Coastal champs are on the road in week three. Notre Dame plays at Clemson in the first weekend in October, followed by a home game against Navy and another home game against USC. The Trojans could be dangerous, but you never know what will happen when they visit South Bend. A road game at Pittsburgh could also be tricky given the offensive talent the Panthers have (James Conner and  Tyler Boyd are among the best at their positions in the ACC, if not the country). Notre Dame’s season ends with games in Fenway Park against Boston College and on the road against always tough Stanford.

Under the new College Football Playoff model, one loss is not nearly as catastrophic as it may have been before for Notre Dame, but the margin for error is still small. The Irish not playing a conference championship game could lead to a similar fate as last season’s Big 12 co-champions from Baylor and TCU (although the Big 12’s strength of schedule was also a fair target, one that may not apply for Notre Dame).

Is Notre Dame for real in 2015? Yeah, they could be, but we will have a much better idea of what to make of Notre Dame by mid-October. If Notre Dame is 7-0 or 6-1, get ready for a Notre Dame playoff push coming down the stretch of the regular season.

Duke hires Chris Hampton as CBs coach

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David Cutcliffe‘s Duke football coaching staff is whole once again.

Friday, the Blue Devils announced the hiring of Chris Hampton as part of Cutcliffe’s 10-man on-field staff. Hampton will serve as the ACC program’s cornerbacks coach.

The newest assistant will replace Derek Jones, who left Duke earlier this month after a dozen seasons to take over as secondary coach/co-defensive coordinator/associate head coach at Texas Tech.

“We are excited for Coach Hampton to join us here at Duke,” the Duke football head coach said in a statement. “His experience both as a student-athlete and coach will pay immediate dividends within our program. Coach Hampton has earned the respect of many coaches and administrators within the coaching industry and I’m confident he will make a smooth transition into our defensive staff room.”

Hampton spent the past four seasons as the defensive backs/secondary coach at Tulane. That was Hampton’s first on-field job at the FBS level.

The opportunity with the Blue Devil will, obviously, serve as Hampton’s first on-field role at a Power Five school.

“I’m both honored and excited to be joining the Duke football family,” the newest Duke football assistant said in his statement. “I’m extremely thankful that Coach Cutcliffe has given me this opportunity and I’m looking forward to learning under him. I can’t wait to get to work with our current players as well start recruiting future Blue Devils.”

During his coaching career, Hampton has also served in stops at:

  • Arkansas State, 2008 (graduate assistant)
  • Georgia Tech, 2009-10 (graduate assistant)
  • Central Arkansas, 2011 (safeties coach)
  • McNeese State, 2012-15 (defensive backs coach)

Dismissed Ohio State DBs indicted by grand jury on felony rape, kidnapping charges

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There’s been a significant development involving two former members of the Ohio State football program.

Late last week, Franklin County (Ohio) prosecutor Ron O’Brien announced that Amir I. Riep, 21, and Jahsen L. Wint, also 21, have each been indicted by a grand jury on two counts of rape and one count of kidnapping. All of those charges are first-degree felonies.

“If convicted on these charges, both men face a maximum consecutive term of 33 years of incarceration as well as registration as sex offenders,” O’Brien stated.

The details of the alleged rapes earlier this year are disturbing, to say the least.

At approximately 9:45 p.m. on Feb. 4, the two Ohio State players “forced vaginal intercourse with another … by purposely compelling said victim to submit by force,” according to a complaint filed on Tuesday by the alleged victim against Riep and Wint.

Riep, according to the complaint, “held the victim in place, restraining the liberty of another,” and pushed the victim “down by the neck then held her in place with his hands and body, with the purpose to engage in sexual activity with and against the will of said victim.”

Wint, according to the complaint, physically held the victim “by the face” and prevented the victim from “getting away or getting his penis out of her mouth, with the purpose to engage in sexual activity with and against the will of said victim.”

The victim began to have consensual sex with Riep before she stopped and moved away from him, telling him that she “did not want to continue,” per the summary statement of facts in a Franklin County Municipal Court affidavit in support of probable cause. Wint then entered the room, and Riep asked if he could join before forcing her to have non-consensual sex, per the affidavit. Riep then held her in place while Wint forced oral sex on the victim, according to the summary statement of facts.

The Ohio State football program initially suspended the defensive backs. A day after arrest warrants were issued, the Buckeyes dismissed both players.

Riep (pictured) and Wint, who, through their attornies, have maintained their innocence, will be arraigned March 6.

Riep, a cornerback, appeared in 37 games during his time in the Ohio State football program. Wint, a safety, saw action in 35 games. Both players would’ve been entering their senior seasons with the Buckeyes.

Colorado confirms hiring of Karl Dorrell as head coach

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Courtesy of Colorado football, we officially have the most unexpected hiring of the 2019-20 coaching carousel.

To the surprise of most of the free world, word began to circulate Saturday that Karl Dorrell was the front-runner to replace Mel Tucker as the Colorado football head coach.  Sunday evening, the Buffaloes confirmed that Dorrell has indeed been named as the 27th full-time head coach in the program’s history.

The hiring serves as a reunion of sorts as Dorrell has twice spent time on staffs at Colorado football.  From 1995-98, Dorrell was CU’s offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.  Prior to that, he was the Buffs’ receivers coach in  1992-93.

“I’m excited to be back, it’s like coming home,” the new Colorado football head coach said in a statement. “The thing that excited me about this job is that my experience in the past here for the most part has been very successful. We had a lot of good teams, went to a lot of good bowl games. It’s a top-caliber program that has a lot of potential, and I’m excited to return it to that level.”

After being fired as the coordinator at Vanderbilt in December of 2014, Dorrell has spent the past five seasons in the NFL.  The California native was the receivers coach for the New York Jets from 2015-18.  This past season, he served in that same role with the Miami Dolphins.  He also held the title of assistant head coach with that organization.

Dorrell was also the head coach at UCLA for five seasons (2003-07).  He won either six or seven games in four of those five years.  The lone exception was a 10-win campaign in 2005.

Overall, he went 35-27 with the Bruins overall and 24-18 in Pac-12 play.

“I am excited that Karl Dorrell has agreed to become our head football coach,” athletic director Rick George said in his statement. “Karl has had great success as a college coach, both as a head coach and an assistant, and he knows the Pac-12 Conference and West Coast well. It was important that our next coach have CU ties, and Karl has those ties having worked at CU twice previously. Karl shares my passion for Colorado and our vision for winning championships. He will be a tremendous mentor and role model for our student-athletes, and he will provide great leadership for our program going forward.”

According to the school, Dorell, upon approval of the university’s Board of Regents, will sign a five-year contract worth “$18 million, in which the first-year salary would be $3.2 million and then increase by $200,000 annually.” In his final season in Boulder, Tucker was paid $2.4 million in guaranteed compensation.

By moving to Michigan State, Tucker more than doubled what he would’ve made as the Colorado football head coach in 2020.

NC State lands Penn State grad transfer DL Daniel Joseph

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The Wolfpack at NC State has grown by one.

In a tweet posted on Sunday, defensive end Daniel Joseph confirmed he would be transferring to Raleigh for the 2020 season. He’ll be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer.

Once upon a time a four-star recruit out of Illinois, Joseph announced he was leaving Penn State back in late January. He made it into 33 games for the Nittany Lions, mostly as a backup. All told he’ll leave Happy Valley with a grand total of 29 tackles, five sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery over three seasons.

While playing time likely was a big motivator, position coach Sean Spencer leaving for the NFL may also have contributed to the decision to head south.

Still, NC State landed a nice reinforcement in the trenches. The team struggled up front last season and have to hope some re-tooling will help going into 2020. Coastal Carolina DE transfer Jeffrey Gunter was expected to play a big role but he has found himself back in the transfer portal. It seems Joseph could be potentially taking his place.

Either way, the move comes just in the nick of time for Dave Doeren and company. The program starts spring practice on February 27.