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.

USC makes hiring of Virginia’s Vic So’oto official

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The massive renovation of Clay Helton’s USC football coaching staff has taken another official step.

Last week, it was reported that USC was expected to poach Vic So’oto from Virginia.  As Clint Sintim‘s hiring as So’oto’s replacement was announced a few days later, the latter’s move to the Trojans was a mere formality.

Tuesday, USC football confirmed So’oto’s addition to Clay Helton’s staff.  As he did with the ‘Hoos, So’oto will serve as the Trojans’ defensive line coach.

The 32-year-old So’oto was the line coach at Virginia for the past three seasons.  Prior to that, he was a defensive graduate assistant at the ACC program.

So’oto played his college football at BYU, ending his four-year career in 2010.  After his NFL career ended, So’oto began his collegiate coaching career as a football intern at his alma mater.

For those unaware, So’oto is the second cousin of USC football legend Junior Seau.

LSU confirms hiring of Scott Linehan as new passing-game coordinator

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LSU football has officially replaced one of the hottest young coaches in the sport.

Not long after LSU football claimed the 2019 national championship, Joe Brady left to take over as the offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Earlier this month, it was reported that Scott Linehan was expected to be hired as Brady’s successor.

Tuesday, LSU confirmed that Linehan has indeed been named by Ed Orgeron as the Tigers’ new passing-game coordinator. The 56-year-old Linehan has spent the past 17 seasons he’s been a coach at the NFL level.

Linehan was out of coaching this past season.

“Scott brings a wealth of knowledge to our offense,” the LSU football head coach said in a statement. “We wanted to bring in someone who will expand our passing game and with Scott’s experience as an NFL head coach and offensive coordinator we feel this is the best move for our offense. After talking to numerous people with NFL experience and interviewing Scott we knew he was the right fit for the LSU Tigers.”

In 13 of those seasons in the NFL, Linehan served as an offensive coordinator.

  • Dallas Cowboys, 2015-18
  • Detroit Lions, 2009-13
  • Miami Dolphins, 2005
  • Minnesota Vikings, 2002-04

In the other four NFL seasons in which he wasn’t a coordinator, Linehan was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams (2006-08) and passing-game coordinator for the Cowboys (2014).

Linehan’s last job at the collegiate level came as the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Louisville (1999-2001). From 1996-98, he was the coordinator at Washington.

American announces 2020 schedule

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The American Athletic Conference will again play football in 2020, the conference confirmed on Tuesday.

The American revealed its 2020 conference schedule, a 44-game slate that completes the 88 total games AAC teams will play in 2020. As a reminder, UConn is no longer an American member, meaning the conference will have 11 football-playing members for the foreseeable future. All 11 teams will still play an 8-game league schedule, and the conference will still hold a title game.

The 2020 season will also be the conference’s first under the new rights agreement it struck with ESPN in March. As such, at least 40 American home games will be shown on the ESPN family of networks, and at least half of those will be on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. The conference will play a total of 12 games on Thursday or Friday nights.

“We are excited to announce our 2020 schedule as we enter the next phase of our longstanding relationship with ESPN,” said commissioner Mike Aresco. “With the continued success our schools have had, I have no doubt that we will once again provide our fans, and ESPN, with compelling matchups throughout the season in both conference and nonconference play. We look forward to another outstanding season of American Athletic Conference football.”

The season will begin on Saturday, Aug. 29 when Navy “hosts” Notre Dame at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. That game will be shown on ESPN with College GameDay in tow as part of the network’s season kick-off effort. While the full schedule can be viewed here, highlights include:

  • North Carolina at UCF, Sept. 4 (Friday)
  • South Florida at Texas, Sept. 5
  • Temple at Miami, Sept. 5
  • Houston at Washington State, Sept. 12
  • Cincinnati at Nebraska, Sept. 26
  • TCU at SMU, Sept. 26
  • Memphis at SMU, Oct. 1 (Thursday)
  • UCF at Memphis, Oct. 16 (Friday)
  • Memphis at Cincinnati, Oct. 31
  • Memphis at Navy, Nov. 14
  • Cincinnati at UCF, Nov. 21
  • UCF at South Florida, Nov. 27 (Friday)

The 2020 American season will conclude with the sixth annual American Championship on Saturday, Dec. 5.

Ohio State CB Sevyn Banks to wear No. 7

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George Costanza was never much of a college football fan. He was a New Yorker, after all. But he was a fan of the No. 7, and so he would have a new favorite college football player in 2020.

A product of Orlando’s Jones High School, Sevyn Banks has been a member of Ohio State’s defensive backfield since 2018. The former 4-star recruit has received limited playing time in the Buckeyes’ loaded defensive backfield, but figures to compete for a starting spot in 2020.

And now he’ll do so in his namesake number.

Banks announced Monday he will switch from No. 12 to No. 7 for the upcoming season.

The No. 7 had been claimed by linebacker Teradja Mitchell, who is now switching to No. 3, opening No. 7 for, well, Sevyn.

Banks appeared in all 14 games for Ohio State last season, collecting 11 tackles and one interception.

He’ll hope to get more burn in 2020, with some support from a fictional New Yorker.