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.

Temple WR Sean Ryan immediately eligible at West Virginia

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In his first season in Morgantown, Neal Brown will have a new offensive toy with which to play as West Virginia heads into the 2019 season.

Early on in the offseason, Sean Ryan opted to transfer from Temple and continue his collegiate playing career elsewhere.  In April, the wide receiver settled on WVU as his next elsewhere, announcing on Twitter that he would be transferring to the Mountaineers.

With the start of a new campaign eight days away, it’s being reported that Ryan has been granted an immediate-eligibility waiver that will allow him to see the field in 2019 for the Big 12 school.

https://mobile.twitter.com/GAllanTaylor/status/1164998952040783884

The granting of the waiver is very likely due to the fact that Temple went through some significant coaching upheaval following the end of the 2018 season.

As a true freshman this past season, Ryan played in 10 games.  In that extended action, the 6-4, 195-pound receiver from Brooklyn, NY, caught 12 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown for the Owls.

Illinois beats out Florida, Nebraska, Texas for Miami transfer Derrick Smith

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Some will say that this could be one of the Fighting Illini’s only Power Five wins in 2019, but you won’t hear that from us.

Aug.13, Derrick Smith tweeted that, “effective today, I would like to inform [Miami Nation], I am no longer on the University of Miami football team.” Over the weekend, Smith took to Twitter again to reveal that four schools are under consideration as a potential landing spot — Florida, Illinois, Nebraska and Texas. In the same tweet, the third-year junior defensive back indicated that a new school will be picked at some point this week.

Friday evening, Smith revealed that he will continue his collegiate playing career for Lovie Smith and the Illini.

It’s believed Smith will be ineligible to play immediately for his new team.  He would, though, have two years of eligibility he can use beginning with the 2020 season.

The Orange Park, Fla., native came to The U as a three-star member of the football program’s 2017 recruiting class. The past two seasons, Smith saw action in 25 of the Hurricanes’ 26 games and was credited with 24 tackles, 1½ of which were for a loss.

Prior to his decision to leave, Smith was expected to play an expanded role in the Hurricanes’ secondary this coming season.

Boise State down a few more freshmen as QB Kaiden Bennett and RB Keegan Duncan leave team

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Boise State’s once impressive Class of 2019 is dwindling much quicker than head coach Bryan Harsin would like just as the season arrives on the blue turf.

As per the Idaho Statesman, freshman quarterback Kaiden Bennett and tailback Keegan Duncan have both left the team. In addition to those names, as many as three other members from the most recent recruiting class could fail to suit up for the program this fall.

Bennett was one of several quarterbacks battling for the starting job to succeed Brett Rypien at Boise State so his likely transfer out seems like a clear indication that one of Chase Cord, Jaylon Henderson or even freshman Hank Bachmeier will be the starter when the team opens against Florida State in Jacksonville. While the three-star recruit from Folsom, California was considered a long shot in the race, his departure may just be the first of several after Harsin names a starter.

The loss of Duncan can’t be overlook either as he was considered to be one of the best recruits in the state of Idaho during his senior season and could have provided depth in a fairly young tailback room this season.

Fellow freshman D.K. Blaylock also left the team this month and two junior college transfers have not made it to campus yet according to the Statesman.

Boise State had signed the top class in the Mountain West in February according to 247Sports and a top 50 group nationally but it appears that highly touted group won’t be making quite the impact many expected after these most recent defections.

Penn State confirms Sean Clifford will be starter at quarterback

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James Franklin has his replacement for Trace McSorley at quarterback and it’s the guy everybody could have predicted for the past several months.

In the latest in a long line of QB decisions around college football this week, redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford will indeed be the Nittany Lions starter when the team opens their season against Idaho on Aug. 31.

Clifford was tabbed by many as McSorley’s replacement almost as soon as last year’s fellow backup, Tommy Stevens, announced his plans to transfer to Mississippi State. While the two were both expected to battle it out throughout August to become PSU’s starter, both will wind up taking the first snaps for their respective programs after Stevens was named QB1 for the Bulldogs on Thursday by ex-Nittany Lions OC Joe Moorhead.

As for Clifford, he beat out redshirt freshman Will Levis for the gig and will have a high bar to clear leading a team many consider as a dark horse to win the Big Ten. As McSorley’s backup in 2018, he threw just seven passes in mop-up duty but completed five for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Those career numbers are about to make a significant jump in the coming weeks as Clifford starts a new chapter in State College.