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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

May 6, 2020

If I had to describe Jack Swarbrick’s comments about there being a football season in 2020, I think I could do it in two words: cautiously optimistic.

Cautiously optimistic is not confident, but it’s certainly not bleak. With talk of football being delayed until 2021 seeming like a possibility only a few weeks ago, I’ll take cautiously optimistic when it comes to playing football this fall.

There are definitely a lot of things to be figured out before teams even start practicing, but if there is one thing to be taken from Swarbrick’s media availability yesterday, the conference commissioners and school athletic directors have been actively talking in an attempt to be prepared for whatever may happen.

Included in that is the possibility that conferences may decide to play conference only schedules. Here is the answer Swarbrick gave on it when asked where that would leave Notre Dame as an independent:

I don’t want to speak for the conference commissioners, but I think they’re considering every option. And I would be surprised if there’s any conference that hasn’t looked at a conference-only alternative.
We are very comfortable that if it goes that way, that we’ll be fine. That we’ll be able to play a high-quality, full schedule the same number of games that other teams would play. My hope and one of the things I’ve sort of encouraged a little bit in my conversations is, whether a possible model is this conference schedule plus-one; there’s so many great sort of plus-one games, traditional rivalries that occur among schools. Great rivalries in the state of Florida, for example; Clemson-South Carolina.
Can you build it? Protect those and other than that one game, you build your schedule around conferences. We would love Wisconsin to still be able to play Notre Dame in Lambeau this year, or Arkansas to still visit. So we just have to see how that evolves.
I am not concerned about our ability to have a challenging, robust schedule, even if the conferences go to a conference-only model.

Maybe this is me assuming too much, but I’d have to think that the reason for his confidence has to do with keeping the ACC scheduling agreement in place. Though Notre Dame is independent, their games with ACC programs (they have six scheduled this season) would still happen.

One reason why I see that happening is that the conference already has to deal with travel to places like Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Boston College. The conference map is very spread out so it’s not like taking Notre Dame out of the equation helps make travel plans less complicated.

But the biggest reason is that as much as Notre Dame needs the ACC for their other sports, the ACC needs Notre Dame in football.

They need the additional ticket sales for road games. Pittsburgh isn’t getting the same benefit when Virginia Tech comes to town. Even if fans in the stands are taken off the table, programs want those matchups with Notre Dame because for many of them, it may be one of their few chances to not only be on a national broadcast, but also get ratings on a national broadcast.

Virginia vs Wake Forest is not moving the needle. Pretty much every matchup in the conference outside of one with Clemson or Florida State does not drive ratings on a consistent basis. Notre Dame does.

It would be foolish for them to throw any of that away, but maybe just as important for the ACC as a conference is to have another power program on the schedule because if you’re looking at the outlook right now, it’s Clemson and no one else in the conference.

The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel recently came out with an updated way-too-early top-25 and North Carolina is the only other program to be included aside from the Tigers. Even that is more of a hopeful projection than anything guaranteed for the Tar Heels and with no guarantee that there will be conference championship games this season, they might not even play Clemson in 2020.

The only team who’s consistently featured in the top-25 on Clemson’s schedule this season? That would be Notre Dame.

Let’s say the ACC decided not to play Notre Dame this year and Clemson doesn’t visit South Bend in November (or whenever the game might be scheduled). That would leave zero margin for error if Clemson somehow loses in the regular season and they almost did last season to North Carolina and have lost to inferior Syracuse and Pitt teams in recent years.

No matter how they decided to pick the College Football Playoff this upcoming season, I just don’t see them rewarding a team with a loss that hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent all year. That’s the situation Clemson could find themselves in if the ACC decided to not play Notre Dame.

Who knows how things are going to work themselves out with others who are scheduled to play Notre Dame in 2020, but the “conference schedule plus one” that Swarbrick suggested seems more likely to me, at least if that plus one is Notre Dame.

There’s just too much value for these programs to play Notre Dame for them to pass up if they are already assuming the risks of playing football this fall. I don’t see the Irish having to play BYU multiple times or finally having to play FCS programs. Programs will jump in if others jump out because the benefits are too great for Notre Dame’s opponents.

2. I don’t see any way Navy is not on the schedule no matter where the game is played. I also can’t see any way that the game is going to be played in Ireland.

I sincerely hope that Navy has made alternative plans outside of Ireland and that they are not admitting publicly that the game isn’t going to be played there for financial reasons. I’d imagine if Navy backed out before the stadium or the organizers in Ireland did, it may mean a financial penalty or at least them possibly having to give money back. I’m sure they don’t want to do that and can’t afford to do that.

In that sense, I get why they are still saying they are still planning to play the game there. I also understand why Notre Dame doesn’t say anything because they may have to deal with similar issues if they were to publicly back out of an agreement to play the game.

It will play itself out over time, but there is no way Notre Dame is thinking they are bringing people over to Ireland in August. I can’t see any scenario where the game happens as originally planned.

3. I asked this hypothetical on Power Hour and it’s something I have thought about if the season is being played: what happens if a college football player tests positive for Covid-19 during the season? With Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, that became a catalyst for not only the NBA to shut down, but for all sports and most of the country to close down.

How are things going to be different if a Notre Dame player tests positive during the season? Will the team have to shut it down? Will the other teams they have played in recent weeks have to do the same? Is it something that will force a conference to shut things down or at least put the season on hiatus?

This is why cautiously optimistic seems about the best that anyone can hope for right now because things could be going great and then we’ll have to see the reaction of programs if something like this happens. It could create a domino effect like what happened with the NBA and if it doesn’t, things could become more problematic if some schools continue to play.

4. I don’t think Notre Dame could have done anything differently to gain a commitment from running back Will Shipley‍. Sometimes things just don’t work out in the favor of Notre Dame and the pandemic was definitely a huge factor in this recruitment. Things could have been a lot different if Shipley was able to get on campus one or two more times.

They certainly could have prepared differently once they knew the pandemic was going to not allow him to be able to return to campus. Going all in on Shipley would have been fine if things were normal, but because they definitely are not at the moment, Notre Dame needed to prepare for the possibility that this was going to hurt their chances.

I’m not sure why they weren’t sending out offers six weeks ago to some of these other backs. I think they may be haunted by not going harder after Corey Kiner‍ as well (who I have rated as a better prospect than Shipley). Even if they had to explain it to Shipley, I don’t see how he could have not been okay with it considering the circumstances.

If Lance Taylor is somehow able to land a prospect that is of the caliber of the recently offered LJ Johnson Jr‍, then losing Shipley will become an afterthought. Johnson is a great inside runner than runs with power. He’s a much different back than Shipley, but every bit Shipley’s equal as a prospect in my opinion.

Sometimes not landing the more coveted prospect ends up working out okay too. Josh Adams was seen as more of a consolation prize when he committed with many hoping Notre Dame would land Soso Jamabo in the 2015 cycle. Adams ended up being the much better player with 3,201 career yards to Jamabo’s 1,170.

We’ll see how it plays out, but there is no denying that losing out on Shipley and not having more of a backup plan in place is a bad look right now.

5. This Bruce Feldman piece on quarterbacks who are expected to be in the 2021 NFL Draft was interesting. I think it says a lot about how Ian Book is viewed as a prospect for the next level that only one of the panel of 15 mentioned him as someone who has a chance to become a top draft pick.

That was ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, who covered the Camping World Bowl. On the positive side, it’s a good thing that Orlovsky mentioned Book because he had to spend a lot of time watching him play in preparation for calling the bowl game. So if some others do the same when it comes to draft time, maybe he’ll be seen more favorably.

On the other hand, he’s going into the season as someone who is not viewed anywhere close to other top quarterbacks as a pro prospect. And I’m sure many of the people surveyed by Feldman have only seen Book a handful of times without studying him and three of those times would have been versus Clemson, at Georgia, and at Michigan.

When you don’t have the biggest arm or are the biggest guy in the pocket, the big games matter a bit more. Playing well against Wisconsin’s defense (if that game is played) is the kind of thing that can help build some buzz that doesn’t currently exist right now for Book.

6. Mike Mickens didn’t exactly arrive in a position to make an immediate impact in recruiting. He was hired later in the process and wasn’t able to meet face to face with any cornerback recruits who had been offered in the month of March.

Aside from texts and social media, he’s been confined to things like Zoom and FaceTime to make a connection with recruits.

Even though that’s been the case, he still was able to land a 4-star cornerback, Philip Riley‍, who was only offered just over a month ago.

This doesn’t mean Mickens is going to be a great recruiter at Notre Dame just like Lance Taylor not landing Shipley doesn’t make him a bad one. It does mean that Mickens has been putting in the work, though.

Let’s see the impact he can have once he gets to meet face to face with recruits, but if he can pull another cornerback while utilizing virtual visits, then maybe it is a sign that Brian Kelly hired someone who is going to recruit a critical position much better than his predecessors.

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