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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

May 21, 2020

There is no place like Notre Dame.

That means a lot of different things to different people, but what it means to me is that Notre Dame is unlike any other university in America. The standard is set so high for them in every way. Whether it’s academics, athletics, or ethics, the expectations for Notre Dame are completely unique.

That’s why every decision that is going to be made regarding the academic calendar and when athletes can return to campus is going to be so heavily scrutinized. This isn’t just a football factory and it’s more than just a great academic institution. It’s a place where things are supposed to be done the right way.

But what is the right way or the right time to get students back on campus? When is the right time to get student-athletes back on campus to start training?

I don’t know the answer to that even though the NCAA gave an answer as to when football and basketball athletes can start voluntary athletic activities. They declared that it could happen on June 1 and some schools will have athletes back on that day. Ohio State plans to have athletes back on June 8.

Those might be the right decisions for those schools and they may be the wrong decisions. We’ll probably find out soon because June 1 is 10 days away. But I know that having Notre Dame athletes back on campus on June 1 would be the wrong decision. I know that because the standards at Notre Dame are different.

Any school that has a potential Covid-19 outbreak with their athletes is going to deal with a public relations nightmare. Multiply how bad it would be at Ohio State by about 10 times and that’s the level of nightmare it would be for Notre Dame.

Ohio State may have their “Real life Wednesdays”, but no one is under the impression that they are anything but a football factory. If they were viewed as putting the importance of football ahead of the healthy and safety of their players, it would be a bad look, but it could be explained because it’s expected that they are football first.

Notre Dame is supposed to be different. If they are putting the health and safety of their players below playing football during a pandemic, it would be the kind of thing that crushed the perception of the school. Irish football fans may be okay with taking that risk, but I doubt the people involved with the university are.

I don’t see any way Notre Dame is going to have their players taking part in strength and conditioning on campus at any time in the next couple of weeks. They wouldn’t take the risk not only for the student-athletes, but also for the reputation of the university.

I know people will be angry if Notre Dame falls behind other programs when it comes to preparation for the upcoming season, but that’s only looking at through a tiny lense. In the big picture, it would not be a smart move to be first (or close to it) when bringing athletes back.

Normally I would be critical of Notre Dame for being reactive rather than proactive when it comes to football, but in this case, I believe it’s the right call to wait a little longer than the ones who will be back to football at the start of June.

2. It was interesting to see Brian Kelly ranked as the fifth ranked head coach in the Power-5 according to CBS Sports. There’s some obvious reasons for it, though.

He’s won 33 games in the last three years and taken his team to the College Football Playoff. In a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of way, he’s done more in the last three years than Jimbo Fisher (22-15) and James Franklin (31 wins, but not CFP appearances) who typically get placed above Kelly on these lists.

It was a bit surprising to me to see him above Kirby Smart, though. It’s not just because Smart has won 36 games and been to a national championship game that he lost in overtime. I was surprised because Smart has beat Kelly head to head twice during that time.

I guess one could easily argue that Kelly is pretty even with Smart despite having less talent, but should Smart get penalized because he’s turned Georgia into a recruiting juggernaut that rivals Alabama? I don’t think so.

Kelly at six behind Smart sounds about right to me. If Kelly takes down Dabo Swinney this season, I’ll definitely feel differently.

3. After having some rough November’s from 2014-2017, Notre Dame has gone 9-0 the last two years in the final month of the regular season. If they go 3-1 this year, it’s probably even with going undefeated in the past two.

That’s because the players will be going through final exams during November. Maybe we’ll find out other schools will be going through the same thing with changes to the academic calendar for them, but I’m not sure if we’ll see that with three programs from southern states on the presumed schedule (Clemson, Louisville, and Georgia Tech).

The other program is USC and I would be surprised if they are going to move up anything in terms of their normal academic timeline.

I know the staff and the players are going to have to deal with the hand they are dealt under these atypical circumstances, but if November ends up being rougher this season, I think it’s fair to cut him and the team some slack given how stressful it will be.

4. Mark this down as something to remember before Notre Dame plays Pitt (yes, I’m pretty sure this game is going to happen):

Pitt has run 233 trick plays since 2017.

That’s an average of 5.97 a game over the last three years. They are going to have a great defensive line, make Notre Dame’s defense prepare for a ton of trick plays, and jump around before the fourth quarter even if they are losing by four touchdowns.

That’s what we know about Pitt in 2020.

5. Clark Lea spoke with 247Sports about how he evaluates linebackers and what he looks for at the position. Unsurprisingly, he gave a very thoughtful answer.

The most interesting thing he said was this:

“Our student-athletes, so much is demanded of their time in other areas. We want to make sure we have guys who are focused, that are task oriented, that have the resilience to get done what needs to be done in the classroom, study table, and tutoring environments so that everything we do in coaching them is centered around football.”

He continued on with this:

“We get these driven guys, when they come into our building, they don’t need someone to motivate them to go to class. What they need is a linebacker coach who can equip them with the skills that they need to be a national championship caliber unit and an NFL player some day.”

I know a lot of people have been critical of Lea when it comes to linebacker recruiting in 2021 and a lot of that criticism is fair. He clearly has a standard he is looking for at the position and it’s not exactly easy to find that level of student-athlete who is also athletic enough to develop into a productive player.

Is that too picky? Maybe. But at the same time his recipe for developing linebackers at Notre Dame has worked better than anyone who has coached the position in a very long time.

That and the fact he’s a damn good defensive coordinator earn him som leeway in recruiting. So even if he doesn’t have a good one or two on board yet, I’m going to feel pretty good about the linebacker or two who do choose Notre Dame in this cycle because Lea evaluated them.

6. Mike asked the question on the board earlier this week regardin how many people would want to attend games if there is a season. I wasn’t surprised one bit when the majority said they would.

It was expected because people who subscribe to ISD and follow the team and recruiting this closely are more than typical fans. I know because I run into typical fans of Notre Dame football from time to time and it’s always shocking to me how little they know about the team.

They might root for Notre Dame and maybe they watch every Saturday in the fall, but they don’t care about Bobby Taylor’s son's reaction to getting a Notre Dame offer. They might not even remember Bobby Taylor.

They don’t know who is competing for the Buck linebacker job this season. They probably don’t even know that it’s called the Buck linebacker.

They aren’t refreshing a page to find out updates on a recruitment or when a practice report is going to be posted. They just root for the jerseys and aren’t hardcore fans like most of the people who are reading this.

A lot of hardcore fans are going to always want to be at games no matter the circumstances. They are going to tune in every Saturday because they have been desperately waiting for it. It’s those other guys who aren’t eating, sleeping, and breathing Notre Dame who might not be at games or watching every Saturday. I’m not sure all of those people are going to be there when college football comes back.

I think everyone assumes that people are so desperate for sports that everyone who was interested before will come back, but I’m not sure it will be that simple. I do wonder if there will be a longer term impact on ticket sales, but also in overall interest.

Most of the people who subscribe to a website like this will always care. I’m just not sure about the ones who aren’t as hardcore and if casual will turn into infrequent.

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