Story Horse? (What's Goin' On?)
2014 was supposed to be the year for Everett Golson. And in some ways, it was. 37 touchdowns. 3,445 passing yards. But the Irish enter the off-season with question marks at the position, as Golson's starting job was subtly yanked at the end of the year and given to a redshirt freshman, Malik Zaire. The low point for Golson was a five-turnover "debacle in the desert" against Arizona State, but he didn't start losing time until the last game of the regular season. As Zaire started to see the field, he quickly settled in and started to shine.
The downfall of Golson in 2014 mirrored the career of Devin Gardner in many ways. The problem started with a leaky right side of the line, and along the way a little too much was asked of a "do it all" quarterback - in Golson's case, rollouts to his left (trying to avoid pressure) and throwing into some of the better pass defenses in the country. But there was a lot more Golson could have done, and Kelly made a point of it in post-game press conferences.
[Reporter]: I know [all the turnovers] are not on Golson ...
Brian Kelly: Why aren't they all on Golson?
[Reporter] ... the pick-six went off Robinson's hands ... not all six turnovers are on Golson ... but the fumbles were a little sloppy ... how do you work with him?
Kelly [exasperated]: We've been working with him ... sooner or later, he's got to take it on himself to take care of the football. I don't know what else to do. We're at the point where it hurt us in the game, obviously. He knows it.
By the time Zaire was ready, he was playing. A bit inaccurate on the deep ball, but with a cannon of an arm, Zaire adds a physical (read: 230 lbs.) and sturdy element that Golson lacks. Whether Everett returns to form - or transfers - will be a subplot of what is otherwise a harmonious offense.
Sláinte! (Health! as a toast)
If anything could go wrong, it probably did for Notre Dame this year on defense. Well, no, the star middle linebacker Joe Schmidt did not discover he had a fake girlfriend, but there were 11 season-ending injuries on defense, 3 suspensions, 14 injuries total, and only three players who started every game. Unsurprisingly, this was a bad combo as Notre Dame gave up plenty of points to teams like Arizona State (55), Northwestern (43), and Southern Cal (49) late in the year.
Still, despite the almost 30 points allowed per game, it was a promising inaugural season for DC Brian Van Gorder. The defense adopted an aggressive style that fit their athleticism well, and the ability to develop defensive stars was still in full force. A former walk-on grew into a starring role at middle linebacker. Cole Luke had a starting spot thrust on him and played very well. Über-athletic safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate were benched late in the year to motivate them to play harder, and they responded in a bowl win over LSU. It was the best of a bad situation in 2014, but things might turn around very, very quickly.
On me tod. (Riding the bars solo)
What's standing in Notre Dame's way? Well, luck, first of all. They've had terrible luck the past few seasons, but they're getting to a point where their depth will make them impervious to a normal amount of attrition. Also, the offensive line was not multiple, which meant that Kelly could not rely on a diverse run game to drive the ball down the field. Seeing as they play a lot of elite secondaries next year, the line will be important for their success, and could end up being their Achilles heel. On the defensive side, they may not have any pass rush without blitzing.
But it's hard not to see Brian Kelly breaking the 10-win mark for only the second time in his Notre Dame career. This team is one of the most talented in the country, their schedule's a bit easier, and the offense has at least a half-dozen good pass-catchers. The closer one looks at this Irish team, the more they look capable of winning a championship if everything goes right. The only thing they haven't had is some luck of the Irish.
Hitting the Links Won't Forget 31-0
Recruiting is picking up steam for Ohio State.
A great piece by Ian Boyd, this breaks down what to expect from a Harbaugh team.
A few notes: Florida State led with 11 players on the list. The top four running backs are all B1G. There are 11 linemen in the top 40, and only one belongs to the SEC. Overall, 27 linemen, with 6 in the SEC, 6 in the Pac-12, 6 in the Big Ten, 5 in the ACC, and 3 in the Big 12. Every ACC lineman on this list plays for Florida State, with the exception of Vic Beasley.
At the top of the list are three teams from the playoff. Guess which ones. Yep, all but Ohio State.
LSU will be an interesting team in the West, with turnover on the defensive staff, new schemes on that side and an ongoing black hole at quarterback. But, there's also Leonard Fournette, who ran for 1,034 rushing yards with 289 in the last two games.
This will be Alabama's fifth consecutive recruiting title.
South Carolina will certainly have its work cut out to stay level with teams like Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida. They lose their starting quarterback, running back, and two very good offensive linemen. Tennessee, meanwhile, is stockpiling a lot of talent, Florida is revamping its offense, and Kentucky gets a year older and more experienced.
Iowa needs to find some answers on the offensive line and at running back. In the passing game, Tevaun Smith looked good and Jake Duzey's a very underrated pass-catching tight end. But there will have to be more talent and speed for the offense to build on.
Tim Beckman was slow out of the gate in firing his DL coach and special teams coordinator, but he was close to getting a fantastic hire here with Craig Kuligowski. Illinois lured him with a promotion to co-coordinator, but Kuligowski's long career alongside Gary Pinkel and the real possibility of Illinois' staff being axed after just another season were big roadblocks. But this was a step in the right direction for Illinois.
Andy Staples calls the Big Ten East and the Pac-12 South fascinating divisions to watch, and points out one game he's looking forward to more than any other.
An interesting browse, but almost bare of Big Ten teams. Both Florida and Alabama have back-to-back seasons included.
The two schools traded some barbs on Twitter this past week, and yesterday a three-star tight end switched his commitment from Pitt to Penn State.