BCS preview: Notre Dame's title shot finally comes into focus

977051.png

BCS preview: Notre Dame's title shot finally comes into focus

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Braxston Cave grew up a rabid Notre Dame fan, describing himself as the kind of guy who would throw his remote at the TV when things weren't going right for the Irish. The center was born two years after Notre Dame won its last National Championship, and was too young to remember the brushes with history of the early 1990's.

Cave is like every other member of Notre Dame nation. He's been waiting for this shot at a championship his whole life. Only on Monday, he'll get to have a hand in it.

"I don't think I can put that into words," Cave said. "Been waiting a long time. Not just Notre Dame, but the entire Notre Dame nation, the South Bend community, it'd be huge."

This Notre Dame team wasn't supposed to have a chance to win the school's ninth title. Nobody saw this opportunity coming, from the school's athletic director to its starting quarterback.

But here the Irish sit, one win away from the kind of glory that's eluded the program for the last quarter century. The last time this team won a title, it was Tony Rice taking snaps with the weight of Notre Dame nation on his shoulder.

"A championship for Notre Dame means you bring home the tradition," Rice said. "It's one of those things that it's hard to do, and being in an elite group of people that's done that -- shoot, you could say you did it."

For a program that lost its compass after Lou Holtz left, a win would mark a return to the "glory days," so to speak. While most Notre Dame players -- save team historian Louis Nix -- aren't aware of the specifics of their school's football past, there's a desire among these players to "get Notre Dame back to where it belongs."

That's a line that's been uttered by plenty of players over the last few weeks. Beat Alabama on Monday, and that goal will be accomplished. A win would solidify this group of players -- some hailing from the Charlie Weis era, others from Brian Kelly's early years -- as one of the best in school history.

"When you're a champion at other schools, you're a champion," Manti Te'o opined, "but when you're a champion at Notre Dame, you become a legend."

Will experience matter?

Notre Dame may have a history of championships, but not a single player on its roster was alive for the team's last title. Plenty of these players have seen pressure in high school along with a handful of games with Notre Dame. None of them have seen pressure like the BCS Championship.

For Alabama, Monday will mark the team's third appearance in a BCS Championship game in the last four years. Offensive lineman Barrett Jones played in the first two, which saw Alabama beat Texas in Pasadena and LSU in New Orleans.

"I think that's probably a little overplayed to be honest," Jones said of the experience factor. "I think certainly if it helps at all its probably from a preparation standpoint. The coaching staff has a very good idea on the best way of how to prepare with a long layoff. As far as the actual experience, once you get there, its about who plays a better game, not even who the better team is, just who plays a better game. I think thats a little overdone.

But having past championship games upon which to draw certainly won't hurt Alabama, especially if Notre Dame starts playing tight. For Notre Dame to win, they can't be overwhelmed by the moment -- which is something that's not of much concern for Alabama.

How Alabama could win

The Tide have advantages on offense and special teams over Notre Dame, while there are arguments to be made in favor of both Notre Dame and Alabama's defense as being superior.

If there's an Achilles' heel for Notre Dame, it's special teams. Even if the Irish defense shuts down running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, it may not matter if Alabama starts flipping the field through good punt or kickoff returns. It's much easier for those two backs -- and quarterback A.J. McCarron, too -- to lead Alabama to points on a 50-yard field than a 75 or 80-yard one.

For Alabama, the formula is simple: Create holes for Lacy and Yeldon and strike early. If Alabama sets the tone early with a dominant first-quarter drive, the floodgates could very well open. And if that happens, the game may be decided in the first 15 minutes.

"If you're going to play in the National Championship, you'd better start fast," Te'o said. "It's not, OK, you guys, we've got to start fast -- it's a must, especially since we're going up against a team that's really, really good."

The Jones-Nix matchup is the key to Monday's trench battle. If Jones can't handle Nix on his own, Alabama may have to double-team him, leaving Prince Shembo or Stephon Tuitt with better opportunities to get to McCarron in the backfield. Plus, if Alabama can't handle Nix, it probably means Notre Dame's doing a good job stopping the run, too.

If those holes aren't plugged up, though, Notre Dame's defense will be in trouble.

"People were talking about how do you bring down Lacy, how do you bring down those backs. You don't," Kelly said. "If there's big holes, I don't know about you guys, we ain't tackling them. We're not going to get them on the ground."

Defensively, Alabama's goal is to turn quarterback Everett Golson into a one-dimensional quarterback. If Alabama is successful in those efforts, he'll be forced to take on the Tide's secondary without the option to scramble.

"That's when he gets slowed down," safety Vinnie Sunseri explained. "He's a great athlete, a great quarterback when he's able to be mobile and get out of the pocket. If you can keep him in the pocket, that really limits him."

Another point, too: With so much time to prepare, Alabama is going to throw plenty of blitzes at Golson he's never seen on film. While Golson showed plenty of poise in the latter half of the season, if he's getting drilled or failing to check out of plays thanks to blitz packages he's totally unfamiliar with, the redshirt freshman very well could get rattled. Last time that happened, Golson threw two interceptions and was yanked in the second quarter against Michigan.

How Notre Dame could win

First and foremost, Notre Dame has to throw the initial haymaker. Cierre Wood did it against Oklahoma, gouging the Sooners' defense for a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

"That takes the air out of you, when a guy splits your defense and runs for a touchdown like that coming out of the backfield, no doubt about it," Alabama defensive end Damion Square said.

Texas A&M got out to a 20-0 first-quarter lead in its upset win over Alabama in November. Notre Dame doesn't need that level of success, but a lead after 15 minutes would do wonders for the team's confidence.

From there, if Notre Dame's offense is to have any success, it'll be because Wood and Theo Riddick are able to carve out some solid gains on the ground. That way, even if Alabama contains Golson in the pocket, he'll at least have the threat of play action to throw off the Tide's secondary.

That's something far easier said than done, though.

"They don't get moved," Riddick said of Alabama's defensive line. "That's a huge problem if you can't move the front four and create holes. You just cannot become one-dimensional against this team."

Notre Dame isn't likely to win this game in a blowout. But one thing working in the team's favor is all the close games that turned into wins throughout the 2012 season -- and that creates a we've-been-here-before mentality. It's not like Alabama hasn't won close games, either (see wins vs. LSU and Georgia) but Notre Dame is more battle-tested, even if those battles were often fought against lesser competition.

If Notre Dame can stay within striking distance, they may be in good shape for a late knockdown. Coming back from a two-touchdown deficit may have worked against Pittsburgh, but chances are it won't against Alabama.

"I don't know if we're good enough to beat Alabama," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin explained, "but if we're good enough to beat Alabama, I think our kids have shown that they're a pretty resilient bunch, and they're pretty battle tested whether it be home or away."

So that's the formula: Run the ball, keep it close on defense and see if Golson can make a big play or two to turn things in Notre Dame's favor.

If Notre Dame can do that, as Nix said, "it could be a game for the ages."

Notre Dame lands commitments from four-star twins Justin, Jayson Ademilola

Notre Dame lands commitments from four-star twins Justin, Jayson Ademilola

Notre Dame on Sunday earned verbal commitments from Jersey City, N.J. twins Justin and Jayson Ademilola. 

Justin Ademilola is rated by 247 Sports as a four-star outside linebacker and Jayson Ademilola is a four-star defensive end. Both brothers play at St. Peters Prep, the same high school at which Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush played. 

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who sends a tweet reading #WeAreND following a verbal commitment, had to alter his recruiting touchdown dance a bit:

Notre Dame now has four verbal commitments to its 2018 recruiting class: Four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Gibsonia, Penn.), four-star running back Markese Stepp (Indianapolis) and the Ademilola twins. 

ESPN 1000 to be Notre Dame football, men's basketball flagship radio station

ESPN 1000 to be Notre Dame football, men's basketball flagship radio station

ESPN 1000 is Chicago's new flagship radio station for Notre Dame football and men's basketball broadcasts, with a multi-year agreeement being announced Tuesday. 

Notre Dame previously had its games broadcast on ESPN 1000 from 1999-2005. As part of the deal, IMG will produce Notre Dame football broadcasts, while ESPN will produce men's basketball games. 

"We are pleased to be partnering with Chicagoland’s leader in sports, ESPN 1000," Dan Skendzel, Notre Dame’s senior associate athletics director for media operations and branding, said. "In addition to the live broadcasts of Notre Dame football and basketball games, in-depth programming in the form of the Jack Swarbrick, Brian Kelly and Mike Brey Shows will now be available on Chicago radio.”

ESPN 1000's first Notre Dame game will be the Irish's season opener Sept. 4 against Texas. 

“In the world of college sports, there is nothing more prestigious to a broadcaster than teaming with Notre Dame,” Jim Pastor, general manager, ESPN Chicago 1000, said. “Returning Notre Dame football and basketball to our airwaves is great news for their legion of fans in Chicago and a great addition to ESPN 1000’s menu of championship play by play offerings.”

Notre Dame receiver Corey Robinson to step away from playing, will remain with program

Notre Dame receiver Corey Robinson to step away from playing, will remain with program

Corey Robinson announced Wednesday he’s stepping away from his Notre Dame football playing career due to multiple concussions. 

Robinson, a rising senior wide receiver, suffered his third concussion in 12 months during spring practice earlier this year and met with a head injury specialist in April. He was elected Notre Dame’s student body president in February, founded “One Shirt, One Body” and, among other accomplishments, sang the national anthem before a Chicago Bulls-Milwaukee Bucks game in April. 

Robinson did not participate in Notre Dame’s summer workouts, which began last weekend. Robinson wore his No. 88 jersey during Notre Dame’s Blue and Gold Game in mid-April but did not participate in the annual scrimmage. 

"After much contemplation and prayer, I have decided not to continue playing football due to multiple concussions," Robinson said. "I couldn't have come to this difficult personal decision without the incredible support from so many within the Notre Dame football program. I am extremely thankful to coach (Brian) Kelly and his staff for the life-changing opportunity to play football at the greatest university in the world. I will continue to help our team as a student assistant and look forward to a great senior year."

The San Antonio native, former four-star recruit and son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson caught 16 passes for 200 yards with a touchdown as a junior in 2015. It was a steep drop-off from his promising 40 catches, 539 yards and five touchdowns in 2014, though he would’ve provided valuable experience to a young Irish receiving corps had he returned to play this fall. 

With Robinson officially out of the picture, Notre Dame will lean on redshirt junior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. and redshirt freshman receiver Miles Boykin, as well as sophomore tight end Alize Jones, to play prominent roles as the team’s boundary-side receiver this fall. 

The player-to-student assistant plan is one followed in the Kelly era by former defensive lineman Tony Springmann, offensive lineman Conor Hanratty and linebacker/defensive end Doug Randolph. 

Robinson admitted in February he considered graduating early and giving up football — as former offensive lineman Steve Elmer did to pursue a job opportunity in Washington D.C. — but said at the time he wasn’t ready to give up his senior year of college. Even in walking away from football, though, Robinson can be pointed to as an example of what Notre Dame wants from its student-athletes after he achieved success on the field, in the classroom and in the community.

"This was an extremely tough decision for Corey," Kelly said. "He's such a committed kid to everything he does -- whether it be academics, football, community service or campus leadership initiatives -- that he wanted to finish his four-year career on the field. He was so excited to lead a group of young receivers this fall.

"While that won't happen in the manner Corey initially intended, he will remain involved with the program on a day-to-day basis as a student assistant. He sets a remarkable example for all of our players -- not only how to represent yourself on and off the field but also how working hard through adversity can lead to tremendous success."