Notre Dame notebook: Wrapping up the week in South Florida

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Notre Dame notebook: Wrapping up the week in South Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's taken what feels like eons, but Notre Dame will play its first football game since Nov. 24 tonight. Wrapping up a few notes from the week in South Florida:
How much progress has Golson made?
Everett Golson has the respect of an Alabama defense that knows what it's like to be stung by a mobile quarterback. He's nowhere near the level of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, but from a basic standpoint Alabama wants to do to him what they couldn't do against the eventual Heisman Trophy winner.
The unknown here, at least for those outside of Notre Dame's players and coaches, is how much Golson has improved in these last six weeks. After guiding Notre Dame to a win at Oklahoma in late October, Golson's confidence -- and his team's confidence in him -- took off. It didn't hurt, either, that he faced a string of below-average defenses after OU.
At the least, Golson's done a good job taking care of the football this year. But he'll have to do more than that against Alabama, and may even be tasked with winning the game for Notre Dame.
Whatever improvements Golson has made -- namely, in the ability to run an expanded playbook, with plenty of looks Alabama hasn't seen on tape -- may be key if Notre Dame has a shot at winning tonight.
A chance to show off for Wood
Cierre Wood's goal is to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball, since he hardly gets the consistent carries he's pined for all season. If this is Wood's final game in a Notre Dame uniform -- he said he'll decide whether to enter the NFL Draft after the BCS Championship -- he could certainly help his stock with a few gouging runs against Alabama's defense.
This is as prominent of a stage as he'll get. And not only could he show off for NFL teams, he could leave plenty of analysts scratching their heads as to why Wood didn't get more carries during the season.
Wood's a confident guy, whose swagger only grows every time he touches the ball. This is the same Wood who said of Manti Te'o earlier in the season: "He thinks he can guard me, but he cant. I dont care how good he is, he cant guard me."
Against Alabama, that same level of bravado could be a mental edge for whenever he touches the ball.
"I believe there isnt nobody out there that can tackle me, there isnt nobody out there that I havent faced that Im not better than," Wood previously boasted. "So with that being said, I go into every run that I get or every play, period, thinking that Im the baddest."
One last hurrah for Te'o
Te'o graduated last month and has one more game left in his collegiate career before his next journey begins. He's been as transcendent a player as Notre Dame has seen in a long time, someone whose tenure in South Bend will be remembered fondly whether or not the Irish win tonight.
Back in August on the outset of the 2012 season, coach Brian Kelly said Te'o "has unfinished business as it relates to this football team." Nobody figured that unfinished business would've been a trip to South Florida for the National Championship, but here we are. A Notre Dame win tonight would cement Te'o among the most legendary players in program history, a legacy few have had the chance to attain.
"I hope my legacy is just a guy who gave Notre Dame his all, a guy who really committed himself to the school, and I really feel fortunate to play under the Golden Dome and receive an education there," Te'o said Friday, selling himself short. "Just one who really gave everything he had."
A final thought
Notre Dame's secondary has done a fine job of limiting big plays this year, but it hasn't been all by their own doing. Consider this: The first -- and maybe only, save one deep ball to Marqise Lee -- team to really gouge Notre Dame's secondary was Miami. The problem was Philip Dorsett dropped two sure-fire touchdowns, setting the tone for a sloppy effort by the 'Canes in a 41-6 loss.
If A.J. McCarron and, say, Amari Cooper get the same chance Stephen Morris and Dorsett did, Notre Dame may not be so lucky. The Irish have successfully turned most every opposing offense they've faced into a one-dimensional unit, and this is a defense good enough to stop the run or pass as long as the threat of the other isn't there.
On the flip side, Alabama's defense looked beatable against two elite offenses in Georgia and Texas A&M. Those games have received plenty of focus in the last few weeks, but it's worth noting Alabama shut down two other solid offenses in Tennessee (13 points) and Michigan (14 points). Notre Dame is closer to those two offenses than Georgia and Texas A&M, although the Irish offense may need to play as well as the Bulldogs or Aggies to have a chance tonight.

Bill Connelly: Notre Dame can be a playoff contender in 2016

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Bill Connelly: Notre Dame can be a playoff contender in 2016

SB Nation's Bill Connelly is one of the foremost experts on college football analytics out there today -- you'll see plenty of his numbers on this site -- so when he writes about Notre Dame, you pay attention. 

And in his 2016 preview of Notre Dame, Bill C. has quite an optimistic outlook. 

Still, Notre Dame features more exciting sophomores and juniors than almost any team in the country: quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, running back Josh Adams, tight end Alizé Jones, safety Drue Tranquill, etc. If Kelly can keep his troops rallied, Notre Dame will have a serious shot at a Playoff bid, especially considering the schedule might ease up. And if the defense plays to its recruiting rankings, this team's ceiling is as high as anyone's outside of Tuscaloosa.

Give the whole preview a read, since it's packed full of good information and numbers about what Notre Dame did last year and where it's going this fall. A few thoughts on it:

-- Somewhat surprising in Bill's numbers was that Notre Dame's defense had the same S&P+ rank (57) in the first quarter as it did in the fourth quarter. Slow starts were a major problem for this group last year, one that Brian VanGorder & Co. circled as in desperate need of a fix. The fourth quarter mediocrity, though, probably was brought down by foot-off-the-gas efforts at the end of the Georgia Tech and Boston College games. 

-- How does a run defense that ranked 56th in S&P+ get better when it loses so many key pieces from 2015? Bill leans heavily on the four-star recruiting rankings of guys like Nyles Morgan, Te'von Coney and Jerry Tillery, and doesn't see the Irish run defense getting any worse. But without Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara, Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith, it probably won't get any better. 

-- Bill's evaluation of the offense is pretty much on point. There's a lot missing from last year's group, but Notre Dame was extremely successful in replacing its starting quarterback and running back after the first two weeks of last season. Wide receiver coach Mike Denbrock and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have proven themselves more than capable of developing players over the last few years, too, so even with so many new faces in those groups, it's fair to trust both will continue to be productive. 

-- Now for the fun stuff. Bill's schedule breakdown is what really stands out about this preview in that Notre Dame's lowest win probability in its first 11 games is 59 percent (Week 1 at Texas). Home games against Michigan State and Stanford and a road trip to N.C. State are all in the 60-65 percent range, and Syracuse, Miami and Virginia Tech are between 70-75 percent. If Notre Dame is able to win close games against lesser opponents -- as it consistently did last year -- it very well could roll into Los Angeles 11-0. And while right now Bill only gives Notre Dame a 41 percent chance of beating USC, that's about as ideal a formula as Brian Kelly could follow to make the College Football Playoff. 

-- No matter how you view Bill's optimism about Notre Dame's offense/defense/special teams, expected regressions from Michigan State and Stanford and a schedule that only has three true road games does set up well. The onus will be on Irish coaches and players to avoid an offensive regression, improve the defense and do what last year's team could've done with this schedule -- and very well could've meant making the College Football Playoff. 

Looking at what QB recruit Phil Jurkovec could bring to Notre Dame

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Looking at what QB recruit Phil Jurkovec could bring to Notre Dame

Notre Dame got its guy on Monday when four-star dual-threat quarterback Phil Jurkovec verbally committed to Brian Kelly & Co. 

The Gibsonia, Pa. native is one of the more highly-touted recruits in the class of 2018 and follows Notre Dame's one-quarterback-a-year trend that's been in place since Everett Golson signed in 2011. Since then, Notre Dame has signed one quarterback every recruiting cycle, from Golson to Gunner Kiel to Malik Zaire to DeShone Kizer to Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book. Four-star dual-threat quarterback Avery Davis is a verbal commit for the class of 2017, and then there's Jurkovec on track to follow in 2018. 

For more perspective on Jurkovec -- who he is, what Notre Dame's chances of keeping him are, and how he fits in Kelly and Mike Sanford's plan -- J.B. Long and I talked with Irish Illustrated recruiting reporter Jake Brown on the Still Independent Podcast. Give it a listen:

 

Notre Dame-Texas to kick off in primetime Sept. 4

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Notre Dame-Texas to kick off in primetime Sept. 4

Notre Dame's Sept. 4 season opener against the Texas Longhorns in Austin will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC, ESPN announced Tuesday. 

Last month, Notre Dame and Texas announced the game would be moved to Sunday from its original Saturday, Sept. 3 scheduled date. It's the only college football game scheduled on Sep. 4, which is one week before the NFL takes over Sundays. 

With the Texas start time announcement and last week's reveal of kickoff times for home games and the Shamrock Series, only three Notre Dame games have TBA kickoffs: Oct. 1 at Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium), Oct. 8 at North Carolina State and Nov. 26 at USC. 

Notre Dame throttled Texas, 38-3, in South Bend to open the 2015 season. That game also kicked off at 7:30 p.m. ET.