Underdog Irish arrive in South Florida for BCS Championship

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Underdog Irish arrive in South Florida for BCS Championship

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Notre Dame touched down in South Florida Wednesday afternoon to a water cannon salute and plenty of fanfare. Following the team from South Bend to South Beach is an underdog status that has lingered for months, and won't go away unless the Irish find a way to beat Alabama on Monday at Sun Life Stadium.
"We've been underdogs before, and it didn't really change our preparation," coach Brian Kelly said. "And they haven't changed the way they've done their work."
That may be the case, but there's no question Notre Dame has drawn from an underdog mentality all season. After beating Oklahoma, a few players hinted there was a little added burn given so few expected them to win. And after clinching a berth in the BCS Championship with a win over USC, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore was quick -- like, right when he got in the locker room -- to gloat at ESPN's Rick Reilly, who wrote plenty of scathing words regarding the Irish.
But for all those previous us-against-the-world games, that mentality only had a week to fester. It's been just over a month since the BCS Championship was set, and in that month most analysis has pointed to Alabama beating Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
"Certainly they've read all of the papers and all the pundits that have us as underdogs, they don't think much about that," Kelly said.
But there is at least some thought on the team, some motivation being drawn from Alabama's status as a heavy favorite. It'd be weird if there wasn't -- why not take a little extra swagger into Monday with an us-against-the-world mentality?
This is a Notre Dame team, though, that's good at being tactful with the media. There won't be any Jordan Lynch-esque bulletin board material coming from these guys in the next few days, something a loaded Alabama team could latch on to leading up to Monday.
"We've played a lot of games as underdogs this year, and a lot of people doubted us," wide receiver Robby Toma said. "Nothing's going to change. We're going to compete for four quarters, we're not going to guarantee a win but we're just going to go out there and play."
Temperature acclimation next up for Irish
While Notre Dame has practice indoors for most of its December workouts, adjusting to the humidity of South Florida is something the team will have to do in the next few days. Kelly said he wants his team to "feel the weather tomorrow" with a strenuous workout, and then adjust from there.
It's not that big of an issue, especially with plenty of time to prepare. But it's one that certainly merited a bit of consideration from Kelly and Notre Dame's coaching staff.
"Our guys are in great condition, great shape," Kelly said. "A couple of days outside, I think we'll be fine."
Kelly earns another award
Notre Dame picked up another individual honor Wednesday, with Brian Kelly receiving the Walter Camp National Coach of the Year Award -- his fourth major coaching honor stemming from the 2012 season. Kelly previously received the Home Depot Coach of the Year (ESPNABC), Eddie Robinson Award (FWAA) and AP Coach of the Year.
Kelly is the first Notre Dame coach to win the award, which dates back to 1967.
Notre Dame Bowl Preview Show tonight at 9 p.m.
A little tune-in plug: Comcast SportsNet will air a special 30-minute program looking back at Notre Dame's season and previewing the BCS Championship tonight at 9 p.m. It's hosted by Chuck Garfien and features Tony Rice, the last Notre Dame quarterback to win a National Championship.

Notre Dame unit preview: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and the quarterbacks

Notre Dame unit preview: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and the quarterbacks

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp fast approaching, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

1A. DeShone Kizer (Redshirt sophomore)
1B. Malik Zaire (Redshirt junior)
2. Brandon Wimbush (Sophomore)
3. Ian Book (Freshman)

All eyes will be on Notre Dame’s quarterback competition in August, with coach Brian Kelly saying after spring practice Kizer and Zaire were entering the summer on an even playing field. Zaire needed the spring to catch up to Kizer in terms of some of the offensive wrinkles installed after his season-ending ankle injury in the second week of the season. 

Both quarterbacks will get an opportunity to win the starting job during preseason camp, though the slight edge has to go to Kizer given his experience (11 starts) against that of Zaire (three starts). While Zaire’s potential remains high (he did, after all, quarterback Notre Dame’s best win of the season last year, that 38-3 shellacking of Texas), Kizer showed last fall plenty of the traits Kelly has wanted out of a quarterback since arriving in South Bend in December of 2009. Kizer takes coaching well and rarely made the same mistakes on a week-to-week basis, and he accounted for 31 touchdowns with some solid other numbers, too. 

That’s not to say Zaire can’t win the job next month, but he probably has more of an uphill climb to earn it than Kizer does. 

Biggest question: When will a starting QB be announced?

Kelly said during spring practice he wants his offense to form an identity around a starting quarterback, so don’t expect this decision to drag on until right before kickoff of the Texas game (Ohio State’s handling of the Cardale Jones-J.T. Barrett competition last year stands as a lesson in how to not make a quarterback and an offense comfortable). The preseason camp portion of Notre Dame’s August practices usually runs for about two weeks, so with a start date of Aug. 6, expect Kelly to announce a starter sometime after Aug. 20. 

Whether that announcement becomes public is another question, but Kizer, Zaire and Notre Dame’s offense likely will have have about two weeks of practice/meetings before the Texas game knowing who their starting quarterback is. 

Youthful impact

Wimbush appeared in two games last year, with Kelly, Mike Sanford & Co. seeing the necessity to burn his redshirt to get him in-game reps in case he needed to take meaningful snaps in a College Football Playoff race. Kelly in the spring walked back a comment he made in February about planning to redshirt Wimbush this fall, but if Kizer and Zaire both stay healthy, Notre Dame would probably prefer to keep the talented sophomore on the sidelines in 2016. 

Book enrolled in Notre Dame this summer with far less hype than his predecessors (he was only a three-star recruit), but Sanford raved about his skillset and fit in the Irish offense on signing day in February. He’ll likely take a redshirt year and begin his quest to move up the rungs of the depth chart in 2017. 

They said it

“They are both that good. I already know that. But there will be a day, and we're going to have to say: It's time to go, he's our quarterback, everybody's behind him and we need to go, and that's who the quarterback is.” — Brian Kelly

Notre Dame unveils 2016 Shamrock Series uniforms

Notre Dame unveils 2016 Shamrock Series uniforms

Notre Dame will wear green (and gold) for its Shamrock Series game against Army in November. 

The football program unveiled 2016's one-off Under Armour jerseys for the annual Irish showcase game on Thursday. The uniforms come on the heels of last year's all-green look for Notre Dame's game against Boston College at Fenway Park.

Take a look at the announcement video for this year's threads:

Here's some closer-up looks:

Notre Dame and Army kick off at the Alamodome in San Antonio at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 12. The Shamrock Series will take a one-year hiatus in 2017, with the neutral-site showcase game expected to return in 2018. 

[SHOP: Buy a 2016 Shamrock Series jersey]

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

We’ve covered four games Notre Dame should have no excuse not to win and four that could blossom into tricky trap games this fall. If all goes well, though, those eight games won’t decide Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff fate. 

That’s where these last four games in our schedule ranking come into play. If Notre Dame goes 8-0 against those opponents it’ll be heavily favored against, it can realistically go 3-1 against these four teams and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Of course, winning all four of these games would all but assure the Irish a spot in college football’s Final Four on New Year’s Eve. 

4. Texas (Sept. 4 in Austin, Texas)

The Longhorns are the biggest wild card on Notre Dame’s 2016 schedule. This wasn’t a good team last year — they ranked 68th in F/+ and went 5-7 — but there is so, so much talent at Charlie Strong’s disposal. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson is a star in the making and both sides of the ball are littered with former blue-chip recruits. But this has been the narrative around Texas for the last four or five years — there’s talent, but when will that produce the kind of win totals those in Austin expect? 

The biggest immediate question to be answered is who Texas’ starting quarterback will be on this season-opening Sunday night at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. All signs seem to be pointing to true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele — the son of former Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Steve Buechele — and if it is him, he’ll be an unknown for both teams. Texas can’t predict how he’ll handle the pressure of a nationally-televised primetime game, and Notre Dame won’t have much film on him. 

And there’s also the nebulous revenge factor that comes from Notre Dame’s 38-3 stomping of Texas in last year’s season opener. This seems like a game in which it wouldn’t be surprising to see Notre Dame to again win handily or for an ascending Longhorns side to give the Irish a tough evening. 

3. Michigan State (Sept. 17 in South Bend)

The first of two primetime kickoffs at Notre Dame Stadium this fall comes against last year’s College Football Playoff No. 4 seed, but one that loses star players across the field. Quarterback Connor Cook, offensive linemen Jack Allen and Jack Conklin and defensive end Shilique Calhoun all have to be replaced, as well as plenty of other key contributors. 

Michigan State’s quarterback will probably be Tyler O’Connor, though they’ll rely heavily on running back L.J Scott to power the offense. With an inexperienced quarterback and plenty of youth at wide receiver, Notre Dame may look to sell out to stop the run and make the Spartans’ passing game beat them. 

While there’s some uncertainty that has to be worked through in East Lansing, it’d be foolish to expect anything less than a strong Mark Dantonio side to arrive in South Bend. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in five of the last six years and have finished in the AP top six in each of the last three years. 

2. Stanford (Oct. 15 in South Bend)

The good news for Notre Dame, oddly, may be that quarterback Kevin Hogan doesn’t return while Heisman finalist running back Christian McCaffrey is back. Notre Dame set out to mute McCaffrey last year in California, and it worked — he only rushed for 94 yards on 27 carries and didn’t score a touchdown — but in that vacuum, Hogan threw as many touchdowns as incompletion (four) in a two-point Irish loss. 

Hogan’s replacement, Keller Chryst, has already drawn comparisons to former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. We’ll probably know by mid-October if that’s fair or not, but as long as McCaffrey is there and Stanford continues to develop strong offensive lines, this team should glide to another top-10 or top-20 season. 

Much like Dantonio and Michigan State, it’s reasonable to expect David Shaw’s Stanford teams to be among the best Notre Dame will play every year. And each of the last four Notre Dame-Stanford games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Don’t expect anything different this fall. 

1. USC (Nov. 26 in Los Angeles)

There isn’t much separating the difficulty levels of the Stanford and USC games, but because Notre Dame gets the talented, explosive Trojans on the road, it gets the top spot. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson are back, as are a dynamic pair of running backs in Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. Max Browne will slide in for Cody Kessler at quarterback and finally has developed a good offensive line (Phil Steele ranks it as the best group nationally). 

USC’s front seven does have some holes, but its defensive backs — led by cornerbacks Jackson and Iman Marshall — should buoy Clancy Pendergast's group. 

Unlike Stanford and Michigan State, though, USC hasn’t been stable since the end of the Pete Carroll era. Will Clay Helton prove to be exactly what USC needed or an uninspired hire by one of college football’s elite programs? With this being the last game of the season, it wouldn’t be surprising for Notre Dame to roll into Los Angeles to face a middling Pac-12 side or one competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But if USC’s offense comes together and its defense can hold serve, this’ll be the most difficult game on Notre Dame’s schedule.