Welcome back to another edition of the internet’s favorite question and answer article. Today we will tackle conference realignment, Irish recruiting, Brian Kelly in big games, draft stocks, and Brian VanGorder briefly leaving then coming right back to our lives again.

1) After laying dormant for a while the old conference realignment bug is beginning to make its way around college football again. Are there any moves today that make sense in a way that didn’t during the last round of major movement?

Stewart Mandel recently suggested the Big 12 add UCF which would make a lot of sense. One thing is for certain, any new conference expansion is likely to center around gobbling up the AAC.

The playoffs changed the dynamics for the AAC just enough for those participating programs to feel especially jilted. No one should have felt great about ever winning a BCS National Championship and yet with the carrot dangling of a 4-team playoff (100% more participants!) the committee has made it absolutely clear no one outside of the Power 5 will ever have a strong enough schedule to be considered worthy.

It is surprising that the Big 12 has remained at only 10 teams. My gut reaction for conference expansion is always beware of buyers remorse (lol, Big Ten) but UCF, Cincinnati, USF, Memphis, or Houston being out there for the taking aren’t terrible options.

2) Notre Dame is currently sitting at 12-0 with their first playoff appearance forthcoming later this month. Is it fair to expect the Irish to be recruiting better at the moment?

I think what we’re seeing right now is a collision between the hard data surrounding the importance of blue-chip talent and Notre Dame’s player development success and altered recruiting net that has been cast out across the country.

On the one hand, with the program sitting at 12-0 it may be easy to say the new talent that comes in will also get tremendous player development and the train will keep rolling along. On the other hand, it would seem foolish to expect a Midas touch with so many players when history suggests this isn’t a viable long-term strategy to winning 11 or 12 games on a consistent basis.

There’s also the fact that for the most part recruiting lags behind results on the field. So there’s an obvious built in “wait and see” approach that comes from making the playoffs.

Still, the Irish are hanging on at 10th in the Composite team 2019 rankings–and with little room for additional scholarships–are bound to fall back a little bit by February and behind all 3 of the other playoff participants. It’s definitely a weird bit of momentum that hopefully pays off in 2020.

I think we’ll see (for the millionth year in a row) the recruiting hype that 2020 could be a Top 5 class but I think it’s fair to wonder if recruiting under Brian Kelly really has plateaued. All indications are that they’ve cashed out of the game of chasing a good chunk of the elite 5-stars instead opting for a more working man’s approach and better fits, to put it kindly. Raised expectations for next year only to fall back to the normal 10th place finish could bring about some loud grumbling.

3) A huge game awaits in Arlington after Christmas. Obviously, a win would push Kelly into the next stratosphere. How would a loss affect an off-season of Big Game Brian criticisms?

If we’re talking about a loss at least it’s a hundred miles better than dealing with a 4-8 season. Admittedly that’s a very low bar to clear. I’d imagine if Clemson wins there will be several off-season discussions about Kelly not being able to win the big game.

Right now, he’s 3-10 versus teams who finish the season in the AP Top 10 which tentatively includes the Michigan win this year. Were the Wolverines to lose to Florida and the Irish fall to Clemson, that’s 2-12 against Top 10 teams and a drought reaching back September 21, 2013 since that last “big” win.

That sucks but it’s hardly an indictment. The vast majority of these wins are gobbled up by a small collection of teams like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma. Maybe Penn State would have a similar record against Top 10 teams as Kelly but that doesn’t mean the programs are equal–the other games count, too.

In some respects the lack of big wins is important but all it’s basically saying is at the top of your game you’re not like Alabama or Ohio State which isn’t exactly breaking news.

4) Notre Dame submitted 5 players for evaluation with the NFL Draft committee. Can we get a pre-bowl game look at the draft stock for the 2019 Irish prospects?

So as not to jinx anyone coming back or leaving let’s stick to the players we know are running out of eligibility or who have announced they are not coming back (Mack).

TE Nic Weishar – Undrafted, invited to a rookie camp but doesn’t stick in the league.

OC Sam Mustipher – I’ve never been able to get a good read on Mustipher as centers are really difficult to project in the NFL. It’s one “power” position where size isn’t always coveted and being crafty can cash you a lot of paychecks. Due to being under-sized though, I see Mustipher going in the 6th round.

OG Alex Bars – His knee injury should be in good shape by the time the draft arrives although he’ll be limited during the scouting process. I could see him going as high as the 5th round.

DT Jonathan Bonner – This time last year it appeared Bonner was ready to walk away from the game. He’s likely not pursuing a NFL career.

LB Drue Tranquill – I feel like Drue needs a full year of rest after gutting through all the injuries this year. Most think he won’t test great or fit perfectly in the NFL. I think Notre Dame’s success on the field is going to improve the stock of a couple players and Tranquill could be one of those recipients. An early 5th round pick wouldn’t shock me even if he’s likely going in the last couple rounds.

P Tyler Newsome – Talented enough to eventually stick on a roster but he’ll be undrafted.

RB Dexter Williams – A diminishing position (just 21 backs drafted last year) meets a highly improved Dexter. I think he’s a very good college back but the NFL is a different beast. Health will be a plus, yet I don’t think he’s quite the physical freak to warrant a Top 100 pick. Late 4th round at the earliest and undrafted are both possible depending on his testing. It sucks to be a running back these days.

TE Alize Mack – This could be a surprise pick higher than we think due to the tight end position usually being pretty thin compared to the assembly line Notre Dame usually offers. Mack isn’t that big, nor super fast, and has some injury/focus concerns. Another late-round pick.

DT Jerry Tillery – He’s getting 1st round buzz which I can get on board with except I do wonder if his ability to play nose, 3-tech, or defensive end in a 3-4 is going to help or hurt his stock? Someone will love that versatility but I bet it won’t be until the late 2nd round.

LB Te’von Coney – Here’s my pick for the guy who benefits the most from a Notre Dame bump. I think Coney will have really good testing and be the second Irish player drafted after Tillery.

CB Nick Coleman – Unlikely to pursue a pro career beyond Pro Day.

S Nicco Fertitta – He’ll get a rookie camp invite, spear someone, and get thrown out of practice.

PK Justin Yoon – A little too banged up over his career to display a strong enough leg for the NFL. Definitely undrafted with potential a couple years down the road if he sticks with it.

5) Brian VanGorder was originally scheduled to face Notre Dame in 2019 as the defensive coordinator of Louisville prior to being fired recently. He’s now been hired as the linebackers coach at Bowling Green who are also on the Irish schedule next fall. Can Notre Dame reach 100 points against BGSU?

Bowling Green gave up 40 points per game and finished 127th in defensive S&P+ rankings this year. They’ve now hired Brian VanGorder. Their linebackers’ heads will be spinning and the Irish could run for a million yards when the Falcons come to South Bend in week 5.

This is another reminder at how weird the first half of the schedule next year will be. An opener on the road at Louisville, what kind of team will we see with the Cardinals? A home opener against Bob Davie and New Mexico follows. A tough as heck road game at Georgia, only to come back to home games against Virginia then this Bowling Green game.

Anything worse than 4-1 coming out of that could be disaster with USC, Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Stanford still remaining in the second half of the year.