Five Wide Fullbacks: Killing Time for the Playoffs

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.

By |2018-12-12T11:11:32+00:00December 12th, 2018|Football|21 Comments

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“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.”

Michigan losing and falling out of Top 10 would move the record to 2-10, and then an ND loss to Clemson would move the record to 2-11. So, I think the narrative of BK not winning big games is cleared up.

“Can Notre Dame reach 100 points against BGSU?”

Let’s maybe shoot for a 21-point win and be happy? Ball St. says hi.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

For #2 and recruiting, is this tweet even true?

How the playoff teams ranked in recruiting on average over the last the last five classes:
Alabama: 1st
Clemson: 8th
Notre Dame: 9th
Oklahoma 12th

Or just inaccurate since like o-line recruiting boosts the team and includes 15 highly ranked players where only 5 play?

Also, as far as the draft, you never know. Troy Niklas was a 2nd round pick. NFL can be wild. If Mack runs a great time and performs well in drills and workouts (we know his hands can be inconsistent) I could see some team falling in love with the skills and taking him a bunch higher than most forecast at this point.

And greatly appreciate not including Love on this. I get the feeling he’s the 1st ND player off the board if he enters.


Yeah, who would have guessed that Durham Smythe would be a 4th-round draft pick even a year ago today? I think Mack is more talented than he is, so if he shows out during the combine he could go higher than that.

The other folks seem correctly ranked, more or less, though. Pretty good to get to 12-0 with that talent and only a small handful of other juniors who would get drafted if they came out now (though Love might be the highest-ranked of all potential prospects).


Maybe I should know this, but what is the 5 wide fullbacks reference in the title?




The correct answer for Fertitta:s pro prospects is that he will buy the Raiders and make himself player /coach

Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

That could make a great movie script. Finance the purchase of the Raiders with the proceeds from the box-office smash. It’s just a loan, Dad!!!


Speculation on recruiting:

I think BK has been burned by a lot of attrition from guys with hype (Tee Sheppard, Aaron Lynch) etc. who were big time recruits but not good cultural (which includes academic fits). I do feel like this has led him to overindex on lower rated guys – Sampson said that for every guy BK takes a reach on, he takes a “lower risk” guy who tends to have less star power. And there is the issue of Denson’s inability to recruit an elite back, which is so mystifying to me given how well RBs have done with him.

Optimistic version: I think we’re seeing the kind of “engineered attrition” – used to capture upside – that we’ve been waiting to see (and that other programs use). Take 10 guys, then keep the eight best ones. I realize that leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths, but what this does is raise your realized talent relative to your recruited talent.

Pessimistic version: Kelly is recruiting below the level of Weis but feels that’s necessary to do what he does.

Either way, with two large classes in a row now (right?) it’s hard to image next year’s class being super highly ranked. But a smaller class with a higher blue chip ratio would be just fine with me.


“My gut reaction of conference expansion is always buyers remorse (lol, Big Ten)”
I mean, yeah, Maryland and Rutgers are terrible athletic fits for the conference. But Purdue now has $6m per year to keep a solid head coach, right after some big expenses on facilities upgrades. The extra cash flow provided by those media markets is a serious gamechanger for the non-blue bloods