FOOTBALL

Notre Dame football: Irish open season at No. 14 in preseason AP poll

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - The giddiness over the progress of some freshman standouts and an inordinately long injury list Saturday kept the subject of Notre Dame’s No. 14 ranking in the preseason Associated Press college football poll from ever being posed to Brian Kelly.

It’s the second time in Kelly’s four seasons the Irish landed in the AP’s version of the preseason Top 25. The Irish were 16th in 2011.

Alabama, which waxed Notre Dame, 42-14, in the BCS National Championship Game last January, was a near-unanimous No. 1 in the poll. Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford and Georgia rounded out the top 5.

The fourth-ranked Cardinal is Notre Dame’s regular-season-ending opponent, Nov. 30 in Palo Alto, Calif. Other Irish opponents to land in the top 25 are Oklahoma at 16, Michigan at 17 and USC at 24.

Being ranked in preseason hasn’t exactly been a positive omen for the Irish in the post-Lou Holtz Era (1997-present).

Saturday marked the 10th time the Irish made the AP’s first top 25 in that time frame. Only twice in the previous nine instances did ND finish the season in it, and both times the Irish were ranked lower than their original poll position.

Conversely. four of the seven preseason unranked ND teams post-Holtz finished in the top 25, including last year’s squad, which ended up at No. 4 after a short run at No. 1.

ND opens the 2013 season Aug. 31 at home against Temple.

Personnel matters

• The Irish on Saturday lost a starter for the season in outside linebacker Danny Spond, and may lose a key reserve for an extended stretch.

Kelly said junior defensive end Tony Springmann will undergo an MRI on his left knee this week. Springmann did not participate in Saturday’s drills and wore a large brace on his knee while he watched the workouts.

“Anytime it’s a knee, you’re really concerned,” Kelly said. “That one is one we’re probably a little more concerned with right now.”

Cross-training outside linebacker Ishaq Williams is currently the top reserve at defensive end behind starters Sheldon Day and Stephon Tuitt. If Springmann’s injury is as serious as it appears, Kelly’s top reserve options beyond Williams will be two players who have yet to take their first college snap — freshman Isaac Rochell and sophomore Jarron Jones.

Spond, meanwhile, informed his teammates after practice that he is giving up the sport for medical reasons.

• Freshman linebacker Doug Randolph will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery on Tuesday. Kelly said Randolph suffered the injury while still in high school.

• Freshman running back Taraen Folston missed practice because of a death in the family.

• Other players who missed practice or were limited Saturday included offensive guards Chris Watt and Conor Hanratty, running backs Cam McDaniel and Will Mahone, and wide receiver Daniel Smith.

Mahone (high ankle sprain, right foot) appears to have the most serious injury in that group. Smith, a South Bend Clay High product, is expected to be medically cleared to practice full speed next week.

 • Two freshman linemen came into August training camp injured, but one of them saw his first practice time on Saturday. That would be offensive guard Colin McGovern, who underwent MCL reconstruction on his right knee and had some meniscus repair done in late January.

Guard John Montelus,. who injured his left shoulder in January, is moving closer to getting on the practice field.

“The reports out of the training room are outstanding in terms of his progress,” Kelly said.

 • Sophomore safety Nicky Baratti, who has already been declared out for the season with a shoulder injury, is scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday.

Talking ‘bout practice

•Saturday at practice was officially Faculty Appreciation Day, in which ND faculty and staff were invited to watch the entire two-hour-plus session.

Unofficially it turned out to be Corey Robinson Appreciation Day — again.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound freshman from San Antonio, Texas, continues to cement a role as a niche performer in the Irish offense.

Saturday he had a twisting, leaping catch along the sideline that wowed the crowd and arguably was the most impressive reception by any Irish player on the day. The play that immediately proceeded it — a diving grab — was easily the second-best catch by anyone on Saturday.

Both came with top Irish cornerback Bennett Jackson defending.

“Where he catches the football (outside), he’s been extremely consistent in that area of the field,” Kelly said. “Where we’ve got to continue to work with him is when he breaks inside. He’s got to get stronger, more physical. (But) there’s no question that he can help us on the perimeter.

“He consistently catches the football. It doesn’t matter who he goes up against. If the ball’s put in the right position, he’s going to come down with it.”

Safety Elijah Shumate was the defensive equivalent of Robinson, thrilling the crowd with his jarring hits.

•With Watt out, freshman offensive tackle Steve Elmer took the reps with the first unit at left offensive guard.

“We’ve got great flexibility with him,” Kelly said. “He’s more comfortable at left tackle, but if we had to play him at any of the guard or tackle positions, we could put him in and he could play.”

• Freshman cornerback Cole Luke continues to ascend, and along with senior safety Austin Collinsworth, was part of ND’s extra-defensive back packages on Saturday.

“Those two on the field give us the ability to play a lot more man and then a lot more variety in those packages,” Kelly said.

• Kelly opened up the place-kicking competition between junior incumbent Kyle Brindza and fifth-year senior Nick Tausch,. and said he will make a decision who’s No. 1 this week. Tausch was ND’s No. 1 kicker for much of his freshman season in 2009.

“As we all know Brindza did a heck of a job last year,” Kelly said, “but to bring Tausch back (for a fifth year), I wasn’t going to bring him back unless I gave him a chance to unseat Brindza.”

Brindza is also competing for the starting gig at punter. His top competition there is coming from fifth-year senior Alex Wulfeck, a transfer from Wake Forest.

• Saturday’s practice emphasized situational work on the fly, Kelly said, which not only tested the players but his assistant coaches as well.

•Purdue verbal commitment Drue Tranquill not only took in ND’s practice Saturday, he attended Kelly’s press conference as well.

The Irish are recruiting the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Fort Wayne (Ind.) Carroll High standout as an inside linebacker. Purdue projects Tranquill as a safety.

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon (4) looks to an official for a touchdown signal during the second half of the BCS National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, against Notre Dame at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.  Alabama is a near-unanimous No. 1 in the preseason football poll while Notre Dame is No. 14. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER