Chat Transcript: Addressing Notre Dame's many what-ifs and life without Kevin Austin

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, early August edition. Please include your name and hometown with your question. Please.

One thing before we start, the Notre Dame annual preview comes out Sunday. It is a 28-page broadsheet special section this year instead of a magazine. If you are an NDI Premium subscriber, you should get an email today asking you to opt in. When you do, you'll get the publication for free. Also South Bend Tribune subscribers will get it in their Sunday papers.

If you are not a subscriber, but want to mail order one, here's the link:

OK on to the chat.

Mike from King of Prussia, Pa: Noticed that the game against probable No. 1 Clemson is followed by Boston College. Brings back bad memories of 1993. Do you think the ACC scheduler was thinking that?

Eric Hansen: No, I don't think there was the abundance of time or bad intentions to do that. The ACC actually did ND a favor. Clemson originally had an open date the week before the Nov. 7 game at Notre Dame. In the new-look schedule, the Tigers play Boston College the week before.

Jack from Oak Park, Ill.: Eric, now that the schedule is announced, any word on how or if tailgating will be allowed, or how many fans in the stands? Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: No word yet. Hope to have that next week. But around the country, we are seeing no-tailgating policies at a lot of places.

Jack from Strongsville, Ohio: Hi Eric. Love your work. Why do you think the Navy game was not moved later in the year to South Bend? Seems a shame to have such a tradition broken.

Eric Hansen: Jack, thanks. I went straight from two morning assignments straight to this chat, so I haven't had a chance to track that down. My suspicion is the ACC's mandate that all non-conference games be played at home was a big part of the problem in retaining Navy.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric- Hope all is going well for you and yours! If there is a football season, what do you think will be the identity of this year’s team, considering the pandemic and a new offensive coordinator calling the plays? Thanks & GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!

Eric Hansen: I'm not sure the pandemic affects team identity from a scheme standpoint. It likely will affect some positions battles and perhaps how much schematic install you can accomplish before the season starts. Some of that likely will take place during the season. So offensively this is a team that will be more committed to running the ball EFFECTIVELY and committed to balance overall. Defensively, you'll see a team that's determined to improve significantly against the run and will have the personnel to do so.

Eric Hansen: OK, let me give a definitive answer on Notre Dame-Navy. It was indeed because of the scheduling requirement that Notre Dame's non-conference game must be a home game. To comply, the Irish kept their matchup with Western Michigan. Navy has replaced the ND game with a Sept. 7 matchup with BYU. ND and Navy have agreed to extend their rivalry through 2032, resuming next season.

Dwight from central Arkansas: If there is indeed a football season, given that it is almost exclusively conference games only, would there be any bowl games this year? Might they go back to the "mythical" national champ they had decades ago?

Eric Hansen: I've seen only one bowl game drop out so far. Because there's so much money involved, the others won't be quick to follow. The unknown is where will we be as a nation with the virus in December? Will infections be at a lower level? Will there be therapeutics? Access to faster/cheaper testing? Vaccines? My sense is that if the season is played to its completion, we will see a much, much smaller bowl menu.

The Gipper from Mine Hill, N.J.: Surely, ND will find some way to get Navy on the schedule instead of keeping that directional school, Western Michigan. I would think Navy would find an opening to move the game to ND this year (as per ACC's stipualtion for the plus-1 game) and then play at wherever Navy chooses in 2021. What's your thoughts on this, Eric? Keep up the good work covering ND. You are the best (even with Bucknuts roots)!

Eric Hansen: Thanks. Perhaps if there had been more time. ... Playing Navy in South Bend this year and then moving the game to Navy next year messes with the desire of having seven "home" games a year for NBC. Since the Wisconsin game in Chicago is technically the Badgers' home game, ND would have been left with just six NBC games by shifting Navy. Also, ND had to work around the dates the ACC wanted the Irish to play ACC teams. And the league didn't want to start the season on the weekend of Sept. 5. So there were a lot of things working against Navy staying on the schedule.

Smitty from Tempe, Ariz.: Eric, you're the best. I often get into arguments with non-Irish fans who dislike ND's independence. For sure, there are both advantages and disadvantages for ND to not be in a conference. ND ultimately believes the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. My point in these arguments is that other schools (example Ohio Stare or Alabama) ultimately decide that a conference affiliation is in their best interest. In other words, there is nothing stopping an Ohio State or Alabama from leaving their conference and being an independent (I believe UConn has done this). Can you outline some of the bigger advantages these schools get for being part of a conference? I've heard that the money ND receives from their NBC deal is less than conference schools receive from their TV deals. Can you confirm?

Eric Hansen: Smitty, thanks. Notre Dame could make more money as a conference member in football. The other part of your question is difficult to answer succinctly and with a broad brush. For many schools, their particular conference affiliation is part of their branding, their history, their identity. For ND, its independence is part of its branding and identity. There are travel/scheduling advantages for some schools being a conference. ND wants to play a national schedule. It has a national fan base and a national recruiting footprint. There are even academic reasons for being on a conference, in terms of shared resources. That was on aspect ND's faculty found appealing when the school was pondering Big Ten membership years ago. I'm not sure I'll help you win your next argument on this front, but perhaps you'll be able to more effectively confuse them.

Jeff from Schererville, Ind.: Hi Eric. Since I asked one of the first ND Insider season preview questions of the year a couple chats ago, I might as well ask one of the last ones. Will it be available in the Sunday South Bend Tribune that is available to purchase on newsstands? If so, I might make the quick trip from Northwest Indiana to pick one up. If not, I'll order it at the link you provided earlier. Thanks to you and the entire SBT-NDI staff for creating this year's section and please stay healthy!

Eric Hansen: Yes, it will be in the single-copy editions of the South Bend Tribune. Thanks for asking.

Jeremy From Goshen: Eric, Thanks for all your work on these chats and keeping us up to date on what's going on with ND football. Can we get a petition together for you to return to SportsBeat? In your opinion, who is the player that people are sleeping on that you expect to surprise people?

Eric Hansen: Thanks for the kind words. I would be much more confident in my answer if I had seen the team practice since March 5, even once. I'll go with Houston Griffith and Jayson Ademilola on defense, and oddly Chris Tyree on offense. He's not going to be the starting running back, but I think he's more college-ready than a lot of recruiting analysts thought he'd be.

Pat from St Paul: Thanks for these chats, Eric. You are the best! Does the Kevin Austin injury open the door for Jordan Johnson?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Pat. From what Brian Kelly told me recently, Jordan Johnson has been impressive to date, but I think Austin's absence more directly affects opportunities for grad transfer Ben Skowronek and perhaps grad senior Javon McKinley.

Bob from Bronxville: Eric, thanks for persisting in providing us with information in these trying times. As intense fans of college football none of us want to admit that there shouldn’t be a fall season in 2020. Yet, the facts are there whether we choose to see them or not. COVID-19 is more widespread now than it was in the spring. The recent ACC decision to play football only in states where conference teams are based ignores the fact that only TWO such states, New York and Massachusetts, have positivity rates below 5%, the rate suggested by the CDC. In addition, MLB with a more manageable problem, isn’t having success. When do you think ND, with or without the conference, will acknowledge the reality and cancel the season?

Eric Hansen: I'm not convinced the season with be canceled ... or will be played, for certain. The Power 5 teams have invested quite a bit in giving it a try.

Mike from Quakertown, Pa.: Hi Eric! Thanks again for taking our questions. I always appreciate your insight, and I hope all is well with you and your family. I just read that Kevin Austin is out for a while with a foot injury. Who do you think steps up in his absence? Also, do you foresee any changes to how a national champ will be crowned? If the season happens, there will probably be players out with COVID from almost every team as the season progresses. I don't see how a playoff committee can pick the four best teams if star players miss games and good teams lose games due to players being held out with positive tests and no or few out-of-conference games to compare leagues. Do you think the playoff should expand to compensate for these factors or maybe have the AP just vote after bowl season like the good old days? Thanks for taking my questions!

Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. I answered the Austin part of your question already. so let me jump to the national championship part. ... We're all going to find out together. There's no context, no precedent about how to do this. There's no certainty in any of this, optimistically or pessimistically. Let's say the regular season gets played with some outbreaks/interruptions. The CFP committee has to pick the best four teams based on what data they have in front of them. Jack Swarbrick told me in an interview a while back that he did not see the playoff field expanding. Barring impossible logistics, I don't see it collapsing either. There's too much money at stake.

Pat from San Quentin: What are the Irish’s chances at landing Donovan Edwards?

Eric Hansen: Long odds.

Sue Kovensky from Hollidaysburg, PA,: Eric: Thanks (again) for your thoroughness in covering Irish football! In your humble opinion, is there ANY chance that Clark Lea could be a head coach in waiting at Notre Dame?

Eric Hansen: Hi Sue. I'm not sure he or ND would buy into that concept, especially considering Brian Kelly would like to coach three or four more years. Lea could land a head coaching gig after this season, excel and come back. I think that's a more likely scenario.

Bruce from Dayton, Ohio: Hi Eric. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the way practices and game plan preparations may be held this year. I would think that with the uncertainty of players possibly testing positive throughout the year and missing a game or two, that you would want to have many more players involved. It just seems the approach will have to change with the practice reps being spread out among more players and even going a little deeper on the depth chart during the game. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: The difficulty in answer almost every one of these question so far is me not having a sense of how the virus will look in a month, two months, three months, next spring. I read yesterday about saliva tests that could get FDA approval soon that can be turned around in a couple of hours and, if mass produced, might be in the $10 range. Those kind of things are game changers.

I'm going to answer your question as if those things won't exist. I would say, yes, you do need more dependable depth at positions across the board, not just because of positive tests but because there may be more injuries for all teams in 2020 because of the irregular offseason training schedules.

Jim Rundell from Lawrenceville, Ga: Eric, thanks for all do in keeping everybody up to date on ND football. If we beat Clemson at home but lose in the ACC championship, do you think we have a chance to make the playoffs ? And if we loose at home but beat them in the ACC championship, do we have a better chance?

Eric Hansen: The missing pieces to that question that would help me formulate my answer are: Did anyone significant from either side miss the first game because of injury or COVID? The second part, what was the margin of victory in the two games? All things being equal, I would say the team that wins the ACC Championship Game on a neutral field — and thus, wins the conference championship — would have a better résumé in the committee's eyes.

Ced from Saginaw, Mich.: When does training camp start?

Eric Hansen: It should be Aug. 12th, based on the date of the opener. I expect confirmation on that soon.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Playing for a conference championship seems to be important to the Irish basketball, soccer, hockey teams etc. Obviously, the primary goal is to win a national championship. However, do you think the Irish football will be motivated by the unique opportunity to win a conference championship?

Eric Hansen: Of course, but part of that being a conference championship could get them into the playoff.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, I hope you are staying safe and doing well. In the event that football does not happen this year, or the season is truncated so that a year of eligibility is not lost, which players do you think ND would be the most interested in trying to get to return, and which players do think might have a mutual interest? Do you foresee the NCAA possibly increasing the scholarship limit next year to accommodate players due to the unprecedented situation of COVID? Thanks for your input and for hosting the chat.

Eric Hansen: Marie, thank you. I hope you all are safe as well. If I understand your question correctly, if the season doesn't happen at all, I do not think eligibility will be extended to players who's eligibility would have been exhausted, nor do I think the 85-scholarship limit would expanded. Why? Money. Even though it would make ethical/logical sense to do so, with the crippling loss in income, adding extra scholarships isn't something schools would want to do.

Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Eric. My question: Is there anyone on the roster with the ability to replace Austin?

Eric Hansen: Kevin Austin is ND's best receiver. Period. End of sentence. That said there is really good depth and a variety of other options. If all goes well, he would be available, notably, for the tough November games with Clemson and North Carolina.

Ryan from Mars, Pa.: Hi Eric, what do you think of the upcoming freshmen this year, like Carmody and everyone else?

Eric Hansen: Let me address Michael Carmody, a freshman offensive tackle. I really like the long-term potential of both freshman OTs, Carmody and Tosh Baker. I do not see either of them playing much, if at all, this season. That's kind of the nature of their positions. Beyond long snapper, Alex Peitsch, the freshmen in best position to impact the team in 2020 are Chris Tyree, Michael Mayer and Jordan Johnson. ... and maybe Xavier Watts and Rylie Mills.

Henry from Stockton: Hi Eric. Thanks for having the chats. It’s important on a lot of levels during this pandemic.

Eric Hansen: Henry, thank you for being here. These are fun for me, even though today I kind of wish I had a crystal ball.

Andy from Ponte Vedra: Hello from Florida! ND, with the exception of the offensive line, looks very average on offense. Will Notre Dame be able to generate enough offense to stay undefeated when Clemson comes to town?

Eric Hansen: Losing Kevin Austin is tough, but as I mentioned there is depth and some interesting wide receiver options. The positives are a third-year starter at QB and the five starters on the offensive line returning. The biggest question, even with Austin out, is the running back group on offense. Given how strong I expect ND's defense to be, I think there will be enough firepower on offense to get the Irish into November without a loss.

Rick from Kalamazoo: Hi Eric, not sure if we will have a fall or spring season yet, but isn't ND still two players over on the roster? Do not mind if Phil Jurkovec plays against the Irish, but if he can, why did Alohi Gilman have to sit a year? Maddening!!

Eric Hansen: Notre Dame is technically five over the 85 limit, if you include former walk-ons Colin Grunhard and Mick Assaf. Usually, schools have to be at 85 by the first day of fall-semester classes. That comes up on Monday. But the last time I talked to Brian Kelly about it, he was confident all schools would get some sort of reprieve, at least a temporary one, because most schools had no or very limited spring practice. As to the transfer rule, this is why there's movement toward a one-time transfer exemption for everyone — to bring some consistency to the process.

Pat from St Paul: Do we get Rocco? :-)

Eric Hansen: Carter Karels, our recruiting guy, thinks Notre Dame will get him.... and that's Rocco, as in Rocco Spindler, one of the top interior offensive line prospects in the country. He makes his announcement Saturday.

Frank Serra: Have any players not returned to campus?

Eric Hansen: The only one I know of who hadn't as of early last week was Alexander Ehrensberger, though he was expected to arrive from Germany by now. Isaiah Robertson wasn't on the roster in the spring and I expect won't be on the fall roster.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Notre Dame's defense has always played best when it had a dominant defensive line that could both stop the run and apply pressure on the quarterback. Will they have a dominant defensive line this year? Who are they counting on to rush the passer?

Eric Hansen: I do think they'll have a very good D-line this year and be very deep at all four positions. Being good run-stoppers (which takes more than the D-line) is the next evolutionary step for Clark Lea's defense, and I expect to see a significant stride in that direction. Pass rushers? Ade Ogundeji, Daelin Hayes, Isaiah Foskey, Ovie Oghoufo and Justin Ademilola on the edge. They'll also get some push inside, and from the linebackers, particularly Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Charley from Ridgeland: When was the last time a December game was played in Notre Dame Stadium?

Eric Hansen: As far as I can tell, it was 1953 (Dec. 5) against SMU.

Jason from Kalamazoo: Do you feel Tom Rees is going to surprise people in his first year as offensive coordinator? It seems he and Ian Book are a good fit.

Eric Hansen: I think Tommy will surprise his critics with his game plans and his coaching. I think where he is unproven is on the recruiting trail with offensive prospects beyond QBs.

Jason from Kalamazoo: Thank you. Great point. I appreciate all you do.

Eric Hansen: Thank you, and I appreciate you.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll be back to do it all over again later this month.

Chat shades