Notebook: Lessons learned (and not learned) for Notre Dame from Division I football opener

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Not every lesson and detail gleaned from the first Division I football game to be played during the COVID-19 pandemic will be necessarily transferable to what the Notre Dame experience might be like.

Chants of “Let’s go Peay!” — for instance — during Central Arkansas’ 24-17 victory over Austin Peay Saturday night at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., would likely carry a whole different connotation if uttered during the Irish season opener, Sept. 12 vs. Duke at Notre Dame Stadium.

Notre Dame opens as a 20 1/2-point favorite, by the way, per the betting website

A couple of tangible takeaways from Saturday night’s neutral-site matchup, staged with roughly 2,000 fans in the stands, were game officials using electronic whistles (accessible on their belts) and possibly the need to identify your team’s fourth-string long snapper.

Austin Peay never confirmed that an outbreak wiped out its first three options at the position, citing privacy laws, but none of the three players listed as an Austin Peay long snapper made an appearance against Central Arkansas. Linebacker Cameron Miller did, and he struggled mightily in the long snapper role.

Later, the Governors coaching staff elected to just keep center Blake Mitchell in the game on fourth downs and have quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall punt from the shotgun formation.

Scientific advancements during the season, such as the cheap ($5) and reliable lateral flow COVID-19 tests being scaled up for mass production in October, could reduce the chances of an entire position group being sidelined for a game or two because of close-contact quarantine guidelines.

Theoretically, entire rosters could be tested daily at that point. For now, Notre Dame players and those at the other 14 Atlantic Coast Conference schools will get tested three times a week once ACC games start. That’s in line with what the other two Power 5 leagues playing this fall (SEC and Big 12) are doing.

The ACC COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group released its league-wide protocols for all fall sports on Friday. Here’s a look at the most significant ones relating to football:

• Non-conference opponents must meet ACC standards for the seven days prior to competition against an ACC team. In ND’s case that applies to South Florida for its Sept. 19 game at Notre Dame Stadium.

• A visiting ACC team must have the results from its tests prior to traveling to its competition site. Another test must be administered the day before competition by a third party identified by the conference office.

The third test of the week will be administered within 48 hours of the conclusion of a game. Additional testing may be done at the institution’s discretion.

• A student-athlete identified through contact tracing and required to quarantine for 14 days must complete the full quarantine before returning to activity. A student-athlete who tests positive for COVID-19 shall be isolated for at least 10 days.

• At a minimum, every student-athlete, symptomatic or otherwise, who tested positive shall undergo a cardiac evaluation that includes an electrocardiogram (ECG), a troponin test, and an echocardiogram after isolation and before a phased return to exercise and re-acclimatization.

If abnormalities are found during this battery of tests, the student-athlete will not be permitted to participate unless and until the abnormalities have cleared after additional screening and the student-athlete has received medical clearance from team physicians.

• A student-athlete who has tested positive is not subject to weekly pre-competition testing for a period of 90 days from the date of the positive test unless the student-athlete exhibits symptoms consistent with COVID-19. At such time, the student-athlete will be required to be tested.

• In football, face shields are being developed to assist in reducing any potential spread of the virus, and several institutions are currently testing those shields. Currently, the group doesn’t recommend mandating face shields due to the relatively short period of time to validate these products.

• The advisory group classifies football, volleyball, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, basketball and rowing as high-risk sports. Baseball, softball and cross country are classified as medium risk, and golf, tennis, fencing, track and field, and swimming and diving are classified as low risk.

Twice the Weis?

The Sept. 19 Notre Dame Stadium matchup between the Irish and USF will feature two of the FBS’ youngest offensive coordinators, both of whom have ties to former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis.

ND’s 28-year-old offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees, verbally committed to Weis as a high school quarterback in 2009 and stayed committed when Weis was replaced by current ND head coach Brian Kelly in December of that year.

Rees’ USF counterpart is 27-year-old Charlie Weis Jr., a third-year coordinator overall in his first season with the Bulls. The younger Weis was a constant figure on the sidelines during his dad’s reign at ND.

Charlie Weis Sr., a radio host on SiriusXM Channel 88 these days, won’t be making the trip to South Bend for the game, because he doesn’t want to turn into a distraction.

The elder Weis could have attended under ND’s recently announced ticket policy (with drastically reduced stadium capacity) as a family member of the visiting team.

Sizing up the schedule

The Athletic has ranked all 76 of the 130 FBS teams still on the runway to play football this fall, with Notre Dame checking in at No. 6.

Among the 11 Irish opponents, 2019 national runner-up Clemson is ranked as ND’s toughest game. The Tigers are No. 1.

The easiest game, per The Athletic, will be ND’s recently added Sept. 19 non-conference clash with South Florida. The Bulls are No. 70.

In between the two extremes are No. 16 North Carolina, No. 21 Louisville, No. 24 Florida State, No. 25 Pittsburgh, No. 44 Wake Forest, No. 49 Syracuse, No. 50 Duke, No. 53 Boston College and No. 55. Georgia Tech.

Junior walk-on Michael Vinson (65) launches a long snap to punter Jay Bramblett (19) during a recent Notre Dame football practice as Dawson Goepferich (38) looks on.