Chat Transcript: Talking Clark Lea, playoff scenarios, what ND football in '21 might look like

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Syracuse edition. Please remember to include your name and hometown with your question. I'll waive all the typical rules (no gambling, no spitting, no bare feet, etc.) if we can limit whining today.

Eric Hansen: A quick note, if you haven't had a chance to listen to this week's Pod of Gold podcast, I'd encourage you to. Tony Dungy was a fabulous guest with great insights: Pod of Gold: Tony Dungy on Notre Dame's season, coaching staff and talent

Eric Hansen: OK, let's get started.

Pat from St Paul: Eric - as always, thanks for the chat!! I am happy that the Wake game was canceled. Was starting to wonder if the number of games played were going to end up hurting the health of the team as the playoff approaches. Two questions: Do you think we flip Kelvin Gilliam and do you think Rocco Spindler ends up on the D-line? Thanks!!

Eric Hansen: Hi Pat. From what Carter Karels, our recruiting guy, tells me, Oklahoma defensive line commit Kevin Gilliam is going to stay with Oklahoma. I do expect ND to pick up another defensive end commit before the signing period (Dec. 16-18). I certainly think Rocco Spindler could play D-line in college. I like him as a multi-year starter, though, where ND has him projected, which is at offensive guard.

Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Eric, wishing you the very best from small-town California. Can't wait to see how the rest of this rather remarkable season plays out. But looking ahead, the Irish will be losing an outstanding competitor and winner in Ian Book. Frankly, I am not all that convinced that either Brendon Clark or Drew Pyne can step into the breach and keep the program on track and rolling. And hoping a freshman (albeit a talented one) in Tyler Buchner can come in and be the man right off the bat is a huge ask. Couple that with the loss of several prominent graduates across the board and the possible departure of the gifted (defensive coordintor) Clark Lea, and I sense a possible regression. Can you address next year's QB chase and also give me hope that the Irish can at least maintain their double-digit win streak in 2021. Thank you and stay safe.

Eric Hansen: While Brian Kelly gets knocked — and somewhat justifiably — for multi-year starters at QB not significantly progressing, his track record with first-year starters is rather impressive. Assuming a normal 15-session spring football practice schedule, Kelly and the fan base both will learn a lot more about the readiness of Clark, Pyne and Buchner. If there is a lack of readiness across the board, Notre Dame would have the option to check into the grad transfer market after spring. My anticipation is that they won't need to, that Clark and Buchner will provide enough promise in spring that one of them will be able to handle the job in the fall. They'll be surrounded by some dynamic receivers and running backs, though the offensive line will have to reload. I'm not sure about double-digit wins in 2021. I've not vetted that out yet. But I do think with the way Notre Dame has recruited, with its culture, with its player development model, I don't think you'll see either severe dips in the bottom line or protracted ones. And best wishes to you.

Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: Hope you had a nice Turkey day, and all are safe. I do not want to lose Clark Lea. What do we have to do to keep him?

Eric Hansen: This is one of several threads of Clark Lea questions I'll address today. With Clark, I don't think it's a matter of money (like Mike Elko). Clark's dream is to be a head football coach. He also believes he's ready for that challenge. So keeping him will be a matter of what kind of offers he gets to be a head football coach. He can wait on a Power 5 job and be perfectly content at Notre Dame. ... And for those who would like to see Clark eventually succeed Brian Kelly, by Lea getting head coaching experience somewhere else would make him a stronger ND head coach in the long run. I'm not advocating him to leave ND, but it's hard to stand in the way of a man with dreams and the means to make them happen.

Tom from Yakima Wash: Just a quick question. What do you think of the transfer portal? It seems to me that it is too easy. If you don't get playing time, you leave. Sure sometimes it can help you, but other times not. Are there any upcoming changes on the horizon? Thanks for the great service you do!

Eric Hansen: Tom, thanks. It does have a feel of free agency to it, and the imminent rule tweaks coming in the next few months regarding it are going to make that even more so. I do think there are going to be a good percentage of immature decisions, but that's a price you'll have to pay with more player movement. It won't necessarily help Notre Dame acquire talent. Getting credits to transfer for undergrad transfer players is daunting at times for ND. However, the grad transfer market is very much a viable one for Notre Dame, and it's certainly helping this year.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. What is the status or C'Bo Flemister? I don't recall seeing him vs. North Carolina, and I had thought Brian Kelly said his injury in the BC game wasn't serious.

Eric Hansen: Tim, in this COVID year — as I've expressed many times — we the media are very limited on questions in a press conference. It was on my list, but I had two other pressing ones I wanted to get to. Usually a question like that will get asked by someone else eventually. It did not get asked. Perhaps his presence on this week's depth chart dissuaded the question. I have some follow-up personnel questions at the top of my list for Thursday. My sense is ND went into the North Carolina game wanting to hold C'Bo out if they possibly could and only play him if pressed, just to give the ankle another week to get stronger. Kyren Williams ended up playing 61 snaps and Chris Tyree 15 at running back.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, certainly the targeting penalty on Kyle Hamilton was regrettable, but just glad neither player was injured. So, how would you grade out the play of Houston Griffith when he came in? Kelly just said something to the effect of he "didn't make any mistakes." Is he better versus the run or in coverage? Is he poised to step in for Shaun Crawford next year? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, Houston Griffith continues to be one of the great mysteries for me since I've been covering Notre Dame football and one that I refuse to give up on. In the North Carolina game, he was assignment-correct, which helped allow the pass rush to crank things up. He's such a good athlete, with such a good attitude, and such a hard worker, I am anticipating him being able to step in and follow Crawford successfully next season. I think moving around positions sometimes helps players. In his instance, I think it set him back. I think coverage skills and instincts is where his growth will come over the next year as continuity kicks in.

Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: Good afternoon, Eric. Do you think the College Football Playoff committee will OR should — for college football fans' sake — intentionally separate UND and Clemson, even though they could in reality to be No. 2 and No. 3, to avoid them playing a third time? I have said this personally for years that they should put in their bylaws that once a team meets during a season, they should only meet in the final game regardless of final ranking of No. 1-No. 4. YOU make the call, Eric. Thanks and Go Irish !!!

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks. I'm not sure the committee will be faced with that decision in that the loser of the ND-Clemson game will probably drop to No. 4 if it's ND and 4-5-6 if it's Clemson. But there are bylaws where the committee can move a team up one spot or down one to avoid rematches in the semis.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Thanks for being here! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Other than the injury risk, would it have been more helpful to play Wake on Dec 12 to stay sharp? I’m concerned that a cakewalk on Senior Day followed by a bye could cause for a sluggish first quarter in the ACC Championship Game. I’d hate to spot Clemson (or even Miami) a couple of early touchdowns while we get back up to game speed.

Eric Hansen: Hi Erik. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too. Wake Forest certainly would have provided a challenge for the ND defense, as the No. 15 team in scoring nationally. I don't think a slow start beyond the bye week is an automatic, and with both teams having the same advantage/disadvantage, why would it favor one team over the other? Keep in mind Notre Dame's last bye week was also final exams week. The players don't have exams, or even classes, next week, so there wouldn't figure to be the same dynamic as coming into North Carolina.

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hi Eric. Thanks for hosting. During the press conference the questions about the injured players were asked and answered concerning Jayson Ademilola, Tommy Kraemer, etc. My question is concerning those who played but may have been nicked up. It looked to me like Robert Hainsey was slower off the ball than usual. He did have a bad ankle. How is his health? Anyone else nicked up a bit? Will anyone new be held out this week so they could heal nagging injuries that are not severe enough to keep them out of the lineup?

Eric Hansen: Hope to get to the health questions Thursday, but remember now, the Irish get an extra week now to heal up.

John from Walled Lake, Mich.: Hi Eric. Did Blake Fisher decommit? Which running back recruit does Notre Dame have the best chance to get out of Donovan Edwards, Audric Estime or Byron Cardwell? Thanks as always for answering my questions.

Eric Hansen: Blake Fisher did NOT decommit. ... Among the RBs you mentioned, Estime — who received a huge bump up in the latest Rivals player rankings — seems to be the path of least resistance. I'd list Edwards as the second-most likely and Cardwell third based on my phone-a-friend lifeline to Carter Karels. Estime is likely to sign in February, so the Irish could wait on Edwards, who will sign early with someone and who is the No. 1 priority at that position.

Matt from St. Louis: Hi Eric. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. Thank you for offering to pass on the more detailed stat comparisons for the five key categories. I’d be interested in seeing those. My question this week is about perception and reality. As an ND fan, I get a bad taste in my mouth every year from hearing about a 13th data point when we don’t play throwaway games against FCS teams. Given how much some people (and even the CFP committee) are willing to entertain teams with a much greater disparity in number of games played this year, do you think there’s a double standard? To be fair, I’m mostly talking about commentators — the CFP folks have mostly seemed to be more diplomatic about 12 vs 13 games. I know the pandemic changes things, but, even so, eight is 2/3s of 12. ,.. Also, after this year, do you think there will be less talk about the difference between 12 and 13? Thank you!

Eric Hansen: Matt, I cooked for myself (and cheated) after we decided to postpone our family Thanksgiving celebration until spring. I'm still alive after eating my cooking, so I'll take it as a successful one. ... To your football questions, now, keep in mind there had to be a different set of rules in 2020 because of the pandemic and regarding games played. I'm not sure, though, that the 12-game season vs. the 13 in a normal year is the hindrance everyone thought it would be. The only drawback for ND going forward would be that conference champion is a TIEBREAKER. Some people incorrectly interpret it as something ND can't overcome. It's a tiebreaker, not a deal breaker. But bottom line, I do think there will be less talk from commentators on 12 vs. 13 if they are paying any attention at all. As far as the stat comparisons, I update those each week and run them with a Sunday night web story. Here is the link to this week's story. Just scroll down a bit and you'll find them,

Don from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: With the season mostly in the rear-view mirror, I am thankful we got the season in and was fine with the ACC experience. Since teams like Stanford and Navy turned out to be awful, I didn't miss them on the schedule. But North Carolina was the best team we picked up. Do you think we missed out on two excellent games and potential losses with Wisconsin and USC? Or is ND really that good that it wouldn't matter? Thanks, enjoy the final regular-season weekend.

Eric Hansen: Don, thanks. Hope yours was as well. It's an interesting rabbit hole to go down, and one I am pondering in doing in depth next week. Wisconsin and USC have played so few games that it's still hard to get a sense of how good either of them is. I know Clemson is better than both, and North Carolina's offense is better than both of those offenses. At first glance, I'm going to say ND would be undefeated with the original schedule. The Wisconsin game is the one that intrigues me, because ND and Book both weren't as good early in the season as they are now. And that would have been an Oct. 3 game.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Do you think the possibility that the Irish football team could win the ACC Conference Championship will change the ND administration's view on joining the conference?

Eric Hansen: Not in the least, although I think it's safe to say most associated with Notre Dame are both enjoying the ACC experience and grateful for it. But the reasons to perpetuate independence (when there isn't a pandemic) haven't changed.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Notre Dame has enough depth at most positions that if they lose a starter for a short period of time, as proven in the North Carolina game, they can replace him with a really good player that will come in and play well. The exception is probably the quarterback position. Will the Irish eliminate the designed QB runs from the game plan for Syracuse to decrease the potential for injury to Ian Book? If the Irish are leading by 25 at halftime, how soon do you take Ian Book out of the game?

Eric Hansen: I think the coaching staff will trust Ian Book to be smart when he runs, which is what he's done all year. It's a staple in Notre Dame's offense and helps elevate Book as a QB. Forcing him to be a pocket passer only is what opposing defensive coordinators want to and try to do, so you don't want to give them what they want. Now, getting Clark and/or Pyne into the game if/when circumstances dictate makes a lot of sense.

Nick, Denver: ND has now made a conference championship game before Michigan. Who thought that would ever be true?

Eric Hansen: Great point.

Dwight from Arkansas: If ND does have a rematch with Clemson for the ACC trophy, should the game be viewed just as big as the first 2020 meeting or should it be downplayed? The consensus seems to be the Irish are in the playoff field win or lose in the title game. Injuries in that game would have to be a concern if indeed ND advances to the playoffs.  I can see how Clemson would have more to play for. I'm just not sure if the Irish need to be pumped or subdued for that one. Don't want to see a bad performance in that rematch sour the Irish and hurt their momentum in preparation for the final 4.  I can see both ways.

Eric Hansen: Dwight, I'm going to partially answer your question with another question. Let's say ND stays in the top 4 with a loss to Clemson but falls to No. 4. That puts them against Alabama in the semis rather the Ohio State or Texas A&M potentially. Who would you rather play in the semis? If I'm Notre Dame, I look at this game as a great opportunity to give it my best and get ready for potentially three straight games against top 5 teams.

Joey from Westernport, Md.: Eric, how many Irish do you think will make first team All-America this season? I think we should have two defensive players under serious consideration — Kyle Hamilton and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Your thoughts? Thanks for the great chats!

Eric Hansen: Joey, team success enhances individuals' chances to land on All-America teams. I'd say the three ND players who have a shot at first team are two you named — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Kyle Hamilton — as well as Liam Eichenberg.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hi Eric. Who do I cheer for this weekend? Regarding the CFP, do you think it would make a difference if ND lost to Miami or Clemson in the ACC championship? I am assuming they go in undefeated. I am fairly sure they get in with one loss to Clemson in that game. What if Miami gets in and ND loses to them? Same difference? Thanks a lot.

Eric Hansen: Denis, I'll let you choose who to root for. If Clemson lost to Virginia Tech and Miami wins out, Clemson is out of the ACC Championship Game AND the playoff. Losing to Miami in the championship game, if it weren't competitive, could knock ND out of the playoff, although Miami is a top 10 team. However, I think Miami in the ACC title game would be a much more winnable game than a matchup with Clemson. Have I thoroughly confused you?

Megat Muzaffar from USJ, Malaysia: Hi Eric, I noticed that Shaun Crawford was a bit off in his coverage during the UNC game. Not his 'A' game definitely. Can Houston Griiffith and/or DJ Brown do a better job at safety alongside Kyle Hamilton?

Eric Hansen: Megat, Crawford is my preference to be Hamilton's safety sidekick for as long as he's willing to play for Notre Dame.

Jim from Albuquerque: Buenos Dias, Eric. Thanks for your hard work covering the Irish and hosting these Q&As. Would like to get your thoughts on how the Irish match up with Alabama should we meet the Tide in the playoffs. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Buenos Dias, Jim. Ciertamente mejor que en 2012. Alabama  looked vulnerable on defense earlier in the season. They've improved in leaps and bounds there to go along with a dynamic offense. I think Notre Dame would compete. They'd need the turnover margin to be in their favor, possibly a blocked punt or a defensive touchdown to make things really interesting.

Steve from Fort Wayne: Eric, Mack Brown and Nick Saban are both 69 years old and a decade older than Brian Kelly. It seems like coach Kelly is really hitting his stride and if things continue, is there any chance he will stay on longer than 2024? Also, any news on phase two of the Gug expansion?  If I’m correct it was related to coach Kelly’s contract extension.

Eric Hansen: Steve, when Brian Kelly steps on the sideline Oct. 30, 2021 against North Carolina, he'll be the first 60-year-old head coach in Notre Dame football history. Ara left the game at age 51 because of health concerns. Leahy did the same at age 45. Sure, he could coach beyond 2024, but he has his health and I'm not sure he'd want to push it.

Rich from Philly: Yo Yo ... You do good work, Eric. Irish look good and it's great, definitely a tough, talented and experienced group. What are your thoughts on next year's squad? New and young (and talented) guys will be taking over on both sides of the line. Do you think that Tyler Buchner redshirts and it's a year where you grow the next wave?

Eric Hansen: Yo Rich (not going to call you a yo-yo), I haven't fully processed the 2021 group in part because of the blanket eligibility rule due to COVID-19 and how that might play into things. Just kind of a lack-of-depth look, 2022 and 2023 would seem to align as teams with better a better balance of experience, but ND plays Ohio State AND Clemson during the regular season in both those years. I think 2021 will be a fun year to follow, but not necessarily a New Year's Six kind of year. I do not think Tyler Buchner will redshirt unless there's an injury.

David from St. Augustine, Fla.: C’Bo. Game ball vs. BC. Hard-running, never-say-die-guy. Team player. What happened? Coach said ankle injury was not serious. Why blackout in media? Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Answered this earlier, but are you curious or are you mad about why C'Bo didn't play? If you're mad, why are you? If he is/was healthy. he's not going to be used extensively in every game. But it's great that he's ready when called upon.

John from Glenview, Ill.: Hi Eric. With the free year granted to the players by the NCAA, do you see any other players, with expiring eligibility, coming back, especially on the offensive line? Thank you?

Eric Hansen: I think Eichenberg, Hainsey and Kraemer from the O-line will all head to the NFL. The picture with the rest of the roster is clearing up. I plan to do a story relating to NFL prospects next week.

Kevin from Calgary, Alberta: Eric, love your work. It's always informative and entertaining. There's been a lot of talk that win or lose in the ACC championship game that ND has already punched its ticket to the playoffs. But don't you think a bad loss, a la the 2018 playoff blowout to Clemson, would give the committee the means to say the Irish don't belong? I'm afraid the team may go into the championship game a little too complacently.

Eric Hansen: Kevin, thanks. I think the last thing you have to worry about ND being in a game with Clemson is complacency. A loss by the margin of the 2018 playoff game would certainly amp up the arguments for teams like Texas A&M and Cincinnati. I agree.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Do you agree this is Brian Kelly’s best team and coaching staff? If you were the athletic director, what if anything would you want to do to keep Lea in place at least through the playoffs and, if he ultimately leaves, pave a way for a return to ND? Seems like a real treasure and very likeable. Great team win!! Go Irish and please stay safe Eric!!

Eric Hansen: Bill, thanks. Best recruiting staff, best coaching staff. Team with the highest ceiling and a real chance to reach it. Since the early signing period is coming up for recruiting in a couple of weeks, I think Lea staying through the playoffs is realistic if he were offered a head coaching job he was interested in, since there won't be as urgent of a need to start right away. If you're Jack Swarbrick, I'm not sure you could offer anything re future ND opportunities, because that might not be Swarbrick's call to make.

Adam from Grand Rapids Mich. Hi Eric! Hypothetical question: If ND loses to Clemson by 10 in the ACC Championship Game, Florida knocks off 'Bama in a close SEC Championship Game, OSU goes 5-0 and is left out of Big Ten Championship Game, who is your playoff 4?

Eric Hansen: Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida, 'Bama.

ND Harvey from Philly: E, always a pleasure to talk. If Zeke Correll can’t play on Saturday, will Colin Grunhard get the start? Will the ACC Championship Game have fans and how many? Thank you. Be Safe. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: I would anticipate Zeke will play. He's listed at the top of the depth chart and Kelly didn't indicate otherwise. But if not, I'd expect Josh Lugg to play center and Dillon Gibbons to play guard ... or Tommy Kraemer, which is a very remote possibility. As of now, the ACC Championship Game will have fans capped at 7% of Bank of America Stadium's capacity, which would translate to 5,279. That number could move up or down in the coming days. We'll keep everyone posted on or website.

Chad from Denver: Eric, I love your work and I'm very grateful for these chats during this crazy COVID football season. A few weeks back the chat went into "overtime."  What would it take for this chat to get into double-overtime? If the season was not interrupted by COVID, what away venue were you looking forward to covering ND at and why?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Chad. I do feel bad about the questions I don't get to, which is why sometimes I just fly through my answers without proofreading them and then clean them up later after posting the transcript. If Notre Dame makes the playoff, I will arrange my schedule to have one big marathon session. To your other question, Lambeau Field in Green Bay hands down. If gravity will allow, I want to do a Lambeau leap.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric and thanks for the chats. I look forward to them. How do you describe the job Tom Rees has done as offensive coordinator in his first year. I realize you could probably write an article about this, but what is the one thing that has really struck you or maybe surprised you about his job performance?

Eric Hansen: Above my and a lot of other people's expectations. What has surprised me has been his ability to be unpredictable (and effective while doing so) when it matters.

John from Appleton, Wis.: With the early signing period starting days before the ACC Championship Game, will ND be doing their normal production surrounding the players that sign? Will Brian Kelly have any press conferences for it?

Eric Hansen: Not sure yet. They may put off the press conference stuff until the week after the ACC Championship Game or just make his normal Thursday presser recruiting-oriented.

Jeff from York, Pa.: Hi Eric. What is the status of Flemister? We need a few more four- or five-star recruits to make this a really good class. Who do we have a chance of landing? Also, please stop pushing Clark Lea for other jobs. He is the coach to replace BK. I used to be against promoting a guy who didn't have head coaching experience to the position of head coach. Bob Davie is a perfect example of the kind of disaster that can result from this policy. However, Clark Lea is not Bob Davie and we should do everything we can to keep him at ND.

Eric Hansen: I took this question, because quite frankly the part about "pushing Clark Lea for other jobs" ticks me off big time. I'm not pushing Clark to take another job. I'm reporting reality. That's MY JOB. And if you can't deal with the reality that successful programs have assistants other teams will want to interview, then you need to bury your head under your pillow for a few weeks every December so you're not put off.

Gi from San Juan, Puerto Rico: Please give us an update on Lou Holtz’s condition.

Eric Hansen: I saw a report the other day that his son, Skip, said that Lou is improving but still has a way to go in his recovery from COVID-19.

Austin Boss from Austin, Texas: Brian Kelly said post-BC that Ian Book as the "difference in the game" and pre-NC that Howell threw "the best deep ball in the league." Were those shots at Phil Jurkovec?

Eric Hansen: Sam Howell coming into the ND-Carolina game was sixth nationally in yards per completion and first among Power 5 QBs. Phil Jurkovec was 59th. You do the math.

Fred from Richmond: Eric, it’s always a pleasure to read and comment on your site. I have been following Irish football my whole life. Being born and raised in Akron, my father and uncle played football with Ara in high school and were lifelong friends. I have always been a firm believer in Irish football independence. However, since being in a conference this year, I have changed my mind. It’s imperative to have a realistic chance these days to make the playoff, you need to be in a conference. Without a conference, we need to go undefeated, which is just too difficult. In a conference, you can win the conference championship with a loss and still get in. We can still keep a rivalry game or two, but I believe we must get with the times and make it full time with the ACC. What is your opinion on this?

Eric Hansen: Fred thank you for the kind words. I disagree with your assumption a one-loss ND independent can't get in. In fact, ND with one loss in 2015 was in the top four until it regressed in narrow victories over inferior teams in November. Then the Irish lost at Stanford to end that season. You could argue that an ND team that lost to Wisconsin in its original schedule, but beat Clemson and USC later in the year would be a strong playoff candidate.

Martin from Whereabouts Unknown: Hello Eric, I love your work. I was wondering if you could clear something up for me. Ian Book has accepted the Reese's Senior Bowl invitation. I have seen conflicting reports, so I would like to know:. With him accepting the Senior Bowl invite, does that lock him into the draft? Thank you, sir.

Eric Hansen: Martin, it does not. He could renege, but I don't think he will. Because of the universal eligibility all players must this year declare for the draft.

Sean from Portland, Ore.: No chance that Ade Ogundeji comes back next year? The D-line has a lot of depth to be sure, but he has been so incredibly active and consistent all year. Very impressed with him, perhaps one of the most unsung/underrated players on the roster.

Eric Hansen: He's probably a mid rounder, so I would not expect him to come back, especially with him committed to playing in the Senior Bowl.

Mike from Lemont, Ill.: Eric, I thought that Tony Jones leaving early was a mistake, as he was a move-the-pile, 5- to 6-yard guy. Don't even remember hearing Williams' name last year. Running back depth was considered an issue coming into the year. Now looks to be set for years, although I would like to see Tyree get between 6-10 touches a game. I know you do not like hypotheticals, but if you could have someone back from last year's team who would it be? Most will say Chase Claypool, but I think Khalid Kareem would be the pick. What say you? Thanks for the chats and Go IRISH!

Eric Hansen: Mike, I would have said Claypool earlier in the year. I still will say Claypool, but Khalid Kareem would be my second choice and Troy Pride, because of need and depth, my third.

Tom from Hillsdale, Mich.: Eric, thanks for a great job. Any thoughts on Ohio State maybe not getting to play enough games to qualify? What did you think of Kirk Herbstreit’s comments last night about Michigan not playing the Buckeyes? The Michigan-Maryland game has been canceled.

Eric Hansen: Tom, Kirk did apologize for the suggestion that Michigan could be "tanking it." I think that was the right thing to do. He had no evidence that they were. I think the Big Ten really boxed itself into a corner with some of its rules and not being more flexible. If Ohio State only plays six games, the Buckeyes should not be in the playoff. There's been a lack of quality wins and convincing wins on top of the sheer numbers.

Stephen from Toledo, Ohio: I know AD Jack Swarbrick has been investing heavily in football with the upgrades to locker rooms, the additions to the stadium and even new practice facility to keep up with other big programs and help with recruiting. Are there any other rumblings about what’s next?

0Eric Hansen: There are ... there's a second phase coming to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, which is not going to get a lot of play or momentum during a pandemic and athletic department financial crisis. Eventually, that will come.

Gabriel Weiss from South Bend: Hey again, Mr. Hansen. Thank you for taking the time once again for us fans. Hypothetically, if you had the choice between the two for head coach, would you rather have Clark Lea after a couple seasons at Vandy or Tom Rees if he continues the superb recruiting and offensive domination trend?

Eric Hansen: Mr. Weiss, thanks for the question and you can call me Eric. Clark Lea has a longer track record as an assistant coach, so Clark Lea is my choice in 2020.

Tom from Downers Grove, Ill.: Hi Eric, it looks like we are taking Kevin Bauman's and Kurt Hinish's brothers in the 2022 class. I know recruiting brothers is nice, but given the size of the 2021 class and the low rankings for these players, isn't it unwise to fill up spots with them?

Eric Hansen: It's really not prudent to invest too much in star rankings this early in a recruiting cycle. When Notre Dame extended an offer to Kyle Hamilton, he was the No. 66 safety per 247 sports and unranked by Rivals in his class and a three-star prospect. When he signed, he was the No. 1 safety per 247sports and No. 15 player overall nationally. Because of the pandemic, the evaluations of 2021 and 2022 prospects are going to be spotty. That said, if Notre Dame didn't think they were elite prospects, they wouldn't have offered them. They didn't, for instance, offer Alohi Gilman's or Julian Love's little brothers.

Mike from Denver: Do you see any chance the ACC will cancel the championship game assuming both ND and Clemson win this weekend?

Eric Hansen: No! Why?

Ed from Palm Beach, Fla.: No matter how anyone spins it, this season is a asterisk. The atmosphere at stadiums never a factor. Teams playing shortened schedules. Lack of spring practice, plus preseason practice. Your take on the whole enchilada?

Eric Hansen: I too think it deserves an asterisk, but not for the reasons you mentioned. For the sacrifices so many people made to make this season happen. For the courage to try. For the obstacles overcome and adapted to. It's been my favorite season to cover EVER ... not that I won't welcome normalcy next season.

Mike from Pennsylvania: Hi Eric, hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Is there any update on an offer for Curlee Thomas Jr. (strongside defensive end from Nolan Catholic in the '22 class)? I've seen the recent offers to weakside defensive ends and was just curious.

Eric Hansen: I don't think Notre Dame has offered. I have used my phone-a-friend lifeline already during this chat.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric. Really appreciate all of your hard work that you do to keep us up to date on ND football. That podcast interview of Tony Dungy was great, and Tyler's bringing up Tony's admiration of Tommy Tremble was a delight. Building on your question about coach Rees utilizing tight Ends because of his playing days with Tyler Eifert, I also think it is interesting that Rees was not a very mobile quarterback, yet he has had so much success this year letting Ian play to his strength as a mobile quarterback. Just a thought. What say you?

Eric Hansen: Thanks for the compliments. The Tony Dungy interview was fun and insightful for me. ... To your question, it's interesting because a long, long time ago, I did a story on Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight as a player. And some of his biggest weaknesses as a player became non-negotiable must-haves for the players he coached. I think Tommy was smart enough to see how good Ian's skill set was as a runner, and wondered how that might have benefitted him as a player if he had had it. So yes, I agree.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric, I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving no matter how COVID-restricted it might have been. The depth that ND is building over the last couple of years is helping to develop players who are ready to step in when needed. Practicing every day against better players makes for better players when they are ready. This is often overlooked, but is a very important hidden part of the team along with the conditioning, diet and training staffs. Agree??? Also, do you see similarities in the late growth of Javon compared to Miles Boykin's development? Thanks. Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Tom, thanks and hope you got to enjoy the holiday, whether in person or virtual. I don't disagree with any of your statements. I sure hope great minds think alike and not mediocre ones.

Stephen from Toledo, Ohio: Hey, Eric. Great season to be an Irish fan! I know you’ve probably had a million questions about Lea, so what’s one more right??? Lol. Assuming Lea is gone after this year, what would Kelly do to find his replacement??? Personally, I think Mike Elston would be a great choice, especially after multiple years learning this defensive scheme. Any thoughts on this from your crystal ball?

Eric Hansen: Elston did a really good job in 2016 of running the defense clandestinely after Brian VanGorder was fired. I think one of Lea's strengths is the people who are around him — Elston, Terry Joseph and Mike Mickens. I do think Brian owes it to himself to open up the job (if Lea were to leave) and conduct a national search. But I think Mike Elston would be an outstanding candidate and deserving of a chance to be given strong consideration.

Phil from Fort Wayne: Eric, you've obviously been in more than your fair share of press boxes during your career as a sports reporter. Which ones have offered the best pre-game grub for attending media, and which ones the worst?

Eric Hansen: The worst is easy. Indiana University hands down in the 1980s. They made us quiche once. I broke my plastic fork attempting to try to see if it was as bad as it looked (it was). From that point forward, I would try to find my in-laws' tailgate on my stroll through the parking lot. The best? This is going to surprise you, because there are so many good ones in the south, but it's Boston College.

Gene in New York: Hey Eric. Thanks for the great coverage. Your excellent article on tight end prompts me to give kudos to key to this season’s success, flying somewhat under the radar — Tom Rees. Years past there were always times in every game where I’d be yelling at TV that if I could anticipate the next play, so could defense. Haven’t had that even once this year!  Now my question: Going into game, it sounded like UNC secondary were numbers 7-10 on the depth chart last spring (and even in high school in September) due to opt-outs, injuries, COVID. If that was the case, how is it possible that the only open wide receiver all day was McKinley? Did they play differently and could that be an issue going forward?

Eric Hansen: Gene, thank you. I think the biggest issues in dealing with North Carolina's defense were: Chazz Surratt is an elite linebacker and in the middle of everything. North Carolina has been really good at getting pressure on the QBs. And with two new O-linemen for Notre Dame, the Tar Heels had a plan to try to confuse them. Once the O-line settled in, it was easier to take advantage of UNC's other weaknesses.

Bob from Cape Elizabeth, Maine: Given the cancellation of Wake Forest game, there is only one opportunity to get Braden Lenzy back into shape and into the flow.  Do you think they will recognize that and push it a bit?

Eric Hansen: Absolutely.

Terry from Ottawa, Ontario: Greetings Eric and happy post-Thanksgiving. Hope you and your family are well. Three observations: 1. Ian Book is the real deal, just a first-rate QB, a gutsy team leader and obviously very well-respected by his teammates. 2. This Irish team is the grittiest and most complete ND team I’ve seen since my student days in 1969. Coach Kelly got that right. And ...  the ND ‘D’ is the fastest, quickest and hardest-hitting unit the Irish have ever had. I really like their chances in the playoffs. 3. Kudos to the ACC for leveling the playing field ... and exempting the Irish and Clemson from scheduled gams on Dec. 12.

Eric Hansen: Your observations are notes and delivered.

Lawrence from San Diego: What are the chances that Clark Lea stays another year? Does Brent Venables just have different coaching goals, or is there something that Clemson did to keep him that we can replicate?

Eric Hansen: He was not as ambitious about being a head coach as Lea and a lot of other coaches are. Harry Hiestand was the same way for ND as an O-line coach. Now Venables gets to coach his kids, Jake and Tyler. I do think at some point, he will dip his toe into head coaching. I think there's certainly a chance Lea comes back to ND in 2021. He's not going to take a job where there isn't a chance for him to be successful and supported.

Mike from Ohio: Hello Eric: What can you tell us about Marist Liufau? Thought he played well against UNC. Don't remember him playing as much in previous games.

Eric Hansen: He's one of those three-star prospects fans don't seem to take to. Great growth potential, with length and speed. COVID knocked him back earlier in the year. He's in a very competitive situation at the buck linebacker with Shayne Simon and Jack Kiser at (Jack Lamb plays the position as well). He's from Manti Te'o's high school (Punahou).

Greg from Cameron, Mo.: How many starters do you see returning on offense and defense in 2021?

Eric Hansen: A this juncture, five on offense, not counting Kevin Austin but counting injured Jarrett Patterson. Five or six on defense.

Mike from Denver: To make a better case for two teams based on the current CFP rankings under the guise of avoiding more potential COVID exposure.

Eric Hansen: Nope, too much TV money to give up. Under the guise of COVID exposure when it's not real would show a lack of integrity.

Mike from Rochester, N.Y.: Hi, Eric, no question just a couple of comments. First, so happy that Javon McKinley and Avery Davis are having such good senior years after all the hard work they’ve put in for this team. Second, since coach Kelly has gotten broadly criticized for some hires that turned out poorly in the past, is he getting enough credit for some hires that are looking pretty great for recruiting, developing, and coaching — Lea, Rees, Quinn, Taylor, Alexander, Mickens (amazing what he’s done at his position), McNulty! This staff seems to do well and, equally important, work well together!

Eric Hansen: Well said. Well said. Do you want to help me with the chat next week?

Dave from Houston: Do you finally think ND has reached the point of reloading instead of rebuilding?

Eric Hansen: Not at the level of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, but certainly at a high level, yes.

Adam from Dayton, Ohip: Eric, I will eventually learn to not hit enter right away and send you a non-question first! Love your work. 1.) Was listening to the recent Pod of Gold. Very interested in Tony Dungy's comments as far as the rematch. Basically said, next game plan should be to limit receivers ... instead of shutting down Travis Etienne. While I agree a game 2 would play out differently — and those receivers scare me to death — I thought a defense always wanted to make an offense one-dimensional, i.e., take away Etienne and the run. Doesn't Dungy's suggestion run counter to that? Unless the thought is Clemson will come out on the attack, and the Irish can dial up the pressure and get to Lawrence? 2.) Clemson will be tougher defensively. Do the Irish have new ways to attack? I keep hoping that Lenzy could open up some possibilities, but that is just dreaming at this point.

Eric Hansen: Adam, thank you. I agree with Tony in that ND will have to show Clemson some different looks. But I still think the defense will lean toward run defense. I think Tony was intimating that. Lenzy impactful? Don't give up on that idea.

Patrick from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Eric, I have noticed Rylie Mills getting playing time over the past few games and would like to read your assessment of his play. Also, what are your thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the interior line?

Eric Hansen: I love who Mills is now and even more who he's going to turn into. He's compared to being a guy who on the interior can have the eventual impact of a Jerry Tillery and I've seen nothing that would make me skeptical about that eventually happening. The strengths of the interior defense line are its depth and its future. Kurt Hinish is the only one who would have expiring eligibility under normal circumstances. The Irish will be adding a 6-5, 290-pound stud in Gabriel Rubio next year. Weaknesses? They're probably a year away from being dominant.


Eric Hansen: I do, although I think Clemson will be favored.

Will Vandiver from Seattle: Eric, assuming ND makes the playoff 4 (let’s say with Alabama, Clemson and OSU), are we the team most dependent on its starting QB staying healthy for it?

Eric Hansen: I would say yes.

Tom from Georgia: Do you believe ND would beat Ohio State were they to play next week? Why, or why not?

Eric Hansen: Yes, because I think Ohio State's defense is vulnerable.

Dwight from Arkansas: I couldn't help but have a 'feel good' flashback on Saturday when Book completed a pass to George Takacs.  As a teen years back, I watched the ND QB (forgot who -- Clements?) throw a huge pass to Robin Weber to clinch a win over 'Bama. I'm not sure that Weber ever caught another pass in his ND career. Couldn't help but feel good for Takacs, who is overlooked with all the tight end talent the Irish have. My question, if Lea should indeed move on to a head coaching job, would the Irish consider offering the defensive coordinator job once again to Mike Elko? I believe it was Elko who brought Lea in. Clearly, Elko left for the money going to A&M, but might the Irish loosen their purse strings to bring him back?

Eric Hansen: I wouldn't and I don't think ND would. I'd look at Marcus Freeman of Cincinnati if Kelly didn't choose Elston from within. ... And yes, it was Tom Clements. And besides making that catch, Robin Weber is one of the most awesome human beings you'd ever want to meet.

Eric Hansen: OK, that's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. We're going to do it all again next week, which is a bye week, Wednesday at noon EST. Talk to you then.

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