Chat Transcript: Talking Notre Dame postseason, personnel, predictions — and recruiting

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Notre Dame QB Tyler Buchner (12) runs the ball as Virginia Tech's Chamarri Conner (1) and Keonta Jenkins (33) converge during Notre Dame’s 32-29 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va.

Eric Hansen: Greetings and welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, USC Week Edition. PLEASE remember to include your name and hometown with your question. Let's get started.

Frank from Rockwall Texas: Is Jacob Lacey out for the auSac game?

Eric Hansen: Frank, we have updates a couple of times a week, for future reference. On Mondays, Tyler James rounds those up in his notebook. On Thursday, it's my turn to do those honors. As of Monday, Lacey (ankle injury) was the only Irish player whose status was uncertain, one way or another, for Saturday night. I'll follow up on that Thursday.

Javier from Parkland, Fla.: Eric, as always, thanks for all the information you send our way. You are the best!  This year in College Football seems to be full of surprises. I have a question and a follow-up: If the Irish win the rest of their games, finishing with an 11-1 record, Cincy goes undefeated, the Big Ten champion with one loss (either PSU, OSU or Michigan), Georgia the undefeated SEC champion and Alabama with two loses, and Oklahoma losing at least one game (either to ISU in the regular season or the Big 12 championship), does ND get a chance to get into the College Football Playoff over Bama, whoever ends up winning the Pac-12 and Oklahoma? Would it be better for the program to get into the CFP or go to a New Year’s Six bowl and win? I know that’s a lot of scenarios and possibilities, but it is fun to dream! Thank you!

Eric Hansen: Hi Javier, and thanks for your question and for doing some of the math for me. The only thing Notre Dame can control is finishing 11-1 and showing significant improvement as a team over its last six games. The Irish would need BOTH to even be considered — even with doomsday kind of scenarios for other teams. They'd need a LOT of help. That would include Virginia only losing to ND the rest of the way, Purdue to keep winning and Cincinnati to go unbeaten. That still likely would not be enough, so that's where some of the scenarios you laid out would have to come into play.  ... As far as what's best in terms of a postseason destination, Notre Dame being in the playoff for two of the last three years — even with one-sided losses there — has been HUGE on the recruiting trail. My philosophy is always to strive to play on the biggest postseason stage and against the best competition. That's how programs get better.

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Bill from Idaho Falls, Idaho: Hello, Eric. Hope things are well with you. I have a couple of questions regarding the second half of the season: A) ND's ability to win close games shows their resiliency and no quit, which bodes very well for the second half of the season; or B) ND's issues both offensively and defensively come home to roost in the second half of the season, which does NOT bode well for them. Which of these is the more likely scenario and what do you see that leads you to one or the other as your conclusion?  As always your insight and expertise are appreciated.

Eric Hansen: Bill, if this were a team that had locker room/chemistry issues, I'd pick your B scenario. But it clearly does not. As long as there's not a key long-term injury (Kyle Hamilton, Isaiah Foskey, Michael Mayer, etc.), that the O-line keeps making incremental improvement and the QB situation doesn't crater, I see this team being better in November with a chance to play in the New Year's Six.

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Eric, one recommendation: Sam McEwon does a great job covering Nebraska football. You might check out his work — almost as good as our own Eric Hansen. One request: More ND baseball coverage this year, please, once things pick up in the spring. And one question: When Blake Fisher comes back, would the plan be to move Alt to right tackle, or does Josh Lugg keep that spot? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Hi Bruce. Thanks for the kind words. If Notre Dame baseball is a top 25 team, which I think the Irish will be, we'll make every effort to expand upon what we did last season. There seems to be the readership demand. ... While the original recovery prognosis had Blake Fisher returning from knee surgery sometime in November, the revised one post-surgery wasn't anywhere close to being that optimistic. Likely, he won't return this season. When he does next year, I expect Fisher to be the starting left tackle and Joe Alt to start at right tackle, with Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody backing up if they aren't pushing for a starting guard spot. If Fisher did come back for a bowl game. I would think Lugg would start over Alt.

Chad from Denver: Thanks for these chats. They are always very insightful. I know you get a ton of questions, and it's a lot to sift through. IF ND can finish 11-1, who would you like to see them match up with in a bowl game and why? What is your prediction for the game on Saturday? As always, great work and thanks for your time.

Eric Hansen: Hi Chad, and thank you. Let me start with my prediction for Saturday, which is the easiest. But that doesn't make it any more likely to be correct. I've predicted ND 34, USC 24. ... As far as the bowl game, I don't have a rooting interest in that scenario. However, I think matchups with Oklahoma, Oregon  and Ole Miss would be intriguing because of the matchups/personalities involved. I am not naming Georgia, Alabama and Cincinnati, because I think those three will be in the playoff (and ND likely will not be). Oklahoma might end up there, too.

Buddy from Oakland: Eric, JD Bertrand has been an immense surprise this season. His tackle total is by far the best of the ND defenders. Is Bertrand really that much better than the other Irish linebackers or is the ND defensive scheme designed to funnel the offensive activity into his defensive area? Is it the player or the position?

Eric Hansen: Hi Buddy. Let's give Bertrand credit, above all, for his instincts and preparation. There are some other factors in play here. A significant one is snap counts. At middle linebacker, the timeshare looks like this: Drew White 260 snaps/Bo Bauer 159. At rover, it's Jack Kiser 220/Isaiah Pryor 121. But at weakside linebacker, it's Bertrand 417/Prince Kollie 2. So then if you add the tackles at the positions together, there's a little more parity: MLB 41, WLB 59, Rover 42. I can't separate out special teams tackles for those individuals, but that gets you in the ballpark. Finally, I do think there is a DECIDED SCHEMATIC ADVANTAGE for the weakside linebacker, but it's also a reflection of defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman trusting JD and keeping him in the game in certain packages.

John from Champaign, Ill.: Eric, there is a great article by Kevin Clark of the Ringer: "The Cult of the Coach is losing its power. Good riddance". The article focuses on Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden. These are two coaches that have been seemingly thought of as “savior” coaches for Notre Dame for close to two decades. Alas, no more. Personally, I think Brian Kelly is the perfect fit, and his flexibility as a coach since 2016 has proven great dividends. I see him as a Tom Osborne or even a Bobby Bowden, coaches never really on the hot seat, but questioned as to whether or not they could really win the big one ... until they did ... multiple times. Does your gut tell you that coach Kelly will stay here 20 years, like Osborne or Bowden? Does Irish Nation, especially the administration, have the patience to see this play out? Thanks for all you do

Eric Hansen: Hi John, and thank you. Brian Kelly turns 60 on Monday and becomes the first active Notre Dame head football coach to be still coaching at ND at that age. Lou Holtz was next closest, at 59. BK is in good health and loving what he's doing. I'm not sure he'd want to coach another eight years, and I don't think he's sure, either. He's the kind of guy who takes stock after each season and assesses that. I think having Jack Swarbrick as the AD is a big deal for him. We don't know how much longer Jack will stay in his role, either.

Chris from Albuquerque: Does ND have a legit shot with Walker Howard? Feels like a Howard or Dante Moore is the final piece in the BK rebuild that started after 2016. Love the chats and hope all is great with you!

Eric Hansen: Hi Chris, thanks and doing great here. For those unfamiliar, Walker Howard is a five-star QB prospect from Lafayette, La., in the 2022 class who has been committed to LSU. The Tigers will have a new head coach next year. The fact that Howard is taking a visit to ND this weekend means there's a chance he flips to ND eventually. How the visit goes will likely help determine how realistic of a chance there will be going forward. This is not a sight-seeing trip for Howard.

Don from Phoenix: Eric, you and Tyler are doing a great job this year. As crazy as it's been, I like this team. My question is: Which lost player to injury, on both O and D, has had the largest impact?

Eric Hansen: Don, thank you. I would say left tackle Blake Fisher on offense and linebacker Marist Liufau on defense.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Eric, coaches always talk about how important experience and chemistry are, especially for the offensive line. I still maintain that one of the problems with this year's O-line is that we missed opportunities last year to get more backups more playing time..   As we get into the rest of our schedule, let's say we have several games under control and the defense is dominating the other team. What do you think are the chances we could see, for a couple of series, an O-line of LT Joe Alt, LG Andrew Kristofic, C Zeke Correll, RG Rocco Spindler, RT Michael Carmody or Tosh Baker? Your thoughts on this??? Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: I agree with the frozen development of certain players/position groups in 2020 because of all the COVID craziness and not being able to be in one spot, together. And the offensive line, given the offseason COVID restrictions and no spring practice, took a hit with its developmental players. ... So, work that the backup O-lineman normally would do together in the offseason, they couldn't. Then when ND did get to campus last summer, there was much more emphasis on conditioning (at other schools too) than there was learning. The veteran starters could handle that. The reserves? Not so much. And yes, game experience helps with the growth curve — both for starters and backups.

KJ from near the Channel Isles, Calif.: Greetings from the land of Dodger miracles! Ya gotta believe. Speaking of which, what do you believe will be the QB timeshare breakdown against the Trojans? Or will it depend on who appears to have the hot hand? As always, thanks for your informed insights.

Eric Hansen: Hi KJ, my Cardinals had the Dodgers on the ropes in the wild card game until the manager decided to put in the shakiest possible reliever in the highest-leverage situation of the season. Oh well, the better team won. I think the only part of the QB tag team that is preordained for the USC game is that Jack Coan starts and Tyler Buchner stays ready. Then it's really about the flow of the game from that point.

Marie from Atlanta.: Hi Eric. I hope you’re having a great USC week. For Notre Dame to finish 11-1 what three things, with regards to on-field play, most need to happen? Also, do you think Tommy Rees used too much 12 personnel in the first half of the season? It doesn’t seem like the tight end blocking has been that great this year. Do you think we will see less 12 personnel in the second half of the season, not only because of injuries but also because of its lack of effectiveness? Thanks for all the great work you do. Look forward to hearing your answers.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie, great week here. Hope yours is going well, too. Thanks for the email regarding feedback for the Pod of Gold podcast. ... To your first question, the offensive line needs to continue to improve. The team pass-efficiency rating of the quarterbacks needs to surge upward no matter who's playing. And ND needs to play on defense the way they played in the Wisconsin game. ... Part II,. I think Rees had to play 12 personnel more than maybe he'd like (two tight ends) because of the protection issues on the O-line. Now, if Tommy Tremble were still on the roster, how dynamic would that have been? I think the more Tyler Buchner plays, the less 12 personnel becomes a necessity and the more it becomes a choice.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore: Hi Eric. At the halfway point in the season, what has surprised you the most so far? Since it seems the offensive line may be developing, what else would be your primary concern for the second half of the season. I miss the old days when the USC game was in the afternoon in South Bend. It is really nice to have these chats each week. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Hi Denny, it's nice to have you here for the chats. When you say surprises, I'm assuming pleasant ones ... so that would include JD Bertrand, Joe Alt, Cam Hart leading the way there. ... Concerns beyond the offense line? So many are tied to that, including what's going on with the quarterbacks, but better consistency on defense and depth at tight end would be on the concerns list.

Bob Alvey from Loganville, Ga.: Do you think the USC football program would be in better shape today if Steve Sarkisian would not have had personal issues?

Eric Hansen: Of course. He's much better than Clay Helton, who was let go earlier this year.

Tom from Grand Rapids thru Dowagiac: Eric, welcome back after the bye week. Does ND put Cam Hart on wide receiver Drake London (following him around also) as that creates the least of a mismatch possible. I don’t see TaRiq Bracy or Clarence Lewis being able to handle him without a safety over the top.

Eric Hansen: Hi Tom. USC's offensive weaknesses (93rd-ranked rushing attack, a QB with limited running ability) expands ND's options a little defensively with regard to defending London without getting gashed elsewhere. With Purdue's David Bell, ND lined up Kyle Hamilton on him for a large portion of the game. I don't think that works with London. But I think regular help from Hamilton over the top does make sense. I do think Hart is the best cornerback matchup there.

Tom from St Pete, Fla.: Were you surprised to see Brendon Clark transfer? I was. It doesn't appear that our QB situation is settled, so if Clark is finally healthy, wouldn't he be in the mix for 2022? If he isn't healthy, he has no business transferring.

Eric Hansen: I wasn't surprised he elected to transfer. I was surprised by the timing of it. Why not wait until December and get better playing on the scout team, going against ND's No. 1 defense in practice?

Paul from Stuart, Fla.: Eric, do you have a comment on the ACC schedule-makers again (this the second year?) giving out byes for their teams the week before they play ND? Has athletic director Jack Swarbrick ever addressed this?

Eric Hansen: Hi Paul. I think you are thinking about 2019. And here's my question and Jack Swarbrick's answer when I asked him about it just before the 2019 season kicked off:

Q: I’m going to start with the question that I got absolutely hammered with by fans over the summer, and that is: There are seven teams on the Notre Dame football schedule this season that have a bye the week before playing the Irish. I’m not sure you could have done anything, but what’s your reaction to that and what could you have done to prevent something like that?

Swarbrick: "There is nothing you could do — that’s accurate. You have to keep in mind it’s a two-bye year, and two-byes years change everything. Because effectively the schools have the flexibility to figure out where to put that second bye.

"When it’s a single-bye year, the conference has to allocate them out in a pretty structured way. And so this sort of consequence isn’t going to happen. In a two-bye year, you’re wide open for things like this, and all you can do is be flattered by it, because people are choosing you to put the bye before.

"I understand the angst about it. If I had a resource available to me, I’d employ it, but I don’t.

"I also want to be clear in just how good a partner the ACC has been in scheduling with us. No one should look at that circumstance and think, ‘The ACC is not being fair to Notre Dame.’ They have been great partners."

Gerry from Waltham, Quebec: Eric, do you see Drew Pyne transferring now that Brendon Clark just left? Or is there hope for him next year?

Eric Hansen: Hi Gerry, in the new era of transferring without sitting out a year, no question about a player contemplating a transfer hits the absurd scale. But I would think Drew Pyne feels good about his chance to compete with Tyler Buchner next year, without Clark or Jack Coan in the picture.

Mike from Rochester, N.Y.: Hi, Eric, fingers crossed for a strong finish to the second half of the season, providing you, Tyler, and Tom with great storylines. A comment and a question. I love the Pod of Gold podcast, but I thought you and Tyler were a little harsh in your assessment of offensive line coach Jeff Quinn’s performance this year. I’d give him at least a C+, if not a B-, given the lack of upperclassmen he had to work with (said lack coming from poor recruiting by Harry Hiestand in his final year, injuries, transfers, etc). Given the excellent recruiting Quinn has done the past two years and the performance of last year’s line, I think a little patience is deserved here, although that seems to be something many Irish fans lack. My question: Does Purdue’s “upset” of Iowa strengthen ND’s case for a New Year’s Six bowl berth?

Eric Hansen: Mike, I respect your right to disagree, but let me clarify. The question, I believe, was for us to grade this season — not what Jeff has done in the past. And I've pointed out his past when I've defended his overall track record. This season he inherited a very difficult situation. My critique is that he could have handled that difficult situation better. If you still disagree with that context, that's fair. ... Yes, the Purdue win helps. Every data point like that helps. Purdue's challenging schedule stretch continues, though, with Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State over the next four games.

Larry from Millersville, Pa.: Hi Eric, I'm not looking forward to the long drive on Friday — about 11 hours — but I am looking forward to the game on Saturday night. Question: With Jack Coan graduating and Brendon Clark transferring, is there a chance that ND looks for another quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class?

Eric Hansen: I think they would be silly not to — and lo and behold, a five-star QB (Walker Howard) just happens to be visiting this weekend.

Rick from Sinking Spring, Pa.: My question is why don’t we play a more uptempo style of offense? It worked at the end of the Toledo, Purdue and Virginia Tech games. It seems when Jack Coan takes a quick drop and gets the ball out of his hands quickly is when he is at his best

Eric Hansen: Rick, in a vacuum, playing uptempo in large doses makes a lot of sense. But in the context of complementary football, that doesn't always work. Notre Dame knew its defense had a lot of personnel turnover and was learning a new scheme, so maybe not exposing the defense to so many plays was the smart path to take.

So let's take a look at the six teams nationally that run the most offensive plays per game. The national average is 69 plays, and all six of these teams average 78 or more. Other than No. 5 on the list, Colorado State, this philosophy really taxes those team's defenses.

North Texas, No. 1 in offensive plays per game, has the No. 103-ranked defense (in total yards allowed per game). No. 2 Ole Miss is 106th in total defense, No. 3 Utah State is 108th, No. 4 Duke is 110th and No. 6 Virginia is 95th. ... Now playing uptempo in key stretches, I think, is a good idea.

Robb from Manassas, Va.: So, Notre Dame has one loss — to the No. 2 team in the country (Cincinnati), in a relatively close game, and somehow we are ranked 13th while other one-loss teams remain far ahead of us in the rankings. Take Iowa, for example. It lost to a team we beat (and the Purdue-Iowa game wasn't all that close), yet Iowa remains in the top 10 and substantially ahead of us in the polls. Either our loss to Cincinnati is not regarded as a "good" loss, (in other words Cincinnati is not truly regarded as a No. 2 team) or we get no respect because of our quarterback situation and no one believes we can compete with elite teams and that is reflected in our lagging poll numbers. I can remember years ago we were a one-loss team to highly ranked Georgia, and we were ranked very high in the polls and in the conversation for the playoffs. What do you think it is? Why aren't we ranked higher with just one loss, to the No. 2 team in the country?

Eric Hansen: Robb, great question, and I hope this is an equally great answer. Where fans and some media get hung up is cherry-picking just one part of a team’s résumé and making the argument based solely on that one facet. It doesn't work that way. You need to look at the ENTIRE résumé. ND definitely earns points for the Purdue data point. BUT Iowa's wins are better than ND and largely more decisive. They have a top 10 win over Penn State, crushed Indiana by four touchdowns and took down Iowa State by double digits on the road. What's ND's best win besides Purdue? Virginia Tech? Wisconsin?

So these week-to-week polls are snapshots, and each week you get more data. Was the loss to Purdue an outlier or did Iowa's lousy offense finally catch up to it? Its next game, Oct. 30 at Wisconsin, should start to answer that question. And it's another comparison point with ND. ... To be completely objective, Notre Dame doesn't yet pass the eye test. It has the potential to, but the Irish need to start to show it. Using a similar comparison, a one-loss Pitt team had a much easier time with Virginia Tech than did the Irish. If you cherry-pick that point, Pitt, with one loss, should be ranked ahead of ND. But then you see the Pitt loss was to Western Michigan. The Panthers play Clemson this week, which should tell us a lot more about them — and Clemson.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Greetings, Eric. Hope you are having a good week. I’d like your perspective on Tyler Buchner as far as abilities and skill set. To my untrained eye, he looks like he flashes great abilities at the position. Where would you rank your optimism with him for the future, and how would you rate him compared to past QBs you’ve covered for ND? Guess I’m trying to determine what the ceiling is for him, in your opinion?

Eric Hansen: Hi Alex. I'll share my opinion, but I think it's worth listening to former ND quarterback Rick Mirer's opinion. He was our guest this week on the Pod of Gold podcast. He's seen Buchner play a lot, with Mirer living in San Diego and his son, Charlie, playing football at a high level there. We also had Buchner on the Pod of Gold podcast just about a year ago when he was still in high school. Impressive kid off the field. On the field, we're still dealing with a small sample size. But I think he has a chance to be special, really special. In the present-day snapshot, he's an adventure — up and down — but smart and fearless.

Ryan from Caro, Mich.: Eric, has there been talk about Blake Fisher possibly redshirting this season?

Eric Hansen: Given the high probability that he won't surpass the four-game threshold that would eliminate the redshirt status, I'd say absolutely he'll redshirt. BUT, he's not a five-year player. Most likely he'd stay at ND for four and maybe only for three, so the redshirt thing is kind of moot.

John from Elkhorn, Neb.: Hi Eric. Thanks for these weekly chats — really enjoy your commentary. Here’s my question: What’s your take on coaches covering their mouth when sending in a play etc. Can or does the opposition have someone trying to steal info? Seems a little bit extreme and unnecessary. Thanks again!

Eric Hansen: If it hadn't happened along the way, they wouldn't do it. People can read lips. You see this, not just in football, but other sports as well — like pitchers covering their mouths with their gloves so it's not apparent what they're saying to the catcher during mound visits.

Michael from Chicago: If Brendon Clark and Lawrence Keys III continue taking classes during this semester: 1) Are they still on scholarship for this semester? 2) Do they continue to be involved/work out with the team in any capacity? 3) Were the coaches surprised by the timing of the transfers? 4) If any of the QBs went down with an injury, could Clark rejoin the team? Given Joe Wilkens’ injury, could Keys have come back? I know that wasn’t going to happen, just didn’t know if it would even be allowed?

Eric Hansen: Clark and Keys remain on scholarship for this semester, as they're still in school taking classes. Keys is not involved with the team. and I wouldn't think Clark would be, either. ... I didn't ask the coaches if they were surprised, but they usually have a sense when someone is considering it, and then they sit down and talk before the player submits his name in the portal. ... Yes, players can take their name out of the portal. Houston Griffith did so last winter but it was already the offseason. I don't see either scenario playing out when it comes to Keys and/or Clark reconsidering, but there's not a rule against it.

Lawrence from San Diego: Can I get a yes/no prediction for the following recruits choosing ND? OT Zach Rice, QB Walker Howard, S Xavier Nwankpa, DL Anthony Lucas, DL Hero Kanu, OT Aamil Wagner, OG Billy Schrauth?

Eric Hansen: Just so you know, these are mostly guesses/hunches. Rice, no. Howard, too soon to tell. Nwankpa, yes in an upset. Lucas, no. Kanu, yes. Wagner, no. Schrauth, yes.

Jeremy from Goshen: Eric, is ND interested in taking Walker Howard AND Steve Angeli?

Eric Hansen: Yes, especially with the departure of Clark. They need the numbers (and quality).

Bill from Los Angeles: Hi Eric:  What is your favorite USC vs. Notre Dame game?  Sure have been some good ones. Thanks

Eric Hansen: Without a doubt during my time as the beat writer, it's the Bush Push game in 2005. Runner-up was the 2012 game out there. Not a great game from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a historical standpoint ... ND playing with a No. 1 ranking with a trip to the national championship game on the line was notable.

Pat from St. Paul, Minn.: Eric, do you get the sense that, all things being equal, Tommy Rees and Brian Kelly would like to completely turn the offense over to Tyler Buchner?

Eric Hansen: If he were ready for that, yeah.

The Gipper from Omaha: Looks like Xavier Watts has found a way to get on the field — on defense at rover due to linebacker injuries, and on special teams, where he is down the field quickly and making tackles! Do you feel his home is on defense going forward? Or when the injured linebackers come back and the stud LBs in the next class step on the field next year, will he be moved back to offense next week, where he starred for Omaha Burke.

Eric Hansen: I think the clearest path to playing time for him is as a safety next year. He's like Avery Davis, who took a while to find a position home.

Wick from Estero, Fla.: Coach Kelly received some much deserved recognition for becoming ND's winningest coach this year, and I thought he handled the attention with humility, class, and respect for all those other coaches who have performed the third-toughest job in America. This made me reflect on Ian Book,.ND's winningest quarterback. In my opinion, he never received the recognition he deserved. In fact, Irish fans were often downright disrespectful of Ian. Do you think with our QB struggles this year, the ND fanbase will finally recognize what a great player Ian was?

Eric Hansen: I'm not sure, Wick. What would that look like if they did? I think Ian absolutely maximized his potential, and yet he had limitations. He didn't let those keep him from putting the program in a really good place. Certainly, the NFL gave him credit. A three-star QB who ends up as a fourth-round draft pick is a big win.

Rick in Lake Forest, Calif.: Eric why can't ND give out green towels or pom-poms to wave at a game, like the Terrible Towel in Pittsburgh? It is difficult for everybody to wear green, but the green from the towels would be great.

Eric Hansen: As long as they're not giving away green golf balls, I'm on board with the giveaways.

Leo from Van Nuys, Calif.: Eric, I'm much more worried about the USC game than most Irish fans. The Trojans play well away from the glitz, glitter, and grumpiness of L.A. They also seem to be loose and confident in their preparation for the Irish. They have nothing to lose. I sense an upset. I am also worried about what happened to the Irish after their bye week two years ago before playing another rival, Michigan. While the Trojans are loosey-goosey after their bye week, how do you see the Irish after their bye week? Has Brian Kelly changed his approach after the debacle in Ann Arbor? Nervous here in Van Nuys!!!

Eric Hansen: Brian Kelly is 13-2 at Notre Dame following a bye, with the Michigan loss in 2019 being one of those two losses. The other was in 2011 to a USC team on probation that came to ND Stadium unranked and finished No. 6 in the final AP poll. ... And yes, BK did learn from that 2019 game and yes I have written about those lessons. ... Given the margin of victory in ND's wins and the sheer talent USC has on its roster, I can't tell you NOT to be nervous, but the USC wins have come against Washington State, Colorado and San Jose State, so ... keep that in mind, too.

Lee from Lancaster: Hi Eric, Will Fuller was able to use his speed to separate from defenders and became a deep threat that the opposing defensive coordinator game plan for. Braden Lenzy has impressive speed also but hasn't developed into the same type of deep threat at receiver.  In your opinion, why hasn't Braden been more of a playmaker at receiver?

Eric Hansen: It's not because of lack of effort or toughness. A lot of it has been intermittent health issues. Maybe his best football is still ahead of him.

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hi Eric. Hope all is well with you and the family. In Jersey, we will hit 79 today. Then another chill is expected. What has the weather been like in South Bend?  On Brendon Clark, I wish him the best wherever he ends up. Could he have just declared after the season? There are only six games left, and he could have played in as many as four games. Did entering now give him an advantage? Was earlier notice better for the team?  On another note, I always liked the balance of risk/reward for the running game and passing game. The passing game had more reward but also more risk. In today's football, that is out of balance in my opinion. The risk in the passing game has been lessened by the outside-the-tackle throwaway, receivers with "velcro" gloves, only five yards of contact by the defender allowed (should be 10 yards) and more movement allowed on the O-line when the lineman has his hand down. Any chance the rules change to bring more risk/reward balance? Do you agree it is out of balance? The game was even more fun to watch before these changes

Eric Hansen: Len, someday you're going to slip a 17-part question by me, aren't you? Family is great. Got a chance to get back to Ohio to see some of them last weekend and have grandkids coming over Friday night. ... Yes, Clark could have, and maybe should have, waited until December. Maybe he thought he needed more time to cull his options. ... As far as your risk/reward passing game questions, I can't say I've investigated whether the rule changes that you mentioned might be in the works. And quite honestly, I like where the college game is at present.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. This is not a football question, per se, and maybe beyond your control, but I'm asking anyway: Is there anything that can be done about the poor audio on Kelly's press conferences? Whether in person or on Zoom, it is difficult to hear most of the questions being asked by the reporters/writers. I can normally hear you all right but have trouble hearing at least half to three-quarters of the questions being asked. I know you don't control that, but can this be mentioned to the people in charge of the audio, or mentioned to the reporters themselves so maybe they can speak more loudly (or closer to the microphone if, in fact, a microphone is even in use, which there doesn't seem to be). Thanks! It's just annoying to hear Kelly giving an answer to a question we didn't hear.

Eric Hansen: WAY, WAY WAY out of my purview. I am sorry it's happening.  With just two media members per outlet allowed at each game, it's in our best interests too to have solid audio with the Zooms. The last home game (Cincinnati) was awful postgame from an audio standpoint, but I don't anticipate that being a regular thing. On the road, there's no control, because they don't use a mike. I hope that helps. I feel for you, but I am not going to be able to be anymore helpful than that.

Irish Rob from Scranton Pa.: Brian Kelly says that Jack Coan gives us the best chance to win.  Brian Kelly says the team needs a singular approach to the QB position. Brian Kelly yanks Jack Coan during the Virginia Tech game, which ends up working out. For the record, I like Coan and think he's the best clean pocket QB we have. Our offensive line isn't very good at the whole clean pocket thing, though, which is like throwing gas on a fire to put it out. I've seen you mention that BK doesn't think Drew practices as well as the other two QBs. Fair enough, but does anyone counter with how much better the offense performed with him in there for his brief stints? That's the only part of this equation that I can't wrap my head around — the offense has moved the ball more consistently, in my opinion, while Pyne has been the QB, and arguably against the best defenses we faced all year. I don't get why that doesn't potentially trump lesser practice sessions. Sorry for the manifesto. I'm flummoxed by it all.

Eric Hansen: I understand the curiosity, even the push, for Drew Pyne, especially after the Cincinnati game. But practices HAVE TO matter. And if he isn't clearly the best QB (or the second best) in practice, how can he be trusted over long stretches in a game? The kid works his butt off and is smart, so maybe that'll change. Statistically, Coan is the best passer at the moment and Buchner is by far the best runner.

Jack from Strongsville, Ohio: Hi Eric. Since there was some discussion last week on the top 25 rankings, why don't you explain how you go about voting on the top 25. Obviously, with ND being your main focus, you cannot possibly watch every team that plays every game. For example, in this week's poll Oregon is No. 10 at 5-1 and Notre Dame is No.13 at 5-1. Oregon has a big quality win over Ohio State. ND does not have close to a quality win. Your analysis on everything is so thoughtful and precise, I am sure your voting methodology is the same. Thanks for all the great work!

Eric Hansen: Jack, since we're into overtime with the chat and kind of in the lightning-round format at this point, I'll make a point to type out that answer in advance and answer this next week. It's not a quick answer, so you'd be waiting a while for my brain to translate it all to my fingers.

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, Buchner will lose a redshirt possibility when he plays in his next game.  Pyne could still redshirt this year if he only plays in two more games and can still use the 2020 season as a COVID year without losing a year of eligibility, thus giving him four more years after 2021. With one, possibly two, quarterbacks in the 2022 class, the years of eligibility remaining for those individuals will be 3-4-4-(4).  Do you foresee ND peeking into the transfer portal again to try to find a more seasoned QB? Or do you sense they're comfortable with who they have on the roster going into 2022?

Eric Hansen: Hi Doug. The beauty of the answer to your question is that Notre Dame doesn't have to answer that question now. They can wait until December to see how the next six games play out. BARRING injury and figuring they'll get a second QB in the 2022 class, I think they've seen enough from Buchner and Pyne to put a portal push on the very back burner.

Pat from Albany, N.Y: With Guinness being the “official beer” of ND, does the stadium sell it? Also, which 2023 recruits will be on campus this weekend?

Eric Hansen: I have no idea on the beer. Now some people might think drinking would improve my writing, but I don't think my bosses would agree. ... As for the recruits, we plan on publishing a list late this week as we weed through the last-minute cancellations and additions.

Eric Hansen: OK, I've run out of time. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll do this again next week — Wednesday at noon EDT.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI