Chat Transcript: Dishing on CFP logic, Notre Dame's ascending players and the safety dance

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Navy’s offense lines up against Notre Dame’s defense during ND's 34-6 romp on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Virginia Week edition. PLEASE remember to include your name and hometown along with your question(s). Off we go.

Gerry Labelle from Waltham, Quebec: Eric, thanks for your weekly chat! Much appreciated! Any word on Kyle Hamilton returning this week or even at all this year? Would relieve a lot of stress going into the Virginia game.

Eric Hansen: Hi Gerry, and thank you. Brian Kelly remains optimistic that Kyle Hamilton will return from his (Oct. 23) knee injury at some point this season. That's not an absolute at this point. Nor is the opposite true. From what BK said on Monday, this is really the first week the family (and team) will have access to a thorough medical/risk report. We'll be able to follow up on that on Thursday, and I'll report on that as soon as we do. Kelly said if Hamilton were cleared on Saturday, he could play on Saturday — with zero practices — but I think that's more of a compliment to Kyle's readiness and skill set than it is a reality.

Cheryl from Rockwall, Texas: Do you think ND will run the ball more than usual against Virginia?

Eric Hansen: Hi Cheryl. It certainly makes sense to do that. Notre Dame has run the ball in a range from a low of 28 times in a game (Cincinnati) to a high of 43 (Va Tech). Given Virginia is the worst rush defense ND has faced this season (122nd out of 130, but Stanford in the finale is actually worse), and given that ND's run game could help keep Virginia's offense on the sideline, it really makes sense to take advantage of that, especially if playing with the lead.

Ed from Omaha, Neb.: Eric, thanks for keeping those of us who are ND fans in Husker country fully informed on Irish football. You do a great job. As an Omaha guy, I saw Xavier Watts play many times in high school. I would describe him, first and foremost, as a tried-and-true football player. His instincts around the ball are excellent. He plays physically, and he just loves the game. Quite frankly, in high school I thought his future was on the defensive side of the ball, because he always seemed to anticipate where a play was headed. And he got there with force. His football IQ seemed off the charts. Yes, he was a good wide receiver, but it didn't seem to me that his speed was elite. That's why I always saw his future on defense and was happy when Brian Kelly came to the same conclusion. Here's my question for you, Eric: Do you see Xavier's future at safety, at nickel, or at rover? He seems a bit of a hybrid like Isaiah Pryor and, therefore, tough to pigeonhole.

Eric Hansen: Hi Ed, thanks for the compliment and the back story. I think Watts' clearest path to playing time is at safety, particularly in 2022. And at 6-0, 195, his body type and speed fit well. Also when you consider the four studs who are coming in at linebacker this winter, that you're getting Marist Liufau, Shayne Simon and perhaps Paul Moala all back, there are a lot more attractive rover options with ideal size/skills. I haven't seen enough of Watts on defense to see how he handles the nickel. I know he's practiced there. But I like him at safety, and I think ND does now, too.

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Todd from Buffalo, N.Y.: Thanks for spending the time with us each week. When I looked at the box score for the Navy game, it seemed  that the number of freshmen/first-year players that saw significant playing was pretty high, particularly on defense> Lots of new names recorded tackles.  How much of that was (1) Out of necessity (i.e. injuries)? (2) Schematic, based upon dealing with Navy's option attack? (3) Merit — player development warranted playing time? Or (4) managing eligibility while getting experience — getting people playing time but staying under four games (to keep a redshirt year in play)? I suppose a cynic could also include a fifth reason — recruiting. Recruits want to see that they will get a chance to play early on. Regardless of the reason, it shows a depth I'm not sure was there in Kelly's first 5-6 years.

Eric Hansen: Todd, thanks for hanging out in the chat and asking a question. The best way I can frame it is "opportunity." The score was such that ND could flex its depth and get guys in that game who won't likely play, for instance, against Virginia. I wrote about this for Monday morning's web, getting players like Kahanu Kia and Prince Kollie in the game, for example, is a great investment in 2022 but also may provide some answers in terms of depth in 2021. The offense was already doing so ... since really the Virginia Tech game on Oct. 9. So it’s a win-win with the defense now getting to do some of it.

Tim from Knoxville, Tenn.: From a recruiting standpoint only, would you rather see ND in a bowl game in Phoenix (Fiesta) or Atlanta (Peach)? This is assuming the Irish aren't selected for the CFP. Seems to me that ND has gotten a lot of talent over the years from Georgia and Florida but not so much from Arizona.

Eric Hansen: Hey Tim. To be clear, if Cincinnati ends up in the Fiesta Bowl, which is where the Group of Five team will play if it's not in the playoff, ND would head to the Peach at 11-1 (assuming the Irish are not in playoff contention). ... But to your question, there are some really good players in Arizona. Benjamin Morrison, an ND cornerback commit in the 2022 class is one of them. Elite 2022 D-line prospect Anthony Lucas, who the Irish would love to add to this class, is another. But Atlanta has been a big part of ND's post-2016 renaissance. And exposure in Atlanta would certainly be most welcomed.

Steve from Findlay, Ohio: Eric, do you know the order of bowl selection?  I've seen we are heading to the Fiesta, while others say the Peach. What are they basing the different choices on? Barring an upset and not making the top 4, where do you see us bowling?

Eric Hansen: It's very simple. The Orange and Cotton host the semis. The Rose and Sugar have conference ties they have to honor. Among the New Year's Six, that leaves only the Fiesta and Peach -- each of which have two-at large spots. Assuming Cincinnati is not in the playoff, the Group of Five MUST be placed in the Fiesta. And the ACC champ, which won't go to the playoff, must be placed. Geographically, the Peach is the logical option there. So unless Virginia wins the ACC, the committee will avoid a rematch and send ND to the Peach vs. the ACC champ.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric. In listening to the Brian Kelly press conference Monday, coach said he would love to have Avery Davis back next year after he heals from his knee injury. Kelly also was asked about the maturity of Kevin Austin, and he cited some self-imposed problems in preparing for past games, but that Austin is trending better, as we could see versus Navy. My question is, do you think Kelly will invite Austin back for 2022? And then, would/should both return in your opinion? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Jeff, there's a possibility all of the receivers on the roster return in 2022. That would be Davis, Austin, Braden Lenzy, Joe Wilkins Jr., and the three freshmen. With so far three wide receivers in the 2022 class, that would give ND a group of 10. Who might come back and who should come back has shifted significantly since August. I have thoughts on all of them, but will focus on the two options you asked about: Davis and Austin. ... If Davis wants a shot at playing in the NFL, his best chance to do so would be to return, given the TIMING of his injury and recovery timeline. ... I do think Austin will be invited back. At the beginning of the season, I didn't think he had the maturity to consider anything but the NFL after this season. Now, I think he has that perspective (having grown up and learned the hard way), and it will be a much tougher choice. I think it benefits HIM to come back if he wants to play in the NFL eventually.

Irish freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles (21) runs down the sideline during ND's 34-6 romp over Navy, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Marty from San Antonio, Texas: Hello Eric. Hope all is well. Y’all need a good breakfast taco joint in the South Bend area. Haha. We see the speed of Lorenzo Styles. I know there are seniors, etc., in front, but he’s so dynamic. Did it just take him time to get down blocking, pass patterns, offensive concepts to take so long to see the field? He’s a stud, and he’s got SEC type speed and strength.

Eric Hansen: Hey Marty, you'll get no argument from me on the breakfast tacos, although I can't say I already knew that was a thing. Tyler James did an excellent piece recently on the growth curve of Styles. In it, he cites the knowledge of the playbook and communication on play calls from the sideline as the two biggest hurdles he had to clear to start pushing for significant playing time.

Stosh from Canton: Eric, I'm going to be brutally honest. Even if the Irish go ahead and win their last three games, I sincerely hope they do not end up in the College Football Playoff. While ND has persevered through a lot of adversities, injuries and weaknesses, and is a much better team now than in September, there is no way they would be competitive with Georgia or Alabama. Kelly has done a fantastic job with this team but not so fantastic that they could realistically compete with the SEC big boys. They would be the victims of another embarrassing beatdown in the playoffs. No true Irish fan wants to see that. It would be much better to see them win a Jan.1 bowl game than to see them be a sacrificial lamb for a third time in four years. Do you agree?

Eric Hansen: Stosh, I don't agree. And recruits don't, either. ND being in the playoff two out of the past three years — even with the lopsided results — has been a HUGE boon on the recruiting trail. I had a basketball coach growing up in my younger, thinner, more-coordinated days who told me if I wanted to get better, to go play more pickup games and guard the other team's best scorer. No matter how potentially humiliating that sounded. And it worked. How do you get better as a program if you don't challenge yourself, don't dream, don't risk? And let's be honest, the 2020 Irish would be a tough out for any team in the 2021 field, except for Georgia. Alabama got beat by a team ranked BELOW ND this season. They've gotten taken to the wire by two 4-5 teams. No, I would not predict an Irish victory if Alabama and the 2021 Irish played. But every team from No. 2 on down is flawed. Notre Dame is less flawed with a healthy Kyle Hamilton in the lineup. I think you'll get your wish and ND will end up out of the playoff. Even at 11-1.

But in chasing the playoff berth and striving for the best version of itself, Notre Dame also helps itself for 2022 and 2023, when the rosters and the schedules both will be as staunch as they have been in the Brian Kelly Era.

IrishMike from Altoona, Pa.: Hi Eric! As always, thanks for the weekly chats. As ND’s defense has continued to grow and improve each week, I have a nagging concern. With the interest that Marcus Freeman is generating as a potential head coaching candidate are you concerned that he will leave after only one season to take on a new position? Notre Dame has successfully transformed from Mike Elko and Clark Lea’s “bend don’t break” defense into a much more aggressive defense.  If Freeman leaves, does ND stay in-house and continue Freeman’s style or go outside and revamp the entire defense once again?

Eric Hansen: IrishMike, can I have you arm-wrestle the guy last week who was worried Marcus Freeman was a great recruiter but not a very good coach? Here are my thoughts about Marcus and his future. I do believe he'll be a head coach someday and probably not too far into the future. Do I think he'll pursue that after this season? And tell his wife and six kids it's time to move again? No. Marcus is on a track where staying at ND two or more years — and being successful — starts to eliminate the head coaching jobs with tough rebuilds, and puts him in the conversation for Power 5 jobs with potential and resources. He can then be pickier about where his next step should be.

Megat Muzaffar from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hi Eric. The offense is doing good things in uptempo mode these days. On the flip side, why only now? What did we sacrifice offensively by going uptempo?

Eric Hansen: Hey Megat. Now when we talk uptempo, there are varying degrees. Notre Dame's uptempo is not Ole Miss/Pitt tempo. At 69.2 offensive plays per game, the Irish are right about the national average (68.9) and 59th out of 130 FBS teams in terms of offensive plays per game. The risk when you go too fast is putting your defense on the field too much. Ole Miss exposes its defense a lot that way, for instance. Notre Dame has the ability to speed up and slow down. That's a good place to be. Why now, meaning post-Virginia Tech? Because it suited Jack Coan and the offensive line very well and it took the coaching staff some time to discover that.

Buddy from Oakland, Calif.: Eric, if there is a better college football sportswriter than you I haven't found him. I really appreciate your hard work, football expertise, and sense of fairness. I know that you like to keep these chats positive, and I appreciate that. So I hate to sound negative about Houston Griffith, but the truth is he is an enigma to me. I know he was a four-star recruit and I know that he has tried valiantly to live up to this reputation. But on many of the big-chunk gains against the Irish, if you look at the videos closely, you will see No. 3 being out of position on a number of them. Add to that the fact that his tackle stats are really minimal for a safety, and it often seems like ND is only playing with 10 guys on defense when he is on the field. You rarely hear his name called. So … why does he get so much playing time? Are the Irish that thin at DB? Am I being too critical? As an ND Insider, I was really hoping you could shed some light on this enigma for those of us many miles away from South Bend. Thanks, Eric.

Eric Hansen: Hi Buddy. I'm humbled by the first part of your message and in agreement with your second. The reason Houston is an enigma for me is that he does all the right things NOT to be one. One of the best leaders on the team, one of the hardest workers in the weight room, one of the better athletes, one of the better teammates. And you would think if there was going to be a rebirth of some sort, a new scheme with new voices would bring that out. ND, though, is lucky to have him this year, because of the reasons I listed and because he's better than most of the alternatives. Other than Hamilton, ND safety recruiting has had way more misses than hits in recent years. DJ Brown and KJ Wallace came to ND as corners. Junior Litchfield Ajavon, a great kid and a great story, just got his first career tackle on Saturday. Freshmen Justin Walters and Khari Gee show potential, but how much, how soon? You see now why Watts at safety makes sense? The good news is safety recruiting is on the uptick.

Getting five-star Xavier Nwankpa, who announces on Dec, 8, would be huge.

Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, do you believe ND’s relatively low ranking in the CFP is being influenced by their performance in the playoffs? And if so, do you believe that it is fair?

Eric Hansen: No. It's not supposed to, and I don't think it is in ND's case. Nor do I think Cincinnati gets a bounce for taking Georgia to the wire in last season's Peach Bowl.

Jason Osborn from Mattawan, Mich.: Hi Brian. You rock .. .period. In the past, you have indicated that Kevin Austin will not be back next year. Can you expand on what created your thoughts? Also, what is the vibe on who is the next possible recruit to commit? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Brian?

Wick from Estero, Fla.: Eric, thanks for your excellent coverage of ND football. Those of us who are Irish fans are really lucky to be able to read your excellent articles and chat, since many of us live thousands of miles away from the Dome of Our Lady. I often hear people say that "everyone gets up for the Irish" or that "Notre Dame is the opponent's Super Bowl." How accurate are these generalizations? Is ND really that big of a target for other schools? For example, this coming week is an excellent case study. Virginia has three games left: ND, Pitt, and Va Tech. Of those games you would logically put Notre Dame as No. 3 on Virginia's priority list, because they are fighting for a conference championship and ND is a non-conference game. But I hear people say that if UVa beats the Irish, that will "make" their season irrespective of where they finish in the conference. Put another way: Is ND a bigger game for UVa than their season-ending game against their arch-rival Virginia Tech? How do you see it, Eric?

Eric Hansen: Hi Wick, and thank you. I think it's generally true, especially when Notre Dame is a top 10 team, which they are again this season. In Virginia's case, I think all of their remaining games are big. Virginia hasn't beaten a top 10 team since 2005, so there's that. From a practicality standpoint, beating Pitt and Virginia Tech either gets the Cavaliers into the ACC Championship Game or at least a tiebreaker situation. So those games are big, too. That's why Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall may be conflicted in how much he exposes recovering QB Brennan Armstrong this week. Does it make sense to save him for Pitt and Va Tech, with ND having no bearing on whether the Cavs have a chance to play in a New Year's Six Bowl? That’s a tough decision.

Dave from Lincoln, Neb.: Eric, I'm a dual Irish/Husker fan (my BA is from ND and my MA is from UNL).  You do a great job in giving us insights into college football. That's why I come to you for a reality check. Here's my question: How influential are college football internet message boards in influencing head coaches, ADs, and university presidents? For instance, whenever a coach is on the proverbial "hot seat," the message boards light up like it's Christmas. Everyone has a heated opinion. Everyone has "inside knowledge,” and everyone threatens to walk away from their season tickets if their point of view is ignored. ND went through this catharsis after the 4-8 2016 season. Nebraska has been going through this for a year now. This week the university announced that coach Scott Frost will be retained, but four assistants would be dismissed immediately. I was shocked that these announcements were made with two big games left on the schedule. Were these decisions announced prematurely to quiet the tumult of the internet?

Eric Hansen: Hi Dave. Thanks for the kind words. Here's my take on your question: There are some extremely intelligent and passionate posters on message boards. There are trolls, too, some of whom don't have knowledge or actual lives. And there's really no scientific formula as to how reality syncs up with message board postings — or social media posts, for that matter. If I were an athletic director, I'd read them to see what's out there, but I certainly wouldn't act on them. That doesn't mean their points of view aren't valid, but they aren't necessarily fully informed points of view all the time. Money talks, and administrators listen to those influencers much more. I can't speak to Nebraska's situation specifically, because I haven't studied it, but the reason you are seeing so much mid-season purging of coaches across the country is because of the early signing period in recruiting. Period. End of sentence.

Phil, Cheyenne Wyoming: Just saying a “thank you” for keeping the Live Chat on free content. You do an excellent job and really provide in-depth information on the players and the team!

Eric Hansen: Phil, thanks and great to have someone from Wyoming on the chat.

Notre Dame’s Jack Kiser (24) holds off Navy’s Chance Warren (0) during the Notre Dame-Navy game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Dan from Vernon Hills Il: Eric, thanks for the chats. They are very informative and thorough. With a potential lack of depth and experience at safety next year, is it possible that they move Jack Kiser to safety full time next year? Sort of a reverse Drue Tranquill move. Also, with the exception of Kyle Hamilton, is there a lack of physicality at the position? Thanks again.

Eric Hansen: Dan, thank you. I like Kiser a lot, and frankly, I think his best position would be the Will (weakside) linebacker in this scheme. Against Navy, Kiser was great, because he was running the alley and really didn't have to worry about coverage responsibilities at safety. That's where I wonder if he could get isolated in a bad matchup in a man coverage situation against traditional offenses. That's why he's not ideal for rover on third down this season. So to truly play to his strengths, I'd leave him at linebacker (except for the Navy game).

RustyIrish Cincinnati: I submitted this a bit late last week and it did not make the cut, so I will ask again. I know ND's strength of schedule continues to improve each week and the committee considers this. My question is does the committee also consider that ND had to play (six) teams coming off bye weeks that got two weeks to prepare for them both from a health and gameplan perspective? To me this exponentially increases the difficulty of ND's schedule and should reflect favorably on them, but I never hear it mentioned and don't sense they get the credit for managing that aspect of their schedule as well as they have. The other teams obviously respect ND enough to want to have two weeks to prepare for them. To me this is a far tougher task than playing a couple of (FCS) teams a year and then having to navigate a conference championship game, where both teams get an equal amount of time prior to facing each other.

Eric Hansen: Rusty, I think it's a fair question, but I also think it's too deep of a dive for the committee to take into consideration.

Mark from Flint, Mich.: Eric, hope all is well and appreciate all you do for making these chats possible.  What do you see as Notre Dame’s biggest struggle this week with beating Virginia — offense, defense, special teams? Virginia is a three-loss team, with losses to three top 25 teams. I would consider them to be one of the better opponents that they have played. Plus it's a road game.

Eric Hansen: Mark, thank you. Virginia is No. 1 out of 130 FBS teams in total offense. It's 122 out of 130 in total defense. Its special teams category rankings range from 63rd to 119th. I'll let you do the math.

Mike McFadden of Williamsport, Pa.: Hi Mr. Eric. Side issue, if I can, please. Seems like much concern is over the NCAA Football Transfer Portal causing issues. To somewhat control the craziness, why not the NCAA simply limit the number of players who can enter the portal during a specific given year? i.e. 125 players total ... OR limit the number of players who can enter or leave a team each year. Only two players can enter the portal from ND each year, and only two players can join ND from the portal each year. By the way, how many total entered the portal in 2020? Thank you, Eric/ Great job you are doing here, buddy.

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks. The whole point of the creation of the transfer portal and to eliminate transfer sit-out periods was to uncomplicate player movement, not to restrict it. So placing limits would run counter to the whole purpose of the changes. By the way, there were 2,626 football players in the portal in the last transfer cycle that ended Aug. 1. That's an AVERAGE of 20 per school.

Robert from Virginia Beach: I ask for an education. I often see ND and many other teams passing signals by holding up large posters that might have four images or more. The images usually have nothing to do with football. In addition to the posters, they are passing hand signals that seem to convey the play call. So then what is the purpose for the poster images? Since there is usually only one or two posters, I don’t understand how they could be some sort of “key” to the hand signals.

Eric Hansen: Hi Robert. It's to keep opposing teams from being able to steal signals. Notre Dame uses live signalers and a numbers board. Most of the signals are dummy signals, from one of the other or both. So players have to be aware of which source to pay attention to. Brian Kelly admitted players have run routes before that were a result of dummy signals. And yes, even some of those turned out to be touchdowns.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric, Hope you and your family are well. Thank you for all that you do to keep the ND fan base informed. No one does it better. Do you think Drew Pyne will see the playing field in these remaining games? I would think there would be many benefits to the program to have two quarterbacks next season with significant game experience. Two comments: Feel terrible for Avery Davis, in my opinion the ultimate team player. The improvement in tackling in the Navy game was astonishing.

Eric Hansen: Hi Mark. We're all doing great. Celebrating two of the grandkids' birthdays today. They're not twins (born seven years apart) but they call themselves twins anyway. ... You have to measure the value of Pyne possibly playing for next year with how much playing Tyler Buchner helps you playing for this year (and next year, for that matter). Barring injury, it makes sense to prioritize Buchner when Coan is not in the game. Pyne can still progress through his practice reps and film study.

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, how much does the Jaylon Smith injury and the most recent ACL tear of Avery Davis play into the decision Kyle Hamilton and his family need to make regarding his returning this season or getting ready for the NFL Draft? Thank you.

Eric Hansen: I haven't had a chance to talk to Kyle about that, so I don't want to speak for him. I can tell you Torii Hunter Jr.'s decision to play baseball over football was greatly influenced by a hard hit he took at Texas in 2016, in which targeting should have been called. My sense is Kyle has seen enough injuries to know what the risk is.

John Buckley (J Buck) from San Diego: Thanks for your witty insightfulness into ND football. Now, with that being said, it looked like we got a couple of different O-linemen into the game last week. I noticed Quinn Carroll came in for Josh Lugg at right tackle and had a pancake block and also drove his man into the end zone on the Logan Diggs TD run. I realize it was end of game and Navy, but he seemed overpowering in the run game. Love to know your thoughts on the future O-line. Looks like will lose three more starters this year in Patterson, Lugg, and Cain. I'm thinking we’ll be fine with the additions of J-ALT, Rocco, Quinn C, Andrew K, B Fisher, P Coogan (heard was a beast), Z Correll? Anyways, let me know your thoughts on the future of O-line. THANKS AGAIN. You’re the best.

Eric Hansen: J Buck, thanks for that ... I love the future of the offensive line, because there's so much talent in the freshman and redshirt freshman classes. There's still a chance Jarrett Patterson could come back and try to boost his draft stock. We'll see. If he doesn't, I think Joe Alt and Blake Fisher are the right and left tackles. Kristofic and Rocco Spindler make sense at guard. Now remember, it's the best five, not the best two tackles, the best two guards and the best center. So is Zeke Correll the center? Or do you look at Kristofic there and have Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody compete for a guard spot?

Notre Dame players celebrate Braden Lenzy (0) scoring on a two-point conversion during ND's 34-6 victory over Navy, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric. Hello from rainy Beaverton, Ore. It seems to me some really good vibes about the togetherness of this team seemed to surface this week. Kurt Hinish lauded Chase Ketterer and the scout team for a tremendous job getting them ready for Navy. I saw a video where the bench erupted when Chase Ketterer made a great stop on a kickoff. I don't know who this kid is. I get the feeling this team's chemistry is really good and they are starting to gel as a total team. What are your thoughts? And thanks again for doing these chats

Eric Hansen: Denny, thanks. I think the team's leadership, resilience and chemistry are big reasons why the nation's No. 70 team in total offense and No. 60 in total defense finds itself sitting at No. 7 in the AP and coaches polls.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. So glad it is time for another Wednesday chat. I know we all look forward to them. With all the injuries — especially at wide receiver — do you think offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will get more creative with play-calling and potentially use some two-running back sets? Or do you expect him to just stay the course and try to replace the people that are out? The large number of injuries is disappointing, but getting to see so many freshmen play has been really fun. Which of the freshmen who saw playing time this  past weekend surprised you the most? As always, thanks for all your great reporting, and hosting the chat.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie, thanks for being here and always keeping me on my toes. I think the potential of expanded and more creative play-calling comes more from having more healthy tight ends as well as expanding what Tyler Buchner is asked to do when he's in the game. The injuries, not so much, but indirectly I think there are calls for Lorenzo Styles, for instance, that are different from any of the other wide receivers. ... As far as freshmen playing, I was shocked to see JoJo Johnson on the participation report. Turns out, it was the result of some growing pains from a new stat crew. As to actual players who got in, DE Will Schweitzer topped the list. I did not realize he was back from his injury.

Tim from Vancouver, Wash.: As always, thanks a lot, Eric, for doing all you do for us. Which position group worries you most this week? DBs (I’m assuming Hamilton doesn’t play) or wide receivers?  I worry more about the DBs. Cavaliers sure like to air it out. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: If I were coaching (and I'm not, just critiquing), it would definitely be the DBs. No question. MY worry is Tyler James pulling an all-nighter to get his story done and getting to the airport on time for a morning flight.

Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif.: Eric. I am curious ,during the football season how many hours do you work? Have you ever tried Starbucks BLONDE VIAs?' THE BEST! Do you think that Kelly will go get CHRIS WATT to replace KELLY'S MISTAKE? Any reason why AUDRIC ESTIMIE has not carried the football? I notice him on some special teams. I sure hope he retains his four years. Any chance ND goes back to grass? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Mike to your questions: 1. I can't count that high, nor would I want to. I am blessed to do what I love. 2. I am a Keurig guy. Nobody makes coffee better or more economically than me. Had Starbucks a couple of months ago. Got sticker shock. 3. Nope. 4. Logan Diggs was more prepared to play early. I still love what Audric Estime can eventually become. He’s played in eight games, so no redshirt. 5. Grass? Why?

Jim E from Canton, Ohio: HI Eric! How do you explain the logic of the CFP selection committee?  Almost all of the teams have played close games. However, among the one-loss teams ND seems to be extremely penalized for their one loss. In contrast, Michigan is practically being excused for their loss to Michigan State! The committee actually said “Michigan has a better team” than Michigan State. If that is the case, why bother playing the game?

Eric Hansen: Jim, there's a lot to unpack about the CFP rankings. Here are my takes. 1. I have ND 7, Michigan State 9 and Michigan 10 on my AP ballot this week. I'm sure there are people who would have issues with that order. I think I can defend that. 2. Michigan and Michigan State (and Ohio State, for that matter) have enough tough games left that this will all sort itself out. 3. I think Michigan would have beaten Notre Dame in mid-September with Kyle Hamilton. I don't think the Wolverines would beat them now without him, but it'd be a fun game to watch to find out. If only there were a 12-team playoff. 4. I think ND is a tough evaluation. It'll be interesting to see what the defense looks like if/when Hamilton returns. 5. The Irish should be cheering for Wisconsin and Purdue every game.

Don from Phoenix: Eric, hope all is well with you and your family. Time of year to visit Arizona. Maybe Fiesta for the Irish. With 75% of the season completed, what's most surprised you?  Most had the Irish 10-2, 11-1. However, I'm guessing everyone thought it would look different.

Eric Hansen: The offensive line struggling to the extent it did early surprised me. There were more growing pains on the defense than I anticipated. JD Bertrand continues to surprise positively, as do Joe Alt, Logan Diggs, Kahanu Kia. I still think Jordan Botelho is lurking as a potential game-changer at some point.

Tom from Kennesaw, GA: Hi Eric. Seems like this season is a constant series of adjustments to injuries, inconsistent play, and working in new players and more. So far, the Irish have been able to deal with the hurdles and adjustments. How many snaps do you expect Chris Tyree to take at slot — over/under 6.5?? What adjustments do you think that Cain Madden had to make to improve from the start of the season to how he is playing now? With only three regular-season games remaining, do you expect that we might see some more freshmen play that would still protect their redshirt year? If so, who? All the best wishes for Avery Davis, who is the ultimate teammate and leader. Go Irish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (extra exclamations for Manny.)

Eric Hansen: Hi Tom !!!!!!!!!!! Haha. 1. I'll probably go under 6.5 with Tyree for this week with maybe a higher number in weeks to come. 2. For Madden, it was a big difference in technique along with maybe being too much in his head about living up to expectations. 3. I'm not sure the remaining games will present the opportunities that the Navy game did. If they do, of the freshmen who have not played yet, I'd want to get a look at S Khari Gee and K Josh Bryan in a game. Of those who have played a little, I'd want a longer look at OG Rocco Spindler and S Justin Walters.

Jimmy M from Ooltewah, TN: Eric, a quick note to offer a big thank you from this life-long Southerner, who is also a life-long ND fan. You posted my question about a game day itinerary the week of the UNC game. I received numerous responses, followed them to the letter, and we had a tremendous time.  You do a great job of keeping us ND fans up to date, but Thank You for going above and beyond by remembering my question and posting it!

Eric Hansen: Jimmy, thanks for jumping into the queue today, and so glad you had a great time.

Joe from Los Angeles: Hi Eric. Thank you for the incredible work you do. We all greatly appreciate having you on our team. Question regarding Jordan Botelho. I understand that he is lined up at a very deep position and the guys in front of him are stars. However, I can't help but think that his limited playing time thus far is due to more than just his position. I know he had some disciplinary issues early on, and I assume that is now water under the bridge. Are there still some BK doghouse issues at play here, or is this really just having a good player stuck behind some great ones?

Eric Hansen: I asked about him Monday, and his playing time has picked up. He's now part of the third-down packages playing with Isaiah Foskey instead of behind him. No dog house issues.

Eric Hansen: OK, I have run out of time. Sorry for not getting to more of your questions, and thanks for the great ones I did get to. I will have to work on typing faster, but more likely it's the slow connection between my brain and my fingers. We'll be back to do it all over again next Wednesday at noon ET.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI