Chat Transcript: Dishing on Notre Dame recruiting, rematches and (CFP) résumés
Eric Hansen: Greetings, and welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Georgia Tech Week Edition. A quick note, I will be doing a chat next Wednesday at noon ET. So feel free to follow along while you're doing some early Black Friday online shopping or while you're stuffing your turkey.
Please include your NAME and HOMETOWN along with your question. Off we go.
Ray from Sebastian, Fla.: Hi Eric , love these live chats.Thank you! Don't think the Irish would do well in playoff this year, but next year might be different. What say you?
Eric Hansen: I agree that next year's team will likely have a roster and an identity that would make it a tougher out in the playoff and maybe even a team that could advance past the semis. This 2021 team is ascending, but I still think it has a razor thin margin for error if it gets into the playoff.
Cheryl from Rockwall, Texas: Is Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims out for the ND game?
Eric Hansen: Word out of Georgia Tech is that their No. 1 QB option. Sims, is questionable because of an undisclosed injury. Backup Jordan Yates has played a lot — started four games. Their passing stats are very similar, but Sims is, by far, the more dynamic runner of the two.
Mike from Rochester, N.Y.: Hi Eric, and early Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! The Virginia game was entertaining and really showed the depth on the defensive side. I know Brennan Armstrong was out and that certainly hurt the Virginia offense, but they still had all those great receivers everyone was talking about leading up to the game. I thought the defense did a very good job covering all those receivers and didn’t leave the backup QB many places to throw the ball. Am I right or did the QB just fail to find the open man? If I’m right, it certainly reflects some growth and improvement by the secondary and bodes well for next year.
Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Yes, I do think there were some solid takeaways for the Irish defense even without Armstrong. Coverage was one of them. The ability to so thoroughly thwart Virginia's Wildcat game that the Cavs quit on it was another. The pass rush was huge. And it will be potentially in each of the last two regular-season games. Back to coverage, getting so many reps for Ramon Henderson and Xavier Watts — and what they did with those reps — is big for this year and next.
Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Good afternoon, Eric. Hope all is well with you as the regular season begins winding down. I have two questions. To begin with, do you foresee any scenario by which Kyren Williams would entertain coming back next year? Secondly, does Drew Pyne stick it out and resist going the portal route? I still think he has a role at ND — be it as a starter or not — and that it would be a mistake to leave given all that he's invested up to this point. Something tells me he still will get some chances moving forward. As always, thank you for taking the time to do these chats.
Eric Hansen: Jim, I did a deep dive on Kyren in preseason and spent a lot of time talking to the family. He is motivated to be a support to them above and beyond anything else. When you see him not going down on his way to the end zone, that's who and what he's thinking about. That's a difficult dynamic to change. Kyren is very smart, and if coming back a year was going to significantly change the way the NFL views him, then maybe ... but I think they really like him now. NIL money could be a factor, but again, I'd be surprised if he came back.
As far as Drew Pyne, I would expect him to go into spring looking to win the job over Tyler Buchner. Incoming freshman Steve Angeli will also get reps as would Walker Howard if he flips his commitment from LSU to ND. I think leaving before or right after spring makes little sense, especially if he emerges as No. 2. By the end of the 2022 season, Pyne will have progressed pretty far toward a degree, since he enrolled early as a freshman. If after the 2022-23 spring semester, there are other QBs jumping him on the depth chart, then maybe he considers a transfer then ... with a degree in hand. That's my read on it.
Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Eric, with a semi-healthy Kyle Hamilton back on the field in say two weeks, who wins an ND-Cincinnati game at this point in the season???? Go Irish!!! Your thoughts on the Ademilola twins coming back next year? I think their return is very important to the success for next season. Thanks. Go Irish!!!
Eric Hansen: Tom, I think Notre Dame has ascended to the point where the Irish would beat Cincinnati in a close November game without Hamilton. I don't think UC is any better than they were in September, but I still think that's a quality team. … I think Justin Ademilola comes back. I think Jayson has a big decision to make and would be wise to get feedback from the NFL, which he will. My sense is that feedback would lead him to go into the draft.
Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: Eric, first, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Hope you get to see your grandkids. My brother went to UVA, so I can enjoy my Turkey day. Two questions. First, did coach Kelly take his foot off the gas after being up 21-0 at UVA? If so why? Second, do we have to have a Heisman winner every year? It seems to me there are are lot of good players this year, but not one that stands out. Thoughts? Thanks for all you do.
Eric Hansen: Sean, Happy Thanksgiving to you. We're having Carolina weather today — 61 degrees when the chat started. The "No Bare Feet" rule has been rescinded. Reality returns later today as we'll plunge to 32 tomorrow morning. I don't think Kelly took his foot off the pedal defensively. The Irish were blitzing and getting after it on D until the end of the game. Offensively, I think you could say yes. He did get conservative, maybe unnecessarily so. I think part of it was to get Buchner some work without getting too fancy. I think he also wanted to save some wear and tear on Kyren Williams. And even though the offense wasn't missing players because of the flu, a lot of them weren't at 100 percent. As far as the Heisman, yes have it every year. Just because there's not a CLEAR front-runner doesn't mean there aren't great players. And this year some of the best are on defense.
Josh from New York City: If you were going to write a book doing a deep dive on any of Brian Kelly's ND teams — assuming unfettered access to anyone you wanted to interview — which team would you choose and why? Thanks, as always, for the insights.
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Josh. It would be the 2017 season, starting with the moment the 2016 season came to a close. How and why Brian Kelly became Brian Kelly 2.0 and why it worked is fascinating from all I already know. And there's more there to discover.
Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: Mr. Eric, thank you for taking my Transfer-In, Transfer-Out question last week regarding the new NCAA Transfer Portal. Appreciated. I guess I was way off in saying 125-player limit vs the approx. 2,600 transfers last year, huh ?! My question today: Is ND in good shape age-wise for the coming year(s)? It seems to me on TV, half the team is seniors and the other half is freshmen. I am/was a basketball player and I love teams, at any level, that use two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore, which provides nice stability and growth. And I don't think ND has that. Thanks much, Eric.
Eric Hansen: Oh Mike, you're going to get a C on your math test again, and it's not your fault. Forever, ND has referred to its players by their year in school, not their eligibility year. Other than the services academies, really no one else does that. This season, ND finally started listing both. So Braden Lenzy, for instance, is listed Senior/Junior. Drew Pyne is Sophomore/Freshman. The COVID exemption clouds things even further. Georgia Tech, for instance, factors that AND redshirt years in. So they list No. 1 QB Jeff Sims as a true freshman, even though he played in all 10 of the Yellow Jackets' games last year.
So how does ND's roster truly break down? There are 81 scholarship players at the moment. WITHOUT factoring in the COVID year, there are 33 players with freshman eligibility, 21 sophomores, 13 juniors and 14 seniors. Hope that helps.
Manny from San Pedro: Hi Eric!!!!! Man, the last few seasons have been quite the run. This has to be more fun to cover than some of those eight-win seasons!! My question is as you look at résumés, Notre Dame is better than Michigan State, and the common opponent favors ND. Why is ND not getting more love? No, I don’t think they are a playoff team, but it seems weird we are an afterthought. Disappointing. If you don’t have a chat next week . Happy Turkey Day!!!!!!!!!!
Eric Hansen: Manny!!!!!!!!!! Happy Turkey Day to you. too. We will have a chat next week, rest assured. Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame are some of the teams in which the committee sees them differently from how the polls see them. The Irish are ahead of both in the AP and coaches polls and behind them in the CFP rankings. It does get tricky, and remember you have to evaluate the entire schedule, not just the elements that support your argument. Michigan State's best selling points are a top 10 win (Michigan) and their statistical profile is much better than ND's in key metrics (although they're a disaster trying to stop the pass).
The big knocks on the Spartans in the ND-MSU comparison is the Purdue data point, which you pointed out, and lack of Power 5 wins against teams with winning records beyond Michigan. Look, if they win out over Ohio State, Penn State and the Big Ten West winner, they should (and will) be ahead of Notre Dame and others. These things have a way of working themselves out.
Jack from Strongsville, Ohio: Hi Eric. An early Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. If you come back to Cleveland, stop over at Slyman's for a corned beef sandwich before the big turkey dinner. Explain to me the CFP committee's love for Alabama. They have games against Mercer, Southern Mississippi, and New Mexico State. The quality out-of-conference opponent, Miami, is 5-5. In conference, their only quality win is Ole Miss at 8-2. Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee and LSU are all .500 teams. They lost to a 7-3 Texas A&M team. Their rivalry game, Auburn, is 6-4 and without their first-string QB. Thanks, as always, for your great work!
Eric Hansen: Thank you, Jack. Happy early Thanksgiving to you as well. ... and thanks for the sandwich tip, although I probably won't need a warmup for the delicious dinner that will await me. ... I can't explain the committee's Alabama love specifically, because I’m not on it. But the love for the Crimson Tide is pretty universal. And I can explain why I have them No. 3 on MY AP ballot this week. The tug of war perceptually with Alabama is the team they should be and the results on the field. Their statistical profile looks like that of a national champion. They are top 10 in rush offense, rush defense, total defense and pass efficiency, and top 15 in turnover margin. Those are the five key metrics. When you're comparing teams that don't have a lot of common data points, those numbers mean something. They tend to be extremely predictive. And not all 6-4 and 5-5 teams are equal. Mississippi State beat NC State, for instance, by two touchdowns.
When you take a shot at Alabama (and that's OK to do — part of the fun is the debate), it's best to offer an alternative and what your reasoning is. Who do you think should be ahead of them? To me, on the field still matters, so for some of the reasons you stated, that's why they are not No. 2 with me. And don't forget, if they get to the SEC title game, they have to deal with No. 1 Georgia.
Richard/Kathleen from Georgia: Eric, a big early Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and an even bigger Thank-you for your coverage of the Fighting Irish Football team. I read last week the ND football team is ranked 70th in Total Offense and 60th in Total Defense. I don't necessarily see this as an indicator of being in the upper echelon (top 10) of College Football. Maybe I am mistaken but I am wondering if you could list ND's Ranking in both categories AND their final Poll Rank over the last 10 years?
Eric Hansen: Richard/Kathleen, Happy Thanksgiving to you and thanks for being the first slash questioner(s) I think I've ever had in the chat. One caveat about this year's team, ND is far better in scoring offense and scoring defense than it is in total offense and total defense, in part because of its turnover margin. ... But here goes:
2010: 61 offense, 51 defense, NR poll
2011: 35, 30, NR
2012: 54, 7, No. 4
2013: 67, 31, No. 20
2014: 32, 71, NR
2015: 27, 45, No. 11
2016: 62, 42, NR
2017: 27, 46, No. 11
2018: 32, 30, No. 5
2019: 43, 18, No. 12
2020: 26, 25, No. 5
2021: 69, 51, No. 6
Shane from White Deer, Texas: Hey Eric. Hope you are having a great day. Not really a football question, but a question nonetheless. I have noticed there have been no “whereabouts unknown” making the cut this year (or very few, if any). Did that line finally just get old? Did everyone start putting their location? Or is there a more sinister reason you want the hometown listed? Not really a hard-hitting question, and not that important. Just wondering. Love these chats. Go Irish!! Whereabouts known.
Eric Hansen: Shane from White Deer, Texas, thank you. For a while I kind of put up with people not putting their names, hometowns or both if the questions were really, really good. But then I thought, you know, I do ask nicely. And I have way more questions in the queue than I can get to. So why not just answer the ones from those who played the game? Once I went to that standard, it was remarkable how few unnamed/unlocated questions I got. I haven't seen a single one in the queue yet today, for instance. There are no sinister reasons to do it. It's fun. It helps me define my audience. I can also maybe be more personable with my response. Thanks for asking.
Lisa in Lafayette: Hi Eric. Long-time reader, first-time participant. If memory serves me correctly, Archie Manning reached out to ND back in the spring to share that Arch Manning was interested in ND. I believe Arch was supposed to make a visit to campus in May or June, but I never read/heard if he did. Now I’m reading about who his top schools are, and ND is not mentioned. Questions: Did he ever make a visit to ND? Do you know if there is still any interest on his part? And lastly, if he is not interested in ND, where do you think he will wind up? Thank you for sharing your insight every week. I always look forward to reading your responses. Wishing you and yours a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.
Eric Hansen: Hi Lisa, thanks for jumping into the question queue, and Happy Thanksgiving. Your recall is correct about the initial interest and thoughts of making an ND visit. It didn't/hasn't happened and probably won't. There doesn't seem to be interest on his part as he is kind of narrowing things down. Since ND ceased being a player in his recruitment, I haven't followed his recruitment very closely. However, 247Sports reports the schools that would be in his lead pack are Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Texas.
Clarence from Marshall, Iowa: Eric, I am a big college football fan who likes some of the changes in the college game (Jumbotrons and playoffs), but I hate the proliferation of recruiting hype, the recruiting star system, team recruiting ratings, and most of all the sappy recruiting announcements with the obligatory hat props. Texas has 52 players on its current roster who had four or five stars coming out of high school. Kansas has only one four-star player on its entire team. Kansas beat Texas in Austin. How accurate can the recruiting services possibly be? Put another way: In your experience with ND players, how close is the correlation between recruiting stars coming out of high school and actual performance on the field in college?
Eric Hansen: Clarence, I'm not an all-or-nothing guy when it comes to the star system. Some will point out how Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama have dominated recruiting in the playoff era. Thus, in their minds stars mean everything. But left out of that argument is how do you explain teams like Cincinnati and Wake Forest, which don't have four- and five-stars? To me, there's middle ground. Stars matter but within the context of player development, program culture, coaching staff continuity, attrition, etc. I did a piece on this last year before the playoff: Notre Dame has outperformed its stars. But to become a playoff factor rather than a participant/aspirant, ND had to get more talented at certain positions after 2018 — namely wide receiver, quarterback and running back. They seem to have checked the running backs box. They're building re WRs. Tyler Buchner needs to be the QB they thought he was in recruiting. And they've gone big in 2023 with QBs and their offers. They need to reel one of those guys, like Dante Moore, in.
Ron from Dover, Del.: I tried last week with this question, but I know you receive a lot of responses so thought I’d try again. First, love your chats and insights in the team and the program. I really have enjoyed watching Logan Diggs run. Love his deliberate style and vision. My question is what is holding back Audric Estime getting on the field. Secondly, it appears C’Bo Flemister’s off-the-field (activities) have resulted in a lost season. Is there other reasons he hasn’t seen the field, especially in red zone?
Eric Hansen: Audric Estime is plug-and-play athlete. That's why he has played on special teams in nine games. He is not a plug-and-play running back. Estime was ranked higher than Diggs by the recruiting services, but when you saw them practice in August, Estime struggled with the speed of the game. Not that he's not fast. He just tried to take everything east and west, where Diggs had great instincts of when to stick his foot in the ground and make a cut upfield. That's not to say Estime will never be able to do that. He's smart. He'll get there, and he is powerful. C'Bo had off-the-field issues, has had injuries and now is behind three backs who can do anything he can do — better.
Linda from Butler, Pa.: Eric, as a mom of a high school linebacker, I am interested in recruiting. Based on your talks with ND players, what are the most important factors that led to their decision to go to Notre Dame? Was it the head coach, the position coach, the academics, the football facilities, proximity to home, the recent run of success, or some other reasons? Conversely, what do coaches at an elite school, like ND, look for most in a high school footballer — athletic ability, character, or grades?
Eric Hansen: Hi Linda, if you email me, I'll be happy to give you a more in-depth answer (email@example.com). Your question deserves a thorough answer. I'll give it a shot in this forum. It's all the things you mentioned. Being able to marry the 4-for-40 academic concept with ND's track record of making the NFL dream come to life is a powerful combination. To your second question. Notre Dame looks at the three things you mentioned. All are important. As is coachability, perseverance, unselfishness. I hope that at least gives you a start. ... PS when my grandma on my mom's side and her family immigrated from Italy, they settled in Butler, Pa.
Doug from Lexington, Va.: Eric, I would like to know more about how the transfer portal works. When a player submits his name into the portal, can he then contact and be contacted by college coaches? Can a player have contact with a coach before entering the portal or is this considered tampering? Finally, how do coaches evaluate portal guys? Do they get recommendations and assessments from their current coaches or do they mainly go by film? Thanks for the great sports writing you and Tyler do. We Notre Dame fans are fortunate to have the two of you to give us the inside scoop on all things Irish.
Eric Hansen: Hi Doug, thanks for the compliments. ... Submitting one's name to the portal opens up all the contact channels, both ways. Contact before that is against the rules, but there are some third-party ways to skirt that, especially if you're a player. To do so as a coach is risky. ... Evaluating portal guys is similar to evaluating high school prospects. Game tape, background checks, talking to other coaches, including those who coached AGAINST them. You also can get a vibe on an official visit. There was an ACC receiver a few years ago who visited, and the current ND players didn't think he'd be a fit. So ND dropped out of that recruitment.
Patricia from Chesterton, Ind.: Eric, as I am sure you are aware, there is a rather prominent ND football website/message board that has been extremely critical of coach Kelly and athletic director Swarbrick over the years. As an ND alumna, I don't agree with their views, but everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Live and let live, is my motto. However, my concern is with our current players and potential recruits. Do you think they read negative message board comments? And, if so, what effect does this have on them and their feelings as human beings? As for the recruits, it can't give them a positive vibe about the ND fan base, can it?
Eric Hansen: Hi Patricia. I did a little digging on the topic in recent weeks. And really, current players and recruits fit in different categories. Most current players stay off message boards and really have a narrow band of what social media they'll follow in season. Now some of the parents will follow along on message boards. I would not recommend that. As far as recruits, they're a little more oblivious. Not all, mind you. WR recruit Amorion Walker was taken aback by the kind of negative reaction some posters had when he verbally committed to ND. I'm not sure he's over that. But I think he's an exception. I think the good news is, the amount of trolling and negative posts is fairly universal to an extent. But if BK is getting blasted, just imagine what's happening on the Texas boards this week. Lastly, not all message boards are created equal within a fan base. Good moderators can help direct productive discussions and add perspective without necessarily restricting opinions.
One postscript regarding recruiting and message boards. Message boards and unflattering comments aren’t going away, so you need to have a strategy if it comes up in the recruiting process.
Robert from Sartell, Minn.: First of all, great job covering the Irish this year! As usual, I have a few questions. First, who will the Irish get commitments from to add to the already impressive Pot O’ Gold? Second, who do you think is the MVP this year? Finally, where do we belong in the postseason — playoffs or another bowl? Who should we play? I’d love a Cinci rematch!!!
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Robert. Notre Dame would like to add OG Billy Schrauth, DL Anthony Lucas and S Xavier Nwankpa. All three are tough pulls. If they don't get Schrauth or Nwankpa, I think they'll look for an alternative late in the cycle or scour the portal. They'd like to add another QB in the class and another elite skill player — like flipping RB Nicholas Singleton from Penn State. … Team MVP. It would have been Hamilton and his 6 ¼ games deserve mention. I’ll go with Kyren Williams. … As far as postseason, my view is keep winning and improving and let the chips fall. Play the best competition you can and use it to help you make a playoff run next season.
Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. Thanks for hosting the chat. I always look forward to Wednesday afternoon. With Tech and Stanford being games ND should win without too much trouble, do you think we will see more planned usage of Tyler Buchner — say as much as 40/60 or even 50/50? The purpose being to get him ready to be very involved in an NY6 or playoff game. It seems like there is an opportunity for a lot more different offensive looks when he is in and the offense seems more electric and explosive with him — things that will be necessary in order to have a chance to win when the competition is a lot tougher. Also, I know there are some concerns about new commitment Aamil Wagoner's size. If he is unable to get to the size needed for the O-line, since he is such a phenomenal athlete, is there a position switch that would work for him? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. Thank you for your thoughtful questions. The mathematical challenge when calculating QB playing time is that Jack Coan didn't play in this offense last year or this version of it before the bye. So his game reps are important, too. It helps him get ready for the postseason, helps him improve. Having said that, I'm glad Buchner got 17 snaps (out of 62) in the Virginia game. Not just the number of snaps, but opening the playbook a little more for him. That's huge for down the road this postseason and 2022). Barring injury or ineffectiveness on Coan's part, I don't see the ratio changing much. Maybe in the bowl game it will change.
With regard to Aamil Wagner being 265 pounds, there is no concern among the coaching staff or people who have evaluated Wagner and watched him play. He won't likely be a plug-and-play guy, and he doesn't need to be. He'll have time to develop (like Mike McGlinchey, for instance). Keep in mind that Joe Alt was 240 pounds when he verbally committed ... so, there's that.
Larry from Millersville, Pa.: Hello Eric. If I don't get through to you next week, I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving. How many members of the 2022 class are planning to enroll early? I believe the early weight training and spring practices are beneficial for everyone.
Eric Hansen: Hi Larry, the only one I'm not sure about is Aamil Wagner. I will have to check on that after the chat and add it into the transcript later. There are 13 who have committed to enrolling early of the other 21. So it's all four linebackers (Tuihalamaka, Snead, Ziegler, Burnham), O-linemen Craig and Tanona, WRs Walker and Williams, DE Ford, QB Angeli, CB Mickey, S Moore, RB Price.
Mike from Erie, Pa.: Eric: Thanks for the great chats. I learn so much from the thoughtful questions and the even-better responses. That said, how about the play of Bo Bauer? I do hope that he returns next year.
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Mike. He had an impressive game against Virginia. I think he'd benefit from coming back next year.
Tom from Lansing, Mich.: Great work, Eric. Thanks! I see a realistic chance that ND ends up No. 4 in the CFP standings and faces a pummeling by Georgia. I think this happening again, which it most likely would, could undo the good of what's been accomplished so far this season. Better to have a couple more big recruiting seasons first. What say you? Also, I think players who opt out during the season to protect their pro prospects should have their scholarships taken away since they are no longer on the team. What do you think?
Eric Hansen: Hi Tom. Let me ask you this: Who has Georgia NOT pummeled? I mentioned this is a recent chat with a question phrased a little differently. Recruits love that ND is one of only five teams to be in the playoff more than once. They're not fixated on the outcomes. ... As far as the opt out, generally the next semester those players are not on scholarship. But I would never pull their scholarship in mid-semester.
John from Waterloo, Ontario: Hi Eric. Happy Thanksgiving from one of your fans north of the border. It appears that your prediction of Kevin Austin is holding true. You also said he was one of the more gifted WRs at Notre Dame these many years, but he needed to be committed both physically and mentally to achieve success. It appears he is well on his way. Do you think his talent will translate successfully in the NFL? He reminds me of fellow Canadian Chase Claypool, who was a big and talented WR at Notre Dame but did not put together the big stats at college, but is now realizing his potential and is one of the better NFL receivers.
Eric Hansen: John, I do think Austin’s talent will translate to the NFL, and he is much like Claypool in maturing as a person (sometimes the hard way) later in his college career, which will enhance those talents even more. We agree. And Happy Thanksgiving, although if my memory serves me correctly, you guys have already had yours?
James from Dallas: Eric, looking down the road a year or two, what are your thoughts on the balance between recruiting high school players for development and recruiting experienced players through the portal? Will ND fundamentally change roster management to take on 6-8 players per year as some have already?
Eric Hansen: Jim, I asked Brian Kelly about that in a backwards way Monday and didn't get the answer I was looking for. My bad on a poorly constructed question. What he did say (and I already knew) is that underclass transfers are WAY more complicated than grad transfers at ND because of transferring credits. So most of theirs will be grad transfers. I still think they feel so good about their player development model and their culture, that they'd rather cherry pick for need than make transfers a larger part of their building process.
Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, do you think most of the New Year’s Day Bowls would like to have the freedom to select an 11-1 ND team if they were not selected for the playoff? Do you know when the conference commitments that currently tie their hands come up for review/renewal?
Eric Hansen: I think they'd love to have ND. Their fans fill stadiums. They draw eyeballs on TV. The current contracts expire after the 2025 season. But if you're asking if the bowls will get rid of the conference tie-ins, etc., that isn't happening.
Bob from Royersford, Pa. Hello, Eric. Thank you for doing these chats. My question is, if a major program shows interest in hiring Marcus Freeman, do you see Jack Swarbrick possibly stepping in to try to keep him at ND? I would hate to see Freeman leave after just one year. If he leaves, it could end up hurting this and next year’s recruiting classes, plus I think he is an excellent coach. I’m not a big fan of the coach-in-waiting thing, but I would almost be OK with it in this case. Thanks again.
Eric Hansen: Bob, Marcus Freeman is going to be in demand from now until he eventually leaves ND. There's really nothing ND can do about it if he feels he's ready to be a head coach and he finds the right fit. ND knew this when they hired him. I think he'll stay through at least next year to build his value, but there are a lot of jobs open this cycle — a lot of good ones open — and not a glut of great candidates with whom to fill them.
Steve from Findlay, Ohio: Do you see 11-1 now likely?
Eric Hansen: Um, yes.
Larry from Topton, Pa.. Hi Eric. You are the best! (and Tyler is a close second). I would like to know your current assessment of the performance of the offensive line. While I agree there has been improvement since early in the season, I believe statistics are somewhat misleading, and providing us with a false sense of the level of comfort. I say this because a big reason for the statistical improvement has been the ability of Kyren Williams and Logan Diggs to gain yards after contact. I am concerned that a better defensive opponent in January could stifle the Irish offense. Your thoughts?
Eric Hansen: Larry, I guess it's all relative. No one is saying they're going to roar into contention for the Joe Moore Award, but even if you don't give them any credit for run blocking improvement, their pass blocking can't be denied. Pro Football Focus does a good job of grading film, and they have given ND better grades in recent weeks in both areas, despite the yards after contract from their backs. And yes, running against Georgia, Alabama or Ohio State in a playoff game would be an immense challenge.
Patrick from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Good afternoon, Eric. The injuries to Kyle Hamilton and Avery Davis were non-contact and both are out for the regular season. It looked like Avery's foot caught in the synthetic turf. Hamilton's foot seemed to slide more than he anticipated. What I am getting at is the thought that both are "artificial" turf injuries. I haven't kept track of ND players injured at ND stadium since the change to synthetic turf. However, if there is a correlation of ND players with an inordinate amount of non-contact injuries in the future, do you think the administration would change back to natural grass?
Eric Hansen: Patrick, Notre Dame has had non-contact injuries on their one grass practice field as well. It's not something I can get to in-season, but perhaps it’s an offseason topic to dig into.
Brenden Curry from Manheim Township; Lancaster, Pa.: Hello Eric. Do you happen to know when the 2022 schedule will be officially released? I'm guessing it should be announced soon. I'm very excited for the Ohio State and Clemson matchups, along with a possible trip to the Navy game in Baltimore! Thank you for your excellent coverage of Irish football! Keep up the great work!
Eric Hansen: Hi Brenden. I also think it'll be released soon. We know all 12 opponents and 10 of the dates. It's just placing the BC and Syracuse games in two of the open slots.
Bob from warm and sunny Littleton, Colo.: There was a time when if ND lost a starter, the fall-off in talent doomed the Irish. This year's team is the mirror image of that, and last Saturday night highlighted this change. Hats off to Kelly and company for loading the bench with genuine talent and then managing the inevitable challenges of injuries/illness by putting the right people in the right place at the right time. Sometimes at the last minute. In particular, a shoutout to one of ND's most maligned assistants, Jeff Quinn. While Marcus Freeman gets a lot of press for what he's done, and I certainly have no issue with that, Quinn has done just an incredible job of revamping and then developing the offensive line into the cohesive unit it is now. While his name was never mentioned on the telecast that I can recall, he has my vote for assistant of the year. At this point in time who would be your choice, Eric?
Eric Hansen: Bob, thanks for your thoughts and your question. My vote would go to Mike Elston, both for on-field coaching and for revamping recruiting.
Aaron from Washington, D.C.: Eric, thank you for your time and continued great insights. I thoroughly enjoy all your work. With coach Kelly stating that Chris Tyree is fully healthy, I was surprised that Logan Diggs got into the game before him last week. Overall, Tyree has not seen as much playing time since his injury as he did before. Diggs is clearly playing very well, but I could see Tyree becoming frustrated. Is there any concern there about his mindset? I would hate to lose him. Clearly, he should be getting much more of the workload next year after Kyren moves on to the NFL with Diggs as 1A, so hopefully Tyree's able to stay patient. I appreciate your thoughts.
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Aaron. Tyree is a really mature, thoughtful young man. I'm not sure BK's assessment of him being 100% is 100% accurate. Bottom line, I think his best football is ahead of him.
Buddy from Oakland, Calif.: Eric, thanks for the wonderful work you do keeping ND's national fan base in the know. Saturday is Senior Day, a day for family, friends, memories, and emotions. The pregame ceremonies are really important to the seniors and their families, but can't they be a distraction for the team? Going over past Senior Days, the Irish often start slow and then pick up steam, usually before it's too late. However, I can see a team like Georgia Tech, whose disappointing season can be totally reversed with an upset of the Irish, taking advantage of this distraction to spring a surprise on the Irish. They have the athletes, but they are young. Is this the game when Georgia Tech comes of age? I hope BK has a plan to put things in perspective for the Irish players. Sentiment is fine; but victory is vital.
Eric Hansen: Yeah, that does happen sometimes. Your observation is on point. I'm sure BK will have a plan. Not sure if it will work, but I do think ND will handle Georgia Tech — eventually.
Stosh from Canton, Ohio: Eric, you are my lifeline to Irish football and you do a great job of keeping me up to date on all things Irish. A number of ND rookies jumped out at me in the Virginia game, but I was most intrigued by Xavier Watts. He seems to be a safety in the making. He has a nose for the ball and is very aggressive. Clearly, Xavier is an excellent football player, but one thing bothers me. He was recruited as a wide receiver, and ND needs wide receivers desperately with all the injuries and transfers at that position. Why then would Coach Kelly convert him to defense? BK has pushed all the right buttons this season and who am I to question his judgment? So, maybe you can explain this move to me so it makes sense. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: Stosh, thanks, and that's a question I had myself. Here's what the thought process is/was. Where can Watts help you the most in 2021? Safety, with Hamilton out. What's his clearest path to playing time in 2022? Safety. At which position do you have more and better recruits coming in next season? Wide receiver (at the moment). Especially if Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin, Avery Davis and/or Joe Wilkins come back, Watts would be a rotational guy at wide receiver in 2022. At safety, he would be in the mix to start.
David from Tempe, Ariz.: Eric, thank you and the staff at the South Bend Tribune for your awesome coverage of Notre Dame football. Before the advent of the internet I used to get the Trib in the mail, just so I could follow the Irish. What a great group of sportswriters your paper has had over the years: the legendary Joe Doyle, Forrest "Woody" Miller, Bill Billinski, David Haugh, Jeff Carroll, Al Lesar, and Tyler James. I have to honestly say, however, you, Eric, have been the best. Your work is consistently detailed, informed, insightful, and most importantly fair and objective. I know you are modest and I know a sportswriter never wants to make himself the story, but can you tell us a little about your background and how you became the ND beat writer. It would be nice to know something about the man behind the byline. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: David, wow. Thank you. There are so many questions in the queue that I won't be able to get to, I'd hate to push those aside for my own story. If you'd like to email me, I'd be happy to answer. Just promise me you're not going to use the answer for a possible cure for insomnia.
Leo from Burlington, Wis.: Eric, in my opinion, Brian Kelly has done a masterful job of handling the transfer portal. Ben Skowronek and Nick McCloud were vital to the success of the 2020 season, and Cain Madden and Jack Coan have been absolutely essential to the success of this season. BK obviously realizes that tapping the portal is a way to make up for recruiting misses, player injuries, and early exits to the NFL. What position groups do you think Kelly will be targeting in the portal for the 2022 season?
Eric Hansen: Hi Len, it depends on how this recruiting cycle finishes and if there are any surprise departures/injuries. If I were BK, I'd look at wide receiver and safety.
Eamonn from Portland, Ore.: Eric, thanks as always for keeping these chats going, mandatory Wednesday reading!! Kahanu Kia has looked pretty good on special teams and defensive spot duty. Do you know if he’s still taking his two-year (Mormon) mission starting next year??
Eric Hansen: I asked BK about that a few weeks ago, and his impression was that Kahanu Kia was going to put it off until after college.
Bert from Windermere, Fla.: I would like your assessment of the offensive line. It seems to me that great progress has been made in pass protection, but very little on run blocking. Kyren Williams and Logan Diggs are gaining mostly due to their effort, will, stiff-arming and desire. Blocking by the wide receivers has improved lately.
Eric Hansen: Blocking on the perimeter has been a big improvement. Great observation. Also, having more healthy tight ends has helped as well.
Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, winning is back in style. So, let's keep it up all the way to a national championship! How do you think Jack Coan will fare in the draft and do you think ND will go back into the transfer portal next year? Thanks & GO IRISH !!!!!!! Oh, since I'm a subscriber to the ND Insider, I highly recommend it for every ND fan.
Eric Hansen: Ken, thanks for the plug. ... Jack Coan likely won't get drafted. He's got intangibles, but not the measurables. I would think he'd have a chance to sign as a rookie free agent and get into a camp. ... I don't think ND would go to the portal for a QB unless they needed numbers. Even then, I don't think they'd be shopping for a starter, but rather depth.
Mark from St. Paul, Minn.: Eric, thanks for providing us with the most insightful coverage of ND football. This has been a watershed year for Kelly in that he became ND's winningest coach, but many of us fans really don't have a good feel for the coach. While Rockne was charismatic, Parseghian was intense, Holtz was colorful, Devine was eccentric, and Leahy was obsessive, Kelly seems tough to get a handle on. Early on in his ND tenure he was noted for his angry sideline tirades. but since 2017 he seems much more balanced. You probably know Kelly as well as any reporter. How would you describe him?
Eric Hansen: Mark, thanks for the compliments and the question. Answering that question in a chat — especially the lightning round — would be like trying to pour the Pacific Ocean into a Dixie cup. So I will narrow it down to a few words, as you did. I would say his best trait is being evolutionary, willing and able to change.
Eric Hansen: OK, I have gone way over. Best questions of the season. Thanks for them. I have other commitments, so this is the end of this week. BUT, we'll be back next Wednesday at noon EST to do it all again.
Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI