HomeNBANotre Dame mailbag: Would a 14-team CFP help Irish? Grading Micah Shrewsberry?

Notre Dame mailbag: Would a 14-team CFP help Irish? Grading Micah Shrewsberry?


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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Spring football is back. March Madness is here. And you’ve got questions.

This week’s Notre Dame mailbag hits on the potential 14-team College Football Playoff, wonders if we overrate the impact of losing transfers and looks back at last year’s spring practice storylines to check their durability. We also talk a little hoops.

Let’s get started.

Any word on how the 3-3-2-2-1 proposal would impact Notre Dame’s playoff chances? Would Notre Dame have a tie-in to an ACC spot similar to NY6 bowls or would there be a BCS-era clause that a top-14 Irish team automatically earns an at-large spot? – Mike E.

The devil will be in the details, but the proposal being floated by the College Football Playoff could guarantee Notre Dame a spot in the field if it finished in the top 14 … assuming that proposal turns into the actual playoff format (talks are currently on hold). While we can debate if the 3-3-2-2-1 format is good for the sport (it’s not), this change would be a boon for Notre Dame

In the 12-team format that begins this fall, the Irish would almost never make the field when ranked No. 12 (and No. 11 would be dicey) because of automatic bids to the top-ranked Group of 5 champion and the power conference champions. In the 14-team field, the path gets much wider (no Pac-12 helps) with the potential guarantee of a top-14 ranking as Notre Dame’s “automatic qualifier.” During the first decade of the College Football Playoff, Notre Dame would have made this 14-team field five times (2015, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021) while just missing in 2019 and 2023, when the Irish finished No. 15 and No. 16.

There’s an argument Notre Dame should make a potential 14-team CFP more than half the time, but the Irish wouldn’t have any complaints about the path to do it. Don’t get blown out at Michigan in 2019 or get one of the Ohio State/Louisville/Clemson games last season and Notre Dame could boast seven trips to the CFP over the past decade. That feels about right.

In the previous decade, excluding the COVID-19 year of 2020, 51 Power 5 teams finished the regular season with exactly 10 wins. Thirty-eight of those teams were ranked in the top 14 of the final CFP. Of the 13 that missed, nine dropped out because they lost their conference championship game. Notre Dame will take those odds, even though it was one of the four 10-2 teams to miss the top 14.

During that same span, 43 teams finished the regular season at 9-3. Twenty-two were ranked inside the top 14. Twenty-one finished outside it. The Irish will probably take those odds too.

While you should hate the 3-3-2-2-1 format with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns because it guarantees access of participation, it helps Notre Dame get to the postseason more often. So it has its benefits.


Has Notre Dame struck QB gold in Mississippi? Inside Deuce Knight’s path to South Bend

In your time covering the Irish, what year were your spring practice impressions most confirmed by what you saw that fall? What year were they the farthest from what happened that season? — Andrew R.

Full disclosure, it’s hard to remember what happened in spring practice a week after it happens, never mind years later. That’s because for how much coverage we give March and April, their correlation to September, October and November is consistently weak. A spring practice breakout player is often just a new player doing new stuff because a veteran ahead of him doesn’t need the reps. Or sometimes it’s just Kevin Austin before he breaks his foot.

Still, it’s worth auditing some of last year’s spring practice takeaways to see what stuck and what didn’t.

It’s tough to know what was the bigger miss last offseason: casting Javontae Jean-Baptiste as a slightly better Nana Osafo-Mensah or promoting Sam Hartman as a game-changing quarterback. Both takes were way off. Jean-Baptiste barely participated in spring ball last year. Hartman lit up Al Golden’s defense in the Blue-Gold Game … which said a lot about how limited Golden’s defense was by rule. Nine months later, Jean-Baptiste had played his way into the NFL Draft while Hartman may have played his way out.

Another terrible take (by me) was wondering out loud which assistant coach had done a better job rebuilding his room: Mike Mickens or Chansi Stuckey. One ended up building the nation’s No. 1 pass efficiency defense. The other got fired after Notre Dame’s receivers bombed.

Looking back at my Final Thoughts column after the Blue-Gold Game, I wrote about linebacker and defensive line depth but noted it wasn’t clear how that depth would see the field with the veteran talent on hand. Got that right. Saw Tyler Buchner as a developmental player Notre Dame wanted to keep. Got that right, too. And wrote that losing Lorenzo Styles Jr. wouldn’t move the needle at receiver or cornerback. Hit that one as well, at least at corner.

This is all worth remember when spring practice comes and goes on April 20. Some of what you see will matter. A lot won’t.

What happened to last year’s transfers out of Notre Dame? How did they perform at their new school and could Notre Dame has benefitted from them staying in South Bend? — Kyle O.

Interesting thought exercise considering the exodus of transfers last winter. And the results may be informative of how much impact Rico Flores Jr., Holden Staes and Ramon Henderson, etc., have at their next schools.

Logan Diggs: Diggs left LSU after one season for Ole Miss. He exited Baton Rouge after leading the Tigers backs in carries, yardage and touchdowns. It’s just that his production got eclipsed by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels. The Irish had a wealth of running back talent last season, but Diggs would have elevated it.

Tyler Buchner: Left for Alabama after last year’s spring game and will be playing lacrosse at Notre Dame on the same day as this year’s. He appeared in three games, completed eight passes and threw no touchdowns. Buchner transferred back to Notre Dame to finish his degree. It’s hard to see how he’d have changed the quarterback room last year.

Drew Pyne: Arizona State never clicked for Pyne, who played in two games (both losses), committed six turnovers and returned to Notre Dame to finish his degree. He plans to transfer to Missouri after graduation to give football another shot, although there’s no starting job open. There was never an opportunity at Notre Dame.

Prince Kollie: Kollie missed much of the preseason and never cracked the linebacker rotation at Vanderbilt. Considering what the Irish brought back at linebacker last season and return this season, it’s hard to see how Kollie could have earned time beyond special teams.

Lorenzo Styles: Styles forced a move to corner last spring, then bolted for Ohio State after the Blue-Gold Game. He logged three snaps on defense but played in seven games, which burned a year of eligibility. Now he’s down to his final season. Styles could have helped the Irish at receiver last year. It’s hard to see how he could assist at receiver or corner now.

Caleb Johnson: Buried on the offensive line depth chart at Notre Dame, Johnson transferred to SMU and become a rotational lineman. Considering Irish’s needs at tackle, he might have gotten a look this spring if he’d stayed, at least on the two-deep.

Cane Berrong: Stuck behind more talented tight ends at Notre Dame, Berrong transferred to Coastal Carolina. He didn’t appear in a game last season.

Osi Ekwonu: A reserve pass rusher, Ekwonu appeared in 12 games for Charlotte but logged more than six snaps of defense in just two of them. He has a sixth year of eligibility for the 49ers.

Jayden Bellamy: The New Jersey native transferred to Syracuse after his freshman year, developing into a starter for the Orange. He logged 442 snaps on defense, about the same volume Thomas Harper got here. Bellamy might not have started at Notre Dame, but he could have helped.

Joe Wilkins: It says something that the transfer who could have helped Notre Dame most last season was Wilkins, who finished with 24 catches for 331 yards and one touchdown at Miami (Ohio). His 634 snaps played on offense would have led Notre Dame’s receivers by a wide margin.

Jacob Lacey: Looking for more snaps, Lacey got them at Oklahoma. He was a regular in the Sooners defensive line in a way he couldn’t be at Notre Dame. This was a rare win-win for the former program and player. Lacey got a bigger opportunity. The Irish leaned into Rylie Mills, Howard Cross and Gabriel Rubio. Lacey medically retired this spring due to blood clots.

Is there a takeaway from how much (or little) Notre Dame’s transfers played at their next stops? Perhaps it’s evidence of how much the Irish have upgraded in the portal considering the struggles of outgoing talent. Of the 11 transfers out, just four clicked, doing it at LSU, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Miami (Ohio). And only two of those could have helped Notre Dame.

Compare to that to Notre Dame’s incoming group that included Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Sam Hartman and Thomas Harper. The portal hasn’t just been a way to keep up roster numbers for Notre Dame, it’s been a mechanism to improve it.

Notre Dame men’s basketball won six of its last 10 ACC games. (Matt Cashore / USA Today)

How would you grade Micah Shrewsberry’s first season at Notre Dame? And who are you picking to make the Final Four? — Tom N.

I’d arbitrarily give Shrewsberry an B- for his first season that finished 13-20 overall and 7-13 in the ACC. The Irish also went 1-8 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament. As much as Shrewsberry did good work under difficult circumstances, Notre Dame basketball still has a long ways to go. But the program can at least begin next season expecting to be a middle-of-the-pack ACC team with a chance to flirt with the bubble, assuming the roster remains intact. Making the NCAA Tournament still feels like a stretch, but at least the team’s top two scorers won’t be freshmen again.

My Final Four picks: UConn, Houston, Kansas and North Carolina.



Thoughts on all 41 scholarship players on Notre Dame’s offense

In your first practice diary, you mentioned the quarterbacks worked in the order of Steve Angeli, Riley Leonard, Kenny Minchey and CJ Carr, but that they won’t end the spring that way. Was that simply in reference to the expectation of Leonard being the starter, or does that include Carr leaping Minchey for third-string? Depending on the results of spring practice, do you expect any of the QBs to enter the transfer portal? — Daniel J.

Notre Dame didn’t acquire Riley Leonard from the transfer portal to sit him. And to be clear, Leonard did take reps with the “starters” during the first spring practice. It wasn’t that different than watching Tyler Buchner and Sam Hartman rotate a year earlier, something that looked like a legitimate competition for the first half of spring practice before taking a turn for the inevitable during the Blue-Gold Game.

It’s difficult to imagine Leonard not edging ahead of Angeli at some point. He offers a bigger arm, more experience and more athleticism. It’s also worth noting what Angeli put on tape in the Sun Bowl. It was superior to Buchner’s work against Ohio State, Marshall and South Carolina. And as last year showed, there’s a robust market for Power 5 quarterbacks with at least some experience.

So, where does that leave Notre Dame at the top of the depth chart? The spring story at quarterback may be less about who wins the starting job than who’s available to be QB2. Leonard’s ankle injury last year is a reminder that most college offenses are always an injury away from falling apart. It happened to Duke. It’s happened to Notre Dame before. Keeping Angeli would, in theory, give the Irish one of the most capable backups in college football. The question may be if Angeli would accept that role, even though he’d have the inside track to start for Notre Dame in 2025-26.

The competition for QB3 and QB4 will be harder to evaluate because we may not see much of it beyond spring practice. The buzz around Carr at Notre Dame is strong enough to make me believe he won’t stay fourth for long. How long? Hard to say. But of all the early-enrollee quarterbacks I’ve watched in first practices the past 20 years, Carr was the most impressive by a wide margin. Usually they’re barely capable of taking a snap. Carr was out there throwing passes against Benjamin Morrison.

It’s fair to wonder how Notre Dame can keep four scholarship quarterbacks at one time. It would be a feat of roster management to pull that off when the transfer portal reopens on April 16.

Favorite Wilco album? – Kevin M.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It doesn’t get much better than Touchdown Jesus, etc.

See you at the Salt Shed in Chicago in June?

(Top photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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