Carter from LaPorte, Ind., writes: Hi, Matt. I love reading your blogs, and I've been a Notre Dame football fan since I can remember. I've gone to at least one game a year since I was 3 weeks old. I'm curious as to how you see the team shaping up this year. Our final record (who we'll beat/hopefully not lose to), offensive production, defensive production (will our new defensive coordinator produce the defense we had two years ago?), the "Golson effect"(Heisman?), and how, if at all, will the new playoff system determine who we'll play postseason? Thanks!
Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Carter. Three weeks old? Please tell me you didn't have to pay for a ticket back then. As for your questions … well, I know much better than to make season predictions this early, especially with just four spring practices in the books. I look at the schedule now and seem to think the closest thing to a sure bet either way is a loss at Florida State, but I (and everyone else) have been guilty of making a similar mistake before, back in 2012.
I think a Heisman run by Everett Golson is asking a lot, though the offense should be much more dynamic while looking more like the kind of attacks Brian Kelly ran during his Cincinnati days. I'm not sure the talent is there yet for the defense to be as good as the 2012 unit was, but I think the secondary, especially with the summer arrival of Florida transfer Cody Riggs, will be really, really good, and I'm interested to see what kind of changes new coordinator Brian VanGorder implements with the unit.
Notre Dame's postseason destination will depend on a lot of things, though, if the Irish don't qualify for the playoffs, they do have a nice fallback plan thanks to their new ACC alignment: They can leap an ACC team for a spot in a non-access bowl if their record is better than, equal to or within one win of said team, or if they are ranked higher. The Orange Bowl will also select the highest-ranked available team from Notre Dame, the Big Ten or the SEC to face the ACC champion, though the Irish can appear in the game a maximum of two times during the 12-year agreement.
Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill., writes: Hey, Matt! I envy your job! My question is about Brian VanGorder. How different do you think our defense will be under him than it was with Bob Diaco? How will our defensive coverages and just overall defensive format change under the new leadership? Great work as always!
Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Thomas. I think the experience back in the secondary will allow VanGorder to be much more creative and aggressive up front. In fact, I'm not sure he wouldn't be that way regardless of who his defensive backs were. Kelly has said the defense will still be a 3-4 base that switches things up on roughly a 50-50 basis, but the unit has run mostly four-man fronts in our limited time viewing practice this spring. One bulletin-board quote that will likely stick with VanGorder this fall? "I'm built to stop the run" -- something he said during his introductory news conference in January.
Chad from Woodlawn, Tenn., writes: Matt, I know recruiting is never easy, but it seems as of the last few classes, ND has had a large number of defections or decommits. Is there a problem with coach Kelly and his staff when it comes to recruiting or is this a product of the recruiting times?
Matt Fortuna: Chad, I think it's a bit overblown and more a product of the times. I also think it's about identifying the right fits for Notre Dame, as there are obvious differences between Notre Dame and several of the other college football powers that most four- and five-star prospects are interested in. It's something that Kelly and his staff have become better at managing over time. Were there still decommits this year? Sure, as Elijah Hood, Richard Yeargin and Isaiah McKenzie showed. But I think the staff has become more risk-averse. They know what they are selling, they have tangible evidence of the heights that the program is capable of reaching, and they have learned who is and is not a great fit for what they are about.
Joe Meyer from Indianapolis writes: Hi, Matt, just sharing the "must sees" at Notre Dame. No visit is complete without a trip inside the Basilica and the Administration Buildings. There are many great things to see in each, but no tour guide is required. Total time, 45 minutes.On game days, it's a treat to listen to the trumpets inside the Admin Building, about 90 minutes before kickoff. They play the fight song and alma mater from two levels of the rotunda beneath the dome. It's awesome. For the adventuresome, taking a walk around the lakes will provide a unique view of the notable buildings, including the Golden Dome.
Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Joe. This is in response to Matt from Pittsburgh's question in last week's mailblog. Have at it, Matt.