Thanks to those who stopped by today's Notre Dame chat after a two-week absence. There was plenty of catching up to do, and plenty of catching up got done. You can read it all here.
Justin Shippy (Fort Wayne): Do you have a feel for who will/will not be granted 5th years?
Matt Traylor (Fort Wayne, IN): With a couple key loses on defense do you see improvement or a decline on that side of the ball next season?
Matt Fortuna (2:08 PM): Title-game notwithstanding, it's hard to do much better than the No. 1 scoring defense in the regular season. That said, there are upwards of eight starters returning, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix should only be better and the secondary will have much more experience and depth. I think the D will be very, very good, but we need to see if similar type of leaders can emerge to take this group to the next step, like last year's.
Brad (Benton): Hey Matt. I was just looking over the schedule for next year and is it safe to say that based on how some teams improved (i.e. Mich and ASU) this schedule seems even harder than last years?
Matt Fortuna (2:10 PM): Brad, these things are always tricky. Last year's slate looked incredibly daunting from the outset. While it was still a very good schedule -- and the Irish deserve a lot of credit for scheduling that tough -- MSU and USC were massive disappointments, and Oklahoma and Michigan underachieved, to name a few. The two games that jump out to me immediately when looking at the 2013 slate are the Michigan and Stanford ones, as they are both on the road and the latter figures to be in the national title conversation. Then again, we've been wrong before when it comes to end of season Pac-12 rivals and title talk, haven't we?
Brad (Stilson, GA): How do we go from "We're Back!" to getting thumped in the MNCG and our star linebacker's phone calls with a dude? Can we please start over next season or will this pall still be hanging over us?
Matt Fortuna (2:22 PM): It's Notre Dame football, Brad. Surely something else crazy will happen between now and the end of August, no? That title game certainly feels like a lot more than 17 days ago, I'll say that much.
Tom (Louisville, KY): Matt, are you hearing of any changes they plan on making to our strength and conditioning program? Do you think we will try to look more like Alabama in the future ?
Matt Fortuna (2:59 PM): Tom, that's been the plan all along. Let's remember just how short these same players were coming up a year or two ago. Paul Longo and his staff have done wonders, and the fact they got to the title game in three years -- a year ahead of Jack Swarbrick's expected timeframe -- is a testament to all of that. Swarbrick said after that game that nothing he saw that night in Miami changes his feelings as it relates to the direction of the program, and I have to agree with him. While the Bama loss was humiliating at the time, it doesn't ruin what has been remarkable progress for a program many thought would never reach that stage again.