What's the good word?
Brian Henighan from Medina, Ohio, writes: Matt, First of all, I'm completely jealous of your job and would give anything to see a practice or game from the sideline. LUCKY! Secondly, two players that I'm very interested in hearing about (who got a lot of hype on NSD but haven't heard much of since) are Jaylon Smith and Tarean Folston. How are these two looking in practice? Any reps for either of them with the first team? Has Kelly mentioned these guys at all and his plans for them? 10-3 prediction for this year by the way!
Pablo from Sunnyside, N.Y., writes: You had Danny Spond as #10 in your top 25 player countdown; can you make a prediction of a player outside the top 25 that has the best chance of surprising everyone and being firmly in the top 25 at season's end?
Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Brian. To answer both your question and Pablo's ... does Jaylon Smith count as a surprise? I had left him off the preseason top 25 because, at the time the path to extensive playing time for him just was not clear. Now the five-star freshman looks like he might start at the Dog from Day 1, giving everyone an early glimpse of what all of the fuss is about. He was with the first team during the portions of practice we saw Thursday. As for Folston, he was limited in the first practice we saw and absent from the second because of a death in the family. I was watching most of the defense during the smaller viewing period we received Thursday, so I have not seen enough of him to get a good gauge yet, though nothing would really surprise me in that backfield this year since there are so many bodies. Also, Brian, is that 10th win coming in the regular season or in a bowl? That could mean the difference between a BCS bowl and somewhere a lot less desirable.
Barney from Canton, Ohio writes: Hey Matt, I was wondering if you know how future Notre Dame schedules are going to look other than the five ACC games and games against traditional rivals (USC, Navy, Stanford)? Is Notre Dame in discussions with any schools we normally don't play? Thanks for all of your hard work. I read your blog every day.
Rufus from Fortuna Avenue, South Africa writes: Hey Matt, you're a cool dude and I appreciate everything you do for Notre Dame nation. My question might seem sort of odd, but why do we play the same teams every year? I realize, we're playing the five game ACC schedule soon, but lately, we've played the same eight teams, almost like being in our own custom conference. As an Independent, why don't we branch out and play the SEC or Big 12 more often? I would love to see Notre Dame-Ohio State.
Matt Fortuna: Rufus, you're writing from Fortuna Avenue, so you take the cake when it comes to cool, at least in this space. As for your question (and Barney's), Oklahoma was on the schedule last year and this year. Texas has home-and-homes with the Irish in 2015-2016 and 2019-20, too. It just isn't too easy for the Irish to schedule as an independent, and the remaining holes become significantly harder to fill now with five annual ACC games on deck and three rivalries they have no interest in relinquishing. Throw in the talk and implementation of nine-game conference schedules, and you have even less dates to schedule, as many other big-five schools have their own annual nonconference rivalries that they need to protect. That said, I'm like all of you in that I'd like to see the Irish play the SEC more often. Brian Kelly has publicly stated his desire to eventually schedule something with a school like Georgia, and the Bulldogs' athletic director, Greg McGarity, recently told CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler that a home-and-home with Notre Dame sounds intriguing, though the two sides have not discussed anything.
Matt the Irish Fan from Miami writes: Hey Matt! First off, I would like to say, I thought you did a great and classy job of handling the question and comments from Jacob from Georgia about the national championship game. The very fact you posted and responded to him is impressive to me. Secondly. I am a lifelong Irish fan. I watched through every painful moment of that game last year. I will be honest, I didn't think the Irish had much of a chance. They really had the luck of the Irish on their side last season. I'm surprised I had any fingernails left by the end of the season. My question is this: Do you feel the Irish are an improved team this year? Keep up the good work following the Irish.
Matt Fortuna: You guys are on a roll with good names and addresses this week. As for your question, Matt, Chuck Martin answered a similar one about luck on Thursday, countering moments like Pitt's missed field goal with Cierre Wood's goal-line fumble beforehand, which was equally as fluky. I think this team is deeper and probably more talented in most areas across the board, but they need a few more playmakers to emerge on offense. I also think it's entirely possible that this team can be better than last year's but end up with a worse record to show for it. One can argue, at least from the friendly confines of the preseason, that this year's Stanford team will be better than any team the Irish faced during the regular season last season. And they have to travel to the Big House of Horrors, too, not to mention the fact Notre Dame will have an even bigger target on its back this season, something Brian Kelly alluded to Thursday as well.