Andrew Moser from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: Hey Matt, What do you think are the chances Wood and Nix choose not to declare for the draft this season?
Matt Fortuna: Andrew, right now I'd lean toward Nix staying and Wood leaving. As I said in the chat yesterday, I think Nix could see his stock really rise with a slightly bigger body of work -- say, a season like this again next year. That said, he has a very big family that is counting on him, and the only one who knows what he's thinking is, well, him. As for Wood, he is set to graduate, is likely a mid-round pick and has a daughter to care for. His mother told the Chicago Tribune during USC week that Wood was leaning 70-30 toward leaving. Then there are these tweets from yesterday, if you really want to read into things. (Though I'd guess he was probably just relieved to be done with finals. Weren't we all?)
Dave Mather from Dallas writes: Matt, Are we seeing that conference affiliation can actually have a use? I am shocked that the kid from A&M was a landslide winner in the Southwest region. As a fan I am to think that those associated with Florida and LSU would steer clear of the kid since those teams proved he was flawed. Do conferences actually stick together when it comes to things like this? I shudder to think someone associated with ND would ever give a nod to someone from Michigan.
Matt Fortuna: Dave, I've said it before and I've said it again. Notre Dame should do everything in its power to maintain football independence. The benefits for a program that popular nationally far outweigh any negatives -- such as a potential 13th game to boost their schedule strength (for situations like earlier this year, when the Irish were ranked behind other undefeated teams). Another one, like you mentioned, is the semi-fraternity among conference brethren. Players and coaches want to see other teams from their conferences succeed, because it means good things for all.
Tim from Richmond, Va., writes: Matt, For me, the concerns around ND against Alabama are based on ND's schedule. ND played 2 of the worst ACC teams (BC and Wake), a mediocre Miami and a mediocre Pittsburg team, and Navy. ND faced two good teams this year -- OK and Stanford and won those. Alabama faced 3 good teams this year and then played a number of D2 teams and a Auburn and Arkansas teams that were imploding. (I discount MS State as a good team despite their rank at the time Alabama beat. Since both ND and Alabama beat Michigan, I discard that team as a whole. I do not see the loss to Texas AM as the best indicator of how to beat Alabama. I note the LSU game as a key measure. In that, LSU's offense was able to just pound Alabama at the line of scrimmage and move the ball effectively and then stall either in the red zone or near the red zone. If ND can move the Alabama defense back as LSU did, then it will be a true slug fest. Otherwise, I think it may be a long day for ND. In summary with my simple analysis, I think Alabama will win but it could be close. Of course, either team could "not show up" but that would be a surprising outcome given the quality of their coaches. Lastly, in my view, Georgia was the best team in the SEC this year. They are just not as well coached or as well disciplined as Alabama. I think ND would have struggled much more against Georgia versus Alabama. thank you. Tim
Matt Fortuna: Tim, I think you may be on to something. I know I mentioned in Thursday's chat that Alabama struggled with a mobile quarterback in Johnny Manziel and that that could work in Everett Golson's favor, but several readers reminded me of the Tide's domination of Denard Robinson in Week 1, something that I had overlooked. The LSU game might be the best indicator, considering the Tigers were a couple of highly questionable coaching decisions away from winning that contest. That said, I don't think either team Jan. 7 will have a long day. Both are too evenly matched, barring complete gaffes on either side.
Brian from Chicago writes: Matt, never too early to look ahead in our media frenzy of a society we live in today. So ... ND has last years #1 QB in 2011 class (on most lists) in Gunner Kiel redshirting this year. Has the look of a top DI QB, remains to be seen obviously. How does ND/BK manage this situation without losing one of them to transfer (them being EG or GK)??? Most QB's usually have great hands, you watch, in next year or two, EG ends up in the slot/wr making plays with Gunner under center. But I'd be curious to hear your thoughts how this ends in any other way than to losing one of them to transfer?
Matt Fortuna: Brian Kelly told Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden in his cover story a couple of weeks ago that it will be an open competition in the spring. I take that as a direct message to Gunner Kiel, though it wouldn't surprise me if Kelly eventually said that anyway as the spring got closer. You obviously want competition, and I don't think Kiel and his family were naive enough not to consider a redshirt as a distinct possibility with three other more seasoned quarterbacks on the roster before he joined. That said, Golson will almost assuredly get the initial first-team reps and it will be his job to lose, the way Tommy Rees did last spring before getting arrested and severely hampering his chances at starting again. I don't get all of the Golson-to-wideout talk. I could be wrong, but I do not know of an instance in which he played the position at any point in his life. And if most quarterbacks have great hands, why not is there no talk about Andrew Hendrix or Rees to wideout, too? Golson could potentially be a national-title winning quarterback with 39 career starts left in a Notre Dame uniform. Why would you want to throw that away after all the progress he made in a short time?