Notre Dame academic investigation: On-field impact for 2014
Notre Dame will need to find replacements immediately for KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams, Kendall Moore and DaVaris Daniels.
Since colleague Jeremy Fowler was able to confirm that cornerback KeiVarae Russell, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore have been removed from Notre Dame's roster due to an academic issue, let's take a look at how this might impact the outlook for the Fighting Irish, No. 17 in the preseason coaches poll.
Before the news, Notre Dame was projected to be a solid, eight-win team -- Vegas had the over/under win total at 7.5. Everett Golson's return brings higher expectations for the offense, which Brian Kelly said himself could be his most explosive unit since arriving in South Bend, but it is difficult to see a 10-win season with a schedule that includes Michigan, Stanford, Florida State (on the road), Arizona State, Louisville and a season finale against USC in the Coliseum.
So how has Notre Dame's outlook changed since? Notre Dame betting lines were pulled from the board when academic scandal rumors began Friday, but it will take an impressive showing from the Irish defense to overcome the losses and reach eight wins.
Daniels' absence hurts the offense, but Golson, a talented group of young running backs and tight end Ben Koyack are still dangerous. What's concerning is that Daniels represents about the only proven piece of the wide receivers group. Daniels, TJ Jones and Troy Niklas (both gone) combined for 67.4 percent of the team's receptions in 2013. Chris Brown, Notre Dame's second leading returning receiver behind Daniels, recorded just 15 catches for 209 yards and one touchdown last season.
The defense must replace a two-year starting corner in Russell and two seniors expected to start or contribute in the front seven. Now, this Brian VanGorder-led unit with only a handful of returning starters is even thinner on experience. Freshman Nyles Morgan is expected to start for the Irish at linebacker, and Ishaq Williams' replacement on the defensive line could be another true freshman in 6-foot-4, 250-pound Andrew Trumbetti. Luckily, Notre Dame has recruited well on defense in recent years (see: Smith, Jaylon) and has talent on the next line of the depth chart.
Even with young talent on the bench, it will be tough for Notre Dame to meet expectations if those expectations are eight or nine wins. It's hard enough to replace both coordinators and a dozen starters and expect to maintain that level of success, and now you have to add the extra noise that comes with off-field investigations.
Notre Dame is still a good football team; one that should be bowling at the end of the regular season. But these setbacks could result in the Irish falling a game or two below where many fans would like them finish in 2014.
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