Why A Spring Season Could Benefit Notre Dame
For the first time since mid-March, major American professional sports that involve person-to-person contact will be played starting next week.
Even if you’re not a fan of the NBA, MLB or NHL, it will be important to monitor the success of the relaunch for each league because they will be looked at as a significant indicator for the return of college football this fall.
Any failures could spell doom and gloom for the college football season as currently scheduled.
“I think we need to be prepared to do it, and I think it should be viewed as a viable option,” Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick told ESPN. “We’re going to learn so much from the NBA and NHL and Major League Baseball in the next few weeks, and if, for example, those efforts go poorly, it’s probably going to be a really critical data point for us, and we’ll argue for delay.
“If that occurs, I think you’ve gotta be open to the spring.”
Even if the NBA, MLB and NHL go on without a hitch (there are already a few cases where a player left the bubble), that doesn’t mean college football this fall will be a go. Unlike collegiate athletics, professional sports leagues are able to sequester themselves from the outside world, a tactic college football athletics directors appear unable to use.
Football Championship Subdivision conferences such as the Patriot League and the Ivy League didn’t even feel the need to wait for this data point and already postponed all of their fall sports seasons, which has only intensified the discussion about whether the entirety of college football should just wait until the spring because that’s the best way to actually keep players and coaches safe (no matter how confident LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is that his players will stop going to parties).
If the season does get pushed back, there will be a lot of questions to answer such as will there still be conference-only schedules? At what point in the spring will the season actually begin? How would this impact the start date of the 2021 fall season?
The other question on everyone’s mind is how this might impact the power programs in college football, including a Notre Dame squad that has finished in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll in four of the last five seasons?
Not only might this be good for the health and safety of the players, but it also could increase the Fighting Irish’s chances of a College Football Playoff berth.
What If Star Players Opt Out Of A Spring Season?
A major concern regarding a spring season is how will it impact the NFL’s prospect evaluation process and the 2021 draft. Would the NFL cooperate by, once again, pushing back its this process? Or will some players feel the need to choose?
This will be an especially difficult choice if you’re a lock to be a first-round draft pick, such as Ohio State’s Justin Fields or Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
College coaches agree.
The Athletic recently interviewed 20 anonymous college football head coaches in order to gauge the number of players each coach feels might not play for their program in the spring. Most said this number would be two or fewer, but two coaches indicated that eight or more players would leave.
“If I was an elite player, if I was a first-round [projected pick], I wouldn't play,” a Power Five coach told the Athletic's Bruce Feldman.
Without knowing who any of the coaches are, it seems fair to assume that top-tier programs such as Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia and LSU would be the most impacted by this, but what about Notre Dame?
When it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft, the only players that seem to be in contention as a first-round draft selection are senior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and fifth-year senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, but both are far from locks to be taken that high and will likely need to show in-season improvements this fall or spring.
Furthermore, Notre Dame has also avoided having top NFL Draft picks sit out of non-playoff bowl games. Offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, two top-10 picks in the 2018 draft, played in the Citrus Bowl a few months prior. Even linebacker Jaylon Smith, who famously tore his ACL and MCL in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl and later experienced drop foot, has stated he doesn’t regret his decision to play in that game.
All of this is to say that a spring season could disproportionately impact the programs perceived to be more talented than Notre Dame and, in a way, level the playing field. As a Fighting Irish fan, this may not be how you want your team to reach a new level of success, but this situation is ultimately out of the program’s control.
Freshman Offensive Skill Players Could Be Better Prepared To Contribute
After the departure of wide receivers Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, tight end Cole Kmet and running back Tony Jones Jr. following the 2019 season, the biggest holes on Notre Dame’s roster were at the offensive skill positions.
The good news: the three best prospects Notre Dame recruited last cycles were wide receiver Jordan Johnson, tight end Michael Mayer and running back Chris Tyree. All three on bona fide top-50 talents in my opinion, with Johnson rating as a five-star recruit, Mayer ranking among the top 36 players in the class and Tyree sitting inside the top 50 until a late drop to No. 78.
BlueandGold.com’s Patrick Engel and Mike Singer recently reported (along with several other good nuggets) that all three have looked impressive since arriving on campus in June. This only accentuates why it was a little disappointing when none of them were able to enroll early this past spring (which was ultimately mitigated by the fact that Notre Dame only had one spring practice).
But assuming football players can remain on campus this fall if the season is postponed, it will give Johnson, Mayer and Tyree more of an opportunity to develop their bodies, learn the Notre Dame offense and contribute right away.
Tyree’s development is particularly important because his electric speed should add an element to the Notre Dame running back position that it sorely lacked last season. If he can become a consistent home-run threat, it will give opposing defenses one more offensive weapon to game plan for and prevent teams from overloading the middle of the field on run plays.
With the return of six players with starting experience along the offensive line and a third-year starting quarterback, this could be just the jolt the Notre Dame offense needs under new coordinator Tommy Rees.
All this isn’t to say that a spring schedule wouldn’t cause a number of complications for Notre Dame and college football, but Fighting Irish fans should find some optimism in the possibility of a February or March start. It could be the break Notre Dame has been waiting for.
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