The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Georgia fans have had to watch rivals Auburn and Alabama crow after recruiting victory after recruiting victory the past few months, but Bulldog fans got a chance to thump their chest some after landing two of the nation’s best 2016 prospects Saturday after its Dawg Night camp. But will those commitments stay true for the long haul? Plus, Penn State’s James Franklin remains hot on the recruiting trial.

Video: Rudy's 'Lost Playoff Speech'

July, 14, 2014
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In a recently discovered clip from his impassioned locker room speech in the movie "Rudy," Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger lays out his idea for a college football playoff.
Troy AikmanUSA TODAY SportsTroy Aikman played under Barry Switzer in Oklahoma before enrolling at UCLA.
Have you logged on Twitter today? Turned on the TV? Went to the grocery store or picked up your child from the babysitter? Then chances are you know the King has returned.

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.



That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.

If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.

QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)

The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

 Joe FlaccoMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco transferred to Delaware to play near his hometown in southern New Jersey.
QB Joe Flacco, Delaware (by way of Pittsburgh)

Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.

QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)

Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)

The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)

Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.

Cameron NewtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeorgia native Cam Newton won a Heisman Trophy after transferring to Auburn.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn (by way of Florida and Blinn College)

Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)

So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.

 

This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.

QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)

Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.

QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)

The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)

Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.

LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)

A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.

DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)

This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.
Our five-man panel used a formula earlier this week to determine that Notre Dame is the No. 9 college football program set up for the next three years. Brian Fremeau and his Football Outsiders team tried something similar, using their own formula.

Using their weighted five-year program ratings — relying on program trajectory as a better indicator than previous-year data — the group lists its top 10 future programs, along with the next five.

The differences are pretty eye-opening. And Notre Dame does not make the list.

That's hardly the biggest difference between the two lists, with other teams appearing on one and not the other, while others see their positions roughly 10 places apart in the separate rankings.

As always, it's interesting to see who excels in different categories, and how each program is set up for the future, as Fremeau and his team project future win percentage and playoff likelihood for the next three years as well.

As for the rest of the links to get you into your weekend ...

Notre Dame mailblog

July, 11, 2014
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The season's getting closer ...

Shaun from Connecticut writes: Matt... Leading up to preseason camp here in a few weeks, what is your opinion and feel on who the starting QB is going to be? Is Golson a lock at the position?

Matt Fortuna: Shaun, I'd say Everett Golson remains the favorite, but having Malik Zaire there to push him is a good problem to have. Zaire is a player who will not go down without a fight, and so far I think everyone has been pleased with Golson's response. It is also pretty telling that Golson went back to work with George Whitfield Jr. after the spring season, and that he went out to help at the Elite 11 recently as well.




Ronald Harjers from Bridge City, Texas, writes: Big Fan of your work, Matt. My question is where is the fire in the Irish. I watched the Irish win the title when I was 18. That team and even the early 1990s teams had that fire in their hearts and eyes. I haven't seen that type of fire in a long time. Do you see this team coming together as one, and fired up! Go Irish, fear the Golden Domers.

Matt Fortuna: Appreciate the kind words, Ronald. While it is difficult to judge such an amorphous concept, I will say that it is hard to argue the determination that the 2012 team showed in making a run to the BCS title game. Just look at two of its defining moments of the regular season: Goal-line stands on four straight plays against rivals Stanford and USC to clinch big wins. That defense was obviously anchored by NFL players with dominant personalities like Manti Te'o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, and those types of combinations don't just grow on trees. I thought last year's defense did what it could under the circumstances, as the injuries seemed never-ending. But it will be interesting to see how everything comes together this year, when there is a new defensive coordinator, plenty of personnel turnover and not many seniors.




Matt Fortuna: Outside of DaVaris Daniels, I'll say Corey Robinson steps up with a big sophomore year. He showed plenty of signs down the stretch last season and has now been in the program for consecutive springs, which should help him fill out his frame. His length allows him to get to balls that few others on the roster can, and the coaches absolutely love his attitude. One guy who often gets overlooked in this conversation is Ben Koyack, who is obviously a tight end but should see much more action come his way with Troy Niklas out of the picture. Koyack stepped up in the second half of 2013, catching nine passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns during the Irish's final six games. That has not gone unnoticed outside of the program, with plenty of preseason hype coming his way via watch lists and All-America teams. If we know anything about Notre Dame tight ends in recent years, it is that they will be used in the passing game often. And 2014 is the senior Koyack's time to shine.




Chris Tanner
Courtesy of Chris TannerNotre Dame fan Chris Tanner visited Doak Campbell Stadium on the FSU campus.
Chris Tanner writes: On traveling back from Florida, we made a stop in Tallahassee. I wanted Irish Nation to start getting excited for October 18th as it’s only 102 days away. Attached is the picture we took outside the stadium next to a statue whose phrase “Unconquered” can easily be revised with a simple place of a vehicle.

Matt Fortuna: Funny stuff, Chris. I'm loving the photo submissions. Keep them coming, fans.
Two more watch lists were released Thursday, and the ACC is well-represented. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is awarded to the nation’s top defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The Outland Trophy is given to the nation’s top interior lineman, offensive or defensive.

Here are the ACC and Notre Dame players to make the watch lists:

Bronko Nagurski Trophy

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception. Anthony is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields and registered 13 sacks as a junior. He led the ACC in sacks in 2013. Beasley also is on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second consecutive season this fall. Brown is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant-impact player for the Blue Devils in 2013 following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season. Cash is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national title game. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Nagurski. Edwards is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech. Fuller is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best. Harris is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double-teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best. Jarrett is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the season. Maddy is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but he is as talented as they come. Mauldin is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes defense. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall. Perryman is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame: He has started every game in his career and was a FWAA Freshman All-American in 2012. He starred in the Irish’s bowl game with an interception and three pass breakups. Russell is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame: Poised to be one of the best linebackers of recent history for the Irish, Smith started all 13 games as a freshman. He had the third-most tackles for a Notre Dame freshman in school history in 2013. Smith is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list. Williams also is on the Bednarik Award watch list.

Outland Trophy

DL Sheldon Day, Notre Dame: An impact player since his freshman season, Day was second among Notre Dame defensive linemen in tackles last season.

OT Cameron Erving, Florida State: A potential first-round draft pick, Erving elected to stay in school for another run at a national championship. As Jameis Winston’s blindside protector, few linemen nationally hold as much responsibility.

OT Sean Hickey, Syracuse: A workout warrior and one of the strongest players in college football, Hickey is the linchpin to the Orange offensive line.

OG Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech: A two-time ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week, Mason has started 26 of the last 28 games for the Yellow Jackets.

OG Josue Matias, Florida State: Another potential first-round candidate along Florida State’s offensive line, Matias is athletic enough to play offensive tackle, too. He experimented at left tackle this spring.

OC Jake Smith, Louisville: Smith could end up playing right guard, where he started earlier in his career, but he is coming off a junior season in which he started at center. Smith is also on the Rimington watch list.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke: A key along the offensive line for the Blue Devils, Tomlinson likely will be a preseason All-ACC team selection. He was a first-team All-ACC coaches selection in 2013 as the Blue Devils’ best lineman.

Clemson’s Grady Jarrett and Virginia Tech’s Luther Maddy were represented on both lists.
How does Notre Dame fare into the college football picture for the next three years? Pretty well.

The Irish check in at No. 9 on ESPN.com's list of top 25 programs for the next three years. The panel — Brad Edwards, Travis Haney, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill and Mark Schlabach — ranked teams based on coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path and program power in determining their list.

Notre Dame had an overall score of 78.85 out of 100, with coaching, recruiting and program power being the biggest hallmarks of its future success. (No. 1 Alabama, by comparison, scored a 94.6.)

Schlabach goes on to say that he thinks the Irish are probably better than they showed last year, and probably a little bit worse than they showed in 2012. They will probably be a middle-of-the-pack Top 25 team when this year's preseason rankings are released. But the Irish have stability and are set up for success moving forward, and the five-games-a-year ACC affiliation should help the Irish in both recruiting and in their title path.

And, of course, there's Brian Kelly, a proven winner everywhere he has been.

Irish lunch links: Criminoles?

July, 10, 2014
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At this point, there is probably a small fortune to be made in the creative T-shirt game when it comes to sports. Notre Dame fans are no strangers to this, as phrases such as "Catholics vs. Convicts" are still used regularly to describe past matchups. (Meanwhile others, such as "Catholics vs. Cousins," failed to really take off.)

Could we have a new slogan on our hands in 2014? Some fans seem to think so.

A T-shirt with the phrase "Catholics vs. Criminoles" has surfaced this offseason, in anticipation of the Irish's Oct. 18 matchup at Florida State. These are two of the most storied programs in college football history, and, of course, Seminoles quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has faced no shortage of scrutiny for off-the-field issues, the most recent being his theft of crab legs.

The shirt does touch on that, showing a picture of a crab next to the name "Criminoles." (There is a leprechaun doing the Heisman pose next to "Catholics.")

If Notre Dame can go into Tallahassee in three months and come out victorious, perhaps we'll see this headline take off. The teams will, after all, play each other more regularly now -- roughly every three years -- with Notre Dame's ACC affiliation. But if the game proves to be unremarkable, I doubt we'll even remember this shirt, much like the many Notre Dame/Alabama shirts that surfaced before the 2013 BCS title game.

On to the rest of the links ...
You gotta be sound in the kicking game.

The watch lists for the Lou Groza Award (best kicker) and Ray Guy (best punter) were released Wednesday, and these same lists will be pared down during the season, with winners announced in December.

Here are players from the ACC and Notre Dame to receive recognition:

Lou Groza Award:

Roberto Aguayo, Florida State: Only the second freshman to win the award, Aguayo is the odds-on favorite to repeat as a sophomore. He set an FBS single-season kicking record with 157 points last season and was 21 of 22 on field goal attempts. He converted all 94 extra points.

Kyle Brindza, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish’s kicker has a strong leg having made three field goals from at least 50 yards last season. He played a key role in the Irish’s bowl game, connecting on 5-of-6 field goal attempts.

Niklas Sade, NC State: A semifinalist last season, Sade was consistent for the Wolfpack. Twice last season Sade made four field goals in a single game.

John Wallace, Louisville: He nearly tied the Louisville record of 21 field goals in a single season, coming up short by one. Art Carmody, who won the award in 2006, owns the record.

Ray Guy Award:

Wil Baumann, NC State: He’s started 37 games in his career for the Wolfpack and was seventh in the ACC in punting average in 2013.

Riley Dixon, Syracuse: Dixon was awarded a scholarship in January after averaging more than 42 yards per punt last season.

Tommy Hibbard, North Carolina: Hibbard was a second-team All-ACC selection in 2012 and a honorable mention last season. He averaged 43.0 yards on 65 punts, 22 of which were downed in the red zone.

A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech: Hughes was a second-team All-ACC selection last fall after averaging 44.1 yards and downing 24 punts inside the 20.

Will Monday, Duke: Averaged 42.7 yards on 69 punts last season. Monday had punts of 72 and 66 yards in 2013.

Irish lunch links: ND vs. SEC

July, 9, 2014
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Notre Dame's upcoming series with Georgia in 2017 and 2019 is a huge national matchup that will also mark the Irish's first regular-season meeting with an SEC opponent since 2005, when they played Tennessee.

Why is this notable? The Irish have played current SEC teams only 44 times, according to the Elkhart Truth's Rachel Terlep, which is far less than the school's matchups against the Big Ten (376), the ACC (193) and the Pac-12 (147).

Notre Dame is 26-18 against current SEC teams, though it is just 3-5 against the league in bowl games.

Terlep has more interesting notes surrounding the Irish's history with SEC history here.

Elsewhere …
Ricky WattersJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRicky Watters is back on the Notre Dame campus, working to finish his degree in architecture.
Brad Malkovsky was launching icebreakers on the first day of his summer theology class when a chiseled student sitting in the front row caught the associate professor off guard with his introduction. The student said he had not been in a classroom in more than 20 years. He said he was in his 40s. He said he had a wife and two kids.

"I thought he was a 25-year-old," Malkovsky laughed. "I'm thinking to myself, 'If this guy's in his 40s and he's back at Notre Dame -- and he certainly looks like an athlete -- I'll bet I can Google it and find out what's going on.' And I Googled it and it turned out, ‘Oh, I used watched to watch this guy 20 years ago.'"

"This guy" was Ricky Watters, who played 11 seasons for three NFL teams, was named to five Pro Bowls, rushed for more than 10,000 yards and won a Super Bowl with the 49ers in 1994. Now he's back in class, more than two decades after a four-year career at Notre Dame, during which the school won its last national title in 1988 and finished the season ranked No. 2 the next year.

"We talk about reincarnation and some of those things that they believe in other religions and stuff," Watters said. "And [Malkovsky] is like, 'Man, did you reincarnate right in front of me? What's going on here?'"

Not quite, but Watters' second act at Notre Dame is proving to be, in his mind, as memorable as the first.

He uprooted his family from their Orlando, Florida, home for the summer, moving into an apartment complex right off campus. His two boys, 13 and 7, have enjoyed their father's old stomping grounds, getting round after round in on the nearby golf course and enjoying the premature college life.

Watters exhausted his eligibility during a four-year college career that saw him rush for 1,821 yards and 21 touchdowns. But he never obtained the architecture degree -- which often takes five years to complete -- that he started.

It’s an itch that hasn't really left since he was drafted in 1991.

[+] EnlargeRicky Watters
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonRicky Watters rushed for 10,643 yards in 10 seasons in the NFL.
Watters considers himself an artistic person, and his parents encouraged him to pursue something involving his childhood passion of drawing, so he sought schools that offered architecture degrees while coming out of Bishop McDevitt High in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

"The reality of it set in at a high football school like Notre Dame," Watters said. "It's obviously about academics, but it's also playing big-time football, and the demands that are placed on you doing that and the demands that are placed on you trying to do architecture, they just don't fit, not if you plan on getting any sleep or eating or surviving.

“So I think it was a noble thing to want to do, but if I had to do it all over I probably would've taken business or something like that. Once I realized that football is such a business even, it could've helped me."

With his football career over, though, Watters has reverted back to his original passion. He said he'll finish with a graphic design degree, because he was able to transfer over so many of his credits.

His final three classes, which run for six weeks through the end of July, are in liberal studies, theology and, perhaps toughest of all, ceramics, a four-night-a-week, 150-minute-a-session course. The other two, which meet two and three times per week, respectively, are hardly cakewalks, with the reading assignments for Watters' liberal studies class carving out a good chunk of the remaining time in his week.

"I remember so vividly times that people would announce me as a Notre Dame graduate; everyone even thinks that I'm a Notre Dame graduate," Watters said. "I know I'm not, and I have that feeling every time someone would say that. So I said, 'You know what, that's also a big part of it.'

"It's for your soul, just to feel complete and to feel like you finished it. You did what you set out to do. Both my parents, they've passed away now, and I know they're looking down on me, and when they see me get that degree it's going to be a happy time for them, too."

Of course, in Watters' return, he hasn't been completely negligent of the program where he began to make a national name for himself. Fighting Irish running backs coach Tony Alford invited Watters to speak to his position group, with Watters stressing to the players the importance of immersing themselves with the rest of the student body and recognizing the power of their platform. And Watters has familiar company in Malkovsky's theology class, with offensive lineman Steve Elmer among the handful of players he can call classmates.

"I'm now sitting up front, they're in the back," Watters laughed. "I remember being in the back."

Watters' renaissance in the classroom also comes at a time when increased benefits for college athletes is a hot topic amid the backdrop of several high-profile lawsuits. While the former NFL running back said the finances behind his return to Notre Dame are still being sorted out, he did allow that he believes more should be done to help current athletes obtain their degrees one way or another.

"I think definitely if someone wants to finish, let them have that right and that chance to finish, because it is important, No. 1, to the person," Watters said. "But it should be important to the university, and I love the fact that our university at Notre Dame, they care about that, they care about their guys graduating. Everyone graduates. Everyone has a chance to graduate if they want it, but you have to want it. You have to be willing to do what it takes. They're not going to just give it to you. It's definitely not a situation like that.

"I have to do the work, I had to come here, I had to bring my family -- any way you look at it, I'm paying something. I'm definitely going to have to pay just to come here, but that is part of the sacrifice that you make to finish what you started, and I'm just so close that I think it would be a shame not to finish, and I know there are other guys that are working right now trying to figure out how they can get back and finish, and I think that they should."
ESPNU will be counting down the top 25 games of the 2013 college football season later this month, and Notre Dame appears near the halfway point.

The Irish's 38-34 win over Navy on Nov. 2 was probably too much for most fans to handle, but it does check in at No. 13 on the countdown.

That contest marked a fourth straight Irish win, as they improved to 7-2. It was far from easy, however, as the rival Midshipmen rushed for 331 yards on a very depleted defensive line. What stood out for me, as it usually does when these two squads take the field together, was the neat postgame atmosphere, with both teams gathering to sing the Navy Hymn. The Blue Angels flying over Notre Dame Stadium beforehand and the fans chanting "U-S-A" afterward was cool to see as well.

 

You can vote on the top five games of the season here, with the Iron Bowl, The Game, the BCS title, the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the Auburn-Georgia thriller serving as the choices for the top five.
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ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.
Two more preseason award watch lists were released Tuesday, which means we are still moving toward the college football season at what seems like a snail’s pace.

The Rimington Trophy, presented annually to the nation’s top center, already had a spring watch list but altered the original to include a few more names (because there were not enough already). Also released was the watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is given to the nation’s top tight end.

The lists will be pared down during the season before winners are announced in December.

The watch lists for the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award were released Monday.

Below are the ACC and Notre Dame players to make the Mackey and Rimington watch lists and a little information on each.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFlorida State's Nick O'Leary could be a frontrunner for the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end.
John Mackey Award

Gerald Christian, Louisville: The Florida transfer was one of the Cardinals’ more productive pass catchers last season, and he figures to drastically improve on his 28 receptions from a season ago now that Bobby Petrino is orchestrating the Cards’ offense. (The ACC blog caught up with Christian for a Q&A on Monday.)

Braxton Deaver, Duke: One of the conference’s best tight ends in 2013, Deaver was one of the many bright spots for the Blue Devils’ offense. He caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns.

Ben Koyack, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have produced several elite tight ends, and the hope is Koyack will be the next in line. He was not utilized much early on in 2013 but will be counted on more this fall with Troy Niklas off to the NFL.

Nick O'Leary, Florida State: One of the country’s best tight ends, O'Leary should be one of Jameis Winston's favorite targets this fall. O'Leary had the opportunity to leave school after last season, and he could be rewarded with a second national championship and a Mackey Award this fall.

Clive Walford, Miami: Much like Notre Dame, the Hurricanes have a fine tradition at tight end, and Walford is coming off a very solid season. He will need to be a security blanket for the Canes’ quarterback, whoever that may be.

Reaction: The ACC is not loaded at tight end, but there are certainly more than a few players who could push for a spot on an All-America team by season’s end. O’Leary is likely the best of the bunch and had an outside opportunity of being a first-round pick if he had entered the NFL draft. If he can stay on the field -- he’s escaped serious injury twice now from motorcycle accidents -- he is poised for a standout senior campaign. Winston lost top targets Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, and O’Leary figures to be Winston’s security blanket on third downs and in the red zone. Keep an eye on Deaver as a player who could continue making the cut as the list is pared down throughout the season.

[+] EnlargeAndy Gallik
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIVeteran Boston College center Andy Gallik is key to the Eagles being able to play their style.
Rimington Trophy

Andy Gallik, Boston College: A three-year starter, Gallik is the glue to a team predicated on playing smash-mouth football under former offensive line coach Steve Addazio. Gallik has started 25 straight games for the Eagles.

Artie Rowell, Pittsburgh: Rowell started all 13 games for the Panthers last season and was recognized for his performance in the bowl game against Bowling Green. James Conner set a Pitt record for rushing yards in a bowl game that night, due largely to Rowell.

Austin Barron, Florida State: Barron has starting experience, but he spent most of last season as a reserve to 2013 Rimington winner Bryan Stork. Barron has four experienced starters surrounding him on the offensive line, which should allow him to shine in his first year as the full-time starter.

Jake Smith, Louisville: Smith could end up playing right guard, where he started earlier in his career, but he is coming off a junior season in which he started at center.

Matt Skura, Duke: He played nearly every snap at center for the Blue Devils last season and was the linchpin of an offensive line that allowed just 17 sacks in 14 games.

Nick Martin, Notre Dame: The starter last year until a late-season knee injury cost him the final few games, Martin is poised for a solid senior season. The Irish were second in the country in 2013 in sacks allowed. Martin is the younger brother of Zack Martin, a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.

Ryan Norton, Clemson: A starter in all 13 games for Clemson a season ago, Norton was the ACC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week in his first start against Georgia in last year’s opener.

Shane McDermott, Miami: A third-team All-ACC selection in 2013, McDermott has played in all but four games since his redshirt freshman season at Miami.

Reaction: While more than half the centers in FBS are on this list, the ACC representatives all deserve to be on here for the most part. All have starting experience and in several cases have been commanding the offensive line for multiple seasons. Martin was hurt late in the season, but Irish coach Brian Kelly expects him to be ready for the season opener after missing spring practices. Barron has the least amount of starting experience and probably does not make the list if it were a little more exclusive, but he played admirably in Stork’s stead last season and could be recognized in the same manner as Stork by the end of the season.
Will Mahone is no longer enrolled at Notre Dame, but the South Bend Tribune's Bob Wieneke reports that the receiver would like to return to the school, quoting Mahone's attorney, James Gentile, as saying that Mahone believes he is not allowed to go back to Notre Dame as long as felony charges against him are pending.
“That’s what the school has told him,” Gentile said. “If for some reason those felonies are reduced or something happens, then he’s free to reapply.”

The report says that Mahone was in Mahoning County Court for a pre-trial hearing Monday at which a July 23 preliminary hearing was set. Mahone entered not guilty pleas on the misdemeanor charges against him, and he is not required to enter a plea on the felony charges until after the preliminary hearing.
“He’s working hard. He’s doing a lot of things to straighten himself out. He’s working hard on himself right now,” Gentile said. “He’s trying to understand what happened here and why it happened and maybe address some of the issues. That’s what he’s trying to do.”

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