With the regular season just two weeks away, Notre Dame’s football team suffered a huge blow when it was announced last Friday that four players were suspended indefinitely while being investigated for academic fraud. After a few days have gone by and the rumors have died down, it is time to assess what this means for Notre Dame going forward on and off the field.
Early reports stated that wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams, and linebacker Kendall Moore were all dismissed from the team for the entire 2014 season due to academic fraud. While it is very likely that all four players will be suspended for the entire 2014 season or even expelled from the university, it can’t be made official until the investigation has been completed. For now, Notre Dame must move on without four key contributors for the foreseeable future.
DaVaris Daniels might be the biggest name on this list, and he was also already suspended for the spring and summer due to academic probation. Daniels is Notre Dame’s best and most experienced receiver, and he and quarterback Everett Golson seemed to build some chemistry in the final games of the 2012 season. Now with Daniels gone, Chris Brown is the only receiver on the roster that has caught a pass from Golson in a regular season game. Despite the lack of experience, the Irish receiving corps seems loaded with young talent. Last season, we caught a glimpse of what Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise, and Amir Carlisle can do on the field. In addition, top recruits Justin Brent and Corey Holmes have elite talent and may be asked to contribute a lot sooner with Daniels no longer in play. There’s no doubt the loss of Daniels is big, but it appears that Notre Dame has the depth to still make plays through the air.
KeiVarae Russell is probably the biggest loss of the four players. Russell has started at corner for two seasons and has made great strides since first taking the field as a true freshman in 2012. Russell was expected to be Notre Dame’s lockdown corner and looked poised for a breakout year. In the offseason, Notre Dame added a big piece to their secondary when fifth-year senior Cody Riggs transferred from the University of Florida. Riggs was expected to be more of a nickel and dime defensive back, playing both corner and safety, but now he will take Russell’s spot. Riggs is talented enough to start at corner, but now he must master the responsibilities of his position in a short time. With Riggs moving to starting corner, sophomore Devin Butler and freshman Nick Watkins figure to see more playing time in nickel and dime sets. While both players are talented, they lack experience and will be tested against some of Notre Dame’s tougher opponents.
Ishaq Williams was once a five-star recruit, but he has yet to live up to the hype. After being blocked behind players like Darius Flemming and Prince Shembo, Williams hasn’t had a shot at a starting position. This season, Williams was expected to start a defensive end and add experience to a young unit. Even with Williams starting, the defensive end positions were a big question mark for the Irish. The middle seems stout with Sheldon Day moving to the inside along with Jarron Jones, but the Irish could struggle on the outside. True freshman Andrew Trumbetti was slated to start opposite of Williams, and now sophomore Isaac Rochell will start in-place of Williams. With two freshmen Grant Blankenship and Jay Hayes behind Rochell on the depth chart, Notre Dame is an injury away from being in serious trouble in terms of depth.
Kendall Moore is the least significant name of the group, but his loss will be felt the most in the special teams department. In addition, Moore is a fifth-year senior and is considered one of the leaders in the locker room. Notre Dame will likely be able to fill the gap with Moore on the field, but it remains to be seen how much he will be missed off the field.
Once the investigation plays out, there will likely be off the field consequences for the Irish. If proven that any of these players would have been deemed academically ineligible during anytime they played regular season games, wins might be vacated from previous seasons. Considering that all four of these players were on the team in 2012 and that there might also be past players involved, it is possible that the entire magical 2012 regular season will be wiped out of the record books. While that would be disappointing, hopefully that is where the punishment would end. It is important to note that the University of Notre Dame is conducting their own investigation and the NCAA is not involved. At this point, there is no reason to think that Notre Dame officials, coaches, or personnel were involved in the scandal and have done nothing to try to cover up the situation. Given that, there shouldn’t be any reason to reduce future scholarships or put the football program on postseason probation. Obviously, there is always a chance that could happen, but hopefully the players and coaches won’t have to suffer in the future for what some players did in the past.