Leftovers & Links: The 2021 coaching carousel's highlights remain largely uncertain, Notre Dame not alone

Exactly four Power Five teams changed head coaches following a winning season in 2021. Of the 14 that needed to find new coaches, only Miami, Oregon, Oklahoma and Notre Dame had enjoyed success the previous year.

The four programs became intertwined, along with LSU and USC, in what is still looked at as the most paradigm-shifting coaching carousel in history.

Of those four, only one is enjoying his second season, Oregon’s Dan Lanning, hired during Georgia’s first national championship run, the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator, and now 8-1 with genuine thoughts of a Playoff run with the Ducks.

Miami and Mario Cristobal are 6-3 right now, Cristobal nationally lampooned for his coaching gaffe that quite literally cost the Hurricanes a win this season. Oklahoma and Brent Venables are now 7-2, coming off a deflating loss to Oklahoma State that will resonate in the Sooner State for decades.

LSU and USC each just lost their third games this season, halting any distant thoughts of a two-loss charge into the College Football Playoff, both working with such lackluster defenses that they have squandered title-caliber defenses.

The 2021 cycle resonated because six of the sports’ biggest programs changed coaches with three pulling from three others. Judging it two years later would be foolish, even if immediate eligibility for transfers has shortened the presumed runway for a coach to find success.

The hires were different enough — two young defensive coordinators becoming first-time head coaches, one veteran defensive coordinator in the same newfound role, three established head coaches poached by a program in each of the country’s three most lucrative recruiting hotbeds — that no grand thought can be drawn from their results thus far.

But it warrants noting that five of the six have not built winning seasons into grand results yet.

In fact, of the eight other Power Five hires, only Mike Elko and Duke are bowl eligible, another young defensive coordinator (getting an ACC job at 45 qualifies as “young”) becoming a first-time head coach.

This is not trying to calm down Irish fans frustrated with Notre Dame’s 7-3 record and an offense struggling so much as to squander a title-caliber defense. This is simply pointing out a few eyebrow-raising pieces of information that should be remembered over the next year or two.

And now, a few pieces of individual and team accomplishments from the Irish in recent weeks that did not make articles around here in the lead-up to facing Clemson, ideal idle week fodder.

— Notre Dame ranks No. 5 in the country in opponent red-zone touchdown rate at 39.3 percent. Describing the Irish defense as “title-caliber” was not meant as an exaggeration. Of the four defenses in front of Notre Dame, one is the national title frontrunner (Michigan), another has a clear path to the Playoff (Texas), a third has become a national joke because of just how good its defense is (Iowa) and the fourth nearly beat Texas last week (Kansas State).

But what is more impressive is where the Irish ranked in 2022: Last at 79.4 percent.

As in No. 131 of 131 teams.

As in, behind USC (No. 120 at 69.6 percent), North Carolina (No. 125 at 74.0 percent) and Colorado (No. 129 at 76.5 percent).

A broader, more predictive scale was just as bad for Notre Dame, if not as dramatic. The Irish ranked No. 76 in the country in points allowed per quality possession last regular season, giving up 4.13 points per opponent scoring opportunity.

This year’s rate of 2.59 points allowed per opponent scoring opportunity is obviously and distinctly better, though it was then damaged by Clemson turning four such moments into 17 points last week, though Tyree’s fumble gifted the Tigers field-goal range.

Senior safety Xavier Watts leads the country with seven interceptions this season, two ahead of anyone else, so not even Notre Dame’s edge of playing one more game than most teams thus far should threaten Watts’s lead.

He became the first player in Irish history to pick off two passes in back-to-back games against USC and Pittsburgh.

— Before senior Chris Tyree’s muffed punt at Clemson led to a Tigers’ field goal — not the reason Notre Dame lost but certainly not helpful — he returned an 82-yard punt for a touchdown against the Panthers, becoming one of four Irish players since the mid-1980s to score via punt return, kick return, reception and rush in his career. The other three: Julius Jones, Rocket Ismail and Tim Brown.

USC’s Zachariah Branch has also scored via all four methods, though he needed just seven career games, perhaps something for Notre Dame fans to worry about for the next two seasons.

With up to three games remaining in his collegiate career, Irish quarterback Sam Hartman ranks No. 7 all-time with 128 career touchdown passes, three behind Baker Mayfield at No. 6 and, let’s say Hartman throws three passes in all three possible games, within range of passing Graham Harrell (Texas Tech, 2005-08) for No. 3 all-time, Harrell at only 134 total.

— Hartman is No. 5 all-time in career passing yards with 15,239, just 554 yards behind Harrell for No. 4 but with no one else within range at this point.

If this week’s stream of content seems a headline or two light, allow some apologies. Yours truly had only about 36 hours notice to go pick up a piece of South Bend history and drive it nearly 1,000 miles back into the Midwest from Colorado. Taking state highways across the country with a standard transmission and no cruise control requires an adequate amount of sleep, idle-week fodder thus paying that cost instead of skipping sleep as is the usual practice.

For the young ones out there, the above is a 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, Studebaker being the original largest corporation in South Bend before closing in 1963 and leaving Notre Dame an economic vacuum to fill in town.

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