Monday Morning Briefing

Tuck ruled at ND from 2002-2004

O'Malley's weekly blog takes a final look at signing day, another Super Bowl featuring a former Irish star, and one of the best basketball teams in the nation's perennially toughest conference.

Removing awell-publicized signing day shocker from the equation, I found the fruits of Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class a bit more tantalizing than did most analysts, fans, and alumni.

In addition to the nation's No.1 rated quarterback prospect, head coach Brian Kelly welcomed one of the country's top cornerbacks and one of its best defensive tackles. Each of the three is already immersed in the program as January enrollees, and two of the trio will challenge for a two-deep role as true freshman next fall.

My final analysis (Click here for Skill recruits and here for Power players), indicated the need for an additional offensive lineman (at least) and certainly another true cornerback prospect – both needs that would have been addressed had a pair of players not switched their verbal pledges to other schools in January.

But in the interest of full disclosure, I agree with the frustrated Irish masses on another topic: losing Deontay Greenberry at the final minute could repercussions as quickly as nine months down the road.

Below are my previously unpublished thoughts on the Scout.com 5-star pass catcher prior to his defection to Houston.

"Arguments can be made for Gunner Kiel or Tee Shepard, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more important singular commitment for the program's 2012 class…Immediately becomes the most athletically gifted player among the team's pass-catchers and has a chance to start from the outset, though fans would be well-served to remember Michael Floyd – Greenberry's point of reference throughout his recruitment – did not start the opener for a similarly developed wide receivers corps as a true frosh in 2008…Without defining statistical contributions, Greenberry simply must make a week-to-week impact next fall for the offense to improve from 2011."

Now it's up to Kelly and his offensive staff to prove the final sentence above was fax-day hyperbole rather than portent.

Not "If?" But "Where?" and "How High?"

Its time to remove pre-season calculations and predictions when noting the remarkable resurgence authored by Mike Brey's Fighting Irish.

They're not rebuilding, they've already reloaded. Notre Dame sits a half-game out of second place in the Big East more than halfway through its league schedule. They'll be heavy favorites in three of four remaining home games and a true underdog in just two of the remaining four road tilts. Simply winning three of four at home would put the Irish in the NCAA Tournament without a glance at who might be gaining ground behind them.

Brey's bunch is a dominant home team and at present, one of the best road teams in the league (winning three of five including two vs. then Top-15 foes). There's no better resume among unranked teams than that of the South Bend nine, and barring injury to the already depleted roster, the Irish will celebrate an unlikely NCAA bid in six weeks.

The new question is: "What seed can these Irish attain?"

Key to a top half (9 or above) bracket seed would be the following:

  1. A top four league finish – Even a first round Big East Tourney bust would keep the Irish among the NCAA's top half with such a sterling regular season finish.

  2. A win Wednesday in Morgantown – That unlikely feat would give the Irish five straight including three in a row on the road. And since perception is reality in rankings-land, another visible road win would likely bump the eight-loss Irish into the nation's Top 25. At present, they're still an underdog story recording home court "upsets" vs. the Big East heavies.

  3. No bad loss: the team's "worst" league loss to date is a true road game vs. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are aren't especially poor in the rugged Big East (4-7) with wins over Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Florida (SEC).

    If this is the biggest black mark on the Irish resume, Brey and Co. will have nothing to worry about regarding their tournament seed. But a home loss to the Scarlet Knights next week would look bad. So too would a defeat at the hands of conference cellar dwellers DePaul or Providence in South Bend. Win those three and the Irish get to the Magic Number of 10 Big East wins. The rest would be gravy.

  4. Georgetown: The late-February battle in D.C. is Notre Dame's last high-profile game (home-and-home vs. solid but unranked West Virginia doesn't qualify). If the Irish can add road win vs. the Hoyas to a body of work that already includes victories over Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, and Marquette, they'd be hard-pressed to be matched by another fringe Top 25 team when the committee meets in March.

More important than the machinations above: Notre Dame is a joy to watch, boasting one of the hardest-working team defensive units in the nation, a pair of savvy guards, and the most unselfish offense in basketball.

Tuck Rules

Joe Montana won a well-publicized four; so too did Rocky Bleier who earned each before Montana collected his first. Jerome Bettis won in his swan song and home town; former teammate and Irish backfield member Ricky Watters grabbed his only ring –along with three touchdowns–11 years prior.

But with yesterday's 21-17 Super Bowl XLVI triumph over the New England Patriots, former Notre Dame defensive end and program sack king Justin Tucked joined past program greats Sylvester, Buoniconti, Kuechenberg, Bavaro, Dorsey, Duerson, Givens, and NFL journeyman Jerome Collins as two-time Super Bowl winners among Irish alumni.

Arguably the best player on the field in the Giants 2008 upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Tuck again made his mark last night, recording three hits on quarterback Tom Brady, one of which led to an opening drive safety, and two sacks, his third and fourth in two career Super Bowl appearances.

Tuck, who played at Notre Dame from 2002-2004 after red-shirting in 2001, is among the NFL's best and most versatile defensive lineman. He was easily the best and most explosive defensive lineman of the last decade in South Bend, and the answer to the following painful hypothetical among Irish football diehards:

"What decision in January 2005 kept Notre Dame and Charlie Weis from likely challenging for the BCS crown during the coach's magical first year?" (Six points precluded an undefeated regular season.)

Tuck's decision to forgo a 5th-year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft, of course. (It's a decision he admits remains a topic of discussion between he and would-be 2005 defensive mates such as Tom Zbikowski)

Congratulations to the best professional Notre Dame football player of the past decade on his second title run.

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