CAMPUS CHECK IN: Brian Kelly keeps the tough talk going at Notre Dame

Kelly, Irish Ready for Title Game

SOUTH BEND – In his first year such a record might have been understandable. But this is year seven for Brian Kelly at one of the nation’s most pressure-packed programs.

A 1-3 start is unacceptable now for Notre Dame especially when the team started the season ranked in the Top Ten. The leader of the program made his displeasure known quickly.

After a 38-35 loss to Duke on Saturday Kelly immediately fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and put his players on notice by saying that everyone’s job is up for grabs. Those were brutally honest words that struck a chord with some and earned Kelly some criticism from others.

During his weekly news conference before his team’s fifth game with Syracuse at Met Life Stadium on Saturday, Kelly wasn’t exactly backing down from his comments. With a season and good bowl game in the balance with every game, the coach is not afraid putting the pressure on himself and the people around him.

“So it’s not meant to be in any way — and we’ve talked about this — a threatening form to our coaches. The reality is we all have to look at ourselves closely, and myself included, at how we’re doing things on a day-to-day basis,” said Kelly. “Are we doing everything in our power to be the best we can be? That’s the intent. That’s how it’s been articulated to our team. Each of our players understand that. Each of our coaches know it. It’s not a threat.

“It is a reality of the sense of urgency that everybody has to embrace on a day-to-day basis.”

NORTHWESTERN: Hit The Road, Cats

EVANSTON – For any football team it’s an incredible scenario in which to start the season fast. That didn’t exactly work out so well for Northwestern in 2016.

Even with their first four games at home – three in which they came in as a favorite – the Wildcats were still only able to win one of those contests as they stumbled out of the gate in September.

Maybe Pat Fitzgerald  would welcome a chance to get away from Ryan Field for a bit – an opportunity that will come this weekend. Northwestern travels to Iowa as part of a difficult month away from home in which three of their next four games will be played on the road.

After the contest against the Hawkeyes the Wildcats head to No. 17 Michigan State next week. Then its back home to face Indiana on October 22nd before going back on the road to No. 2 Ohio State for a game in Columbus on the 29th.

While their are benefits to being away from home from a team-building perspective, Fitzgerald isn’t exactly celebrating the chance to get away from Evanston for most of the next month.

“The guys get to spend more quality time with each other and there is no doubt about that. Now I would prefer to always play at home if I had a choice,” said Fitzgerald. “This will definitely be a great challenge and a huge first test, see how our guys handle it. They’re not gonna play in a tougher environment than Kinnick (Stadium).

“It will be a great challenge.”

Iowa has endured its own issues over the past few weeks. They were knocked off at home by FCS opponent (albeit the five-time national champions) North Dakota State in their final non-conference game of the season. It was followed by a close win against Rutgers that officially knocked the Hawkeyes out of the coaches poll this week.

ILLINOIS: Already thinking to 2017 and beyond?

CHAMPAIGN – Sorry Lovie, the honeymoon is over. It’s apparent now how much work is left to be done to rebuild Illini football.

Smith, who is just a month into his first season with Illinois, had two weeks to think about that wake up call his team got in their last game against Western Michigan. The Broncos looked like the Big Ten team when they marched into Champaign and put a beating on the Illini, whose only touchdown came on a trick play in a 34-10 loss.

“You try to hit on all phases of your game; special teams, of course the offense, defense,” said Smith of his team’s work during the bye week. “We’ve given up some big plays; we haven’t made enough big plays on the other side of the ball.”

While he tries to get Illinois ready for their Big Ten opener at No. 15 Nebraska on Saturday he also has to continue thinking about something he got a late start on in Champaign – recruiting.

Getting quality players in this season was difficult for this year’s recruiting class since Smith arrived in March after the signing deadline. With this season looking more and more like a rebuild effort, the coach has fielded a number of questions about recruiting during his in-season news conferences.

“The message is that the University of Illinois is a great place for an athlete to come to school. You get the experience you’ll have on our football team, how we do things,” said Smith on his sales pitch. “Our coaches were out so I feel like we flooded the country as much as we could seeing who will be available for us.

“As a recruit I think now they at least know what we’re going to do, all three phases and see how they would fit into that [1-2 start]. About as good of a response as you would hope you would get is what we did get.”


DEKALB – These are rare days around Huskie Stadium.

For the last eight years Northern Illinois has enjoyed unprecedented success as they’ve qualified for a bowl game every year since the 2008 . They’ve won or shared the last six Mid-American Conference West Division championships and are arguably the best FBS team in Illinois during that time.

2016 has been much different for Rod Carey and the program.

At the moment the Huskies are sitting at 0-4 following a loss to FCS opponent Western Illinois at home last week. They enter conference play needing to win six of their final eight games just to get bowl eligible let along continue their streak of division championships.

In order to try to light a spark under his team Carey has made the decision to switch quarterbacks, taking the starting job from sophomore Ryan Graham and giving it to senior Anthony Maddie.

“The competition certainly isn’t done by any stretch of the imagination. The quarterback spot needs to be productive for us and Anthony certainly came in and was productive, wasn’t productive enough but was more productive,” said Carey. “That’s the thing about that spot. You have to move the offense and it certainly moved with him in there more than Ryan.”

Maddie, who missed most of the 2015 season due to injury after serving as a backup quarterback in 2014, was 11-of-16 for 142 yards in a touchdown in leading the Huskies in a comeback against Western Illinois last week that eventually fell five points short of a victory.

It was enough for Carey to make the move with the signalcaller after Graham was 14-of-21 for 109 yards with a touchdown and an interception as Northern Illinois fell behind 28-7 to the Leathernecks in the third quarter. It continues an unusual senior season for Maddie who started the season as a receiver but moved back to quarterback after a leg injury to starter Drew Hare.

“Drew is not healthy anymore, so that moved him quickly back in. Certainly, had Ryan [Graham] underneath there, but then, like I said, it comes down to production and production was obviously different with him in there,” said Carey of Maddie.