SOUTH BEND, Indiana — The Irish were dealt a major blow Friday when news broke of an academic investigation involving four members of the football team, per the school's website.
But this might not be as bad as it initially seems.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed that wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams are being held out of practice and competition during the university’s investigation.
Held out of practice is not the same as suspended or dismissed. University President Fr. John Jenkins made that much clear.
“At this juncture, no one has been judged responsible for academic dishonesty, no one has been dismissed from the university, and no sanctions have been imposed, and no judgment has been made,” Jenkins said during an impromptu Friday-evening press conference on campus.
For now, there are no suspensions. There are no dismissals. Irish fans can hold out hope that the four players will be reinstated.
Innocent until proven guilty, right?
No matter what happens, this football teams goals and expectations, to win a national championship, stay the same.— Austin Collinsworth (@acollinsworth28) August 15, 2014
Don’t get it wrong; this is still a massive headache for an Irish squad two weeks away from its season opener against Rice on Aug. 30. But, even in the worst-case scenario, those four players will miss (at least) the 2014 season. It would be a hefty hit heading into the season opener against the Owls without Daniels, the expected No. 1 wide receiver; Russell, the top cornerback; and Williams, the current starting strong-side defensive end.
Yet even without those three players, Notre Dame fans should refrain from entering full-fledged apocalyptic mode.
Wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on Notre Dame’s roster, and junior Chris Brown has garnered loads of praise through the first few weeks of camp. Behind Brown, sophomores Will Fuller and Corey Robinson would likely be next in line to shoulder the load on the perimeter, with Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise still handling the slot.
Cornerback could be an even stronger position for the Irish than wide receiver.
Head coach Brian Kelly tabbed Florida transfer Cody Riggs as the starter opposite Russell on Wednesday, and Kelly also praised the play of sophomores Devin Butler and Cole Luke. Freshman Nick Watkins could see action as well.
Along the defensive line, Kelly described Williams as “solid” during the start of fall camp. The senior and freshman Andrew Trumbetti were the starting defensive ends as of Wednesday.
Without Williams, junior Romeo Okwara, who worked ahead of Trumbetti for much of the spring, could rejoin the first team.
Williams, by the way, tallied just 17 tackles and one sack in 2013.
Moore, who was invited back for a fifth season, doesn’t seem to factor much into the defensive rotation. Linebackers Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, James Onwualu, John Turner, Ben Councell and Greer Martini—not to mention Jarrett Grace—have all drawn more attention and reps than Moore. Of the four players, Moore’s services are most easily replaceable.
There’s still plenty to be determined during the investigation. And there’s no doubt that Notre Dame’s preseason expectations drop significantly without the four players.
Once the shock of the announcement passes, once the university finally addressed the swirling, uncontrollable rumors, what are we left with?
For now, it’s a team without its top receiver, top cornerback, a starting defensive end and a backup linebacker.
Sure, that makes for a worse team, but maybe not as bad as might be expected.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.