No. 11 Notre Dame has star TE Michael Mayer back healthy

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Michael Mayer‘s return from injury started the same way as his season: with the football in his hands on the first snap of the game.

On Saturday, that took the form of a quick 4-yard pickup to kickstart Notre Dame’s 31-16 win over USC. In the season opener at Florida State, the first play from scrimmage began similarly, with a short throw from quarterback Jack Coan that Mayer turned into a 25-yard gain.

In between was a month of Michael Mayer being Michael Mayer – No. 11 Notre Dame’s most consistent offensive weapon and one of the best tight ends in college football. A hip adductor strain hampered him against Cincinnati and sidelined him at Virginia Tech, but after the bye week, Mayer made a triumphant return under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore has been targeted on Notre Dame’s first or second offensive play in four of the six games he’s played in. Of his 414 season receiving yards, 153 have come on the team’s first offensive drive of the game – 37% of the total. Of his three touchdowns, two are the result of opening drives – putting Notre Dame on the board in the third minute against both Florida State and Toledo.

Mayer said he likes being in the mix early, crediting the opening-drive targets with an initial adrenaline boost.

“I think it sets a tone for the entire game,” Mayer said. “I definitely like that. I like that style of play, and (it) kind of gets me ready for the game.”

Through seven games, Mayer’s 414 yards make him Notre Dame’s leading receiver by a wide margin. George Takacs is the only other tight end with a reception – one catch for 15 yards, which came when the Irish were without Mayer in Blacksburg.

Mayer’s season got off to a booming start, with 120 yards receiving in the opener against Florida State and a two-touchdown game against Toledo. That momentum was stalled with the hip injury, which Mayer said dated to fall camp but was “tweaked” during the Cincinnati game.

While dealing with the injury, Mayer said his strength when running routes and planting his foot was impaired. While initially optimistic that he could play at Virginia Tech on Oct. 9, Mayer said he and coach Brian Kelly discussed the dangers of coming back too soon, of possibly worsening the injury. He sat out.

“It’s risk/reward type thing,” Mayer said, “and I think I made the right decision.”

Notre Dame’s bye week gifted an extra few days of recovery time. On Tuesday, after appearing to be at full strength against USC, Mayer labeled himself as “probably very close to 100%.” The Irish can breathe a sigh of relief with Mayer in the lineup with five regular season games remaining, starting Saturday night at home against North Carolina.

A five-star recruit out of Covington (Ky.) Catholic High School near Cincinnati, Mayer has always operated under high expectations at Notre Dame. He won’t be draft-eligible until 2023, but he is already projected to be a first-round pick. Between now and then, he Will Likely continue to ascend through the Notre Dame record books, etching his name in with the likes of John Carlson, Ken MacAfee and Tyler Eifert.

Mayer is also likely to keep drawing attention as one of the best in college football; he was already named to the John Mackey Award Watch List, given annually to the best tight end in the country.

Mayer said he’s gotten better at blocking out the outside noise and matured into a veteran player who leads by example.

“I’m not the vocal leader,” Mayer said. “But one thing, I do see myself as a leader, where the actions that I do, people will follow me.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:


The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.


The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.


The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.


The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.


After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.