Sunday, December 24, 2006

DiNardo = failure

Gerry DiNardo was a GREAT player at the University of Notre Dame, helping the Irish win the 1973 National Championship. The University opened up lots of doors for him, and after his playing career, DiNardo was given the opportunity to coach football, eventually becoming the offensive coordinator at Colorado under Bill McCartney, where the Buffaloes won a National Championship.

Then DiNardo was put in charge of a program.

He failed at Vanderbilt (never went to a bowl game). Despite this, he got hired by LSU. He failed at LSU, getting fired after 5 seasons, taking a good team and turning them into a rebuilding project for Nick Saban. He got hired by the XFL, going a pitiful 2-8, worst in the league, before the league folded after 1 season. Indiana University, desperate for a middling to decent head coach of a floundering program, hired DiNardo. He failed at IU, never winning more than 3 games in a season. With no self-respecting school wanting to go near him as a coach, he became a sportscaster.

Now, he's failed at that, too.

An education at the University of Notre Dame can only take you so far. After leaving the University, it is up to the individual to be a "Notre Dame man" (or woman). DiNardo lost focus of this, and as a result he has shamed himself and the University which gave him the opportunities that he has so selfishly squandered.

In the South Bend Tribune, DiNardo (who is calling the Sugar Bowl for ESPN radio - as of now) lashed out at the University, spouting the company line over at ESPN - Notre Dame has sold its soul for football glory, they don't play a difficult schedule (you've heard it a million times - "They won the Commander-in-Chiaf's trophy, but have no signature wins."), they disgraced their image by extending Coach Weis' contract less than a year into his tenure, they were wrong to fire Davie and Willingham. In fact, his criticisms were so unlike those of Mark May, I'm beginning to think that ESPN is a cancer that literally eats people alive as soon as they become associated with the franchise.

Even loyal Notre Dame men such as Mike Golic and Lou Holtz occasionally get sucked down into the quagmire of ESPN, although both consistently try to rise above it and represent the University. Apparently, DiNardo has not even attempted to struggle against his descent into ESPN (aka Hell). Much like Lee Corso and Bob Davie, he is shamelessly trying to leverage his failed coaching career, touting himself as an "expert" analyst. Hell, I know more about college football than all three of those boobs combined, and I still wouldn't purport to claim "expert" status.

DiNardo owes his University more than this. He should issue a public apology on ESPN Sportscenter, resign from calling the Sugar Bowl, and come crawling back to the University and beg at Coach Weis, Kevin White, and Father Jenkins' feet for forgiveness. Then he should commit seppuku.

What a disgrace.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I have returned.

With the brutality of this year's final exams firmly in my rearview mirror and my sanity glued back together, I cna finally return to the blogosphere, and there is plenty to discuss.

First of all, I must say that I truly enjoy the subtle confidence of Coach Weis. He got some more outstanding recruits, all 4 and 5 star guys (except Dever, I think he might be an underrated 3-star). Also, he filled some gaping needs, getting a commit from one of the nation's top defensive tackles, Ian Williams. He is cruising along in recruiting, and lest we get concerned about guys like Benn and Wilson going to Illinois (WTF? Illinois? Zook must have some powerful rose-colored glasses...) Coach Weis has assured us of two things - (1) our fifth year guys will be back and (2) we've got some wicked good silent commits in recruiting.

Ronald Talley, who left the team earlier this year, ended up at the Delaware Blue Hens, where he has proceeded to bash his former team. Apparently, the coaching staff suggested that Talley put on a couple of pounds and move in from defensive end to tackle, where his speed (which wasn't enough for a Div. I-A DE) would become an asset, and he would help fill a need. However, rather than being a team player, the kid jumped ship. Even that is fine, until he decides to come out in the press and start ripping his former coaching staff. As far as I'm concerned, the kid is persona non grata in the Bend from here on out. Have fun in Delaware, Talley. Can you say: "Do you want fries with that?"

Of course, the most pressing matter is the impending showdown with LSU, a mere 12 days away. The hype is slowly starting to build, as I've heard a few sportscasters here and there let slip that that game is the game they really want to see. Oh, people will watch the National Championship game to make sure that tO$U doesn't lose, and there will be the usual suspects who always watch the Rose Bowl (aka the National Championship consolation round). But for all the ND-haters that gripe that ND doesn't belong in the BCS (again), people have quietly been circling this game on their calendar for quite a while.

Football people, the people who like X's and O's, are intrigued by the matchup.

On the one hand, you have LSU, a balanced team offensively and defensively. The have a short play ball-control offense that will try to establish the run first, and then pass enough to keep the running lanes open - they don't attempt as many passes as other teams. On defense, they show a lot of different looks, but prefer zone coverage to blitzing and man-to-man. They rely on their speed and athleticism to make plays, and have been burned in the running game, but never in the passing game. They aren't flashy, and don't chuck the ball all over the field, preferring to play a slow, steady game through to the end.

On the other hand, you have the Irish. A flashy, high-octane passing game is the undergirder of this team. They run the ball well, mostly because Darius only has 4 guys in the box half the game, as D-Cos look for ways to keep Brady from absuloutely crushing them (unless you're JoePa, in which case you stubbornly refuse to let Darius beat you, while Quinn explodes). The running game is passable, but not top-tier. The O-line has struggled at blitz pickup this year, and they have seen a LOT of blitzes as people try to rattle Brady (Note: it doesn't work - this kid has ice in his veins). Their defense is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum wrapped in a paradox, as they are spectacular about 90% of the time. The other 10%, though, is when this defense looks lost as teams with explosive passing games burn 'em deep.

Which is why this is such an interesting game. LSU's strengths butt up against ND's strengths. Neither one has shown an ability to exploit the other's weaknesses. It will be the nation's 3rd ranked pass defense against the nation's 10th best passing offense, by a fair margin the best passing offense LSU has faced this year, as well as the best passing defense the Irish have faced this year. LSU's pass offense has been very good, but it is not their bread and butter, and they don't chuck it deep dow the field, usually throwing on third and long to get a first down (which they do very well) but they don't air it out (until they fall behind). So they won't really challenge Notre Dame's glaring weakness, in coverage.

This will be a war of attrition, and in a game which will be grind-it-out close all the way through, the team with the better quarterback wins.

The X factor: Location - this is essentially a home game for the Tigers, and they don't often lose at home. Notre Dame doesn't often lose on the road. Something's got to give.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

College Playoff System

All of the whining about the BCS has led me to create a fair and equitable playoff system that meets the concerns about extending the season and removing all complaints about the current system.

Here is how my system would play out for this season, with my picks (or actual winners) in bold:

Week 1: Championship Week
- require all major BCS bowls to have a championship game
- this is the first round of the playoffs

ACC Championship game: Wake Forest vs. Georgia Tech

Big East Championship game: Louisville vs. West Virginia

Big Ten Championship game: Ohio State vs. Michigan/Wisconsin

Big 12 Championship game: Oklahoma vs. Nebraska

Pac-10 Championship game: Southern Cal vs. California

SEC Championship Game: Florida vs. Arkansas

Independence Bowl: Independent/BCS at-large Notre Dame vs. Non-BCS #1 Boise State

Capital One Bowl: BCS at-large LSU vs. Non-BCS #2 Texas Christian

Second Round
- played over Christmas

Cotton Bowl: SEC Champion vs. Big 12 Champion
Florida vs. Oklahoma

Gator Bowl: Independence Bowl Champion vs. Big Ten Champion
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State [OK, I'm a little biased...]

Fiesta Bowl: ACC Champion vs. Capital One Bowl Champion
Wake Forest vs. LSU

Orange Bowl: Big East Champion vs. Pac-10 Champion
Louisville vs. Southern Cal

Third Round
- played over New Year's

Rose Bowl: Gator Bowl Champion vs. Orange Bowl Champion
Notre Dame vs. Southern Cal [again, a little bias, but I would love another shot...]

Sugar Bowl: Cotton Bowl Champion vs. Fiesta Bowl Champion
LSU vs. Florida

Championship game (played the week after New Year's):

Rose Bowl Champion vs. Sugar Bowl Champion
Notre Dame vs. Florida

This system allows the remaining bowl games to remain in place, comprising the teams that are bowl eligible that did not get into the playoffs. Under this system, the only people who currently play in bowls but will not are the losers of the Conference championship games.

The games are all played during traditional bowl times, except some New Year's bowls are being moved to Christmas. The other bowls could be used to fill up the season between Championship week and the second round.

There are no complaints from non-BCS schools, as they get two slots (from five conferences). There may be some complaints about who gets the at-large BCS slots, but this system had the same number of at-large spots this year as the BCS bowls did, so I subbed in the same teams. This allows the team that didn't win their conference but were really good (ala LSU) to get a shot at the championship.

It maintains traditional bowl matchups in most seasons (SEC-Big 12 Cotton; Big 10-Pac-10 Rose, etc.).

And, most importantly, it gets decided on the field.

Now we just need to make it happen.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Breakdown

That sound I've been hearing from up north is the collective groans, whines, and complaints of the Wolverine Nation (aka Ann Arbor, who is a whore) for being booted out of the National Championship game.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. Team A, during their bye week, gets passed by Team B. If it sounds familiar, it's because it happened to Notre Dame earlier this season, as Auburn passed them in the AP poll during their bye week. And that was after a win.

This week, Florida pulled the same shenanigans on Michigan, who were passed in both the Harris Poll and the ESPN poll while they were sitting at home eating cheeseburgers.

So it's not like there isn't precedent.

Ultimately, I begrudgingly have to admit that the BCS worked out well this year. Instead of a rematch in the National Championship, another 1-loss team gets a shot at Ohio State for all the marbles. Although I'd like to see the title shot go to unbeaten Boise State. And see them get absolutely crushed.

NOTRE DAME BOWL MATCHUP

#11 Notre Dame, 10-2 vs. #4 LSU, 10-2
This battle between heavyweights will be the 10th meeting between the two schools, which has been a seesaw battle. The Irish won their first game against the Tigers in 1970 in an epic defensive struggle between the 2nd ranked Irish and the 7th ranked Tigers. The next year, the #14 Tigers got their revenge, upsetting the #7 Irish 28-8. In 1981, we blew out a #4 LSU team at home in Gerry Faust's first game, taking the Irish from unranked to #11 in one week. Three years later, Faust took an unranked Irish team and marched into Tiger stadium, beating the #6 Tigers 30-22, arguably the second biggest win of his career. The next year, in his last year as head coach, Gerrry Faust lost to the Tigers 10-7. Lou Holtz also got a shot at the Tigers in his first year, losing to LSU 19-2, tying the series at 3-3. In 1997, under Bob Davie, we got to play LSU twice, beating them 24-6 in the regular season, but dropping the Independence Bowl to them by a score of 27-9. The next year, we got our series edge back by beating the 10th ranked Tigers 39-36.

And so the series stands at 5-4, with Notre Dame having lost the only neutral site game in the series. LSU has been one of our toughest opponents traditionally, and this year is no exception. The Tigers come in ranked 4th in the nation, with their 2 losses coming in close gmes to #2 Florida and #9 Auburn, and big wins over #12 Arkansas and #17 Tennessee. Notre Dame comes limping in to the game after their second blowout loss, having lost to #3 Michigan and #5 USC. Notre Dame's only other win over a ranked opponent was a come from behind win against #25 UCLA.

The Tigers are #18 in total offense, and #2 in total defense. They are a fairly balanced offensive attack, and are an impressive 10th in scoring offense, which shows efficiency. They are 15th against the run, which is impressive. But they are an incredible 3rd against the pass, allowing only 145 yards per game in the air. This means that this team will challenge Brady Quinn. They are 4th in the country in scoring defense, giving up only 12.5 points per game. JaMarcus Russell is third in the nation in pass efficiency, ahead of Brady Quinn.

The Irish come in only 22nd in total offense and 45th in total defense. They are exteremly efficient on offense, however, averaging 32.42 poins per game, just behind LSU at #12. Notre Dame is an ugly #57 in scoring defense, largely due to the losses to Michigan and USC.

On paper, this looks like a Tiger win. But the Irish have a few stats that give me some hope.

They are +5 in turnover margin, and 3rd in the country in turnovers lost. LSU is even in turnover margin, and a pitiful 89th in turnovers gained. We will not turn over the ball.

Geoffrey Price is 6th in punting, and LSU doesn't even have a player in the top 96. LSU is bad at punt coverage (so are we), but we have a better punter. We can win the field position battle.

Our keys to victory:
1) pass rush - LSU averages 3.25 sacks per game, and allows only 1.5 - we have to win the battle in the trenches
2) don't give up the big play - this is a very efficient offense, and we cannot let them beat us deep we need to improve our 3rd down defense
3) play keep away - we can win field position and the turnover battle, just don't make any mistakes
4)put the ball in Brady's hands - this vaunted pass defense will not frustrate Brady if he finds time to throw. He is the best QB in the nation, and LSU will be bumfuzzled.

To be continued...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Interesting Potential Bowl Matchups

The “I wish the field would open up and swallow both teams” Bowl:
Champs Sports Bowl: Boston College v. Purdue (I’m only teasing, Bek)

The “How the mighty have fallen” Bowl:
Alamo Bowl: Previously ranked #2 Texas (#17) v. Previously ranked #13 Iowa (unranked)

The “How the mighty have really fallen” Bowl:
Emerald Bowl: Florida State vs. UCLA

The “How the mighty have really really plummeted, I mean taken a complete nose dive and shouldn’t even be in a bowl game because they have a losing record against division I-A” Bowl:
MPC Computers Bowl: Nevada vs. Miami (FL)

The Directional School Bowls:
Papajohns.com Bowl: East Carolina vs. South Florida
Motor City Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee

The “I’m 1 yard short of the BCS and I end up here?” Bowl:
Texas Bowl: Rutgers v. Kansas State

The “We’re so happy we didn’t hire you” Bowl:
Sugar Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Florida

The “Let’s do this again sometime” bowl:
National Championship Game: Michigan v. Ohio State

Saturday, December 02, 2006

UCLA beats the Trojans

After all of the crap Notre Dame got for being taken to the wire by UCLA earlier this season, those mighty Bruins with their stellar defense whooped Peetey and his Condoms, holding them to a mere 9 points.

USC suffered the same letdown against UCLA that we suffered against Michigan - coming off a big win against a bigtime program and traditional rival.

I also love the symmetry of this season, as UCLA learned how to handle the end of game situation after they lost to us in the waning seconds. And that experience game them the poise they needed to close out the game against USC.

There was no way USC deserved a shot at the title this year after losing to unranked Oregon State.

Now, the BCS gets interesting.

If I was in charge, I'd give the title shot to Florida. (I just threw up a little bit in my mouth)

As I said before, I am not a fan of rematches, and Michigan already had their shot.

That said, it looks like Michigan will get their wish and Michigan-OSU Part Deux will decide the title. (I just threw up a little bit more in my mouth)

Which means that USC will get exposed by LSU in the Rose Bowl, and we will get our Sugar Bowl shot at Meyer and the paper tigers of Florida.

I hate the BCS as much as anyone (probably more), but I gotta say that it does create some exciting late season games.

Monday, November 27, 2006

BCS Selection Time

I'm not going to rehash the game, and I'm not going to go into detail about why we lost a game we should have won. I'll have plenty of time to do that during Christmas break (and I will...).

For now, I have more immediate concerns - predicting the BCS selections. There are still some Conference championship games to be played, but here are my predictions coming out of the weekend.

National Championship gameOhio State Buckeyesv.Southern Cal Trojans
Glendale, AZBCS #1BCS #2
Rose BowlMichigan Wolverinesv.Louisiana State Tigers
Pasadena, CABig-Ten Replacement (automatic #3 BCS selection)Pac-10 Replacement (at-large, no automatic berth)
Sugar BowlFlorida Gatorsv.Notre Dame Fightin' Irish
New Orleans, LASEC ChampAt-large #1 (at-large, no automatic berth unless ranked #8 or higher)
Orange BowlGeorgia Tech Yellowjacketsv.Louisville Cardinals
Miami, FLACC ChampAt-large #2 (Big East champ)
Fiesta BowlOklahoma Soonersv.Boise State Broncos
Glendale, AZBig 12 ChampAt-large #3 (automatic non-BCS conference champ)


There is a possibility that the Rose Bowl, disgusted with the matchups they've gotten since joining the BCS, chooses Notre Dame to get in a rematch with Michigan rather than a less traditional matchup. Notre Dame has played in the Rose Bowl before, in 1925.

There is an extremely remote possibility that Notre Dame falls out of the BCS entirely (although the Sugar Bowl has all but stated that they will pick Notre Dame if they are available and qualified). In that unlikely event, the Irish would fall o the Cotton Bowl, probably to face Texas.

A Florida-Notre Dame matchup in the Sugar Bowl is very attractive to the selection committee for two reasons. First, it pits Urban Meyer, who spurned advances from Notre Dame in the wake of the Willingham firing to take the job at Florida, against Weis, who eventually accepted the Notre Dame job. It will give the two coaches a chance to prove who has taken their team further in their first two years at the helm.

Also, a Notre Dame Florida matchup will be on the 15th anniversary of the famous "Cheerios" bowl, when the 18th ranked Irish beat the 3rd ranked Gators after several weeks of hearing that Notre Dame didn't belong in a bowl game of that stature.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Beat SC

On a warm, sunny California autumn evening, the Irish ride again.

The team who has had such legendary leaders such as Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy now has at its helm he robot genius, Charlie Weis. Winner of 4 Super Bowl titles in the NFL, Weis has his sights set on a new ring for his fist.

The school that has produced legendary quarterbacks like Paul "Golden Boy" Hornung, Joe Theismann, and Joe Montana, now has their greatest quarterback leading the charge.

This school, with all of its mystique, tradition, and constant drive for excellence stands poised to send a message to the college football world.

On the other sideline today will be the frauds of Southern Cal. The school with more murderers invited to their sideline than any other school. The school with the most NCAA violations ever to get swept under the rug. The school that is a mirror reflection of its Hollywood home - glitzy and glamorous on the surface, seedy, corrupt and defiled on the inside.

The classic battle of good vs. evil rages today. The Evil Empire of Southern Cal, with their empty promises and blackened hearts tries to maintain their ill-gotten grip on college football. The Notre Dame Fightin' Irish are the rebellion - the idealists who still believe in truth, justice, and the American way.

For too long, our team has been held back by leadership that could not meet their expectations, and now that we have adults in charge, we aim to retake our position at the top of college football.

All that remains for this team is to achieve the one goal that they have thus failed to do in their college careers.

Beat SC.

It doesn't have to be close...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BEAT SC.

Monday, November 20, 2006

BEAT SC.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

1-loss Comparison

With the inevitable comparison of 1-loss teams for the championship, I figured I'd break down the numbers between Notre Dame and the other 1-loss teams. Because the rankings are flawed, I ordered them by ranking of the opponent they lost to.

I'll update this each week until the end of the season.

Wisconsin
Wins: 10
Losses: 1 [to #2 Michigan (11-0)]
Wins over BCS teams: 6
Wins over non-BCS teams: 3
Wins over bowl eligible teams: 3
Wins over I-AA opponents: 1
Remaining games:
Buffalo (2-8)
Wins over BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
Purdue (7-4)
Penn State (7-4)
Iowa (6-5)
Wins over non-BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
NONE
Wins over teams on the bubble:
Bowling Green (4-6)
Indiana (5-6)
Minnesota (5-6)

Arguments for: Only loss is to #2 Michigan
Arguments Against: Strength of Schedule. They haven't beaten anybody. No wins against ranked opponents, and have an extremely weak non-conference schedule. No big games to increase their ranking from here on.

Notre Dame
Wins: 9
Losses: 1 [to #2 Michigan (11-0)]
Wins over BCS teams: 7
Wins over non-BCS teams: 2
Wins over bowl eligible teams: 4
Wins over I-AA opponents: 0
Remaining games:
Army (3-7)
#4 Southern Cal (9-1)
Wins over BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
#18 Georgia Tech (8-2)
Penn State (7-4)
Purdue (7-4)
Wins over non-BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
Navy (7-3)
Wins over teams on the bubble:
UCLA (5-5)
Air Force (4-5)

Arguments for: Only loss is to undefeated #2 Michigan, and they have beaten the ACC Coastal champion. No games against I-AA opponents. Has shown an uncanny knack to rally and get the win.
Arguments against: No wins over top-ten teams (yet). Got creamed by Michigan at home by 26 points. Has shown an uncanny knack to have to rally and get the win.

Arkansas
Wins: 9
Losses: 1 [to #4 Southern Cal (9-1)]
Wins over BCS teams: 6
Wins over non-BCS teams: 3
Wins over bowl eligible teams: 3
Wins over I-AA opponents: 1
Remaining games:
Mississippi State (3-7)
#9 LSU (8-2)
SEC Championship [likely against #3 Florida (9-1)]
Wins over BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
#15 Auburn (7-3)
Alabama (6-5)
#23 Tennessee (7-3)
Wins over non-BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
NONE
Wins over teams on the bubble:
South Carolina (5-5)

Arguments for: Has beaten two ranked teams, loss was to a top five team in first game of season before they started QB Mustain.
Arguments against: Have beaten only 3 bowl eligible teams. Got absolutely KILLED by Southern Cal at home to the tune of 50-14 - a 36 point blowout.

Louisville
Wins: 8
Losses: 1 [to #8 Rutgers (9-0)]
Wins over BCS teams: 6
Wins over non-BCS teams: 2
Wins over bowl eligible teams: 4
Wins over I-AA opponents: 0
Remaining games:
South Florida (7-3)
Pittsburgh (6-4)
Connecticut (4-5)
Wins over BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
Kentucky (6-4)
Kansas State (7-4)
#7 West Virginia (8-1)
Wins over non-BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
Middle Tennessee State (7-3)
Wins over teams on the bubble:
Miami (5-5)
Cincinnati (5-5)

Arguments for: Only loss was to undefeated Rutgers, and had a big win over West Virginia.
Arguments against: Lost to Rutgers. Besides West Virginia, haven't really played anyone (Miami ended up sucking this year).

West Virginia
Wins: 8
Losses: 1 [to #12 Louisville (8-1)]
Wins over BCS teams: 6
Wins over non-BCS teams: 3
Wins over bowl eligible teams: 2
Wins over I-AA opponents: 1
Remaining games:
Pittsburgh (6-4)
South Florida (7-3)
#8 Rutgers (9-0)
Wins over BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
#21 Maryland (8-2)
Wins over non-BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
East Carolina (6-4)
Wins over teams on the bubble:
Marshall (4-6)
Connecticut (4-5)
Cincinnati (5-5)

Arguments for: Loss was to another 1-loss top-15 team on the road. Beat ACC Atlantic leader Maryland.
Arguments against: Maryland is their only decent win - they have only beaten 2 bowl eligible teams. One of the weakest schedules in the country.

Florida
Wins: 9
Losses: 1 [to #15 Auburn (9-2)]
Wins over BCS teams: 7
Wins over non-BCS teams: 2
Wins over bowl eligible teams: 6
Wins over I-AA opponents: 0
Remaining games:
I-AA Western Carolina (2-8 in I-AA)
Florida State (5-5)
SEC Championship [likely against #6 Arkansas (9-1)
Wins over BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
#23 Tennessee (7-3)
Kentucky (6-5)
Alabama (6-5)
#9 LSU (8-2)
Georgia (7-4)
Wins over non-BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
Southern Mississippi (6-4)
Wins over teams on the bubble:
South Carolina (5-5)

Arguments for: Won SEC East, played a difficult SEC schedule. Only loss was to a good Auburn team on the road.
Arguments against: Wins aren't as impressive in retrospect, and has looked unimpressive since loss - close calls against Georgia, Vandy, and South Carolina.

Southern Cal
Wins: 8
Losses: 1 [to Oregon State (6-4)]
Wins over BCS teams: 8
Wins over non-BCS teams: 0
Wins over bowl eligible teams: 6
Wins over I-AA opponents: 0
Remaining games:
#17 California (8-2)
#5 Notre Dame (9-1)
UCLA (5-5)
Wins over BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
#6 Arkansas (9-1)
#22 Nebraska (8-3)
Washington State (6-5)
Arizona State (6-5)
Oregon State (6-4)
Oregon (7-3)
Wins over non-BCS conference bowl eligible teams:
NONE
Wins over teams on the bubble:
Arizona (5-5)

Arguments for: Played one of toughest schedules in the country, with big wins over Arkansas, Nebraska, and Oregon.
Arguments against: Lost to a horrible Oregon State team, by far the worst loss of any of the 1-loss teams. Barely beat hapless Washington, Arizona State, and Washington State.

So there they are, the 1-loss contenders heading down the stretch (there are other 1-loss teams that don't really have any shot). We still have a lot of games to play, and it should be exciting to see how it shakes out.

FIVE GAMES THAT WILL DECIDE THE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER:
LSU at Arkansas - Nov. 24
Florida at Florida State - Nov. 25
Notre Dame at Southern Cal - Nov. 25
Rutgers at West Virginia - Dec. 2
SEC Championship game: Florida vs. Arkansas - Dec. 2

Have fun, and enjoy the ride.

Good Day for Notre Dame Football

Yesterday was a very good day. After watching at least 10 different sportscasters picking "the best of the one-loss teams" with nary a mention of ND in sight, the bulk of the so-called "best" one-loss teams lost yesterday, while ND rolled to a quick lead against Air Force before shifting into neutral and cruising to a 39-17 victory over a bowl-bound Air Force team.

#3/#4 Louisville, the crown prince of the BCS championship, lost to Rutgers.

#4/#3 Texas, the team with the easiest road and picked (about even with Florida) as the best 1-loss team thus far, lost to unranked Kansas State

#5 Auburn, the SEC team with only one-loss that wasn't going to have to play in the SEC championship, had an easy road to the end of the season. But they overlooked the hapless Georgia Bulldogs, losing big.

#6 Florida has been riding the ESPN hype all week long, being picked almost as often as Texas as the best 1-loss team. However, they needed a missed field goal, a blocked field goal, and a missed extra point to edge out unranked South Carolina 17-16.

#7 USC looked good against Oregon, and that's good for us, as we want Southern Cal to look as good as possible when we stomp them in the Coliseum in 2 weeks.

#8 California was a close third according to many pundits as the best 1-loss team, and many were predicting the Golden Bears to knock off the mighty Trojans next week. But Cal forgot to knock off the mighty Arizona Wildcats first, losing 24-20.

#11 Arkansas was the only other 1-loss team besides Notre Dame to look good in their game, as they stomped the overrated Tennessee team. Despite being ranked behind ND going into the week, the Razorbacks pulled a Cal/Florida/Tennessee and jumped the Irish in the AP poll after the Irish won their game. But nobody passed Florida after their close call. Go figure.

So where does all that drama leave the Irish?

Let's just say that I'm revoking my premature concession that we wouldn't make the championship game.

We still need a couple of things to happen, but the chances of us making the BCS championship went from about 1 in 500 to about 1 in 10 this week.

A Florida loss would have been helpful, and because they survived, we need Florida to stumble either against Florida State or in the SEC Championship.

Likewise, we need Arkansas to stumble against LSU or in the SEC Championship game.

If either of those teams come out of the SEC with 1 loss, our chances of leapfrogging them aren't great.

The only other team we need to keep an eye on is 9-0 Rutgers, who should lose to West Virginia.

The losses by Texas and Auburn took care of the 1-loss teams that had "easy sailing" to the end of the year.

Cal's loss means that USC doesn't have to beat them next week for us to stay ahead of them. However, we still need SC to win that game.

We have SC's destiny in our hands, as we play them on Nov. 25.

Don't be surprised if the two greatest rivalries in college football (Michigan-tOSU and ND-USC) turn into "play-in" games for the national championship.

I still have plenty of faith that the bias of the human polls will drag us down, but our computer rankings might put us ahead of another 1-loss team by the end of the season. Playing Army isn't going to help our SOS, though.

Lost in all the excitement this year is the wonderful fact that, in only his second year as head coach, Coach Weis has his team in the conversation for the national title.

What a difference a coach makes.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Heisman ranting, Part Deux

I lamented a couple weeks ago about the erosion of the Heisman trophy, which no longer goes to the most outstanding player in the country, but instead now goes to the best player on the #1 team at the end of October.

Don't believe me?

Take it from this actual Heisman voter, as quoted by Heisman Pundit, the web's leading expert on the Heisman:

"[Troy Smith] had a slight stumble," acknowledged one voter. "But that doesn't take away from the fact that he's still the most electrifying player on the best team in college football."

Not "he's the most electrifying player in college football." No. "the most electrifying player on the best team in college football."

If even the voters are acknowledging that this trophy goes to the best player on the #1 team, then Quinn has already lost.

UNLESS, Troy Smith has a horrible game against Michigan, and Notre Dame beats the tar out of SC.

Then, MAYBE, Brady gets a legitimate shot.

However, the "journalists" on ESPN are still partaking in the premature coronation of Smith. Last night, former Buckeye Kirk Herbstreit was commenting on Brian Brohm's failure to perform in the face of Rutger's defensive pressure. He was searching for a similar example of when a top quarterback struggled against a defense.

You'd think that, after a 100 yard and 1 interception performance by Troy Smith just last week, he would be the obvious choice for comparison.

But, that might hurt Smith's Heisman hype.

Instead, he decided to go to the quarterback that hasn't thrown an interception since September 23, who is coming off of back-to-back 300+ yard 3+ touchdown performances, and whose worst game sill had an even touchdown to interception ratio.

That's right folks, when he was talking about Brian Brohm being uncomfortable in the pocket, he decided to use the one player that has been completely unflappable in the pocket, except for the first quarter against Michigan.

He even went so far as to claim that we'd seen that kind of performance "a couple of times" from Quinn.

Now, Quinn and the Irish deserve some criticism for the egg they laid against Michigan. But Michigan is arguably the best team in the nation.

Smith gets no criticism for laying an egg against Illinois. Southern Cal isn't hurt by losing to Oregon State. SEC losses don't even appear to count anymore.

I don't expect ESPN to be completely unbiased. As a matter of fact, I like it when sportscasters get fired up about their team. When I have a problem is when they systematically attack rival institutions without any rational basis for the attacks.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Guest Blogging

For a little different perspective, my good friend and classmate Justin wanted to provide his insights on the prospects of the Irish playing in a National Championship game - here is his response:

I don't think we need all of the aforementioned to happen.

1. We need Florida and Louisville to lose.

Although FSU sucks this season, they have a legitimate shot at beating UF. UF
lost their best defensive player this week due to suspension, FSU has replaced
their QB (the replacement just killed UVa), and they are playing in
Tallahassee.

I’m not sold on Louisville. They will lose either to Rutgers, USF, or
Pittsburgh.

2. We need USC to beat Oregon & Cal.

3. We need Michigan to beat OSU.

This leaves Michigan, Texas, Auburn, USC, and ND.

Fantasy Projections:

Michigan: NC game

Texas: UT finishes out pretty weak. Yes, they have A & M and the Big 12
championship game, but it's quite likely that they won't be playing a ranked
team here on out. Hence, they’ll be finishing the season on a low note.

Auburn: Very similar to UT. Auburn isn't playing in the SEC championship game,
as Arkansas has the SEC West pretty much wrapped up. So, similar to UT, they
finish the season w/o playing a ranked team, w/o much fanfare.

USC: See ND.

ND: If Michigan beats OSU, and USC beats Cal and Oregon, it sets up a big
showdown between SC and ND on Nov. 25. If we beat SC soundly – especially
considering that this is THE GAME of a holiday weekend – we finish on a very
high note.

The voters at the end of the season face a dilemma: Texas, Auburn, or ND.
Texas gets love from the USA Today poll. ND gets love from the Computer &
Harris. Auburn, not playing in the SEC championship game, gets little backing
from anyone (or anything). There is no way to project what the Harris and
Computer Poll will look like at the end, so little is gained by discussing
whether Texas or ND gets in over each other. That said, we will have a much
stronger SOS than Texas, have our only loss coming from the team playing in the
NC game, and will be finishing the season on a high note, in front of a large
audience. This could set up a perfect scenario for ND.

I know the abovementioned neglects a scenario where a one loss Arkansas wins the
SEC championship, or Rutgers finishes the season undefeated, but I just can’t
see either jumping ND if the “Fantasy Projections” work out. Maybe I’m na├»ve.

National title hopes

Last week, I conceded the national title chances due to pollster bias, and I stick to that, but for those of you that want to know what needs to happen for the Irish to have a shot, here it is, by BCS ranking:

1. Ohio State
Remaining games of note: vs. #2 Michigan
We need: Loss to Michigan
2. Michigan
Remaining games of note: @ #1 Ohio State
We need: Michigan to win - the bigger the better.
3. Louisville
Remaining games of note: @ #13 Rutgers, @ Pitt
We need: Loss to Rutgers
4. Florida
Remaining games of note: vs. South Carolina, @ Florida State, SEC Championship
We need: Loss in the SEC Championship; The 'Noles are down, and Spurrier can't seem to finish games this year.
5. Texas
Remaining games of note: Texas A&M, Big 12 Championship
We need: Loss to Texas A&M - the Championship game won't challenge them.
6. Auburn
Remaining games of note: Georgia, Alabama
We need: Loss to Alabama - Georgia is bad, but Alabama has a shot because it is a rivalry game.
7. Southern California
Remaining games of note: vs. #20 Oregon, vs. #8 Cal, vs. #9 Notre Dame
We need: Wins over Oregon and Cal, then a loss to ND.
8. California
Remaining games of note: @ #7 Southern Cal
We need: Cal to lose to SC. They won't be challenged by Arizona or Stanford, and don't have to play in a championship game. And a loss by SC dampens our game with them.
9. Notre Dame
Remaining games of note: @ #7 Southern Cal
We need: Just win, baby.
10. West Virginia
Remaining games of note: @ Pitt, vs. #13 Rutgers
We need: Win over Rutgers. We might be able to get by an undefeated Rutgers squad, but better safe than sorry. I don't see WVU catching us from behind.
11. Arkansas
Remaining games of note: vs. Tennessee, vs. LSU, possible SEC Championship
We need: 1 loss (to either Tenn. or LSU), then a win over the Gators in the SEC Championship
12. LSU
Remaining games of note: @ Arkansas, vs. Alabama
We need: Nothing - they have two losses. A win over Arkansas would be helpful.
13. Rutgers
Remaining games of note: vs. #3 Louisville, @ #10 West Virginia
We need: A win over Louisville on Thursday, then a loss to either Pitt or West Virginia.

Now, as you look at that long list of things we need to happen, consider that if just one of those things doesn't happen, we will need a tremendous boost in the polls to overcome it.

Now, I would expect a bit of a jump in the polls in the final balloting of the ESPN Coaches Poll, as the ND haters (like Spurrier) will have to move ND up into a reasonable ranking spot before their ballots go public, negating some of the bias.

Overall, however, I think we are on a collision course with the Sugar Bowl and a matchup with either Florida or Auburn.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Train Wreck .com

I know, I know. My life would be far less stressful if I stopped watching/reading ESPN. But, much like a horrific train wreck, I can't pry my eyes away from the computer screen.

Far another little glimpse into the bias of ESPN (which is even worse, believe it or not, than the bias at Fox News...), check out this little nugget from Ivan Maisel:

"...only No. 11 Notre Dame resembled a candidate for a national championship. The Irish did so because they played Navy, a team long on guts and precision and short and light in categories like height and weight."

Fill in the blank: __________ has 4 wins in Div. I-A, a win over a Div. I-AA opponent, and only one of their three losses was to an unranked team.

Choices: Navy, Oregon State

Actually, its a trick question. Either team could fill in that blank. However, Navy's lone loss was to 7-1 Tulsa, who is just barely unranked, clocking in as the highest vote getter outside the top 25 in both polls. Oregon State's unranked loss was to Washington State, who got no votes in the AP poll, and has only half the votes that Tulsa does in the ESPN poll.

But somehow, a loss to Oregon State looked better to the pollsters this week than a 24-point win over the Midshipmen.

Now, the media is also painting the Irish into a corner that they can't get out of, and it has nothing to do with their play on the field:

"Given that the Irish's three opponents in the interim -- North Carolina, Air Force and Army -- are a combined 7-17, a potential USC victory is all Notre Dame had going for it."

Now, I understand that strength of schedule is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff among 1-loss teams, but the strength of schedule manipulation that is going on in the media is ridiculous. A loss to #11 Michigan is somehow bad because it is early in the season, but people are saying now that the Buckeyes could lose to the Wolverines and still be in the championship. Last week, the Irish were contenders to get into the championship with a big win over Southern Cal, but this week, through no fault of Notre Dame, beating the hell out of Southern Cal isn't going to be good enough. Forget that the pollsters still have them ranked #9. Also, strength of schedule wasn't even mentioned during the first half of the season, when the Irish played the toughest schedule in the country. But now, when the Irish are playing the weaker part of their schedule, it becomes a big issue.

Also, when the Irish put together this schedule, it looked like a tough schedule. Michigan, Penn State, Southern Cal, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Purdue, and Stanford were all BCS teams that are often ranked - indeed, Michigan and Southern Cal are perennially expected to be top 10 teams. And in many ways, the schedule has lived up to its billing. Michigan is #2. USC is #9. Georgia Tech is currently #20, and had been ranked as high as #13. Penn State is hovering just outside the top 25, and had been ranked as high as #19. By the end of the year, we will have played 8 bowl teams, and probably 3 BCS participants. But because the next three weeks we play Army, North Carolina, and Air Force, our schedule is considered "weak." Forget that North Carolina is a BCS conference team, and that Air Force is leading the Mountain West conference. Only Army is clearly a weak team, but with three wins, they are doing better this year than many BCS conference teams, including Duke, Northwestern, Mississippi, and Mississipi State.

Here is another thing that bugs me. Somehow, conference games are considered to be tough, even against the lowly teams in the conference (see: Auburn - Ole Miss). But because Notre Dame doesn't have a conference per se, their annual opponents (Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Southern Cal, Michigan, Stanford) aren't considered the same way that "tough" conference games are in the Big 12. When Southern Cal plays Stanford, that will be a tough conference game, but when we do, we are scheduling weak opponents. We play Stanford just as often, the familiarity is the same. And the pundits speak as if Notre Dame schedules them each year so they play a patsy. That just isn't true. For example, Notre Dame schedules Navy each year because Navy saved the University during World War II, and at the time the series was made permanent, the service academies were THE powers in college football. But in this day and age of "what have you done for me lately," the integrity displayed by both schools in the continuance of the tradition, Notre Dame takes a hit for "dumbing down" its schedule.

So, I'm conceding (reluctantly) our chance of playing in the Championship game. We could stomp all over Southern Cal, be the one-loss team with the toughest schedule in the country, having lost only to the top-ranked team, and some pansy from the SEC will get in because they had a "tough" conference schedule.

Horseshit.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Poll Hypocrisy

Last night, I was at C.J.'s pub hanging out with some law school friends (and a couple of players), and the conversation turned to the polls. Auburn barely adged out a BAD 2-7 Ole Miss team, Texas needed last minute heroics by the refs to keep 5-3 Texas Tech from winning, and Tennessee was trailing going into the 4th quarter, and only a Spurrier implosion allowed them to survive the week.

Several of my friends pointed at the close calls by one loss teams against crappy teams, and prognosticated that Notre Dame would move up in the polls after a big win, dropping other teams under the same logic that allowed pollsters to drop Notre Dame after close wins. They all agreed, nearly unanimously, that USC's loss to a crappy Oregon State team would drop them out of the top 10, allowing us to move up at least one spot.

I knew better. I told them that every other 1-loss team would move up a spot, Notre Dame would stay the same, and USC would drop down to the spot in front of Notre Dame.

I was too optimistic.

Notre Dame, the only 1-loss team this week to cover their spread, actually dropped a spot in the AP poll, being passed by Cal (who had a bye week), and USC dropped only six spots after losing to an unranked team, staying ahead of the Irish in both polls.

Here's what the media had to say about yesterday's games:
Auburn "slipped out of another SEC road trap" against "gritty Mississippi" and the Auburn "BCS title hopes [are] still alive."
Volunteers "hold strong against Gamecocks, stay in BCS title hunt," as they avoid "Spurrier's hex" and intercepted a "desperation heave," which they only had to do because "Ainge was out with a bad ankle on the [previous] series."
Texas "overcame four turnovers and erased the bad deficit" to win through "confidence and perseverance," and were only trailing because "Texas Tech played as well as [Mack Brown has] ever seen them play," and Texas Tech QB Harrell "had been nearly perfect in the first half" and even the big lead they overcame was "helped along by a fumble recovery."

Notice that nowhere in there does the media say that the 5-3 Red Raiders "struggled in the second half" or that 2-7 Ole Miss "made too many mistakes when it counted," or even that in their win over 5-2 South Carolina, Tennessee "didn't play well until the end." All of these things were said about Notre Dame's close wins over 3-0 Michigan State and 4-2 UCLA.

Even worse, the Irish dropped from #2 in the AP poll to #12 (10 spots) after losing to then #11, and currently undefeated #2 Michigan. However, after losing to unranked 4-3 Oregon State, USC drops only 6 spots, from #3 to #9. So, apparently, losing to the second best team in the country is somehow worse than losing to a Pac-10 also-ran.

This kind of blatant hypocrisy and bias is why college football needs a playoff. And at this point, the rankings are no longer defensible with vague "body of work" justifications.

Somebody please defend this for me, 'cause I just don't get it:

Notre Dame (7-1)
GAME: Close Win over 0-0 Georgia Tech 14-10 (currently leading ACC, ranked #20)
RESULT: Notre Dame drops in both polls
GAME: Big Win over 1-0 #19 (AP and ESPN) Penn State (currently 4th in Big Ten) 41-17
RESULT: Notre Dame moves back up to #2 in AP, up to #3 in ESPN
GAME: Big Loss to #11 AP/#13 ESPN Michigan (currently leading Big Ten, unanimous #2) 47-21
RESULT: Notre Dame drops 10 spots in both polls
GAME: Close Win over 3-0 Michigan State (has tanked since this game)
RESULT: Dropped one spot in ESPN poll, stayed same in AP poll
GAME: Big Win over 4-0 Purdue (has tanked since this game)
RESULT: Moved up two spots in ESPN poll, stayed same in AP poll
GAME: Big Win over 0-5 Stanford 31-10
RESULT: Moved up 3 spots in AP, 4 in ESPN
GAME: BYE
RESULT: Dropped one spot in AP poll
GAME: Close Win over 4-2 UCLA (top 10 defense) 20-17
RESULT: Dropped 2 spots in ESPN poll (passed by Florida, who had a bye, and Tennessee, who also had a close win)
GAME: Big Win over 5-2 Navy 38-14
RESULT: Dropped one spot in AP poll (passed by Cal, who had a bye)

Averaged drop after losses for the top 1-loss teams (week of the loss, and overall change in ranking since the loss):
Notre Dame by 26 to #11 Michigan: week of: -10 change since: -1
Auburn by 17 to unranked Arkansas: week of: -8 change since: +1
Texas by 17 to #1 Ohio State: week of: -6 change since: +4
USC by 2 to unranked Oregon State: week of: -6 change since: N/A
Tennessee by 1 to #7 Florida: week of: -2 change since: +11
California by 17 to #23 Tennessee: week of: -12 change since: +12

At this point, I'm willing to begin entertaining conspiracy theories, as Notre Dame is held to a double standard. Winning big over a bowl team in an away game drops us in the polls. But winning close games against bad teams allow other teams to move up. Taking a bye week makes us drop in the rankings compared to teams who win games that week. However, other teams' bye weeks allow them to pass us, even though we win a game that week.

Notre Dame should lead the charge to do away with the BCS and institute a playoff. And don't tell me it can't be done - Division I-AA, II, and III already do it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

United States Naval Academy v. University of Notre Dame

[Because I don't have time to draft a new post on the Naval Academy this week, I'm reposting last year's comments on the history of the game - enjoy.]

This game has always been my favorite game to attend. Notre Dame is all but guaranteed to win, but the game is always hard-fought for 60 minutes and no matter the outcome, game day is imbued with a higher level of respect between opponents than any other games the Irish play.

The service academies always demand a certain level of respect, considering that the men that take that field are first soldiers, then students, and finally athletes.

But Notre Dame - Navy is more. For Notre Dame and Navy, this game has a much deeper historic meaning than other games.

From Navy's game notes for this week:
"Notre Dame and Navy first met on the football field in 1927, while Knute Rockne was the Irish head coach. But to truly understand the Notre Dame-Navy series requires a trip back to the 1940s, when Frank Leahy had the Irish on top of the football world.
"Leahy coached the Irish to a national championship in 1943, his third year as head coach, just before enlisting with the Navy to serve in World War II. Following the war, Leahy and the Irish picked up right where they had left off, going four entire seasons without a loss and claiming national championships in 1946, 1947 and 1949.
"But World War II cost Notre Dame a lot more than its talented head coach and a slew of players (including 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli). It virtually wiped out the small, all-male school. The University was having terrible financial problems, and as an all-male school with so many young men being drafted and going off to war, there was almost nobody left to attend the University.
"As part of the war effort, the Navy needed more officers than the Naval Academy was able to produce in a short period of time. So a decision was made to utilize a number of institutions across the nation in which young men would attend college and receive training to become officers. Notre Dame became the site for one such program. Not only did Notre Dame now have a much-needed influx of students preparing to become Naval officers, but the Navy also built a number of facilities on campus that served Notre Dame for years. It's safe to say that if it wasn't for the Navy and the Naval Academy, Notre Dame may not exist today."

Legend has it that, pursuant to the Naval Academy's assistance during World War II, Coach Frank Leahy and President John Cavanaugh agreed to play Navy in football any time they wanted, and sealed the deal with a handshake.

Prior to that agreement, Notre Dame had played Navy every year since 1927, and have continued ever since. The agreement is not legally binding, but the integrity of both schools is in many ways a more enduring bond than any contract.

The stark reality on the football field, however, is that Navy cannot compete with Notre Dame in the current college football landscape. The last time Navy beat the Irish was also the last time Navy fielded a Heisman trophy winner in Roger Staubach. The Naval Academy is simply not equipped to compete with the upper level competition in Division I-A, especially with the height/weight limits placed on the service academies. [END of last year's posting]

The ND-Navy game last year also was one of the most moving experiences I've experienced at Notre Dame stadium. After the game, Coach Weis directed the team to walk over and stand behind the Navy team at the end of the game - the entire stadium fell absolutely silent as the Naval band played "Navy Blue and Gold," the alma mater of the Naval Academy. The level of respect that this team has for the service academies is apparent not just during this kind of outward display, but also in the way the players treat each other on the field. Tom Zbikowski confirmed earlier this week that there is no trash-talking on the field when they play Navy. They play to win, but the understanding that these young men will not be playing football or taking cushy jobs, but will instead be laying their lives down for our protection, is displayed in things like a helping hand after the play, or a quick tap on the helmet congratulating the opponent after a good play.

Go Irish
Beat Navy

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Recruiting news

Notre Dame made a push this weekend to lure Ryan Miller, one of the nation's top offensive linemen, away from his home state of Colorado. The official recruiting sites have said for a while now that this recruit was Colorado's to lose. This weekend, Coach Weis let Sam Young, last year's top offensive line recruit in the country and a true freshman starter, host the young recruit. Sam took Miller around campus and showed him all of the perks of attending the University of Notre Dame. Hanging out with a freshman starter who, by the time he graduates, will almost certainly be a first round draft pick can't hurt Notre Dame's chances for Miller. I'm pretty sure the kid was having a good time in the Bend this weekend, and although he is more comfortable with Colorado, where he is their #1 target, I'd be surprised if his visit this weekend doesn't give him pause. He got to hang out with a bunch of potential first (or near first) round draft picks in the junior and senior classes (Quinn, Samardzija, Abiamiri, Harris, Zbikowski, McKnight, Walker, Carlson). And that's just based on the improvement Weis has made in their games over the past two years. He's got to think about the fact that Weis has already shown his ability to develop NFL talent (Exhibit 1: Anthony Fasano).
If he really wants to do what is best for him, he should compare the number of NFL draft picks on the Colorado team to the number of first rounders at Notre Dame. If this kid picks Colorado, he'll be missing a huge opportunity.

Speaking of one-on-one battles, Notre Dame has several recruiting battles with schools that are really suffering right now. Of course there is Miller, who is choosing between ND and Colorado, but there is also Arrelious Benn, who is choosing between ND and Illinois, and Greg Little, who is choosing between ND and North Carolina.

I'm going out on a limb and guessing that Little might come to town during the Notre Dame - North Carolina game. And after Notre Dame stomps all over North Carolina on the field, Little will come to realize that Notre Dame is someplace special, and his best chance to play on Sundays.

Benn has already visited Notre Dame, and still seems to stubbornly be considering Illinois. Zook has always been a great recruiter, and he went after Benn's high school quarterback to improve his chances of landing Benn. However, the longer that Benn thinks about this decision, the more likely I think it is that he will pick ND. He can go play for an Illinois team whose highlight of each year is winning one Big Ten game, or for a Notre Dame team who is disappointed when they don't win ALL of their games, not just the ones against the Big Ten.

The only reason I can see why these kids would choose their in-state school over the Irish is that they think they would be the big man on campus. If they come to Notre Dame, they will be one in a long list of highly touted recruits at Notre Dame. However, the way Notre Dame is recruiting and winning, it isn't unreasonable to think that, after four years under Weis, almost every player that earns a starting position at the skill positions or offensive line will be drafted.

However, as a starting receiver for Illinois or North Carolina, or lineman at Colorado, the chances of getting drafted aren't as high. Illinois hasn't had a reciever drafted high since 1990. North Carolina hasn't since 1994. For Notre Dame you have to go all the way back to last year, when Maurice Stovall was taken in the 2nd round. Colorado is a little better than Illinois and North Carolina, with a first-round O-line pick back in 1997. Until you consider that Notre Dame had first rounders in 1999 and 2003.

But the past isn't the only barometer. The Irish have a projected first-round O-lineman THIS year in Ryan Harris. And a first round receiver THIS year in Jeff Samardzija. Even our second receiver will probably be picked in the first couple of rounds. In fact, Notre Dame has 4 players in Mel Kiper's first round projections. Illinois, Colorado, and North Carolina combine for an impressive zero players projected in the first round this year.

And while playing in the NFL isn't the only reason to choose a school, none of those schools compare favorably to Notre Dame in academics. Or facilities. Or championship aspirations. Or alumni support for after graduation.

For a non-elite player, I can understand wanting to go to one of these schools. Or, if there is another couple of elite players you get to play with, maybe you can make a run at one of these schools. But if you are truly an elite player, there are perhaps a half-dozen schools you should really consider if you want to reach the fullness of your potential. And Colorado, Illinois, and North Carolina aren't them. (except maybe in basketball...)

Monday, October 23, 2006

How to win the Heisman

The days of the Heisman trophy going to the greatest player in college football are long gone. It has now become a trifling trophy that goes to the star of the #1 team in the country as it stands in November. It has nothing to do with statistics, impressive feats, and heroics (unless said heroics occur against Notre Dame - see Carson Palmer). It is about being the least mistake-prone offensive star on the #1 team long before the championship is being decided.

In 2005, did Reggie Bush deserve the trophy? Absolutely. He happened to be the greatest player, and also be on the #1 team. He also had a huge day against Notre Dame. As a result of this confluence of events, he received the highest percentage of the vote in history.

However, can you really say that Matt Leinart, Jason White, Carson Palmer, and Eric Crouch were the best players (at any position) in the country?

In 2004, Adrian Peterson was the best player in the country, followed by Alex Smith. However, underclassmen and players from non-BCS conferences are not going to win the Heisman. Then, Jason White was probably the third best player, and although he didn't deserve the trophy the year before, he earned it this year with the best statistical performance of any quarterback. He split the vote with Peterson, and Leinart beat up on a Willingham-coached Notre Dame team on national TV and was the QB for the #1 team, and so he got the Heisman.

In 2003, Jason White took the trophy home, despite a miserable showing in the final game of the season. You see, Heisman voters had already handed in their ballots, and the best player in the country, Larry Fitzgerald, won convincingly if you only count the ballots that came in after the Kansas-Oklahoma game. But, because Heisman voters vote so early, the best player lost out.

In 2002, the QB bias was at its most glaring, as Carson Palmer catapulted himself into the lead by beating the Irish. However, that almost wasn't enough to pass Brad Banks of Iowa, the best QB in the nation that year. However, the best player at any position that year was clearly Larry Johnson, but because he didn't play defense for the underperforming Nittany Lions, he wasn't given any shot at the Heisman trophy.

In 2001, only quarterbacks were in the running for the award, but again the best player did not win. Rex Grossman stood head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks. Again, a quarterback won despite an embarasssing performance at the end of the season, with Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch winning over the sophomore Grossman.

So why am I giving this little history lesson on the Heisman? Because the fraud that has become the Heisman trophy will again choose someone other than the best player this year.

Now, Brady Quinn has a long way to go to prove that he is the best player in the nation. However, his performance against Michigan State in the driving rain, willing his team to the win, and the last minute win-at-all-costs drive against one of the best defenses in the country this week would have made him the prohibitive favorite to win the award in the pre-ESPN era. Instead, Troy Smith, who has done absolutely nothing note-worthy this year, besides being on the #1 team in the country, has been prematurely crowned the Heisman winner.

Against common opponents, the numbers are clearly in favor of Quinn for both games:
PENN STATE
Quinn: 25/36 (69.4% comp.) 287 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
Smith: 12/22 (54.5% comp.) 115 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
MICHIGAN STATE
Quinn: 20/36 (55.6% comp.) 319 yds, 5 TD, 1 INT
Smith: 15/22 (68.2% comp.) 234 yds, 2 TD, 0 INTs

What is really telling is that while many people will say that comparing numbers isn't fair because of Smith's athleticism and ability to run. However, Quinn has 1 rushing TD this year, Smith has none. As a matter of fact, I'm looking forward to the NFL combine this year, as I expect Quinn to impress NFL scouts with his mobility - I've watched him easily outrun some of the best linebackers in the country the past two years. Quinn doesn't get recognized for his mobility because he is so confident in his arm, and I would argue that he is on equal footing in terms of pure athleticism with Troy Smith.

Am I biased? Absolutely. I bleed Blue and Gold. But I never waxed poetic about Ron Powlus or Jarious Jackson. However I believe that, as a total package (accuracy, strength, toughness, agility, intangibles) Brady Quinn is the best prototypical NFL quarterback to come out of college since Peyton Manning. And he might even be better.

And even with all of that, he'll not win the Heisman. And that is horse$#(%.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Midterms

Halfway through the season is a great time to take a minute to assess where the rankings are at this point in the season. Before I get a bunch of comments complaining that there is no way Rutgers/Boise State is better than [insert 1-loss team here], please keep in mind that I'm ranking teams first by record, then by merit. If I were ranking by who I think is the better team, Notre Dame would be third. But then I'd be immolated by SC fans who would get their panties in a bunch 'cause they are undefeated.

1. Michigan (6-0)
2. Ohio State (6-0)
3. Southern Cal (6-0)
4. West Virginia (6-0)
5. Louisville (6-0)
6. Rutgers (6-0)
7. Boise State (6-0)
8. Notre Dame (5-1)
9. Texas (5-1)
10. Tennessee (5-1)
11. Georgia Tech (5-1)
12. Arkansas (6-1)
13. Auburn (6-1)
14. Florida (6-1)
15. California (6-1)
16. Wisconsin (6-1)
17. Clemson (6-1)
18. Oregon (5-1)
19. Pittsburgh (6-1)
20. Boston College (6-1)
21. Missouri (6-1)
22. Nebraska (6-1)
23. Texas A&M (6-1)
24. Wake Forest (6-1)
25. San Jose State (4-1)

Overall, there are a lot of teams that are seriously flawed, and only Michigan and Ohio State have shown themselves to be great complete teams at this point. Southern Cal is an overwhelming collection of talent, but an underwhelming team, with close wins over mediocre Pac-10 teams. Texas and Notre Dame are great but inconsistent. West Virginia and Louisville would get killed by anyone else in the top 15 on a neutral field, but they don't play anyone worthwhile, and one of them will go undefeated. Georgia Tech is a one-trick pony. Arkansas/Auburn/Florida/Tennessee are all classic SEC teams, very good all-around teams, but not great at anything.

Prediction revision:
Looking again at the remaining teams and games, I think that at the end of the season it will be the winner of the Ohio State - Michigan game versus the winner of the SC/ND game for the championship. The Big East will have a fit when their undefeated darling gets left out, especially if in favor of a 1-loss team.

Indiana 31 #15 Iowa 28


Excuse me for a moment while I bask in the glory of my alma mater accomplishing something during FOOTBALL season.

My Hoosiers, the perennial bottom feeders of the Big Ten, have just beaten a top 15 team at home. A Big Ten contender. And it is - wait for it - their SECOND straight victory in the Big Ten.

This is a young team, and a team without any depth. But I firmly believe that Coach Hoeppner has this team heading in the right direction.

More importantly, a big win like this can really kickstart the recruiting for a team like IU, giving them some additional tools to work with going forward.

Indiana, Our Indiana
Indiana, we're all for you!
We will fight for
the Cream & Crimson,
For the glory of Old IU
Never daunted, we cannot falter
In a battle, we're tried and true
Indiana, Our Indiana
Indiana, we're all for you!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Strength of Schedule

Many people are prematurely hailing the Florida schedule as "brutal" and "the toughest in the country." However, Florida's schedule doesn't even hold a candle to Notre Dame's.

Notre Dame Schedule
Georgia Tech: ACC Champion
Penn State:Big Ten
Michigan: Big Ten Champion
Michigan State: Big Ten
Purdue: Big Ten
Stanford: Pac-10
UCLA: Pac-10
Navy: Independent
North Carolina: ACC
Air Force: Mountain West Champion
Army: Independent
Southern California: Pac-10 Champion

Florida's Schedule
Southern Miss: Conference USA
Central Florida: Conference USA
Tennessee: SEC
Kentucky: SEC
Alabama: SEC
LSU: SEC
Auburn: SEC
Georgia: SEC
Vanderbilt: SEC
South Carolina: SEC
West Carolina: I-AA Southern Conference loser
Florida State: ACC basement

So, which is harder, a full slate of conference games (including Vanderbilt and Kentucky), a I-AA nobody, two Conference USA teams, and a Florida State team that could finish last in the ACC Atlantic division?

Or, a schedule against the potential champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10, and Mountain West, a full slate of BCS teams, and the military academies?

Notre Dame gets a lot of grief from haters about scheduling the academies, but would you rather play Army or West Carolina? Navy or Central Florida? Air Force or Southern Miss? I think I know who I would pick.

Notre Dame plays the toughest schedule year-in, year-out because they play the top teams from the major conferences without often getting an opporunity to feast on the Indianas, Vanderbilts, and Baylors of the world.

The next time that Kirk Herbstreit says that Florida's schedule should be illegal, I think I might vomit. (And Kirk is usually so well-spoken - he must have a man-crush on the entire SEC)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

DE Ronald Talley leaves team

Ronald Talley, who started two games this year at defensive end before being premanently replaced by Chris Frome, has left the team.

There isn't any information on why this is, and I won't even begin to speculate.

However, this is a disturbing trend from Ty Willingham's last full recruiting class.

Here is a list of that class:

Darius Walker, starting tailback
Maurice Crum, starting linebacker
Terrail Lambert, backup cornerback / starting nickel back
Anthony Vernaglia, backup/starting linebacker
Leo Ferrine, backup defensive back
Junior Jabbie, on team, not playing
Darrin Bragg, on team, not playing
Justin Brown, on team, not playing

Abdel Banda, left team
Tregg Duerson, left team
Justin Hoskins, left team
Chauncey Incarnato, left team
John Kadous, left team
Brandon Nicholas, left team
Chris Vaugn, left team
David Wolke, left team
Ronald Talley, left team

Now, as I said before, I'm not going to speculate as to why any individual players have left the team.

But, I would like to point out that of the players that have left the team, nearly all of them would not be starting because of more athletic players that have been recruited by Coach Weis. While I personally think it is a low-class move to abandon the team instead of pushing yourself harder, I think most of the kids that have left from this class simply realized that they had no business being on the Notre Dame football team, as they are not big enough, strong enough, fast enough, or quite simply good enough to cut the mustard at Notre Dame.

That class was the 32nd ranked class in the country by Rivals.com, 30th by Scout.com.

The year after, during the transition from Willingham to Weis, was ranked 40th and 27th, and had only 15 players.

Last year's class had 28 players, and was ranked 8th and 5th.

This year's class is already up to 9 - dead even with USC in terms of talent and numbers.

I guess they are just reading the writing on the wall.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bye week - none too soon.

So, much like the Notre Dame football team, I am in need of a break. I am currently sitting at home right now, sicker than a dog.

Apparently, stress can depress your immune system, thereby rendering you susceptible to infection. Who knew?

So, as we cruise into the halfway point of the season, what do we know?

We know that I suck at predicting Notre Dame games. When I think we are going to win big, we play uninspired and far underperform my bold predictions. But then, I also thought that the Michigan game would be very close. Who knew?

But, my prognostication shortcomings aside, we do have some hope going into the second half of the season.

On the injury front:

Ambrose Wooden, Tom Zbikowski, and Travis Thomas were all injured coming out of the first half of the season, and none of the three saw the field against Stanford. It is amazing how different a defense looks wothout their All-American safety and two other starters. On the bright side, all three should be ready to go coming out of the bye week when we welcome UCLA into Notre Dame Stadium to kick off the second half of the season.

Superstar recruit James Aldridge is finally 100% after knee surgery, and showed it with some impressive runs in garbage time against Stanford. While I don't think we need Aldridge to get into the starting rotation, I think that alternating him and Prince will provide them with valuable experience when Darius needs a breather. The fresher we can keep Darius, the better.

The Polls:

The Irish are back where they deserve to be with their record, ranked #8 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, and #9 in the AP poll, where we were leapfrogged by a deserving Tennessee team.

As I said before, the Irish whould be heavily favored in every game until USC, and there are plenty of pitfalls for the teams ahead of us. For those of you that want to know when the teams ahead of us are most likely to fall, here are the remaining slates of the top 10 (AP) teams:

1. Ohio State
at Michigan State - the Spartans appear to be collaping as usual, but have the talent to challenge the Buckeyes if they can regain some confidence
vs. Michigan - after surviving MSU, the Buckeyes get to feast on Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern before welcoming the Wolverines (who I think will knock off the Buckeyes).
2. Florida
at Auburn - the recently #2 (now 11th) Tigers are coming off of an embarassing loss to Arkansas, and will want some revenge. Also, the #2 slot hasn't been friendly thus far this year.
vs. Georgia - arguably the nation's toughest schedule, Florida gets no breather if they survive Auburn by welcoming an overrated but talented Georgia team to town the next week.
vs. South Carolina - Teh Ol' Ballcoach may have a thing or two up his sleeve for his former team. The Gamecocks will be ready.
at Florida State - FSU is down this year, and actually unranked, but they should be a much improved team by the time Florida comes calling. And rivalry games never go as planned.
SEC Championship game - could very well cost the Gators a shot at the Championship.
3. Southern Cal after a close call against Washington, suddenly nobody in the Pac-10 looks like a gimme. Except for Stanford, of course.
Arizona State - with their only losses to ranked teams, ASU won't roll over until the 3rd quarter
at Oregon State - Nobody wants to play in Corvallis. But SC will win.
vs. #18 Oregon - The Ducks couldn't handle Cal, but they did beat Oklahoma.
vs. #10 Cal - They got stomped by Tennessee in the opener, but are certainly capable of winning this game.
vs. #9 Notre Dame - Michigan proved this year at Notre Dame that every streak must come to an end. And the Irish will be the best-equipped team to end their losing streak against the Trojans in the Coliseum.
at UCLA - Playing UCLA after the Irish means that SC will have to try to regain their focus after what promises to be another epic battle.
4. Michigan Michigan must lose to either Iowa or Penn State (or preferably both) for us to get into the national championship.
at Penn State - Rumor has it that speedster Mario Manningham won't play, and the Nittany Lions are far better than we made them look.
vs. Iowa - Iowa lost a hard fought game to Ohio State, and would like nothing more than to beat the Wolverines to get that taste out of their mouth.
at Ohio State - This is really the only game left on the Buckeye's schedule that could be a loss. The Wolverines MUST win this game.
5. West Virginia
This team pisses me off. If Notre Dame played this schedule, they'd be undefeated at the end of the season, no question about it. This easy of a schedule just isn't fair to the Notre Dames, Floridas, and USCs of the world.
at #7 Louisville - their only real challenge on the schedule, the winner of this game will be odds-on favorites to go undefeated.
at Pittsburgh - Pitt doesn't have the horses to win here, unless they get the breaks that Michigan got against the Irish this year.
vs. #24 Rutgers - Rutgers' running game could keep them in this game, and they have an outside chance of playing the spoiler in the Big East's hope of getting into the championship game.
6. Texas Texas won't be ahead of Notre Dame at the end of the season if the Irish win at USC.
With Oklahoma in their rearview mirror, this team doesn't have many challenges remaining.
at #21 Nebraska - The Huskers are improving, and could hang with the Longhorns. I hope that freshman Colt McCoy chooses this game to make some freshman mistakes.
at Texas Tech - Tech doesn't have the talent that Texas does, but their pass-heavy scheme could keep them in this game far longer than they have any right to be.
Big 12 Championship - Watch out for old Mizzou or a Nebraska rematch.
7. Louisville
vs. West Virginia - Louisville must win this game. If they don't take out the Mountaineers, nobody will.
at Rutgers - Louisville, with Michael Bush out, could struggle against the Rutgers running attack
at Pittsburgh - Pitt has got to win a game it's not supposed to this year, and this is my pick.
8. Tennessee having just beaten Georgia, here's what Tennessee looks forward to:
vs. Alabama; at South Carolina; vs. LSU; at Arkansas - Tennessee doesn't survive this four week stretch. I'm not sure anybody would.
9. Notre Dame
Having already played the toughest part of their schedule, Notre Dame's only challenge should be USC. They get UCLA after the break, with an extra week to prepare, this team should dismantle the Bruins. After ND wins the President's Cup, and dismantles a pitiful North Carolina team, the Irish get to invade Troy.

So, as this all shakes out, the Irish have an outside shot at the championship game. They need Michigan to lose to either Penn State or Iowa, and then beat the Buckeyes. Alternately, they need the Big East to have no unbeatens at the end of the year. If either or both of these things happen, the Irish could play for the championship.

However, my feeling is that the Irish do not get their championship shot this year, and the bowls will shake out something like this:

Michigan takes on the Big East winner West Virginia in what appears to be the easiest Championship game in history for the Wolverines. West Virginia upsets overly conservative Llloyd Carr.

The Rose Bowl takes the loser of the OSU-Michigan game against the one-loss Trojans, passing on the Irish because nobody wants to see the ND-SC rematch.

The Irish fall to the Sugar Bowl because the Rose Bowl doesn't want a ND-USC rematch, and plays Florida. Coach Weis gets his chance to dismantle Urban Meyer's quirky offense and prove once and for all that he was the better choice for the Notre Dame coaching job.

The Fiesta Bowl gets Texas versus Tennessee.

The Orange Bowl gets Georgia Tech versus Boise State.


Now, I have to go get some sleep so I can finish my Accounting for Lawyers midterm. Yawn.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Showtime!

Now that Notre Dame has finally passed the brutal test that was the first 5 games of the schedule, the Irish can finally take the chance to feast on the weak part of their schedule, while the other top teams finally start to play people other than Cupcake U.

For example, the mighty Florida State Seminoles played unranked NC State last night, and lost a close game 24-20. Some other top teams finally get their first challenge this week as well. Florida-LSU. Oklahoma-Texas. California-Oregon. Tennessee-Georgia.

Even the top teams that aren't playing ranked teams are finally going against conference opponents that won't just roll over. Auburn plays a spunky Arkansas team. Georgia Tech takes on Maryland. Michigan takes on in-state rival Michigan State.

Now, the Irish just have to play their game, and wait for the teams ahead to fall like flies as they battle through their conference schedules.

Final Score:

Notre Dame 56
Stanford 6

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Week 5 breakdown

Notre Dame handled Purdue, although they looked a little sloppy ding it. We had no pass rush, and did a piss poor job of protecting Brady Quinn. Darius Walker looked good in the win, but we should have been chucking the ball down the field against this porous secondary. Brady threw only one deep pass all game long.

Now, I'm no Coach Weis, and he got the win, so I have to give him some credit. But if I was facing a team ranked 115th in the country against the pass after playing a I-AA school, two MAC schools, and Minnesota, I would have been salivating at the chance to let my Heisman trophy candidate chuck the ball all over the field.

This game should have been 56-21. But Weis played a ridiculously conservative game, getting a safe win rather than an impressive aerial display. While I'm not one for running the score up, the Michigan loss hurt us in the polls, and this was our last chance of the year to show that we are a top team against a quality opponent. There isn't much chance that we can get a big win against SC. We can, and should, beat Southern Cal. But we won't do so by multiple touchdowns. That game will probably come down to whose defense can slow the other team down more.

Which brings me to the real thing that is bugging me this week - the polls. I want to give a big shout-out to the AP poll for making their voters' votes public. This is a HUGE step in favor of fairness in the polls. But to see how anti-ND bias effects the human polls, one need look no further than the poll of Craig James, ND hater and ESPN/ABC "analyst":

1. Ohio State
2. Southern Cal
3. Auburn
4. West Virginia
5. Florida
6. Michigan
7. Louisville
8. LSU (4-1)
Lost to #3 Auburn, beat Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona, Tulane, Mississippi State
9. Texas (4-1)
Lost to #1 Ohio State, beat North Texas, Rice, Iowa State, Sam Houston State
10. Oregon
11. Tennessee (4-1)
Lost to #5 Florida, beat California, Air Force, Marshall, Memphis
12. Oklahoma (3-1)
Lost to #10 Oregon, beat UAB, Washington, Middle Tennessee
13. Georgia
14. California (4-1)
Lost to #11 Tennessee, beat Minnesota, Portland State, Arizona State, Oregon State
15. Clemson
16. Georgia Tech (4-1)
Lost to #18 Notre Dame, beat Samford, Troy, Virginia, Virginia Tech
17. Rutgers
18. Notre Dame (4-1)
Lost to #6 Michigan, beat #16 Georgia Tech, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan State
19. Nebraska
20. Missouri
21. Iowa
22. Boise State
23. Washington
24. Texas Tech
25. Wake Forest

Now, I understand that this is an opinion poll, but how is it that the only 1-loss team with a win over a currently ranked team, who lost to a top-10 team, is ranked behind a team that they beat, who has no wins over currently ranked opponents?

Also, Notre Dame is the only 1-loss team that has played a full slate of BCS conference teams. Is Notre Dame really the 7th best 1-loss team?

For more proof that Notre Dame is being screwed by biased pollsters, look at Steve Phillips' ballot for weeks 2-5 (thanks to poster Mark on BGS):
Week 2, after beating Georgia Tech: 2
Week 3, after losing to Michigan: 11 (so far so good, now it gets wonky...)
Week 4, after beating 3-0 Michigan State by 3: 16
Week 5, after beating 4-0 Purdue by 14: 19

Now, let's look at what happened the same week that ND beat MSU to Georgia on Philips' ballot. Georgia needed 14 4th quarter points to squeak out a 1-point win over the mighty 0-3 Buffaloes of Colorado (who lost to Div. I-AA Montana State in week 1, and hasn't yet won a game): moved from #8 to #10.

How does that work? Notre Dame barely beats undefeated Michigan State and drops 5 spots, then soundly beats an undefeated Purdue team and drops three more. Then Georgia barely beats winless Colorado, and only drops two spots, then doesn't drop at all after a near miss versus 1-4 Ole Miss? Are Colorado and Ole Miss really that much better than both Michigan State and Purdue?

This kind of bias is the kind of thing that could cost Notre Dame a shot at the National Championship. Hopefully, the increasing transparency of these polls will result in more reasonable voting patterns. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Notes from Campus

Before I get into tomorrow's game, let me take one last shot at the Michigan State game, courtesy of the boys at the House That Rock Built. Do yourself a favor, and listen to the following mp3 of a Michigan State radio host going into complete meltdown mode after last week's loss. He is so lost in his deluded belief that Michigan State lost that game that he completely loses sight of the fact that the Irish completely dominated the Spartans for that final quarter of the game, just like the Spartans dominated the 1st quarter of the game. This is quite possibly the funniest rant I've ever heard in the history of radio:
Enjoy.

Now, on to the Purdue game.

I've gotten my distaste of the Purdue, ahem, "mystique" in my previous post, and I can now focus on the X's and O's.

First of all, let me say that the Purdue offense is nearly as scary as the Michigan State offense that absolutely destroyed us in the first quarter last week. They have a lot of experienced talent on their ball club. Curtis Painter is no Drew Stanton, however, and that will ultimately be the demise of the Boilermakers in this game, as Purdue just won't be able to score enough points to keep up with the Irish.

Some of you may have noticed the gaudy 56 points I'm predicting for the Irish to put up against the Boilermakers, and thought I was crazy.

However, look at what the Purdue defense has done thus far:
Indiana State [I-AA]: 35 points
Miami (OH) [MAC]: 28 points
Ball State [MAC]: 28 points
Minnesota: [Big 10] 21 points

Now, it may seem at first glance that the Purdue defense is improving, and that holding Minnesota to 21 points was a good sign. However, the Purdue defense is really not that great. Minnesota's stats going into Purdue were inflated by blowout wins over Temple and Kent State. Minnesota was thouroughly dominated by Cal in their second game.

Indiana State put up 35 points against the Boilers. Yes, the vaunted Sycamores with their powerful offense that is so good that it ranks 30th in Div. I-AA. To put that into perspective, only Murray State has given up more points to the Sycamores, and their defense is ranked 108th in Div I-AA. let me say that again - 108th. In Division I-AA.

Now try something for me. Without looking, name a player on any one of those three offenses. I'll wait for you to rack your brain.

Couldn't come up with one either?

Now name a player on the Notre Dame offense. Or three. Or five.

Purdue hasn't seen this kind of firepower this year. Oh, and Notre Dame's vaunted 5-star running back recruit, ranked by many as the best incoming back in the nation last year (yes, better than Emmanuel Moody at USC), has finally been cleared to play. Now, I'm sure we won't see too much of James Aldridge, who is finally fully recovered from offseson knee surgery, but we may get a glimpse or two. And more importantly, having a talent like that healthy can light a fire under Darius, pushing him even harder than before.

And Brady Quinn finally appeared to find his rhythm last game.

MATCHUPS

Notre Dame Pass Offense v. Purdue Pass Defense:
ND rank: 16th (versus toughest schedule in NCAA) Purdue Rank: 115th (versus I-AA and MAC schools)
EDGE: Notre Dame - HUGE (why even run the ball?)

Notre Dame Rush Offense v. Purdue Rush Defense
Notre Dame rank: 108th Purdue rank: 59th
EDGE: Purdue (but why run the ball?)

Purdue Pass Offense v. Notre Dame Pass Defense
Purdue Rank: 7th Notre Dame rank: 50th
EDGE: Purdue, but not as big an edge as you might think - Purdue's BCS opponent's average pass defense rankings: 80th (including worst pass defense in Div. I-A), and ISU was 90th in I-AA.

Purdue Rushing Offense v. Notre Dame's Rush Defense
Purdue rank: 40th Notre Dame rank: 92nd
EDGE: Purdue, but again not as big an edge when you consider that Notre Dame has played the 5th, 23rd, 29th, and 31st rushing teams in the country, all higher than Purdue - we've been there, done that.

Notre Dame Offense v. Purdue Defense
Notre Dame: 348 ypg, 29 ppg Purdue: 410 ypga, 28.75 ppga

Purdue Offense v. Notre Dame Defense
Purdue: 461.50 ypg, 40.75 ypg Notre Dame: 342 ypga, 27.75 ppga

Once you factor in the quality of opponents, it becomes clear that Notre Dame will feast on the Purdue defense, and the Purdue offense, while they will get their points, has not played a defense as tough and quick as ND.

So, I stand by my previous prdeiction, where Brady throws for 7 touchdowns and the Irish roll: 56-34

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The (Purdue) Circus is coming to town!!!

In some weird, twisted way, the Purdue week is both the best and worst football week in my eyes.

My beautiful wife attended Purdue University, and as an educational institution, Purdue is very good. My wife got an excellent education, and her experiences as an undergrad are a big part of who she is today. I love her dearly, and that includes the fact that she bleeds black and gold.

All that said, I asbolutely completely totally and without reservation hate, detest, and otherwise abhor Purdue.

In the interests of full disclosure, I attended Indiana University for undergrad, and Notre Dame for law school, which means that I have a deep-seated hatred for Purdue by matriculation.

But I also hate Purdue for the culture that they espouse. As a Hoosier by choice, I take great pride in my state, and I feel like Purdue oozes the kind of tacky, cliched Midwestern silliness that people deride Hoosiers for. Baton twirlers. A ridiculous drum that claims to be the largest in the world, but isn't even close. The general carnival atmosphere surrounding the program. They just emit this aw shucks, look at us silly cowpokes kind of atmosphere that gives the state of Indiana a bad name.

And, if all that wasn't bad enough, they come out with something like this:



If the fact that the cheese-factor of creating comic book covers for every player on the team wasn't bad enough, the University decided to make one for the trumpets, too.

The fact of the matter is that Purdue is a carnival sideshow. I wouldn't be surprised to see the bearded lady and the dog-faced boy as co-mascots with Purdue Pete.

And the worst part of it is that the Purdue grads aren't up in arms.

If Notre Dame pulled some stunt like this, I'd be PISSED.

But, the school that has had more astronauts graduate from their prestigious engineering program doesn't ever seem to care. They embrace their comical image so completely that I seriously wonder sometimes whether they even realize that it is comical.

Every Purdue grad that I know is a great person, and they have a great school. Problem is, nobody realizes it because of the circus that is Purdue football.

As for this week's game, I expect a rehash of last year's game, where Notre Dame's offense comes out fast and builds a big lead, and then ND's second team trades scores with Purdue's first team until the clock runs out.

Notre Dame 56
Purdue 34

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Classless U Spartans



While Coach Weis was over singing the alma mater with his team before jogging into the locker room, Coach John "Loser" Smith was worried about Coach Weis being as classless as he is, sending out his players to "guard" the 50 yard line.

There have been several completely unsubstantiated rumors, completely without proof of any kind, that Notre Dame planted a flag at Michigan State a couple of years ago. However, I find these rumors difficult to believe, as it seems like post-game celebrations always get snapped by some photographer. There are lots of pictures (and video) of MSU planting the flag last year. And none of Notre Dame ever planting a flag at MSU. Even MSU's "guarding" got snapped by someone.

The fact that MSU thought that Coach Weis would stoop to their level is exactly why the Spartans lost this game.

They underestimated their opponent.

Let the Spin Begin

Last night's game was incredible, and an amazing testament to the talent of this team when they play like a team.

In the first half of yesterday's game, this didn't look like a team. Defenders were overpursuing and losing contain on Stanton because they weren't trusting their teammates to make a play. They weren't communicating. On offense, the offensive line wasn't working as a unit, and the receivers were running uninspired routes. Quinn looked like he was still thinking about the meltdown from last week, and was trying to play conservative to not lose the game. We spotted the Spartans 17 points before we got our feet back under us. Here we go again.

However, the Irish regained some composure and traded scores with the Spartans. They had their moments late in the first half where they looked like they could get back in it, but then somebody would make a stupid mistake and we'd be staring at the business end of a 3-score lead again. In fact, after the scuffle on the Notre Dame sideline, this team got pissed off, and looked like they were ready to take over this game. But then, Brady's DUMB DUMB DUMB interception pass that was returned for a touchdown deflated the team, and was the low water mark for this team in the Weis era. At that point, we were wondering out loud whether this team would even go to a bowl game, much less National Championship and Heisman aspirations.

While the Irish were looking lost, the Michigan State Spartans looked better than Michigan. In fact, if history didn't tell me that MSU will start their annual skid in the next couple of weeks, I'd say that this Michigan State team is better than Michigan, and the balance of weapons on this team make it very difficult to defend. If you focus on stopping the pass (as the Irish did - we completely shut Matt Trannon down), they will beat you on the run. And then, to defend the ru, you have to pick your poison. If you rely in speed to get to the ball, man-beast Jehuu Caulcrick will bowl you over. If you stack the box, speedster Javon Ringer will run around you. If you sell out against the run, Stanton beats you with the pass. If you manage to control the run while still maintaining pass defense, then Stanton will beat you on his feet as well. This offense is sick, and we were flat out getting beat in the first quarter. We made adjustments, and traded scores in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, but couldn't get back in it.

At halftime, Coach Weis laid down the gauntlet. He looked his team in the eye, told them that he'd call the plays to put them in a position to win, and that they had a responsibility as a team to step up and decide where they wanted their season to go. If they play as a team and execute, he;ll lead them to victory.

The Irish came out in the 2nd half a changed team. We started to move the ball better. However, the Spartans hadn't given up yet. They decided to sit on their 3-score lead, and started pounding us on the ground. By game's end, the Spartans had racked up an impressive 248 yards on the ground. But as we realized that John L. Smith had put in his "just don't lose" offense, the defense began to slow down this potent offense.

And then Brady finally remembered that there is a reason he was the preseason Heisman favorite. He put this team on his shoulders, and carried them back into this game, clawing, scratching and playing with a fire I haven't seen since the USC game last year. Brady did have the one pick early in the game, but once he got through the Michigan hangover, he threw for FIVE touchdowns. He threw for over 300 yards. This comeback is the type of performance that can single handedly vault a player back into the Heisman race.

The Irish defense did their part, too, dictating the game in the final quarter. They ripped the ball out of Stanton's hands to set up an Irish score, and a combination of pressure and aggressive pass defense forced an interception which Terraail Lambert returned for a touchdown. The pick wasn't a stupid mistake by Stanton (like Brady's pick in the first half was a stupid mistake for Brady), it was this defense forcing the issue. We DOMINATED the Spartans in the fourth quarter.

But then the anti-ND spin machine got its gear turning. Without level-headed Kirk Herbstreit in the studio (he provided color commentary for the ND game), Fowler, Corso, and Desmond Howard proceeded to completely deny the awesome display of tenacity and grit that the Irish showed in snatching victory from the claws of defeat. Desmond Howard, the Michigan homer, was quick to blame the win on Michigan State, calling them the only team in football that could lose that game. He said that Michigan State gift-wrapped the win for Notre Dame. In fact, while Corso and Fowler both initially agreed with Howard, eager to spin the Irish victory as a Michigan State loss, Howard's bias became so obvious and pervasive, that Fowler and Corso backtracked, not wanting to lose credibility as analysts. In all honesty, Howard was worse even than John Saunders in his blatant anti-ND agenda.

I was pissed, and I had to drive home, so I flipped on the radio to 1490 am, hoping to catch the Weis post-game presser. Instead, I had to suffer through some no-name hack who wouldn't even call the game a Notre Dame victory. It was the "Michigan State loss" and "Michigan State snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory" and "Michigan State made mistakes that handed the Irish the game." He even slipped once to call it an Irish victory, then quickly corrected himself, reframing it as a Spartan loss.

Now, I'm not sure what game they were watching, but the credit for the win yesterday is all on the Irish. They dictated the terms of the fourth quarter, quite literally ripping the victory out of the hands of the Spartans. And even more impressive, the Irish did it by throwing the ball in a torrential downpour.

If you turn off ESPN and just watch this game, this battle was as epic as last year's USC game (without the national title implications). Notre Dame didn't get lucky bounces and miracle plays (except perhaps the interception to ice the game with :30 left). They simply took the game in their hands and beat the Spartans.

And Coach Weis kept his promise to the team. Like I said last week, the honeymoon was over for Weis after last week's game, and he earned his paycheck last night. He not only called the plays needed to win the game, he managed the entire game situation. While we were watching the game, Weis didn't panic and spend timeouts to stop the clock while we were still down two scores with 5:00 left. He let the clock run, placing the onus on his defense to get the stop on 3rd and 5, saving the timeouts for the Spartan's last drive. The defense made the stop, and the Irish got the ball back, scoring quickly.

The go-ahead interception, which all of the haters want to use as evidence of the Michigan State meltdown, occured on third down deep in their own territory and also occurred with over 2 minutes left on the clock. With the way Brady Quinn was playing, did anyone doubt his ability to lead the game-winning drive with over two minutes left on the clock? If anyhting, the interception return kept the door open for the Spartans, allowing Drew Stanton the opportunity to come back and preserve the victory with a heroic 2-minute drive.

The other evidence of Michigan State's so-called meltdown is the final interception. That interception, however, wasn't even the first interception of that drive. If not for an admittedly legitimate incidental facemask by Vic Abiamiri, the game would have been over on the second play of that drive when Tom Zbikowski intercepted Stanton's pass. Also, the defense had bottled up the Michigan State receives and were in Stanton's face the entire drive. They forced Michigan State to dink and dunk their way down the field. In fact, Michigan State had to convert a fourth and 1 to even be in a position to throw the interception, and they were still 15 yards from field goal range with time running out when they threw the interception. Also, Abiamiri had Stanton in his grasp when Stanton threw the pass, and Stanton threw it into disguised double coverage. While the bounce was lucky, if you watch the replay, Wooden almost had the interception himself, and his tip is what allowed the pick. This wasn't Michigan State making dumb mistakes, this was Notre Dame dictating the game to the Spartans.

Make no mistake, this was Notre Dame winning, not Michigan State losing.