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 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).
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.
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.