After not even finishing last week's posting (I posted it only partially completed late Friday night from the bar on my friend's iPhone), I'm hoping to get this week's post done with plenty of time to spare.
1) Status check: How deflating was the loss to Michigan? I could argue that Crist's injury makes this loss both easier to swallow and even more maddening for Irish fans.
For the first time in years, I wasn't exactly heartbroken after the loss. Michigan has a ridiculous talent in Denard Robinson, and we played without our starting quarterback for half the game. And we still had a chance to win at the end.
In fact, this Irish time is almost exactly what I expected coming into the season - a very good football team with some depth issues, especially at quarterback. I said in the preseason that if we lose Crist, this season could get ugly, and everyone saw a glimpse of that on Saturday, as Michigan outscored us 21-0 with Crist out of the game.
But with Crist at the helm, we beat Michigan 28-7.
Injuries are part of the game, and I'm not trying to take anything away from Michigan's win - Denard Robinson did torch us for over 500 yards of offense. But I don't think there was anyone in the stands or watching at home that day that felt that Michigan was the better team when both are at full strength.
This season is playing out exactly as I expected, except for the injury to Dayne Crist which knocked him out for most of the first half.
2) How critical is this Saturday's game? Walk away 2-1 and the Irish can feel good about taking on a very able Stanford squad at home next weekend. Walk out of East Lansing with a loss..?
Every game is important in the college football season, but I said before the season that this game would be a barometer for the new regime. Michigan is not a great football team, and while they may have a good record this year behind Robinson, they are deficient in several other areas. Michigan State is a good football team, very solid across the board. Win against MSU, and that will bode well for the rest of the season.
Lose, especially in the wake of losing to Michigan, and suddenly you have a top 20 team coming to town that becomes a must-win game for a 1-2 football team. Suddenly what looked like a brilliant hire starts to look like another possible mistake, and the fanbase has to resign themselves to another sub-par campaign practically before it begins.
3) Why does the rivalry with Michigan State seem to get so little respect?
Simply because Notre Dame is everybody's rivalry. On just this year's schedule, the following teams consider this game a rivalry:
Purdue - played for Shillelagh Trophy
Michigan (no trophy, but considered a rivalry game)
Michigan State - played for Megaphone Trophy
Stanford - played for Legends Trophy
Boston College - "Holy War" played for Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl and Ireland Trophy
Navy - the longest uninterrupted intersectional series in college football
Southern Cal - played for Jeweled Shillelagh
Listen to Coach D'Antonio's press conference this week, and all he can talk about is how important this rivalry is to the school and the players. He talks about the history and the tradition and how playing Notre Dame legitimized MSU so they could get into the Big Ten. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Now, let me put together the list of schools that Notre Dame considers a rivalry game:
Funny how one of those lists is shorter than the other. You might be able to add Michigan, but that's more of a grudge match than a rivalry. Fact is, we don't really consider Michigan State a true rivalry. But they do. And that's why it doesn't get much respect.
4) It's hard to draw too many conclusions from victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic, but what do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?
I expect to see another classic Notre Dame - Michigan State matchup. I think that it will be a relatively close game for much of the game, but I do expect the Irish to pull away late. Of course, we get another injury to Dayne Crist, and all bets are off. But I'm hoping that will be our only injury scare of the season, and that we'll be at full strength the whole game.
Michigan State will come out trying to establish the run, but they don't have a weapon on par with Denard Robinson. Our defense should be able to contain their offense for the most part, although their grind-it-out style will score them some points.
On offense, we should be able to move the ball effectively. Greg Jones is a beast in the middle of the defense, so our running game may not be the most effective. But if we attack the perimiter, we should be able to score early an often.
5) Best case, worst case, most likely: The Irish's record after the first six games.
Best case: 5-1
We should be able to compete with everyone on the schedule, especially if we continue to improve and grow in our offensive and defensive systems.
Worst case: 1-5
Injuries and mistakes could kill us, and all 4 of the teams we face in the next four weeks are fully capable of beating us if we aren't ready.
Most likely: 4-2
I think that we can beat MSU and BC and split the games against Stanford and Pitt.
6) Let's leave Michael Floyd out of this for a second. What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?
Theo Riddick. Michael Floyd needs Theo to start catching balls and making plays so that the opposing defense has to respect his abilities. If they can roll the coverage to Floyd, and Riddick still only catches 2 balls a game, we're not going to become the explosive offense we are capable of becoming. If he can't get the job done, find someone who can. Next man in.