Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Official Domer Law 2010 Season Preview

**Yes, I am aware of the changes to the depth chart.  This is a fluid situation, and this post has been 2 weeks in the making.  Please accept the slight inaccuracies.**

So, the season is now upon us.  The team has finished up training camp and transitioned into game week mode for practices.  Most of the positional battles have shaken themselves out, and we are now on the verge of beginning the Kelly era in South Bend.

So, here is my annual 2010 Season Preview.  I'm going to break down the roster and the schedule, with predictions across the board.  Unlike my last post, I'm going to try to present a realistic view of our chances of success, but I do think that there is a very high ceiling for this team this year.

So, without further ado, please allow me to present your 2010 Notre Dame Fighting Irish!

Positional Breakdown

Head Coach

Brian Kelly,
1st year at Notre Dame, 21st year as a head coach, 25 years experience in coaching
Career record:  171-57-2 (.748 winning percentage)

Previous experience:
Grand Valley State, Assistant Coach, Head Coach, 17 seasons (13 as head coach)
Record: 118-35-2, 5 conference titles, 6 playoff appearances, 2 Div. II National Championships
Central Michigan University, Head Coach, 3 seasons

Record: 19-16, 1 MAC conference title, qualified for Motor City Bowl (Kelly did not coach bowl game)
University of Cincinnati, Head Coach, 3 seasons
Record: 34-6, 2 Big East conference titles, qualified for 2 BCS bowls (Orange and Sugar), 3-time Big East Coach of the Year (2007, 2008, 2009), ESPN / Home Depot National Coach of the Year (2009)

Coach Kelly comes to us with an impressive resume and a meteoric rise up through the coaching ranks from Grand Valley State.  For perspective, when we hired Coach Willingham, Coach Kelly had just lost his first appearance in the Div. II National Championship game.  Now, he's ascended to very pinnacle of the coaching profession, leading the University of Notre Dame.

For those that are concerned that Coach Kelly can't bring Notre Dame back to prominence, consider the fact that while at Cincinnati, he took a program that had never won 10 games in a season to back-to-back BCS bowls and an undefeated regular season in 2009.  That's an indication of how quickly he's learned to develop the talent of his players.  Indeed, the three year turnarounds he orchestrated at Central Michigan and Cincinnati coincides well with the 3-year championship mark set by every National Championship coach in Notre Dame's history.

Quarterback

Dayne Crist, RS Sophomore
3rd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter, consensus 5-star recruit out of high school
Career stats:  10-20, 130 yds., 1 TD, 1 INT; 5 rush, 16 yds., 0 TD
Backups:  Nate Montana (JR), Tommy Rees (FR), Andrew Hendrix (FR), Luke Massa (FR)

In his first year at the helm of the Irish offense, Dayne Crist comes in as the clear starter, taking over for Jimmy Clausen.  A highly touted prospect out of high school, Dayne is an imposing figure, at 6'4" 235 lbs.  He's got excellent athleticism, and a strong arm.  Really, he has the potential to be the perfect spread QB, if lacking top end speed.  Think Tim Tebow with more size and speed, better throwing mechanics, and nearly all of the intangibles (except perhaps the bravado).  The only question marks are his recovery from a torn ACL last season, his relative inexperience, and the difficulties in changing systems from a pro-style attack to the spread.  I expect him to be a little hesitant at the beginning of the year, and progress nicely as he settles into his new role - he will be one of the best QBs in the country by season's end, barring injury.

Running Back

Armando Allen, Senior
4th year at Notre Dame, 4th year as starter
Career stats:  33 games, 19 starts, 362 rushes for 1,630 yds (4.5 avg) 6 TD, 102 rec 695 yds (6.8 avg) 3 TD, 54 KR 1,247 yds (23.1 avg), 1 TD
Backups:  Cierre Wood (RS FR), Jonas Gray (JR), Robert Hughes (SR)

Armando Allen is returning for his 4th and final year of eligibility, and despite being entrenched as a starter, he has never shown the explosiveness that everyone has expected to see from him.  He does have one kickoff return TD to his credit, but he's never seemed to have the capability to get out in the open field and blow past people.  He is a solid option at running back, with good blocking skills, good all-around running skills, and if he ever learns the vision necessary to see his openings, very good speed.

I hope Armando develops into the breakaway back we've all been expecting him to be, but if he does not, we do have some other options in the backfield.  Cierre Wood, consensus 5-start running back talent that redshirted his freshman year last year, has moved up right behind Armando on the depth chart, and showed some serious skills in the Blue/Gold game.  If Armando can't start to find ways to make big gains from the line of scrimmage, Wood will snatch his starting position, and I doubt he'll ever give it back.

Robert Hughes will be a valuable change of pace as a more bruising (but surprisingly agile) back, probably turned to in short yardage situations.  And Jonas Gray has shown himself to be a solid all-around back, and will be given plenty of opportunities to make an impact as well.  In fact, we were so deep at the running back position that the coaching staff moved Theo Riddick to receiver so they could find opportunities to get him on the field more.

This unit should be the strength of the offense early in the season, and give defenses fits if they worry too much about the pass game.


Tight End

Kyle Rudolph, Junior
3rd year at Notre Dame, 3rd year as starter
Career stats:  23 games, 22 starts, 62 rec 704 yds (11.4 avg) 5 TD
Backups:  Tyler Eifert (SO), Mike Ragone (RS JR), Jake Golic (RS FR)

Kyle Rudolph may be the best player on the team.  A preseason All-American and arguably the odds-on favorite for the John Mackey Award, Rudolph has already shown himself to be the most complete tight end in the country.  With Coach Kelly talking about utilizing Kyle as a Wildcat, his freakish athleticism and size could find new avenues for productivity as well.  He creates some ridiculous matchup problems for opposing defenses, and I'm certain that he will be a lynchpin to this team's success, especially early in the season.  He will be lined up all over the field, as Kelly and Co. try to keep opposing defenses scrambling to cover him.

Of particular interest, however, is that while they have been resting Kyle during summer camp for a tweaked hammy, Coach Kelly had high praise for the 2nd tight end on the team, calling Tyler Eifert the best tight end he's ever coached.  Put that together with one of the best receiving corps in the country (more on that in a moment), and there should be plenty of weapons to keep this offense juiced.

Wide Receivers

Michael Floyd, Junior
3rd year at Notre Dame, 3rd year as starter
Career stats:  18 games, 17 starts, 92 rec 1,514 yds (16.5 avg) 16 TD

Duval Kamara, Senior
4th year at Notre Dame, 4th year as starter
Career stats:  36 games, 19 starts, 75 rec 781 yds (10.4 avg) 6 TD

Theo Riddick, Sophomore
2nd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
Career stats:  12 games, 0 starts, 29 rushes, 160 yds (5.5 avg) 6 rec, 43 yds (7.2 avg), 37 KR, 849 yds (22.9 avg)


Backups:  John Goodman (JR), T.J. Jones (FR), Shaquelle Evans (SO)

Arguably one of the best receiving corps in the nation, the tools are in place for the spread passing attack to be extremely prolific this year.  Michael Floyd is arguably the best receiver in the nation, competing with A.J. Green (Georgia), Julio Jones (Alabama), Jonathan Baldwin (Pitt) and Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech) for that honor.

Duval Kamara has his last opportunity to shine at receiver, after a full career as a backup to the Tate and Floyd show.  If he has developed as a more complete receiver this offseason, he will have plenty of ball thrown his way as teams try to find ways to contain Floyd and Rudolph.

Theo Riddick was moved to the receiving corps from the running back logjam, and the coaching staff is excited with what he can do in space with the ball in his hands.  He'll get a lot of running opportunities out of the slot as well on reverses and end-arounds.

What's really impressive here, however, is the insane depth we have at receiver.  Tai-ler Jones is going to be a special receiver, and will be given plenty of opportunities this year to stretch the field.  John Goodman has proven himself to be an excellent possession receiver with good speed, very reminiscent of Samardzija. And Shaquelle Evans is on the two-deep as well, and has almost been lost in the shuffle with the ridiculous amount of talent, but he's no slouch and is probably the fastest receiver we will put on the field.

Offensive Line

Zack Martin, Sophomore, Left Tackle, 
2nd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
0 games, 0 starts

Chris Stewart, Senior, Left Guard
4th year at Notre Dame, 4th year as starter
28 games, 22 starts

Dan Wenger, Senior, Center
2nd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
29 games, 19 starts

Trevor Robinson, Junior, Right Guard, 
3rd year at Notre Dame, 3rd year as starter
22 games, 14 starts

Taylor Dever, Senior, Right Tackle
4th year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
18 games, 0 starts

Backups:  Matt Romine (SR LT), Mike Golic, Jr. (JR LG), Braxston Cave (JR C), Chris Watt (SO RG), Andrew Nuss (SR RT)

This is an interesting lineup for the Irish offensive line, and their ability to produce will largely decide how the season goes for the Fighting Irish.

The biggest surprise is redshirt freshman Zack Martin winning the left tackle position battle handily.  While he is inexperienced, and that's never good for the guy responsible for guarding the QB's backside, the fact that this coaching staff named him early on to that position and has never wavered tells me that he has the skills to be extremely successful there.

Next to him is 5th year Senior Chris Stewart, who brings a ton of experience and intelligence with him - Stewart is the first ever Div. I football player to start while also enrolled in his first year of law school.  He's got the size and experience to be a standout, but as an alumnus of Notre Dame Law School, I am somewhat worried about his ability to keep up with the demands of both Law School and football.  If he can keep his head in the game, he will be invaluable to the inexperienced Zack Martin.

Dan Wenger is in a heated battle at the center position, but his consistency in shotgun snaps means that he will probably hold onto the position until Braxston Cave (a stronger blocker) can demonstrate that he won't throw the ball away in a crucial situation.  He also brings a ton of experience to the table.

Trevor Robinson is one of those guys that just comes to work every day and gets his job done.  He started on the O-line his freshman year, and has had a stranglehold on the right guard position ever since, and probably will until he graduates.  No worries here.

Bookending the line is Taylor Dever, who has been a bit of a project during his career here.  He redshirted his freshman year and appeared mostly on special teams and in a reserve role the next two years.  Now, he's finally gotten himself in a position to start, and hopefully the experience of Robinson right next to him will keep him from getting lost.  This is the potentially weakest link on the offensive line. 

Coach Kelly has said that he believes he has 10 guys on the offensive line that can play championship football, so if injuries or inconsistencies plague any of the starters, there are plenty of guys chomping at the bit for their shot.

Defensive Line

Ethan Johnson, Junior, Defensive End, 
2nd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
25 games, 15 starts
50 TT, 24 UT, 11.5 TFL (-60 yds), 7.5 sacks (-49 yds), 1 FF, 2 FR, 2 PBU

Ian Williams, Senior, Nose Guard
4th year at Notre Dame, 4th year as starter
25 games, 9 starts
39 TT, 18 UT, (per Rivals - UND has not update '09 stats for Ian)

Kapron Lewis-Moore, Junior, Defensive End
2nd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
12 games, 9 starts
46 TT, 26 UT, 7 TFL (-23 yds), 2.5 sacks (-12.5 yds), 1 FF, 1 FR

Backups:  Hafis Williams (JR DE), Sean Cwynar (JR NG), Emeka Nwankwo (SR DE), Louis Nix (FR NG)

The defensive line has long been a problem for the Fighting Irish, as team have repeatedly gouged us on the ground the last few years.  This year, we should be much stouter against the run.  Switching to a 3-4 alignment allows us to take advantage of our strength (the linebacking corps) while minimizing an area where we lack depth (D line).  That said, we are very well situated on our D-line, with Ian Williams manning the Nose Guard with size, improved strength, and a ton of playing experience.  Rushing the passer will be two very talented pass rushers, who will both likely have big years.  Ethan Johnson has a ton of experience and is the most complete defensive lineman we have right now, but Kapron Lewis-Moore is a freakish athlete who may be much more of a threat than Johnson as the season wears on.

Linebackers

Darius Fleming, Junior, Outside Linebacker, 
3rd year at Notre Dame, 3rd year as starter
24 games, 10 starts
53 TT, 33 UT, 14.5 TFL (-55 yds), 5.5 sacks (-39 yds), 1 FF

Anthony McDonald*, Junior, Inside Linebacker
3rd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
12 games, 0 starts
10 TT, 5 UT, 5 AT 

Manti Te'o, Sophomore, Inside Linebacker
2nd year at Notre Dame, 2nd year as starter
12 games, 10 starts
63 TT, 29 UT, 5.5 TFL (-25 yds), 1 sack (-12 yds), 1 PBU

Brian Smith**, Senior, Outside Linebacker
2nd year at Notre Dame, 1st year as starter
12 games, 9 starts
150 TT, 81 UT, 13.5 TFL (-75 yds), 5 sacks (-44 yds), 2 FF, 3 FR (35 yds), 2 PBU, 3 INT (35 yds)

Backups:  Kerry Neal (SR OLB), Steve Filer (JR OLB), Carlo Calabrese (SO ILB), Steve Paskorz (SR ILB)
* Anthony McDonald is injured for the opening game, and will likely only see backup duty - he is the probable long-term starter.
** Coach Kelly has talked about Steve Filer and most recently Kerry Neal as possibly supplanting Brian Smith, but I think that is more motivation than anything - Brian's experience and motor will keep him as the #1 guy long term, with Neal and Filer seeing plenty of time.

This unit is anchored by underclassman Manti Te'o, one of the most heralded recruits in Notre Dame history, who thus far has lived up to his billing.  He's an absolute beast, and his athleticism will definitely create problems for opposing defenses who want to run against him.

The veteran leader of the squad is Brian Smith, who it seems has been playing linebacker for 20 years now.  He's being pushed by the talent behind him, with both Kerry Neal and Steve Filer being mentioned by Coach Kelly as possibly passing Brian at the outside slot.

Darius Fleming is the pass rush specialist, who will certainly wreak some havoc in opposing backfields this year.

Joining Manti inside will be some combination of Anthony McDonald and Carlo Calabrese.  McDonald had the edge coming out of camp until he got sidelined by injury, so Calabrese will get the nod to start the season.

This is a very deep unit, however.  The competition at outside linebacker will be heated all season, and the while nobody will supplant Manti short of injury, there are several other players pushing for playing time inside as well.

Secondary

Darrin Walls, Senior, Cornerback, 
5th year at Notre Dame, 4th year as starter
32 games, 21 starts
99 TT, 45 UT, 3.5 TFL (-18 yds), 2 FF, 16 PBU, 2 INT (75 yds)

Gary Gray, Senior, Cornerback
4th year at Notre Dame, 2nd year as starter
20 games, 7 starts
43 TT, 32 UT, 3 PBU, 3 INT (95 yds) 

Harrison Smith, Senior, Safety, 
4th year at Notre Dame, 3rd year as starter
12 games, 10 starts
126 TT, 78 UT, 15 TFL (-51 yds), 3.5 sacks (-26 yds), 11 PBU

Jamoris Slaughter, Junior, Safety
3rd year at Notre Dame, 2nd year as starter
12 games, 1 start
14 TT, 12 UT

Backups:  Robert Blanton (JR CB), Lo Wood (FR CB), Dan McCarthy (JR S), Zeke Motta (SO S)

This unit worries me.  If they stay healthy, the front line players are very good.  Harrison Smith is back at his natural position with a staff that knows how to teach him to play, Jamoris Slaughter can bring the wood, and Walls and Gray have both shown the ability to be shut-down corners.  Robert Blanton coming in as the nickel back makes this an excellent starting unit, with Dan McCarthy to come in and give people a breather at times.

Problem is, we're about 1 or 2 injuries away from complete disaster.  There is almost no depth here, and if we lose a couple of starters, we're going to have some very green players back there who may get torched for a lot of yards.

So light a candle in the Grotto each week for this unit, that they can stay healthy and productive all season long.

*****

2010 Schedule
Now, a week-by-week breakdown of our opponents for 2010, with predictions for each game.

9/04/2010  vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue is, in my opinion, the perfect opponent to start the season against.  They should be a decent team this year, but the Irish have more talent and should win this game.  Last year, a poor defense allowed Purdue to keep it close, and a last second touchdown pass by Jimmy Clausen sealed the win.
This year, look for the Irish defense to be improved, and the Purdue offense may take a little while to get going under new quarterback Robert Mavre, a transfer from the University of Miami.  While the Irish offensive attack may also take some time to develop, Purdue's weak secondary should allow the Irish passing attack to gain some confidence early in the season.
The battle to watch here will be Purdue's defensive end, Ryan Kerrigan, doing battle with our new offensive tackle Zack Martin.  If Martin is as good as the Irish coaching staff thinks he is, and he can handle Kerrigan, that will bode very well for the season.  If Martin can't contain Kerrigan and we are forced to keep a back in to double team him, the Irish may struggle a bit.
Optimistic prediction: Notre Dame 49 Purdue 24 (W)
Notre Dame comes out of the gate guns blazing, torching Purdue's weak secondary en route to an impressive debut for Coach Kelly.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 24 Purdue 14 (W)
Notre Dame's offense is productive, but their inexperience rears its ugly head, shooting themselves in the foot on multiple occasions, allowing Purdue to keep it close.  But we do get some glimpses of what this team is capable of.
Pessimistic prediction: Notre Dame 14 Purdue 17 (L)
The Irish can't keep Dayne Crist upright and as a result Notre Dame loses the turnover battle. Purdue comes out looking like the team that beat Ohio State last year, and find a way to squeak out a victory.

9/11/2010 vs. Michigan Wolverines
The Michigan program is still struggling to find its feet under coach Rich Rodriguez.  There is a lot of team speed, and their offensive line should be much improved this season.  They have two dangerous QBs, Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier, that are still battling for the starting position.  Robinson is a speedster that can be deangreous running out of the backfield while a little inconsistent as a passer.  Tate Forcier is a much better passer, but isn't as dangerous running the football.
Michigan is still looking for receivers to step up their game and fuel this spread offense, and they are dangerously shallow at several positions.  Unfortunately, we get them early in the season before the lack of depth really starts to damage this team's potency.
Even Michigan fans don't really know what to expect here.  If Rich Rod goes 5-7 again, he'll surely be canned at the end of the season.  However, if he finds a way to win 8 or 9 games, then he'll develop some momentum to build this program long-term.
The key matchup to watch here will be Michigan's cornerback Troy Woolfolk versus Notre Dame's wide receiver Michael Floyd.  Indeed, I may go so far as to say whoever wins that battle wins the game.  Michigan will score some points, but they will also struggle to keep Notre Dame from scoring if they can't contain Floyd one-on-one with their senior cornerback.
Optimistic prediction: Notre Dame 35 Michigan 10 (W)
Notre Dame's offense, confident off the previous week's torching of Purdue, comes out with a lot of confidence and Michigan can't figure out how to cover both Floyd and Rudolph at the same time.  Meanwhile, Michigan still can't seem to find consistency at the quarterback position and disgruntled Michigan fans start to call for Rich Rodriguez's head.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 45 Michigan 35 (W)
I think that both teams score a lot of points, but ultimately the Irish advantage at the receiver position means that Michigan just can't keep pace.
Pessimistic prediction:  Notre Dame 14 Michigan 38 (L)
Notre Dame's offense continues to struggle finding its identity, while Michigan finally starts to get it under Rich Rod's system, as the defense doesn't have an answer for Michigan's team speed.

9/18/2010 at Michigan State Spartans
This is the first true toss-up game for me.  Although last year's Irish found a way to hold off Michigan State with a late game interception, we weren't the more physical team that day.  We need to establish our credibility as a tough team this week, and after playing two teams who we probably will beat through the air, we need to lean on our stable of running backs and our All-American tight end to beat the Spartans at their own game.
This series has been entertaining to watch the past several years.  The overtime loss in 2005 with the infamous flag planting. The monsoon comeback win in 2006 where MSU players guarded midfield after the game and John L. Smith slapped himself during his mental breakdown. Then two years of getting manhandled before finally winning a shootout last year. This year's game could be another classic in the series.
This game's matchup to watch isn't head-to-head, but is actually Michigan State middle linebacker Greg Jones versus Notre Dame's middle linebacker Manti Te'o.  Jones was last year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and is a pre-season consensus 1st team All-American.  While we will have some success through the air throwing to our receivers, we have struggled to match Michigan State's toughness the last few years.  With Kelly's theme this offseason being to re-establish the toughness of the Fighting Irish, I hope that we can use our depth at running back to pound at Jones and show the country that we'll go toe-to-toe with anyone.
Meanwhile, Manti Te'o has established himself, in only his sophomore year, as the leader of this defense.  He's as talented as they come, and now that he's lining up inside, he is in a position to make a name for himself as an All-American.  If he can match or exceed Jones' toughness inside this game, I expect the Irish to find a way to win.
Optimistic prediction: Noter Dame 38 Michigan State 24 (W)
Notre Dame rushes for nearly 200 yards and shows the country that they are a legit team this year.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 48 Michigan State 45 (2 OT) (W)
I think this will be one of the best games of the season.  Similar to the 2005 game in Coach Weis' first year, the Irish battle with the Spartans all day long, sending it into overtime and another classic close finish in this series.
Pessimistic prediction: Notre Dame 17 Michigan State 31 (L)
Notre Dame's offense can't find a solution for Greg Jones, and the Spartans pound the ball down our throats en route to an easy win over an Irish team still looking for its identity.

9/25/2010 vs. Stanford Cardinal
The Cardinal are a pretty solid football team this year, with an experienced offensive line and an up and coming quarterback in Andrew Luck.  They lost man-beast Toby Gerhart this offseason, and he left some pretty big shoes to fill.
The matchup to watch here will be the Cardinal secondary against the Notre Dame passing attack.  Even in my most pessimistic mind, I can't see Notre Dame's offense not hitting its stride at this point in the season against a defense that was near the bottom of the NCAA last year.
While the prognosticators are predicting a very good season for the Cardinal, I just don't see them finding a replacement for Gerhart, and I think they take a step backwards this year.
Optimistic prediction:  Notre Dame 52 Stanford 24 (W)
Notre Dame's offense absolutely torches an out manned defense and cruises to an easy victory.  Jim Harbaugh has a John L. Smithesque meltdown in the post-game press conference.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 35 Stanford 27 (W)
I think that Stanford will grind it out against us, but they lack the offensive firepower to score enough points to beat us.
Pessimistic prediction:  Notre Dame 24 Stanford 21 (W)
An 0-3 start lights a fire under this team, and the chance to light up a weak defense means that the offense starts to find some rhythm.  Stanford's grind it out style keeps it close, but Kelly finally gets his first win of the season.

10/02/2010 at Boston College Eagles
I hate BC, and I'm glad that this is the last game in the series for the indefinite future.  Boston College was a very good team last year, and they return their QB, almost all of their linemen, and the running back (Montel Harris) that had a breakout sophomore season last year.  They also add in Mark Herzlich to a solid linebacking corps, as he is returning after battling cancer.
That said, this BC team has a glaring weakness at receiver, and being one-dimensional is going to lead to some issues for them this year.  Notre Dame will stack the box, and bet on BC not being able to beat our corners.
Optimistic prediction: Notre Dame 28 Boston College 0 (W)
Bob Diaco's unit pitches their first shutout of the season, as Montel Harris is bottled up and Dave Schinskie gets sacked 6 times.  Notre Dame's offense continues to fire on all cylinders as Notre Dame enters the Top 10 with Gameday coming to town next week.
Realistic prediction:  Notre Dame 31 Boston College 19 (W)
The Irish continue to produce on offense, and Boston College continues to rely on Harris to shoulder the load.  Ultimately, though, the lack of a strong passing game seals BC's fate.
Pessimistic prediction: Notre Dame 24 Boston College 21 (W)
If Mark Herzlich is back in top form, the Irish offense may struggle against this talented linebacking corps.  But ultimately, even at their best, BC's offense scores maybe 3 TD.

10/09/2010 vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
This may be the game of the year for the Irish.  The Panthers could be undefeated at this point if they get past a tough Utah team in the opener.  They have a stud running back in Dion Lewis, and one of the nation's best receivers in Jonathan Baldwin.  They are pre-season top 15 and the sexy pick to win the Big East this year.  If the Irish play up to their potential, this could be a situation where Gameday is on campus, if LSU/Florida and Florida St./Miami have teams that underperform.
There are two match-ups to watch here.  First is the Heisman battle between Jonathan Baldwin and Michael Floyd.  Both players are great pro prospects that have sick highlight reels.  The Irish offense is much more pass oriented than Pitt's, however, so the Irish receiver will have more chances for a big game.
The second is a corollary to that, as both teams have a new quarterback.  If Notre Dame's running attack can match the production of Dion Lewis, Dayne Crist has a lot more weapons at his disposal than his counterpart Tino Sunseri.
Optimistic prediction: Notre Dame 34 Pittsburgh 31 (W)
The Irish win a big-time game on a big-time stage, moving them solidly into the middle of the national title talk.  The Notre Dame haters will say that the Irish haven't really played anyone and that Pitt was overrated.  But, they will be solidly in the top ten and moving up with a bullet as Kelly Fever starts to grip the nation.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 17 Pittsburgh 24 (L)
The Irish may have made a pretty good showing this far, rejuvenating the Irish fanbase and proving that Kelly is truly a magician at turning around programs, but ultimately the Panthers are too much, as we fall in a hard fought battle, proving that we belong, but aren't quite there yet.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 10 Pittsburgh 31 (L)
If we are struggling, this game might not be close, as Pitt has plenty of firepower to score points, and we may still be shooting ourselves in the foot as we try to develop in this offense. 


10/16/2010 vs. Western Michigan Broncos
Okay, so my biggest concern about this game is that it ends up marking the end of Notre Dame's sellout streak.  With the mess Kevin White left behind, and the sad state of the economy, Jack Swarbrick is hoping that by scheduling a regional school for their first game against the Irish, that they will travel well enough to salvage the sellout streak.  As far as the game itself goes, this should be an easy win for the Irish.
Optimistic prediction:  Notre Dame 42 Western Michigan 0 (W)
As the Irish have gained some serious street cred by beating Pitt, the Irish start to do something we haven't done in quite a while, demolish the weaker teams on the schedule.  We sub in the 2nd string in the 2nd half, up 35-0, but the Broncos still can't seem to do anything, as we complete the shutout.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 38 Western Michigan 10 (W)
Notre Dame starts out in a bit of a funk after the Pitt loss, but then finds their groove and pull away late to win easily.
Pessimistic prediction: Notre Dame 24 Western Michigan 14 (W)
The 2-4 record means that this team is still struggling with their confidence, and they play down to the opponent.  They win, but it's not pretty.

10/23/2010 at U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen
If there is one thing I have confidence in this year, it is that Brian Kelly will find a way to beat Navy.  Even if we struggle out of the gate, we should know what we're doing by this point in the season.  One tradition I expect Brian Kelly to reinstate at the University of Notre Dame is our annual beatdown of our good friends at the Naval Academy.  Here's win 1 in the beginning of another 40+ game winning streak.
The match-up to watch here is Manti Te'o versus All-American candidate quarterback Ricky Dobbs.  Against the triple option attack, Te'o's ability to read and react to Dobbs' decisions will decide the outcome of this game.  Ultimately, I believe Te'o has more athleticism than Dobbs, and he has the intelligence to make sound decisions, frustrating the Navy offense. Even Dobbs' athleticism isn't going to be enough for Navy to beat Notre Dame again.
Navy will slow the game down, limiting our points, but we do win this one.
Optimistic prediction: Notre Dame 42, Navy 0 (W)
The vaunted Navy run game is simply ineffective against the front 7 of Notre Dame, and despite only getting 7 positions, they are outmatched on defense, giving up a touchdown every time.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 24, Navy 10 (W)
Notre Dame can't score alot of points when it doesn't touch the ball as much, but Navy can't turn long drives into points, which ultimately spells their downfall.
Pessimistic prediction:  Notre Dame 17, Navy 14 (W)
The talented Dobbs does manage to keep the game close, but the Irish win with a last second field goal.

10/30/2010 vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
Yawn.  A Conference USA opponent?  Really?  I love going to Notre Dame football games, and if not for the fact that I fully expect to be able to pick up a ticket for $10, I would probably skip this one and watch it at home while I work on my Halloween costume.
As a program, the Golden Hurricanes are on the downslide of their apex as a football program.  They reached the top of their game with an 11-3 season in 2008, after which offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left for Auburn and a bunch of seniors graduated, leading to last year's 5-7 record.
While I don't really blame Swarbrick for scheduling this game - at the time, they were a top-tier C-USA team - hindsight is 20/20 and this is not an exciting matchup for the Irish fanbase.  Plus, we have nothing to gain, and everything to lose.
Of note, we may actually win the time of possession in this one, as Tulsa employs a no-huddle spread offense.  Thus, if our defense is shutting them down, we'll be on the field more on offense, despite the fact that we may score a ton of points against an overmatched defense.
Optimistic prediction: Notre Dame 63, Tulsa 0 (W)
Brian Kelly pulls the first string in the first half, and we're on our third string QB by the end of the 4th, and we're still scoring points running dive plays with running back Patrick Coughlin.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 52, Tulsa 24 (W)
Okay, so the pace of this game means that Tulsa will score some points with their high-powered offense, but not nearly enough to keep up with the highlight reel that is the Notre Dame offense.
Pessimistic prediction: Notre Dame 31, Tulsa 24 (W)
Despite being the better team on the field, this team is apathetic and busy looking ahead to Utah, and comes out flat.  Tulsa jumps out to an early lead, and then Coach Kelly kindly reminds them at halftime that WE'RE PLAYING F!#@$%(& TULSA!!!  Then we settle down and manage to eke out an ugly win.

11/13/2010 vs. Utah Utes
Unlike Tulsa, I can't believe anyone would actually complain about adding the Utes to our schedule.  Since 2003, when Urban Meyer took over the program, they've gone 10-2, 12-0, 7-5, 8-5, 9-4, 13-0, and 10-3 - with not one but TWO undefeated seasons capped by BCS bowl wins.  The most recent one being a convincing win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.  They've won 9 straight bowl games over the past 12 years. And while they may be in the Mountain West this year, they have made enough of a name of themselves that they've been invited to join the Pac-10.
You try and tell me this team isn't legit.
Optimistic prediction:  Notre Dame 31, Utah 30 (W)
An epic game which Notre Dame ekes out in epic fashion.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 24, Utah 34 (L)
Utah is just a little too much for us, as they circle this game on their schedule and play with a chip on their shoulder.
Pessimistic prediction: Notre Dame 17, Utah 42 (L)
Utah overwhelms an outmatched Notre Dame team that had gotten a little overconfident during their win streak, thinking they had solved their problems.

11/20/2010 vs. U.S. Military Academy Black Knights
This is a really nice game to add to the schedule, and if we are going to schedule so-called "winnable" games, this is how to do it.  A historic opponent in a 'historic' venue, highlighting the history and tradition of Notre Dame football in a huge television market.
The Black Knights will be completely outmatched in this game, but it will be a great celebration of the respect and tradition these two programs share.
Prediction:  We win.  Big.  I don't care how optimistic/pessimistic you are, this is an easy game for the Irish. (W)

11/27/2010 at Southern Cal Trojans
So, here we come to the end of the season, and depending on how the season unfolds, this could either be an epic game with national title implications, or a lackluster meeting between two mediocre teams.  Either way, this is the one game, more than any other, everyone at Notre Dame wants to win.  This rivalry has been one-sided for way too long, and it's time for Notre Dame to reassert their competitiveness in this game.
The match-up to watch here is actually Brian Kelly versus Lane Kiffin.  With Kiffin's questionable past, and Kelly's pristine record, this should become a classic good-versus-evil game for as long as the two coaches are at the respective schools.  The talent level is similar, and this will ultimately come down to coaching.  And, since it's the end of the season, both coaches will have had a chance to work out any kinks and get the team on the track they want them on.
Optimistic prediction:  Notre Dame 37, Southern Cal 21 (W)
Notre Dame comes out firing and never looks back.  Gameday is on campus, and all eyes are on this game as Notre Dame has one last opportunity against an unquestionably elite opponent to prove that this year's Fighting Irish are for real and deserve their shot at the national title.
Realistic prediction: Notre Dame 34, Southern Cal 31 (W)
These teams battled out a close-fought battle last year, where Jimmy Clausen had the opportunity to cement himself as a legend in the Irish history books with a last second come-from-behind victory over our hated rivals.  Alas, that game, and subsequently the rest of the season, fell just short.  This year, with the Irish squad improving steadily over the course of the season and the Trojans without much to play for due to their probation, the Irish finally exorcise this demon.
Pessimistic prediction: Notre Dame 31, Southern Cal 34 (L)
This team still hasn't learned how to win, and their final defeat of the season returns the Irish to yet another 6-6 season, with grumblings about whether or not the Irish will ever compete for a national title again.



Bowl Predictions
Now that we have a pessimistic prediction, a realistic prediction, and an optimistic prediction, here are my projected bowl match-ups for the Fighting Irish come season's end.

Pessimist view:

Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl
Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. East Carolina Pirates

Even the pessimist in me says this team is going bowling this year.  I just don't see the breaks going so poorly that we end up with another sub-.500 season.  There is too much talent on this team to falter that much.  That said, 6-6 is the basement for this team, which would probably place us in the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl.

Realist view:

Fiesta Bowl
Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. Texas Longhorns

After looking back through my predictions, I think that 10-2 (as I predicted) may be expecting a bit much.  But if that's what I feel after the game-by-game breakdown, I'm gonna stick with it. (Ultimately, I think 9-3 is a reasonable prediction for this team, given the question marks and depth issues)  Kelly's offense will be tough to stop once they hit their stride, and the defense should be able to hold together enough to keep us in almost every game.  At 9-3, I think we go to the Champs Sports Bowl and get the University of Miami.

Optimist view:

BCS National Championship Game
Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. Alabama Crimson Tide

I know, I know.  I'm a sycophantic fanboy optimist for even considering the idea of Notre Dame playing for all the marbles this year.  New system, new coach, new quarterback.  I hear ya. I do.

But, there are no games on the schedule that are out of reach for this team, and if everything breaks their way, it could happen.  Even the optimist in me says that if we make it this far, we lose the game.  I just don't think we're ready to beat the elite teams on the biggest stage quite yet.  I'm picturing something similar to what would have happened if we had managed to win against USC in 2005 - a BCS championship whupping like the one that Florida laid on Ohio State a couple years back.

But, should by some miracle we actually make it this far, you never know what the luck of the Irish could bring...

10 comments:

Keith Knudsen said...

I'm pretty sure that Jones is ahead of Duval on the depth chart.

Anonymous said...

Shaq's gone... Neal is starting... TJ is starting...

Was this written in July?

Anonymous said...

"The key matchup to watch here will be Michigan's cornerback Troy Woolfolk versus Notre Dame's wide receiver Michael Floyd. Indeed, I may go so far as to say whoever wins that battle wins the game."

I think we'll win that battle, especially since it's been all over the internet for over a week that Troy Woolfolk is gone with a foot injury.

Anonymous said...

Please do some homework before you spend this much time on a blog entry.

Anonymous said...

fail.

Anonymous said...

Among a number of other mistakes, Brian Smith isn't a starter and this is his 4th year

Anonymous said...

A few factuoid errors, but all-in-all, I agree with the realistic predictions. I think we have "a shot" (albeit long) at winning every game, but depth in the defensive line and secondary will most likely negate that from happening.

Wacko said...

You're right, Jones just passed Duval this week on the depth chart. And yes, Neal is starting. And Shaq transferred two days ago. But I didn't want to go back and change it, cause I've been swamped at work. This has been 2 weeks in the making, so I just accepted the inaccuracies on the shifting depth chart.

For the record, I still think Duval will ultimately see more time than Jones, as will Brian Smith over Kerry Neal. I believe that these are motivational ploys to get more out of these senior leaders.

And I didn't catch that Woolfolk was gone. That bodes very well for us.

Please understand that I'm a busy attorney and not a paid sportswriter. I do this in my spare time and I don't have time to go back and change everything to bring it up to the second.

If you want that, go read ESPN.

Anonymous said...

should have read the comments before I got all the way to the Michigan game... Off to ESPN...

P.S. If you can't take the criticism, don't write.

Anonymous said...

I know they're "only" a Conference USA team, but Tulsa is the Golden Hurricane, not the Golden Hurricanes. They've been the Golden Hurricane for roughly 90 years. We'd all be a little annoyed if someone referred to the Notre Dame Fighting Irishes.