1. The big news of last week was Dayne Crist winning the starting QB spot. Are you happy with the outcome and how comfortable are you with Crist as the starting quarterback for the 2011 season?
I'm extremely comfortable with the outcome. Dayne has the most playing experience, was a 5-star quarterback prospect out of high school, and by all accounts has the best leadership and grasp of the playbook. If not for the questions surrounding his recovery from the knee injury, this would be a no-brainer. Since he appears to have answered those questions, this is the right choice.
I expect Dayne Crist to embrace the opportunity, stay healthy all year, and etch his name among the great players to play quarterback at Notre Dame.
2. A lot of people say you see the biggest improvement between year 1 and 2 after a coaching change. What area do you hope to see the biggest improvement in 2011?
Consistency. Towards the end of the year in 2010, the offense started to consistently move the ball, and the defense was shutting people down. This team had its up and downs last year, and quite frankly has since the last time Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines. This season, beginning with this game, is an opportunity for Brian Kelly to defeat the ghost of Lou Holtz. By defeating not only another Holtz, but also the idea that Notre Dame will find a way to let you down in the end. If this team performs consistently, week-to-week, as well as they performed against Miami the last time they took the field - this team will be in the national title talk. Whether this team can find that consistency of intensity remains to be seen. If they do - watch out.
3. I think we've all covered this year's highly touted freshman class quite a bit this off-season already so instead, who do you see as this year's Corey Mays? Mays played primarly special teams for 3 seasons before a breakout season as a 5th year senior in 2005. Who on the Irish roster can pull off a similar performance this season?
Steve Filer. He's slotted in as the backup at outside linebacker behind Darius Fleming, tied with incoming freshman Ishaq Williams. That's some stiff competition. But what Steve Filer has at this point is nothing to lose. He's been leading the team in tackles on special teams for a while now. That's heart. He's giving everything at every opportunity. He may just surprise some people this year.
4. Theo Riddick is a player I've been touting all off-season and think the is ready to become a big name in college football. What player on Notre Dame's roster who hasn't yet broken out are you expecting to put up big numbers in 2011?
Dayne Crist. I know, I know. He's technically the incumbent starter. But he did not play his first year before backing up Jimmy Clausen as a sophomore. One knee injury later, and Crist had to rehab to become the heir apparent to JC. Another knee injury, and he had to rehab and retake his spot against an undefeated quarterback after his junior year. This just feels like the year that he puts it all together and avoids injury. And if he performs to his potential, he will put up Heisman-like numbers with his supporting cast.
5. Notre Dame plays a legit opponent in South Florida unlike a lot of teams around the country. How do you see this game playing out and does it help or hurt Notre Dame that they play a BCS conference opponent this weekend while Michigan plays Western Michigan?
I see Notre Dame winning this game comfortably in the 2nd half. The first half, Notre Dame will play well, but so will South Florida. The game will be close, with the Irish having a slight edge. In the second half, however, we will see the difference in talent between the two teams. They both are very well-coached, but the Irish simply have bigger guns. A couple of athletic plays by the Irish, and what was a close one gets away from the Bulls.
Assuming that's how this plays out, this helps the Irish immensely. The Irish have gone toe-to-toe with a fairly highly rated team picked by many to win a BCS conference. The Wolverines played a MAC team - halfway decent at best. The Irish will already be playing at full-game speed and intensity when they roll through the Skunkbears.
This is why I'd look out for the winner of the Oregon-LSU game. Coming out of that, their next 5 or 6 opponents are going to feel like child's play. I'd always prefer to test the team early and have them come out victorious than warm-up against a squad less talented than my scout team...
6. Stealing this one from my IBG pre-season questions from last year - who is the Notre Dame player the Irish can least afford to lose this season? For the sake of getting some different response, you can't use Michael Floyd or Manti Te'o here.
Cierre Wood. The depth at almost every other position means that losing our starter does not mean a drop-off in talent. This is no knock on Jonas Gray - I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Jonas as the feature back by season's end. But every team in the country these days runs two backs - you simply can't overwork your workhorse, or risk injury or fatigue at the most important part of the season - year's end. You need to have a legit #2. If we lose Cierre, that puts Jonas Gray on an island. The freshman will see some time, but you can't expect them to read the zone blitzes against a seasoned team like Southern Cal or Stanford. Cierre Wood needs to stay healthy for us this year, and deliver the kind of performance he's capable of.
7. Obligatory pre-season prediction question:
Notre Dame's final record (noting the losses): 13-0
Notre Dame's bowl game and opponent: Allstate BCS National Championship Game, New Orleans, LA vs. University of Alabama Crimson Tide
Final ranking for Notre Dame: #1
Best opposing offensive and defensive player ND will face in '11: Offense: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford Cardinal; Defense: Luke Kuechly, Backup College Eagles
Best opposing coach ND will face: Nick Saban, Alabama
Notre Dame game you won't miss for anything: The Championship, duh! Regular season: Southern Cal v. Notre Dame. I'll be hosting the IBG for this one! The stars are slowly aligning for this matchup to be epic...
Notre Dame game you could watch on DVR: Sacrilege! I'm going to re-read this question as "A catastrpohe on par with: (1) very close relative has just died and you must attend the funeral; (2) freak lightning strike puts you in the hospital; or (3) a tornado hits and takes you to Oz, where the game is only broadcast on Versus (not available in Munchkin Land); has somehow caused you to miss some small part of the game. As you were forced by God himself to miss part of a Notre Dame game, which game would you choose to have to miss even a single moment of:" at Wake Forest. If we are trembling about visiting BB&T Field (yes, I had to look that up) at this point in the season, we're in all kinds of trouble...
National Champion: Notre Dame
Heisman Trophy Winner: Michael Floyd
Word. Let's drink the Kool-Aid...