Thursday, November 29, 2012

And your 2012 winner of the Heisman Trophy is...

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The biggest reason that a pure defender has never won the Heisman trophy is simply that, as one player on an 11-person defense that the offense is trying to attack, there simply aren't enough highlight reel moments to catch the nation's attention to garner the highest award in college football.

I would argue that the Heisman Trophy, in this day of media hype and the lightning fast media cycle, has come to represent not the mission as laid out in the Heisman Trust, but has instead become an offensive MVP award - generally given to the most impressive offensive performer on one of the elite teams in college football.

The tragedy that touched our hearts put Manti Te'o on the Heisman map, and a 4 turnover performance against Michigan cemented him as a legitimate contender - a legitimate Heisman moment.

But as the best player on the best defense in the country, all subsequent teams have tried desperately to find a way to take him out of the game.  Despite this, he has continued to perform on a week-in, week-out basis.

The list of Heisman "frontrunners" this year has been comical.

Preseason, senior Matt Barkley was poised to win the Heisman trophy - the 5th year QB on the preseason #1 team in the country clearly had the inside lane.  A loss in week 3 to Stanford started a downward spiral for the Trojans, and effectively ended Barkley's Heisman hopes.

Luckily, Geno Smith burst onto the scene with video-game-like numbers at the beginning of the season.  But then he got crushed by Texas Tech 49-14, looking terrible in the process, and a new candidate needed to be found.

Enter Optimus Klein, the senior QB beast from Kansas State.  Impressive offensive numbers and an improving ranking put him into contention.  Kenjon Barner's performance for Oregon also got him into the mix as well.  Even A.J. McCarron was briefly mentioned before being laughed away.

Then down went 'Bama.  A punky little freshman with a catchy nickname - "Johnny Football" - Johnny Manziel stepped into a crowded race with an amazing Heisman moment in Tuscaloosa.  He benefits, however, from already having lost two home games in which he was largely ineffective.  In those two home losses, he scored no points in the second half against Florida, and threw a whopping THREE interceptions to choke away the game against LSU.  Had he been in the spotlight sooner, either of those losses would have knocked him down a few wrungs, and the two combined would have put him out altogether.

But, as they say, timing is everything.

Once the dust settled from a crazy week 12, where Kansas State got destroyed by Baylor and Stanford knocked off the fancy Oregon offense by grinding it out on defense, the Heisman race suddenly got very scary for Notre Dame haters.

All of the traditional options for the Heisman trophy were effectively gone.  Braxton Miller didn't show enough against a weak schedule on a bowl-ineligible team to get into the mix.  Klein is still impressive looking, but was non-competitive against Baylor.  And now they're left with Johnny Manziel as the only alternative.

Let's compare the two according to the Heisman's own standards:

Outstanding college football player? Both, check.

Performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity? Hmm...

Johnny Football was more like Johnny Fisticuffs this offseason, getting busted for a drunken brawl and charged with a pair of misdemeanors (including having not one, but two fake IDs).

Te'os faith and commitment to service are unimpeacheable. Lest you think that's all just media bias remember this - Te'o is up for (and arguably leading) the OTHER Heisman this year as well - the academic one called the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to the outstanding scholar-athlete in football.

Edge? Clearly, Te'o.

What else did they say about the Heisman? Oh, right.

"Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work."

Perseverence? There's a reason no freshman has ever won the Heisman Trophy. This is an award that is given to the greatest player in college football. If Johnny Football is really that good, he'll have three more chances to prove that he can withstand ALL of the trials of a college football season - not just being in the right place at the right time when the other offensive weapons choked away their shot. Is it inconceivable that a freshman could win it? No. But Manziel hasn't even showed he can hold together for a full season, much less a career.

Simply put, one upset of a really good Alabama team and some gaudy offensive numbers should not be enough to vault Johnny Football over the one player who has shown up, week in and week out, for his entire college career and took that game to another level this season. Te'o passed on the NFL money to come back to Notre Dame because his faith told him he wasn't finished yet.

Standing at #1 in the country and headed to the National Championship - built on the back of HIS defense - to me, this shouldn't even be an argument. How many times has Notre Dame's defense, and often Manti Te'o in particular, risen to the occasion against quality opponents?

Pick a "Heisman Moment":

Michigan State (the week two of his loved ones passed away):

Michigan (the day of his girlfriend's funeral):

Stanford (the goal-line stand that saved the season):

at Oklahoma (the game-clinching interception and posterized sack of Jones):

Southern Cal (two goal-line stands to secure a spot in the title game):

If the Heisman voters have any respect left for what has long been the most prestigious award in sports, they will give it to the one man who has earned it.

Manti Te'o.

Below are the particulars:

Heisman Memorial Trust Criteria:
"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work."

Inside Linebacker
University of Notre Dame (12-0) 
BCS: #1 AP: #1 Coaches: #1 
6' 2", 255 lbs.
Laie, HI • Punahou HS

Individual Statistics:

103 Total Tackles (leads team), 5.5 Tackles for loss, 7 interceptions (leads team, #2 FBS, #1 FBS by LB, T-#4 Notre Dame All-time, #1 Notre Dame All-time by LB), 2 fumbles recovered (leads team), 11 total passes defensed (leads team), 1.5 sacks

427 Total Tackles (#3 Notre Dame All-time), 34 Tackles for loss, 7 interceptions (#1 by LB Notre Dame All-time), 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recovered, 17 total passes defensed, 8.5 sacks

All-purpose yards: 28, Michigan, Sep 22, 2012
Interceptions: 2, Michigan, Sep 22, 2012
Long interception return: 28, Michigan, Sep 22, 2012
Tackles: 21, Stanford, Sep 25, 2010 (8-13)  #6 All-time at Notre Dame
Sacks: 2.0, at Purdue, Oct. 1, 2011 (2-0)
Tackles for loss: 3.0, at Purdue, Oct. 1, 2011 (3-0)
Fumbles forced: 1, vs Florida State, Dec 29, 2011 ; Michigan, Sep 11, 2010
Fumbles recovered: 1, vs Navy, Sep 01, 2012 ; at Michigan State, Sep 15, 2012
Pass breakups: 2, at Michigan State, Sep 15, 2012

Team Statistics (2012):

Scoring Defense: 10.33 points/game (2nd in FBS)
Total Defense:  287.25 yards/game (6th in FBS)
Rushing Defense: 1109 yds, 92.42 yds/gm (5th in FBS)
Passing Defense: 2338 yds, 194.83 yds/gm (22nd in FBS)

Red Zone Defense: 0.67 Opponent Red Zone Percentage (5th in FBS)
Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 2 (1st in FBS)
First Downs Defense: 16.08 FD/game (7th in FBS)
Third Down Defense: 34.55% 3rd down percentage (26th in FBS)
Fourth Down Defense: 31.25% 4th down percentage (T-12th in FBS)

Individual Awards and Achievements:


Finalist, Maxwell Award, College Player of the Year
Finalist, Chuck Bednarik Award presented by Cracker BarrelCollege Defensive Player of the Year
Finalist, Bronco Nagurski Trophy, Top NCAA Defensive Football Player
Finalist, The Collegiate Butkus AwardTop Collegiate Linebacker
Finalist, Rotary Lombardi AwardTop Collegiate Lineman
Finalist, The William V. Campbell Trophy, endowed by HealthSouthPremier Football Scholar-athlete
Semi-finalist, The Lott IMPACT Trophy, Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year
Winner, Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, Week Three (at Michigan State)
Winner, Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, Week Four (vs. Michigan)
Winner, Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, Week Eight (vs. Stanford)
 - Only 2nd player in history of Lott Award to win three times in one season (J.J. Watt, Wisconsin, 2010)

Consensus Preseason First Team All-American

Winner, Notre Dame's Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year
Finalist, The Collegiate Butkus Award, Top Collegiate Lineman
Semifinalist, Chuck Bednarik Award, College Defensive Player of the Year
Semifinalist, Rotary Liombardi Award, Top Collegiate Lineman
Quarterfinalist, Lott IMPACY Trophy, Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year
Consensus Second-Team All-American
Second Team, 2011 Walter Camp Football Foundation All-American Team
Second Team, 2011 All-American Team
Second Team, 2011 All-American Team
Second Team, 2011 Phil Steele All-American Team

Season Highlights:

Game 1: vs. Navy (Dublin, Ireland)

Te'o had 8 total tackles (4 solo) 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception in a 50-10 blowout win for the preseason NR/#24 Irish over unranked Navy in the opener.  

Game 2: vs. Purdue (Notre Dame, IN)

Te'o had 10 total tackles (2 solo), and 1 quarterback hurry in the home opener for the Irish, a 20-17 win over Purdue.

Game 3: at #10 Michigan State (East Lansing, MI)

Early this week, Te'o found out that his girlfriend and grandmother had both passed away within hours of each other.  Keeping a promise he made to his girlfriend, he stayed with his team throughout this tragedy.

Te'o had 12 total tackles (7 solo, 1 tackle for loss), a fumble recovery and 2 pass breakups in the first true road game against a top 10 team, a convincing and emotional 20-3 win for the Irish that garnered Te'o Defensive Player of the Week honors by both the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Lott IMPACT Trophy committee.

Game 4: vs. #18/#17 Michigan (Notre Dame, IN)

Te'o had 8 total tackles (3 solo, 1 tackle for loss), 2 interceptions and 2 quarterback hurries (both of which led to Denard Robinson interceptions) in a 13-7 win over #18/#17 Michigan at home.  This 4 turnover performance (which led to 10 of Notre Dame's 13 points) earned Te'o his second straight Lott IMPACT Defensive Player of the Week Award.

The win propelled the Irish into the AP top ten for the first time since 

Game 5: vs. Miami (FL) (Chicago, IL)

Te'o had 10 total tackles (8 solo) and a pass breakup in a 41-3 blowout of Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago.  

Game 6: vs. #17 Stanford (Notre Dame, IN)

College Gameday was on campus for this matchup in primetime between two ranked opponents.  Te'o had 11 total tackles (3 solo) and orchestrated a game-winning goal-line stand to beat #17 Stanford (currently ranked #8 in BCS) 17-13 in overtime.  The win pushes the Irish into the top 5 in the first set of BCS rankings announced this season.  

Game 7: vs. BYU (Notre Dame, IN)

Te'o had 10 total tackles (6 solo), a quarterback hurry and a key early interception in beating BYU 17-14 to remain perfect on the season.

Game 8: at #8 Oklahoma (Norman, OK)

Te'o had 11 total tackles (6 solo),, a big sack of Landry Jones and a game-clinching interception late in the game as the #5 Fighting Irish knock off #8 Oklahoma in Norman, the first time that Bob Stoops had lost twice at home in the same season.  

Game 9: vs. Pitt (Notre Dame, IN)

The defense struggled to contain a rushing attack for the first time all season, giving up their second (and final) rushing touchdown of the season to Ray Graham.  Te'o had 7 total tackles (3 solo, 1 tackle for loss) a pass breakup and split a sack with Stephon Tuitt late in the 4th quarter to help push the game into overtime.  

Game 10: at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)

Te'o had 5 total tackles (4 solo) and an interception in the 4th quarter as the Irish cruise past Boston College 20-6 to get to 10-0 for the first time since 1993.

Game 11: vs. Wake Forest (Notre Dame, IN)

Arguably his quietest game, Te'o had 6 total tackles (3 solo) as he led the defense to their first and only shutout of the season, a 38-0 drubbing of the overmatched Demon Deacons.  

Game 12: at Southern Cal (Los Angeles, CA)

Te'o closed out his Heisman bid in typical fashion, tallying 5 total tackles (3 solo), an interception early in the third quarter that set the tone for the second half and leading not one, but TWO goal line stands in the 4th quarter under the lights in the Coliseum. Te'o and the defense overcame an anemic red zone offense and sent Notre Dame to their first BCS National Championship game.  


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Manti Te'o: A True Notre Dame Man

I have been a Notre Dame fan my entire life.  I have attended the University, and have my own stories about how the Notre Dame family can impact your life.  There are countless amazing people that have come and gone through the University and the football program.

Other than Father Hesburgh, there is one person who I feel has embodied the Notre Dame spirit more than any other.  And he is still enrolled in classes.

Manti Te'o is the unlikeliest of heroes for Notre Dame.  Te'o is a devout Mormon from Laie, Hawaii who attended Punahao school in Manoa, Honolulu and a lifelong USC fan. Notre Dame had no business being in his final four along with BYU, USC and UCLA at the end of his recruitment.  His campus visit came during the most embarassing loss in Notre Dame history against Syracuse in the bitter cold and snow.

But as he prepared to don a USC cap to finish his recruitment, Te'o decided to say a little prayer that morning.  And that prayer changed everything for not only Manti Te'o, but arguably for the entire trajectory of the University of Notre Dame and college football itself.

Te'o came to Notre Dame and met expectations, despite being the #1 overall defensive prospect and #2 overall player according to many recruiting services.  He was a freshman All-American under Weis his first year before the embattled coach was finally let go.

But Te'o didn't let that derail his career at Notre Dame.  It would have been easy to jump ship, complete his Mormon mission, then head to USC, and finish out his career.  But he held course with the hiring of new coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, decided to delay his mission, and returned to campus.  He led the team in tackles and finished as a second-team All-American by CNNSI his sophomore year.

As a junior, he continued to impress, again leading in tackles and finishing the season a near-consensus second team All-American and the FBS Independent Defensive Player of the Year.

Entering his senior season, he was a pre-season favorite to do more of the same for his senior season, possibly contending for the yearly positional and defensive awards like Butkus, Nagurski, etc.  But his team's schedule was too daunting to expect anything more than MAYBE a BCS bowl for his senior season.

But this is why I believe he embodies the Notre Dame Spirit.

Organizations of all types tend to take on the characteristics of their leaders.  Te'o was the unquestioned leader of this defense, and they took on his personality.  Selflessness, discipline, dedication, work ethic, faith, passion and quiet confidence in ability.  And this defense embraced their leader heading into battle.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to another typical Notre Dame season.  The team's leader was beset by not one, but two heart-wrenching tragedies only hours apart.

The resultant media hype that catapulted Te'o into the Heisman watch has subsided somewhat in the media as the ESPN media machine sought out more exciting offensive players to hype.  First Geno Smith, then Colin Klein, then Kenjon Barner, then Johnny Manziel.  And all the while, Te'o has kept the faith.

And lest you believe all of the ESPN talking heads, Te'o appears to be heading for at least one first-place vote for the Heisman Trophy - the Nissan fan vote.  Te'o (last I checked) has accounted for nearly 30% of all votes cast.
And now the Irish program is sitting on the cusp of history.  Te'o has impressed so much, even despite the well-publicized adversity facing him personally off the field, and plenty of adversity on the field as well - needing a goal-line stand against Stanford and some luck of the Irish in triple overtime versus Pitt. But despite the odds, he has led this team to perfection through 10 games.  And, quietly, Te'o still lives his faith on a day-to-day basis.  A story on FOX Sports tells of how Te'o reached out to a family in the midst of their own grief to share with them his faith and support them as he struggled with his own pain and suffering.  And no, that was not some trumped up media hype dying cancer kid story by ND's media machine - Te'o told nobody about it, and it was a friend of the family that tipped the writer, not ND or Te'o.

This interview was released today, and I couldn't help but be struck by how articulate, humble and genuine Te'o is.  His character and maturity are incredible, and he has become an excellent spokesperson for the University of Notre Dame.

And as we prepare for the final home game in Notre Dame Stadium for this magical season, it is also Senior Day for Manti Te'o.  Considering how much this young man has meant for this team, this season, this University and the many thousands of people he has touched by his daily actions living his faith, this will be an emotional moment for Notre Dame Nation.  I know I won't be the only person in the stands choking back emotion as he leaves Notre Dame Stadium for the final time.

I am proud to call Manti Te'o a true Notre Dame Man.  Thank you, Manti, for all of your hard work and sacrifice for Notre Dame.  It will never be forgotten.


"If I am on God's team, then I can't be beat."

-Manti Te'o

Thursday, November 01, 2012

We're Back!

Bless me faithful reader, for I have sinned.  It has been over a year since my last posting.  I have to confess that I have been a fair-weather blogger, allowing my career and social life to get in the way. More importantly, I had lost the desire to blog anymore.  I was frustrated by yet another team that appeared to be talented, but making critical mental mistakes that were costing us football games.  I had tired of writing, week-in, week-out, about the Irish once again clutching defeat from the jaws of victory.

But this was a deeper malaise that I had stumbled upon.  A waning of my passion about Notre Dame football was a symptom of a deeper, more personal issue.  I eventually realized that I, like the team I care so much about, had forgotten how to believe.  I was going through the motions, doing all the right things, but the passion was gone.

I have been a Notre Dame fan since long before I was born.  It's in my blood.  I grew up an Irish fan, and I still vividly recall the jubilation as a 9-year-old child when my childhood heroes - Tony Rice, Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, Michael Stonebreaker and Chris Zorich - led the upstart Irish to a National Championship.  I rode high on the glory years of Coach Holtz.  Even my father's death in 1992, just days after he watched the Irish beat Penn State in the game now affectionately known as the Snow Bowl, only fueled my passion for the Blue and Gold.

I felt personally responsible for the loss to Boston College in 1993 as a freshman in high school, when the "friend" I had taken to the game with my extra ticket strong-armed me into leaving the stadium just before the dirty Jesuits from Boston ruined our perfect season.

I suffered through the jubilation and subsequent dejection of the 2005 USC game from the student section with my brother when I was in law school - getting kicked off the field only to watch the Trojans push over my dreams.

I lived and died with each and every snap.  Losses ruined my week.   But over time, I had become increasingly jaded when it came to my Irish.  By the time Kelly was hired, my passion for Notre Dame was on life support.  I truly felt like Charlie Brown every time Lucy held the ball for him to kick.

I had conjured up belief in the Return to Glory too many times.  Notre Dame had become The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  It came to a head last year.  Off the field, all of the negativity surrounding the Declan Sullivan tragedy and the handling of the Lizzy Seeberg case shook my faith.  On the field, the last-second loss to Michigan had knocked me to the mat, and another all-too-familiar loss to USC last year was the knockout blow.

So I broke up with the Irish football team.  I had been hurt to much.  Of course we would stay friends - they are far too large a part of my life not to be.  And I have a very expensive piece of paper from there that I'm still paying for.  But I just couldn't let myself believe in them anymore.  It just hurts too much.

Thus, I entered this season with a more subdued approach. I was going to tailgate, attend the games, and then go about my business.  The days of living and dying with the fortunes of Notre Dame football were behind me.  I decided against the long-planned trip to Dublin to open the season.  I was just going to approach Notre Dame games in the same way I do any other diversion - concert, film, baseball game, whatever.

I was of course happy to see Notre Dame stomp on Navy.  But a close game against Purdue simply justified my new approach.  Don't get too involved, I kept telling myself - they will only break your heart.  A big win over Michigan State (then ranked #10) was a great achievement, but I had been through big wins before.  They are usually followed not too long after by a soul-crushing loss.  And Michigan was coming to town.  Surely we would find a way to lose to the much-hyped Skunkbears. Again.  And probably in epic last minute fashion, right?

But the Irish held on for a victory and woke up some echoes inside of me.  The ugly win was cathartic - nothing tastes as bad as losing to the scum from Ann Arbor.  But even though I flirted with belief, I kept my distance.  13-6?  Yeah, the defense certainly looked like it might be pretty good.  But the offense?

Despite not having planned ahead, I stumbled into an opportunity to go to the Miami game.  An improving ground game against a weak Miami defense rolled to a win.  Winning still felt good, but I wasn't ready to commit.

Stanford came to town.  This was the moment I had been waiting for - the moment where the Irish would surely disappoint me again.  This was a very good team coming to town, and I was certain that we would create some overly dramatic ending but fall short and talk about "what if." But it was the Cardinal that left the game asking "what if."  The goal line stand reminded me of that Snow Bowl in 1992 - but I dared not believe we could be even close to as good as those teams were under Holtz.  However, we certainly shook down some thunder.

At the end of the game, I let myself get caught up in the moment and danced in the rain as I flirted with belief.

Been here before, though.  I settled back down and remembered that we still had the two best teams on the schedule, and we were only going to get as far as Norman before we settled back into a surprisingly good, but typically Notre Dame-esque undeserved BCS bowl season - doomed to end in an embarassing loss.  

I knew we would lose when we looked positively pedestrian against the mighty Cougars of BYU - an unranked opponent in our own house.  Also, it appeared we may have a full-blown quarterback controversy threatening to derail the season.

So I had already made my peace with losing to the Sooners.  Outwardly, I played the role of the always optimistic Notre Dame fan.  But inside I knew better than to really believe.  I mean, the Sooners are a perpetual BCS team, an elite program with an elite coach that had recruited elite players and have proven themselves time and time again.  And they DON'T lose at home.  Indeed, they had already coughed one up to K-State at home - Stoops had never lost at home twice in one season.

I made plans to stay at a friend's house out in the boonies to watch the game, knowing that I wouldn't disturb the neighbors with my off-color commentary shouted at the failures on the field, and I would have a safe place to drink away my sorrows after the game.No crazy last-second road trip to Norman for me - I was going to take my beating in private.

And then they kicked off in Norman.  At first, as Landry Jones started chucking the ball all over the field, I felt justified in not getting too emotionally attached to this team.  But then we stiffened and forced a punt. The offense was lackluster and went 3 and out.  Again, Landry started taking apart the secondary, marching 71 yards before holding them to a field goal.

Wait, what?  Did you just see that?  Cierre Wood just burst through for a 62 yard touchdown!

I'd been watching the Irish all year, and every game sort of played out the same.  So when we firmed up in the 2nd quarter, trading field goals, something started to feel right.  Notre Dame was playing THEIR game. They were controlling the game, not trying to "keep up" with the Sooners.

In the third quarter, Oklahoma barely got on the field.  The Irish had started pounding the Sooners inside, missing a field goal and scoring a field goal, holding the ball for nearly 2/3 of the quarter.

But these were the Sooners.  And they had a touchdown pulled off the board once already this game. They confidently came back and scored a touchdown to tie the game at 13.

In past seasons, this would have been the turning point of the game.  The Irish had used a ball-control offense to keep the Sooner scoring down, but the Sooners were weathering the storm, and now simply needed to escape with a win. So the Irish offense would sputter, the Sooners would pad with a couple late scores, and Notre Dame football could be put right back where they belonged with the rest of the also-rans.  I'd read this script before.

But then something shifted.  The offense that had been so conservative all year with the redshirt freshman quarterback at the helm woke up.  I had never seen a prettier pass in my life as Golson - not Landry - had the offensive highlight of the game, dropping a 50-yard bomb gently into the hands of freshman Chris Brown.  A few plays later, and Golson punched in a rushing touchdown.

Wow.  But this game isn't over.  I mean, the Sooners had just woken up their vaunted offense.  It wouldn't take them long to respond with a touchdown of their own, right?

Perhaps, but then something magical happened.  A moment for the ages.

Brent Musberger called it a Heisman moment for Manti Te'o.  But that understated it immensely.  Certainly, the Heisman voters are going to seriously consider the senior linebacker for the award, and he's already all but locked up an invitation to the Downtown Athletic Club. But this moment was so much more than an individual moment.  Against all odds, Te'o had appeared out of nowhere and snatched the football up just before hitting the ground.  And with it, he had snatched the Notre Dame football program from the dump heap of history.

And as I leaped from my seat screaming at the top of my lungs in jubilation, something else happened:

I fell in love with Notre Dame football all over again.  Belief burst forth in my soul, and I knew this was a true Notre Dame team.  

I was instantly transported back to 1988, and reminded of the moment when Pat Terrell batted down the final pass and it started to sink in.  I recalled the final moment of Notre Dame football my father enjoyed, when Reggie Brooks snagged the two point conversion in the Snow Bowl.  I remembered the feel of rushing the field after beating USC in 2005.  It came rushing back and all was forgiven once again.

What tho' the odds be great or small, old Notre Dame will win over all.

Return to Glory.  Relevant. Championship caliber.  BCS quality. Call it what you will, but whatever "it" is we've got it.

The season isn't over.  We have three games to focus on before traveling to the Coliseum for an end-of-year battle for what could be a spot in the National Title game.  Heck, we theoretically could win out and still not make the championship game.  We could lose to anyone remaining on our schedule if we lose focus.  But it would take a phenomenal effort on their part to beat us.

This team is GOOD.

More importantly, old wounds are being healed.  The Notre Dame faithful, tested by it's longest stretch of mediocrity in history, can now rest easy knowing that we truly are Notre Dame again.  This isn't smoke and mirrors, like the 2000-2001 Davie weak schedule team, the 2002-2003 Willingham winning without an offense team and the 2005 Weis winning without a defense team.  This is a team that imposes its will upon opponents, and muscles their way to victory by simply beating their opponents into submission. Strong running game, excellent defense, and occasional explosiveness vertically down the field in the passing game.

The Echoes have been woken.  The Thunder has been shaken down.  Her Loyal Sons are marching onward.

Anybody else want a showdown with Alabama in Miami for the crystal football?


So now the blog is back.  With it, I will be joining a sports podcast called SportsBeards as well on the newly created coming very soon. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Irish Blogger Gathering: BEAT SC Edition

I've been on a hiatus from blogging for the past few weeks, as I've been focusing on my practice.  However, as I have the hosting duties for the USC Irish Blogger Gathering, I've managed to muster up the time to put a little something together for you guys.  Maybe a "little" something is misleading, as my fellow bloggers seemed daunted by the task laid before them.  But it's SC week.  You gotta give a little extra.

1.  I'm taking an old friend of mine to the USC game.  They were born and raised in South Bend near Notre Dame, and developed a dislike for the University at a young age from dealing with the frustrations and messes that come from Notre Dame home football weekends.  She's never been to a Notre Dame game before (she's an Ohio State fan).  We're going to go tailgate and do all the usual tailgating stuff.  Any suggestions on what I could do to help her let go of her animosity towards Notre Dame?

Since I'm the one hosting the IBG this week, I'm going to hold off on answering this one myself, and see what my fellow bloggers have to say on the subject.  I'll repost my favorite answers here.

Keith at NBC Sports: You’re not in the business of converting somebody. Leave that to Brian Kelly. Let the game and environment speak for itself. If she doesn’t like Notre Dame any better after Saturday, save your next USC ticket for someone else next time!

Matt at We Never Graduate: I hate to be the one who breaks this to you, but she’s a Buckeye fan. She’s not salvageable.

Steve at Gameday 40: Now as to your friend, since its a night game you should have plenty of time on your hands to see all the sights and you might be able to charm her with a few of our traditions... Most non-domers I’ve given the tour to really are impressed by the tradition and remark how it really is different than most other college-football environments.  (Steve, your objections have been noted.  And overruled.)

Subway Domer: Haters gonna hate.

Frank at UHND: Walk around campus on Thursday or Friday and hit up all of the sites before a lot of people arrive on campus.  Go to the Grotto and light a candle.   Listen to the trumpets in the Dome on Friday.  Rub Rock’s nose. Go to the Midnight Drummer’s Circle on Friday night.  Ever since I stopped attending pep rallies, I’ve gone to the drummer’s circle instead and I still love it. On gameday, make sure to tailgate early so you have time to hit up the player’s walk to the stadium and the band’s concert.  Lastly, make sure to make at least one trip to the Backer during the weekend.

2.  On a related note, do you have any suggestions for improving the Notre Dame game weekend experience generally?  Are there traditions lost that you'd like to see restored, or new ideas that you'd like to see implemented to improve the gameday experience?

There is nothing on earth quite like a Notre Dame football weekend in my eyes.  Everything about it, from the tailgating, the walk, the concert on the steps, step-off and the traditions that come with the game itself are amazing.  The only thing I would change is to try and work with the ushers to foster a more fervent crowd.  I've actually been asked to calm down by an usher for simply cheering for my team.  I wasn't being disrespectful or rude, just really loud and passionate about the game on the field.  I'd like to see the stadium expand and offer some luxury suites where the old fogeys could go sit and enjoy the game and get out of the good seats where we need louder younger fans who aren't afraid to get up and yell with the Irish.

I also think that they need to change the pep rallys.  Put it back in the Stepan Center, with student-only admittance.  Put up a big screen and some speakers on the Irish Green for everyone that wants to hear the speeches.  But the purpose of a pep rally is to fire up the team - not to put on a song-and-dance for the fans visiting town.

3.  (a) USC is (and always will be) our biggest rival.  Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  And if you agree, why do you feel that this is such an important rivalry? (b) Rank your top 10 college football rivalries and provide justifications for each. 

USC is our biggest rival, and one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football.  I think it is such an important rivalry because these two teams, throughout history, have had something to say about each year's national title and Heisman Trophy.  Here are my top 10:

1.  Army/Navy
No game inspires more fervency than this one.  Relevant?  Not so much.  But there is no better tradition anywhere in sport than when these two teams face off.  It's not just football - it's patriotism.

2.  Michigan/Ohio State  "The Game"
Surprisingly, I rank this ahead of the Notre Dame / USC rivalry.  It's always played at the end of the season in two of the best stadiums in the country.  It often has an impact on the national title, and there is a special kind of hatred between the two teams.

3.  Notre Dame/USC
There is so much that makes this rivalry great.  There is a great mutual respect between the schools, but also plenty of hate when it comes to the football programs.  Notre Dame represents the midwest blue collar conservative persona, and Southern Cal is the glitz and glamour of Hollywood with all of it's excesses.  They're 2,000 miles apart.  It's spanned most of the history of the sport.  And there is no other rivalry that has had such a huge impact on the National Title and Heisman Trophy over the years.

4. Oklahoma/Texas "Red River Rivalry"
This one is awesome because it's always played at the neutral Cotton Bowl midway between the two schools, and the stadium is split down the midddle between Crimson and Burnt Orange.  Two historically powerful programs that often have national title implications on the line.

5. Alabama/Auburn "The Iron Bowl"
An in-state rivalry that inspires some of the most intense hatred of any of the rivalries.  Alabama in many ways is the crown jewel of the SEC, and this is their most hated rival.  And Auburn isn't exactly a pushover, either.

6. Florida/Georgia fka "Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party"
A rivalry that (until recently) touted the tailgating as the primary focus of the rivalry gets big-time bonus points.  Two powerful SEC schools that inspire some intense feelings, and two great stadiums.

7. Lafayette/LeHigh "The Rivalry"
This one's called the rivalry because no matter what division they play in, these two schools have been going at it longer than anyone else.  It's the most-played and longest uninterrupted rivalry in football.

8. Harvard/Yale "The Game"
Two of the best teams from the very early days of football have been doing this longer than almost anyone, and was often the game that decided the national title.  They are two of the most prestigious and historic universities in the country.  Also, bonus points because MIT students like to set up elaborate pranks during the game.

9. Cal/Stanford "Big Game"
This one makes this list almost entirely because they get bonus points for "The Play."  Inarguably one of the most dramatic ways to end a game in one of the most historic rivalries in the country.

10. Missouri/Kansas "The Border War"
I didn't want to put any team on the list twice, as I believe that you're really only entitled to one truly great rivalry per school.  And this rivalry goes back to the days before football - heck, before the Civil War.  Read your history books.

4.  Southern Cal is 5-1, with their only loss on the road at Arizona State.  They are unranked, sitting right behind us in the "also receiving votes" category.  How good is Southern Cal this year?  How do you see this game playing out?

I'm cautiously optimistic.  The team seems to have worked out most of its turnover issues, and Tommy Rees' numbers look good.  But I still shudder at some of the passes he throws.  He's actually becoming a gunslinger, which is a ticking time bomb for this team.  But as long as we keep our turnovers to a minimum, I don't think Southern Cal can keep up with the Irish firepower.  SC's defense will struggle to slow down the Notre Dame offense, and Notre Dame's defense will find ways to slow down SC's offense (although they are a potent offense and will get plenty of points.

Notre Dame 37, Southern Cal 31

5.  It appears that with a win over USC, we'll re-enter the Top 25 rankings.  Now that we're halfway through the season and have some actual evidence available to us from real games, how do you see the rest of the season playing out?  Predict:

(a) Notre Dame's final record (indicating where we will lose if at all): 10-2

(b) Notre Dame's bowl destination, opponent and outcome: Sugar Bowl versus Alabama.  Notre Dame wins an ugly defensive struggle, 17-14.

(c) The BCS Championship game and result:  LSU loses to Wisconsin.

(d) Notre Dame's final AP ranking: #6 

(e) The winners of the major awards, including:

(i) Heisman Trophy: Trent Richardson

(ii) Home Depot Coach of the Year: Bret Bielema

(iii) Davey O'Brien Award (best QB): Andrew Luck

(iv) Doak Walker Award (best RB): Trent Richardson

(v) Fred Biletnikoff Award (best WR): Michael Floyd

(vi) Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player): Luke Kuechly, Boston College

Go Irish! Beat SC!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Irish Blogger Gathering: Chicken Little Edition

1. Let's go ahead and talk about the big pink elephant in the room. After two absolutely horrid, heart-breaking, and downright mind-boggling performances, how do you feel about this team moving forward? Are we simply a bad team or a team that just hasn't put it together yet? This is your chance to talk Irish fans of the ledge...or push them over.

This is really the question, isn't it? There's the camp of pessimists, who wail and gnash and rend their clothes and declare the end of the Kelly era. And there are also those that BELIEVE! We will overcome, because HERECOME THE IRISH!!!!>?! lol

But the real truth is that this is a talented team in transition. While we were completely capable of winning either of the last two games, Irish fans have tasted the bitter pill of defeat once again. Gone, our national title hopes. Gone even, our hopes for a BCS win. Disappointed? Hell yes. But the reason I'm not a knee-jerk "FIRE KELLY!?!!>!!" fan is that I watched these games...

This team is good. REAL good.

4.5 turnovers per game.  Let's talk about the big pink elephant in the room, okay?  Averaging over 500 yards of offense per game (13th in the NCAA, far ahead of any of the opponents on our entire schedule).  And our total defense is 52nd in the country, not too shabby...

But we have one glaring issue.  -9 - our turnover ratio.  We have controlled the majority of the game, but then our offense has this bad habit of turning the ball over. Especially in the red zone.  Until we correct this, we are a terrible team that can't beat anybody.  Give a freshman a shot at QB at this point.  Find somebody who will take care of the ball.

And don't get me started on the stupid penalties by upperclassmen.

So, for right now, let's just let our legs dangle over the cliff.  If we win tomorrow, we can back away from the edge.  We lose again?  I'll be the first lemming over.  This is where we separate the men from the boys.

2. It's time to put on the headset and step into the shoes of Brian Kelly. In the first quarter, it seemed like your message and plan to recover from the USF disaster worked, and then the rest of the game happened. How do approach this week? What message do you give your players?

Just hammer it into their heads that they would be 2-0 if they could hold onto the damn bowl.  They are already a disappointment in the eyes of the Irish faithful.  How do you want to be remembered?  As a team that played like the Keystone Cops and bumbled away an entire season?  Or as a team that has learned how to win, running off 11 straight victories en route to a number 1 preseason ranking next year?

Both of these options are still on the table.  It's time to step up and remember that you are Notre Dame.  WE are Notre Dame.  What tho' the odds be great or small, ol' Notre Dame WILL win over all.  Get it done, boys.

3. Keep that headset on, you are still playing Kelly. Based upon what you've seen these last two games, do you see players that need to start riding the pine or are you still confident in your depth chart?

I have no confidence whatsoever in the quarterback depth chart.  Run full live scrimmages in practice this week, with full contact on the QBs, 1s-vs-1s.  Give each quarterback five series to start from their 20 yard line.  Best stat line wins the starting job on Saturday.

4. Overall, how do you feel about Rees' performance against Michigan?

4th Quarter drives:  3 and out.  Rees fumble at Michigan 7 yard line. 3 and out. Rees 29 yard pass for a touchdown. Not a bad finish to the game, put us in the lead with 30 seconds left.  But the dismal performance in the 4th quarter prior to that last drive cost us the game.

5. Let's talk about something happy: the Irish running game. After a 198 yard performance by the Irish do you feel that this rushing attack led by Cierre Wood (134 yards) is for real or have we not run into a tough enough defensive test yet?

It's for real.  And I would do nothing but run the ball in the red zone.  I'd rather come out with a field goal than nothing.  If we'd gotten field goals instead of each of the redzone turnovers this year, we'd be 2-0.  When you're in range, run the ball down their throats.

6. Looking ahead to Michigan State, how do you gauge them? Is this the best team that we've faced off against yet or is this just an untested team that beat up on two cupcakes in Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic?

Both.  They will be a good football team, but they don't know that yet.  They know that they were beating up on cupcakes.  They know they're going to get some stiff competition this week.  But we are far more battle tested that MSU.

7. Is the key to winning simply not turning the ball over or do you see other crucial keys to beating Sparty?

Just hold onto the ball.  We can do exactly what we did the last two games, just don't turn the ball over.  We fix that, this team will roll over people.

8. Obviously every week should be a must win, but I think there is definitely more of an urgency this week. How crucial is this game for the rest of our season?

Critical.  This game makes or breaks the season.  Win, and we can be this year's Virginia Tech.  Lose, and everybody starts to lose faith.

We'll see if this team has what it takes tomorrow.  All the chips are on the table.  Don't know about you, but I'm betting on the Irish.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Irish Blogger Gathering: Michigan Sucks Edition

1) Well that result really sucked. Please describe how you feel about the loss using lyrics from a pop diva (eg Brittany Spears, Rihanna, etc) song. Bonus points for video or pictures. (something good has to come out of last week)

"I know it wasn't right
I can't even sleep at night
Can't get it off my mind
I need to get out of sight"

"What started out as a simple altercation
Turned into a real sticky situation"

Rihanna believes that Michigan sucks...

2) While we all want to move on, last week's game can teach us many things about the '11 Irish. After seeing what Week 1 brought us, do you find yourself more confident, less confident, or still confused as hell about our chances vs the Skunkbears? Why?

More confident, provided we can protect the football. I'm willing to chalk up some of the sloppiness with the ball to first game jitters. But we doubled up SFU in yardage, and despite shooting ourselves in the foot repeatedly, we still only lost by 3. Clean things up, and the team I saw on Saturday is capable of competing with anybody in the country. And Michigan sucks, so we should be able to win easily.

3) Other than QB, which position group pleasantly surprised you this past week? Which disappointed? What player absolutely MUST see more time in Week 2? Again, no QBs.

Running back pleasantly surprised me. Although we got in the whole too early to really utilize our running game, Cierre Wood averaged almost 5 yards per carry. If that continues, and we can avoid the blunders that put us into an early hole, we will roll over some teams on the ground this year.

I'm not sure I would identify a particular player that must see more time in Week 2. I like the rotation we have, and I'm not sure that giving any individual player more time will help anything. I like what I saw from Louis Nix, so I guess if forced, I'd pick him.

Michigan sucks. (I'm trying to put this in every answer, which is hard when you ask about our team...)

4) Tommy Rees will lead the Irish Offense this week. Do you agree with Coach's call? Either way, what part of Crist's game will the Irish O miss the most, if any?

I was a big supporter of Dayne Crist. But at this point, it appears that all Tommy Rees does is win. He may not have the measurables that Dayne has, but every time he's been in the ball game, he's beaten the opponent. And that includes Tulsa and South Florida - he was trailing both times when he went in, and while he was QB, we scored more points than the opponent. Until such time as that changes, I say we go with the hot hand.

We'll miss Crist's athleticism. He may not be the truly mobile quarterback that Hendrix or Golson is, but he does have a stronger arm and better escapability. Without Crist, the receivers and O-line need to step up their game a bit. But Michigan sucks, so even if they don't, we should win.

5) What's the key to beating the Wolverines this week? Just 1 thing. Not 2. 1.

Protect the ball. Michigan sucks when they don't get turnovers, and would have lost badly to Western Northeastern Southerly Michigan last week if they'd protected the ball.

6) Make your Over-Under Picks:

Over-under on Floyd's receiving total for this coming weekend: 154 Under. The Wolverines have more talent on defense than USF, and they will be looking to shut down Floyd. Whatever was bothering Riddick needs to disappear, because he can have a very big game as a result.

Over-under on Robinson's rushing total: 100 Under. I think that the defensive goal will be to contain Denard Robinson and force Michigan to beat us through the air. We struggled last year against him, but I think that the switch to the pro-style offense and the improvement of our defense since last year means that we will contain Robinson on the ground. Plus, Michigan sucks, and Denard Robinson plays for Michigan. So he sucks.

Over-under on ND Number of Turnovers: 2 Under. The offense is going to be so focused on protecting the ball this week, I'll be amazed if we turn the ball over. It may hinder production a little bit, but I know these guys will be completely focused on playing mistake-free football, rather than going out there with guns blazing.

Over-under on Number of Times Kelly is caught Purple Monstering Out: 2 Under. Coach Kelly has heard the criticism, and will adjust his behavior accordingly. I think this is BS, as all great coaches yell at their players. I don't understand why people are freaking out about this. I like the fire and passion from the head coach, and I think it rubs off on the team.

Over-under on ND Total Yards: 425 Under. To complete the sweep of under predictions, I think the Notre Dame offense will be productive, but conservative. I'm tempted to take the over on this one, but I think Notre Dame will be focused on protecting the ball and controlling the game, rather than airing it out for big yards.

7) Michigan: Just Another Opponent, Enemy, or Rival? Explain. 1 Bonus point for each use of the word 'suck'.

Michigan sucks. Your Rival doesn't suck - they've earned your respect. Just Another Opponent may or may not suck, but usually you don't care enough to say that they suck, regardless of how much they actually suck. Your Enemy sucks. They suck big time. And you want the entire world to know exactly how much the suck. And as enemies go, Michigan pretty much puts the suck in sucktitude. They suck so badly, that the wind reverses every quarter when they switch sides. They are the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked, and I can't wait to see them suck on Saturday.

8) It's Michigan week. Name 1 thing in the world that sucks as much as Michigan, if you can.

I got nothin'. Next to suck in the dictionary, there's a picture of that big block M.

9) RichRod is back, announcing for CBS. Can't wait to see how that goes. Bet he's horrible.

Yeah. I bet he is too. He was a coach at Michigan. So he sucks. Just like Michigan sucks. And you can't wash that kind of suck off.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Video Update: New Notre Dame Music

There's some new music floating around the internets related to Notre Dame, and the blogosphere is trying to get it out there for people. Enjoy!