Saturday, September 10, 2005

Notre Dame 17, Michigan 10

In what was probably the most important victory since 1993's win over FSU, the Irish outlasted the Michigan Wolverines for a hard-fought and well-deserved victory in Ann Arbor.

The Irish beat the #3 team in the country AT THEIR HOUSE. Even Llloyd had only 6 losses and a 18?-game winning streak at home going in. This is a landmark victory for the Irish, and one that will go down as one for the ages.

That said, the Irish do have some realtively small issues to work out.

While the secondary and defensive line play is improving, the linebackers need to step it up a bit. The backers are great at defending the run, but were caught off guard defending the short pass several times (I know, I'm nitpicking a little bit).

The offense started out as efficient as they ever were against Pitt, but Michigan's D stepped it up, and Brady had trouble locating his passes. While the success of the offense is a team effort, Brady needs to be more relaxed to operate this offense. However, this is by far the most hostile environment Brady will play in this year, and he did a superb job considering the situation.

I would have liked to see more production out of the running game, but the Michigan D is fast, physical, disciplined, and has good technique. Darius would have run all over any other team on our schedule (excepting USC) with the effort he gave today.

Looking ahead, the Irish have met their biggest challenge from a situational standpoint. With one week to prepare, the Irish went into arguably the most intimidating stadium in the game and outlasted a top 3 team, leading by as much as 14 in their way to the win.

While they will have a challenge against a pass-happy Purdue team, a top 5 rated (in my opinio overrated) Tennessee game, and the nation's best team in USC, the Irish will have two of those at home, and the other at a small stadium that is likely to be well-represented by Irish fans. Also, the games against the Trojans and the Vols are at home, with bye weeks to prepare.

It is still early in the season, but I no longer have any real worry about the other six games against Michigan State, Washington, Syracuse, Navy, BYU, and Stanford. Those teams should be as outmatched as the Panthers were last week. Beyond that, this team is capable of going undefeated this year. I'm not sure they can stop the USC attack, but they are capable. And even scarier, I think this team is starting to believe that themselves.

Therefore, I am going to re-think my preseason 9-2 prediction, and up that to a 10-1 finish with a BCS appearance.

Congratulations to the student-athletes, coaches, and administration of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on a great win this week. As a Notre Dame student, every member of that team made me proud to call myself a part of the Notre Dame family this week.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

News and Notes 9/8

A couple of quick items:

1) Notre Dame is ranked at #23 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, and #20 in the AP Writer's poll. Also, the Irish broke the ESPN Power 16, coming in at 15. My personal rankings (which are heavy into W-L record over reputation) place the Irish at #10, as follows:

1. USC (1-0), Last week: W 63-17 at Hawaii, This week: Bye
2. Texas (1-0), Last week: W 60-3 La., Lafayette, This week: at #4 Ohio State
3. Michigan (1-0), Last week: W 33-17 No. Illinois, This week: vs. #10 Notre Dame
4. Ohio State (1-0), Last week: W 34-14 Miami (OH), This week: at #2 Texas
5. LSU (0-0), Last week: Bye, This week: vs. #14 Arizona State at Tempe
6. Georgia (1-0), Last week: W 48-13 Boise St., This week: vs. South Carolina
7. Iowa (1-0), Last week: W 56-0 Ball State, This week: at Iowa State
8. Virginia Tech (1-0), Last week: W 20-16 at NC State, This week: at Duke
9. Tennessee (1-0), Last week: W 17-10 UAB, This week: Bye
10. Notre Dame (1-0), Last week: W 42-21 Pittsburgh, This week: at #3 Michigan
11. Florida (1-0), Last week: W 32-14 Wyoming, This week: vs. La. Tech
12. Purdue (0-0), Last week: Bye, This week: vs. Akron
13. Louisville (1-0), Last week: W 31-24 at Kentucky, This week: Bye
14. Arizona State (1-0), Last week: W 63-16 Temple, This week: at #5 LSU in Tempe
15. Texas Christian (1-0), Last week: W 17-10 at #25 Oklahoma, This week: at SMU
16. California (1-0), Last week: W 41-3 Sacramento State, This week: at Washington
17. Georgia Tech (1-0), Last week: W 23-14 at Auburn, This week: North Carolina
18. Boston College (1-0), Last week: W 20-3 at BYU, This week: Army
19. Texas Tech (0-0), Last week: Bye, This week: Florida International
20. Virginia (1-0), Last week: W 31-19 Western Michigan, This week: at Syracuse
21. Clemson (1-0), Last week: W 25-24 Texas A&M, This week: at Maryland
22. Florida State (1-0), Last week: W 10-7 Miami, This week: The Citadel
23. Alabama (1-0), Last week: W 26-7 MTSU, This week: Southern Miss
24. Oregon (1-0), Last week: W 38-24 at Houston, This week: Montana
25. Wisconsin (1-0), Last week: W 56-42 Bowling Green, This week: Temple

2) Michigan message boards are all a-twitter with rumors of a potentially season-ending injury to starting TE Tim Massaquoi. If this were the case, it would greatly impact the game, as Notre Dame would not have to worry as much about the short passing game, and would get better penetration against the run, as Tim was a great receiver and blocker. If he indeed does not play, I predict that the Irish will win by 14 instead of 10, 38-24.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Notre Dame v. Michigan Analysis

With the corpse of the Pitt Panthers still warm, I'll attempt to put away my elation and analyze the matchups for this week's game against the hated Skunkbears of Ann Arbor (more widely referred to as the Michigan Wolverines).

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers v. Michigan Secondary

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:
Brady Quinn, QB, Jr., 18-27, 227 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 5 rushes, 49 yards
Rhema McKnight, WR, Sr., 3 receptions, 51 yards
Maurice Stovall, WR, Sr., 2 receptions, 27 yards

Matt Shelton, WR, Sr.
Jeff Samardzija, WR, Jr., 3 receptions, 34 yards, 1 TD
David Wolke, QB, So., 1 rush, 22 yards

Michigan Starters:

Leon Hall, CB, Jr., 5 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 INT
Grant Mason, CB, Sr., 8 tackles
Willis Baringer, FS, Jr., 4 tackles
Brandent Englemon, SS, So., 5 tackles

Darnell Hood, CB, Jr., 2 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Morgan Trent, CB, Fr.
Ryan Mundy, FS, Jr.
Jamar Adams, SS, So., 1 tackle

I'm sure that Coach Weis is drooling about the possibilities opened up by the Michigan secondary, who was supposed to be solid, but looked absolutely porous in their opening game against Northern Illinois. Michigan fans are trying to cheer themselves up, claiming that the Michigan D was playing vanilla, trying not to show anything in preparation for Notre Dame. However, no amount of complexity added to this defense will increase Michigan's awareness. Unless Michigan improves drastically, Brady could have a career day on such a big stage tossing to our receivers, who we didn't even need to use much in the win over Pitt. Look for Brady to throw for three or more passing TDs (including tosses to the Tight Ends).

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Michigan Linebackers

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Darius Walker, RB, So., 20 rushes, 100 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD (3 total TDs)
Asaph Schwapp, FB, Fr. 2 rushes, 6 yards
Anthony Fasano, TE, Sr., 4 receptions, 42 yards

Rashon Powers-Neal, FB/RB, 8 rushes, 41 yards, 3 TD, 1 reception, 18 yards
Travis Thomas, RB, 8 rushes, 40 yards
Marcus Freeman, TE
John Carlson, TE 2 receptions, 3 yards

Michigan Starters:

Prescott Burgess, OLB, Jr., 5 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 forced fumble
David Harris, ILB, Jr.
Chris Graham, ILB, So., 10 tackles, 2 TFL
LaMarr Woodley, Rush LB, Jr. 1 tackle, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Pierre Woods, LB, Sr., 1 tackle
Scott McClintock, LB, Sr., 9 tackles

Michigan's defensive woes in their opening game were largely due to the lack of a star in this unit. Charlie Weis' playcalling and D-Walk's ability frequently made H.B. Blades look just plain silly last week, and there is nothing I see in this linebacking corps that leads me to believe we can't do more of the same. Our improved short yardage running game behind Asaph Schwapp, utilizing Bettis-like runs by Powers-Neal, opens up many options for this group, especially play action passes to the Tight End. Look for Fasano, in particular, to have a big day. Because of the style of offense, I expect Darius to get two TDs on breakaways, in addition to a couple more between the tight ends and short yardage backs.

Notre Dame Offensive Line v. Michigan Defensive Line

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Ryan Harris, LT, Jr.
Dan Santucci, G, Sr.
Bob Morton, LG, Jr.
Dan Stevenson, RG, Sr.
Mark LeVoir, RT, Sr.

Scott Raridon, G, Sr.
Brian Mattes, G, Sr.
John Sullivan, C, Jr.
Michael Turkovich, T, Fr.
Paul Duncan, T, Fr.

Michigan Starters:

Gabe Watson, NT, Sr., 3 tackles
Pat Massey, DT, Sr., 1 tackle, 1 forced fumble
Jeremy Van Alstyne, DE, Jr., 2 tackles

Will Johnson, NT, Fr., 2 tackles
Alan Branch, DT, So.
Rondel Biggs, DE, Jr., 1 tackle

Notre Dame's O-line looked like a group of All-Americans against Pitt, and Michigan will be more of a challenge, but not enough to keep the Irish from having all the time they need and running lanes as wide as an interstate to run through. Notre Dame will run around the nose tackle, and through their tackles and ends. Expect Charlie to test the depth here as well, running a series of short, up the gut runs late in the first half to wear down the D-line.

Michigan Quarterback and Receivers v. Notre Dame Secondary

Edge: Michigan

Michigan Starters:

Chad Henne, QB, So. 20-31, 227 yards, 2 TD
Jason Avant, WR, Sr., 9 receptions, 127 yards, 1 TD
Steve Breaston, WR, Jr., 2 receptions, 15 yards

Matt Gutierrez, QB, Jr., 1-2, 12 yards
Carl Tabb, WR, Jr., 1 reception, 11 yards
Doug Dutch, WR, Fr.
Mario Manningham, WR, Fr.

Notre Dame's Starters:

Mike Richardson, CB, Sr., 3 tackles, 1breakup
Ambrose Wooden, CB, Jr., 12 tackles, 1 breakup
Tom Zbikowski, SS, Jr., 8 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 INT
Chinedum Ndukwe, WS, So., 3 tackles, 1 breakup, 1 fumble recovery

LaBrose Hedgemon II, CB, Jr.
Leo Ferrine, CB, So.
Terrail Lambert, CB, So.
David Bruton, S, Fr.
Kyle McCarthy, S, Fr.

Michigan's passing game will likely be the second-best we'll face this year, with sophomore phenom Chad Henne throwing to experienced and talented WRs Steve Breaston and Jason Avant. Their ability to stretch the field and glue-like hands, typical of Michigan receivers, will test the Notre Dame secondary. If Notre Dame's ability to stop the pass is anything like what they did against Pitt, expect Steve Breaston to be effectively neutralized and Avant to have an average game. However, Michigan has a running attack, putting more pressure on the safeties. Because of this, I expect Michigan's passing to have some big plays when Tommy Z is sucked in by the play fake. Breaston is far better than Greg Lee, and he's Michigan's second receiver. They will give our corners fits. I expect this unit to go for 2 touchdowns for Michigan.

Michigan Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Notre Dame Linebackers

Edge: Michigan

Michigan's Starters:

Mike Hart, RB, So., 27 rushes, 117 yards, 1 TD, 4 receptions, 49 yards, 1 TD (2 total TDs)
Brian Thompson, FB, Jr.
Tim Massaquoi, TE, Sr., 3 receptions, 19 yards

Kevin Grady, RB, Fr., 9 rushes, 42 yards, 1 TD, 1 reception, 16 yards
Will Paul, FB, So.
Tyler Ecker, TE, Jr.

Notre Dame Starters:

Brandon Hoyte, WLB, Sr., 9 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Corey Mays, MLB, Sr., 3 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack
Maurice Crum, Jr., Apache, Jr., 5 tackles

Joe Brockington, LB, Jr.
Mitchell Thomas, LB, Jr.
Anthony Vernaglia, Apache, So.
Steve Quinn, Apache, Fr.

Michigan's running attack is a scary two-headed monster. If returning starter Mike Hart is a terror on his own, true freshman backup Kevin Grady is something akin to Exorcist when the two of them are both being used. Their only drawback is that neither back had the explosive playmaking ability of, say, Reggie Bush. That said, Notre Dame's linebackers showed me something in last week's game, and they will be able to contain the running game to some extent, especially because Tom Zbikowski is always aggressive in run defense. Michigan has some great tight ends, as well, and they could give us some problems on play action, where our respect for the running game puts us out of position in defending the short pass. Improved defensive line play could drag this matchup into a near-draw, but right now Michigan gets the edge; this unit will score perhaps twice.

Michigan Offensive Line v. Notre Dame Defensive Line

Edge: Draw

Michigan Starters:

Adam Stenavich, LT, Sr.
Leo Henige, LG, Sr.
Adam Kraus, C, So.
Matt Lentz, RG, Sr.
Mike Kolodziej, RT, Jr.

Rueben Riley, T, Jr.
Alex Michell, G, Fr.
Mark Bihl, C, Jr.

Notre Dame's Starters:

Victor Abiamiri, DE, Jr., 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
Trevor Laws, DT, Jr., 1 tackle
Derek Landri, DT, Sr., 2 tackles
Chris Frome, DE, Sr., 1 tackle, 1 TFL, 1 sack

Brian Beidatsch, DT, Sr., 2 tackles
Dwight Stephenson, Jr., DT, Jr.
Ronald Talley, DE, So., 2 tackles
Justin Brown, DE, So., 2 tackles

I wish I could give this matchup to the Irish, but Michigan's O-line is the only one we will see that compares favorably to our own. Our D-line did OK rushing Palko last week, but the didn't wow me. This line is also pretty darn good at opening up running lanes for their backs. The Irish will be tested here, and the D-line's performance will probably be the key to this defense's ability to keep the Irish in the game. If the D-line can stop the run and rush the passer, Notre Dame will win big; if they struggle, this game could quickly turn into a shootout.

Notre Dame Head Coach v. Michigan Head Coach

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Head Coach: Charlie Weis, 1st year, 1-0

Michigan Head Coach: Lloyd Carr, 10th year, 86-26

Until somebody shows me that they can plan for Charlie's preparation, I'm going to give the edge to Charlie every time. Carr's playcalling at home is much more aggressive than when he is on the road, and he won't be scared of the Irish, but look for Charlie to make him look like he did last year against an undercoached Ty Willie team. Charlie hasn't even used his depth at receiver or tight end in any great measure, and he will open up the entire can of offensive whoop-ass against Michigan if necessary, although as much as he will refuse to admit it, Weis would love to have an ace or two up his sleeve come October 15th. The biggeest reason this edge goes to Weis is a sense that Carr's defensive coordinator is in way over his head according to several Michigan message boards, while last week against Pitt, Rick Minter showed why he deserves every penny of his salary and then some.

Final Prediction:
Notre Dame 38
Michigan 28

Notre Dame's defense struggles to stop this many offensive weapons, but they look stingy when compared to the Michigan D. This game isn't as close as the score looks, as the Irish start pounding the ball in the second half, and time runs out on Michigan's National Title hopes.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Notre Dame 42 Pittsburgh 21

What a game. Pittsburgh had no answer for Charlie Weis' offense, and the Fighting Irish pounded the Panthers. Notre Dame didn't punt the ball until the 4th quarter, when they had already put in their second string offense.

I could go on and on about the wonders of Charlie's offense, but I'll just make a couple of quick (for me) notes on the game.

Notre Dame has a Top Five offense.

Charlie Weis put on a clinic this week at Pitt. Aside from an early mistake by Brady Quinn, which I'm willing to chalk up to first game jitters, Notre Dame scored touchdowns on 6 of their first 7 drives. They made Wannestedt, a "defensive guru," look silly. And, Notre Dame's first team never had to punt.
First of all, as much as I obsess about football, even I had trouble keeping up with Weis' playcalling. He was calling plays in the first quarter that led to successful plays in the third quarter. He was about five steps ahead of Wanny, and if he hadn't pulled his first string, he would never have punted. An example of Weis' playcalling:
In the first two drives, Weis called two screens, and Brady checked down into two more (one of which was their first touchdown) before Pittsburgh was able to catch on. Also, Weis consistently called runs to the right side, in which Walker would inevitably beat the linebackers to the corner.
Late in the first quarter, Weis, having seen Pitt's tendency to watch for screens to Walker and shade to the right side, called a play which had a fake to Walker to the right (sucking in some of the defense), then a fake reverse to Rhema McKnight (which fooled nobody on the D). Quinn looked at Walker in the flat to the right side of the field, which caused the ENTIRE Pitt defense to collapse towards that side. Then Quinn quickly tossed the ball to Rhema in the flat to the opposite side of the field, where Rhema caught it in the flat, with nobody within 10 yards of him. Twenty yards later, the corner on the left side brought him down.
Weis knew before the play started that this would happen, and this is the beauty of his system. He has so many plays in his playbook, nicknamed The Phonebook by his players, that he has a play for literally every defensive tendency. He sees a weakness, and he exploits it. He was able to explain the paybook to his players in a way that allowed him to implement it in one offseason, whereas Ty Willie was given a long leash by the media (3 years) in implementing his. (more on this later)
It is this kind of playcalling that took the Patriots to the Superbowl, and wil lead the Irish back to the top of the college football world.
The best thing about the Irish offense is the number of weapons they have at their disposal. At wide receiver, they have McKnight, Stovall, Samardzija, and Shelton. At running back, they have Walker, Thomas, and Powers-Neal. At tight end, they have Fasano and Carlson. They have a stud quarterback, and (their secret weapon) a true freshman at fullback with Asaph Schwapp (where Powers-Neal has also played). That is 11 players on offense that would start at their position on any other team. Not to mention players such as Justin Hoskins, David Wolke, D.J. Hord, and David Grimes which will be starting caliber players by the end of the year. And don't even get me started on the incoming freshmen.
The key play of the game was ND's first score, in which Nd ran a called screen ot Darius Walker. The play itself wouldn't have been spectacular, except that Charlie's coaching reared its beautiful head. A great block by a lineman and Walker outrunning H.B. Blades would have given ND a 20 yard gain, but for the fact that Fasano, Samardzija, McKnight, and Stovall all formed a convoy for Walker, blocking downfield. They turned a good gain into a game-breaking touchdown, and showed the world the discipline and depth of a Weis offense, as his play called for that type of downfield blocking, it wasn't a fluke.
The wonderful thing about Weis is that he has put in an offense where every single playmaker on the team is a threat to move the ball on every single play. These guys have the capability to put up 40 points on EVERY SINGLE TEAM THEY PLAY THIS YEAR.

Notre Dame has a solid defense, which will improve as the season progresses.

The only time during this game in which I had a moment of doubt was Pitt's first possession. That possession, which culminated in a 40-something yard pass to Greg Lee, which put Pitt up 7-0, wwas the result of excellent execution by Pitt (a legitimate top 25 team). On that play, Lee beat Mike Richardson, our #1 corner, and Tom Zbikowski, our stud safety. Speedster Ambrose Wooden (who made several BIG plays in the game) was also a couple of steps late in helping out. Lee beat all three defenders to score the long TD, and I had flashbacks to the secondary from last year, where time and time again our d-backs got burned.
In reviewing this play, I realized that this was simply great execution by the Panthers. The great play action by Palko caused Zbikowski to step up to defend the run. Lee juked Richardson into believing he was running a fly pattern, when he actually cut to a post, leaving Richardson out of position. The ball was thrown perfectly, and Wooden couldn't break from his receiver until the ball was thrown. The result: touchdown.
As the game progressed, however, the defense settled down. The secondary started to trust the front seven to take care of the run (Pitt ran for barely 100 yards as a team, and many of those were after ND put up 42 points), and were able to sit back and take care of business.
If there was any weakness in our defense, it was our pass rush. Late in the game, our line was able to get some sacks, but early on Palko had all day. Part of this was Palko's ability to evade the rush, but we need more aggrssive rushing. Perhaps, after reviewing film, Minter will run a few more blitzes early on.
The key defensive play on defense was Hoyte blasting Palko with a textbook tackle, helmet on the ball, with 11:26 remaining in the second, causing him to fumble (which was reviewed and ruled not a fumble), and hurting Palko's hand. this is the kind of play which makes a mobile quarterback like Palko think twice about running the ball, and hurts his hand, which affects his play for the rest of the day.
Whether this defense is capable of controlling (not stopping) the defenses of Michigan, Purdue, Southern Cal, and Tennessee remains to be seen, but I am confident in their ability to improve over the course of the season. Also, I feel pretty good about our offense's ability to make up for mistakes by our defense.

Notre Dame needs more discipline on the field, penalties hurt them in this game.

Of course, Charlie Weis will not be happy with todays performance, because any good coach is never happy (unless they win 140-0, with no penalties, negative yards for the opponents, and touchdowns on every offensive play, with no penalties, and perfect special teams coverage). The worst aspect of ND's performance tonight was the number of penalties they committed. While analysts are willing to overlook many first game penalties, I am sure that Weis won't have the same level of forgiveness. There were late hit, holding, substitution (which are REALLY going to piss him off), interference, false start, and offsides penalties. Charlie is going to spend the week drilling discipline into this team. Notre Dame committed 10 penalties for 94 yards. Take out those penalties, and ND would likely have scored another 7-10 points (490 total yards = 42 points, 580 yards = 50? 60?).
I am somewhere in between the media and where Charlie sits. First off, I still believe that the Big East officials were strongly biased in last year's game (which I can ony thank them for, because it led to Ty's departure, but I digress). In today's game, there were few penalties that I had problems with, and overall, I feel the officiating was relatively fair. However, against a top 5 team like Michigan, we can't afford to give up 100 yards in penalties. We need to be not just productive, but also clean and efficient. We will be playing in a hostile environment against a quality opponent. Charlie will have this team playing textbook football next week (although you may not be able to tell if we have Big Ten officials).

Special teams is the weakest part of this team, but they didn't really need much.

The opening kickoff was returned to the 27, which isn't bad, but he managed to skip past our first wave, and were it not a good tackle by Ambrose Wooden, he could have broken it. We returned the first Pitt kickoff to the 22, which is OK, but not great. The next kickoff was returned by Pitt to the 24, again a failure (anything past the 20 is a failure) although the coverage was more disciplined. The subsequent kickoff was out of bounds. After our second score, we kicked the ball straight up (I'm still not sure what we were thinking), resulting in the Panthers getting the ball on the 36.
Our special teams' best play was after our third score. The Panthers returned the ball to the 19, fumbling the football, which ND recovered. Scout team linebacker Casey Cullen forced the fumble, and Chinedum Ndukwe reovered it. They had disciplined coverage as well as good technique and awareness. That play is the ideal kick return situation.
Moments later, however, ND had to kick again after our 4th score, and Furman again evaded our first wave and returned the ball to the 40. After our fifth score, the kick was short, and fair caught at the 24. The final kickoff after our 6th score was (finally) a touchback. This coverage made me happy, because only moments after the ball skipped into the end zone, the coverage was there.
Our kickoff coverage rated average, but the special teams needs to progress to the point where the returner almost never gets past the first wave. (I'd be able to deal with once per game)
Aside from kick returns, the team was decent on punt coverage.
I didn't get to see Grimes return a punt, but Tom Zbikowski showed me something on his first return. This immediately followed the hit by Hoyte on Palko, and he put on a show. He took the punt at the 12, and had decent vision to get up to the 29 before he hit someone. And he say hit someone instead of getting hit, because he laid a lick on a Pitt defender, laying him out, before dragging the pile to the 34. This kid has heart and a whole lot of balls.
If there were any weakness in ND's game, it would be the special teams, but they did nothing to give up an adavantage in the game, and in fact gave ND a short field early in the game when they needed it most.

Notre Dame will win at least 9 games this year.

To this point, I have guardedly predicted a 9-win season for the Irish, but now I am guaranteeing a 9-win season for the Irish. Don't be surprised to see the Irish in the National Championship hunt this year. Here is my optimistic view of the rest of the season:
They will win next week against Michigan, largely due to a weak Wolverine defense, although it will be close. ND 38, Michigan 28 Pessimist: ND 38, Michigan 35
Then, they will crush Michigan State at home, with a rabid home crowd (much louder than anything during the Davieham era, hearkening back to '92-93 Holtz). ND 28, MSU 10
They will make short work of Ty and the Huskies, putting up in excess of 50 points (70, anyone?). ND 63, Ty Willie 3
Their final challenge will be at Purdue, where Charlie will use the revenge factor to motivate the team. I think that this could be a dangerous game for the Irish, as Purdue's passing game will test the secondary. This could be our first loss of the season, but I am confident in ND's offense. Optimist: ND 35, Purdue 31 (overtime) Pessimist: Purdue 35, ND 31 (overtime)
Then, we have two weeks at home to prepare for the USC juggernaught. They have to play ASU and AZ back-to-back in warm weather before coming to town. ND's chilly temps, efficient offense, and two weeks of preparation shock the world. If that isn't enough, this is a Notre Dame loss. Optimistic prediction: ND 31, USC 28 Pessimist: USC 45, ND 38
The Irish will have no challenge from BYU at home, but they will have a bit of a letdown after the previous week's emotion, leading to some scary moments for Irish fans. ND 21, BYU 10
Then, the Irish get another week to prepare for a Tennessee team that I doubt will be undefeated by this time. They struggled with a UAB team, and the Irish preparation will result in: Optimist: ND 38, Tenn 24 Pessimist: ND 28, Tennessee 31 (last minute field goal)
The rest of the schedule is a cake walk.
ND 35, Syracuse 10
ND 45, Stanford 14
It's not out of the realm of possibility for the Irish to go undefeated. I'm going to stick with my 9-2 predicition, though. Three out of the four top teams is too much for an undefeated season.

That's enough for now. I'll certainly have more to post later.