Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why computers are better than people at this whole prediction thing...

I was flipping through the only two rankings I can find that rank all of Division I-A: The Sagarin Computer rankings and the Sports Illustrated power rankings.

In particular, I was curious where the rankings had Notre Dame and Michigan relative to each other.

n the computer ranking, Notre Dame was consistently ranked ahead of Michigan, whereas in the human ranking Michigan was ahead of Notre Dame.

And the more I thought about this, the more the human rankings bugged me.

Michigan started the season ranked in the top 5. Notre Dame was stuck somewhere in the 40s, if I recall correctly.

Notre Dame played top 15 teams back-to-back, one of them an away game in front of 110,000 fans.

Michigan played a I-AA opponent and an unranked team, both at home. losing both.

Based upon what these two teams have done on the field this season, by what rationale could you rank Michigan ahead of Notre Dame?

Notre Dame has a bad rushing offense, and a mediocre passing offense. Michigan has a pass defense that is horrible, and a rushing defense that isn't much better. Notre Dame's defense has been good against the pass, bad against the run. Michigan's offense has been decent wth the run, and not so good with the pass.

But more importantly, Notre Dame has faced a much higher caliber of opponent through the first two games. Statistics are a little misleading this early in the season, but I defy anyone in the country to convince me that Georgia Tech and Penn State do not have, at minimum, top 15 defenses (if not top 10, or even top 5). And Notre Dame has struggled on offense as a result. Alternately, I defy anyone in the country to make a case that Michigan's opponents are top 10 offenses. Oregon may be pretty good, but you can't convince me that Appalachian State's offense would be top 15 in Div. I-A.

What I'm trying to say here is that Notre Dame's offense has struggled against top defenses. Michigan's defense has struggled against pedestrian offenses. In the end, Notre Dame is simply better prepared going into this game than Michigan is.

Which is why the computers are better. The only reason that Michigan is still ranked ahead of the Irish in the human polls is that they were so overhyped, that they have much further to fall down the rankings.

I expect Notre Dame to come out early, hit Michigan in the mouth, and turn the crowd of 110,000 Michigan bandwagon fans against the home team.

Notre Dame will find an offense against this Michigan defense, mark my words. Michigan sucks. Michigan is possibly the worst defense in the BCS conferences right now (except for maybe Louisville). And they will get embarassed again Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Notre Dame at Michigan Preview

University of Notre Dame
Fighting Irish (0-2)

Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Coaching Record: 19-8, 3rd season
Last Year: 10-3, Lost to Louisiana State in Allstate Sugar Bowl (#17 AP / #19 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Lost to Penn State, 31-10


University of Michigan
Wolverines (aka Skunkbears) (0-2)

Ranking: Started 5th, currently unranked
Head Coach: Lloyd Carr
Coaching Record: 113-36, 13th season
Last Year: 11-2, Lost to Southern Cal in Rose Bowl (#8 AP / #9 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Lost to Oregon, 39-7

Location: Michigan Stadium (aka The Big House)
Date and Time: September 15, 2007 3:36 p.m.
Series Record: Michigan leads 19-14-1 overall, 10-7-1 in the Big House

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers vs. Michigan Secondary
Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Penn State Linebackers
Weis is probably doing cartwheels this week looking at the Michigan defense. Yes, out offense has been anemic to say the least, but we faced Penn State (currently ranked 1st in rush defense, 2nd in total defense in the country) and Georgia Tech (8th in total defense). And while those numbers may be skewed by playing us, both teams were highly touted defenses coming into the season.
Michigan, however, played a considerably weaker slate to start the season, opening with an historic loss to I-AA foe Appalachian State. Then last week, they were blown away by unranked Oregon.
Our true freshman QB looked poised and confident last week, if a little hamstrung by playcalling and blown protections. This week, Charlie can finally open up the playbook, and put Jimmy's arm on display for the whole world to see.
The reason? Michigan is 116th in the country in pass efficiency defense, 109th in rushng defense, 108th in total defense, and 101st in scoring defense. In short: Michigan's defense sucks. Yes, our offense sucks, and when we have the ball, it will often seem like a contest to see who can suck more. However, the caliber of our first two opponents has prepared us better for this game.
Edge: Notre Dame for both

Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Michigan Defensive Line
As I said last week, I won't be giving the edge to our offensive line against anyone until they prove that they deserve it. They spit the bit last week again against Penn State, costing this team a chance at victory. The defense had kept us in the game, and Jimmy had placed us in position to score, when the O-line's sucktitude ruined it for everyone. So, as bad as Michigan's defense is, I just can't in good conscience give us the edge here.
Edge: Draw

Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. Michigan Offensive Line
Even more surprising than the sucktitude (my word of the day) of Michigan's defense s the ineptitude of Michigan's offense. The Michigan O-line, while not as bad as ours (not by a long shot), is absolutely horrible for the amount of experience and depth they have. They are giving up 2 1/2 sacks a game to bad defenses. Our defense will be far better than either Oregon or Appalachian State, and Michigan only scored 7 against Oregon last week. Laws will take on the All-American Jake Long, which should be an interesting matchup, and is too close to call. Kuntz will feast on this interior line, though.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Linebackers vs. Michigan Running Backs and Tight Ends
Our rushing defense is ranked 100th in the country (just 9 spots ahead of Michigan), and hasn't shown a consistent ability to stop the run, especially late in games. However, this defense has shown up early in games, and if our offense can sustain some drives, I expect that number to increase dramatically over time. All that said, Hart is the best running back in the country, even better than Tashard Choice. He doesn't fumble, and almost never gets stopped for a loss. He's not a burner, but he'll get 4 yards a carry damn near every time he touches the ball. And he's pissed off - so pissed that he guaranteed victory for his team this week. That alone should piss off our defense enough to key off on him, but he'll get his yards no matter what we do.
Edge: Michigan

Notre Dame Secondary vs. Michigan Quarterbacks and Receivers
Pass defense has been one of the bright spots for the Irish this season. Michigan's passing offense had been passable under Henne (although not spectacular), but now Henne is injured and their true freshman QB will start. ND's 32nd ranked pass efficiency defense will not be forgiving to the young quarterback. If Michigan is going to win this game, they'll have to do it on the ground. Unless, of course, Manningham goes buck-nutty on us again, catching 10 passes for like 300 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ugh. Deja vu...
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Coaches vs. Michigan Coaches
Because of the coachng missteps the last couple weeks, my gut reaction for this matchup was to favor the opposing coaches. However, by losing to a Division I-AA opponent, Carr has taken bad coaching to a whole new level this year. I'm giving Weis the edge this week, but if he can't move the ball on this awful defense, I'm gong to stop defending him against everyone. Including Duke.
Edge: Notre Dame

Quarterback and Receivers vs. Secondary: Edge Notre Dame
Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Linebackers: Edge Notre Dame
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line: Draw
Defensive Line vs. Offensive Line: Edge Notre Dame
Linebackers vs. Running Backs and Tight Ends: Edge Michigan
Secondary vs. Quarterbacks and Receivers: Edge Notre Dame
Coaches vs. Coaches: Edge Notre Dame

Analysis and Prediction
Finally, an opponent more on our level. Yes, Michigan is a preseason top 5 team who is angry and embarassed and loaded with experience. Woopty-friggin-doo.
Michigan sucks.
Monumentally, historically, unprecedentedly sucks.
All that said, Michigan simply doesn't lose 3 straight games in the Big House. It just doesn't happen.
Until now.
Notre Dame is going to find an identity on offense against a defense that is demoralized and in complete disarray. Weis finally can get some breathing room, as Michigan does not have a linebacker the caliber of Dan Connor or Philip Wheeler. We'll find a running game, and that will energize our passing game. We've been there, done that as far as playing in front of 100,000 plus screaming fans. It won't rattle us again.
We're not going to blow 'em out - Hart is too good for that - but we will win.

Notre Dame 28
Michigan 21

Sunday, September 09, 2007

What we need here is a plan...

2007 statistics to date:

Rushing Offense: -4 yards (last in NCAA - 119th)
Passing Offense: 137 yards (107th in NCAA)
Total Offense: 133 yards (last in NCAA - 119th)
Scoring Offense: 6.5 points/gm (117th in NCAA)
Sacks Allowed: 7.5/gm (last in NCAA - 119th)

That's right, folks. The Notre Dame Fightin' Irish are dead last in the country in rush offense, total offense, and sacks allowed.

We're worse than Florida International. Worse than Temple. Worse than even Duke.

Laying Blame

So who do we have to thank for these criminally embarassing numbers on offense?

If you listen to Coach Weis, he'd take all the blame on himself. As well he should. But remember that this is the man that created Tom Brady and called every offensive play for 3 Superbowl Champions. Sometimes he gets too cute with his playcalling, or too arrogant, or too cavalier. But he is still one of the best offensive minds in the country. I'm not willing to let the buck settle here just yet.

It would be easy to blame the skill players out there on the field. Call Jimmy Clausen a fraud, or Travis Thomas untalented. Say that John Carlson is overrated, or that the receivers aren't very good. But if you are really honest with yourself, watching tape, this isn't the problem. Physically, the players out there on the field have what it takes to not just win, but obliterate most of the competition. Jimmy's mechanics and decisionmaking are impeccable. Armando Allen's speed, Parris' hands, and even Thomas' athleticism aren't seriously in doubt. Carlson didn't just forget how to be an All-American tight end since last year.

What about the offensive line? On the surface, we appear to have hit our target. Last in rushing. Most sacks given up. Aha! You can't run the ball if the players don't open holes, and the quarterback, no matter how talented, can't win the game from his ass.

But the fault doesn't lie here. These kids aren't some undersized, underachieving no names. Sullivan is an All-American at center. Sam Young was the #1 offensive line recruit in his class. It's not a talent issue - we have so many 4 and 5 star offensive line recruits on out roster that nearly every team in the country would kill for the raw talent we have on our roster right now.

The next logical place to lay the blame would then be our offensive line coach, John Latina. He has all of this talent, and yet our offensive line is poisoning the rest of the team with their ineptitude.

Now we're getting a little closer. Latina has been our offensive line coach for three years. Surely, he has had enough time to coach these kids up, and get them ready to play.

Time is of the essence...

The problem is, he hasn't had 3 years to coach these kids up.

You see, offensive linemen take time to develop in college. Rare is it that a player comes out of high school ready to take his place in the trenches. Sam Young is a rare find in that regard. As a general rule of thumb, the average offensive line recruit can expect to spend their first two to three years of college eating, lifting, and learning the offense, so that they are physically and mentally ready to start.

Each year, any coach worth his salt in the college game would want a starting line comprised of something like two or three seniors and 5th years, and two or three juniors. That way, he can develop players coming in while maintaining a level of experience on the line from year to year.

Everyone that has ever followed recruiting knows that not every kid pans out. Some kids drop out, others just can't cut it in the college game. There is a natural selection process. Therefore, to have a rotation of 2-3 starters each class, there should be 3-4 recruits brought in each class to account for such natural attrition.

Breakdown (literally) of Notre Dame's offensive line recruiting

You see, the starting left guard and tackle, Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich, are the only scholarship offensive line upperclassmen on the roster, other than 5th year Sullivan. And they are juniors. There are NO - zip, zero, none, zilch, nada - true senior offensive linemen on scholarship. Not one.

When recruiting at a position like offensive linemen, there should be enough recruited offensve line players in the upper classes in any given year to make up a full line, with a couple of backups. You should never be forced to start an underclassman - they should only start if they earn it.

Indeed, in Weis' two full classes, he recruited 10 offensive line players (6 then 4). He understands the importance of the offensive line to the offense, and wants to make sure his line is deep and talented. So when his full classes are juniors and seniors, he'll have enough in the upper classes to field two full lines.

In the previous class (the transition from Willingham to Weis, this year's juniors), it was all Weis could do to sign a couple of decent offensive line recruits after Willingham's lackluster recruiting efforts. Only two recruits at O-line is weak, as t assumes bascally that both will develop into quality starters and not transfer out, but can be acceptable for a down year in offensive line recruiting, especially during a transition.

But Ty only recruited two offensive linemen during his last full season of recruiting. As stated, two linemen per year is unacceptable for a single year, much less back-to-back recruiting years. And both of them transferred out of the program (natural attrition).

However, even that failure of recruiting could have been overcome if Ty signed a reasonable amount of linemen the year before (this year's 5th years) so Weis could redshirt some kids and fill out the lineup. But that previous year, Ty signed (you guessed it) 2 offensive linemen.

What this means is that over a 3-year period, Notre Dame signed only 6 total offensive line recruits. Barely enough to field one full line. And 2 2/3 of those recruiting cycles were under the watchful recruiting eye of Tyrone Willingham.

Of the 6 players recruited over that 3 year period (comprising our junior, senior, and 5th year classes), only 3 remain on the team. Both Kadous and Incarnato left the program, leaving us devoid of senors. And Ryan Harris played all four years, and couldn't return for a 5th year even if he wanted to. The other 3? Our starting center, left guard, and left tackle (for better or for worse, as we don't have any other options).

What this means is that no matter what, Coach Weis (and Latina) were going to have to rush offensive linemen through their development to round out the starting 5. As we said before, offensive linemen don't usually develop fully until their junior year.

Blame all around

What this all means is that Tyrone Willingham's lazy recruiting continues to plague this program, and he is the root of all of our offensive problems this year. And when combined with the fact that Notre Dame doesn't accept junior college transfers, which is what every other BCS school does when there is a hole to fill, we are essentially screwed.

However, this doesn't get Coach Latina off the hook. Willingham created the problem, it was Latina's job to fix it. He knew he had to get 5 guys ready to play this season, and he knew all along what he had to work with. He failed.

It also doesn't relieve Coach Weis. He's the offensive mind, the one that signed a 10 year contract. He is responsible for creating an offensive gameplan that overcomes these weaknesses. He failed.

And it certainly doesn't relieve the players on the field from their responsibility as well. They've been practicing this stuff for years. They are physically capable. By virtue of their academic reputation, I'm willing to believe they are mentally capable. And as I said a couple weeks ago, they are bigger than the D-lines they are facing. But they have given up 15 sacks, and haven't opened up holes to give their running backs a chance. They've failed.

This is a dark day for Notre Dame football.

Change is Gonna Come

Ty's recruiting failures which have left us with so few options on the O-line have finally come home to roost. Weis may not admit it, but it is a rebuilding year. We'll improve slowly but steadily all year long. The schedule gets easier from here on out (exceptng SC), and that should eventually start translating into some wins.

From great adversity comes great strength. By pushing up the learning curve for all of these underclassmen, the future of Notre Dame's offensive line is looking bright. Remember those 3 remaining offensive linemen in the upper classes? Next year we'll have 7. The year after that we'll have 10-12. And lots of invaluable gametime experience together to boot. And in addition to all that built in experience, we'll be transitioning from mostly 3 star players to 4 star players with a couple of 5 stars mixed in for good measure.

The wholesale changes Weis has brought to this program means that when the sun comes out, it's coming out to stay. No more recruiting holes. No more graduation hangovers. No more rebuilding. Just reloading.

The adults are in charge now.

So buckle up, Irish fans. The development of this offensive line (and the rest of the team) is going to be a long and bumpy ride. But when we arrive at the promised land, it will have been well worth it.