Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Offseason

Aaah, the offseason. That black hole between the Blue-Gold game and Training camp. We are forced to sustain ourselves on discussions about scheduling, recruiting, and numerous prognostications. And so, after an extended absence, I'm returning to the blogosphere to add my two cents to the discussion and try to mitigate the boredom of this miserable part of the year.


There have been a lot of grumblings about Notre Dame's upcoming schedule, and (unsurprisingly) I have an opinion on how it is shaping up.

First, the news. The Irish confirmed today that they will be rekindling their rivalry with Army in Yankee Stadium next year. There have also been strong rumors that we will be playing Texas Christian and Tulsa. So, right now the next three years of scheduling looks something like this:

2010 Schedule
S18 @ Michigan St.
O02 @ Boston College
O23 @ Navy (NY/NJ)
N13 Utah
N20 Army (Yankee Stadium)
N27 @ Southern Cal
Two games TBD (rumors have TCU and Tulsa)

2011 Schedule
S03 @ Purdue
S10 @ Michigan
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O15 Army (neutral site)
N26 @ Stanford
Three games TBD

2012 Schedule
Michigan State
Arizona State (Arlington)
Southern Cal
@UConn (Meadowlands or Foxboro)
Three games TBD

Let's start with 2010. I've heard a lot of rumblings about how craptastic the schedule is, but I couldn't disagree more. First of all, let's eliminate any argument about the traditional opponents - we're not dropping Navy, Michigan, USC, Michigan State, Purdue or Stanford. Now, I've said before (and I'll repeat it here) that I don't see the need to play MSU, Purdue and Stanford each and every year. But, it is what it is, and I'm not going to argue it. Although, it does appear that Stanford is off of post-2012 schedules (for now).

So let's look at the others.

Boston College, the last game in the rivalry, is a quality opponent, and one that has had our number the past couple decades. But, this is a great opportunity with arguably the best Notre Dame team since 1988 to beat them down in spectacular fashion to send them back to perpetual mediocrity.

Pittsburgh is a traditional opponent with a storied history, and I haven't heard anyone claim that they are a weak opponent.

Utah is next. Many people have panned us playing Utah, a MWC opponent, as a part of the "dumbing down" of our schedule. But those people are just plain stupid. Utah's record over the past decade has been truly elite. 10-2, 12-0, 7-5, 8-5, 9-4, 13-0 They are the only team over that stretch to have two undefeated seasons. The fact that they don't have a national championship is simply criminal. Urban Meyer hasn't had an undefeated season at Florida. Pete Carroll only had one at USC. Utah has had two - with two different coaches. This is a well-run program, and arguably one of the toughest games on the schedule.

While we're in the MWC, let's take a look at TCU, another team that people are hating on since the rumors. Let's use the same period for their records: 10-2, 11-2, 5-6, 11-1, 11-2, 8-5, 11-2. I'm sorry, but 4 11 win seasons in 6 years tells me that this program, too, is high quality. Their only losses are to teams like Oklahoma and Utah. And they beat a Stoops-coached Oklahoma team in '05. Now, you can talk about the weakness of the bottom of the MWC, but Utah, TCU, and BYU are BCS-caliber teams. In fact, TCU should be in the Big 12 ahead of Baylor, and Utah and BYU could make an argument to join the Pac-10 conference (they'd certainly be more competitive than WSU, Stanford, Washington, and Arizona).

Army in Yankee Stadium makes perfect sense. Notre Dame - Army is historic, and any true college football fan can appreciate that. Army may not be as competitive as they were back in the 40s, but these two programs (for me) stand for what is good and right about college football. If you are upset about this matchup, you should take your ND jersey off and go root for someone else - we don't want you here anymore.

Tulsa = craptastic. I've been vocal about my dislike of the San Diego State and Nevada games, and Tulsa is even worse. Unlike the MWC, Conference USA is just sad. Name me one team from this list that has done anything worthwhile in the past couple of decades: Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, East Carolina (NC), Marshall (WV), Memphis (TN), Southern Mississippi, Houston (TX), Rice (TX), Southern Methodist (TX), Texas-El Paso, Tulane (LA), Tulsa (OK). If Notre Dame does, in fact, schedule this game, I will be disappointed. It's not as bad as a FCS opponent, but it's close. At least it's not Sun Belt.

So, for all of the complaining, there is really only one bad team on the schedule. And I'll bet that it turns out to be rated one of the more difficult slates in the country next year.

The 2011 schedule right now does suck. UConn and South Florida do not get my juices flowing. Dear god, I hope Jack Swarbrick finds a quality opponent for this schedule. We need one in a bad way.

Moving ahead into 2012, we see a schedule where things are back to what ND fans are used to, and it all turns on one game. The kind of game which is exactly what everyone has been clamoring for - a home-and-home with Oklahoma. That is a sexy matchup. Bob Stoops has restored that program to a perennial power, pulling down 3 straight Big 12 Championships, and playing in the National Championship last year. Arizona State in Dallas should be a good game. We'll have to wait and see how the holes are filled, but I can't see anyone complaining about schedule strength in a year when you have to play USC, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Pittsburgh - potential champions of 4 BCS conferences. (yes, Michigan should be good again by then)

While the 7-4-1 model may have it's issues, if we can get consistent schedules like 2012, sign me up.


Moving on to recruiting, the Irish just landed their 13th verbal commitment in Spencer Boyd.

Defensive end Chris Martin is the jewel of the class so far, but there's a lot of recruiting left, and the Irish could sign over 25 players this year with early enrollees. I'd keep an eye on the recruiting of Seantrel Henderson, who is close friends with current Irish wide receiver Mike Floyd. Most people have counted the Irish out of this one, but I'm not so sure. Also watch Kyle Prater, Justin McCay, and Corey Lemonier. If the Irish can swing any one of these kids to come to South Bend, we'll be set up for a monster recruiting class.

We did miss on a legacy in Nick Montana, but I don't blame the kid for wanting to blaze his own trail, and not compete against his brother and his father's ghost at Notre Dame. Andrew Hendrix is actually ranked ahead of Montana, and I think he's a great fit for Weis' offense.


'Tis the season for preview magazines, so I thought I'd try to pull together a bunch of the preseason predictions for the Irish.

Phil Steele: #7
Phil Steele, in my opinion, is the best of the best when it comes to preview mags. He puts a ton of effort and research into his publication each year, and he's a statistics guru, so he tends to be less biased and more accurate year in year out than most other publications.
Steele has the Irish at #7, which is a very optimistic outlook, and it speaks volumes about how the Irish look on paper this year. With the experience and production we have returning, we are poised for a breakout season.

Sporting News: #18
Sporting News has the Irish sitting at 18, which is probably pretty close to the consensus of most average fans that follow college football. However, there is an interesting article in which one prognosticator believes the Irish could run the table (along with five other schools) to create a huge pileup when it comes time to send teams to the BCS championship game.
Sporting News also has Notre Dame's receiving corps ranked #1 in the nation as well.

Athlon: #24
Athlon has the Irish ranked a little bit lower than most, but still in the top 25. In their preview, they concede that the Irish should be capable of contending for the BCS this year. Athlon seems to sum up the feelings of most fans that see the potential, but are wary of believing in a huge turnaround for the Irish.

Lindy's: #37
Lindy's is, in my opinion, the worst of the preseason magazines. They are full of bias, and don't spend a lot of time bothering with annoying things like statistics and facts. They just kind of throw out their gut feelings for the season, totally manipulated by preseason hype. If someone gave me a copy of this magazine for free, I'd tear it up and use it to line someone's bird cage.
And it has nothing to do with their ranking of the Irish - I just really don't like this magazine.

Average ranking: 21.5
Not horrible, solidly in the top 25, but not spectacular either. Which pretty much describes what most people are expecting from the Irish this year. There is clearly the potential there for a magical season, but experience has told us that Weis will find a way to screw the pooch on this one. I'm a bit more of an optimist, and I think the Irish will be undefeated going into the USC game, making that arguably the biggest game of the entire college football regular season, much like 2005. (Oklahoma-Texas, USC-Ohio State, and Alabama-Virginia Tech are pretty interesting, too)

My preseason Top 10
1. Florida
Heisman winner Tebow's back, and they are loaded with speedy talent across the board. They are the team to beat, no question.
2. Oklahoma
With Heisman winner Bradford back, and his favorite target at tight end back as well,
the Oklahoma offense shouldn't miss a beat.
3. Texas
Colt McCoy may get his shot at the Heisman this year, if Texas can find a running game.
4. Penn State
Paterno lost a lot of talent at receiver, but their QB and running game are intact, as is the heart of their defense.
5. Ole Miss
Houston Nutt + Jevon Snead = an interesting football team. Personally, I expect Ole Miss to remember they are Ole Miss, but I had to put them ahead of the hated
6. Southern Cal
New QB, new defense, but they still just roll in new All-Americans to replace old All-Americans. I believe the Irish will beat the Trojans this year, but until they do, I can't pick the Irish ahead of a team that beat them 38-0 last year.
7. Alabama
Saban can coach - nobody doubts that. And with the lax control over admissions and recruiting, Saban is quietly stocking the cupboards. And Julio Jones is really good.
8. Virginia Tech
Tyrod Taylor is back, and Virginia Tech is poised to improve over last year's Orange Bowl victory. The 'Bama game will be a great measuring stick.
9. Notre Dame
An experienced junior quarterback with All-American potential, two proven All-American caliber receivers, an experienced offensive line, an All-American tight end, an experienced junior running back with lots of quick (and a stable behind him). They'll put up points.
Arguably the most talented secondary in the country. A proven leader at the middle of the linebacking corps. A talented, if young, defensive line.
Should be a very good defense.
The pieces APPEAR to be all in place. Now let's see it on the field.
10. Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson showed that the triple option attack can still be effective in major college football. With talent and speed, this attack becomes real difficult to defend. Add in the fact that you can effectively pass the ball to some talented wideouts, and Tech is ready to roll. Try and get ready for this team on one week's practice.

I've got to get back to work. I'll try to update sooner than a couple of months from now...