Friday, May 30, 2008

In The Trenches - Part I

Many long time and old school Notre Dame Football fans state that games were, are and will be determined by offensive and defensive line play. That sentiment would be hard to argue. There are the rare exceptions where a team's offensive skill position talent is so overwhelming (see SC at the end of the 2002 season – but it had good line play, too) that mediocre line play is good enough to win against top-notch competition. With that said, Notre Dame started to build its offensive line three years ago with a talented recruiting class and followed that recruiting class with two more good offensive line hauls.

With an offensive line that will simply be massive this upcoming fall, not to mention experienced (finally), Notre Dame now needs to develop quality depth for the 2009 and 2010 seasons when Notre Dame will have a realistic opportunity to play for National Championships. The most important name without a doubt, Matt Romine, who played briefly last season before being held out for the remainder of the season in an effort to gain a medical redshirt down the line, must make his mark, and soon. He can play left tackle in coach Weis' offense, which says quite a lot about Romine's physical skills. Then again, Romine must prove he can remain healthy, period. He seems to be dinged up frequently. He must stay healthy, now, period. Yeah, that may not be fair, but without a left tackle, Jimmy Clausen will not be upright long enough to play into the second game of any season. Romine will likely be the starting left tackle to open the 2009 season, if not sooner…could he eventually beat out senior left tackle Paul Duncan? Duncan has flat out underachieved at times despite his physical talent. This will be an interesting battle to watch moving into fall camp.

Another possible left tackle could be incoming freshman Lane Clelland from Maryland. Overmatched at times during the post season all-star game down in San Antonio, Clelland needs more strength before playing at the major Division I level, not that that is a surprise, but still a necessity. He possesses great quickness for a young man his size, and a willingness to drive block as evidenced by his high school film. He did, however, play against several high school players that were overmatched by his sheer size. Clelland's development, if rapid, could help push Romine and could even lead to Clelland (or Romine?) moving to right tackle to earn playing time. Time will tell, but Clelland's talent will be welcomed in South Bend regardless of his exact position.

More tomorrow…

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Year Of The Transition

Notre Dame finished the 2007 with victories over bottom feeders Duke and Stanford. Those two wins do not translate to the Irish becoming a juggernaut this upcoming season, but the Irish should swing its record more than 180 degrees due to the nature of College Football: opponents undergoing transition years.

Looking at the 2008 schedule game by game, there are trends serious Irish fans should not overlook. Here we go…

Sep. 6 San Diego State lost just about all of its offensive skill position talent, including its quarterback, a starter from his freshman season forward. Notre Dame rolls, 34-17, behind the powerful legs of Robert Hughes and his two rushing touchdowns.

Sep. 13 Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez to be its new head coach. That's great. Now let everyone watch as the Wolverines flounder with no running threat at QB. Notre Dame will throttle the Wolverines as their defense continually goes back onto the field after its offensive teammates either turned the ball over or punted after three plays. Notre Dame spikes the Wolverines, 35-14.

Sep. 20 @ Michigan State catches Notre Dame at a great time, after manhandling Michigan. Plus, the game will be played in East Lansing, at night, uh-oh. But wait! Michigan State's defense is rebuilding with both of its starting defensive ends now departed, and while its QB returns, and he's a Sr., is simply mediocre. Additionally, the lone big play wide receiver left for the NFL a year early. Notre Dame slips by the Spartans in enemy territory, 24-21.

Sep. 27 Purdue comes to South Bend much the same way as the Aztecs, but with its quarterback, too. It will not be enough to stop the Irish, as Notre Dame has more offensive skill position talent returning than the Boilermakers, and it will be the coming out party for freshman sensation Michael Floyd, as Jimmy Clausen makes him a prime target. Remember the name. The Irish prevail, 30-17.

Oct. 4 Stanford could be a threat in two or three years, but not right now. The Cardinal had a solid senior class last season. Too bad that class graduated. Notre Dame wins, but does not win impressively due to not being excited to play a porous opponent and playing for the fifth week in a row. Notre Dame survives for a sluggish, 27-16. victory.

Oct. 11 @ North Carolina makes a few big plays when necessary with its defense, and they send Notre Dame home with its first loss of the season, 23-13, in an ugly turnover-marred game. Notre Dame needed the off week to come one week sooner. Still, 5-1 trumps the 2007 disaster.

Oct. 25 @ Washington lost several key skill position players, most notably its tailback. Jake Locker can only do so much. The skill position talent surrounding Locker will not suffice against Notre Dame. The Irish win, 31-20, after a well deserved off week.

Nov. 1 Pittsburgh provides a stern test for the Irish rush defense, which will not shut down "Shady" and the power running game of the Panthers. Losing RT Jeff Otah to the NFL Draft, however, depletes the Panthers' rushing attack. Pittsburgh's inconsistent passing game will lead to turnovers and the Irish having an excellent third down conversion defense in a, 27-20, Notre Dame victory.

Nov. 8 Boston College lost Matt Ryan and still does not enjoy the wide receiver talent necessary to run a pro-style offense. But oh, wait, the Eagles are going to the spread. What? Boston College, that's right, Boston College and its traditionally huge OL will employ the spread moving forward. Bad move. The Eagles lost their top two running backs as well. Notre Dame hammers the Eagles, 42-14.

Nov. 15 Navy will play the Irish in Baltimore this year and there will be no holding back for the Irish after the streak ended last season. A new head coach for the Midshipmen will not help matters. A new streak begins for the Irish as the Irish roll up over 500 yards of offense and defeat the Middies, 45-14.

Nov. 22 Syracuse will be a little bit better, but not enough to defeat Notre Dame or for its head coach to save his job. Notre Dame blows out Syracuse, 35-6.

Nov. 29 @ Southern California defeats Notre Dame again as its overall team speed and superior depth in its fifth-year and senior classes does in the Irish. Notre Dame hangs tough, but loses, 31-21.

Minus the Trojans, every team the Irish face undergoes a major change or two or three…or more. Simply put, sans significant injuries to important contributors, Notre Dame should win at least nine games in 2008, and really ten wins should be the measuring stick against an underwhelming schedule. Notre Dame must take advantage of the situation, and it will.

Scott Martin is Irish!

Notre Dame's men's basketball team received a second transfer in the last few weeks. Purdue transfer, Scott Martin, is coming to Notre Dame. Martin played his freshman season at Purdue. After sitting out the 2008-09 season, Martin will suit up for the Irish during the 2009-10 season. He will have three seasons of eligibility left. He becomes the second transfer in recent weeks. Guard Ben Hansbrough, from Mississippi State, announced he will be attending the University of Notre Dame a few weeks back.

Have an opinion? Why not register for our message board and discuss it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

QB Recruiting

Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist will provide many memorable moments for Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and his coaching staff. Unfortunately, the combination of the California signal callers provides an uphill challenge as well. Recruiting a talented quarterback this year could not be overstated. With the majority of Notre Dame's targets off the board, what lies ahead for coach Weis and the Irish, if anything, with regards to this year's quarterback recruiting?

Four quarterbacks chose schools over Notre Dame before today, not counting Southern California commitment Matt Barkley, who most feel Notre Dame did not bother offering because of his impending pledge to the Trojans. Now, will Notre Dame go further down the list and make an additional offer to a quarterback recruit, or perhaps more than one more offer? To receive an offer from Notre Dame, a quarterback will likely make headway by doing at least one of the following: 1) going to the Notre Dame summer football camp and earning a scholarship offer with his performance, 2) playing well during the upcoming football season, and 3) making concerted efforts along the way to make it be known to coach Weis that interest in attending the University of Notre Dame was, is, and will continue to be at an optimum level, both on and off the football field. As a proud graduate of Notre Dame, no. 3 will hold water for coach Weis more than many will ever know.

Will Notre Dame land a quarterback recruit this year? My guess is no. Then again, there is a long way to go between now and the first Wednesday in February. If the Irish do not ink a field general this next National Signing Day, one should expect the Irish to be a likely destination for one of the top quarterbacks within the class of 2010. That topic, by the way, should stay fresh within the minds of Domer Sports Report readers, as it will be an article later this summer or early fall, i.e. the best quarterbacks for the class of 2010 will be discussed at length.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Breaking News aka Strong Rumor Regarding Anthony Solomon

There is a strong rumor going around message boards regarding former Notre Dame men's basketball assistant, Anthony Solomon. Solomon was on board Mike Brey's original staff when Brey first came to Notre Dame. He coached the Irish from 2000-2003. He left to take the head coaching position at St. Bonaventure. Solomon was not too successful with the Bonnies and eventually became the assistant coach at the University of Dayton - a position he held last season.

The rumor is that Solomon will return as Brey's assistant. If true, that would be huge news. The Irish were getting a recruiting boost from departed coach Gene Cross. Cross, recently took the head coaching position at Toledo. Solomon was an excellent recruiter for the Irish during his first term. His return would allow Notre Dame's recruiting fortunes to, perhaps, take an upturn.

Stay tuned for a confirmation of this exciting rumor.

What Has Been Missing Recently At Notre Dame

"It is an image immortalized in time, with Oliver's head kept down as he follows through on the ball, his right index finger pointing toward the goal posts. Both Father Ted Hesburgh and Father Ned Joyce, the school's president and vice president, respectively, can be seen in the background watching intently." - Lou Somogyi from his article on, "Remembering Harry O: 1960-2007".

When I was a younger, I remember the many mythical game finishes at Notre Dame. There was the comeback in the 1979 Cotton Bowl. The Fighting Irish (Yes, I like "Fighting" along with "Irish". I think it connotates never giving up.) trailed 34-12 with a little over eight minutes remaining. As everyone knows, Notre Dame came back. On the last play of the game, Joe Montana hit Kris Haines in the right corner/sidelines in the end zone for the game tieing touchdown. The Irish won, 35-34. Then, there is the kick by Harry Oliver. As he approached the kick, the wind, which had been blowing into his face, stopped. He booted the 51-yarder and Notre Dame defeated Michigan, 29-27, as time ran out.

Let's not forget men's basketball, also. The Irish, on January 19, 1974, trailed UCLA 70-59, with just over three minutes remaining. UCLA had won 88 games in a row. The Fighting Irish came back, scored the last 12 points of the game, and won, 71-70.

These are just a few of the comeback, miracle finishes. Anyone following the Fighting Irish during these times, felt something special about Notre Dame. I mean "special" as in damn near supernatural. It was if Notre Dame was a visible sign of miracles. We believed in them - that's for sure. I know these comebacks/miracles inspired me in sports and in life to never give up.

I think belief is what has been missing in the last several years. Things have been too predictable for the most part. We win the games we are supposed to win and lose those we are supposed to lose. We predict games and we predict season won-loss records. What is missing is the belief that we are Notre Dame. The belief that we can overcome the odds and win when we are not supposed to. But, the belief is even more than that. There is a supernatural, religious aspect to that belief. Remember (those who are older), the bumper sticker from the early 1970s, "God Made Notre Dame Number 1"?

Why has this belief not been as predominant as it once was? Is it the times? That could be one answer. Is it two coaches, who did not believe in the mystique of Notre Dame? It could be that, these two coaches, Bob Davie and Ty Willingham, back to back, are responsible for the diminishing of the belief in the specialness of Notre Dame in a mythical sense. They did it in two ways. First, neither really "got" Notre Dame. I think we all know what "get" means. It means to have a belief in the supernatural/mythical aspect that is Notre Dame. The second way they hurt this belief is plain old not winning. Eight years of mediocrity can do nothing but hurt. Imagine an eight year old boy growing up during this era. By the time he is 16, he has not seen anything special about Notre Dame.

We have to get that belief in the supernatural specialness of Notre Dame back. There is room for the idea of Notre Dame as underdog rising up. Practical ideas have their place. But, so does the belief that we can do anything to overcome odds - that we are Notre Dame. Idealism belongs at Notre Dame. Bob Davie and Ty Willingham were not idealistic. Knute, Ara and Lou, were. Idealism and belief go hand in hand at Notre Dame. Let's bring it back!

We Are ND!


Friday, May 23, 2008

Willingham 3rd Highest Paid ND "Employee"

Have you ever wondered what the buyout of Tyrone Willingham's contract with Notre Dame was? Well, thanks to Michael Rothstein of Irish Insights, I can tell you. In Rothstein's article regarding the top 15 salaries at the University of Notre Dame for 2006-07, he shows that Willingham is actually the third ranked paid "employee".

Third ranked employee! Not bad for being a so-called victim of racism, huh? For 2006-2007, Ty made $650,000 from the University of Notre Dame. Not bad for not coaching Notre Dame, either. Where is ESPN on this one? Combined with his University of Washington salary, his yearly income is huge. Rothstein writes:

On top of the $650,000 he received from Notre Dame from July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2007, he'll also receive a guaranteed annual compensation of $1,340,736 from Washington in '07-'08. His base salary is $437,760.

Willingham could also earn a maximum of $402,500 in possible incentives and a maximum deferred compensation of $301,250.

In other numbers, Willingham will make a minimum of $1,990,736 between the two schools if you combine his guaranteed salary for this coming season and what Notre Dame paid him during its latest 990 tax form filing.

Let me put Willingham's salary at Notre Dame in perspective and you can tell me if it is fair. Current football coach Charlie Weis makes a yearly base salary of $598,000. And, he is working - and working hard. Weis ranks number four on the list of top fifteen salaries at Notre Dame.

Food for thought: how in the world can anyone consider that Willingham is a victim of racism by big, bad, old Notre Dame if he is receiving a higher salary (from Notre Dame) than the current Notre Dame coach?

What's your opinion?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Welcome to Domer Sports Report!

Welcome, Fighting Irish fans, to Domer Sports Report. This is a new blog that is devoted to University of Notre Dame athletics. Although, the main sports covered will be football and the basketball programs, no sporting event will be off topic.

In the coming months, you can look forward to football articles, basketball articles and commentary on the state of Notre Dame athletics.

This is a new blog, so tell your friends and anyone who is a fan of Notre Dame sports about us.

Thank you and - Go Irish!

--Granger Irish