Thursday, August 19, 2010

Underdog Games of 2010

Trying to look at the schedule from non-rose colored glasses is always tough for a fan. Can Notre Dame go undefeated? They probably can, but it's very unlikely this year. There are certain games that are tougher than others just based on the scheduling. I've gone into the last couple of seasons with big expectations and having been disappointed both years, I'm trying to even my expectations out.

Michigan State (East Lansing)
Going on the road for the first time under Brian Kelly, playing a rivalry game for the third week in a row, and playing maybe the best passing QB, Kirk Cousins, they'll play all season. This is Michigan State's first tough game of the season and maybe that helps ND out, but the Spartans should also be able to play very vanilla in their first two games and win easily, so maybe we'll see a new version of the 2007 fake fumble. If the schedule worked out better for the Irish I think this would be a middle game, but I think the Spartans might be able to beat up a team that has to play into the fourth quarter to put away it's first two opponents.

Pittsburgh (Home)
Dion Lewis and Jonathon Baldwin are maybe the best RB-WR combo the Irish will face all year and covering a 6-5 wide receiver is hard enough when you don't have to worry about an All-American type running back too. Pitt has won two games in a row in the series, and those games were close enough that maybe being at home under Brian Kelly would be enough to swing the game into a toss-up. Except the schedule steps in again, and places Pitt at the end of a hard six game open to the BK era and immediately following a road game at Boston College. It just seems like to much to soon for the Irish.

USC (Coliseum)
The same old, same old. Another very good, young QB, Matt Barkley and he has plenty of weapons to use. Notre Dame finally has the edge in coaching as Lane Kiffin is kind of the bizzaro Brian Kelly, in that he keeps losing games and getting hired at better jobs. I think the Irish are probably one year away from ending the streak but I expect this game to be the first close game in LA since 1997 when SC won by 3.

I can see Brian Kelly being able to win one of these games as he's a better coach than all three opposing coaches and winning games you're not supposed to used to be something that happened for the Irish. Maybe I should re-read Resurrection as it might apply better to Kelly's first year as opposed to Weis' last.

Purdon't is almost here. Can't wait for the 4th.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Tweeners 2010

These are the games that could go either way, Brian Kelly must split these games as a worst case scenario while escaping with only 1 loss would set up a good first season (as long as they win the 5 games that I think they should). I don't think there is a Michigan pick in the bunch (one that arguably fits better else where) but we'll see.

Stanford (Home)
One of the best games, well most exciting, games of 2009 will be without the three standout offensive stars of the game in 2010 (Gerhart, Tate and Clausen all left early). This year Stanford will be passing more with sophomore Andrew Luck at QB. They will also start a soph at running back either Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney. Former Domer Konrad Reuland is a TE along with Coby Fleener while their starters at wide out are also split with a sr. and a jr. in Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu. Another Irish transfer kicks for the Cardinal in Nate Whitaker. Owusu doubles as a KR and tied a Pac-10 record with 3 KR TD's last year. The defense is switching to a 3-4 and both starting DE's from last year have moved to outside line backer. The defensive backfield returns 2 or 3 starters from last year as one of the returnees lost his starting spot after getting injured. Without Gerhart you'd expect the running game to struggle but they return 4 Ofensive Linemen and their defense will take some time to adjust to the 3-4, unfortunately I think about the 4th game is when both sides will figure things out. I'm expecting a back and forth battle and the fourth quarter will decide this one.

Boston College (Chestnut Hill)
Another close game from last year that should be the same way this year. Mark Herzlich is expected to be as close to 100% as he can be this year and BC shot themselves in the foot last year with five turn overs. They return their sophomore qb Dave Shinskie, RB Montel Harris, a Flutie at WR and 4 of their starting offensive linemen. The defense returns 4 players that have started in the past on the line and 5 starters at LB with Herzlich back. They only return 2 starters in the DFB so that will probably be the weakest part of what should be a good to great defense. I don't have a good feeling about this game, but I expect it to be close and probably low scoring.

Navy (East Rutherford)
The Midshipmen return a sleeper Heisman candidate in Ricky Dobbs and their version of the option has given ND fits recently. The full back is the workhorse in this offense and SR Vince Murray appears ready for the work, Marcus Curry and Gee Gee Greene are the slot backs. The offensive line features 4 upper class men but having only 3 line man to cut could hurt their offensive game plan. The strength of Navy's defense should be their back field where they return 3 starters which is good because they lose 6 players from the front 7. I expect a grind it out game with Navy chewing clock as The Irish try to score as fast as possible which could equal some mistakes by ND's defense.

Utah (Home)
The team that probably sneaks under most Irish fans radar but that could change after their first game of the season, at home against Pitt. Their starting QB is Jordan Wynn a sophomore that was expected to red shirt last year until they needed a spark to beat Wyoming last year, he remained the starter for the rest of the year. They have to replace a lot in the receiving core but they have two SR running back's that should help the offense. They return 5 DL that started last year which is hard to do when you lose two starters. The line backers are very inexperienced but should be up to to speed by November and their DFB has only one player that started full time last year. I expect a game that is decided in the second half, but we'll know more after both teams have played Pitt.

These are the games that will swing Brian Kelly's first year and I think the BC game is probably the toughest of the four with Stanford a close second.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Notre Dame vs. Texas Again

The Irish and the Longhorns are close to agreeing to a 4 game contract starting in 2015. This is a scheduling I can get behind. While I like playing (and beating) Purdue, Texas is a huge step up and the best opponent The Irish will play those four years. USC is not going to be as good under Lane as they were under Pete, Pete built a great program no doubt about it, but Lane as long as he is there, (under 5 years if you ask me) the program will settle into a team that wins the Pac-10? once in awhile instead of every year. Texas will be THE PROGRAM outside of the SEC for as long as Mack Brown wants it to be.

The hit by Bryan Westbrook is still one of the best hits I've ever seen and the two games in the mid-nineties are great memories I have of an ND that wasn't scared to play anybody. That didn't include Tulsa and Western Michigan, Army is a historical match-up that I don't mind but shouldn't be an annual game by any means. I like that The Irish play Michigan, Navy, Michigan State and USC every year, if you include Purdue, BC and Pitt in annual opponents it's hard to schedule under the current 7-4-1 schedule. I wouldn't mind going to a 6-5-1 in the future but I don't think Swarbrick is interested in more road games (somebody has to pay for the non-revenue squads to go to South Florida). Notre Dame is dropping Stanford and I fear that they are going to schedule a weaker opponent in their place.

I prefer the toughest opponents we can schedule and I think the Big Ten is going to have openings in November now that they are going to a Championship Game in December. Hi, Wisconsin/Iowa/Nebraska/Penn State/Ohio State would you care to play a home and home? How about a 4 game series with two home games (one each) and two neutral site games? UConn/South Florida/West Virginia/Cincinnati would also be interested I imagine. The Big 12 outside of Texas is going to need some good non-conference games as well so say hello to Oklahoma/Oklahoma State/Texas Tech/Texas A&M welcome them to South Bend under the same agreements.

The Irish should not be playing Western Michigan and Tulsa under any circumstances, even trading them in for lesser teams from BCS conferences isn't a terrible idea. Oh, hi, ACC, Virginia Tech/Florida State/Wake Forest/Georgia Tech/Clemson could probably find a way to sneak ND onto their schedule. The SEC houses multiple teams that would enhance any teams schedule while Alabama/Georgia/FLORIDA/Ole Miss/LSU have not shown a real interest in playing road games out of conference, putting The Irish on their home schedule should be enticing enough for them. If ND is going to play non-BCS teams, how about BYU or Boise State? Build on the Utah game as well.

Play the best, beat the best. I think this is how ND became ND. They should continue this. A schedule featuring SCUofM, MSU, BC, USC, Navy, an SEC team, a Big 12? team, another Pac-10? team, however many Big East teams we have to play and wildcards of another ACC team, another Big Ten? team, or an extra Big East team should be who ND plays.

Texas and Miami should be just the beginning on future schedules, not something to fall back on.