Frank V. at UHND.com hosts this weeks Irish Blogger Gathering. If you are new to the IBG concept, it was the brainchild of Subway Domer, who thought it would be cool to virtually gather a group of Notre Dame football bloggers around the campfire each game week to get their reactions to a common set of questions or issues. Each week a new host gets to pose the questions, and his or her blog serves as the centralized collection spot for the links to each blogger's posted response to the questions for that week. As I said, UHND.com is hosting the IBG this week, so head over there once you're done here to see how all the other IBG members reacted to his very challenging set of questions. It's fun, and you might meet some interesting bloggers. Just as a program note: I will be proudly hosting the IBG during USC week this season. You won't want to miss that one!
Without further ado, here are this week's questions and my reactions.
Name one offensive player and one defensive player you are most excited to see in the new systems and why.
There are a lot different ways to go with this one. How can you not say "Dayne Crist"? Damn near the whole enterprise is on his shoulders. If he plays well in the system and stays healthy, the year is going to be a success. If he struggles or gets hurt, things are going to be a whole lot tougher. I wish I were deep enough to pretend that I was "excited" about an O-line player. But I'm shallower than that. I want to see Cierre Wood, who really impressed me in the Blue & Gold Game. I want to see if he really is as explosive as he looked in the spring. I want to see Theo Riddick at receiver. He might be the key to the spread this season. He needs to be really effective to make defenses pay when they try to shut down M. Floyd.
On defense the easy answer is "Manti." He was so hyped and showed such promise, that I want to see if he can maximize that ability and really control the game from the middle of the defense. But I also want to see if Ian Williams can be a dominant nose tackle and really control the middle of the line. If he can gum up the middle, that will go a long way in improving the Irish run defense. If he gets pushed around that means the defense is getting pushed around. Finally I want to see if the cornerbacks (Walls, Gray, Blanton & Wood) can be consistently "sticky" in blanketing opposing receivers and shutting down the passing game. Has the new coaching staff been able to teach them better "ball skills" (i.e., what to do when the ball is in the air, other than flailing about helplessly and watching the receiver catch it for a touchdown).
What’s one reason you think Brian Kelly is the right coach this time. What’s one reason you think he might not be?
Well I've written quite a bit on this in the past (It's okay if you want to go read it, I'll wait here for you), and all of what I have written has been very supportive of the new hire. Short version: He fits the model that has produced the most successful coaches at Notre Dame in the past:
For me, the preferred model is the one that has made Notre Dame most successful in the past. Hire a coach who has been a very successful college head coach elsewhere. Find a guy who has displayed a knack for over-achieving at a "lesser" program, of doing "more" with "less." Frank Leahy was very successful at Boston College before coming to Notre Dame. Ara Parseghian won at Northwestern. Dan Devine won at Arizona State and Missouri. Lou Holtz won at William & Mary, North Carolina State, and Arkansas.What could, maybe be possible stumbling blocks? I'd have to reach, but maybe his spread scheme doesn't work as well against the elite teams Notre Dame regularly plays. Maybe the guys he recruits to fit his system don't match up well against the elite athletes at places like USC. Maybe the academic challenges don't allow the players to devote enough time to football. Maybe truly elite players don't want to come to ND to play in the spread. If you held a gun on me and made me name reasons why Kelly might not succeed, those might be the reasons. But I don't believe any of them.
A lot of people are labeling Purdue, Boston College, and Michigan State as toss up games. Considering Notre Dame beat all three of these teams during the disappointing 2009 season, do you consider these games toss-ups or games you expect Notre Dame to win?
Purdue is an easy win. Purdue usually makes a game of it against the Irish because they are overlooked most years sitting on the schedule as the "breather" game behind Michigan and Michigan State. They can't hide this year. They are the opener. and they will have the full attention of the Fighting Irish on Saturday.
Boston College and Michigan State will both be close. I think we get by B.C. in a close one, and I think we lose Dayne Crist's first road start in a night game at Sparty's house. I just think that we still will have trouble matching up physically against an old school power team, especially in a hostile environment. Michigan State is the only game on the schedule where I don't pick the Irish as the likely winner.
What’s one reason you think Notre Dame could shock the world and pull of another 1964-type season? What’s one reason you’re concerned we might see more of a 1997-type season?
(Please hold while OC Domer fires up google to learn what happened in 1964 and 1997).
Oh, okay. As I wrote just last night, I favor the Irish in 11 of 12 games, although I think the learning curve and general inexperience will most likely cost us a few games. But the 2009 Irish lost six games in 2009 by a combined 28 points. If this coaching staff is as good as we think it MIGHT be, are they worth 5 points per game? Can the 2010 Fighting Irish be, on average, 5 points per game better than in 2009? If they can be just that little bit better, they can have a 1964-like year. (1964 was Coach Ara Parseghian's first at ND. The Irish won their first 9 games before losing their only game of the year to USC. I hate those guys).
1997 was Boob Davie's first year as Head Coach at ND (or anywhere, for that matter). The Irish started the year ranked #11 in the country, but went 7-6 and finished unranked. (By the way, go check out that schedule. Very tough). We have young guys all over the two-deep, playing in a new system. If Dayne Crist is no Jimmy Clausen, if the learning curve is just a little steeper than we HOPE it is, then a 7-win season is very, very possible.
Which freshmen do you see contributing the most on the field this year (outside of TJ Jones – that’s too easy)?
Let me use my Nostradamus-like powers to peer into the two-deep and see who the Freshman are. Hold on a sec.
Okay, the answer is: Prince Shembo. The coaches clearly like him. When asked where they like him, Coach Kelly said "on the field." Plus, you have to love a guy named Prince. I also expect early enrollee Lo Wood to contribute. We are now scary thin at CB, so we need him to step up.
TJ Jones. I said it anyway.
Other than Dayne Crist (too easy again) who is the one player Notre Dame can least afford to lose to injury for any significant period of time?
I say Michael Floyd. He is the true #1 receiver. By being the Alpha play maker and drawing a lot of attention, he allows Theo Riddick and TJ Jones to be very effective #2 and #3 receivers. If Floyd goes down, who is the true #1? Last year we had Golden Tate to step up, and teams doubled him and still shut down everyone else. I don't know if we have a #2 of Tate's caliber. Maybe it's Riddick. Maybe it's Jones. Maybe not.
The other area where injuries would really hurt is at CB. If Walls or Gray get hurt we have a real problem. Blanton can step up from #3 corner to #2 corner. But who plays corner in the nickel then? Or the dime? We're looking at freshman then. Hi Lo!
2010 Season Predictions:
- Notre Dame record: 9-3
- Bowl game for Notre Dame with opponent: I really have no idea, and I won't insult you by pretending that I do.
- Final ranking: 21
- Opponent with the the highest final ranking: Pitt
- Notre Dame’s offensive & defensive MVP: Michael Floyd & Harrison Smith
- Best opponent offensive & defensive player: Ricky Dobbs (Navy QB) & Greg Jones (Mich. St. LB)
- Best opposing coach: Mark Dantonio, MSU. Honorable Mention to Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
- Game you are most excited to watch: Tie. Utah, because I'll be there. And USC, because it's USC.
- Game you wouldn't mind watching on DVR: Western Michigan. Seriously? We're playing Western Michigan?
- National Champion: Nebraska. Just because it would drive all those SEC people crazy.
- Heisman Winner: Dion Lewis
- Purdue game prediction: The Boilermakers won't know what hit them! (31-17, Irish).