October 14, 2008

Around the Nation - Week 7

11. Death, taxes, and the inevitable BCS chaos after a wacky week seven. Here we go again. You KNOW it’s coming. If Penn State runs the table and slips into the title game over a 12-1 Florida team or a 12-1 Alabama team, we might have another Civil War on our hands. Every college football fan currently situated south of the Mason-Dixon line is going to be scurrying to their nearest mountain top to holler about how the Big 10 is a joke and how no Big 10 team should be in the title game after the performance of Ohio State in the last two championship games against SEC teams. It is going to be UGLY. And to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t blame SEC fans for saying that. I know the SEC has not been quite as strong this year as it has been in recent years, but it’s still the SEC.

I think the SEC is still the best conference in America until proven otherwise, and I don’t think it would be fair for anyone to be crowned national champion without beating a 12-1 Florida team or a 12-1 Alabama team (if that’s how it turns out). It’s just fundamental fairness. When the last two champions in college football are from the SEC and the SEC is routinely trotting out 6-7 ranked teams a year, I personally don’t think you can have a postseason that doesn’t involve the SEC champion in it. It is certainly going to be interesting.

It is probably unfair to Penn State, but I really think Big 10 teams should be penalized this year. The residual effect of recent postseason debacles, the lack of a championship game, and the lack of any real statement nonconference wins for anyone in the conference still lingers over this league. I absolutely think that a 1 loss SEC team has just as much of a right to be in the title game as an undefeated Big 10 team.

By the way, I’m not knocking Penn State at all. I’m not even saying that Penn State couldn’t hypothetically beat the SEC champion this year. They are a legitimately great team this year, and I really think they are going undefeated. Where did Penn State come from?? I cannot say that I saw it coming. Did JoePa give up any remaining reins that he had over this program?? They have looked amazing so far this year.

10. Can we just set up one of these BCS games now so that Florida and USC can play?? Just call it the “How did we blow that random game against an unranked team and get left out of the championship game??” Bowl or something. America has been dying to see a Florida-USC game, and it never seems to work out. When both those teams are hot, there isn’t anyone better in America. I am not writing either team off for the national championship game, but I almost would rather just lock in a USC-Florida Fiesta Bowl game or something like that just to see all those great athletes and Urban Meyer and Pete Carroll pacing the sidelines. WOW. Someone remind me why a playoff is a bad idea again??

And for the love of god, please do not give us an Ohio State/Michigan State – USC Rose Bowl. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not subject America to that torture. I could stomach a Penn State-USC game (barely), but there is absolutely no reason to have anyone else from the Big Ten playing USC in the Rose Bowl. We do not need to waste another bowl game on a bloodbath like that.

9. Absolutely heartbreaking that Ryan Kelly decided to commit to Duke last week. I’ve only seen his highlights (which are impressive), but it sounds like he is the McRoberts/Hansborough/Troy Murphy type guy that could have put this team over the top over the next couple years. I guess I should have known that once Coach K got involved, it was over. It seems like we come in second to Duke just about every year for the Ryan Kelly type players. Very frustrating, but Brey is doing all he can do. The fact that we are finishing second for these guys is a credit to Brey and his staff.

I get why guys are going to Duke, so I’m not going to knock Ryan Kelly for going there. If you want to compete for a national championship, you are always going to have a chance to do that at Duke. Between the passion for Duke hoops, Cameron Indoor, the nationwide attention that Duke basketball gets, Coach K, the great education, and their tradition, there are obviously a ton of reasons to go to Duke. It’s no different than why players go to ND for football. I’m just hoping that one of these difference-making type players takes a chance on ND hoops someday. If you come to ND and play in the Brey offense, you are going to put up great numbers and have a lot less competition for playing time. Harangody has developed into a great player, so hopefully the perception continues to grow that ND is a place where an elite recruit can thrive and win championships.

One of these days, Brey is going to reel in a Ryan Kelly type player. I have no doubt about it.

8. While I have had a good time at the expense of Tommy Bowden in the last couple years, I will go on record and say that I hope Clemson finds the right guy for their program. After getting a chance to talk to some Clemson fans last Thursday at the Wake game and seeing their passion for Tiger football, I am pulling for them to make the right hire and start winning some ACC Championships. They have good talent down there. Big guys, good defensive players, speed at the skill spots. No reason they can’t do better than they’ve done during the Tommy Bowden era.

Good group of fans down there. They took over a sizeable portion of BB&T field on Thursday night. I would LOVE to get a home and home between the Irish and Clemson someday.

7. Speaking of Clemson, how about these rumors that Rich Rodriguez might be on the list of candidates for the Clemson job?? WOW. As crazy as it sounds, I honestly would not be surprised.

I know we have seen teams struggle in their first year with a new coach (see Alabama and Nick Saban from last year), but not sure if it’s ever been this bad. Did Michigan’s players just throw in the towel?? Are they mentally and physically wiped out after a grueling offseason?? How long before Michigan can realistically compete to win the Big 10?? I thought it would be as soon as next year, but hard to say that now.

If you put a gun to my head, I would still say that Rich Rodriguez will be successful at Michigan and have them regularly playing in BCS bowls. However, I have to say that I am wavering. As recently as three weeks ago, I was convinced that Rich Rodriguez was going to revolutionize football in the Big 10. Now, they are losing home games to 1-4 MAC teams. I know that Rodriguez is recruiting well and that he needs the players that fit into his spread scheme, but how are Michigan fans reacting to this tough of a rebuilding job??

The scary part for Michigan is that if Rodriguez doesn’t work out over the next 4-5 years, they are going to have to have a bunch of spread style recruits in a program that might be looking to get back to a pro-style scheme. They have put all their chips in the Rich Rodriguez basket. He better work out or it could do some real permanent damage to the Michigan brand.

6. My Heisman ballot through week 7:

5. Graham Harrell
4. Percy Harvin
3. Sam Bradford
2. Javon Ringer
1. Colt McCoy

Awfully hard to knock Sam Bradford after throwing 5 touchdown passes on Saturday. Not much more that he could have done. Gotta give some love to my man Colt McCoy this week, but this race is wide open. Javon Ringer has to be licking his chops about an 8 pm ABC TV home game this week against a fairly susceptible Ohio State run defense.

5. It has to be said. Matt Ryan is going to be a really good NFL quarterback. I was a bit of a skeptic, but it makes sense that he is doing well. If you make good decisions, get the ball where it needs to go quickly, and throw accurately, you are going to be successful. It’s amazing that the NFL GMs who keep falling in love with the athletic qbs (Vick, Young, etc) still haven’t figured this out. Matty Ice is not exactly the most athletic guy out there, but it really doesn’t matter. He’s a smart guy and gets rid of the ball.

It's also pretty amazing that there are currently two Purdue qbs starting and playing well in the NFL. Joe Tiller is going to be missed much more than Purdue fans might be willing to admit.

4. When was the last time that one program had the two hottest head coaching prospects in the country?? Has there been a hotter name than Will Muschamp among assistant coaches in the last ten years or so?? It seems like every school in the country with an opening is talking up Will Muschamp. For good reason I guess. Played football at Georgia, created the game plan to win the national championship in 2003 for LSU against Oklahoma, he grew up at the knee of one Nicholas Montgomery Saban and became a disciple of that physical style of defense, ends up turning Auburn into a top 10 defense, and now is doing wonders down at Texas. Definitely a star on the rise. Plus, he just has a name that was meant for a Southern coach. WILL MUSCHAMP. Cmon, tell me that guy isn’t a future star somewhere. It’s almost too competitive in the SEC these days. He might want to think about grabbing that Clemson job and trying to build them into a perennial ACC power. Either way, he is going to have his pick of the litter this offseason.

As for Major Applewhite, my appreciation for the Major has been well-documented through the years, but I will say this. Vegas has officially removed the “Will Major Applewhite be the next head coach at Texas?” betting from the board. I don’t think you could even get 1:3 odds on that one.

Credit where credit is due to Mack Brown. I thought he was going to pack it in after winning the title with Vince Young, but he has shaken up that staff and brought in some new blood. They are on a mission, and it’s been brewing down in Austin since December of last year. Texas is for real this year.

3. Is there anything better than the SEC haircut?? When did it become a requirement for every male between the ages of 17 and 30 and raised south of the Mason-Dixon line to have those Bama Bangs or the Southern Swoop or whatever you want to call it?? Throw on a button down shirt and a Dixie accent, and you pretty much have the uniform for SEC/ACC football fans.

Why do so many Southerners shoot for that look when it is practically unheard of in the north?? Is it something about their foreheads being cold?? How do you go about getting one of those haircuts?? Do you just show up at your local barbershop and ask for the Bama Bangs??

John Parker Wilson and Cullen Harper have created a phenomenon. I’m working on my Southern Swoop as we speak.

2. As for the Irish, I’ll be the first to admit that I was firmly planted on the ledge on Saturday night after the game. If I had written this post when I stumbled into the hotel at 3:00 am or whatever, it probably would have made Paul Hornung blush.

Having had a chance to reflect on the game though and rewatch it on TIVO, I’m ready to look at this game with some level of perspective.

What else can be said about #7 that hasn’t already been said?? Every single person in powder blue inside Kenan Memorial Stadium was terrified of him. He’d go back to pass, and the entire stadium held its collective breath. It was really amazing to see it. There are very few players in college football who strike the fear of god into their opponent: Percy Harvin, some of those Big 12 qbs, maybe Beanie Wells when he has a hole. I’d put Jimmy Clausen near that list. When he has the ball in his hands and time to throw (or somewhere to maneuver and get a look), he is really really dangerous. Clausen gives me the belief that we can go down and score on anybody, and that he can carry a team on his back. I haven’t seen this guy look completely out of sync yet this year. As great as Brady Quinn was in an ND uniform, he had more than his share of days where he was missing open receivers left and right and overthrowing/underthrowing balls. Clausen is a machine, and he is only scratching the surface. As he gets more comfortable in the pocket, those plays where he moves outside and finds somebody coming back to the ball like that play he completed to Duval Kamara are going to happen more frequently.

Did Clausen throw a couple picks on Saturday?? Yea, but it’s hard for me to get bent out of shape about Clausen throwing a couple picks when he is throwing 45+ times in a game. That’s the nature of the beast when you throw that much. A couple miscommunications are going to happen.

Needless to say, 7 is special. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate his importance to this team or program. He’s the difference between this team being a 8-9 win team and a 3-4 win team. I know ND qbs always get a little extra Heisman attention, but I really think he will deserve every bit of praise that he gets heading into the 2009 season. I would have to think he will be among the frontrunners.

I thought Armando Allen and James Aldridge ran hard, and our screen game was probably as good as it has been in a couple years. Where have those screens been the last couple years?? Was it just a timing thing?? Some of those screen calls were huge 3rd down conversions. Great sign.

As for the program in general, I think a lot of Notre Dame fans are on the fence about this program, and I can understand either position. I could easily hop on board and bang the positive drum and say that 8-4 would be great for a young team and that we are going to be awesome in 2009 and 2010, but I could just as easily say that we're really not all that good of a team and that losing to a team like UNC Is not exactly a cause for great optimism. Weis hasn't even entered his peak years with this program (likely 2009-2011), so we probably won’t have a good idea where we are headed until after the 2009 season. For all I know, we'll pull a Penn State next year and start plowing everyone. I would love to see it.

Are we better this year??? Yes, no question. I think that we have steadily gotten better as the season has gone along. You could make a case that Saturday was our best game of the year. We showed life on the road that we didn’t show against Michigan State, which is a good sign going forward. We threw the ball well, we had a great gameplan to get the lead, we played hard, we never quit, and we certainly didn’t back down on the road. There are signs that we can be a great team someday. The offense is very explosive, and we are getting noticeably better as the season goes along. With six games left to go in the year, we have a lot of room to continue to grow.

Do we have talent??? No doubt about it. There are young players on this team who not only look like they are going to be great players in the future, they are playing great right now. Clausen, Floyd, Tate, Rudolph, B. Smith, Ethan Johnson, D__s in the Dirt, Armando Allen, Trevor Robinson, Darius Fleming, etc. Weis recruited every one of those guys, and it is clear that there’s more potential among these young guys than any group of young guys we’ve had in a long time.

On the other hand, part of me wonders about this TEAM. I’m impressed with a bunch of our individual players, but is this team any good?? The results are the results. If we were playing a tougher schedule this year, would we even be a 6 win team this year?? We're a 4-2 team playing a weak schedule. I know we're young and that we turned the ball over on Saturday, but part of that is just because we're a one-dimensional offense. When you are throwing 45+ times a game, it's hard for me to be stunned that we got picked off a couple times. We've seen it before (2006 Michigan, etc).

North Carolina was a nice team with a good coach, one really good WR, a couple pretty good d-lineman, and that was about it. I said the same thing about Michigan State a month ago. They had 3-4 really good players, a good coach, and that was about it. I think UNC can end up with 8-9 wins (maybe), but they’re like the Georgia Tech teams of the last two years that people were talking about as a top 15 team after we played them only to later see them end up at 7-5. The Tar Heels aren’t exactly a juggernaut.

Go back and look at UNC’s recruiting rankings from the last five years courtesy of Rivals.com:

2004 – 36 (32 for ND)
2005 – 44 (40 for ND)
2006 - 30 (8 for ND)
2007 – 17 (8 for ND)
2008 – 32 (2 for ND)

Am I missing something?? People are talking about ND’s players like we’re playing with a bunch of overachieving cripples or something, and yet we’ve outrecruited North Carolina comfortably over the last five years. We have more talent than UNC if you look at the “material.”

I know we have a young team and I can live with the loss to some degree, but it would be nice to break through and beat a team like UNC. We SHOULD beat these kinds of teams. The BCs, the MSUs, the UNCs of the world. Those are the kind of games that Bob Davie got roasted on a stake for losing, but now we just shrug it off and talk about our youth and how great we’ll be in 2010. I guess that just bothers me. I know we’re in it for the long haul and that better days probably lie ahead, but it’s frustrating to see this team getting outplayed by the same mediocre teams that we’ve been losing to for a decade.

Compounding the loss is the lingering feeling that southerners don’t respect our team or our program at all. We’re not the only northern team that gets no respect from the south, but it bothers me that we’re in that mix. We used to regularly beat teams from the south. We used to beat teams like Miami, FSU, Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas. Now I feel like we’re patting ourselves on the back about losing a close game to a mediocre North Carolina team. Really?? Go down and talk to a Florida fan or an LSU fan or an Oklahoma fan about how they would react if they lost to a mid-level ACC team on the road. I would like to get to the point where we are genuinely pissed because we ONLY beat a team like that by 7-10 on the road. That’s the standard down in Gainesville and in Austin and Columbus and Norman. I don’t have those expectations for 2008 by any stretch, but I hope we see that day again in South Bend.

We haven’t beaten a ranked team since Penn State in 2006. That’s 7 straight losses to ranked teams. I understand that we are rebuilding, but I think there is a tendency to overstate our rebuilding process. It's hard for me to accept the fact that we're still a mediocre team with a lot of the same problems even in year four of the Weis era, especially when I see guys like Butch Davis and Mark Dantonio doing more with less in their second years. I really don’t feel the need to congratulate the guy for losing close to North Carolina in his fourth year.

Do I think that we are headed in the right direction?? Absolutely. Could the light bulb go on for this team and we just start pounding people?? Yes, look at what Penn State is doing this year. That could be us next year. How close are we to that?? I’m not sure. I could easily talk myself into the idea that we would be a really good team if Brandon Newman and Ethan Johnson and Hafis Williams were all juniors on our d-line. But the other part of me just thinks that we have a finesse mentality and that we might not be a whole lot better on defense even with a more experienced d-line. When you watch our game and then watch somebody like Florida or even Oklahoma State, it is clear that we have a lot of ground to make up. That could obviously change, and I hope we close the gap soon.

The good news for the Irish is that we have 6 games left. We have gotten better every week, and I hope that the second half brings more growth to this team. Losing to UNC was tough to swallow, but it is hardly a devastating loss from which we can't recover. If we run through the rest of the schedule heading into the USC game, that would be a great sign for the future of this program. I would also love to see us win a bowl game and head into the offseason with a ton of momentum.

Finally, just wanted to say that I couldn’t have enjoyed a college setting more than Chapel Hill. Great place to visit, and the entire Franklin Street area is a blast. What I would do for a strip like that at Notre Dame that the crowds could just spill over to immediately following the game. You walk 2 blocks from the stadium, and there are 15-20 options of all different forms. I can’t even imagine what that place must look like during a Final Four weekend.

Carolina fans were fairly harmless, and it’s pretty funny that Tyler Hansborough got the biggest ovation of the day at the Stadium. Kenan Memorial Stadium was a fun place to watch a game, and the setting in those tall pines (I felt like I was walking through Amen Corner or something...dogwoods and pines) with the bell tower overlooking the stadium is great.

1. My top 6 for now:

6) Oklahoma State
5) Penn State
4) USC
3) Florida
2) Alabama
1) Texas

While I think Penn State looks like a terrific team so far, I just can’t reward that schedule. I can’t do it. They played a dog nonconference schedule, and the Big 10 is certifiably terrible. Ohio State is probably Penn State’s toughest game left, but USC beat Ohio State 35-3. I think Penn State can certainly make a statement in Columbus, but they haven’t played the game yet. Until then, I’m keeping them just below USC.

I know Penn State beat Oregon State and that USC lost to them, but USC was sleepwalking in that game. My standard for the national title game is not based on your record since everyone is playing different types of schedules. I’m looking at who you have played, and who you have beaten.

These rankings are subject to change from week to week, but I’m only going on what has happened so far. USC could very easily lose to Arizona or Cal and make me question how good they are. Same goes for Florida as they run through the rest of the SEC. As of now, I’m sticking with these rankings.


Chas E said...

This sums it up pretty well, Douglas. A bit more tempered than 1 am on Sunday when you were yelling "we're a mid-major" to anyone who would listen on Franklin Street. I am one of those who is too often guilty of "wait til 09," but that also means that I will throw Fat Chucky out with the bathwater if this isn't a top 10 team next year. Great to see you guys this weekend, bummed we couldn't get into Players.

Jimmy said...

Great to see a level-headed assessment of the current state of Irish football. You're dead on that nobody should be satisfied with the trip to Chapel Hill. Was there improvement? Of course. That's been the main difference between 2007 and 2008 - the fact that there has actually been a learning curve of progress. Should Irish fans and the players themselves expect to win games like Saturday? You bet your a$$. These last 6 games should give the offense to polish off what's been working and find a dependable running attack. The defense needs to grow fangs and not be susceptible to one player dominating them. We've seen it with McGuffie, Ringer, Tardy and now Nicks. Adjust and take the option away.

Just picturing Doug bellowing the mid-major cry, imploring everyone to believe him, is making me giggle. The Counselor at his finest. I'm curious if Doug's howling was what kept you out of Players.