August 10, 2009

The Big 10...And Other Irish Tidbits

Respected Ohio State / Big 10 columnist Doug Lesmerises had a somewhat interesting column in the Plain Dealer today. Here it is, but the basic premise was 7 ways for the Big 10 to regain national respectability. Anyway, he revealed that he had the Irish all the way up at #13 in his preseason poll. Here's what he had to say:

5. Bank on the Irish.

If they won't join you, root for them. Notre Dame success is good for the Big Ten ... as long as the Irish aren't too successful.

In 2007, the Big Ten beat Notre Dame four times by a combined score of 133-43, but the Irish went 3-9, so no one was that impressed. Last year, Notre Dame improved to 7-6, but in the end it just meant that the Big Ten lost two of three games to a mediocre team.

This season, the Big Ten will play 14 games against BCS schools, the only chance Big Ten schools have to impress anyone outside of conference play. Three games are against Notre Dame. Though I may be overly optimistic, I have Notre Dame ranked No. 13 in my preseason Associated Press ballot.

A 10-win season is a possibility, though the best thing for the Big Ten would be for Notre Dame to go 10-0 against everyone else and 0-3 against Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.

It's the quickest way to fix the Big Ten's maligned nonconference schedule.

Some other Irish tidbits from the last week or so. The depth chart was released and there are a few interesting items:

-Let's get to Manti Teo first of all. He's listed as the backup to Brian Smith at outside linebacker, while Toryan Smith is listed as the starting middle backer. Hmm. Toryan Smith came in with plenty of accolades, so it's possible he's finally put it together. He showed glimpses last year. But I just have a feeling that Teo is going to be working his way into the mix there. By the way, he's already listed at 244 pounds. He's a freak.

- Darrin Walls has already worked his way back into the starting lineup. Good to see. And Robert "D's in the Dirt" Blanton has officially supplanted Raeshon McNeil as the other starting corner. Our cb's are officially the deepest position on the team. Should be in good hands with Walls, Blanton, McNeill and Gray back there. And if you believe the reports, Jamoris Slaughter is one of the most improved players on the team.

-When we did the roundtable a few months back, a name that kept coming up was Kapron Lewis-Moore. Well, it's official. He'll be starting against Nevada. I'm a little concerned about defensive ends this year. Sure, KPM could eventually evolve into a Justin Tuck type player with that frame, but he is totally unproven. Kerry Neal is a promising but undersized defensive end on the other side. We'll see, but keep an eye on how the ends hold up against the rush.

-James Aldridge is officially a fullback. No surprise here. The lack of fullback options and the depth at tailback pretty much made this a no-brainer. I guess it kind of remains to be seen how effective he'll be as a blocker. He's listed as 225. Cierre Wood is 218 for comparison.

- Duval Kamara has managed to hold off all comers so far for the #3 spot. I don't like to criticize players, but let's just say Kamara failed at times to impress last year with a few drops. But I'm more than willing to give him a shot again before the reigns are handed over to Walker or Evans. From his first game, I had visions of Mo Stovall and am still hopeful he can live up to that potential.

-Mike Anello is back from his broken leg. Honestly maybe the best news from the past weeks. Anello has become one of our best players, and I honestly mean that. He plays the gunner position as well as anyone I've ever seen. Steve Tasker had nothing on Anello.

Charlie has hinted that he would like to get a freshman involved in return duties and let Tate worry about wide receiver. Ok. Not like our returns have been anything special recently. Let's see what Shaq or Cierre Wood can do back there.

The offensive line has the most combined starts of any returning unit in the country. Think about that. No more Latina excuses, or injury excuses or anything else. I hope that Verducci can turn it around. ND simply has to be able to run the ball better.

I know it's old news, but it was great to hear that Jimmy Clausen invited the wide receivers and Kyle Rudolph out to his California home to practice and bond over the summer. I don't know why, but at times last year I just got the feeling that Clausen wasn't comfortable being a leader of the team, and some players weren't comfortable with it either. He's a junior now, and the Hawaii game has rightly or wrongly raised the bar as far as how he can and should perform. I think with the weapons that he has that Clausen can put up big numbers.

Finally, the preseason AP Poll has ND at #23. I was a little surprised we squeaked into the rankings. Sure, the Hawaii game was the lasting memory from last year, but this is a team that lost to Syracuse. I'll admit that I've drunk the Kool-Aid on the 2009 Irish, I was just surprised that so many in the media have as well. I'm sure that schedule has a little bit to do with it. Realistically, ND can (should?) be 5-0 heading into the USC game. And yes, I realize that will require beating Michigan State in Notre Dame Stadium. Anyway, I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but the voters including ND this early in the polls sets up the potential for a Top 10 showdown on October 17th in South Bend.

Looking forward to September 5th and the showdown against Colin Kaepernick and the Wolfpack. I think (obviously) that game will tell us a lot about this season. I just hope I'm not sitting in Notre Dame Stadium in the middle of the 3rd quarter looking up at a brand new scoreboard that shows: Nevada 17 Notre Dame 10. I don't think I will be.


Jimmy said...

Better than the Hawaiian Hitman shirt is this Top Gunner gem -

Right below having your image and likeness on a video game has to rank having a t-shirt homage to you.

Doug said...

Great stuff. I'm curious about the linebacker situation as well. With only three LBs playing in the 4-3 this year, there's a lot of competition. The only reason I could see Te'o staying outside for this season is that it's hard to play middle linebacker in college as a true freshman. Maybe Tenuta wants him on the outside for now making plays and building up his confidence. Either way, it sounds like he'll be on the field a lot and that he's our Rey Maualuga.

I'm nervous about the d-line as well. Peronally, I was hoping to see Ethan Johnson as a 4-3 DE, and now he's playing DT. To me, that's a sign that our other DTs like Hafis Williams and Brandon Newman haven't really stood out yet. That d-line just feels a little small and inexperienced. I'm hoping that a few of those guys surprise, but the d-line is the weak spot on the defense for now. If you're not good up front, it's a concern.

No clue what to think about Kamara. He is a junior though, and he may blossom this year. I'm glad he's earned the #3 spot although I don't know who else would have won the spot by now. Deion Walker is intriguing, but he looked RAIL THIN at the spring game. Evans is a freshman, and Parris is not an option in my eyes.

Glad to hear about the Clausen/WRs/Rudolph reunion in California, but I'm curious about something. Why haven't our guys been doing this for years?? Every big time program in the country (and NFL franchises as well) does this type of stuff where a QB and his crew work out together all summer. Better late than never I suppose, but I wish guys had been doing this for years.

The overall feel that I get from this team is that they are really focused on being good this year. Everyone is really gung ho about football and putting in the extra work. Maybe it's just a matter of growing up or maybe players are doing everything possible to save their coach's job, but the players seem to be circling the wagons.

My only hope is that this determination becomes an annual thing instead of just before the occasional "comeback" year. We've fallen into the pattern of taking a few steps forward with a comeback season every 3-4 years (2005, 2002, 2000) and then following that up with 2-3 years in the wilderness. I hope Weis is building a program that can be good every year.

The stars are aligned for a big season. I'm pretty sure we're going to be good, but there's always a little anxiety until the season starts. 10-11 wins seem attainable, but that "Nevada 17 ND 10" scenario also lurks in the back of my mind as well.