Well, Saturday was as heartbreaking a day as any in recent memory for ND fans, but there's always another Saturday around the corner to put this team back on the right path. If you are headed up to South Bend this weekend, bring your "A" game and get this team fired up for Michigan State. If the crowd is dead, I fear this team will come out flat. I plan to be lively in the stands on Saturday, and hope the rest of the crowd follows suit.
All is not lost on this season. Among all the bellyaching about the loss to Michigan, ND actually showed a lot of good things. That loss up at Michigan might end up being a speed bump to a great season. Looking forward to what hopefully will be a great day for the Irish.
One final note, a friend of the blog has ventured into the high stakes world of sports merchandise sales, and we figured we'd put in a good word for his site. Teamcanteen.com is selling college and pro apparel across the spectrum, and they always have good deals and some good Notre Dame stuff. If you are the kind of guy or girl who scours the internet in search of a Vancouver Canucks reversible knit hat, this is the place to go.
On to the picks.
Thursday September 17, 2009
Georgia Tech (+4) at Miami (ESPN 7:30pm)
Jeremy: Miami (-4)
I thought there was plenty of room on the Randy Shannon bandwagon, but I find myself suddenly very cramped. The speed and athleticism is back in a big way in Coral Cables, especially on defense. The Canes are definitely only a Jacory Harris injury away from absolute disaster, but I’m smelling a big win at home this weekend. Miami will have to play smart, disciplined, assignment football against the Tech option attack and will probably give up some long runs early, but ultimately the speed and talent in Miami’s front seven is too much for the Yellow Jackets.
Miami 24 GT 17
Dan: Georgia Tech +4
Interesting line here. Georgia Tech did not look great after the trickeration in the first quarter against Clemson. Meanwhile, the U is quickly being proclaimed as "back" by pundits across the country based on the game on Labor Day against FSU. Last year, GT gained almost 500 yards on the ground against Miami. I'm not convinced Miami is improved enough to fully slow the GT option attack. Additionally, GT has dominated this series lately, winning 4 straight. While that might be a good argument for motivation for the Canes, I'm still selling. I think the long lay-off after just 1 game, weak home atmosphere (because usually Thursday nights favor home games), and the return of the real Randy Shannon all do Miami in and GT makes it 5 straight.
Georgia Tech 31 Miami 28
Matt: Miami -4
Maybe it’s just the ACC rubbing off on me, but I think this is the most intriguing game of the weekend. If Miami pulls this off, they will have already beaten two of the top three teams in the conference while most teams are still out there playing the Citadel’s and Middle Tennessee State’s of the world. I just keep going back to that game against FSU where it looked like vintage Miami speed out there on the field. I know they got absolutely SHREDDED by the GT rushing attack this year, but I smell a home win for the Canes. I’ve been firmly on the Randy Shannon bandwagon for over a year – no need to hop off now.
Miami 27 GT 21
Mike: Georgia Tech (+4):
In last year’s game between these two teams, Georgia Tech’s offense ran up, over and through the Miami defense en route to a blowout win in Atlanta. Although the game is in Miami and the Hurricanes appear to be improved from last year, I expect the Jackets to move the ball effectively on the ground after an underwhelming performance last week against Clemson. Miami will benefit from an off week to prepare for Georgia Tech (albeit a truncated off-week because Miami played on Labor Day), but it won’t be enough to close the gap that existed last year. Look for Tech to score the outright upset victory.
Georgia Tech 24 Miami 21
Doug: Miami -4
THE U!! Now that everyone is hyping them up, they'll probably lay an egg, but I gotta pick the Canes here. They got destroyed last year at Georgia Tech, so you would think they've been practicing against the triple option attack all summer. This is a big game for Tech, but this is a huge game for Miami. Randy Shannon can go from the Embattled Randy Shannon to "potential rising star" Randy Shannon.
Maybe FSU is just that bad, but I thought Miami looked great in the opener. This Jacory Harris guy looks like a potential star. I'd take Harris over Terrelle Pryor right now. And yes I agree with everyone who is saying that Tate Forcier is a better quarterback right now than Terrelle Pryor. It's not even close in fact. That Michigan-Ohio State game is going to be verrrrrrrrrrrrrry interesting in Ann Arbor this year.
Miami 27 Georgia Tech 21
Saturday September 19, 2009
Georgia (pick 'em) at Arkansas (ESPN 7:45 pm)
I have no idea what’s going to happen in this game. So in the wild and wacky SEC, I’ll take the Hogs at home. Will be interested to see the continued development of Ryan Mallett under Petrino’s tutelage.
Arkansas 24 Georgia 23
A shoot out can certainly be expected in Fayetteville. We already know that Georgia has no defense after giving up 61 points in 2 games. The 37 to South Carolina is particularly telling. Combine that with an incredibly potent offense under Bobby Petrino and Ryan Mallett, and Razorbacks could certainly drop 40. Can Georgia keep up? I feel kind of silly picking Arkansas straight up against Georgia, but I expect Cox to turn the ball over a couple times, while Mallett avoids an interception, resulting in a close Arkansas win. But I for sure will feel more comfortable betting the over thank on either team.
Arkansas 38 Georgia 31
Petrino has breathed life into Arkansas, and Georgia is a little shaky. I’ll go with the home team.
Arkansas 27 Georgia 24
Mike: Arkansas (Pick)
Georgia should be commended for a gutty victory over South Carolina that may have saved their season. Unfortunately, the road gets no easier for Mark Richt, as the Dawgs must travel to Fayetteville to face a much-improved Arkansas team with a high powered offense led by Ryan Mallett and the brothers Petrino. Despite scoring 41 points, Georgia barely gained more than 300 yards and, in the process, did nothing to dispel the notion that they are a struggling outfit on offense. Moreover, the Dawgs yielded a significant chunk of points and yards to a South Carolina offense that is certainly not known as an explosive outfit. Simply put, Arkansas has too much firepower for Georgia.
Arkansas 31 Georgia 21
I thought about making this my upset special of the week, but I feel like this line might be a sucker line. I'm a believer in Arkansas, but Georgia is a legit top 20 team. They have better personnel right now.
Bobby Petrino is going to turn out to be an absolute steal for Arkansas. All you need to do is look at what has happened to Louisville since he's been gone. I'm buying in on them this year. I'm curious to see how Ryan Mallett plays for Arkansas this year. Great career move for him.
Haven't had a chance to watch Georgia yet this year. Big win for them against South Carolina. Man, life is not easy in the SEC. You get rewarded with the big South Carolina by going to Arkansas the following week and LSU two weeks later (with Arizona State in the middle).
Georgia is a good football team though. They have top 15 type talent, and Richt has always won on the road. I think this will be a very good game, but I'm taking the Dawgs.
Georgia 24 Arkansas 21
Texas Tech (+17.5) at Texas (ABC 8pm)
Jeremy: Texas (-17.5)
A revenge special. Colt McCoy will probably cover the spread on his own.
Texas 56 Texas Tech 17
Dan: Texas Tech +17.5
Wow! That's a big spread for the Red Raiders. Could Texas win this game by 3 touchdowns? I guess. But you know that Texas Tech puts up points. Against a team that has the ability to go for at least 30 on just about any team, it is difficult to lay 17.5 points. I realize it has been against inferior competition, but the Red Raiders are averaging 47 points a game. Take the points.
Texas 41 Texas Tech 27
Matt: Texas -17.5 – LOCK OF THE WEEK
Can you say payback?
Texas 52 Texas Tech 21
Mike: Texas (-17.5)
In its typical gutless fashion, Texas Tech has chosen the path of least resistance in its non-conference schedule in 2009, so we really don’t have any genuine evidence regarding the strength of this year’s Red Raider team. As such, I will assume that this will be a typical Mike Leach team: great against weaklings, but not equipped to hang with the heavyweights. Colt McCoy and the Texas offense should run roughshod over the Texas Tech defense, while the Longhorns’ defense will quickly make Taylor Potts realize that he’s not playing North Dakota or Rice.
Texas 47 Texas Tech 21
Doug: Texas Tech +17.5
Death, taxes, and Mike Leach putting up record offensive numbers. Quick fantasy anecdote on Texas Tech. It doesn't even matter who the quarterback is in that offense. If you draft a Texas Tech quarterback, you are getting monster numbers. It's amazing. JTaylor Potts didn't even start last year, and he was the #6 overall pick in the draft this year. Right now, he's the #1 fantasy player overall. You really can't go wrong with a Texas Tech QB even if you've never heard of him until the draft. Same for their receivers. I drafted this Lyle Leong guy who didn't even start last year, and he had 9 catches, 117 yards, and 3 touchdowns last week. Just keep the faith in Mike Leach.
Texas is good, but this line is a little high. Texas is getting a little bit too much respect here. The only team I would take on a line like this one is Florida.
Longhorns will get it done at home, but I could see this game being close.
Texas 31 Texas Tech 24
Nebraska (+4.5) at Virginia Tech (ABC 3:30pm)
Jeremy: Nebraska (+4.5)
Are the Shirts back?? We’ll certainly find out this weekend. Nebraska has been flying under the radar a bit so far this season but a big win in what is effectively a road game against a solid opponent would go a long way to catapulting the Huskers back into the national picture. Va Tech slinks back to Blacksburg with 2 tough losses in September.
Nebraska 27 Va Tech 23
Dan: Nebraska +4.5
This is a chance for Nebraska and Bo Pelini to prove that they are really back on their way to being a National powerhouse. VT has not last home to a non-conference opponent in 31 straight. Taking a first year starter into Blacksburg is certainly a daunting task for the Huskers. VT against Alabama wore down and was beaten more soundly than the score really represents. I am really torn on whether or not the Huskers can pull off the win at VT, but fairly confident they can at least get the cover. Don't be surprised to see a full upset, but I'll stick with a close VT win.
Virginia tech 21 Nebraska 20
Matt: Nebraska +4.5
Would love to get a glimpse of this game just to see how effective Big Red Nation is at invading our nation’s capital. I mean, this should be practically a VT home game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 50/50. Ryan Williams had a monster game against Marshall – we’ll see if he can do it against the Blackshirts.
Virginia Tech 17 Nebraska 14
Mike: Virginia Tech- Lock of the Week (-4.5):
Last year, a seemingly inept Virginia Tech squad stumbled into Lincoln and defeated the Huskers rather soundly. The Hokies should be even better this year despite an early setback against Alabama and they will benefit from some home cooking at Lane Stadium. I am really not sure what to expect from Nebraska, which has rolled over two tomato can opponents thus far in 2009, but I am not counting on a big performance from a QB, Zac Lee, who will be making his first career road start against a tough defense. Look for Bud Foster’s defense to make life very difficult for Lee and the Huskers this weekend.
Virginia Tech 31 Nebraska 14
Doug: Virginia Tech -4.5 - LOCK OF THE WEEK
Big game right here. Gotta hand it to Virginia Tech for their nonconference schedule. Alabama and Nebraska?? That's strong.
Nebraska reminds me a little of ND. They have a favorable schedule, they look like they are better, but they haven't really done it against any good teams. Good offensive team, but the jury is out on their defense. I'm looking at their schedule, and they might really go off on a run if they can pull this game out at Virginia Tech. They don't play Oklahoma State or Texas this year.
I like Bo Pelini though. New quarterback with Zac Lee, but people are probably expecting him to make a run at the Big 12 North title this year. That's gotta be the goal if you're the head coach at Nebraska. Kansas and Missouri and those teams don't have the tradition of Nebraska.
I'll take Va Tech though. Va Tech took it to Nebraska last year, and Lane Stadium is a tough place to win. Frank Beamer has his early season loss out of the way, and now they'll quietly go about winning 10 games. This Ryan Williams guy they have now at running back is a beast.
I'll take the Hokies and the points.
Virginia Tech 31 Nebraska 21
Florida State (+7) at BYU (Versus Network 7pm)
Jeremy: Florida St. (+7)
Tough to believe that the Noles are getting this many points against BYU, even in Provo. I’m not sure that Saint Bobby can pull out a W, but Mickey Andrews’ D will keep this one within a TD. And I guess we’ll have to fire up the BYU title game talk. Fantastic.
BYU 28 FSU 27
Dan: Florida State +7
Wow! How the mighty have fallen. First of all, what the hell is Florida State doing playing a road game at BYU? Who scheduled that? I guess I respect the audacity, but sure question the decision. Secondly, a touchdown dog? I don't care that BYU is ranked higher or played better so far. It's the Seminoles! The only part that is a little scary is that BYU's strength (passing offense) matches up well with FSU's weakness (passing defense). If BYU can get a couple quick scores early without answers from FSU, will the FSU players roll over? I suppose that is certainly a cause for concern. But I just can't convince myself to take the once vaunted Seminoles to lose by more than a TD to a Mountain West team.
BYU 31 Florida State 28
Matt: BYU -7
I can’t believe Bobby Bowden’s corpse agreed to play this game. Winning by a hair against Jacksonville St. doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that they’ll show up in Provo.
BYU 34 FSU24
Mike: Florida State (+7)
This pick, admittedly, is largely a product of my desire to avoid having to hear about BYU as a national championship contender rather than an in-depth analysis of this matchup. I will say, however, that notwithstanding Florida State’s lame effort last week at home against Jacksonville State, the Seminoles are well equipped to win at Provo if they are amply motivated. Christian Ponder appears to be poised for a breakout season (despite FSU’s struggles in the running game) and Mickey Andrews should be able to coax a strong performance out of his defense. BYU might turn out to be pretty good, but a victory over an Oklahoma team sans Sam Bradford is not enough for me to be convinced yet.
Florida State 27 BYU 24
Doug: Florida State +7
Versus is still on the air?? I didn't know they were still doing games. Thought I had read something about them having problems getting on cable providers. Guess there's still an appetite for the NHL and Mountain West football.
Cmon, can I really pick BYU here?? Feels like a sucker line. This game is going to look like Remember the Titans or something. An all black team against an all white team. The battle of the races. With apologies to my white brethren, I'll take my chances with a team full of African-Americans against all those white guys in Provo. If Florida State shows up to play in this game, they have a great chance to hang around or win. It comes down to material. FSU has better material than BYU even though they are much less disciplined.
Then again, Florida State almost loss to Jacksonville State last week. That would have been a horrific loss, but nothing surprises me with Bobby Bowden anymore. He lost control of that program years ago. Someone at FSU is going to have to get some guts and nudge him aside. They need new blood at the top.
Final note: Great move by Ryan Perilloux to go down to Jacksonville State. I hope he resurrects his career down there. Maybe he's a thug and a little crazy, but someone will take a chance on him in the NFL if he plays well at JSU.
BYU 24 FSU 20
Cincinnati (+1) at Oregon State (FSN 6:45pm)
Jeremy: Cincinnati (+1) – LOCK OF THE WEEK
If Brian Kelly takes the Bearcats out to Corvallis and beats Oregon St., will he become an acceptable head coaching candidate for the ND faithful? Can’t say I’ve really understood all the negative talk about him, but I think he’s doing a fantastic job. This would be a program-defining type win in my opinion, and I think he gets it.
Cincy 23 OSU 20
Dan: Cincinnati +1 – LOCK OF THE WEEK
This is another line that has me scratching my head. Cincinnati can score points in bunches. They have a very underrated, scrappy offense. Jacob Ramsey is averaging 9.5 yards a carry (only 15 carries, but still!) Tony Pike is playing great. Meanwhile, Oregon State has only given up 28 points in 2 games and Jacquizz Rogers is off to a great start. However Rogers is a little banged up, and I think this Cincy team has something special going. I think Cincy wins easily.
Cincinnati 31 Oregon state 20
Matt: Cincy +1
Weird line. Really shows that the Big East is getting no respect. I think UC straight up wins this game. They seem to have the defense to slow down Quizz Rodgers.
UC 28 OSU 24
Mike: Oregon State (-1)
Cincinnati may be well on its way to another Big East title, but they are facing a big step-up in class this weekend in Corvallis when compared to their first two opponents. Although Oregon State is inexperienced on defense, Mike Riley has shown a knack for plugging in new faces on defense without skipping a beat. More importantly, you can expect that the Beavers’ quarterback, Sean Canfield, will perform at the level of excellence that has become customary for all of those who share his surname.
Oregon State 31 Cincinnati 27
Doug: Oregon State -1
It breaks my heart to pick against the Bearcats here, but Oregon State is a very good program with better athletes. Oregon State not only has talented high school players, but they always have a few very good JUCOs to fill in the gaps. I would be thrilled to see Cincy hang tough in this game, but it's a road game in a crazy environment in Corvallis. Very tough to come out of there with a win even if Oregon State has struggled so far and almost lost to UNLV last week. I feel like this game will be similar to Cincy's game against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. UC will be competitive, but won't quite have the personnel in the front seven or on the offensive line to control this game. Maybe someday, but it's not quite there yet.
With that said, I wanted to comment on how excited people are about Cincinnati football right now. It has reached the point where I think Cincinnati is becoming a legit UC town and not just a hodge podge of pockets of college football fan interest (ND, OSU, UK, UC, Michigan, IU, etc). I think people are really excited to see this team against Oregon State on Saturday. I know I'm definitely going to be finding somewhere to watch the game in the South Bend area after the ND game. How is this game on FSN and not one of the big boy networks?? I hope it is a national broadcast and not some regional act where people can't watch the game.
Of course, all of this success is owed to one person and one person only: Brian Kelly. The man has galvanized the city like no sports personality since Bob Huggins. With the Bengals and Reds flailing away year after year after year, UC is really in a position to strike and carve out a strong college football niche in southwest Ohio.
As for the larger picture, there's actually a lot of talk from the UC fans lately about whether UC is the best program in the state of Ohio right now. That's a little much, but I think UC people at least have an argument these days. UC plays an exciting, attacking brand of football. Ohio State tries to win every game 20-17. If you were a recruit, wouldn't you at least think about going to UC and playing that style of football?? Five years ago, it would have never even been up for consideration. UC has definitely closed the gap to some degree.
I don't think Cincinnati can ever get onto Ohio State's level in terms of prestige, but they aren't going away as long as Brian Kelly stays around. This is not a fluke. They have legitimate D-I facilities, an improved stadium environment, a good setup in the Big East, and a decent recruiting base in Ohio and Kentucky. Brian Kelly has shown the ability to take 2-3 star guys and coach them up to 4 star type quality. Look at how many guys they had drafted last year. Not one of those guys was anything above a 2 star recruit. Same goes for Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard this year. Those guys were nobody recruits, and now looking like 1st or 2nd round NFL draft picks. Honestly, if UC shocks the world and beats Oregon State, Tony Pike deserves some consideration for the Heisman. He's been spectacular through two games.
Cincy needs to quietly talk to Kelly and see what they can do to keep him around for the next ten years. I have a feeling that someone is eventually going to come hard after him, and UC cannot afford to lose him. If Kelly leaves, all the momentum is out the door and the next hire could be a disaster. I personally think Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in America. UC is lucky to have him, and they need to do everything possible to keep him around.
One final point here. If I was the governor of the state of Ohio, I would mandate that Ohio State and Cincinnati play every year. Why not settle this little rivalry on the field?? You could do it in a home-neutral setup with one game at the Shoe and one game at Paul Brown Stadium. You have two BCS programs in the state, and they don't play each other?? Huh?? Why does Ohio State have that much clout to be able to duck that game?? It should be like any other state where they have mandated that the schools play (Georgia-Georgia Tech, etc). Man up, Tressel. Come down to Paul Brown and take on the Bearcats. My prediction is that UC would win that game this year.
Back to the game though. Mike Riley is an outstanding coach, and I would be shocked if they don't find a way to beat an outmanned Cincy team.
Oregon State 31 Cincinnati 27
West Virginia (+7) at Auburn (ESPN2 7:45pm)
Jeremy: West Virginia (+7)
I don’t think the Mountaineers win this game, but I think they keep it close throughout and lose a heartbreaker on the road. Interesting that Chizik is getting so much praise so early down at Auburn – he was basically run out of Ames on a rail and it looked like his once-promising head coaching career was over. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad hire after all?
Auburn 38 WVU 35
Dan: Auburn -7
Auburn has gotten off to a great start scoring points in bunches. West Virginia has yet to play anyone of consequence and Bill Stewart is still their coach. It's a night game between a Big East team and an SEC team in an SEC stadium. Enough said.
Auburn 34 West Virginia 17
Matt: West Virginia +7
My upset special of the week. Do not sleep on West Virginia with Jarrett Brown at QB. He’s a much better passer than Pat White. I know that Auburn has put up MONSTER offensive numbers with ol’ Gus Malzahn on board, but WV is a big step up in competition from LA Tech and Miss State. I think West Virginia goes on the road into SEC country and pulls out the victory. Big East pride!
West Virginia 41 Auburn 35
Mike: West Virginia (+7)
There is something very unsettling about casting one’s lot with Bill Stewart in a road game against an SEC foe, but I need to see more from Auburn before I can take them as a home favorite against a quality opponent. Despite my doubts regarding Stewart’s coaching acumen, I believe that the visiting Mountaineers are explosive enough on both sides of the ball to move the ball offensively and to slow the retooled Tigers offense led by Gus Malzahn. Moreover, while on the topic of leadership, this will be the first real test for Gene Chizik at Auburn, who hasn’t exactly shown himself to be a latter-day Bear Bryant in his first few years as a head coach. This should be an entertaining evening battle, so hopefully I won’t be blacked out drunk from the Notre Dame game by the time this contest is underway.
Auburn 23 West Virginia 21
Doug: Auburn -7
All right, I'm buying in Auburn fans. I'm hearing some good stuff about their offense this year. Maybe Gene Chizik will turn out to be a great hire for them.
Big game for both programs. West Virginia's offense has been dangerous with Jarrett Brown running the show at quarterback. He's turned out to be a fantasy gem and a possible NFL draft pick. Guess we'll see how they hold up at night in Auburn.
As for Auburn, their offense has been really explosive so far with this new spread look from Gus Malzahn. I'm buying in. Sounds like it has taken a year for things to click, and now they are blowing up offensively.
I think the Tigers roll and make a statement to the nation. They'll be ranked on Monday.
Auburn 35 WVU 27
Michigan State (+11) at ND (NBC Sports 3:30pm)
Jeremy: Notre Dame
Couldn’t bring myself to talk about last week’s game. Apart from the ’05 SC game, I can’t remember a more brutal loss. Here’s hoping a more vanilla offense will allow Tenuta and the Irish D to get back on track. This game is going to tell me quite a bit about this team. I was very pleased to see the Irish fight back multiple times against Michigan. The Weis teams of ’08, ’07 and probably even ’06 would have probably rolled over and died after the 1st half KO return. Instead, they fought back from two 11-point deficits, including one in the 4th quarter, to take the lead.
I expect the Irish to come out firing on all cylinders this week against the Spartans. They were sick of hearing about the bowl loss streak, so they went out and pounded Hawaii. I’m thinking they’re probably pretty sick of hearing about the losses at home to MSU also. I watched a good portion of the MSU-CMU game last week and wasn’t too impressed with anything MSU did, either offensively or defensively. The Irish roll this week.
ND 38 MSU 17
Dan: Notre Dame (no spread)
Not going to pick this one against the spread but straight up as I think that's how we do Notre Dame games. This is a must win game for Notre Dame. I don't think there has been a game we have needed more in quite some time. Of course, that is kind of scary because we have consistently failed in our important games over the past 5 years. Throw in the fact that we haven't beaten MSU in Notre Dame Stadium since Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines and it's enough to give you a migraine. That doesn't even cover the fact that D'Antonio will have his squad focused after a choke job at home against Central Michigan. But even despite last week’s debacle loss to UM, I feel like there is something different about this ND team. There is some corner that has been turned or started to have been turned. I like ND to win, though I don't know about covering 11.
Matt: Notre Dame
Last week was the most disappointing and infuriating loss I can remember in quite some time. I didn’t know whether to cry or throw my beer across the bar. So I did both. I don’t have the time or energy to break this bad boy down so I’ll just say this. Notre Dame should win. If they don’t, Charlie Weis is dead to me. Simple as that.
Notre Dame 41 Michigan State 37
Mike: Michigan State (+11)
Although Central Michigan needed an onside kick to beat Michigan State, there was nothing fluky about the Chippewas’ win. CMU stifled Michigan State’s running game and pushed around MSU’s defensive line throughout the game, so it does not appear that Mark Dantonio has a particularly imposing outfit this year. Still, I worry about psychological aspect of this game. Sparty is always fired up to play ND, but the converse is not always true, particularly after a crushing loss. As with last week, ND is superior to Sparty at virtually every position, but, in typical Weisian fashion, the Irish will make more mistakes and give this game away.
Michigan State 30 Notre Dame 27
Doug: Notre Dame
I'm headed up to South Bend on Saturday, and hope that we improve our record to 2-0 at home. Big game for this program.
Honestly, I know there are a lot of doomsday feelings around the ND program right now, but I think it's too early to write off the season just yet. Having had a chance to reflect on last weekend's game a little bit, I feel much better about where this team is at. This team is a very impressive offensive football team. Every time I click on ESPN.com article or blog or chat, the Ivan Maisels of the world have commented on how impressed they were with ND last weekend. I'm starting to agree. When you compare this team to what we looked like last year, it's a better football team that has an opportunity to become a really good football team at the end of the year. The running game is dramatically better. Armando Allen is a legitimate feature back, the offensive line is opening up holes and giving Jimmy Clausen all day to throw, Clausen is playing great football, and the receivers are spectacular. The defense is still a work in progress, but at least there are some promising players on the defense. It's not like we're trotting out MAC talent back there. It might just be a matter of tweaking a couple things, and off we go.
I think this team has the abilty to get hot and win a bunch of games this year. I could obviously be wrong, and I think we'll learn a lot on Saturday about this team's psyche. If we show up inspired and play with a killer instinct, I see no reason why ND shouldn't win this game by double digits. If we show up feeling sorry for ourselves or not taking MSU seriously, we'll be in a dogfight.
ND is the better football team in this game. It's not even a question. ND has experienced players up and down the roster. Michigan State has a new quarterback, new linemen, new running backs, and new receivers. They are in a complete rebuild. I'm not even sure why there was so much fear about MSU going into the season. They're a mediocre Big Ten team that doesn't have the personnel to match up with the elite teams.
Some keys to the game:
1) What to expect of the ND defense -- Where is the ND defense headed from here after that disappointing performance on Saturday?? Are we going to have personnel changes? If so, what changes??
Some changes I would consider making:
-Move Ethan Johnson to defensive end -- I think it's time to make that move. Get him back to end, put KLM and Kerry Neal in a rotation at the other end spot, and move Cwynar or Hafis Williams into the starting spot at defensive tackle. What do we have to lose?? It's not like the current alignment is working. Our defensive line has been gashed in two straight games, and we haven't gotten enough pressure on the quarterback.
4-3 defenses are at their best when you have two beefy DTs to clog the middle and take on blockers. Ethan Johnson is not a DT. This team dosen't stop the run with him in the middle. He needs to be on the end wreaking havoc and stopping the run. Cwynar at least looks like a capable DT. Might as well get him in there and see what he can do.
--Get Te'o in the lineup -- Toryan Smith is another one of those Victor Abiamiri All-Stars. He's great against Navy and Nevada, but show me what you can do against the big boys. Te'o is a physical player who needs to get more time to get him ready for USC. I think he's gotta be on the field for more snaps this Saturday
--Get more input from Corwin Brown -- What exactly is Corwin Brown's role on this defense?? Isn't he supposed to be one of the defensive coordinators?? Why not see if this guy can light a fire under our defense??
Some changes I would not make at this time:
--Go back to the 3-4 defense -- NO!! We're actually talking about this?? That is the last thing I would do. If we go back to the 3-4, that is just asking for teams to run all over us again. I know they already are, but the 3-4 would only worsen the problem. We'd be replacing a 290 pound DT with a 235 pound linebacker in our front seven. A coach like Mark Dantonio would be licking his chops about that move.
The 4-3 is the best fit for this program. We need as much beef as we can on our defense, and "going small" with the 3-4 is not going to do us any good. We just need our defensive linemen to play better. That will come as they get older.
I do not want to go back to the 3-4 unless we suddenly find a 320 pound NT and a couple 285 pound defensive ends. Last time I checked, we don't have any of those guys on our roster. Stay with the 4-3.
Bottom line for ND's defense this week. Stop the run and make Michigan State one-dimensional. I can't picture Michigan State scoring a bunch of points with that inexperienced offense, but we also can't let them get into a rhythm. If we can shut down their running game, I think we'll get some INTs and big plays out of the defense. In fact, I'm going on record for a Robert Blanton interception on Saturday.
2) The Clausen/Tate/Floyd/Rudolph show -- Can we just make this an acronym since I feel like this is going to be a key to every week for us?? The CTFR show. The more those guys do, the better chance we have to win the game. I've been doing some reading on MSU's defense, and their defensive line has trouble getting a pass rush. Clausen and company should have plenty of time to do a lot of damage through the air. One mild request: Can we just feed Mike Floyd this week?? I'm going against Golden Tate in fantasy football. I love Golden Tate, but I'm not opposed to 4 catches for 40 yards out of him this week while the rest of the fellas pile up the stats.
It might be time to add Armando Allen into the "ND weapons" category based on how he played last week. I hope he plays like that all year. If so, this offense could be really potent.
3) How good is Sparty?? -- As noted above, I've been reading up on Sparty a little bit, and here's what I can glean about them:
--People are pleased with Kirk Cousins as their quarterback, but this Keith Nichol guy (transfer from Oklahoma) gets a lot of snaps as well as their #2 guy. Dantonio seems determined to play both guys, which might not be the best strategy. Cousins is more of a thrower, and Nichol is more of a runner. Kind of an interesting contrast there.
--Their running backs are talented but young; could be a strength in 2010, but not right now
--Their offensive line is really banged up and having a trouble getting a push; sounds like Sparty is more of a "throw to set up the run" team this year, which is the opposite of what they've been
--Linebackers and secondary are very good, but defensive line is pedestrian and doesn't get a pass rush. As we all know, games are won up front
From what I've been able to read, they really are having a tough time running the ball and getting a pass rush. On paper, both of those areas seem to bode well for ND. If Sparty is no threat to run and can't get to Jimmy Clausen, ND should be in great shape to win this game.
Quick note on our offensive line. Two thumbs up for the offensive line so far. I haven't heard one complaint about that unit. Have we given up a sack so far this year?? I'm not even sure Clausen has been touched, and he hasn't thrown an INT yet. Keep it up.
4) The psychological game and the coaching matchup --
Big question here. Where are these teams mentally?? Both were probably devastated but in different ways. Michigan State completely laid down against Central Michigan. Were they looking ahead or just not that good?? ND played their butts off, but came up short. Are we going to be hung over from the Michigan game or ready to make a statement in week three?? Probably won't know until they run out of the tunnel.
The coaching matchup is interesting because I think there's a false perception that Dantonio is a far superior coach to Weis. I like Dantonio, but people talk about that guy like he's the next Nick Saban. Newsflash: He's not. He had middling success at Cincinnati, and now he's producing decent teams at Michigan State. How is that any different from what those schools have always done?? I would be willing to bet that his winning percentages at both schools are similar to their winning percentages over the last 25 years.
From what I've heard from UC people who knew Dantonio well, the difference between him Dantonio and Kelly has been night and day. I kind of get the impression that Dantonio is a little bit of a meathead. His prescription for every issue was for the guys to just play with more emotion whereas Kelly approaches each game by focusing on extreme detail and preparation. Different strokes I guess, but Kelly's teams have performed markedly better.
Dantonio's style is pretty predictable. He wants to play the physical style of football. Unfortunately for him, it sounds like he doesn't have the personnel to do it this year. They are getting hurt by some bad recruiting by John L Smith along the lines, and they are young at running back. It's not a recipe for a ball control, power game.
Prediction: I was really worried heading into the Michigan game for a multitude of reasons (Michigan was hungry, road game, Rich Rodriguez is an outstanding coach, difficult offense to prepare for), but I feel very confident heading into this game. ND is a good football team. From what I've seen so far, this is the best team Weis has had since 2005.
There is no reason for ND not to win this game comfortably. Michigan State is not a good football team this year. They're a 7 win type team. I think Sparty will get blown out several times this year. If we have any aspirations of being a quality team, we should do the same. If we can get a big win, the fans might start rallying around this team. Weis needs to quiet down the "hot seat" talk, and a big win is the only way to put that to rest.
Michigan State is probably going to come out fired up and might try some tricks to get an early lead and put us on our heels. We just gotta do what we do well. Keep them out of the end zone on defense even if they do move the ball, and let Clausen and company light up the scoreboard. No turnovers, no sluggish starts. Play balanced football on offense, and I see no reason for ND to lose. Hopefully a big win over Sparty will give this team some momentum for the next couple weeks before the USC game.
ND 34 MSU 20
Ok, so they didn’t cover the 73 point spread last week, but I mean this is like taking candy from a baby. Tennessee was helpless on offense last week against a mediocre PAC 10 team. Urban is going to go so far out of his way to lay the smack on Kiffin, that women and children should just avoid watching this altogether.
Florida 61 Tennessee 13
Florida -29 over Tennessee -- Man, I can't believe we're not previewing this game after all of the hub bub in the offseason. I hope Florida wins this game by 50, and Kiffin goes back to Knoxville with his tail between his legs.
Great to have Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson back in our lives. God bless CBS Sports!!
Washington +20.5 against USC - I'm going on record saying that this game will be a 7 point game in the fourth quarter. USC sleep walks at least 2-3 times a year, and I think we'll see their first no show effort this weekend. Washington might be the most improved team in the country not named Michigan.
Lock of the Weeks:
HLS Podcast: The “Catching Up” Episode
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