October 05, 2009

Around the Nation: Notre Dame wins a thriller, the Scott Martin injury, thoughts on Jake Locker, USC is still USC, and the return of the LSU Tigers

Big win for the Irish on Saturday. Some thoughts on the college football weekend:

11) How about those LSU Tigers?? To go on the road and win at Georgia in front of an ELECTRIC crowd was one of the more impressive wins of the year. I absolutely cannot wait for that Florida-LSU game at night in Death Valley. Verne and Gary are going to be rockin next weekend for that one.

I'll say this about LSU. If they had even a DECENT quarterback, they would maybe be the best team in the country. Look at their overall talent at every other position. It's incredible. Their defense is just loaded everywhere with size and power and speed and athleticism. Every guy on their defense has an NFL type body. Pound for pound, I don't think there's a state in the country that produces more elite talent per capita than the state of Louisiana.

Put a Matt Flynn/Matt Mauck type guy who can run the offense and get the ball to the playmakers, and they would be right there with anyone. Jordan Jefferson just kills that team. KILLS them. I know he made a few big plays at the end, but he stalled drives for them time after time for most of the game. He's got the arm and all that, but he just doesn't have any instincts for the game. He makes bad decisions, takes bad sacks, doesn't knwo when to pitch on the option, gets himself into trouble when he doesn't need to. I swear, Gary Danielson spent half the game just ripping Jefferson for poor decision-making. Rightfully so. With all that talent around him, all he needs to do is make good decisions and get rid of the ball. He can't do it. I couldn't imagine being an LSU fan and watching that guy as your quarterback knowing that the rest of the team is national championship caliber.

If I was Les Miles, I would just go into the state of Texas every year with a goal to find some scrappy Chase Daniel type guy who started for four years in high school and just has a feel for the game. They don't need the Jordan Jefferson/Jamarcus Russell type guys with all the talent they already have on the roster. The results speak for themselves. When LSU has had a Mauck/Flynn type guy, they've won two national titles. When they go for the big arm athletic guy, they aren't quite as potent for whatever reason.

Oh, and say what you want about Les Miles, but all the guy does is WIN BIG GAMES. LSU fans, how many big games does Les Miles need to win to get the fanbase off his back?? In the SEC, where every team is loaded and capable of beating you, all it comes down to is winning games. LSU came out with so much intensity in that game Saturday and controlled the game pretty much from start to finish. I know he's not Nick Saban, but Saban is one of the three best coaches in the game. Another Saban may never walk through that door again. Miles is winning at an 80%+ clip right now and always seems to find a way to get his team ready to play in the big games.

Anyway, I'm happy for LSU and their fans. I'll admit that I'm sort of a closet LSU fan (not to mention a closet Auburn, Bama, Florida, Tennessee...heck any team in the SEC). They aren't one of the glamour programs out there like USC or Florida, but LSU has always played a brand of football that I like. They play man's football. I love their talent and their defenses and their athleticism and big, nasty d-linemen and their band and their rabid fans and Death Valley and their uniforms and their willingness to play a good OOC game now and again and the fact that Verne Lundquist probably owns a condo in Baton Rouge he's down there so often and even that "Tiguh Bait" chant. Give me the whole package.

10) Heartbreaking development for Irish basketball this week with the news that Scott Martin has torn his ACL and is out for the season. Awful break for Mike Brey and this team. From what I saw out of Scott Martin at Purdue, he was going to be a Danny Miller reincarnation for this team. A swingman who creates matchup problems and can do damage inside and outside. With Harangody, Martin, Hansborough, and Tory Jackson, it seemed like this team was going to be a nice surprise story in the Big East this year.

Now, I'm not sure what to think. Here's our projected roster:

PG - Tory Jackson
SG - Ben Hansborough
SF - Carl Scott
PF - Tyrone Nash
C - Luke Harangody

Bench: Abromaitis, Peoples, Cooley, Broghammer, Knight, Brooks

Is that an NCAA Tournament team?? Tough to say. Lots of question marks there.

Some issues that have popped up with the Scott Martin injury:

1) Small Forward -- Who is going to be the answer at small forward?? Is it going to be Abromaitis as more of a Kurz type player or will we go with the more athletic Carl Scott?? Scott has loads of potential, but he hasn't really meshed in Brey's system yet. Abromaitis is probably going to give up some things on defense in terms of athleticism, but he has some good skills with the ball. Abro can shoot and handle it from what I have seen of him.

If I was Brey, I would be playing both those guys A TON in nonconference play, especially against the early season cupcakes. Get them minutes and figure out who can play. If both can play, it'll help this team anyway in terms of depth and matchups later in the season.

Either way, going from Martin to Scott or Abro is a step down for this team. Martin was going to be a key scorer. Not sure what to expect out of Scott or Abro.

2) Depth -- Suddenly, the bench went from a strength to a possible concern. Before the Martin injury, it looked like we would be able to sprinkle Scott and Abro into the game depending on matchups. Now, those guys are probably going to be counted on for a ton of minutes, which leaves us with some holes on the bench.

Again, if I were Brey, I would be playing all ten of these guys as much as possible in nonconference play. If we could have a functioning rotation, it would make this team stronger in Big East play. Not only will the young guys get some valuable playing time, it saves the legs of our starters who are logging heavy minutes in conference play. As we have seen time and time again, playing the starters 35+ minutes a game has worn this team down once we get into the Big East.

My guess is that we'll see a 7 man rotation (Jackson, Hansborough, Scott, Nash, Harangody, Scott, Peoples) with a sprinkling of one of 1-2 of the freshmen. Perhaps one of those freshman leaps over one of the upperclassmen and jumps into that 7 man rotation. I could see that happening.

3) Scoring punch -- Brey's teams have never really had difficulty scoring, but there aren't a lot of proven scorers coming back next year other than Harangody. I expect Hansborough to be pretty good offensively and Tory will be Tory, but there are some question marks. Is Tyrone Nash going to be a reliable low post scorer this year?? Is Carl Scott capable of being productive offensively??

My guess on scoring options:

1) Gody
2) Hansborough
3) Jackson
4) Abro
5) Nash

We'll still score points, but Brey's teams have generally needed to OUTSCORE our opposition to win games in the Big East. Is there enough scoring punch right now to do that?? Tough to say. Someone is going to have to step up other than Harangody.

Bottom line, this was a huge loss, and my gut tells me that we might be watching another NIT team this year. I feel bad for Brey because it seemed like we were poised to get back to the Big Dance this year. Then again, Brey has done his best work when ND is flying under the radar, and no one is going to be expecting big things out of the Irish this year. Maybe Harangody and Tory throw this team on their backs now. If ND can get back to the tournament, it would be a good year for this program.

9) It is amazing how many potential future NFL quarterbacks there are this year in college football. I think you could make a case for 7-8 guys who are in the mix for the first round of the 2010 Draft. Not sure if all these guys will come out, but here’s how I’d rank everyone right now:

1) Jimmy Clausen
2) Jake Locker
3) Sam Bradford (depending on health)
4) Ryan Mallett
5) Colt McCoy
6) Tim Tebow
7) Tony Pike
8) Jevan Snead
9) Dan LeFevour

My best guess is that Bradford is still viewed as the top QB prospect, but Clausen and Locker are getting tons of buzz. Deservedly so. I couldn’t have been more impressed with both of them.

I was REALLY impressed with Jake Locker yesterday. He is a physical specimen for a quarterback, but also has all the skills that you would want in a pocket passer. Accurate passer who throws it on a rope. His completion percentage wasn’t that great, but he had probably 5-6 straight up dropped balls. My brother suggested a Mark Brunell comparison for Locker, and I totally agree. I always thought Brunell was an underrated player. Brunell in his Jags days was a dangerous thrower and runner who wasn’t afraid to bulldoze a linebacker but also could make every throw in the book. Not necessarily the classic QB, but definitely a playmaker.

Any team that takes Locker has my seal of approval. He needs to work on his deep ball accuracy, but everything else is there. I could see him coming back next year, but he might as well make the leap to the pros if he’s a top 10 pick.

How about these rumors that Sam Bradford might have to come back in 2010 because of the uncertainty surrounding his shoulder?? With all the injuries they have had this year (add Ryan Broyles to the list), it seems like OU is unraveling. If Bradford comes back and doesn’t look that great, is his stock going to plummet??

If I was Bradford, I would get the heck out of college football after this year. If he can come back and do well against some bad Big 12 defenses, his stock will jump back up. I don’t know what to make of Sam Bradford as a pro. I think a huge part of his success is the OU offensive system that has made guys like Josh Heupel and Jason White look great and the HORRIFIC Big 12 defenses that he faces every week (notice how OU didn’t look nearly as athletic or dominant against Miami as they normally do), but he also did impress me in the national championship game against Florida. Bradford was making some spectacular throws in that game in the face of heavy pressure from the Gators.

If anything, OU’s poor performance against Miami helps out Bradford in terms of draft stock. Landry Jones was playing well up until last night, which was starting to make me wonder again if Bradford is merely a system guy.

It’s going to be really interesting to see which of the underclassmen end up coming out. The difficulty if you are an underclassmen is that there are so many guys in the mix that it will be hard to get a read on who your competition is going to be for the top spots in the 2010 Draft. If I was Clausen or someone like Ryan Mallett, I would be waiting until the last day to declare one way or the other. No reason to declare early this year with all of these other guys out there on the fence.

The other thing is that all these scouts seem to have different opinions on all these guys since there is so much variety out there. Look at all the different options:

1) Pro style pocket QB – Clausen and Bradford
2) Duel threat pocket passer – Locker and Snead
3) Rocket armed gunslinger – Mallett
4) Accomplished college QB – McCoy
5) College legend who might not translate to the NFL -- Tebow

There’s so much variety out there this year. I could see scouts falling in love with any of those guys, but also could see other scouts shying away from all of them. I think Tebow has zero future as an NFL qb, but couldn’t you see some team falling in love with his intangibles and taking him in the first round?? I think Mallett has a ton of potential, but he’s only started for one year in this offense and carries some risk because of that. There were apparently a ton of NFL scouts at the ND-Washington game checking out Clausen and Locker, but couldn’t you come away from that game with about 20 different opinions on each of those guys?? Clausen has everything you would want in a pro style QB with accuracy, poise, footwork, touch, decision-making, ability to stretch the field. Locker has everything you would want in a playmaker QB with arm strength, size, mobility, toughness, and experience in a pro style system. Then again, you could probably nit pick the flaws on each guy and talk yourself out of them. Clausen hasn’t really proven himself against a big time defense, and Locker probably needs more experience as a pocket passer.

It’s going to be a fascinating second half of the year from an NFL Draft perspective. Throw in the labor issues going into the 2011 NFL season, and lots of guys are going to have difficult decisions to make after this season.

8) I hate saying this as much as anyone, but I think it might be time for ND to consider field turf next year. I love the look of the grass field, but the condition of the field during the Washington game was an ABOMINATION. I’ve never seen it this bad this early in the season. We are barely into October, and the field is already a complete mud pit. Guys were slipping and sliding all over the place yesterday. How many times did Clausen slip and fall when he was trying get away from the rush?? Really frustrating.

The biggest problem with a grass field is that one big rain shower early in the season turns the field into a disaster for the rest of the season. Once the field gets torn up, you have to put down all that new sod. And once you go to the new sod, it’s over. It’s like covering a giant flesh wound with a Band-Aid. You can’t just grow grass in October and November in the Midwest.

There’s no excuse to have a field in as bad a shape as the one we have had the last few years. It has turned our home games into a giant mud pit, and I think it makes our team slower and more tentative, especially defensively. From what I could tell, part of our tackling issues come from bad footing, and I thought it hurt our running game as well. Armando Allen couldn’t make the type of decisive cuts that he had been making early in the year. I realize that the field can hurt the other team as well, but I personally think it just slows us down and gives these inferior teams a chance to win.

Field turf is boring, but at least it is consistent. You know you are going to get reliable footing, and it makes the game less fluky. If I was Jack Swarbrick, I would at least be exploring the idea.

7) I feel like I’m getting a filtered version of Tate Forcier. He’ll be having a lousy game, I turn the game on, and suddenly he turns into Drew Brees. He'll have been struggling for three quarters, but I every time I see the guy, he’s playing out of his mind. Michigan State did everything they could to give that game away yesterday, but Forcier just finds a way to make plays when they need it. You knew they were going down the field to score that last touchdown to tie the game.

It’ll be interesting to see where Tate Forcier goes over the next few years. Even though I think he has played as well as any freshman QB I’ve seen in a long time, he could be one of those guys who peaks as a freshman. Kind of like a Greg Paulus type when he was at Duke. Paulus went from starting as a freshman at Duke to basically sitting the bench as a senior. Once teams start getting a read on how to defend Forcier, his effectiveness might wane over the next couple years. He definitely needs to put on some weight to be able to hold up.

Michigan has a stud five star freshman quarterback coming in next year named Devin Gardner. Forcier will no doubt be the starter for Michigan in 2010, but is he definitely the man at Michigan for the next four years?? Should be interesting to see what happens.

6) My early coach of the year vote might go to Gene Chizik. Maybe the most shockingly good hire of the past coaching cycle. I thought he was going to be a disaster, but now it's looking like Chizik has revitalized the Auburn brand. If they can keep this spread offense going, it could really open up a new recruiting pipeline to go with their typically stout defenses. Bringing in Gus Malzahn was a great hire.

Just goes to show that going for the sexy candidate or the big name guy is not what hiring a head coach is all about. If the athletic director does his homework and zeroes in on his guy, that is the most important criteria for making a hire. Chizik has always had backers in the inner circles at Auburn. People who believed in him. Chizik didn't get it done at Iowa State, but apparently he's a good fit at Auburn so far.

5) Second best hire so far (and maybe the best in the long run). Steve Sarkisian. Love this guy already. He has brought immediate energy to the Washington program, and it's only a matter of time before they start getting some big time players. At first I was wondering how they would adjust to life after Jake Locker, but then it hit me who they have coming in next year:

NICK MONTANA!! Where do I buy a "Nick Montana for Heisman" t-shirt??

I'll go ahead on record and say that Washington emerges as the second best program in the Pac 10 over the next ten years and maybe even makes a run at USC on occasion. That program has always been a sleeping giant, and I could see Sarkisian cleaning up the talent in the Pacific Northwest and reaching down into North Carolina. Everything about Sarkisian screams out "rising star" in the coaching world. Throw in the fact that he's a dead ringer for Rick Reilly, and Sarkisian has a ton going for him.

Plus, how intense is Nick Holt on that sideline?? Who wouldn't run through a wall for that guy?? I'd be so afraid of him that I would run out there with my hair on fire. Pencil Nick Holt in for a head coaching job in 2-3 years.

I'd love to see ND renew a series with Washington now that they are on the rise. That would be a great home and home series to look at.

4) Here’s how my Heisman vote would shape up through week five.

4) Colt McCoy
3) Jacory Harris
2) Jimmy Clausen
1) Tim Tebow

Nothing against Colt McCoy, but wake me up when he plays somebody with an actual defense. Lighting up cupcake OOC teams and bad Big 12 defenses does nothing for me. The Big 12’s reputation has plummeted in my eyes through the first five weeks of the season, and I still can’t get over Texas’ nonconference schedule. One of the more shameful schedules I’ve ever seen. We’re 5 weeks into the season, and Texas has played exactly one team with a pulse thus far. That’s really pretty sad.

As for Jimmy Clausen, I don’t see how he isn’t AT LEAST in the top three at this point in the season. Maybe he’ll play his way out of Heisman consideration against USC, but he has to be considered right now. 422 yards against Washington and a comeback drive to win the game is about as good as it gets. He is putting up record-breaking type numbers and doing it with a bad toe injury.

The national buzz seems to be that Clausen has a very legitimate shot to win the Heisman, and he may even be right there with the frontrunners if ND can beat USC in two weeks. If Clausen has a big game and carries ND to a win over the Trojans in front of a national tv audience, I would not be shocked to hear a lot of pundits saying he is the frontrunner. Considering where he started the year, that is pretty amazing.

3) How bad is the ACC Atlantic Division right now?? I just looked at the standings, and Maryland is in first!! Yes, the Maryland that lost to Middle Tennessee and got housed at home by Rutgers!

Over/under on the crowd this year at the ACC Championship Game if we get like a VT-BC game?? 15,000?? Dear god.

2) Great win for the Irish on Saturday. If you ask me, I thought that was our best win of the year so far. I'm not normally one to overrate our opponents (I said Michigan would win 7-8 games after we lost to them and still believe that), but I really think Washington is a good team this year. Based on what I have seen out of the five teams we have played, I thought Washington was the best team we've played so far this year. Better than Michigan, better than Sparty, and certainly better than Purdue. They are very thin (especially up front), but they have a great quarterback, great running back, pretty good WRs, better o-line than I thought they'd have, and some talented playmakers on their defense. I know they went 0-12 last year, but this is a different team. Washington is going to be a tough out in the Pac 10 this year. With Jake Locker, they have a chance against anyone. I expect them to end up in a bowl game, which would be a remarkable year for a team that is playing a brutal schedule.

Anyway, back to the Irish. 4-1 after 5 games is about all I could ask for going into the season, and that's where we are today. Has it always been pretty?? Not by a long shot, but wins are wins at the end of the day. This team has a lot of heart, some great playmakers, and a lot of guys who are sick of losing. One of the realities of Notre Dame football in the last decade is that we haven't been able to sustain any consistent hunger to be winners. Our focus as a program seemed to ebb and flow from week to week and sesaon to season. Maybe this group of players will be the ones that put that mark on this program. We might look back in five years at guys like McCarthy and Clausen and Golden Tate and say that they were the ones who brought consistent winning football back to Notre Dame.

Some heroes:
--Robert Hughes -- Wow, HUUUUUUUGHES is running like a man possessed the last two games. The emergence of Hughes just goes to show how important quality depth can be for your football program. Think about the situation we would have been in 2-3 years ago without a guy like Hughes. If Allen gets hurt, we'd have no quality back to turn to and the running game would fall apart. Now, with Allen ailing, we bring in Hughes and get good results. It's good to have depth.
--Nick Tausch -- 5 field goals!! He singlehandedly won my fantasy matchup on Saturday. You could make an argument that Nick Tausch is one of the 2-3 biggest reasons why we are currently sitting at 4-1 right now. If we didn't have a reliable kicker for Saturday, we probably would have lost that game in regulation. Having a good kicker takes a little pressure off the offense to constantly take chances to score touchdowns. If it's not there, we take our three points and move on. Now that Weis has that option, it's good to see him using Tausch instead of always dialing up the fourth down plays.

Is it safe to say that Nick Tausch is the best kicker we've had at ND in 15 years?? Huge improvement.
--Manti Te'o -- WOW. Te'o was all over the field and made several huge tackles. I'm impressed. He has great instincts and already is our most athletic linebacker. He might be the best player on our defense not named Kyle McCarthy by the end of the year.
--ND defensive line -- Ok, maybe not heroes considering that Washington ran it all over us in the second half, but it was nice to see contributions from Ethan Johnson and KLM and Kerry Neal. Haven't seen much of those guys yet this year.

The front seven really has its work cut out for it against USC. They are going to try to shove it down our throat like Washington did, and we better be ready to match them physically at the point of attack. Can't count on goal line stands to beat USC. It's just like an AFC North matchup. You gotta be ready to prove to them that you won't be shoved around at the line of scrimmage.
--Shaq Evans -- Four catches for the freshman. He looks like he's going to be a good player. Not sure if he's the athlete that Tate or Floyd are, but certainly looks like he's going to play a major role in this offense someday.

Quick note on the wide receivers. While we are finding ways to get it done with the spectacular play of Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph, it would be awfully nice to have Michael Floyd for the USC game. He just adds another element to this offense, especially in the red zone. The defining play for me where we missed Floyd was that jump ball pass that Clausen threw up to Robbie Parris that he couldn't come down with. If that ball goes to Floyd, it's a touchdown and probably the game. Stating the obvious here, but we really miss him. The offense is very good without him, but he brings things to another level.
--Right side of the offensive line -- I'll admit that I don't really break this stuff down, but it seems like we do most of our damage running to the right side. Credit to those big uglies on the right side for opening up some big holes.

Causes for concern--
--Turk - Yikes. Not the best of debuts for him. That "coffin corner" he tried was not even close. We NEED one of these two punters to step up and find something. We are going to probably have to punt the football on occasion against USC, and we can't afford to cost ourselves yards in the punting game. Turk seems to have a little bigger leg than Maust though, so that's a good sign. Might as well give him the job for the rest of the year.
--Armando Allen -- Not his best day. Just didn't quite have that same level of explosiveness that he had early in the year. Looks like he is still banged up or was just having trouble getting his feet under him. Allen has had a great year so far, and let's hope he's healthy for USC.
-Bad tackling -- Very sloppy in the second half. Polk's big run to get to the end zone was purely due to sloppy tackling. Can't afford to do that against USC.
--The Screen game -- Seems like teams are starting to sniff out our screens a little bit. I sort of expected that. Pete Carroll has always had our number with the screens, and I knew Nick Holt would be on the lookout for that. Probably not going to have much luck with the screens against SC either.
--Wildcat -- I'll probably waffle on the Wildcat all year depending on its effectiveness, but it did us no favors yesterday. I still believe we're better out of our base offense because it puts the ball in the hands of our best offensive player (Clausen). The Wildcat can be effective, but we scrapped it early and for good reason.

In terms of the big picture, I think I've reached the point in the season where I'm content to just enjoy the ride wherever it takes us. We're 4-1. There's still a lot to play for. Didn't we all say before the season that this team was a 9-10 win team?? Well, that is still a very attainable goal, and we can even dream bigger than that if we really want to.

Should this team be ranked?? On paper, you could make an argument for it since we've already beaten 3 BCS conference teams, but I'm not all that worried about it at this point. The only way to make sure you get ranked is to continue to win ballgames. If we beat USC and beat BC, we'll be in the top 15 in three weeks, if not better. If we get outclassed by USC, we probably won't deserve to be ranked anyway. It's too early in the season to really get bent out of shape about rankings. There are some 4-1 teams that are ranked right now and some 4-1 teams that are unranked. We happen to be on the unranked side for now along with Michigan and Stanford and BC and others, and it's up to us to prove that we belong in the top 25. Considering what this team has done the last couple years, I can understand why voters are not in a hurry to push us into the top 25. If we take care of business on the field, the rankings will take care of themselves.

Charlie Weis tried to make the case for ND to be ranked in his press conference yesterday, but I'd rather just see him focus on making the team better every week. He did the same thing last year when we hit 4-1, and we lost the next game to North Carolina. Forget the polls. They are meaningless five weeks into the season. If we win games, we'll get the type of ranking that we want.

Back to the big picture though. I'm just happy to see ND sitting at 4-1 with something to play for the rest of the season. In many ways, I see a lot of similarities between Notre Dame and my Cincinnati Bengals. Are the Bengals one of the elite teams in the NFL?? Good god no. Do they do stuff that makes you pull your hair out?? All the time. Could they easily be 1-3 right now or even 0-4?? Definitely. But they're 3-1 in the "NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE," and that's all that really matters. As a fan, I'm just happy that they're going into the middle of October and still playing meaningful games. It's nice to be able to look at next week's big showdown at Baltimore (please give me Dierdorf and Gumbel for that one) and feel excited about it instead of dreading it and pondering our NFL draft position and wanting Marvin fired and wanting Mike Brown to sell the team. When you're 3-1, you have a chance to feel good about things going forward. Deep down, do I think Marvin Lewis capable of taking the Bengals to an AFC Championship game or a Super Bowl someday?? No, probably not, but I'm not really pondering that question right now. I'm more focused on Baltimore and the emerging Bengals defense. Marvin has actually done a good job with this team this year (the 4th and 10 decision to go for it in overtime was gutsy and the right move), and I give Marvin credit for stabilizing this franchise and setting some expectations for the team. The Bengals are a group playing with something to prove from the coaching staff on down, and it has made them a tougher team that doesn't fold up at the first sign of adversity. I really couldn't ask for much more as a Bengals fan right now than what they've done through four games.

Sound familiar?? While I obviously have higher expectations for Notre Dame football than I do for the Bengals (I think Indiana University has higher expectations for football than Bengals fans), I have similar feelings about ND's team this year. Are we a top 10 team?? Uh, probably not. Would we get housed by Alabama?? Yes sir. But am I excited about getting a crack at USC on October 17 instead of dreading it?? YOU BETCHA!!! At the end of the day, isn't that all that matters??

I'm as big of a hypocrite on this issue as anyone since I am prone to raising the Weis issue all the time, but I'm ready to put aside all the Weis discussions for the next few weeks and just enjoy the ride. This team has its biggest game of the season coming up, and that's all that really matters now. We have no idea what Weis' future is with ND, but he also hasn't given us any reason to be talking about getting rid of him at the end of the year. There's too much to play for at this point in the year to be talking about our future. The future is now. It's USC, it's our biggest rival, and the one team that has owned us for the last 10 years. We need all hands on deck these next two weeks to turn ND Stadium into the most electric stadium in the country on October 17. This might be the best chance to beat USC that we'll ever have.

Seven games to go in the season with USC on tap first. I hope these players are all challenging each other to raise their games with a goal of winning out. There is still a lot of room to improve with this ND team, and the bye week presents an opportunity to get healthy and more importantly, GET BETTER. Jim Valvano's favorite line: Get better every day. In order to beat USC, this team is going to have to play its best game of the year. I don't know if we're capable of getting it done, but I'm sure as heck excited to see what happens.

1) WEISND Power Poll

5) Texas
4) USC
3) LSU
2) Florida
1) Alabama

I'm adding a few teams to the power poll this week because I think there are suddenly two new teams that need to at least rejoin the conversation for the time being. Not a big surprise that they happen to be the two of the five best programs of this decade and two of the most talented teams in the nation. I'm going with LSU at #3 this week because they've now gone on the road and won at Washington against a feisty Husky team, at Mississippi State, and at Georgia. Ultimately, we will find out a lot about LSU this week in Death Valley against the Gators, and they may very well get blown out and sent back to the middle of the top 25, but at least they have the horses to be in the mix. That game is going to be fun to watch. I hope it's a classic.

As for Texas, I mentioned this above, but I think Texas has a bit of a credibility problem right now. Sure, it's still Texas, but the luster has worn off the Big 12 a little this year after all those Big 12 teams got exposed in bowl games last year and OU's struggles this year. The defenses in the Big 12 are as bad as ever, and now the offenses aren't quite as good with all the new QBs around. Here is Texas' schedule this year:

Sat, Sep 5 Louisiana-Monroe W 59-20 --
Sat, Sep 12 at Wyoming W 41-10 --
Sat, Sep 19 Texas Tech W 34-24 --
Sat, Sep 26 UTEP W 64-7 --
Sat, Oct 10 Colorado 7:15 pm --
Sat, Oct 17 (8) Oklahoma 12:00 pm --
Sat, Oct 24 at Missouri TBA --
Sat, Oct 31 at (14) Oklahoma State TBA --
Sat, Nov 7 UCF TBA --
Sat, Nov 14 at Baylor TBA --
Sat, Nov 21 (18) Kansas TBA --
Thu, Nov 26 at Texas A&M 8:00 pm --

Just look at that schedule and tell me where the big challenges are coming from. OU is struggling, Oklahoma State is a fraud, and then the next toughest games are Kansas and Missouri. The rest of the schedule is a bunch of cupcakes and middling conference teams. Look what happened to Texas A&M against Arkansas. That just goes to show you the difference between the SEC and the Big 12. The middle of the SEC walloped the middle of the Big 12. I think college football people are starting to realize that these Big 12 teams are not quite as impressive when you get them out of their conference bubbles.

Perhaps Texas will turn on the afterburners from here on out, but I haven't seen enough out of them yet to be convinced that they should be the frontrunner to play in the title game alongside Bama-Florida.

And then there's the University of Southern California. Never sleep on USC. How many times have we seen these guys do what they do year after year and yet people thought they were suddenly going to fold up and go 8-4 this year?? USC has as good a defense as any in the nation, they still have Pete Carroll, and they still have loads of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Their front seven is overwhelmingly good, and Taylor Mays would start RIGHT NOW for half the NFL teams. As ND fans, we've talked a lot about injuries with Floyd and Armando Allen, but USC has been banged up as well with Ronald Johnson and Stafon Johnson being out along with a couple defensive players. Now that they are getting healthy, look out. I still have a feeling that we're all going to be watching USC at the end of the year and feeling like they could beat anyone in the country.

So with that said, nothing to lose for the Irish on October 17. USC looks like they might be getting their mojo back, but I'd rather play a great USC team than a lousy one. If you want to be the best, you gotta beat the best. If the Irish play their best game of the season, we'll have a chance. That's really all I can ask for.

1 comment:

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