Before getting to some other thoughts, how about these Notre Dame-Texas rumors from super insider Chip Brown?? Sounds like it could be a home and home deal (or more?) starting in 2015. WOW. The Jack Swarbrick era!! The man listened to the fans, and now he's out there just hammering out one monster deal after another. Suddenly, our scheduling problems are about to become a distant memory. Oklahoma in 2012-2013, Miami in 2012, 2016, and 2017, and now Texas in 2015 and beyond. We should be set for minimum of three big games a year, and maybe more. I fully expect ticket demand to rocket back up in the next five years with all these big games on the horizon.
Texas needs this game for the same reasons we do. If you want to be a champion, you need to win marquee games. You can't just coast through a season where you only play one big game. Texas was looking at future schedules with just Oklahoma on there and no Big 12 championship game. Same with us for Michigan and USC. Two programs with uncertain futures. We needed to solidify the top end of our schedules, and now it looks like that is what Swarbrick is going out and doing. If these rumors about a ten year deal with Texas are true, we won't have to worry about our schedules for a long time.
Congrats to Jack Swarbrick if this goes down. He took over an absolute mess from Kevin White, and has delivered exactly what the fans have been clamoring for. He seems to understand what the Notre Dame brand is all about: Independence, great play on the field, and compelling schedules. Good to see that we are finally headed in the right direction.
Some other thoughts:
(1) Very interesting hire by NBC to bring in Mike Mayock as the new color analyst for Notre Dame football. I honestly don't know anything about this guy, but I kinda like it for two reasons.
(a) As someone who loves the NFL Draft, I like that Mayock will bring a real personnel angle to the game. It's a lot better than the cliches and generalizations that you hear from most other analysts (including Pat Haden). Mayock presumably will bring a deeper level of knowledge to a broadcast. If you've ever listened to Mel Kiper talk about college football, he is probably the most knowledgeable college football fan out there. Why?? Because he watches a ridiculous amount of film. Kiper has such a deep mental vault of football personnel that he can always point out little things about a team or a player that no one else notices.
I'm picturing Mayock breaking down players and giving some insights into our roster and opposing rosters. I would enjoy listening to that. If he wants to tell me all about Utah's starting defensive end and how he's a future 2nd round pick, I love that stuff. Sign me up.
Then again, we play Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Army at "home" on NBC this year. I'm guessing Mayock will not be discussing the NFL Draft too often during any of those telecasts.
(b) The other thing I like is that he's sort of an unknown who will make his name through ND football telecasts. All of the other rumored guys out there are basically retreads from other networks or random ND personalities. Even though I would have liked Theismann, he's a retread. People were worn out on Theismann five years ago. Theismann to NBC was one of those ideas that would have been good on paper, but then not as fun when it's week 9 and he's retelling the exact same story for the 9th week in a row.
Mayock is a complete blank slate. 95% of sports fans have never even heard of him. Maybe more. Now he's the voice of ND football. If he does a good job, he's sort of "our guy" instead of some hired gun. It's like baseball teams. There's just something about drafting or developing a guy that attaches you to him over a free agent signing. I like Scott Rolen and all, but I'm not as invested in him as I am in Joey Votto or Mike Leake or Jay Bruce. The homegrown guys are the ones you most identify with your team.
Three minor concerns:
(1) How much experience does he have calling games?? I've heard that he does exhibition games and some college games, but I've never heard him. Not too worried about this.
(2) Are ND fans going to flip out if he criticizes one of our players??? I could be wrong, but Mayock seems like one of those guys who will probably just give his objective opinion on a player or something happening in a game. If he questions Crist or criticizes Manti Te'o, are our fans going to be able to handle it?? We have a pretty thin-skinned fanbase. People freaked out about Pat Haden even though Haden sung our praises every week and never said anything even remotely critical about one of our players in 15 years of calling games.
Our fans have asked for a better and more-informed analyst for years. Now that we have one, are people going to be able to take it if he's opinionated?? Keep in mind that some ND fans still don't like Collinsworth because he said some critical things about ND players. Considering that Collinsworth might be the best color analyst in the NFL, that's not a real good reflection on our fanbase's taste for announcers.
(3) Is he being brought in purely for college football reasons or for cross-promotional reasons for the NBC NFL telecasts?? Using him to talk NFL during ND broadcasts was the first thing that came to mind for me. That would be a massive disappointment, but wouldn't shock me. NBC never shies away from promoting all their NFL broadcasts during the ND telecast. Are they going to tell Mayock that he needs to hype the upcoming NFL game every time they mention it in a promo?? It would be annoying if we're in the middle of the ND action, and Mayock is breaking down Eli Manning vs. the Eagles defense in anticipation of the next day's Sunday night game.
(2) Seven random thoughts:
(1) Everywhere I go, I feel like I'm hearing about Miami lately. Lebron, Jersey Shore, etc. When was the last time so many people were paying attention to the city of Miami?? I know South Beach has always been on the radar as a cultural mecca, but 2010 has become the Year of Miami so far.
(2) Is Enrique Iglesias "back"?? Guess the test is whether "I Like It' makes the Backer playlist. I'll say it does. Multiple times.
(3) I'm trying to figure out why Favre retired. This is the first time in years where I actually think he SHOULD come back and wanted him back. The guy was great last year, and the Vikes should have made the Super Bowl. They would be right back in the mix this year. Now, the Vikes are a hundred times less interesting with Sage Rosenfels.
Maybe he feels like he went out on a high note with a great year?? I guess I could see that. Favre sort of rejuvenated his legacy last year with people like me. If he comes back this year and stinks, he'd sort of leave on a bad note. As of right now, he leaves with me wanting more. Maybe that's what he wants.
(4) As much as I love football being back, the endless holdout/training camp controversy stories really get old. Haynesworth, no Haynesworth. I don't care.
(5) Joe Paterno.....yikes. Rough shape. I mean, that reporter had to raise the "are you going to coach until you die" question, right??
(6) Time Warner.....seriously?? Are you really going to try to cry poor again when it comes to programming?? Why does every other cable network have no problem with these programming deals but yet I have to read stories about how you might not carry ESPN during the football season??
I don't care what you have to do. If you don't have ESPN, why am I even subscribing to your product?? That's one of the only channels that I actually watch.
I have no sympathy for cable companies. You're a logistics company. If you want to cut costs, then let me pick my cable package ala carte. I watch maybe 10-15 channels on cable: ESPN (2, U, News, etc), Fox Sports Ohio, HBO, MTV, a few news channels, maybe 2-3 others. Plus, the major networks. That's pretty much it. My wife might watch another 5-10 channels of stuff.
Why can't we just pick our own channels?? I don't watch 95% of the channels I currently get. Why not just let me pick out 25-30 channels that I really want (add in NFL Network and a few others that I don't get right now) and personalize my cable package?? Don't tell me that I can't have ESPN when I'm paying for 500 other channels that I've never watched. I would happily give up all of those channels for ESPN.
Time Warner pulls this stunt every year. Holding your customers hostage is not a good long term business strategy. Look at Blockbuster. They tried to squeeze every penny out of that company instead of creating a long term strategy to succeed. If you don't stay ahead of the curve by delivering a quality product, people will eventually ditch you.
If football season starts and Time Warner has decided to fight ESPN and keep the channel off the air, that will be the last day I'm a Time Warner subscriber. Too many options in 2010 from other cable companies to keep playing their game every year.
(7) Sam Bradford. Oh man. Did anyone not cringe at seeing that contract?? I know it's "market value," but I almost feel bad for St. Louis at this point. I know what it's like to root for a team that perenially drafts in the top 5 every year, and it's vicious cycle after awhile. Unless you hit on All Pro guys in the draft, you're basically forced to overpay guys every year with those absurd rookie contracts. Tying up money in a handful of players before they even take a snap is always a killer for roster flexibility purposes.
Look at St. Louis' drafts in the last five years:
2010 - Sam Bradford - #1 overall
2009 - Jason Smith - #2
2008 - Chris Long - #2
2007 - Adam Carriker - #13
2006 - Tye Hill - #15
Ouch. Chris Long is decent, but more lunch pail than absolute stud. Jason Smith isn't even starting at this point. St. Louis has quietly become the worst NFL franchise in football. Just one bad pick after another, and several of them making big big dollars.
Now throw in Bradford at $75 million. Maybe he'll turn out great, but he's a complete wildcard coming into the NFL as far as I'm concerned. He padded his resume against swiss cheese Big 12 defenses, and now he has injury issues. Should be interesting to see what he looks like.
(3) For those of you who follow college football recruiting fairly closely, you've probably heard the name Steve Clarkson. Clarkson is this QB guru out in Southern California who suddenly has become the go-to personal coach for every stud high school pro style quarterback recruit in the country. He's like the David Leadbetter/Nick Bollitieri of high school football. Seems like every year there is a story about a 15 year old kid who moves to California to work under Clarkson. This year, there was even a 13 year old kid who has "committed" to USC and is pseudo-represented by Clarkson.
Anyway, even though Clarkson has produced some of the biggest names in college football, there are three guys who most people associate him with:
Pretty star-studded list there, but take a closer peek and think about all three of those guys. Don't all of them have a lot to prove this year?? And by proxy, couldn't you argue that Clarkson's reputation as this QB guru sort of depends on whether those guys make the leap into true team leaders??
I think there are a lot of mixed feelings about all those guys. Leinart had an incredible college career, but he's been a wash so far in the NFL. Clausen had a very productive college career, but his NFL future also seems uncertain. He had so much hype coming out of high school, but 15-21 in three years at ND didn't exactly cement his reputation as an all-time great in college football. Barkley also came into college football with all kinds of hype and had a pretty good first year, but it will be interesting to see if he can be the guy who leads USC back to prominence.
There's sort of a "finished-product" feel to the Steve Clarkson tree of players. Maybe that's not his fault since he coached them up as youngsters, but I wonder if people will start to question the Steve Clarkson proteges eventually. They get all this private coaching in junior high and high school, they start for 2-3 years at Oaks Christian or some other LA feeder school, they step into early playing time in college football due to their readiness and openings on the depth chart, and eventually have productive/elite college careers. But what happens when other guys catch up to them or they find themselves in a fight for playing time at the highest level?? The answer to that question remains in doubt.
Anyway, big year for Clarkson. He has sort of made his reputation with those three guys, so it will be interesting to see how they all do. Leinart is expected to start, Clausen is going to battle for a job with Matt Moore, and Barkley is a somewhat seasoned sophomore. I'll throw in Nick Montana as well. Another guy who moved to LA to be closer to Clarkson and ended up starting at Oaks Christian. Now he's at Washington. Should be interesting to see if he steps right in after Jake Locker graduates from UW.
One final note on Clausen. I'm really glad he got into camp early. I always thought that was a HUUUUUUUUUUUGE mistake by Brady Quinn to hold out in Cleveland. It cost him his entire rookie year of development, and I don't think he ever truly got on solid ground with the Browns because of it. Maybe he never would have worked out in Cleveland, but starting out behind the eight ball didn't help. I'm a huge believer in the "get to camp early" theory with rookies. Get in there, bond with your teammates, embrace the culture of The League, and start getting reps. I'm glad Clausen is in Carolina early. He's got a chance to win that job in his rookie season if he performs.
(4) Speaking of NFL players who showed up late to camp and have killed their development.....Mr. Andre Smith!! The posterchild for the fat lineman who sat on his fat butt all summer holding out, got hurt immediately when he showed up in camp, never got in sync with the team, and now has lingering conditioning/injury problems that have seeped into his second year with the team and probably will lead to a stint on the PUP list for the second straight year. I'm beginning to wonder if he will ever amount to anything in the NFL.
Anyway, Andre Smith's woes got me thinking about something. Is it time to start questioning whether drafting the best available SEC player is still always a good idea?? Like most diehard college football fans, I have worshipped at the altar of the SEC for a long time now. The SEC teams play the best football. It's plain as day to anyone with a pair of eyeballs. I've lived in Ohio most of my life and pull for ND and the Big Ten teams, but that first SEC game I watch on television every year is always an eye-opener and an unfriendly reminder that those SEC teams are playing a different caliber of football than what I am used to.
Logically, I have always assumed that the dominance of the SEC would just carry over to the NFL, and have advocated for the Bengals to draft the best available SEC player every single year. Give me some thug from LSU or Georgia or Florida or Auburn or Alabama who can run and play explosive football, and I'm usually pretty happy with that pick. Ditto for any guy from USC. I don't want some slow white boy from Iowa when there's a 280 pound beast from LSU out there who runs a 4.5 40 on the board.
I think I'm still scarred by the Justin Smith era in Cincinnati. We drafted that guy #4 overall out of Missouri back in 2001 as this hard-working lunch pail guy with a high motor and great character, and yet I watched him get shoved around by NFL offensive linemen for seven years. Sure he was working hard, but anyone can work hard and get 0 sacks. "Lunch pail" is code for "slow and unathletic." From that point on, I've always preferred to go for the best athlete available. If you want to win in the NFL, you need difference-makers.
Lately, I am beginning to question this "draft exclusively from the SEC" strategy though. Alabama has produced Andre Smith and Terrance Cody in the last two years. Two guys who had very productive college careers and have shown up wildly out of shape in camp to the point where they literally can't even be on the field. LSU has produced a litany of first round busts in the last 5-6 years. Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Jamarcus Russell, Dwayne Bowe (ouch, sorry KC), etc.
There's been one sort of overriding problem with all of these guys. Just a complete lack of dedication or work ethic once they've signed an NFL contract. Get that first Cadillac Escalade, get away from Nick Saban or some other taskmaster college coach, and suddenly they turn into unmotivated bums.
Almost seems like a higher percentage of these types of guys come from the SEC than the other conferences. I feel like the Bengals have been better off recently drafting guys from the Big Ten and the Pac 10 than the SEC. For all the talent in that league, I've reached the point where I'm leery of drafting SEC guys in the first round.
Fat NFL players never cease to amaze me. How hard is it to show up to camp in shape?? That's all you have to do ALL OFFSEASON!! Is it really that hard to get on a treadmill once a day and lift some weights and not polish off an entire buffet for dinner??
(5) Monster recruiting week for ND football. As strong a week on The Trail as we've had in a couple of years. Suddenly this class has really started to fill out, and some trends have become apparent.
(1) Landing Aaron Lynch and Justice Hayes pretty much puts aside any concerns about Kelly's ability to bring in the elite national recruits that Weis had success recruiting. Lynch had offers from just about every big boy school in the country (Bama, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Miami, etc). If Kelly can go into Florida and grab a guy like Lynch right out from under Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban, that's good enough for me.
(2) This class has 16 guys right now. 10 on defense, 5 on offense, and one kicker. How about that?? Pretty obvious at this point that Kelly has made it a priority to build up numbers on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the front seven. We've already brought in six defensive ends in this class.
Kelly's philosophy for recruiting confirms what I've come to believe about college football in the last five or so years. College football at the elite level is all about your defensive line. Not only do you need high-end guys (Aaron Lynch types) who can wreak havoc, but you also need serious depth on the d-line. These days, the top programs are rotating 8-10 guys a game on the d-line. I watched Ohio State play like nine guys regularly on their defensive line last year. You got waves of fresh guys, you can mix and match to create tough matchups, and you have bodies in case of injury. Plus, you create all kinds of competition, so guys are always battling for playing time.
Your defense starts up front. If you can stone the run, you set up 3rd and longs and can bring in a slew of defensive ends/OLBs to create pressure. If you can't stop the run, you're screwed. How many times did we see a Charlie Weis defense wilt in the 4th quarter because the other team had been pounding the ball all game long on the ground and finally started breaking through?? It was the old Jerome Bettis Pittsburgh Steelers game plan. Just pound those 3-4 yard runs and turn them into 8-9 yard runs in the 4th quarter.
Weis' teams never had any depth up front. Even at full strength (which never happens in football), we could barely fill out a two deep. Right now, Kelly has set us up to have ten or so guys who can be the foundation for the defensive line.
This is how you build a team. Even though Kelly has a reputation for being an offensive coach, he's a head coach first. If you want to win in college football, you have to play great defense. The best programs all have elite defenses virtually every year: SC, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma. You can't be an elite team or win a BCS game without it.
(3) The pattern of bringing in big tall frames continues with these latest signings. Lynch is the 4th guy who is 6'6" or taller in this 2011 class. Every single guy in the front seven is 6'3" or taller.
Kelly talked over and over about this "big skill" thing, and he's gone out and delivered. He wants big guys who can put on weight but not lose a lot of quickness. I expect guys like Carrico/Springmann to maybe even get into the mix at OT someday with their size. It's a new philosophy, but one that makes a lot of sense. Not a lot of finished products in this class. He wants guys with room to grow.
If you've watched ND live in the last five years or so, we are not a very physically-imposing team. I remember sitting fairly close to the action at the Pitt game last year, and was blown away by how much smaller we looked than them, especially on the lines. PITT!! It's not like I'm talking about LSU or something. This is a mid-level Big East team.
(4) We've brought in four recruits in the last week, and there's almost a "you better get on board if you want a spot" feel to this class all of the sudden. Momentum has really picked up. Heck, Jalen Brown literally committed out of nowhere. Big fan of Jalen Brown by the way. If Bo Pelini likes you, that's good enough for me.
Kelly has filled out 3/4 of this class before the start of fall practice. Seems like he can afford to be pretty selective with the last 4-5 scholarship spots. We might as well wait on all the big fish left, hold open spots for them, and then quietly scout things out in case there are a couple late bloomers. Ideally, we could land at least 1 stud receiver to pair up with Tai-Ler Jones someday, a stud safety, one more OL, and then 1-2 others. If we could land this Savon Huggins guy, I'm in. Another top 100 RB is always a good thing.
Add all that up, and that sounds like a top 10ish class to me. No QB, but we're right in the mix for every stud 2012 QB out there. Probably going to get a 5 star in that class, so I'm not real worried about QB. Other than that, we got major upgrades at OL, DE, secondary, TE, and hopefully a couple explosive skill guys at RB and WR.