August 31, 2009

Is Rich Rodriguez the Billy Gillespie of Michigan??

While I think this latest Rich Rodriguez scandal could do some long term damage to his tenure at Michigan, I'll start this post by saying that I think there's a mountain being made out of a mole hill here to some degree with this Rich Rodriguez stuff. I mean, let's be real here. EVERY school (and by every school, I mean every single school out there) is doing this same stuff. Are people really that naive to think every school in the country isn't violating these mandatory practice time limit things?? My HIGH SCHOOL does this stuff!! We used to have to come in on Saturday and Sunday for film sessions, weightlifting, scouting reports, meetings, etc. By the time you added all that up, it was probably 7-8 hours of being at the high school on the weekend.

If high schools (and it's not like I went to some national power high school) are requiring their players to come in on the weekends and stay all day for various things, is there any doubt that college football coaches are requiring the same thing?? Does anyone really think Nick Saban isn't bringing the fellas in for 10 hours on a Sunday to watch film, do a workout, get a read on the upcoming opponent, do a little school work, and maybe do some training table stuff?? Of course he is!! Maybe they aren't in full pads doing the Oklahoma drill for two hours on a Sunday morning, but I bet they are doing work in some capacity. I'd be willing to bet that most football players spend their entire day at the football facility. Some of it is just unwinding from the game the day before, but there's also business to take care of. Major college football is 7 days a week, 365 days a year these days. If you aren't doing what it takes to keep up, your program probably isn't going to be very good.

If you think these coaches stand there with a stop watch and kick everyone out after two hours of film study on Sunday morning, you are KIDDING YOURSELF. The whole notion of the "voluntary" workout is laughable. It's not voluntary. Anyone who has ever participated in organized team sports knows that "voluntary" is code for "mandatory." Do you really think Charlie Weis or Mack Brown or Jim Tressel just sends the kids off for the summer without knowing what they are doing as far as workouts go?? Cmon. If you blow off the summer workouts or don't put in the extra time, you're probably not going to have a very good season. And the coaches all monitor this stuff and who is participating. It's not voluntary in any way. As Dan Hawkins would say, this ain't intermurals brother. Everyone is "cheating" if you even want to call it that.

Honestly, I would be disappointed if my team WASN'T bending those time limit rules!! I'm dead serious about that. If I found out that my favorite team was hanging at the local tavern on Sunday afternoon watching the Ticket, I'd probably be pencilling them in for a losing season. The more work you put in off the field, the more games you win on the field. So if I was a Michigan fan, I'd probably be quietly pleased to hear that Rodriguez was working his team that hard in practice. Rodriguez came to Michigan to tear down the "country club atmosphere" of the Lloyd Carr era. Apparently, that meant extra work on Sundays that some guys weren't used to doing.

Ok, with that out of the way, I do think the bigger problem for Rich Rodriguez is the perception problem. This story has everything that people have suspected about Rich Rodriguez since he's been at Michigan. Player dissension, bending rules, abusive atmosphere, factions of alumni who aren't happy with the program. It seems like Rich Rodriguez can't get out of the quicksand at Michigan.

With all the problems that he has had, the last thing he needed at this point was a huge cheating scandal. Could you imagine being a recruit who was looking at Michigan?? Wouldn't you be leery about what was going on up there?? Not only are there rumors of disgruntled players, but there's also the possiblity of NCAA sanctions.

While I'm not ruling out the possiblity that Rich Rodriguez will end up doing very well at Michigan, the name that keeps popping up for me is Billy Clyde Gillespie. The similarities are there. By all accounts, Gillespie was a great coach at Texas A&M and UTEP, but he just never fit in at Kentucky. He never understood what it was like to coach at one of the crown jewels of college basketball. The kids who go to Kentucky don't go there to be broken down and remolded. They are already great basketball players who just want to be well-coached and win games. Gillespie tried to use his model for building a team, but it never really caught on with his players at Kentucky.

When things started off poorly (Gardner-Webb, etc) for him at Kentucky, things just started to snowball downhill. Every time it seemed like he was turning the corner, they'd have a setback that killed their momentum. In the big picture, it never seemed like he was taking them toward their ultimate goal: getting back to the Final Four.

That's kind of where I see this Rich Rodriguez saga heading. I think he's a very good football coach, but it just seems like he does not fit in culturally up there. I don't know where that program is going. If he stays there, is he going to get them back to being a top 10 program even though his recruiting has not been spectacular to this point??

The other problem for Rodriguez is the strong faction of Michigan people that wanted Les Miles instead of Rodriguez. They seem determined to create as many problems for Rich Rodriguez as possible. And I get why they feel that way. They have a vision of what Michigan football should be all about, and Rich Rodriguez doesn't fit that vision. Big, physical offensive lines, good power running game, big quarterback with great pro style receivers, and a big physical defense. They've been like that for as long I can remember. Rich Rodriguez is the complete opposite of that. He wants speed, scat backs, dual threat QBs, quick linemen, and a speed-oriented defense. Some older Michigan guys probably just can't get past that. That's not Michigan football.

For whatever reason, sometimes good coaches don't fit in everywhere. I wouldn't be shocked if Billy Gillespie wound up at some Big 12 school and did a very nice job. You don't do what he did at Texas A&M if you can't coach. He just wasn't the right answer at Kentucky. Kentucky fans want the rock star head coach. The flashy guy who goes after the best recruits and charms the fans and sells the sizzle. Deep down, UK fans don't care about probation or cheating. They just want to win. Calipari is the perfect fit for them. It just took them a couple tries to get the right guy.

I think that might be where Michigan ends up after this year. Rich Rodriguez is a good coach, but he doesn't fit the Michigan Man ethos. He's a country boy who thought he could come in and do his "I'm going to make you a man" act. That stuff can work at a place like West Virginia where there's more of a blue collar environment, but Michigan is a different animal. Michigan is one of the blue blood programs out there, and it might require a little different approach than what Rich Rodriguez has to offer. Rich Rodriguez might end up back in the Big East or the ACC and do well there. But I'm starting to wonder how long he will at Michigan.

If I was Michigan and it becomes patently obvious that Rich Rodriguez is not the answer, I would move heaven and earth to go get Les Miles and bring him to Ann Arbor. The timing wasn't right last time, but I'd be willing to bet that Miles still wants to be the head coach at Michigan someday. I don't think Miles is the best coach in the game, but he's a Michigan kinda coach. The type of guy who will embrace the "Michigan way" and the Michigan style of play. He'll bring in the assistants that he needs to recruit and win, and they'll get back to 9-10 wins a year with an occasional run at better than that. At the end of the day, that's about as good as it gets at Michigan these days.

The other guy I would look at is Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh has a lot to prove at Stanford, but I could see him getting them to a bowl this year. Say what you want about the guy, but he can recruit and sell a program like no one else. Harbaugh would get out there nationally and sell Michigan's program. Michigan has to recruit nationally to be successful, and Harbaugh is the type of guy who would do that. Harbaugh is hungry to succeed, and that can be a powerful thing. Of course, he is a huge risk at this point, but I have a feeling that he will be a hot commodity in the next couple years.

I've written a few times on this blog that Rich Rodriguez would change the face of Big Ten football and wreak havoc on the league over the next 3-5 years, but I've completely changed my tune at this point. I think they're headed for another shaky year and a new coach in 2010. In the long run, that might be the best thing for that program.

I am headed up to Ann Arbor next weekend for the ND-Michigan game, and would love nothing more than to see the Irish drive that first nail into Rich Rodriguez's coffin at Michigan. It would be nice to see the Irish being the team that ends coaching careers instead of the other way around.

August 30, 2009

Book Review: Resurrection: The Miracle Season that Saved Notre Dame

While most fans are gearing up for this year's football season, I wanted to put in a good word for an outstanding new book called Resurrection: The Miracle Season that Saved Notre Dame by Junction Boys author, Jim Dent.

The good folks at St. Martin's Press were generous enough to mail me an advance copy of this book, but I would have bought a copy anyway. If you have a relative who is a diehard Notre Dame fan, this is your book if you're looking for a Christmas/birthday present.

Like many younger Notre Dame fans, I was vaguely familiar with the Ara Parseghian era, but maybe not quite as familiar with the intricacies of Ara's time at Notre Dame as I was with, say, Tyrone Willingham's time at Notre Dame (pretty depressing statement there). I hadn't realized that Notre Dame had gone through quite a rough patch during the late 1950s and early 1960s prior to Ara's arrival. ND cycled through three different coaches in ten years (seriously, the parallels to today are remarkable...more on that in a minute though), and each was worse than the next. Terry Brennan was sort of the Larry Coker figure who inherited some loaded teams from Frank Leahy and steadily eroded the program, and then Joe Kuharich came in and ran the program into the ground. Hugh Devore served as a one year interim in 1963 and basically mailed it in for the year until Ara was finally brought on board from Northwestern.

Believe it or not, two antiheroes (I think I would get struck down by lightning if I refered to them as villains) who emerge in the book are Father Hesburgh and Father Joyce. According to the book, a lot of the things that are said today about Monk Malloy and Father Jenkins (most of which are probably untrue) are things that were actually done at the time by Hesburgh and Joyce. Reducing scholarships, taking action against coaches for bending the rules, hiring football coaches who wouldn't be seen as "above the university" like Leahy was. They wanted a coach who wouldn't make Notre Dame football bigger than the school itself. No joke, this was the stuff that was said about ND football in the 50s and 60s prior to Ara. Practically a carbon copy of what we hear about ND football today right down to the angry fans harassing Hesburgh to restore the program.

And then Ara shows up and the rest is history. I know what I'm about to say might be met with some eye rolls from the old school alumni, but while I was reading about Ara and his rise in the coaching world, I thought of one name in today's coaching world: Urban Meyer. I know, I know, get off the Urban Meyer thing. He's not on the ND radar screen and may never be. I am a Charlie Weis supporter, so I don't want to keep bringing up Urban Meyer's name. But the similarities are there. Both guys were disciples of coaches who had a reputation for producing great college and pro football coaches. Ara grew up in Ohio, is a descendant of the Paul Brown coaching tree, and also coached under Woody Hayes at his alma mater, Miami (Ohio). Urban grew up in Ohio, has ties to the Woody Hayes/Earle Bruce coaching tree, and learned at the knee of Lou Holtz (who was an assistant under Woody). In terms of pedigree, both guys basically came out of the same coaching family. The Ohio college football tree that has produced dozens of elite coaches in the college and pro game.....Don Shula, Paul Brown, Ara, Woody Hayes, Chuck Noll, Bo Schembechler, Stoops, Saban, Meyer, Les Miles, Tressel, etc. Even Pete Carroll was an Ohio State assistant.

Now pedigree is important of course in football, but Urban Meyer and Ara Parseghian also had an innovative spirit that kept them always one step ahead of the game. Ara introduced a wide open passing attack to Notre Dame when he arrived in 1964 that completely changed the face of Notre Dame football. He was also a master of detail with impeccable organizational skills. ND went from a dysfunctional team to the most organized and well-coached team in the country literally overnight.

You could say the same thing about Urban Meyer at every stop he has been. He took the spread option to three different places and utilized it before other teams could catch on to it. Now that teams are catching up to it, he's already in the process of adjusting. And one of the things that we've all read about Urban Meyer for years is that he is a master of detail who pays attention to every facet of the game. Maybe it's absurd to compare a young coach like Urban Meyer to a living legend like Ara Parseghian, but that's the one name that popped into my head on multiple occasions.

The other thing that was reinforced in my head while reading the book is that DEFENSE is where it's at in college football. Yes, Notre Dame had great offensive football teams in the Era of Ara, but go back and look what his defenses did. They didn't give up an inch! In 1964, our opponents scored 77 points on the season. Compare that to 1963 when our opponents scored 159. The same standard applies today. If they can't score, they can't win. If your defense is forcing three and outs all day long, your offense is going to have great field position and opportunities to score all afternoon.

Anyway, the book is terrific, and the stories about Ara and Huarte and Snow and company are outstanding. Pretty amazing that John Huarte went from a guy who had never earned a letter to the Heisman Trophy winner in 1964. Jim Dent is one of the best authors out there, and the research that went into this book was remarkable.

Ara Parseghian saved Notre Dame football. He took over a program that was circling the drain and very nearly won the national championship in his first season in 1964. Two national championships later in 1966 and 1973, and Ara will always be remembered as one of the all time greats at ND.

Enjoy the book! It is a treat. Hopefully Charlie Weis produces another season like 1964 in 2009.

August 26, 2009

WEISND Roundtable: Predictions, Awards, and Thoughts on the Notre Dame 2009 football season

Football season is at our doorstep, so we thought we'd get our roundtable crew on record with some thoughts and predictions as we head into the 2009 football season. If you want to join in and give us your thoughts, feel free to post your own predictions down below.

1) What is the most important game of the 2009 season??

Jeremy: USC

Gut check reaction is to say NEVADA. Weis needs to get off to a good start to set the tone for the rest of the season. Nevada will be bringing a high-powered, gimmicky offense into South Bend over Labor Day weekend, and if the Irish aren’t careful, they could find themselves in a deep hole by halftime. There’s nothing the naysayers would like more than to see Weis and Co. fall flat on their faces in the opening battle of this most recent Return to Glory campaign.

But the answer to this question is USC, and the reasons extend beyond the mere impact on this year’s squad. Weis hasn’t been competitive against the Trojans since 2005 and if he intends to prove to the ND family that he can be the one to return the Irish to big-time college football, he’ll need to put up a good showing at the very least. Another 20+ point drubbing and the big guy will have an extremely tough time justifying his continued employment. Additionally, if reports from the recruiting experts are accurate, the weekend of October 17th could be the biggest recruiting weekend in Weis’ tenure. Many of the best prospects in the country are scheduled to be on campus to take in the game and to see what ND has to offer. Some of those visiting (e.g. Kyle Prater, Josh Shaw and even Seantrel Henderson) will likely have SC and ND in their final group of schools. If Weis can keep the game close into the 4th quarter, or even pull out a victory, the 2010 recruiting class could get a real shot in the arm.

Matt: Nevada.

The easy answer is to say USC because thanks to the pitiful schedule it’s the only marquee game. But honestly, I think the Nevada game will tell us a lot about the direction of the schedule. We should smoke Nevada. I know they have a good QB and made a bowl last year, but come on. I’d be willing to wager there isn’t a single player on their roster that ND looked at. This game should be like the Hawaii Bowl repeated where ND just blows them out of the water. There isn’t anyone on their roster capable of shutting down Clausen to Tate / Floyd. If it’s SDSU all over again, I will have serious doubts about how the rest of the season will turn out.

Mike: Week 2 at Michigan.

The Nevada game is obviously critical, but a victory over the Wolf Pack will guarantee Notre Dame nothing more than an avoidance of ignominy. Also, while there are other demons that Weis needs to exorcise, and soon, if he is going to succeed at Notre Dame (e.g., BC, USC), an early season loss to a Michigan team led by a true freshman QB could result in a complete tailspin. If Notre Dame can escape Ann Arbor with a victory in a game that I expect to be tightly contested, they may be well on their way to a big season. If not, you can pretty much start analyzing the relative merits of the possible replacement candidates.

Doug: USC

I didn't really want to pick USC here because I think we have hurdles to cross before we start measuring ourselves against the Trojans, but who else would be the pick for this game?? Would any other team on this schedule be a meaningful or memorable victory??

Beating Michigan State and BC would be nice wins, but am I going to be dancing in the streets or puffing my chest at work about beating either of those teams?? Of course not. And normally I would pick Michigan as the "most important game" since it's the first big road test for this team, but Michigan is starting a true freshman this year and probably is still in transition. Beating Michigan this year isn't going to carry the weight that it normally does.

So that brings me to USC. The USC game is going to make or break our reputation in the college football world this year. And that's how it's been for the entire Weis era. Think back through his first four years of USC games:

2005 -- A game for the ages. A game that showed that ND still had the ability to compet with the USCs of the world. Symbolized the moment when ND arrived back on the national scene and became a major recruiting player again.

2006 - The Michigan game was probably the defining game of that season and the moment when everyone kind of started wondering about Weis, but the USC game was our chance to make amends for the UM game. And we got housed in that game. That was the game where it became obvious to me that we had a long way to go before becoming an elite program again.

2007 - Probably the low point of the Charlie Weis era. I've never seen us play worse, and the stadium was virtually empty by the middle of the 3rd quarter. Never seen anything like it. ND fans leaving en masse during the middle of the game. I don't think I've ever left before the end of the game in all the years I've been attending ND games, and yet it felt perfectly normal for some reason. A completely surreal day and one of the worst days in ND football history during the worst season in ND football history.

2008 - I guess you could say Syracuse was the defining game of the 2008 season, but USC was close. We looked like a high school team compared to them. If Weis had been fired the next day, it would not have been all that surprising.

As you can see, our performances in the USC game have steadily gotten worse through the years. I don't expect Weis to beat USC this year, but they are the measuring stick for this program. If we give them a good game and look like we belong on the same field, it would be a signal to me that this program can someday compete for championships again. And if we somehow shock the world and beat an undefeated USC team, that would be the biggest win for ND football since 1993.

The other thing is recruiting. There are a ton of prospects who are going to be at that game. Henderson, Barr, etc. If ND is undefeated and plays really well in an electric atmosphere, you gotta think Weis can get a couple of these guys to commit.

2) Who will be the MVP of the offense??

Jeremy: Michael Floyd

Jimmy Clausen is the easy answer. I fully expect him to make the leap this year, much like Brady Quinn did during his junior year in 2005. He’s got the tools, he’s got the talent surrounding him and he’s taken his knocks over the last two years.

But I’m gonna go with Michael Floyd. Golden Tate has established himself as a bonafide deep threat, requiring double teams when running those devastating go routes. Floyd should be free to run wild all over the middle of the field and take a run at every single-season receiving record on the books.

Matt: Jimmy Clausen.

If ND is going to have the kind of season that I think most fans are expecting, it’s going to have to be with the arm of Clausen. The parallels between the development of Clausen and Brady Quinn are eerily similar. Brady made ‘the leap’ his junior year, and I firmly believe Jimmy is ready to do the same.

Sure, there is going to have to be a playmaking RB emerge (Armando Allen has a career long run of 21 yards. That is hard to believe), the line is going to have to improve (all indications are they have) and Kyle Rudolph will undoubtedly make a run at the Mackey, but it all comes back to Clausen. MVP.

Mike: Jimmy Clausen.

With an experienced QB and one of the nation’s finest receiving corps, all signs point to an aerial assault for the Irish offense this year. In my offseason commentary, I opined that “with a veteran OL that improved considerably at pass blocking last year after the 2007 debacle, as well as an awesome array of weapons at WR and TE, Clausen should throw for 30 TDs, 10 or fewer INTs, 8.5 yards per attempt and 3500 yards.” Assuming that this prediction comes to fruition, Clausen will be a dark horse Heisman candidate and the team MVP on offense. Obviously, the receivers will put up big numbers under this scenario, but, as usual, the QB gets the praise when the offense is clicking.

Honorable Mention: Michael Floyd

Doug: Jimmy Clausen

If you're a little skeptical on Jimmy Clausen, I can understand where you're coming from. I've had my doubts about him at times. Clausen was very up and down in 2008. In the last four games of the season, he had 8 INTs and only 2 TDs. Granted, Clausen was banged up in the second half of the year, but that's football. Clausen has to prove that he can hang tough for 12 games and a bowl game.

But as we look ahead to the 2009 season, I'm bullish on Jimmy Clausen this year for several reasons. Here's why:

1) Offseason workouts --- If you look at some of the recent practice videos of Clausen, he is noticeably bigger this year. He's probably added 15-20 pounds to his frame.

Are those 15-20 pounds going to allow him take some 275 pound defensive linemen head on to get a first down?? No, but it was never designed for that. Those extra pounds are for one reason and one reason only: CONFIDENCE. I think Clausen is going to feel much more confident this year with his bigger body. Instead of running away from the pocket at the first sign of trouble, he might hang in there an extra second or two and find an open receiver. Maybe he'll feel more comfortable tucking the ball under his arm and running for a first down if no one's open. And who knows, maybe he even shakes off a d-linemen a couple times a year and scrambles to keep a play alive. That stuff can make the difference between winning and losing a game. Instead of having to punt, suddenly you picked up a huge first down. Brady Quinn did that a lot in his career. That can be demoralizing for an opposing defense.

In college football, your quarterback has to be willing to make a play when things break down. Thus far, Clausen has shied away from the heavy rush and hasn't really shown much improvisation. He has always had the arm strength, but now he has added some strength to his body to go with it. I think it will pay off big time.

Clausen will never be a big bulking Brady Quinn type who gets in the weight room and throws up rep after rep on the squat machine. But you don't need to be like that to be a quarterback. As an aside, I wonder sometimes if Brady Quinn lifts TOO MUCH. Is there really any need for him to be that bulked up to play quarterback?? I know it's a physical game, but quarterback is the most finesse position on the field. If anything, you want more flexibility than pure bulk.

2) Experience --

Clausen's body has matured, but the main ingredient for his success this year should come from the fact that he is now in his 3rd year in this program and his 3rd year as a starter. I read a great blurb in Weis' press conference on quarterback play that couldn't have been more dead on when you're talking about a young quarterback. In fact, it was the most insightful thing I've heard Weis say about football in five years of listening too him (for as much as he talks, rarely do I ever learn anything about football when I listen to him). Here's his quote:

“When less-experienced quarterbacks get pressure, they usually flush out to the side of their throwing arm,” Weis said. “Every right-handed quarterback would flush out to the right.

“But (the more-experienced) dropback quarterbacks — the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world — what they do is shuffle in the pocket and find that window. It might be six inches. It might be three feet. But he’s done a real good job of finding that window instead of just bailing out when pressure comes his way.”

I completely agree with Weis here and definitely am encouraged that he picked up on that. If you go back and watch Jimmy Clausen, his biggest issue has been sliding out of the pocket to the right sideline every time he faced any pressure. That is a KILLER. Clausen would drift toward the sideline and have no one open because all the receivers were bunched up on the sideline. Usually, he ended up just throwing it away. The standard response you'd see on NDNation was "well, at least he's not throwing it back over the middle for interceptions," but that was missing the point. He never should have drifted to the sideline in the first place.

That's the biggest key for Clausen this year. Not every play is going to be a perfect 5 step drop and a guy is open. Protection is going to break down. Can he stay in the pocket, shuffle around a bit, and wait for something to open up?? If he can do that, he'll have an opportunity to make a ton of big plays with this group of talented wide receivers. If he turns away from the pocket or drifts to the sideline, the offense will sputter and we'll miss out on those big improvised plays that you see out of guys like Roethlisberger where he keeps the play alive and suddenly Hines Ward breaks free.

One thing that we know for sure from the first four years of the Charlie Weis era is that his offense requires the quarterback to be a playmaker. He can talk about running the ball all he wants, but let's be honest. We aren't going to be getting any homeruns out of this running game. This offense is what it is. It is a very quarterback-oriented offense that requires the quarterback to make multiple reads, find different guys, move around in the pocket, and make plays down the field. The quarterback in this offense isn't running your typical college offense where he throws a couple five yard square outs and a bomb. There is a lot on Clausen's shoulders. If Clausen is up to the task, this offense will be much better.

I think Clausen has a chance to be the Colt McCoy of 2009. Colt McCoy was off the radar last year a little bit (a 3rd round fantasy pick....absurd in hindsight), but you could see the signs that he might explode last year. Third year as a starter, added weight to his body, more confident, more in control of the team and the "Texas Nation." Sound familiar?

3) Who will be the defensive MVP?

Jeremy: Kyle McCarthy

Lots of good choices here. It looks like Ethan Johnson will be starting the season primarily on the interior of the defensive line. If prospects such as Hafis Williams, Sean Cwynar, Brandon Newman, Paddy Mullen and even freshman Tyler Stockton can prove their worth in the middle and allow Johnson to move to the outside, he could be a wildly disruptive force. Until he can get out there, I’m afraid his effectiveness will be limited somewhat.

Given the strength of the secondary, it seems like a no-brainer that the MVP would come from that group. Any one of that group could certainly be in the discussion. This might be a bit of a cop-out since he led the Irish in tackles last year, but I’ll choose Kyle McCarthy. I’m very interested to see how he and Harrison Smith operate in the safety spots this year. Given Smith’s propensity for blitzing, I would expect McCarthy to have plenty of opportunities to lead the team in tackles again.

Matt: Ethan Johnson.

This is kind of a longshot pick, and if I was wagering I’d probably pick one of the favorites, who I assume the majority of fans would say would be McCarthy or Brian Smith. But someone is going to have to step up on the d line, and I was really excited with what Ethan Johnson did last year as a freshman. Plus I love that he rocks the single digit uniform number. He’s bulked up and moved inside, and I really think that he is going to anchor the defensive line.

Mike: Kyle McCarthy.

In addition to his usual steady play, Kyle McCarthy should thrive in this aggressive defense led by Jon Tenuta. I look for the studious McCarthy to replicate his solid tackling (although hopefully the linebackers will make more tackles) and increase his interception totals by virtue of an enhanced pass rush. Moreover, I believe that McCarthy will have a little more freedom to play the role of ball hawk because the ND cornerbacks possess the ability to cover receivers without safety help. Look for a huge year for the defensive captain.

Honorable Mention: Brian Smith

Doug: Darrin Walls

I sort of hope I'm wrong on this one because I'd really love to see Ethan Johnson or Ian Williams or someone in that front seven named as our defensive MVP. This defense will be defined by the defensive line play.

But I'm going with Walls here because I think he's our best all around defensive player. Walls is a shutdown corner, and I think he'll have an outstanding year. After walking out of the spring game, the only thing I knew for sure about this team was that our secondary would be one of the best in the nation. Robert Blanton is going to be a standout as well.

I'm not one to pick a corner as the defensive player of the year, but Walls is an elite player. He's got the speed, he'll break up passes, and he's just a tremendous athlete. I don't think many teams are going to want to challenge him this year.

4) Who is your pick for the most improved player?

Jeremy: Toryan Smith

Many pundits, particularly those of the pro-Irish persuasion, have pointed out the many similarities between this team and Weis’ first in 2005. One of the most pleasant surprises from the season was the rock-solid play from Corey Mayes at MLB. After toiling in relative anonymity for much of his college career, Mayes was given the starting nod out of the gate in ’05 and flourished, particularly against the run.

Similarly, reports out of camp indicate that Toryan Smith is going to get the chance to play the Mayes role this year. In his first extended playing time in the second half of 2008, Smith was effective in disrupting the opposition’s running game. Although Manti Te’o’s presence may squeeze Smith out of a starting role, I’d like to hope that Smith can provide the kind of solid play against the run that Mayes gave the Irish in 2005.

Matt: Trevor Robinson.

He was already pretty good last year as a freshman, but I really believe that he is going to be our best lineman this year in full time duty. In all of the practice reports from the beat writers, they go out of their way to mention how big he is, how dominant he looks, and how nasty he’s been playing. While you have to go South and West to get your speed guys, I have no problem with Weis just patrolling the Midwest and picking off big old cornfed lineman.

Others I considered were Armando Allen, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith, Toryan Smith.

Mike: Steve Filer.

Despite having immense talent, Filer struggled to grasp the defensive scheme in his freshman year, thereby preventing him from becoming a major contributor. With another year in the system and the ability to play Mike linebacker, Sam linebacker and defensive end on passing downs, the coaching staff should be able to put Filer in a position to succeed this year. Filer’s overall production, from a pure statistics standpoint, may be hindered by a crowded depth chart at LB, but he will make his presence felt in 2009.

Doug: Kyle Rudolph (offense) and Ethan Johnson (defense)

Offense: Kyle Rudolph

No brainer here for me. If you've seen any pictures or videos of Rudolph, he looks like a different person. That offseason weight program has really helped him out. Rudolph is going to be very dangerous as the safety outlet for Clausen in this offense. If he can become a better run blocker, he'll be one of the best tight ends in the nation.

Defense: Ethan Johnson

It's hard for me to even say "most improved" about Ethan Johnson because I expect him to emerge as one of our best players this year. We expected big things from Ethan Johnson when he arrived, and he is delivering on those expectations.

Should be interesting to see where he ends up getting the majority of his snaps. He's really better suited as a 4-3 DE in the Anthony Weaver mold, but right now he's playing defensive tackle. He could be a devastating force inside with penetration and tackles for loss, but he's not really your typical "take up two blockers and hold your ground" DT. Then again, maybe Tenuta did some research on this and decided that he would rather have a quicker DT who could knife in there and make big plays behind the line. I'm excited to see what Ethan Johnson brings to the table this year.

Honorable Mention: Harrison Smith

God bless Harry Smith for taking one for the team and playing linebacker last year, but I'm happy to see him back at safety. Think about this linebacking group from last year. Our starters were Brian Smith, Maurice Crum, and Harrison Smith. Yikes. No wonder teams ran the ball all over us last year. We were undersized everywhere.

Great to see Harrison Smith settling back in at safety. Should be a smooth transition from David Bruton to Harrison Smith.

5) What do you think are the 2-3 biggest keys to the 2009 season?


1) Offensive Line Play – The line drastically improved its pass protection from 07-08, but the running game was still abysmal last year, particularly in short yardage situations. I do know that some of the deficiencies can be attributed to the lack of a solid backup TE last year. The loss of Yeatman seemed to have quite the negative impact on formations and execution. Hopefully Ragone, Burger and maybe even Eifert can provide the necessary depth to help open up the run game. Behind one of the most veteran O-lines in the country, there’s no excuse for a lack of running game. Clausen and his receivers make up one of the more potent aerial attacks in the country. But if the offense is too one-dimensional, the Irish won’t stand much of a chance, even against a watered-down schedule.

2) Defensive Line Play – In 2005 and 2006, ND was very vulnerable to the big play due to a weak secondary. In the last two years, run defense has been a problem. In order for the Irish to take a step forward defensively, the line will have to be much more stout against the run. Unfortunately, ND remains fairly green up front, with only Ian Williams returning with significant experience. Ethan Johnson is expected to become a superstar, but starting out on the interior may stunt his development somewhat. The remainder of the line prospects are either extremely young (Newman, Cwynar, KLM) or largely a disappointment in their ND careers (Richardson, Mullen, Wade). Several members of the line will need to take large steps forward in order to make this unit better.

3) Close Out Games Strong – During several games last year, the Irish failed to finish strong. ND opened the 2nd half of the UNC game with a comfortable lead and the ball, only to see the lead quickly evaporate due to turnovers and sloppy play. Similar story in the Pitt and Syracuse games. Certainly some of these issues can be marked down to inexperience and the relative youth of last year’s team. Youth can no longer be used as an excuse. Finishing those 3 games in a strong fashion would have made the 2008 season look much, much different, and perhaps Charlie Weis wouldn’t be so worried about his job status.


1) Establish an Identity – I think Doug has trademarked the phrase “Grab-bagged offense,” but it’s true. That’s what we’ve seen from Weis repeatedly. Let’s establish an identity. If we can beat people passing the ball similar to the aerial attack when we had Quinn to Stovall, Shark and Carlson, then fine, let’s be that team. Then you can use Armando as the Darius Walker type who can run it 20 times and catch 5 balls a game. I just have a problem when one series you come out throwing, then the next series here comes Robert Hughes in the game to plod into the middle of the line, then maybe next we’ll try the Wildcat, and if that doesn’t work then we’ll go back to throwing. No. You’ve had all spring and fall camp to form the identity of the offense. Mike Haywood isn’t here to be the sacrificial lamb anymore. If Charlie determines that teams are not going to be able to stop a Clausen, Tate, Floyd, Rudolph combo, then fine, go with it. But enough of the countless times it seems like the gameplan changes from series to series.

2) D-Line – There is that stat floating around out there that every BCS champion has had a Top 25 ranked defense by season’s end. Lou Holtz aside, I don’t think any Irish fan is expecting a National Championship run this season, but a BCS bowl is certainly possible, and to get there the D line is going to have to hold up. Let’s face it, there are A LOT of question marks. I wouldn’t know KLM if he walked into my apartment right now, Ethan Johnson has to prove he can hold up on the inside, is Kerry Neal the next Justin Tuck or just a linebacker moonlighting at end because that’s the only option on the roster, can Tyler Stockton provide 10-15 meaningful snaps a game in relief.

The secondary is in place, I don’t really have too many concerns with the linebackers, especially with Te’o developing every day, but you can’t win games if the opponents are getting 5 yards a pop on the ground. You know teams like Michigan State and Pitt are going to pound it, and it will be up to the line to step up.


1. Establish a real running game. In four years on the job, Charlie Weis has yet to prove that he can develop an above-average rushing offense. With a talent edge in virtually every game, ND should be able to pound teams into submission rather than relying on “schematics” and clever play calling. Simply put, there are too many highly touted recruits in the offensive backfield and along the offensive line to allow for such a putrid running production. Without a consistent running game, we will be relying solely upon the vagaries of the passing game, which will guarantee several upset losses along the way (more on this later).

2. Stop the run. ND improved in run defense from 2007 to 2008, but we are a long way from where we need to be against the run. In multiple games last year, most notably of which were the UNC and Pitt games, the Irish defensive line failed to hold up against the run, thus allowing the opposing offense to control the clock and wear down the defense. With a surplus of talent at linebacker and possibly its strongest secondary in 15 years, the only question mark for ND will be its young defensive line. If ND’s defense can hold their own against the run, particularly on first and second down, they will force their opponents into obvious passing situations against a loaded secondary and a blitz-happy defensive coordinator, which is a recipe for major success on defense.

3. Attitude. This is connected to #1 and #2, but ND has been consistently pushed around by less talented opponents throughout Weis’s tenure. The most glaring area of this passiveness is the offensive line, which has underachieved for four years despite being loaded with elite level recruits. Weis’s decision to hire Frank Verducci and Randy Hart is encouraging, but I am convinced that the problems in line play run deeper than poor fundamentals and technique. Maybe Weis just can’t relate to college players and maybe his finesse approach to offense (i.e., “take what they give you,” focus on outfoxing the defense) is antithetical to a mean disposition, but the reasons are not important. The only thing that matters is that this team needs to play with a pit bull attitude and a swagger that we haven’t seen since the Holtz era or the disappointing losses will continue.


1) Stop the run -- When you have an offensive-minded head coach, there's always going to be a lot of focus on how the offense is looking. But for me personally, I'm more interested in the defense. You win championships and dominate games with your defense. Watch Florida play defense. It's truly an amazing thing to watch them. They are RELENTLESS and don't give you an inch. USC is the same way for the most part.

A great defense can make an offense look good. Tebow's great, but look at how many times he starts a drive at the 40 yard line and beyond. His defense and special teams are putting him in great shape. Not a lot of 10 play, 85 yard drives needed for the Gators.

When it comes to the Irish defense in 2009, I'm looking for one thing and one thing only: STOP THE RUN. If you can't stop the run, your defense is nothing. Our defense was better last year, but the defense came up small when it really mattered. When we really needed to develop a backbone against the Cuse or UNC or USC or Michigan State or Pitt, we came up small. Syracuse ran for 170 yards against our defense. Syracuse! Michigan State ran for 204. USC ran for 5.3 yards a carry against us and completely manhandled our defensive line. They could have run for 300 yards if they had wanted to.

If teams are running on you, it's a sign that you're soft. As a long time Bengal fan who has watched Bengal teams that were soft against the run for as long as I can remember, there's nothing more demoralizing to your defense than getting the ball shoved down your throat by a more physical team. Even worse, when you start to bring your safeties up to try to help with run support, you get killed with the play action pass. For proof of that, look at the ND-USC games of the last three years.

We'll know the ND defense is back when the safeties aren't making all the tackles. The front seven is the key to this team getting back to an elite level in my opinion. If guys like Ethan Johnson and Hafis Williams and KLM and Ian Williams and Brandon Newman can hold their own at the point of attack against a good team like USC or an SEC team in a bowl game, then we might be on our way.

The good news is that Weis made the decision to go back to the 4-3 defense, which should help with the run defense. He grab-bagged with that 3-4 experiment, and I'm glad he has come back around to the 4-3. The 4-3 is much better-suited for college defensive linemen who are still learning the position and would rather just shoot through gaps than try to take up a bunch of blockers.

I also like what we're building on the defensive line. Think about all the big bodies we have now: Hafis Williams, Ian Williams, Tyler Stockton, Brandon Newman, Ethan Johnson, Sean Cwynar, Kapron Lewis-Moore. When was the last time we had that much bulk up front?? Coach Hart has a ton of options for a rotation.

Plus, how can you not like Randy Hart?? This guy is a football coach. I wish he had been here for the last 10 years. He's tough, enthusiastic, and he wants his linemen to be physical. Coach Hart understands that football is a game won by individual battles. It is not a chess match. It's a war.

2) Finish strong down the stretch --

What do Navy, Air Force, and Syracuse all have in common?? They all have beaten us IN NOVEMBER in the last two seasons. Are you kidding me?? It's bad enough to lose to those teams, but to lose to them at the end of the year makes it even worse.

The scariest part of the Weis era is that his teams really haven't gotten better as the season has gone along. In fact, we've generally gotten worse. I think that comes back to the "soft" reputation. Almost like those Miami Dolphin teams in the 90s that would start out 7-1 every year and then end up 9-7. As the season went along, they wore down and fell apart. That's what we've done as well. The weather changed, bodies started wearing down, the turf got messy, and we collapsed. We didn't even remotely show up ready to play at USC last year. It was as if the team had mentally packed it in and quit on the coach.

Good coaches have their teams peaking at the end of the year. I would like to see us close the year playing our best football of the season. We finish with Washington State, Navy, Pitt, UConn, and Stanford. Our goal should be to win all of those games convincingly.

3) Special Teams! --

I don't think I could do an ND preview without mentioning special teams at once. Say it with me. SPECIAL TEAMS! SPECIAL TEAMS! SPECIAL TEAMS! If there's one thing I've learned from Robert Montgomery Davie, it's that special teams are YUUUUUGE in college football. If you have great special teams, it's just another way you can win a ballgame.

Special teams=field position. We saw it with our outstanding punt coverage units last year. When the returner caught the ball, he was going down within three steps. Anello and Bruton were two of the best I've ever seen at the "gunner" position.

When you are starting every drive at the 40-50 yard line and your opponent is starting every drive inside the 20, you are going to be in great position to win the game. A lot of that comes from your special teams, especially at home. If we have MSU backed up inside their own 20 every drive, the crowd is going to be bringing it to get in their head and hopefully force a turnover.

Plus, there's the big play factor from your special teams. Think about that Zbibkowski punt return against SC or the Getherall punt return against Nebraska. Just monster plays that completely changed the game.

If I was Weis, I would tell my team before week one that our goal is to have the best special teams unit in the nation. Literally, the best. That should be our goal. With our recruiting the last couple years, we should have a ton of hungry young guys looking to make a difference in special teams.

6)) What is your prediction for ND's record in 2009??

Jeremy: 10-3

Consider me drunk on Kool Aid. I expect Clausen to lead a 2005-type resurgence of the offense, including an improved running game, thanks to TE depth and the influence of the new coaches (Verducci and Alford). I expect the secondary to be one of the best in the nation. I expect the LB’s, including freshman sensation Manti Te’o, to be greatly improved both in the running and passing games. I expect the defensive line to undergo serious growing pains, but pull it together and establish a solid rotation by mid-season.

I’m not willing to make a prediction as to exactly how the season goes, but I’m thinking 10-3 is the final record. Whether this comes from a 10-2 season and a BCS loss, or a 9-3 season and a Gator Bowl, I’m still not quite sure.

Matt: 9-3, Gator Bowl.

Charlie’s motto this spring has been “prove it,” as in let’s finally see on the field what has been talked about since the Hawaii Bowl. And that’s pretty much where I am now with this program. Every year there have been glowing reports about how Player X is developing and Freshman Y is ready to contribute and Captain Z is ready to be the leader of the team. But let’s face it, every year of the Charlie Weis era has ended in disappointment.

Is the talent there to make a BCS run? With this schedule, probably. BC, Pitt, Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State all appear to be in various stages of rebuilding / reloading. At Stanford could be tricky as the last game. They might as well play that UConn game at the local cemetery – the atmospheres will be similar. And of course USC is penciled in as a loss given how completely and utterly inept ND was last year. That was the most embarrassing loss I can remember. So for a team to look so pathetic one year and suddenly be ready to make a BCS run, well, the only thing I can say is prove it.

Mike: 8-4. Gator Bowl.

There are many reasons to drink the Kool Aid in 2009, including the following: (1) almost every position is flush with top-flight athletes, (2) the early returns for the new coaches have been positive and (3) the team possesses more talent than every team on the schedule except for USC, which faces the challenge of winning at South Bend with an inexperienced quarterback. Unfortunately, I believe that ND will be doomed by the same problems that persisted throughout Weis’s tenure; i.e., failure to run the ball and stop the run. Specifically, ND’s inability to develop a consistent ground attack will force the offense to place an undue reliance on the passing game, which will be explosive at times but occasionally prone to failure. I expect Clausen, despite having a great overall season, to have one or two poor games along the way, leading to several disappointing losses.

More importantly, Weis has failed to deliver on his promise to deliver a “nasty” team. In Weis’s four years under the Dome, the Irish have been Charmin soft in the trenches and mentally fragile, so there is no reason to believe that 2009 will be any different. As much as it pains me to type this, I believe that we will lose to Michigan State, USC, Pittsburgh and (shudder) either BC or Michigan, which will lead to Weis’s ouster.

Doug: 11-1; BCS Bowl (loss)

At first, I planned to say 9 wins and the Gator Bowl. Then I started thinking 10 wins is where I see this team. But now that I think about it, why shouldn't this team win 11 games this year?? Is there any reason that we couldn't do it??

If there was ever a year to win 11+ games, this season would be it. Look at all the experience this team has and compare it to the other teams on the schedule. Third year quarterback, third year running back, two elite receivers, a tight end coming into his own, experienced line, experienced secondary, talented players in the front seven.

Think about all the NFL talent on this team. Jimmy Clausen...first rounder. Michael Floyd...first rounder. Golden Tate...first day draft pick. Kyle Rudolph...probably one of the first 2-3 TEs drafted in 2012. Sam Young...first day pick. Trevor Robinson...first day pick.

Ethan Johnson...potential first-second rounder. Brian Smith...first day pick. Walls....2nd round type pick. Blanton...big time talent. Te'o....Maualuga type talent.

This team has some players!! Look around at this schedule in comparison. Michigan has a freshman QB and inexperienced skill players and a defense that has no identity yet. MSU is starting an all new backfield. BC is in a complete rebuild. Pitt lost their best player and has no QB answers. And Nevada has MAC talent. There's no one on this schedule that has as many key returning players as we do.

I also think these guys are hungry. Weis has been saying that this team is the most close knit team he's had at ND. These guys were winners in high school, and I don't think they want to go through another year like last year. That has to hurt your pride, and it sounds like they have really circled the wagons and have something to prove in 2009.

USC is the only team that I still think has a noticeable talent edge on us. I expect SC to be as good as ever this year once they settle in at QB. Their o-line is going to maul people, and their defense is still as fast and talented as ever. Throw in "Footrace" McKnight and those receivers, and you have a motherlode of talent at USC. Plus, they have the best big game coach in the country.

That brings me to the ND coaching staff. Talent alone is not going to win you games. I've been as hard on Weis as anyone for his constant grab-bagging and lack of identity for this team, but he may be finally catching on to this head coaching thing. I think this team and this coaching staff has worked the kinks out. We got rid of some bad assistant coaches who probably should have been let go a couple years ago, and now we actually have an identity on offense and defense. We have a passing offense that mixes in the run, and we play the 4-3 defense with aggressive blitzing. That's who we are, and I'm fine with it. Texas has won plenty of games with both of those identities. We can do the same.

We now have an experienced defensive coordinator in Jon Tenuta who really knows what he's doing and knows how to build a defense. We have a d-line coach who has been one of the best in the game for years and knows how to develop players. We have a new o-line coach who has received favorable reviews from Iowa fans. When Weis first arrived, we were trotting out guys like Minter and Latina and Jappy Oliver in those positions. Notice that none of them has really latched on to any big time programs since they've been let go.

The Weis learning curve has been steep and painful, but it appears that he is finally figuring out what he wants this program to be. He has done an outstanding job building this roster, and now he has to win with it.

So I'm going with 11-1 and a loss in a BCS bowl to some top 5 team that we'll inevitably get matched up against. Do I think we're a top 5 team this year?? Good god no. Not at all. I think we would go like 7-5/8-4 in the SEC. But last time I checked, there are no SEC teams on this schedule, and the second best team we play is a Michigan State team that lost by 31 to Penn State and by 38 to Ohio State last year. NO ONE should be afraid of Michigan State, especially at home.

I walked out of the spring game saying that this team will be similar to the 2006 team. We'll probably have a couple close calls, but I think this team will beat the teams it should beat and lose to the teams that are better than us (USC and the BCS bowl team). All in all, a very good season that will set up for a potentially even better season in 2010 when just about everyone is back.

P.S. I'm fully prepared to be heading into the 4th quarter losing 23-21 to Nevada. Just though I'd note that.

7) What record does Weis need to have to save his job?

Jeremy: 8-4

This is a tough question for me. If Weis somehow goes 8-4 in the regular season, but has a fluky loss or two because of an injury or a tough break, I’m willing to give him another season. As has already been documented on many occasions in this space, Weis isn’t doing any great damage to the program right now, and another job search could be disastrous. I frankly don’t trust this administration to run a successful search and find someone who could do any better.

I really can’t foresee any situation in which ND loses more than 4 games this year. Call me what you will, but there’s just too much talent on this team to fall apart. Even if Clausen goes down with an injury (knocking on a huge-ass piece of wood), Crist and Sharpley provide some of the best QB depth in the country.

I am afraid that anything less than 9-3 will have many screaming for Weis’ head. 9-3 might not even be enough. And ND can’t afford another (off)season of discontent.

Matt: 8 wins

Good question. I think the answers are different if I was running the show and the current regime. Honestly, I think he needs 8 wins to save his job, but it really should be more like 9 or 10. If ND went 8-4 this year, that would mean losses to USC, and let’s say Michigan State, at Pitt, at Stanford. That would be completely unacceptable in my opinion. What would have been the point of the season? What would be the win that Weis hangs his hat on? BC? Navy? Michigan?

Really, I think the whole job evaluation has to go further than wins or losses. It’s one thing to lose games. But if the USC game this year is a repeat of last year, can anyone with a straight face point to progress being made. Same thing with wins. If we are squeaking by Navy and Nevada, yeah, they are wins, but aren’t we at the point in Year 5 of Charlie Weis that it should be reasonable to be destroying teams like that?

The last thing that I’ll be looking for besides wins is just the general attitude and atmosphere around the team. I know that this is a really tough thing to gauge, but didn’t it look like last year by the end of the season the players would rather go get a root canal than here Weis yell at them one more time. It was uninspired football to say the least. We should come out of the tunnel every game with the mindset that we are better than our opponent. No more playing nice with Navy or laying a turd sandwich against Syracuse (UConn this year is the potential ’08 ‘Cuse game). Beat Navy 56-3 and knock their starting QB out of the game while you’re at it. Don’t fight USC pregame – fight them on the damn field. If it takes Corwin Brown getting a concussion every week from headbutting the whole defense during pregame, fine. But with the schedule set up like it is, USC at home, the experienced players back at key positions, and Charlie coaching for his life, I would like to think that the results we see on the field this year will be different than the past two years.

Mike: 9-3 (most likely).

If Weis wins nine games, it will likely be sufficient for him to retain his job. Certainly, nine wins with a victory over USC would be particularly helpful for Weis in his quest to placate Irish denizens, although this would also mean that there were three losses to inferior opponents. If I were AD, however, there would be a ten win minimum for Weis, given our relative talent level vis-à-vis our opponents and Weis’s substandard body of work over the preceding four years. Of course, if I were AD, Weis would have been fired last December, so it’s pretty clear that my expectations are not aligned with Jack Swarbrick’s expectations.

Doug: 9 wins

Before I get to what ND's criteria would probably be, I'll go with my personal criteria. Because I think you have to take the bowl game into consideration, it's tough for me to really say a specific win-loss record. So I'll go with total wins (including the bowl game):

13 wins -- Start collecting donations for that "Touchdown Charlie" statue on campus

12 wins -- Ara/Lou territory - 12 wins means either a win over USC and undefeated regular season or an 11 win season and a BCS bowl win (presumably over an elite team). That's one heckuva season and all questions about Weis should cease at that point. If Weis wins 12 games this year, he's got the chops to eventually deliver a national championship someday.

11 wins -- The John Cooper track -- An 11 win season would be more than enough to get the critics off Weis' back and probably would be a huge boost to recruiting, but it would be interesting to see what the losses were. 11 wins could mean a 10 win season and a BCS bowl win, but it could also mean 11 regular season wins and a BCS bowl loss. In other words, the John Cooper special. Beat everyone on the schedule except for your archrival and your bowl opponent. Definitely a quality season, but leaves a little bit of a sour taste. Either way, Weis wins 11 games, and he's not going anywhere for awhile. Deservedly so.

10 wins -- 2006 redux -- Here's where you start entering those cloudy areas. 10 wins on the year means either he's gone 9-3 and won the Gator Bowl or 10-2 and loses a BCS bowl. Still a good year and certainly good enough year for Weis to safely enter 2010 (which really is going to be THE YEAR in terms of talent and experience). But I think there would be some grumbling about either of those scenarios. 9-3 means two regular season losses besides USC, and 10-3 feels a lot like 2006 where we had double digit victory totals but got housed in all the big games we played. As someone who sat in the stands at the Superdome for that 41-14 debacle against LSU, it's hard to feel too good about your program if you get waxed in your bowl game.

But let's get real, you cannot fire your head coach after a 10 win season. That's absurd. If Weis wins 10 games this year, he should not be in any sort of jeopardy AT ALL. I think there would be some questions about his ceiling as the head coach at ND, but he deserves to remain employed.

9 wins -- Bob Davie country -- Ok, now you're talking about either an 8-4 regular season with a Gator Bowl win or a 9-3 season with a bowl loss. Now, I know there a lot of programs that would be thrilled with those results, but Notre Dame?? 9 wins against this schedule and then losing to someone like Georgia Tech in a bowl game?? Or god forbid, 8 wins in the regular season, which would mean losses to Pitt, MSU, and BC or something along those lines?? If Weis can't prove that he can consistently beat the BCs and MSUs of the world by year five, then why would we have any reason to believe that he could ever make this program competitive again with the big boys??

Personally, if I was in charge, I'd probably not fire Weis if he wins 9 games next year. 9-3 regular season would be enough to bring him back in 2010, but a bowl loss would be tough to swallow against some mid-level ACC team. If that happened, there would be zero momentum heading into 2010.

The more troubling scenario for me would be an 8-4 regular season. I think I'd keep him if he won the bowl game, but he might not make it to the bowl game to save his job. I could be talked into giving him the boot the day after the regular season ended if the team looked sloppy and needed some miracle finishes just to get to 8 wins.

8 wins -- Gone. If this team goes 8-4 and loses a bowl game, Weis is gone the next day in my book. As noted above, I'm not sure I'd even let him get to the bowl game.

Anything less than that is not worth discussing. And if he only wins 5-6 games, he goes down as one of the worst coaches in ND history.

Now, what do I think Swarbrick's expectations are?? Well, I think Weis comes back in 2010 if he can win 8 regular season games. That's the bar in my opinion. ND doesn't want to pay that buyout, and they can spin it as an "improvement."

It's not a fun discussion to have, but it is something that has to be in play until we see this team on the field in 2009. I hope that we aren't even discussing things related to Weis' future or other coaching candidates at any point during this season.

August 25, 2009

Depth-charting: Some new looks on the ND depth chart

Several big statements from the big man yesterday with regard to the depth chart. Looks like some of these moves could affect the starting roster in all three phases of the game.

Special Teams

1) Nick Tausch.....your new starting kicker

Not only did Nick Tausch win the kickoff job, he is now the starting placekicker heading into the Nevada game. WOW. Either Tausch is headed for a spectacular four year career as the ND kicker or Brandon Walker did not impress anyone in camp. Here is Weis' quote on the kicker competition from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

“(Tausch) won the competition rather significantly statistically. “For a freshman to come in and statistically win both positions means he has done a heck of a job.”

Agreed. Tausch has a big leg, and he could be a real weapon for this team. The only thing that makes me nervous just a little bit is that he's only a true freshman. You never really know how someone is going to perform until you see them under those bright lights at Notre Dame stadium, especially as the weather starts to get bad and the field gets ripped to shreds. Maybe I'm just scarred by all the kicking problems we've had in recent years, but I will be a little uneasy about the kicker situation until I see Tausch in action for the first time. Brandon Walker wasn't the answer, and it would have been a shame to see us lose a game on a missed field goal down the stretch.

By all accounts, Tausch has been very good. That decision by Charlie Weis to give him a scholarship is turning out to be a prudent one since he may be the only freshman who starts in the opener.

2) Eric Maust remains as the punter

Ben Turk gave Maust a heckuva a run, but Maust sticks around as the punter this year. I think Maust has been fairly pedestrian thus far, so I don't think this race is finished just yet. Sounds like Turk is one of the strongest guys on the team. Another Weis scholarship there that might pay off down the road.

Oh and Jordan Cowart is the starting long snapper as a freshman. When it's all said and done, I think the 2009 recruiting class (which has been much maligned at times) is going to turn out to be a very very good class. It's a small class, but there are a lot of high quality guys in there who are going to contribute early in their careers.

3) Golden Tate and Armando Allen returning punts; no kick return announcement

I like the punt return decision as well, but I think I'd just give the job to Golden Tate outright. Tate has the ability to be a Tom Zbibkowski type punt returner. He just refuses to go down. Do not be surprised if he breaks one early in the year.

Should be interesting to see if one of the true freshmen wins the kick return job right from the start. You KNOW Cierre Wood is chomping at the bit to get on the field, and I think Charlie Weis would like to show off his new toy and get him some meaningful snaps. That's my prediction for now. Cierre Wood returns the opening kickoff against Nevada.


1) Matt Romine making noise at left tackle

There's a name we haven't heard much in awhile. Here's Weis' quote on him:

“Duncan’s missed a little time with injury and he’s being pressed by Romine right now, he’s getting pressed pretty good. Matt Romine is a guy that we’ve gained a lot of confidence in that not only could he play left tackle, but he could play right tackle as well,” said Weis. “He’s really kind of elevated himself in this competition and is a name that I normally wouldn’t be talking about as a frontline person.”

“He had gotten sick last year and was 270 soaking wet. Now he’s at 295, in that range right there. He always had good ability, especially as a pass blocker, but now because he’s bigger he’s become better at the point of attack,” said Weis. “Now he’s providing more of a challenge where he’s been out there and been healthy the whole camp plus he’s a lot bigger than he was last year.

Another very encouraging sign for the future. With Duncan and Sam Young both graduating after this year, we are sorely in need of a couple tackles to step up heading into next year. That's really the only position that we're going to need heading into 2010. Romine has had some injury problems, but it seems like he's working his way back into the picture. If Romine could man that left tackle spot in 2010, that would be a great sign. Maybe he even pushes past Duncan as this season goes along.

What does that mean for Duncan?? Not sure if it means Weis is down on him or if Romine is really stepping up, but left tackle could be a position to keep an eye on in the first few weeks.

2) Mike Ragone

Weis is fired up about Ragone. Me too. I thought he looked GREAT in the spring game. All this worrying from people about the TE position with Fauria missing, but I think it's going to turn out to be one of the strongest positions on the roster.


1) Darius Fleming will start at strongside linebacker

To quote Bob Davie, I tell you what, you better be awfulllllllllllllly good to crack the lineup at linebacker this year for the Irish. Now that we're in the 4-3 again, there's a ton of competition for those three spots, especially with Brian Smith locking down the weakside LB spot. Between Fleming, Filer, Te'o, and Toryan Smith, you're talking about four highly recruited guys fighting for two spots on the field. Plus, guys like Scott Smith and McDonald and Posluszny are in there mixing it up.

So for now, we're looking at Fleming-Toryan Smith-Brian Smith on opening day. It will be interesting to see if that changes. Gotta think that #5 is going to play his way on the field at some point. Filer is another guy who might get in there on passing downs to rush the passer with Brian Smith moving over to the middle. Lots of depth to work with.

Overall, this linebacker group is probably the strongest crew of LBs we've had since the Davie era. Lots of Davie Era kinda guys in there. Tell me that a guy like Darius Fleming wouldn't have been filling the Kory Minor role back in the late 90s!!

This theme keeps coming up every time I read anything on Notre Dame football this year: DEPTH, DEPTH, DEPTH. This team finally has some depth to create some competition and some different looks on the field. The linebackers can go big, small, pass rush unit, run stop unit, 3 on the field, 4 on the field. And all these guys are pushing each other, and there are players to come in if someone goes down. It's sort of fun to think about the possibilities. Same goes for the DL although not to the same degree. There are some interesting combinations to work with up front as well.

Michigan's three headed QB "monster" and some thoughts on Terrelle Pryor

Well, I will say this about Rich Rodriguez. The man sure does like to do things the unconventional way. His latest move is his announcement that he plans to play three quarterbacks in the opener against Western Michigan. He hasn't announced a starter as of yet, but he said that Tate Forcier, Nick Sheridan, and Denard Robinson will all be getting snaps in that game.

Either Rich Rodriguez is crazy like a fox or he's setting up Michigan for another subpar year. I mean, I know he doesn't have a lot of good options right now at quarterback, but isn't there something to be said about picking one guy and going with him?? This situation feels very similar Charlie Weis' decision to hold back on announcing a quarterback before the start of the 2007 season. Instead of backing one guy and giving him some confidence, Weis decided to keep everyone guessing and it completely backfired. To this day, I have no idea how Weis came to that decision to start Demetrius Jones, and it was obvious that the team hadn't rallied around him as the QB at all. That decision to waffle on the QB situation and waste all those preseason practices on the spread option was probably the worst decision of Weis' coaching career and one that set this program back for at least a year (if not two).

I'm a big subscriber to the adage of "If you have two starting quarterbacks, then you don't have a starting quarterback." If Rich Rodriguez is planning to play three quarterbacks in the opener against a Western Michigan team that will probably give them a game, then it's a sign to me that he doesn't have confidence in any of his three quarterbacks. It's not like they're going to be winning that game 45-3 and emptying the bench with the backup QBs in the third quarter. Michigan is probably going to have to play their "1s" for most of the game just to pull that one out. That leads me to believe that Rodriguez feels the need to play all three quarterbacks just to see who makes something happen out there.

Then again, I can understand why they are having these QB issues. Look at their roster. Sheridan is a walk-on who was awful last year, and the other two are true freshmen. There's no way that Forcier or Robinson are going to be ready for the rigors of college football right out of the chute.

Still, Rodriguez has had several months to study these guys and think about who would be the best fit for his offense. At some point, you gotta just pick the guy with the best long term prospects and go with him. If you think Denard Robinson can be a stud someday, then just play him and let him take his lumps even if he can't really throw. If Forcier is the dual threat guy that you want, then give him all the snaps. Maybe Rodriguez doesn't think Forcier can hold up with that skinny frame. Or maybe he really is torn and just wants to see them compete in live action before making a final decision.

All I know is that Michigan is most likely not going to have a clear answer at quarterback by September 12 when Notre Dame comes to town. That bodes well for the Irish.

Florida and USC and Texas will eventually attract America's eyeballs as the season goes on, but the two most intriguing teams early in the season are without a doubt going to be Notre Dame and Michigan. Is there any college football fan in America who isn't going to be paying close attention to how ND and Michigan look in those first 2-3 games?? Both teams are complete wildcards going into the season. You could sell me on both teams being really good, and you could sell me on both teams packing it in and firing their head coaches at the end of the season. And everything in the middle is in play as well. The ND-Michigan probably will not have a major bearing on who wins the national title in 2009, but it's going to be quite a compelling game.

---I walked down to the Ohio State open practice event last night at the Horseshoe, and wanted to throw in a couple words about Terrelle Pryor. The stadium was only about 1/3 full, so most of the spectators were able to sit down in the first few rows right up near the players. Anyway, I have not really had a chance to see Terrelle Pryor up close until last night, and I must say that he is one of the more impressive physical specimens you will ever see on a football field. The guy is huge. He's like Jamarcus Russell big. He's listed at 235 pounds, but he looks like he's about 250 or maybe 260. I didn't know he was that big. But he's not some plodding Jared Lorenzen type. He's fast and has these long strides that get him from point A to B in a hurry.

And Pryor is making some strides with his passing. He was throwing fades and slants and out routes and generally was putting the ball where it needed to go. It seems like he's more comfortable throwing the ball this year. Overall, I thought Pryor looked good and should be a much better quarterback this year.

Ultimately though, Pryor's physical gifts can only take him so far, especially if he has aspirations of playing quarterback in the NFL someday. The mental side of playing quarterback is going to be his biggest challenge. Making quick reads, staying in the pocket instead of giving up on a play, and hitting guys in stride are much more important qualities for a quarterback than your 40 time and your athletic ability.

From what I saw, I still think Pryor is going to have growing pains in those areas this year. He still holds the ball a little bit too long and occasionally throws behind receivers or makes them slow down to get a ball. If I was USC, I would bring the house early and often and make Pryor beat you with his arm. If he tries to hold the ball and takes drive-killing sacks or makes slow reads all evening, Ohio State will lose that game by two touchdowns.

If I was Tressel, I would be doing much more to get Pryor out on the run with the threat to throw. More roll outs and throwback screens where teams have to pay attention to his legs and may get caught off guard when he decides to throw. That's where Pryor can be the most effective in my opinion. He's not going to be as effective as a straight drop back passer.

Pryor is still only a true sophomore, and I think he will eventually go down as Ohio State's best quarterbacks in many years. Pryor will have some games where he just overwhelms Big Ten defenses with his physical talents. With his speed and strength and overall athletic ability, I think we'll be seeing a lot of 30-40 yard runs and big plays in the passing game. But he will not be judged by how he performs against Indiana and Minnesota. His final exams will come against USC and Penn State and whoever they play in their bowl game. Stay tuned.

August 23, 2009

ND hoops update -- Tom "Anytime, Anywhere" Izzo, the nonconference schedule, Eric Atkins, and Scott Martin....the new Troy Murphy?

Tons of things going on in the world of ND basketball lately. A lot of encouraging news actually. Mike Brey is like the Wayne Fontes of college basketball. It seems like he does his best work when his back is against the wall. Just when it looked like the program was spiralling out of control after this past season, it looks like the 2009-10 season could put the Irish back on an upward trajectory.

On to some of the latest news in the world of ND hoops:

--Great news on the recruiting front. 2010 point guard commit, Eric Atkins, has shot up the charts to the #58 overall player in the 2010 class. Sounds like has had a great summer.

Gotta hand it to Mike Brey for landing this guy before he moved up in the rankings and caught the eye of some of the big boys on the east coast. Although Brey is far from perfect as a recruiter, I've generally admired his ability to find these diamond in the rough players like Tory Jackson and Chris Quinn and now Atkins. He seems to have a good knack for identifying players who are a little underrated and may blossom down the road.

I've had issues with Brey's recruiting and his lack of consistency from class to class, but I've never really doubted his eye for talent. Brey knows the types of guys that can succeed in his program, and this program has benefited from underrated players who have outperformed their star rankings.

It's not often that ND lands a top 50ish type player. I can only think of a couple that Brey has recruited to ND. Francis, Zeller, and Harangody make up the whole list. Atkins is right on the cusp of that top 50 group. According to, Atkins is the highest rated recruit we've had since Torin Francis.

Atkins is going to be a key player in 2010. That point guard spot will be up for grabs with Tory Jackson gone. Maybe Hansborough holds down the fort for a year, but maybe Atkins can be the guy as early as 2010. I'm hoping that he's at least ready to play 20-25 minutes as a freshman. A backcourt of Hansborough, Atkins, and Brooks could be strong.

--Looks like the nonconference schedule is all but wrapped up. Here's what we're looking at right now. I've included last year's RPI totals next to all these teams.

N14 North Florida (326)
N16 St. Francis(PA) (322)
N19 Long Beach State (156)
N22 Liberty (CIT) (151)
N24 Kennesaw State (CIT) (not rated)
N27 vs. Northwestern (CIT) (78)
N28 vs. St Louis (123)/Iowa State (CIT) (168)
D01 Idaho State (207)
D09 IUPUI (241)
D12 Loyola Marymount (320)
D19 UCLA (33)
D22 Bucknell (295)

This schedule is not final, and there are rumors that a Holy Cross game would be in the works (169 RPI last year). There may end up being 2-3 more additions before the schedule is officially released.

Just taking a look at the totals here. One top 25 type team (UCLA), one top 100 team (Northwestern), three 100-200 RPI teams, three 200-300 RPI teams, and 3-4 300+ RPI teams.

Philosophically, I do understand why Brey doesn't want to overdo it with the nonconference schedule. When you're a mid-level team in the toughest conference in America, playing a bunch of powerhouses in the nonconference would amount to suicide. There's no need for it. This isn't like the football schedule. We already play in the SEC of college basketball. Between UConn and Gtown and Syracuse and Pitt and Louisville and Villanova, we get plenty of "heavyweights" during conference season. Think about a typical ND Big East schedule. We're usually playing 7-8 games a year against top 25 teams in league play (if not more). Last year, we played 9 games against top 25 RPI teams in the Big East. Insane!! If you're going to play that many big time teams in conference play, you gotta build some wins into your OOC schedule.

Brey usually likes to play 2-3 BCS conference teams in OOC play, which is fine with me. We have UCLA this year plus potential games with Northwestern and Iowa State/St. Louis. That's three decent games.

The problem for me is that Brey somehow always finds the worst of the worst when he's looking to fill out the rest of the schedule. Look at all those dogs on there with 200+ RPI ratings. North Florida, St. Francis, IUPUI, Bucknell, Idaho State, Kenesaw State, and Loyola Marymount. It's all right to play a couple of those teams, but playing all five of them is going to kill our RPI rating. Even if we go undefeated in nonconference play, our RPI is going to be middling at best. We go through this every year.

If this team ends up on the tournament bubble, our nonconference RPI is going to weigh against us even though we play in the toughest conference in the nation. The committee has shown time and time again that they will punish you for a bad nonconference RPI. And if we do play ourselves into the tournament, it's going to cost us for seeding purposes. The 2007 and 2008 teams could have realistically been 3 seeds with a little better RPI rating.

So what could Brey have done to fix this RPI problem?? Simple. Do what guys like Bob Huggins have been doing for years and rig the RPI system. Look at WVU's RPI from last year. It was 21 even though they didn't play any really good teams in OOC play. Here it is. Tons of teams in the 50-100 range on the RPI. Huggins studies this stuff, and also strategically picks out winnable road games that will give an RPI boost. Those wins at Duquesne and at Mississippi were huge RPI wins for them even though neither team was all that good.

If I was Brey, I would have pulled out this RPI list and found a good mix of these 50-100 RPI teams that are beatable. Line up teams like Rhode Island and Wisconsin-Green Bay and UTEP and Houston, and then some lower level BCS teams like Auburn and Nebraska. Maybe you play a couple of those teams on the road to get a big BCS boost for beating them.

If you took out Bucknell, St. Francis, IUPUI and Idaho State and exchanged them with Rhode Island, UTEP on the road, Houston, and Nebraska on the road, our RPI would go up 20 points AT LEAST. And it's not like any of those teams are juggernauts. We could win every one of those games.

It amazes me that Brey has not figured this out. And if Brey can't figure this out, why can't Jack Swarbrick figure it out?? Isn't Swarbrick this big statistical analysis guy??

Anyway, I do understand why Brey does what he does and that he wants to get out of nonconference play with 12-13 wins, but a lot of those wins end up being empty victories that hurt us in the long run.

--Speaking of scheduling, how about Thomas Montgomery Izzo expressing interest in an ND-MSU series??

Where did that come from?? I agree with him that ND-MSU would be a great series given our history with them in football, but it's still kind of funny that he brought up the idea. I almost feel honored. Presumably, they can play anyone they want, and Izzo has never shied away from playing a big time nonconference schedule. Look at who they have lined up this year. Gonzaga, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida. Not too shabby.

I could get behind an annual series with Michigan State, especially if the UCLA series does not become an annual game. Personally, I'd rather play Indiana or Purdue than Michigan State, but MSU would also be a great game. I'm as big of a Tom Izzo fan as anyone, and they've been the premier program in the Midwest for a long time.

--Finally, I'll end with some very encouraging reports from Coach Brey on next year's team . Great article on next year's team from this Ballin' is a Habit blog. Brey had some great things to say about next year's roster, but this quote really stood out for me.

There were two players that Brey specifically mentioned being excited about. The first is Purdue transfer Scott Martin.

"He may be the most talented player we've had since Troy Murphy," Brey said.

WHOA. Brey isn't the type of guy who likes to get too carried away with the hyperbole, so that's a pretty interesting statement right there. Is Brey for real?? Most talented player since Murphy?? That puts him in a "more talented" category than guys like Matt Carroll and Chris Thomas and Danny Miller and Chris Quinn and Russell Carter. Not to mention....LUKE HARANGODY!!

I will say that I was really impressed with Scott Martin during his freshman year at Purdue. If you haven't seen him play yet, you're in for a treat. Hummel got all the attention, but every time I watched Purdue in 2007-08, Martin was having a big game. He's got perimeter skills and post moves and good touch around the rim. I think he'll be a Danny Miller type player at ND with a better post game but maybe not quite as much ability to penetrate to the basket.

The knock on Martin has been on the defensive end, but he's going to score points and rebound for this team next year. I think he's got a 14-7-3 in him or something along those lines.

In some ways, the Troy Murphy comparisons are maybe better than the Danny Miller comparisons. Like Murphy, Martin is an interior player who likes to get out on the wing. Miller was more of a perimeter player who could mix it up inside.

Is he going to be a sieve on defense?? Well, I'm prepared for that possibility, but he's still an exciting upgrade and a major improvement on Ryan Ayers.

Second, the article implies that Brey is really high on Tim Abromaitis.

Abromaitis is another kid with a good all-around game - he can score in the post and on the perimeter, and Brey said that he has developed into a "great athlete".

SLEEPER ALERT! Every time I've watched Abromaitis, he screams out "Rob Kurz, Jr." Abro is going to be a very nice contributor for this team over the next few years.

I like where this 2009-10 team is headed. Brey likes to fly under the radar a little bit, and this roster is perfect for sneaking up on people with the two transfers and Abro coming back after a redshirt year. No one is really going to know what to expect with ND next year. Now that the target is off our back next year, we're definitely in place to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

August 21, 2009

It's Official...

Jack Swarbrick has officially lost me. I think I held out long enough before forming any opinions, but there is enough body of evidence that his latest quotes in a Yahoo Sports article are just the icing on the cake. He just doesn't get it. And if that makes me one of his so-called delusional alums, then so be it.

"The 7-4-1 model makes scheduling much more complex. We don't make any scheduling decisions that are designed to try to produce more winnable games," Swarbrick said. "But everyone has to understand the price you pay for having more home-game experiences, more things people go to and enjoy, is a limitation on who you can get."

Wait a second. So the 7-4-1 model makes things more complex. It limits the quality of our opponents. It gives us matchups like ND-Wazzu in San Antonio. It prevents us from having games like ND-Texas in Texas or ND-Miami in Florida because of our stubborn refusal to relinquish that last home game. SO THEN WHY ARE WE STILL PURSUING THIS MODEL? Honestly, at some point, you just have to come down to what is best for the program. I would like to think that college football is still about that, but maybe not anymore. If Swarbrick thinks that it is better for the program to play "home" games against Army in New York rather than a neutral site game against Alabama or Texas or anyone like that, well, it's a sad day.

"I think our fans need to recognize how the BCS landscape has changed. Utah might not cause the same reaction as some other schools, but look at what they did last year," he said. "I don't know that Nevada isn't this year's Utah. I think we all have to have a more expansive view, a more studied understanding of how quickly it changes in the top level of college football today."

This is the one that did it for me. Here he goes again. Those crazy Notre Dame fans. Can't you just be happy playing Nevada and Utah. You really want to play Alabama AND Utah in the same season? Don't you fans realize that playing Nevada is essentially the same program as Texas? Just wait until September 5th - I mean there will practically be a BCS bowl atmosphere when the Wolfpack come to town.

Give me a break Jack. Sure the college football landscape is changing, but Miami is still Miami, Texas is still Texas, Alabama is still Alabama and so on. Yes, there are cycles where programs go through ups and downs, and Miami is just coming out of a down period, but for a lot of college football matchups its about the name on the front of the jersey, the pomp and circumstance and passion behind the fan base and the history behind the program that make them what they are. Miami could go .500 for the next 10 years and I would still want them on the schedule and still get fired up for a meeting with the U.

I could go on and on, and I'm sure Doug will pick up the reins from here, but this is not the type of things I want to hear coming from the athletic director's office. It's like Kevin White never left.

And all you Nevada and Utah fans, this isn't about your programs. We respect them for what they've done. But when our AD is touting these games as the same as playing a Texas or Alabama, it just not what we want to hear. Ask any ND fan how they feel about this year's schedule and the first word is more than likely 'embarassing.' You have to supplement the Nevada and Utah games with more than Army in New York or Washington State in San Antonio. And Swarbrick doesn't seem to get it.

August 18, 2009

Preseason games in college football??

Very interesting interview the other day with Rich Rodriguez on the subject of having a preseason game or two before the start of the football season. While I think you'd have to work through some issues to really hammer out the logistics of the idea, I don't see any reason why the NCAA shouldn't explore the possibility.

Here's Rodriguez's quote on exhibition games:

“If there was one rule to change in Division I college football, they would allow you to have a exhibition or preseason game against somebody else,” he said last week. “There doesn’t have to be any crowd or fans there, just so you have an idea of what it’s like to go against somebody else so you can judge yourself a little better.”

“All these (regular-season) games are so important and I wish we could have a scrimmage so we could have a judge on where we’re at.”

He goes on to point out that college football is the only level of football that doesn't play an exhibition game.

“We’re the only level (without,)” he said. “The NFL has four preseason games, and they’re pros, even on smaller college, when I was in Division II, you could have a scrimmage game. In high school, obviously you have them. In Division I, you can’t have them and it’s kind of silly.

I think Rodriguez is making a ton of sense here. Why not have an exhibition game?? Every other level of football is playing multiple preseason games, but college football teams don't play even one?? It's strange that this idea hasn't caught on before. College basketball teams all play 1-2 exhibition games a year.

The funny thing is that a lot of people around college football reacted to Rich Rodriguez's comments like he was proposing to have 12 players a side or something like that. I'm all for protecting tradition, but a common sense proposal like this one has merit.

Part of the reason why college football schedules have gotten so bad in recent years stems from the lack of a true exhibition game to prepare you for the season. Teams don't want to risk laying an egg in the opener against someone decent, so they schedule a cupcake to get an easy win to start the year. If you don't play well in your opener, you'll still be able to get by Louisiana Monroe with relative ease just on talent alone.

If you added an exhibition game to the schedule, teams could go into a season knowing what they have and maybe would feel a little more ambitious about scheduling some better nonconference games. You work out the kinks in the exhibition game, watch a little film to see what you need to work on, evaluate your players (think we wouldn't have minded an exhibition game before the 2007 season to see that the Demetrius Jones experiment was going to be a disaster??), and hope you can build on that exhibition performance to come out full throttle for the real opener.

There really would be no more excuses for teams to say that they couldn't afford to play better out of conference games. You already got your "cupcake" game out of the way in the exhibition. Heck, if you want to raise some money, you could even charge $30 a ticket or something for your exhibition game. Like one of these big schools wouldn't get 75,000 football-starved fans for one of those games?? Of course they would. I'm so geared up for football that I would go watch ND play St. Joe High School if you threw it out there. Chum in the water. So the school pockets an extra $2-3 million to keep the cash flowing, and they line up that big home and home because they aren't as desperate for the money of those "buy games."

I also just think it makes sense from a football standpoint. You can practice all you want, but you don't really know what type of team you have until you play another team. There's just no way to simulate a real game. The intensity level, the lack of familiarity, the nerves, the level of competition. I know it's still an exhibition game, but players are still going to be psyched up to play and run out of that tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium. I can't even imagine what emotions are running through the players' heads when they run out there for the opener. It probably takes half the game just to settle down a little bit. I would guess that an exhibition game would take away a little bit of those butterflies.

The exhibition idea isn't flawless of course. You've got injury concerns, and of course academic concerns. Ha...did I just say academics?? I know, I know, no one cares about academics in Division I football, but I don't want those Stanford players to miss out on their summer reading lists!! College presidents supposedly are worried about academics when it comes to a playoff system (again, I know that's completely laughable for them to even say that), so you would assume that they'll have similar concerns about a preseason game as well.

The injury thing could be a real factor though. If some big name QB went down in the exhibition game, teams might shy away from ever doing it again. Plus, you got some 18 year old freshmen on your roster who haven't gone through a summer conditioning/lifting program, and you don't want them getting hurt when you are putting in your backups and some D-IA team is treating the game like it's the Super Bowl. That kind of stuff might make big time programs nervous about playing games like that. Plus, one of these teams would inevitably sneak up and win one of these games just because their players were all jacked up to beat a big boy. Do coaches want to deal with that headache if/when that happens?? Think about the possibilities for overreaction to a loss in an exhibition game.

The other thing is how you schedule all these games. Are you going to scrimmage a DI-A team or a MAC team or another big name school?? Some teams might want to play a real game while other teams might just want someone else to have a glorified practice against. Do you "buy" these games as well?? There would definitely be some logistical issues that needed to be hashed out.

I still think it's an idea worth exploring. Maybe the NCAA could just legalize it and give teams the option to do it. No mandatory requirements. If you want to do it, go ahead. If you don't want to risk injuries or a loss, then you don't and you get ready for your opener.