Monday, December 31, 2012

USC Can Get Some Redemption in Sun Bowl

For Notre Dame fans, nothing is sweeter than being able to play for a championship but first for icing an appetizer, USC will be playing later today in the Sun Bowl against a 6-7 team in Georgia Tech. For a team that was ranked the preseason #1, this just might be the biggest disappointment ever. Irish fans are loving this icing on the cake.

How the Trojans will perform in this game will be interesting to see. Of course they are disappointed for being there and even more so that Matt Barkley is still hurt and can't play. They just might lose to an average ACC team. That would be beyond pathetic. While Irish fans would love to see that happen, if USC performs like they are capable of it will be a long day in El Paso for the Yellow Jackets.

To be honest, it might actually be a good thing for USC that Barkley isn't playing. Regardless of how he would have performed, he is gone. By playing a redshirt freshman, it actually provides the Trojans a point in playing this game. He will be the quarterback next year and a strong performance in a bowl game will give him confidence and the team will have confidence in him.

While Irish fans would love to see the Trojans have yet another disappointing loss, the reality is that it is still a great offense that Georgia Tech will have a hard time defending. It will probably be a small redemption for USC, but it still will be considered a disaster of a season. The only bad thing is that that could make them dangerous next year. That is why a strong performance for them is so important.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Former Notre Dame Receiver On Display in Holiday Bowl

About four years ago, Shaquille Evans came to South Bend from Los Angelos. He came in as a freshman to a team that was already stacked at wide receiver with Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Therefore, as a freshman he did not play very much but there was always something about him that made me think he could be a great receiver.

But unfortunately, if he were to have stayed at Notre Dame he would have had to wait for Tate and Floyd to be gone. I am sure that was a factor is his decision to transfer to his hometown school UCLA. Although I was sad to see him leave South Bend, I am happy to see him become a star in his junior season.

He is the Bruins leading receiver with 53 catches for 795 yards. He is one player who will be on display Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl against Baylor. We wish him good luck and hope that it is a springboard for a great senior season at UCLA.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How a Blocked Punt Helped Brian Kelly Win AP Coach Of the Year

Earlier this week, it came as no surprise that Brian Kelly was named AP Coach of the Year. Thinking about the great season he had this year with Notre Dame, you can't help but think about some of the growing pains his first two years.

The first season got off to a disastrous 1-3 start including heartbreaking losses to both Michigan rivals. It was due to the fact that players who were recruited by Charlie Weis were adjusting to the new system. The primary adjustment had to come from Dayne Crist who was more of a prototypical fit for a pro style offense that Weis had.

Crist struggled early but was able to lead the team to a 3 game win streak before getting embarrassed at Navy. He was lost the following week for the year in a loss against Tulsa.

With the team now at 4-5 and having to turn to unproven freshman Tommy Rees, things were looking bleak for Irish fans. A 4-8 season was looking like a reality and there was questions as to whether the stage at Notre Dame was too big for Kelly being that his prior success was at smaller schools (Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati). He also was blamed by some for the death of student camera man Declan  Sullivan.

It was a long two week bye before have to face a Utah team that was ranked in the top 15. The Irish hadn't beaten a ranked team in years. When the game started it looked as though the Utes would dominate in the first quarter and the stadium was very quiet.

That was until there was one play that changed Notre Dame's season and the perception of where the program was headed. Junior corner back Robert Blanton blocked a punt and took it in for a touchdown.

From that point on, the environment became much more alive. It was that play that sparked the team to a 28-3 victory. The momentum carried on for the rest of the season as the team won it's remaining games with young Rees. That included wins against USC and Miami in the Sun Bowl.

The future now looked bright for Notre Dame as they went into the off season with a renewed confidence. Year two under Coach Kelly looked to be promising. He just had to decide between Crist and Rees. Although Crist was his choice, he was pulled after one half of ineffectiveness. Ress came in and rallied the team to a near come back, but too many turnovers could not be overcome. The next week was more of the same against Michigan.

So there were the Irish who dominated two opponents but still were 0-2 because of turnovers. The team was still confident though and turned that around with an impressive four game winning streak. Then arch rival USC came into South Bend and dominated. Once again, questions about Kelly surfaced and he made a mistake that no coach should ever make.

He made a statement about how the players he recruited were still young. That offended some of the older players including Manti Te'o. The team did meet and work it out. They went on another four game winning streak before running into a Stanford team that outmatched them. More turnovers haunted them against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

After two 8-5 seasons, critics were questioning how much progress was being made but those who watched could see it despite the same record.

Next came an off season we would all like to forget. An arrest involving Rees was the lowlight and Cierre Wood was also suspended for off the field conduct. The suspension Rees got cost him a starting job.

That makes the job Kelly did even more impressive. To me, it all goes back to that blocked punt. That is really what got the players believing in the new system and gave them confidence. They kept that confidence through all the turmoil of turnovers, Kelly's slip of the tongue, and the off season discipline issues.

Congratulations to Coach Kelly and thanks to Robert Blanton for that fateful play. Blanton is now a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings. We wish him well there.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Special Teams Need To Be Addressed For Title Game and Beyond

With the Title game getting closer and closer with every day, Irish fans think about the match up every day. Of course, a lot of the focus is the Notre Dame front against the Alabama line and running attack. The Irish offense led by Everett Golson also is focused on. One are that has really gone ignored is the Irish special teams.

Anybody who follows football regularly knows that in a big game, it is often a big play on special teams that makes the difference between winning and losing. Unfortunately, this is really the one area for Notre Dame that is cause for concern not only for the title game, but next season as well.

Let's start with sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza. Although his leg is powerful, his inconsistency has been a problem all year. The last game against USC was a career night for him as he went 5 for 6 including a 52 yarder to end the first half. He also nailed a 47 yarder against Michigan and a 46 yarder against Oklahoma. So why then is he a concern when he made all these big kicks?

It is because he is 23 for 31 on the year meaning that he missed eight kicks. What concerns me about the misses is that four of them came from inside 40 yards. He even missed an extra point against Pittsburgh which would have cost them the game had Golson not been able to convert a two point conversion on the next touchdown.

Here he have a kicker making the long kicks and missing the shorter ones. That is a concern. To his credit, he has made all of his kicks in overtime and with the game on the line. But still, I would rather have a guy who makes the shorter kicks and misses the longer ones any day. At least we know what to expect then. Hopefully, Brindza can fix this accuracy and consistency problem.

Another area of special teams that has been a concern has been the return game. As a freshman George Atkinson returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, but he had none his sophomore season. To be fair, when you have a defense as dominant as Notre Dame's you won't get too many opportunities to return kicks. Therefore, I am not all concerned about kickoff returns but punt returns have been a disaster.

Freshman Davonte' Neal has done absolutely nothing returning punts. His total yards for the year was 50 and his longest return was 11 yards against Navy. This is clearly an issue as the punt return can make a huge difference in field position. I am not sure if the problem is Neal or those who create the wall, but this has to be addressed not only for the big game but for the future as well.

The area of special teams that has been solid is the kick off and punt coverage. They have not allowed any big returns or any touchdowns all year. Ben Turk has done a nice job punting all year with a 40.6 average. However, he has not placed one inside the 20.

The bottom line is that special teams can be the difference in winning or losing. Historically, that has been especially true in games that have been between tow powerhouses. While neither the offense nor the defense are causes for concern, this is a huge concern for Notre Dame's National Championship chances.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Notre Dame's Offense is Key vs Alabama

So much national attention has gone to Notre Dame's defense. It is funny how when the season began, the perception of Notre Dame was that they had a great defensive front but nobody was sure of the rest of the team. Then when they opened by giving up 192 yards to Navy, the critics said that the secondary is a weakness to the defense. They ignored the fact that when you face Navy, you gear to stop the option. As the weeks passed and one opponent after another failed to capitalize on the supposed weak secondary, the perception changed.

Now it was that they were a great defense but the offense was not good enough. That was honestly a fair criticism as the offense did struggle early under the leadership of Freshman Everett Golson. Then when Tommy Rees would consistently come in and save the day, it only added to the doubters fuel.

The solid running game was often overlooked. Most college football fans probably don't even know that the Fighting Irish had two runners over 700 yards in Theo Riddick (880) and Cierre Wood (740). Golson also pitched in with 305 yards and George Atkinson had 365 yards. The team had 22 rushing touchdowns altogether.

As the year progressed, so did Golson and his confidence. He finished with 2135 yards and 11 touchdowns his first year as a starter. While those numbers don't blow you away, his game by game stats show clear improvement as the year went on.

Golson's low point was his game against Michigan when he threw for just 38 yards and 2 interceptions before being replaced by Rees. Then a couple games later he was knocked out of the game against Stanford. At that point, Golson only had 968 yards passing for a very mediocre average of 161 per game. He also only had 4 touchdown passes at that point.

Golson missed the BYU game with a concussion only to hear fans talk about how Rees was better until Rees had a mediocre game with less than 200 yards passing and only 1 touchdown.

From that point starting at Oklahoma through USC, Golson threw for 1167 yards with an average of 233 and 7 touchdowns in those games. Watching the week to week growth of Golson was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the season.

Golson's primary weapon was record breaking tight end Tyler Eifert with 44 catches for 624 yards and 4 touchdowns. Junior receiver TJ Jones also emerged as a primary weapon finishing with 43 catches and 559 yards with 4 touchdowns. Veterans John Goodman and Robbie Toma may not have put up big numbers but it seemed as though all of their catches were in big spots.

The Fighting Irish went from being a great front to a great defense to a great team to #1.

While all the focus is on Notre Dame's defense, how well this offense plays is what really could make the difference.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What's Next For Tommy Rees?

Tommy Rees' career at Notre Dame has been one that has really been up and down. He never really been fully appreciated by the fans for his contributions, but the players and coaches know his value.
Here is a guy who started the last four games his freshman year and he won them. The team started 4-5 that year, but when Rees took over the team really turned it around. The defense and running game were huge factors and Rees did rely heavily on Michael Floyd. But still, he was good enough to win.
Then as a sophomore, he was in the battle with Dayne Crist for the starting job. Rees did lose it initially, but Brian Kelly realized at halftime of the first game that he made the wrong choice. In spite, of leading the team to a 12-4 record as a starter, Irish fans would never embrace Rees. They were quick to point out his turnovers and lack of speed and arm strength.
Then when Rees made the terrible mistake in the off season that got him and Carlo Calabrese arrested, fans were ready to hang Rees. They had been calling for Everett Golson to start for a long time and they would finally see him play.
It was the right time to go with Golson who has a much better skill set, especially for Kelly's system than Rees does. However, Kelly knew the value of having Rees with Golson being so young. He knew that he could turn to Rees if Golson would falter in a game.
The first time we saw Rees in his new role was against Purdue where he was welcomed with nothing but boos. That didn't stop Rees from moving the team down the field for the winning field goal.
A couple weeks later Golson was really struggling against Michigan and Rees replaced him in the second quarter. Rees was able to lead the offense to two field goals and a touchdown which was enough for a 13-6 victory.
Rees was needed again late in the Stanford game when Golson went down with a concussion. He came off the bench and was 4 for 4 leading the team to a game tying field goal and ultimately hitting TJ Jones in the end zone.
Rees started the next game against BYU because of Golson's injury. The funny thing was that some fans were starting to appreciate Rees and calling for him to start. Unfortunately, for Rees he was mediocre that day completing only 7 of 16 for 117 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. That brought the Rees haters back out calling him a joke. They completely ignored the fact the Irish did win the game and his earlier contributions.
After that game, Golson really started to develop as a starter. Therefore, Rees was needed a lot less regularly. However, that doesn't mean he didn't still contibute in a big way. I thought the most impressive thing he did all year was to come in against Oklahoma on a third and long and hit Tyler Eifert for a first down. He may have only played one play, but it was a big play as it led to a field goal that gave the team a 10 point lead.
A similar situation happened a couple weeks later at Boston College when Golson was having equipment problems.
Although to be a back up, Rees showed how important the role is as he was called on in many different circumstances this season. His playing time may not have been much but his contribution was.
It will be interesting to see what Rees decides to do after the BCS title game with one year of eligibility left. Will he return to South Bend and continue to back up Golson? Or might he consider going to an FCS team where he won't have to sit out a year? Of course, we would love to have him back but I will root for him no matter where he is.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Congratulations to Johnny Manziel, But Manti Te'o Is Still The Man

Manti Te'o has followed his remarkable season with a remarkable postseason winning five awards(Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski, Bednarik, and Maxwell). Te'o was also a finalist for the Heisman which is an award that usually goes to a quarterback and has never gone to a defense only player. Charles Woodson did win but he played offense and special teams as well for Michigan.

Although Te'o did come up short in winning the Heisman to Johnny Manziel of Texas A + M, he did make history with the award. He got the most first place votes (321) and most points (1,706) ever by a defense only player.

Manziel also made history as well being the first freshman to win the award. Te'o was the guy we wanted to win, but Manziel did have stats that were just too good to ignore. He threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. Those numbers are better than Cam Newton's and Tim Tebow's and to do that as a freshman was just flat out too impressive to ignore.

Not only that, but also his victory over Alabama pretty much made him the frontrunner.

Te'o did make it close and although Collin Klein of Kansas State was invited to the party, the contest was really only between two players.

All three players deserve to be congratulated, Good Luck to Klein in the Fiesta Bowl and to Manziel in the Cotton Bowl. Te'o will be busy in Miami fighting for the title that matters most.

Army-Navy Set To Officially End the College Football Regular Season

Notre Dame has always been known for it's association with the Service Academies. Army and Navy both have a storied history with Notre Dame. Army and Notre Dame used to be a big game that was played at Yankee Stadium. It was fun to bring that back a couple years ago in the Shamrock Series.

We all know about how Navy helped Notre Dame survive financially during World War II by creating a training center on campus. To celebrate that, they play each other every year. That has gone uninterruputed unlike other Notre Dame rivals. This season, it was fun to kick off the college football season in Ireland with this rivalry. I hope that can become more regular.

That is one reason I like watching this game. Both schools are connected to Notre Dame. The other is out of respect for the troops. Those guys risk their lives every day so I can write a blog and others can argue with me about it.

Often times it is argued what is the greatest college football rivalry. Is it Alabama-Auburn, Notre Dame-USC, Michigan-USC, Florida-Florida State, etc. Make no mistake of it, Army-Navy is as big of rivaly as any of those. It may not get the national attention, but it means just as much to these players.

Navy has dominated this game for a decade as Army has not won since 2002. But a good rivalry does not die because of being one sided. Notre Dame and USC has gone through one sidedness for both teams, but the rivalry stays strong.

This year the game features a 7-4 Navy team against a 2-9 Army team. Therefore, you would think that Navy will continue the dominance. However like so many other rivals, throw the records away when these two teams play.

Could Butch Jones Going to Tennessee Open the Door for Bob Diaco at Cincinnati?

Ordinarily, a coaching move involving Cincinnati and Tennessee would be of little or no interest to Notre Dame. But given the history of Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, this could ultimately cost the Fighting Irish the best assistant coach in the country in Bob Diaco. I know Irish fans don't want to lose Diaco and I don't either. But the reality is that he is gone. You don't have the kind of year he had and not get a head coaching job.

Whether he is ready to be a head coach or not is irrelevant. His stock is high now. Therefore, all we can do is hope he lands the job that is right for him. Now that the Cincinnati job is open, that looks like the perfect job for him. Diaco was with Kelly at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Ironically, it was Jones who followed Kelly at both of those schools. Jones is a coach that runs a similar style to that of Kelly. I am not sure if they ever coached on the same staff, but they are definitely from the same "football school."

Diaco is from that school as well. Being that he has a history at Cincinnati, it would only be logical to think that he would be on their short list. The Bearcats have hired two straight established head coaches who used the school as a stepping stone for better opportunities. While you can't fault Kelly or Jones for doing that, Cincinnati might want a guy that will be there longer and a first time head coach would likely do that.

For those reasons and as much as it hurts to lose him, Bob Diaco to Cincinnati just flat out makes sense.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Big Night For Notre Dame at the Home Depot Awards.

If a 12-0 season wasn't enough already, Notre Dame continued it's memorable season by winning five awards and having Ara Parseghian honored. Three awards went to Manti Te'o who as David Pollack said, "seems to win everything." Adding to his collection, on Thursday Te'o won the Maxwell, Bednarik, and Walter Camp Player of the Year awards. That is on top of already winning the Butkus award earlier in the week. He will likely also win the Lott award and possibly the big one in the Heisman.

Te'o was not alone though. Tyler Eifert won the John Mackey award for best Tight End. Brian Kelly won the coach of the year. This was is his first time with Notre Dame but he won it three years ago with Cincinnati. It should also be mentioned that Mike Golic was named to the Allstate Good works team and earlier in the week Bob Diaco won an award for being the nations top assistant coach.

Hopefully on Saturday, the awards keep coming for Notre Dame.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Manti Te'o Deserves the Heisman Over Johnny Manziel and Collin Klien

While the primary concern for Notre Dame is winning the National Championship on January 7, there is still hope that Manti Te'o wins the Heisman on Saturday. There is no doubt the impact he has had on the team this season. He has proven to be a threat against both the run and the pass as he has 103 tackles and 7 interceptions. But aside from those amazing stats, his greatest asset to this team is his leadership. Looking at how dominant this defense was, there is no doubt who the leader of it was.

The defense really had to carry the load the first few weeks of the season while the offense was finding itself under the direction of red shirt freshman Everett Golson. Te'o was more than just a great player for the Irish. He was in every way, "The Man."

Te'o does have two primary competitors in this contest. The first one is red shirt freshman quarterback from Texas A + M, Johnny Manziel aka Johnny Football.

There is no doubt that Johnny Football put up amazing stats both in the air on on the ground. He completed 273 of 400 passes for 3419 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. He ran for 1181 yards and 19 touchdowns. Those numbers are just scary and as a freshman he led his team to the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma their first year in the SEC. With stats like these, how can we vote for anybody but him?

My argument would be that most of his success has come against weak competition. To his credit, he was a solid 24 of 31 for 253 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama and he added 92 on the ground. However, against Florida and LSU he had a combined total of 449 yards passing with no touchdowns and three interceptions. On the ground, he had just 87 yards and only 1 touchdown in those two games.

Now here is where a good chunk of his success came from. Although it is the Aggies first year in the SEC, they wasted no time in adopting a common SEC practice in scheduling a pathetically weak non-conference schedule featuring two FCS teams and two teams from non-BCS confernces (SMU, South Carolina State, Louisiana Tech, and Sam Houston State). In those four games, he threw for 1130 yards and 13 touchdowns and he rushed for 483 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Another good chunk of his success came against three of the worst SEC teams in Auburn, Arkansas, and Missouri. In those games, he threw for 1085 yards and 8 touchdowns and ran for 261 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Therefore, it is safe to say that he dominated against inferior competition but was very mediocre against the tough competition. Te'o on the other hand, was great against everybody.

The other part that really makes me scratch my head on Johnny Football is that so much of how a quarterback is judged, right or wrong, is determined by how far he takes his team. Taking your team to the Cotton Bowl as a freshman is impressive. However, Golson has his team in the BCS Championship. Not only that but Kevin Hogan at Stanford has his team in the Rose Bowl and Marcus Mariota of Oregon has his team in the Fiesta Bowl. Even Brett Hundley of UCLA took his team to a conference championship.  Right there are four other freshmen quarterbacks who took their teams farther than Mr. Football. That alone should make voters think twice before giving him the Heisman.

The third candidate is senior quarterback from Kansas State Collin Klein.

Klein is another duel threat quarterback. He threw for 2490 yards with 15 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. On the ground, he gained 890 yards with 22 touchdowns. While those are also impressive numbers, they are not as good as Manziel's. So how can this guy really even be considered? To his credit, he did lead his team to the Big 12 Championship and a birth in the Fiesta Bowl. However, with numbers that aren't as good as Manziel's it will be hard to justify him winning and since I already dissected his numbers and explained why Te'o deserves it more, the choice should be easy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Alabama Fans Are Wrong About Who Had The Tougher Schedule

The match up we all predicted ever since Notre Dame took over the #1 ranking is officially set. Also, as we predicted Alabama/SEC fans are already talking their junk about how Notre Dame's schedule can't compare to Alabama's. They say that Notre Dame could never play an SEC schedule and win consistently.

I won't argue that the SEC is an outstanding conference. They have won six straight BCS National Championships and there is something to say for that. They are also in position for another one.

Having said that, I am tired of them acting like they are the only conference in the nation and that they play such a tough schedule. So I decided to breakdown the schedules for the two teams to see just how much tougher the see the Crimson Tide's schedule is than the Fighting Irish's. The results are not what Alabama and the rest of the SEC want to see.

First let's look at opponents records. Assuming Navy beats Army as expected, the combined record for Notre Dame's opponents is 82-62. That is 20 games over .500. Alabama's opponents on the other hand, have a combined record of 81-75. That is only six games over .500. Also, that is misleading because I counted Georgia which was not a regular season opponent and that accounted for 11 wins. So without the Georgia game, the record is 70-73.

Only two of Notre Dame's opponents (Boston College and Wake Forest) have losing records. That means that 10 of Notre Dame's opponents qualified for bowl games. Miami chose to self suspend themselves but they were eligible nonetheless. The Fighting Irish also played against that are from the Big Ten, PAC 12, Big 12, ACC, and Big East. In fact, all of their opponents except Navy and BYU, who are also independents are from major conferences. That means that they didn't play any FCS teams or teams from non-BCS conferences.

Notre Dame also defeated PAC 12 champ Stanford currently ranked #6 and #11 Oklahoma who got robbed out of a BCS bowl and could arguably be ranked ahead of a couple of those SEC teams in front of them.

Now looking at Alabama's quality of opponents, I will give them credit for opening impressively against Michigan, but after that it is not that impressive. Yes they do play in the SEC, but let's take a look at who they played outside the conference besides Michigan. They played Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic from the Sun Belt Conference which is slightly above an FCS level team. Not only that, FAU is a bad Sun Belt team and WKU is barely above .500. They also played Western Carolina in November which is not only an FCS team but a bad one who only won one game.

Oh but wait, the SEC has all the good teams so their conference schedule makes up for their weak non-conference schedule. Right? Well, the SEC does have six teams in the top 10. However, we can't forget that the conference is two divisions meaning that the Tide doesn't even play half of them. They did not play Florida or South Carolina. In the regular season, they only played two teams in the top ten (LSU and Texas A + M) and they lost to one of them. They did escape against Georgia.

While the SEC is a tough conference, that doesn't mean that their aren't really bad teams such as Arkansas, Missippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Auburn. All of which were on Alabama's schedule and their combined record is 23-37. Five of Alabama's opponents did not qualify for postseason play. 8 did reach bowls but I want to look at one team in particular and that is Ole Miss. They will play in the Compass bowl with a 6-6 record. Here is the sad part. three of those wins are against FCS or non-BCS conference teams. One win is against Auburn and one against Arkansas. So only one of their wins is legit.

Looking at the SEC as a whole, here is the thing that really grinds at my guts. While they have won six straight titles they seem to have a formula of least resistance that makes them look better than they really are. By making divisions, they already bypass having to play some of the tough teams in the conference. The second part of the formula is to schedule only one team from another major conference and try to make it so it is a mediocre opponent. Then they also schedule two teams from conferences such as the Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA, WAC, etc.

Before you roll your eyes, look at the numbers. This season the SEC played 15 FCS teams and 26 teams from those non-BCS conferences. The part that makes me really scratch my head is that if the SEC is so much better than all the other conferences, why do they avoid playing the tough teams from other conferences. Better yet, why do none of them want to schedule Notre Dame?

For the next month Alabama fans will walk around with this delusion in their head that they will roll over Notre Dame with ease because Notre Dame hasn't played a schedule that compares to theirs. The reality is that the whole country has underestimated the Fighting Irish all season and that Alabama hasn't played a schedule that compares to Notre Dame's.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Notre Dame-Alabama: It is Set

Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide for an amazing victory in an amazing game over Georgia. The win gave them the SEC title and earned them a second straight trip to the BCS title game. They of course will play Notre Dame in a game that will feature strength vs. strength. Notre Dame has on of the fiercest fronts in college football while Alabama has relied on the power running game behind that offensive line.

Those of us Notre Dame fans know all too well that haters are going to hate and it will be really bad the next 37 days. Nobody will give the Irish a chance, but that wouldn't be the first time. Looking at this game, I am not saying Notre Dame will win but I like the position they are in.

For them, this has already been a great season and they already accomplished way more than most haters and even fans thought they could this year. Meanwhile the pressure is on Alabama to not only repeat but also to keep the streak going for the SEC. Currently that conference has won six straight.

The other thing I like is I think there are some things that Notre Dame can exploit. First of all, the Crimson Tide will not be able to rush for 350 yards against that Irish front.

I also noticed that their defense relies on an intimidating pass rush. However, Everett Golson has shown that he has great escapeablity and the pressure doesn't seem to bother him. In fact, I was thinking about this watching the SEC game and I don't remember the last time I saw him get sacked.

This will be a great match up and a great experience for Notre Dame, win or lose. I only wish we didn't have to wait 37 days.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Big Games That Don't Involve Notre Dame This Weekend

Championship weekend is always one of the most exciting weekends in college football. For those conferences who have championship games, it is a one game playoff where the winner gets a BCS bowl and the loser falls to a second tier bowl game. Because Notre Dame is not in a conference in football, they will never be involved in this weekend. While I am a traditionalist and love Notre Dame being independent, it does suck to not be able to be involved in this weekend. This year though, it is kind of an advantage having their spot in the BCS title game already secured.

Let's take a look at the other teams in college football that will be playing this weekend in big games.

Rutgers Vs. Louisville

It begins on Thursday with this game. The state of the Big East is an absolute mess. Teams from mid-majors, even those that have no business geographically, are trying to get in while existing members are trying to get out. Notre Dame will be leaving in every other sport for the ACC. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are gone after this year too. That is a year after the conference already lost West Virginia.

Although this is not technically a conference championship, it might as well be as the winner is most likely the one with the BCS bid. There are scenarios where it could be Syracuse that is so confusing to understand. At any rate, it is fitting that the two teams that could potentially represent the Big East will soon be gone as well. Rutgers will move on to the Big Ten in 2014 and Louisville will join Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse in the ACC.

Kent State Vs. Northern Illinois

The action continues on Friday. This is normally a game that has no significance in terms of the BCS. It is usually a case of the winner is the MAC champions but both teams go to second rate bowl games. This year is different though because Kent State is currently ranked #17 in the BCS and the rule states that a team from a non-BCS conference that is ranked #16 or higher gets an automatic BCS bid as long as they are ranked higher than a conference champion. At this time, there is no Big East team in the top 25 so they will be ranked ahead of them. The problem is that they do need somebody ahead of them to lose and fall far enough. There aren't too many options other than UCLA who is directly ahead of them. The other obstacle is the Northern Illinois is also a tough team. This should be a big game.

Stanford Vs. UCLA

The other big game on Friday is for the PAC 12 championship. It is kind of hard for me to determine who I want to win this game. Both of these teams did Notre Dame a big favor a couple weeks ago. UCLA knocked out Matt Barkley making Notre Dame's victory over USC a more certain thing. It is not to say that the Fighting Irish would not have won the game anyway, but not having Barkley in did help. Stanford helped the Irish even more by knocking off then #2 Oregon. That win lifted Notre Dame to #1 and enabled them to control their own destiny going to the title game.

The funny thing about this match up is these two teams played each other last week as they were coincidentally scheduled that way. Stanford won but here is the part that makes me wonder how hard UCLA even tried in that game. The Bruins already had their spot locked in this game with their victory over USC. However, if they would have beaten the Cardinal they would have had to play Oregon. But because they lost they get Stanford again. It makes you wonder if they didn't just use that game as the ultimate way to scout their opponent.

The winner of this game gets a bid in the Rose Bowl. The loser falls to probably the Holiday bowl. Again, a UCLA loss would likely put Kent State in the BCS with a win. So both of these Friday games have huge BCS implications.

Now for the Saturday games.

Although the Big 12 no longer has a championship game, they do still have a couple of big games that have huge BCS implications. This conference could potentially have two BCS representatives. That is huge for another conference that has had multiple members leave.

Oklahoma Vs. TCU

Notre Dame's signature moment this season was it's big win in Norman in a game where nobody gave the Irish a chance against Oklahoma. Although the Sooners are out of the national championship picture with two losses, a trip to the Sugar Bowl is a likely to happen with a win. The only potential snag is once again the situation with Kent State.

Kansas State Vs. Texas

The Wildcats will take the field for the first time since their blowout loss to Baylor that knocked them from #1 and destroyed any chance for them to play for a national championship. As disappointing as that is, a win still gives them the Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. However, it won't be easy as Texas has bowl plans of their own. They won't be in the BCS but a trip to the Cotton Bowl is a pretty good consolation. The Longhorns want to be sure to lock their spot for the game in Dallas which could be against their old rival Texas A & M.

Nebraska Vs. Wisconsin

The Big Ten has had one of it's worst season's ever. It started on opening day when Michigan got hammered by Alabama. It continued as the conference suffered three losses to Notre Dame, three more to the PAC 12, and they even lost three games to the MAC. To make it even more ugly, look at the two teams that qualified. Many are still considering Nebraska a Big 12 team and Wisconsin actually finished third in their division. But they play in this game because both Ohio State and Penn State are on probation. That is the definition of an ugly year for a conference. Even with that, the winner of this game earns a trip to Pasadena to play the winner of Stanford-UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

Florida State Vs. Georgia Tech

Like the scenario with Kent State, this is a game that could really throw a wrench into the BCS. Florida State is ranked #13 with a 10-2 record and are favored to win this game. If that holds up, they go to the Orange Bowl against probably whomever escapes the Big East. However, if Georgia Tech pulls the upset then they would go to the Orange Bowl with, get this, a 7-6 record. Therefore, if they lose they have a losing record. That is just an ugly thought. The ACC has also had a down year in spite the agreement they made with Notre Dame.

Georgia Vs. Alabama

Now for the game Notre Dame fans care about the most. This is the game that will determine who Notre Dame plays in Miami. This game should be an absolute dogfight. While the Crimson Tide is favored, the Bulldogs are hungry to get a piece of the national championship pie that their conference has enjoyed that so far they have fallen short of.

Many of the experts say that Alabama is a better match up for Notre Dame because the Irish are strong against the run but the weakness is the secondary. I have watched 12 Notre Dame games this year and I think the unit led by Zeke Motta including KeVare Russell, Bennett Jackson, and Mathias Farley have done a great job. I don't see them as a weakness at all.

Regardless of who wins, it will be a tough challenge for Notre Dame in the BCS Title game. The loser will fall out of the BCS altogether as Florida figures to jump ahead of the loser to get the Sugar Bowl. Therefore, it is a winner take all to face the Irish and the loser goes to the Capital One Bowl, which is not a bad bowl, against probably Michigan.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Irony In This Year's BCS Championship Game

While it is still not official, it is just a formality that Notre Dame will play in the BCS Title game on January 7, 2013. Just the thought of that gets me excited. For Irish fans, it has been a long time coming. While the Fighting Irish playing for a national championship is how it is supposed to be, I can't help but think of the irony of them being there this year.

It is a bit ironic that when the experts finally decided the BCS needed to be replaced with a four team playoff, that the teams participating actually make sense this year. Notre Dame is the only eligible undefeated team. Ohio State may be a great team but they are on probation. Therefore, putting the Fighting Irish in is a no brainer. It is also a no brainer that their opponent will be the SEC champ as Alabama and Georgia are ranked #2 and #3. They also play in the toughest conference in the SEC. It is kind of funny that two years before the playoff goes into effect that the BCS actually worked (at least for the title game).

The next part that is a bit ironic for Notre Dame is that in the same year that they formed a partnership with the ACC that they will play the game in the heart of ACC country two years before that agreement goes into effect.

But the thing I find most ironic is this. There are two kinds of college football fans. There are those who love Notre Dame and those who hate Notre Dame. There is no middle ground. In recent years though, SEC fans have really had all the bragging rights as they have won six straight titles. It started in 2006 with Florida then it was followed by LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, and Alabama again. As a result of this, SEC fans have become a bit arrogant and many of them believe that college football revolves around the SEC. Meanwhile, fans in other parts of the country are tired of the SEC and would love to see them dethroned.

Whether it is the Crimson Tide or the Bulldogs, it is Notre Dame that will be fighting to dethrone the mighty SEC. How ironic is it that the team that many love to hate will be the very team they have to depend on to fight for the rest of college football?  It is the Fighting Irish that is there for the country to show the Southeastern part of the country that there is good college football in other parts. Many college fans will have to decide what is more important to them (their hate for Notre Dame or their desire to see the SEC dethroned). That is what makes this BCS Title game like no other in history.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Charlie Weis's Last Recruiting Class Was His Best

As Notre Dame fans celebrate their season and the birth in the BCS title game, it is always good to look back at where the program was so they can appreciate where it is now.The program still hadn't found any consistency since Lou Holtz retired in 1996. Bob Davie was only 35-25 in five seasons with only three bowl appearances. His only BCS appearance was the 2001 Fiesta Bowl where the Irish got blown out 41-9 by Oregon State.

Then Tyrone Willingham took over in 2002 and the team started 8-0. Then losses to Boston College and USC turn the season around. The next two seasons were filled with mediocrity with records of 4-7 and 6-5.

Then Charlie Weis took over the program in 2005. Irish fans were excited to get a coach who came from a multiple Super Bowl background with the New England Patriots. He inherited star players such as Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardjiza. He took those teams to back to back BCS Bowls. He led them to the Fiesta Bowl in 2005 against Ohio State and the Sugar Bowl against LSU in 2006. Unfortunately, the Irish got beaten badly in both of those games. Still Irish fans were optimistic about the future of the program.

Year three for Weis was a challenge as Quinn, Samardjiza and company were all gone. We all knew Weis could coach, now it was time to see if he could recruit. It was a rough year for Notre Dame as they finished 3-9. In spite of the record, fans were a little forgiving of Weis given his resume and they did like the progress of freshman Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate.

In the off season, Weis recruited Michael Floyd to add to the mix. Tate and Floyd became a dynamic duo and nice weapons for Clausen. Another good weapon was Kyle Rudolph. That year the team started 5-2 and it appeared that they were on their way back before having an embarrassing loss to Syracuse and then getting destroyed by USC.

Questions about Weis's ability to recruit, especially on the defensive side, were really beginning to surface. Still Notre Dame did go to the Hawaii Bowl that year. Now that may not seem like a big deal but there was a player in Hawaii from Punahou who was being courted by Weis. That young man was on the sidelines when Notre Dame demolished Hawaii 49-21. I think we all know who that is.

Along with Manti Te'o came guys such as Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, Zeke Motta, Mike Golic, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Carlo Calabrese, Braxston Cave, Dan Fox, Robby Toma, John Goodman among others. We all know the players they became. Another player worth mentioning that year is Shaquille Evans who did transfer but became a star at UCLA.

Unfortunately, for Weis this freshman class was unable to save his job from another 6-6 season. That year Clausen put up great numbers to Tate, Floyd, and Rudolph. Unfortunately, the defense was very weak that year and could not stop anybody. Te'o who was a freshman seemed like the only reason for any hope for that defense.

We all know that Weis's stay in South Bend was a disappointment considering how it started. His reputation was that he could coach someone else's players but couldn't recruit his own. While that may be true for the most part and Brian Kelly did have a lot to do with the development of these players, Irish fans do have to give Weis credit for this recruiting class. He got it right that year. I thank him for that.

Notre Dame Clinches Spot In BCS Title Game With Win Over USC

Who would have thought that Notre Dame would play for a National Championship before the season? Looking at the rivalry between USC and Notre Dame, all the attention was on USC. They were #1 and the Irish were unranked.

It is amazing how things changed over the season. USC still could have spoiled Notre Dame's plans with a win, but the Irish weren't having it.They got off to a 10-0 nothing lead off the strength of a Theo Riddick 9 yard touchdown run. Riddick had a nice all around game by gaining 146 yards on the ground and catching 3 passes for 33 yards.

Everett Golson continued to show growth at quarterback. He distributed the ball around nicely to Riddick, Tyler Eifert, Robby Toma, TJ Jones, among others.

Kyle Brindza had a great night by hitting 5 of 6 field goals including a career long 52 yarder.

The Irish just dominated the time of possession once again by having the ball about 10 minutes more than USC. Although the offense did only manage one touchdown, they scored on six drives thanks to Brindza.

Defensively was more of the same. Manti Te'o got another interception. Notre Dame once again showed how tough they are in the red zone by posting two very impressive goal line stands. With star quarterback Matt Barkley injured, redshirt freshman Max Wittek was thrown into a tough spot against the nation's best defense. He started out doing pretty good by throwing an early touchdown to Robert Woods. However, her learned like so many quarterbacks before him that Notre Dame gets tougher on defense as the game progress.

Wittek went on to throw two interceptions and was under constant pressure in the second half. He was unable to get them in the end zone again.

Although the score seemed close, those watching the game never got the sense Notre Dame would lose. They have been there too many times this year.

Already being #1, the Irish have clinched their spot in the BCS title game and they await the winner of Alabama and Georgia in the SEC Championship.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Notre Dame and USC Went in Opposite Directions in 2012

If you told college football fans before the season that when Notre Dame and USC play each other at the end of the year that one of them would be ranked #1 and in a position to clinch a spot in the BCS title game but the other team would have had a disappointing season and likely headed to some second tier bowl game that means nothing, I don't think anybody would argue.

After all, when the year started one team was ranked #1 and the other was unranked and not expected to finish better than 8-4 with their schedule. I have to be honest. Going into the season, I saw a sechedule with teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, and ultimately USC. I also was thinking of the off season turmoil with suspensions and arrests involving Tommy Rees and Cierre Wood among others. They were also starting red shirt freshman Everett Golson at quarterback.  I was thinking that an 8-4 year would be an accomplishment.

Meanwhile, USC fans were excited for the start of the season. Matt Barkley was returning for his senior season and was prepared to light it up with the weapons he had around him. His receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are as good of pair as there is. USC also had senior Curtis McNeal returning at running back and Penn State transfer Silas Redd was to join him. The defense under the guidance of defensive guru Monte Kiffin was to be tough again.

Therefore, nobody would argue if I told them this game would be between the #1 ranked team in the country and a mediocre one headed to a non-meaningful bowl. However if I told them that it would be Notre Dame ranked #1, they would have called me crazy and delusional. But here we are.

Nobody knew that Notre Dame's defense led by Manti Te'o would be as dominant as it has been. Nobody knew that Golson would progress the way he has. Nobody expected Rees to be the best back up in the country and contribute the way he has.

Nobody expected USC's defense to struggle the way they have. If you look at the players on both defenses, the talent level is similar. The difference is that Notre Dame tackles well and USC has been sloppy. It comes down to fundamentals. USC has also been hurt with depth due to loss of scholarships. Although Barkley and company have for the most part put up good numbers, they actually appeared to get worse as opposed to better. They were also sloppy with turnovers and missed blocks. Notre Dame on the other limited their turnovers. Again it comes down to fundamentals.

Going into this game Barkley is out with a shoulder injury and red shirt freshman Max Wittek, who must be related to Rex Ryan, ran his mouth and guaranteed victory. Did he really think Te'o and company needed more motivation to come after him?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Does The SEC Really Have the Nerve to Criticize Notre Dame's Schedule?

It is normally not my style to write about potential opponents when there is another game to worry about. Being that Notre Dame's next opponent is USC, that is even more out of character.  However, SEC fans are really running their mouths about Notre Dame being #1. They say that all SEC teams that are currently ranked in the BCS top ten would be favored by 10 over the Irish.

They say that the Irish haven't played a tough schedule. Excuse me but Oklahoma and Stanford are really tough teams. Also, teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Miami,  BYU, Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Wake Forest. Those are all legitimate programs from BCS conferences. Even Navy has been tough in recent years. It is not Notre Dame's fault they were having a bit of a down year. So you can't fault them for something they have no control over.

Looking at the SEC however. They like to put themselves up on a level that they think nobody is at. They also seem to think college football revolves around their conference. They do have five straight titles and I will give them credit for that. However, looking at the way they get there is disturbing. I have no problem with scheduling an FCS team the first week or even the second week as a bit of a tune up game. But those match ups should not be happening in November.

Right now the top SEC teams are Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A + M, and South Carolina. Of those teams only LSU played a conference opponent last weekend. Here are the opponents for the rest of them, Western Carolina, Georgia Southern, Jacksonville State, Sam Houston, and Wofford. For Florida it was actually two weeks in a row that they had an FCS opponent as the week before they played Lousiana-Lafayette. That is just pathetic for a conference that claims to be better than everyone else.

The thing I find funny is that Alabama looked unbeatable to the SEC but it was Texas A + M who beat them and they are still considered a Big 12 team by some. I would laugh if Florida State beat Florida and Clemson beat South Carolina this weekend. That would show the country that there is more to college football than just the SEC.

As much as I dislike USC, they are undefeated against the SEC this century. Finally, I find it ironic that Florida can barely beat two FCS teams and then be ranked #4. Yet everybody gets all over Notre Dame for barely beating Pittsburgh.

All I can say to the SEC fans is either schedule some real opponents in November or shut your mouths about Notre Dame!!!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Notre Dame Knew Matt Barkley Couldn't Play Before the Shoulder Injury

For the first time since 1993, Notre Dame is #1. A victory over arch rival USC will guarantee them a spot in the BCS title game. The news Sunday is that Senior quarterback Matt Barkley has a sprained shoulder and cannot play. That may sound like an advantage for Notre Dame, but it is really a piece of information we already knew. He couldn't play with a healthy shoulder either.

Okay he did throw 33 touchdowns and that is impressive. However, he threw 4 against Hawaii, 6 against Syracuse, 3 against Utah, and 6 against Colorado. That right there is 19 and it is against much inferior competition. He didn't throw any against Stanford and was intercepted twice.

Oh wait! He did throw 5 touchdowns against Oregon. Oh Yeah! The Ducks are all offense. Their defense is average at best. In fact, looking at the state of the PAC 12 in general it seems that Stanford is the only school  in the conference that still teaches the players how to play defense.

Therefore, Barkley put up most of his numbers against average or worse defenses. I would  love to see him try to do that against Notre Dame. So while it may seem like a big advantage to Notre Dame, but the reality is we already know what Barkley does under pressure. What we don't know is whether or not Max Wittek can play. In a way, that is a disadvantage. We know Barkley can't play, but we don't know about Wittek.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Notre Dame Clinches BCS Bowl With Win Over Wake Forest and Will Be #1

What a great day this was for Notre Dame! The Seniors took the field for the last time at Notre Dame Stadium. Tyler Eifert broke the all time Irish record for catches by a tight end. Everett Golson threw for a career high 349 yards and three touchdowns. The defense continued it's dominance by shutting out Wake Forest. With the win, Notre Dame clinched a BCS bowl.

That is only the start of the good news. I would ordinarily not be interested in a game between Baylor and Kansas State or Oregon and Stanford. However with Notre Dame being ranked #3, one of them had to lose at some point. In about a twenty minute span, they both went down. Kansas State got dominated by the Baylor Bears. Then Oregon went down in overtime to the Cardinal.

What was sweet about the Stanford win was that all week Notre Dame heard that they needed overtime to beat Stanford and Oregon would dominate them. That proved false just by going into overtime. Then when Stanford won, it gave the pollsters no choice. They have to put Notre Dame as the #1 team.

The Fighting Irish will now control their own destiny as they go on the road to play USC. Today after the hot start in the first quarter with a great run by Cierre Wood, another Eifert touchdown, and a long bomb to John Goodman, I could see that the issue would never be in doubt. Therefore, I did a lot more game jumping than I would ordinarily do during an Irish game. That was because the Trojans were on FOX against their crosstown rival UCLA in not only a battle for LA but also for the division title.

I wanted to get a look at the next opponent. USC went down for the fourth time this year and may have also lost Matt Barkley for next week with a late Shoulder injury. One of the stars in that game was  Notre Dame transfer Shaquelle Evans who caught 8 passes for 114 yards. That ruined the Trojans chances of a PAC 12 title. That actually makes them more dangerous because all they got left is spoiling Notre Dame's season.

It has been such a magic year for the Irish and it all began in Ireland. Even a USC victory won't change that. A BCS bowl is imminent. Even if Notre Dame doesn't win the national championship, that doesn't change the fact that for the first time in a very long time Notre Dame is 11-0 and #1. You can't take this day away no matter what happens the rest of the way.

Can Notre Dame Put Together a Complete Game at Home Today?

With the final home game of the season just hours away, Irish fans and players are hoping not only for a victory against Wake Forest, but also a complete game in South Bend. Even with the 10-0 record, Notre Dame has struggled at home. Now the defense has played solid all year with the exception of Pittsburgh. The offense led by Everett Golson has really been better away from South Bend.

It is really amazing to see the difference. Looking at their games not at Notre Dame Stadium, they beat Navy in Ireland 50-10, Michigan State in East Lansing 20-3, Miami in Chicago 41-3, Oklahoma in Norman 30-13, and Boston College at Chestnut Hill 21-6. The average margin of victory is 25.4.

Comparing that to their home games, the Irish beat Purdue 20-17, Michigan 13-6, Stanford 20-13, BYU 17-14, and Pittsburgh 29-26. That is an average margin of victory of just 4.6. That is less than a touchdown and a difference of 20.8 points compared to that on the road.

Golson has even stated that it is easier for him to focus on the road because their are fewer distractions. It is also true that playing in Notre Dame stadium is a once (maybe twice) in a lifetime experience for the players on the other team where as it is regular for the Irish. College players say playing in South Bend is like nowhere else. Having said that, it is time to protect the house and put together a nice home game.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fighting Irish Must Not Let Distractions Shift Their Focus From Wake Forest

It seems that the more Notre Dame wins, the more distractions come. The BCS and National Title talk only escalates after every Irish win. Now with them being one of only three major unbeatens (Kansas State and Oregon are the other two), the distractions are at an all time high for this group of Notre Dame players.

This week they have to compound that with the seniors running through the tunnel for the final time, and the thought of their annual showdown with arch rival USC just a week away.Did I forget we have a Heisman candidate in Manti Te'o? On top of all that, they need to be prepared to play a football game against Wake Forest. This is untraveled territory for Notre Dame.

While Wake Forest is just 5-5, Notre Dame knows all too well what can happen if they  are not focused on the task at hand (aka. Pittsburgh and BYU). This is also a team that The Fighting Irish beat by just seven points last year. Of course, many of the players are the same. Therefore, Notre Dame should expect to be in  a battle.

Te'o and company will have yet another veteran quarterback to deal with in Junior Tanner Price who has thrown for 1852 yards with 12 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. His favorite target is red shirt junior wide receiver Michael Campanaro who has caught 65 passes for 618 yards and 7 touchdowns. Campanaro will be a tough chore for either Bennett Jackson or KeVare Russell.

The Demon Deacons have struggled with the running game all year as their leading runner is Junior Josh Harris who has just 607 yards with 5 touchdowns. He is only averaging 60.7 yards a game and has only one 100 yard game and it was against Army. The next highest runner is Deandre Martin with 330 yards. Compare that to the Irish who have Theo Riddick with 714 yards and Cierre Wood with 570. Everett Golson and George Atkinson have also contributed to the running game with 258 and 312 yards respectively.

Defensively Wake Forest has been very inconsistent all year. They have given up as few as 10 points against Virginia and as many as 52 against Florida State. Therefore it is hard to know which defense will show up. The defense has given up at least 20 points to the teams they have played with winning records. They even gave up 37 to Army. They have only given up less than 20 points to losing teams and FCS teams.

If Golson and company are ready, they can potentially put up some really big numbers. Let's just hope their minds are on the game and not all the distractions that have become increasingly more difficult to deal with.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Notre Dame Seniors to Play Last Home Game

Notre Dame like all storied programs has many traditions. They touch the "Play Like a Champion Today"
sign on the way through the tunnel. They sing the alma mater after the game. They play many traditional rivals like USC, Navy, Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State, etc. Some of those may fall by the wayside with the
new agreement with the ACC. One thing that will remain is it's proudest tradition of all. That is Senior day.

It is a day where fans are both excited for the players future but also sad to see them leave. They are both thankful for their contributions but will miss them. This year is no exception and it is a great class. I do have to thank Charlie Weis for this great class. Although Weis didn't work out, he does deserve some credit for this class.

Theo Riddick

This guy has been probably the most versatile of all the seniors. Riddick has played both back and receiver and has played both well. I am not sure if he will make it in the NFL as a featured back, but I can see him third down packages.

Cierre Wood

Wood's senior year started on a negative note with a two game suspension. That has forced him to share the load with Riddick. His stats may not be as good as they were his junior year, but I will never forget that run at Oklahoma. I hope to see him on Sundays.

John Goodman

While this guy has not caught many passes his senior year, the ones he has caught have been huge. Just ask Purdue and Michigan State. I wish him well in his future endeavors.

Robby Toma

If anybody knows what it is like to live in someone's shadow, it is this guy. For all of his career he has lived in the shadow of being the guy that came with Manti Te'o. He was also in the shadow of Michael Floyd for most of his career. Living in the shadow of two all time greats has to be tough. Still Toma has gone about his business and been a valuable contributor. Good luck to him.

Tyler Eifert

Here is perhaps the best tight end in the nation. That is not only for his pass catching but also his blocking. NFL scouts love this guy. We will see him on Sundays. 

Mike Golic, Jr.

Having escaped his dad's shadow, Golic has been very consistent on the line this season. I hope to see him in the NFL.

Braxton Cave

Cave has also been a very consistent member on the line. I am not sure if the NFL is in his future but he will be missed in South Bend.

Kapron Lewis-Moore

All I can say about this guy is that he has been an absolute beast on the defensive line. He will leave a big hole next year and we will miss him. I can see him playing on Sundays.

Zeke Motta

Not only a solid safety, but Motta has also been a great leader in the secondary. He was the only senior in an otherwise very young defensive backfield. I really hate to see him go.

Manti Te'o

Saving the best for last, where do we start? All-American? Heisman candidate? Great linebacker? How about the heart and soul of not only the defense, but the whole team. This guy has overcome personal tragedy to have the great year he has had. When he leaves the Irish will be replacing more than just a football player. He will go very high in the draft.

Thank you and Good Luck to all the seniors. You will all be missed.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Notre Dame Not Getting the Respect They Deserve

At 10-0 Notre Dame is among only three teams still undefeated. If all three remain unbeaten, Notre Dame would likely be left out of the National Title game and it would be between Kansas State and Oregon. Now the fact that there are only two weeks left in the regular season and Notre Dame is still in the National Title discussion already makes this season a huge success. Having said that, I am not sure why the pollsters seem to think that what Notre Dame has done is somehow less impressive than the other two teams.

I am not taking anything away from Kansas State or Oregon or a one loss SEC champ (whomever that is) for that matter. They have taken care of their business and deserve to be in the title game. What I have a bit of a problem with is this notion by the experts that they deserve it more than Notre Dame.

Currently in the BCS standings, Kansas State is #1, Oregon is #2, and Notre Dame is #3. Let's look at the Wildcats first. While they are worthy of being #1, they have played two common opponents with Notre Dame. That being Miami and Oklahoma. They beat the Hurricanes by 39 points and the Irish beat them by 38 (not much of a difference). However, Notre Dame beat the Sooners by 17 points and the Wildcats were a play away from losing. In fact, they got lucky with an unforced turnover that made a difference.

Therefore, that is a case for Notre Dame to be higher than Kansas State.

Now let's look at the Ducks. So far there have no common opponents, but they will play Stanford this week and the Fighting Irish will end at USC. That will give us a clearer picture, but until then all we have is numbers. I won't lie. Oregon has very impressive numbers. They are averaging 54.8 points a game. They have gone over 50 points seven times, over 60 points three times, and scored 70 once. There is no doubt that is impressive.

But here is the question that I would love answered. Is all that more impressive than a team that gives up an average of 11.1 points a game. Take away their one off week against Pittsburgh and that average is 9.4. The Fighting Irish went an entire month without giving up a touchdown. They have only surrendered two rushing touchdowns all year and 8 total. Oregon would give that up in two games.

Therefore, it is hard to say who is better at this point. There is still a lot of football to be played. Kansas State still has to play Texas. Notre Dame has to take care of business against Wake Forest and then USC. Oregon perhaps has the toughest road as they play Stanford before traveling to in state rival Oregon State. If they win those games, they will face either UCLA or USC (again) in the PAC-12 title game.  All of those teams are currently ranked in the top 20 in the BCS.

The bottom line is that whether it is fair or not, Notre Dame will need to remain unbeaten and needs one of the other teams to lose. Therefore, the best thing The Fighting Irish can do is just continue to play solid football and let all that other stuff take care of itself. Like Coach Brian Kelly said, "If we don't beat Wake Forest, none of it matters."