Friday, July 28, 2006
A SOMEWHAT OBLIGATORY ASSESSMENT OF: NOTRE DAME
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Wherein SMQ turns over the subjects of his final week of non-binding previews to the will of torch-toting, pitchfork-wielding mobs of popular demand and an uncensored comments section.
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They're back! Well, maybe...no, OK, they're back! Seriously this time!
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 35-25 - 2005: 9-3, Lost Fiesta Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 17 (8 Offense, 9 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Wake up them freakin' echoes! Really: the offense not only obliterated school passing records and most other facets of the various Davie-Willingham regimes' largely futile attacks - the '05 team averaged nearly two touchdowns more then the collective 23.1 points per game managed by the 2000-04 squads - and was a genuinely scarier proposition for any opponent than its predecessors. The achievement shouldn't be dismissed, but this is about more than just playing USC, a program that had beaten ND by 31 points in three consecutive, not-at-all competitive games, within a quarter-inch of its mythical champion life: the Irish played ten of its '05 opponents (all but Syracuse and Ohio State) multiple times from 2001-04, when it outscored those ten programs, all together, by about 2 points per game; last year, its average margin against those same schools was a tad over 12, nearly three times higher than any one of the four years prior. So Charlie Weis' Irish were 3-2 against winning teams (note this does not count three-touchdown shellackings of Tennessee and Purdue), and Davie in 2000 and Willingham in 2002 matched the nine wins? Ask yourself this: would last year's team have been caught dead being decimated by 32 points in the Fiesta Bowl by Oregon State, as the 2000 team did, or being whipped 28-6 by NC State in the Gator Bowl, the fate of the '02 team? It would not. SMQ says this is a smarter team, a faster team, and a program going in a positive direction, not a fluke.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Well, the speed is still an issue. SMQ does not want to go overboard here: if one's talking mythical championship, the defensive deficiencies clearly exposed by the blistering skill guys at Ohio State and SC have to be addressed - the secondary and undersized front seven that aided the Buckeyes' record-breaking performance each return in their entirety. This is good for experience, and less good if past results are a predictor of future performance. When the Trojans got down to nut-cuttin' time, where'd they go? Deep, baby. And that's going to continue to be a problem for a team that allowed seven 300-yard passing games, four of them against teams that also topped 150 yards rushing.
THEN ONE DAY, WHEN THE HEAD COACH MET THIS PASSER, AND THEY KNEW THAT IT WAS MUCH MORE THAN A HUNCH...: Also intact, however, is the fairly prolific offense, the most important member of which is still wearing No. 10 and also cowering in fear at new brother-in-law A.J. Hawk's wedding this week. As long as Hawk isn't awarded any retroactive eligibility, last year's 36-point average will hold, and might wind up looking rather conservative.
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See you at the reception, bro
When not being flattened by future relatives, Brady Quinn was programmed by Weis for 'assassinate': BQ had a very Brady-like (Tom, that is) 65 percent completion rate, 3,900-plus yards, 32-7 TD-INT ratio, 23 school passing records. He's not the top MOCFPITC contender for nothing, and not without the legitimate weapons - Jeff Samardjsizxjaiza, Darius Walker and Rhema McKnight, back from injury - or offensive line to make this happen. The only chink in the offensive armor, if there is one, would be the running game with the hard-nosed but relatively pedestrian Walker, who found maneuverability difficult against good defenses - as well as, for some reason, Michigan State, BYU and Purdue - and will be running behind a line that atypically features zero 300-pounders. But those struggles were offset by an effective short passing and screen game that used the quicker linemen while sending 43 balls Walker's way out of the backfield, and he still managed 4.7 per carry. And there's the unreal 43 pass plays over 25 yards (and 100 over 15), which negates the notion of a short, safe, toss-and-pitch philosophy with no big play threats. Short of injury, or lighter conk on the head that breaks Weis' hypnotic spell over Quinn, there don't seem to be many avenues to shutting this bunch down.
AH, YOUTH. *^@$# YOUTH!: Not much was decided by Irish field goal kicking in '05, which means it's due to be an issue this year. And the guy apparently tabbed to resolve it is a true freshman, Ryan Burkhart. Phil Steele says "it will be interesting to see how the new K/Ps fare," which is exactly the kind of non chalant generality that typically precedes John L. Smith-style meltdowns and abusive homes among the recently unemployed special teams coach demographic. The kid reportedly hit a 53-yarder in high school, which is quite different than hitting a potential game at, say, USC. The return game, at least, should be in the very competent hands of Tom Zbikowski.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Speaking of Zbikowski - if this were the World Cup, and obstinately tied games were ultimately decided by a virtually random display of related individual skill rather than, you know, playing the actual game, Irish fans would be in good shape via the professional potential in all-America safety's fists and Jeff Samardzjsiajcjxxija's arm. Zbikowski, you'll remember, floored Ohio's own Robert Bell with two knockdowns in 49 seconds in New York last month, while Samardziafjiajiza was drafted to pitch for the Chicago Cubs organization - pending their approval of his gridiron career, natch. Both guys ought to be springing for dinner, too: Zbikowski earned $25,000, and Samardziafiajxa stands to make millions as a minor leaguer - if he foregoes the NFL. In the meantime: catch that ball, white boy!
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Jeff Samardzijafjicxazaxa is very busy man
REASON FOR HOPE: Quinn and the offense are going to score, score, score, probably in a lot of ways.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Can the defense keep up with the best athletes it faces? Both lines are pretty significantly undersized.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, LITERARY, POLITICAL OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... The New York Times: Not even remotely as influential as it once was, stodgy, racked by turbulent leadership and scandal, perpetually fighing inherent setbacks (tough admissions standards, falling circulations), villified and critiqued intensely on a virtually daily basis by a huge segment of the population - yet rapidly catching up with the times and persistently restating its influence just as it appears to be sinking. Success is generally a sign of health for the industry.
WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING...: Big-money, roped-off affair, at least, with a very likely mythical title game appearance. Hate to bust the Irish haters' very vocal bubble, but ND in SMQ's mind has more championship elements - top-flight quarterback, serviceable running game, big-play receiving and return threats, a veteran offensive line, a functional pass rush and an all-around experienced defense - than any other team he's assessed this offseason. On paper, this is the pick. The hitch here is the schedule, which SMQ has seen in depth (disclosure: SMQ has written about Notre Dame's upcoming opponents for a soon-to-be published and probably little-read Irish preview publication) and hesitantly predicts will have at least one snare along the way. It must, probably in the first three brutal games. But it will be no surprise if there's an undefeated ND-USC thing in November that reaches even more unbearable heights of hype than anyone imagined was possible for a regular season game.
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PREVIOUS SOMEWHAT OBLIGTORY ASSESSMENTS:
July 25: Texas...July 26: Penn State
REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...June 11: Boise State...June 14: Tulane...June 18: Oregon...June 21: Colorado...June 24: South Florida...June 26: Fresno State...June 30: Minnesota...July 2: UAB...July 7: Virginia Tech...July 9: Michigan
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
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The 2005 US Army all star game featured more USC verbal pledges than ND pledges.
He assumed he was right. I assumed he was right. Most reasonable people would, given the strength of SC's 06 class. But, after some reaesrch, it turns out (no surprise, I guess) Lurker is wrong again.
ND had 10 participants in the Army All-American (AAA) Game, SC had only 9. How did ND have more AAA participants than SC when SC had 5 5-star recruits to ND's 2, 15 Rivals 100 players (all in the Top 70 actually) to ND's 6, 19 4-5 star players to ND's 12? Because ND and Lemming cheat. How did ND secure the nations No. 1 OL class? Lemming is a prime selector for the AAA Game. Lemming told the OL recruits that if they committed to ND, he would put them in the AAA Game. He kept his promise: 5 of ND's 6 OL commits did play in the game. That's called cheating. Everyone knows Lemming works for the benefit of ND. ND knows it, but doesn't stop or deter him.
More evidence of an ND bias: all but 1 of ND's Rivals 100 players participated in the AAA Game (Walls missed due to injury). 5 of SC's Rivals 100 players didn't make the AAA team (0nly 1 due to injury: Tatum). None of SC's recruits that weren't Rivals 100 level made the AAA Game. ND had 5 such players make the teams, and 2 of them weren't even Rivals 250 level (Gallup and Webb -- interestingly, Webb was ND's first OL commitment).
ND's AAA roster:
Young 5-star OT, deserving (#11 overall, #1 OT)
Alridge 5-star RB, deserving (#27 overall, #3 RB)
D. Jones 4-star QB, deserving (#54 overall, #2 dual-threat QB)
McNeil 4-star DB, deserving (#74 overall, #7 CB)
Reuland 4-star TE, deserving (#81 overall, #3 TE)
Carufel 4-star OL, deserving (Rivals 250, #5 OT)
Wenger 4-star OL, maybe deserving (#3 Center)
Stewart 4-star OL, probably not deserving (#11 guard, ranked behind SC's commit Heberer)
Webb 4-star OL, probably not deserving (not Rivals 250, #29 OT)
Gallup 3-star WR, definitely not deserving (not Rivals 250, #74 WR, SC's Patterson, the 5th best WR in SC's 06 class ws ranked #39)
I won't analyze SC's AAA Game participants, because they obviously deserved to be there (Hazelton, Bradford, Mays, Johnson, Perez, Holland, Lewis, Ausberry, Moody). Moody was the lowest rated, at No. 70 overall, #9 RB.
Which SC commits deserved (or arguably deserved) to be in San Antonio above the ND players, but were left off the team?
Gable (definite oversight, 5-star, #23 overall, #3 athlete)
Wright (definite oversight, 4-star, #38 overall, #2 CB, better than ND's McNeil, who made the team)
Simmons (4-star, #62 overall, #5 SDE)
Morgan (4-atar, #67 overall, #5 OLB)
Of course, the Army probably doesn't care who plays in the game, and NBC, the Domer station wants as many future ND players on the field as possible. So, the selection process probably won't change unless college and HS coaches, or bloggers expose Lemming and make a stink. In any event, Lemming is bad news, and the AAA Game Selection Committee really needs to diminish his influence. Such unfairness and favoritism stinks.
I wouldn't expect Domers to have a problem with this however.
I confess to scrolling down to your
"notable figure" section to read that first. If you persist with this insanity next year, you must include that feature. Very entertaining.
Most knowledgeable Irish fans agree with your assesment that ND will probably have (at least)1 loss heading into the SC match. Hard to see us navigating that early four game stretch without a loss.
Trojan War, are you the same guy who posts on the Wild West board?
If so, that was a pretty accurate analysis of ND recruiting so far this year.
Don't forget one of the crucial losses for them: Anthony Fasano. He was a favorite target for Quinn when the rest of his receiving corps was covered, and not having him as a safety valve may mean that undersized O-Line gives up a lot of sacks.
Lemming seems to be a ND lover if you follow what he writes, but what does it matter for college football at large who plays in the AAA game?
Furthermore, I think 95% of us feel that scouting HS kids is more of a voodoo witchcraft than NFL teams trying to scout college players, so what do these rankings and lists really mean in the large scheme of things?
In short, TrojanWar, take a Valium and watch highlights of last year until the season starts.
One other comment, Brad Warbiany states above, "They beat a couple of teams last year that they shouldn't have (i.e. Michigan)..."
Right. The magical world of "Should Have and Shouldn't Have" the refuge of Micigan fans everywhere. Michigan shouldn't have given up any turnovers, Lllloyd and his staff should have figured out how to use the tremendous amount of talent they recruit. Michigan quarterbacks shouldn't regress every year to the point that by their senior year they all seem to throw sidearm and have half their passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Sidebar: is Tom Brady the best Michigan alum QB in the NFL precisely because he didn't receive as much attention from the Michigan coaches?
Anyway conversations about "Should Have" are stupid. If we must say that ND should have lost a couple more games then let's balance the sheet and say they "Should Have" beaten MSU and USC as well.
Pretty insightful preview of the irish though, smq. The one bone i have to pick is about Walker's performances last year. While he isn't the highlight of the offense, he had over 1000 yards rushing and has more in his first 2 yards than any other back in ND history. He also busted out for big yards against OSU (incredible D) and michigan (good run D). The games you claim he didnt show up for were all gameplan. Purdue and BYU especially were playing 8 and 9 in the box and just begging to be ripped off to over 400 yds passing. hell, stovall alone had 4 TDs against BYU. darius had maybe 15 carries combined in those 2 games but pass blocked like a champ. MSU was a pass-dominated crapfest about which i wont go into further detail. I really think people's eyes will be opened to Walker this year, we'll see.
There are some noteable performers there, but as a whole its not a great unit. Ole' McSweatervest is a great defensive coach and appears to be able to mold a top ten Defense out of masking tape, jockstraps and icyhot. I don't see that in Wies. I also think ND's a little short after their second receiver.
Too many speed bumps on the way, there are at least 2 or 3 losses in there.
Never the less, excellent stuff