Friday, October 23, 2009

Midseason Assessment: Part III - Still in the Fog

Before the year we said at the very least this year we’ll have clarity on the direction of the program. We would know for better or worse whether Charlie was the right guy to lead this program and could adjust expectations/attitudes accordingly. So halfway through the year, where do we stand? Still smack dab in the middle of a fog.

The program is headed in the right direction but it certainly isn’t sprinting there. Every single positive thing—and there are plenty—seems to be followed by a “but…”

Charlie has the offense humming…but we still have lost two games.

We’ve come back late in games to win, proving we never give up…but we had to do it against inferior opponents.

We launched a huge comeback against USC and took them to the brink…but we lost.

We have put together four of the highest rated recruiting classes in the country over the last four years…but we still aren’t as talented as Southern Cal.

Charlie clearly has things headed in the right direction…but we still have two losses through six games.

Our defensive line is starting to mature and play better…but our secondary seems to be regressing.

Personally I am pleased with the progress we’ve made but it is somewhat deflating to know that we still aren’t quite there yet after five years. I do believe we’re headed in the right direction. Charlie has proven that he is the offensive whiz that we thought he was when he arrived. He’s been a fantastic recruiter and if things break right over the next few months he could have his most talented and well-rounded class to date on signing day. Remember how people said it was impossible to recruit at Notre Dame anymore just a few short years ago? He’s totally debunked that myth.

He’s also proven he’s willing to make necessary adjustments not just on the field but in terms of coaching personnel—something many head coaches stubbornly refuse to do. We can safely say so far that he’s hit home runs with Verducci and Alford at the very least. The offense is now back to being one of the best in the country—even while missing its most explosive weapon—and is finally equipped with an effective run game, something that we didn’t have an iota of the past two years. The much-maligned defensive line has started to show promise and the installation of Manti Te’o in the starting lineup has added a new dynamic to the front seven. There are a lot of things to like about where we’re headed.

But there are still elephants in the room. Our record is now 0-5 against Southern Cal. Was it a great showing against them this year? Sure, but moral victories don’t—or at least they shouldn’t—exist at Notre Dame. The thing is we don’t have anything in terms of tangible results to cling to so we’re forced to continually seek out the silver linings. Frankly, doing that wears you down after awhile. It’s tough to defend the program from haters when they point to facts and cold hard facts. All we can point to are narrow losses and good prospects.

Are we less than 20 seconds away from being undefeated and ranked in the top 10? Yes.

Are we just as close to being 2-4 and in full-throttle crisis mode? Yes.

Does it appear we’re headed in the right direction and Charlie’s the right guy? Yes.

Are we a loss to BC away from that statement being totally bunk? Yes.

Notre Dame fans continue to live in a fog. The only way to lift it will be for the Irish to win these remaining six games. In order to really be rolling into next year we need to tack a bowl game victory in January. That could springboard us into the preseason top 10 and the number one recruiting class in the country. Can you see us doing that? Yes. Can I see us tripping up once or twice down the stretch, setting us up for another offseason filled with unrest? Yes.

Strap on a helmet and get ready for the next six weeks. At the end of it the fog will probably be lifted one way or the other…then again probably not. But I’m allowed to dream.

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