Sunday, May 23, 2010

Penn State Spring Recap - Offense

With the departure of Pat Devlin before the 2009 season, right after the NCAA granted Daryll Clark an extra year of eligibility, everyone knew that Penn State would have a green starting quarterback this season. That's been the biggest story of the spring practice, and so far it looks like there's no clear leader. Let's break down this position battle further along with all others for the Nittany Lions' offense.

Quarterback: There's three candidates here: Sophomore Kevin Newsome, Freshman Paul Jones, and walk on Matt McGloin. Freshman Robert Bolden doesn't arrive on campus until August so he can expect to be redshirted. The Blue White Game revealed very little about the competition, with the freshman Paul Jones stealing the show and throwing for 2 touchdown passes. The word is that McGloin has been the most accurate, but Newsome has more experience and better mobility. I think Newsome ends up being the winner here and Penn State goes back to the offense they ran in 2008 with Daryll Clark, which implemented the QB read option.

Running Backs: For the 3rd year in a row the two backs handling most of the carries for Penn State will be Evan Royster and Stephfon Green. Royster needs just over 400 yards to become the school's all time leading rusher. Curtis Dukes will provide depth here while Brandon Beachum recovers from an ACL injury. It is possible that incoming freshman Silas Redd sees some time here but I'd rather him not burn a redshirt for 20 carries, he has serious potential. Joe Suhey will be the starting fullback.

Wide Recievers: Last year everyone was concerned about the impact that the departure of Derrick WIlliams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood would have on the passing game. It turned out to be a strength of this team's offensive attack. Derek Moye filled in adequately and Graham Zug became Clark's most trusted target. Chaz Powell had a slightly disappointing year, but he's since been moved to defense. We saw flashes of Curtis Drake's speed last year when he was only a freshman, he looks very comfortable with the ball in his hands and I think we can expect 20 catches from him this year. For anyone that saw the spring game they saw Shawney Kersey's impressive performance, hauling in the only two touchdown catches of the game. We will have more depth this year than we did last, and I think it's important for veteran recievers to help along whoever ends up being the starter under center.

Tight Ends: It looks like senior Andrew Szczerba is going to be the primary tight end this season, with Garry Gilliam backing him up. He's been described as a good blocker with soft hands, but I think we all know that we're losing something with Andrew Quarless being gone. Mel Kiper described him as a "1st round talent" when he was taken in the 4th, he was able to go vertical like none of the guys we have this year.

Offensive Line: For the second year in a row, the offensive line may be the biggest problem this team has. They have 5 players back with starting experience, but that shouldn't be too reassuring to anyone because they just aren't that good. Wisniewski is the only All-Conference guy on this unit, I'm very worried about the guys around him. In both losses last year the line got absolutely shredded, and I just hope that some sort of chemistry transformation takes place this summer so these guys can come out and play well. Expect Quinn Barham and Deonte Pannell to start at tackle, with Wisneiwski and Eliades at the guard spots, and Doug Klopacz getting the nod at center.

Outlook: I think we'll execute well against lesser teams this year, but I'm expecting struggles against Ohio State, Iowa, and Alabama. Similar to what you saw last year I think teams with more athletic defenses will take away the line of scrimmage from us and we won't be able to get the ball downfield to put them on their heels. At times in games like that you're going to need your quarterback to step up and make a play, and I don't know our guys are ready to do that yet. The staff seems really comfortable in their scheme after running it with Clark successfully for the last two years and they feel like they have everyone in the right place. We are talented and could potentially surprise some people, but I think 2011 is a year where we are going to be really dangerous offensively. I think Wisniewski and Royster get All Conference honors.

Defensive Recap later this week.

Friday, May 14, 2010


As the Big Ten expansion tempest rages around us, life moves on for the Fighting Irish. Want another reason why being independent is a great thing? It allows the flexibility for games like this to happen: the Chicago Tribune reports that Notre Dame and Miami are in serious talks to play a game at Soldier Field in 2012.

The 2012 schedule now starts with a trip to Dublin to play Navy, a home date with Michigan, a road game against Oklahoma, the reincarnation of Catholics vs Convicts at Soldier Field, and our annual affair with Southern Cal in LA. Someone hit me with a hose. The Swarbrick doubters have to at least be coming around at this point.

To whet the appetite, let's throw up a couple videos.

First, the end of the '88 game.

Check out the spontaneous Overture of 1812 at the 6:45 mark and the fact that PLAYERS are doing the "LOU" as well. Just awesome.

Next, the Rocket buries the 'Canes in the last game of the series in 1990. They said they didn't fear Rocket. That was a mistake. As Jim Nantz says, "LOOK OUT!"

Better waking up to this than all this Big 10 talk, eh?



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Storm Clouds?

Out of all the Big Ten smoke that's emerged this is perhaps the juiciest nugget to date. It comes--from of all places--a Northwestern message board. At first I had reservations about posting it on WNG since it came from and usually re-posting Premium Board info is off-limits; but then I realized none of the Northwestern boards are Premium (which makes sense because there may be only 14 people in the United States who care an iota about Northwestern football and zero of them care enough to pay for a Rivals subscription). This makes everything on their boards available for public consumption.

So without further ado, here it is from poster "PURPLE Book Cat":

"I just had a few beers tonight with a friend who works for the Big Ten here in Chicago. According to him, the Big Ten has focused their efforts on and is getting hot with three schools: Notre Dame, Texas, and Nebraska.

A few things stood out about what he told me. First, contrary to my understanding of the benefits of expansion, the Big Ten is NOT pursuing a playoff system in football. Instead of a playoff, the football teams would all be required to add an additional one or two out of conference game, which would push the regular season back one week or two. The Big Ten wants to maintain the end of season rivalry games at the end of the football season as opposed to adding a playoff.

Second, the Big Ten, Texas and Notre Dame are discussing a special rule to accommodate both of those schools. Instead of playing 8 games, both Texas and ND would play 7 to enable each school to play 6 out of conference games. That's apparently the caveat that brought both to the table, and Texas and ND also want to play each other every year. The tradeoff is that an 8-0 Big Ten team would always trump a 7-0 ND/Texas as conference champion, which is a potential logistical sticking point for the Big Ten and these teams.

But apparently ND and Texas value the extra OOC game more than the conference championship potential, and ND and Texas want to play each other every year making the tie between two 7-0 teams impossible. They're also looking at potentially giving a automatic BCS slot for a 7-0 ND/Texas Big Ten team that loses the conference championship to an 8-0 team as a carrot, where the 8-0 team could still get the at-large but isn't guaranteed.

Finally, the Big East is essentially pushing ND to discussions with the Big Ten. The Big East has presented an ultimatum to ND to play football or get out of the conference for the other sports in order to protect the integrity of the remainder of the conference. Apparently discussions have taken place between the Big Ten and the Big East, and the current understanding is that the Big Ten will not accept any other Big East schools if ND joins the Big Ten. ND also will retain a national schedule, particularly with Texas joining, where it would have the ability to schedule 6 OOC games plus one game with Texas. This means they're picking up only three additional games with Big Ten schools while playing in the conference."

This is really interesting information and I'm sure there's at least some truth to it, but there are a few things that don't make sense to me. Let's break them down:

1. The Big Ten is not pursuing a conference championship game

This cannot be true. This entire expansion is about money, money, and more money and choosing not to host a conference championship game when you clearly are set up for one leaves a boatload of cash on the table.

What to take from this: The powers that be in the Big Ten are somewhat torn about leaving behind tradition (read: end of year rivalry games) and moving into the new age of college football (read: conference championship game and money, money, money). The reality is that money will speak far louder than the Indiana-Purdue and Iowa-Minnesota games.

2. Notre Dame and Texas will have a special rule to accommodate both schools

I have a hard time fathoming that programs as proud as Michigan and Ohio State will sign off on Notre Dame and Texas joining their conference and getting to play by a totally different set of rules. The entire scenario painted about an 8-0 Big Ten team trumping a 7-0 ND/Texas is so convoluted and requires accounting for so many caveats that it doesn't make any sense. The whole BCS automatic bid to the ND/Texas team would require the entire BCS to make a weird exception within a conference. Conceivably, there's a scenario where a 7-0 (12-0) Notre Dame team would go to the national championship but not win the conference championship because Ohio State went 8-0 (11-1). It just sounds too bizarre.

What to take from this: The powers that be are bending over backwards trying to make the two sides (ND/Texas and the Big Ten as we know it) happy, even if it means stepping on some big toes and appealing to the NCAA/BCS to make unprecedented exceptions. Texas and especially ND couldn't care less about winning conference championships in football while teams like Michigan cares about it more than national championships.

(What, you say that Michigan DOES care about national championships more than conference championships? Then explain why they talk about Bo Schembechler being one of the greatest coaches ever when he had zero national championships and lost eight of the ten Rose Bowls his teams played in. They LOVE those conference championship banners up in Ann Arbor because they mask the fact that Bo was the most overrated coach in history. But I digress...)

3. The Big East and Big Ten have had discussions about pushing Notre Dame toward the Big Ten

Now this is somewhat troubling and unfortunately believable. If the Big East feels that threatened--and they have ample reason to be skittish--then it may feel the only way to stay viable is to use Notre Dame as a sacrificial lamb to save itself.

What to take from this:
This collusion between the Big Ten and Big East is the only true threat to Notre Dame's football independence. Should this scenario become real it'll be up to Swarbrick to sell the value of the other Irish athletic programs to the Big East or come up with a creative way in which to keep the football team out of both conference without hindering the other sports.

Personally, if the Big Ten really was hoping to force the Big East into delivering Notre Dame an ultimatum I think they screwed themselves by inviting Missouri and Nebraska. With the trio of Rutgers, Missouri, and Nebraska that bumps the league up to 14 teams. One can assume that 16 teams is the ceiling for expansion. The reality is the Big Ten will never completely close the door on Notre Dame--no matter how many times we shoot them down--because they'll hold out hope that one day the NCAA will somehow mandate that the Irish to join a conference (or that the second coming of Kevin White becomes ND's Athletic Director). If that day arrives they'll need to have the flexibility to add Notre Dame because of what ND would mean in terms of added revenue (boatloads), elevated prestige (adding the premier brand in college football), and national footprint (truly national fanbase, ultimate Big 10 Network expansion).

If this is the case--and I believe that's reality whether Big Ten higher-ups and fans want to admit it or not--then the conference will stop expansion at 14 teams. Does it make any sense to add two lower tier football schools like UConn, Pitt, or Syracuse to the conference at the expense of losing out on Notre Dame forever? I don't think so.

By adding Missouri and Nebraska the Big Ten gave away all their true leverage with the Big East. There's no way the Big Ten can crush the Big East by pillaging it further because they'll lose out on Notre Dame forever. As much as it bruises the Big Ten's pride and ego, they will always have to patiently wait and hope for that day to arrive without totally closing the door. If the Big East realizes this they should breathe a huge sigh of relief because their football conference will remain viable and their pride and joy--the best basketball conference in America--will remain intact.

This is all speculation but playing out these scenarios, debunking myths, and trying to get inside the heads of all the different decision-makers is kind of a fun exercise--albeit a stressful one if you're a Notre Dame fan hoping the program stays independent. If the Big Ten does in fact choose to add Mizzou, Nebraska, and Rutgers then it's probably the best case scenario Notre Dame could have asked for in its crusade to stay independent.

The addition of the two Big 12 teams is a strategic blunder by Jim Delany if he was hoping to force the Big East's hand. I think when the dust settles the Big East will survive, Notre Dame will have maintained its football independence, and the Big Ten will act like a jilted 8th grader who was just shot down when he asked a girl out and claim it never wanted us any way.

We'll know the truth about how bad they wanted us though. And it makes the "thanks...but no thanks" that much sweeter.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Big 10 pops the question (again) to Our Lady

Reports coming out today are saying that the Big Ten has extended invitations to four schools: Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, and Notre Dame. The gist of everything that I've read is that whether they expand to 14 or 16 is dependent on what the Irish ultimately decide. If Notre Dame says yes then they'll seek out another team to make it an even number. If they say no then they'll stick with 14.

There are so many options and things to consider for Swarbrick in this situation and I can't blame him if he goes off the radar for a few days to collect his thoughts.

While I would love for him to just fax Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany a picture of Dikembe Mutombo giving the Finger Wag, his ultimate plan of action should involve him driving to see Mr. Delany in person, walking into his office, and giving him a heartfelt, well-articulated answer. This would suffice:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Final Freekbass Perspective

It's been one week since something called "Freekbass" dropped an atomic bomb on the University of Notre Dame. The entire college football world has had their fun tearing us to shreds. Notre Dame fans have posted pictures of monks lighting themselves on fire to describe their feelings. Current students formed a protest group on Facebook. Others (including myself) called for the immediate crucifixion on South Quad for all those involved. Alumni traded emails that looked like this one:

"I just threw up, and it wasn't the "I'm having an awesome time at this party" kind of throw up. That video is a classic Notre Dame example of what happens when you let people who suck do something they think is cool. A classic Notre Dame example of what happens when you let actual cool people do something they think is cool on campus? A Reslife hearing. When I win the $220 Mega Millions drawing tonight you are all invited to be a part of the new unofficial music video I make for ND called "Golden Shower," with the primary scene being us making it rain hundos off the top of the Golden Dome." - William J. Kearney, Class of '08

I've had six full days to cool off, reflect, and assess the situation. Important details such as who produced the video and why came to light. Suddenly I had an understanding of what had transpired and my feelings toward the video changed a bit. For those who haven't pieced it together yet, here's the skinny:

This video was produced by an Film, Theater, and Television professor at Notre Dame with the help of a variety of FTT majors. They made it for an end of the year awards show for Notre Dame athletes, something called The O.S.C.A.R.S. Apparently there was a very positive response at the awards show when the video was shown.

That's where things went horribly wrong.

People on the administration who were at the show thought the video was great, cool, and hip--and you know they're cool because it's 2010 and they use the word hip when it's not attached by a hyphen to the word hop. They said, "hey, we should throw this up on our official website so everyone can see!" When they posted it on the official Notre Dame Youtube Channel it was not presented as something that was made by a professor and students for an awards show. The way it came across was as an official ND promotional video. Therein lied the true reason for the outrage.

The backlash was so vicious on sites like ND Nation, Rivals, and Facebook that the University felt the need to release two separate statements, one from the manager of the ND Facebook Page (who immediately attempted to distance the administration from the carnage) and one from the professor who produced the video.

Now I kind of feel bad for the people involved with the video. They've been absolutely destroyed by their peers, alums, and pretty much anyone with eyes, a keyboard, and internet access. All they set out to do was make a video for a student awards show. Were they excited when they found out it'd be up on the official ND sites? Probably. Were they smacked upside the head by reality when they left their little FTT bubble? Yes to the 1000th power.

I really think had some random student posted this video it would've been found and ridiculed by fans of others schools, but the Notre Dame student body would've run to their defense or at the very least shrugged their shoulders and said something along the lines of "yeah it's terrible, but it's just dorks making a video, leave them alone." The original appearance that it was produced as an official Notre Dame video is what led the mob to grab their weapons.

In reality, the production value on the video isn't bad at all and there are some pretty cool clips of the student body at games and rallies. Unfortunately, those clips are accompanied by a catastrophically terrible song that's belted out by what looks like the lovechild of an albino cowboy and the dork from Road Trip. This supposedly award winning artist ripped off the tune of Jungle Love (which was written by God himself and handed down to Morris Day and the Mothableepin Time!), desecrated the Play Like A Champion Today sign, and butchered the Victory March while the kid from Hot Tub Time Machine threw in a rap verse. Unfortunately, Freekbass is now part of my lexicon and will one day be known by my kids as "the F-word."

The reaction from Irish fans has been a bit over the top but justifiably so. We were the laughingstock of college football for a few days. It was humiliating and all of ND Nation had to endure a litany of websites--from Everyday Should be Saturday to ESPN--line up to take their shots. It also postponed my plans to rip on Billy for his fellow Penn Staters rocking out to a 17 year old Disney star's song at a tailgate (in due time...).

But people who think this anything more than a minor, embarrassing blip on the radar screen are wrong. Those that think it will affect recruiting are crazy. People who think it shows the University has lost its way will go back to yelling at kids to get off their lawns. Alumni who spent the entire last week facepalming will go back to wishing they were still in school. Students who wanted to march on the Dome will go back to shotgunning beers for the love of the game.

In the end this won't be a huge deal. The clamoring will die down and people will move on to something else to rip apart. All the negative reaction from within the Notre Dame community will most likely lead to the video never seeing the light of day in any other context (read: pep rally videos or NBC broadcasts), which is Notre Dame Football's first victory of 2010. Everyone just needs to take a deep breath, be thankful it happened in April and not during the season, then pretend it never even happened.

All that will live on from this incident will be the F-Word. And if I ever run into him on the street I'm going to kick him in the shin so hard it'll shatter into a million pieces.

To paraphrase Donovan McNabb: Freekbass, keep our name out of your mouth.