Monday, August 30, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Let's Get This Party Started Edition

The IBG returns with a vengeance for the 2010 season. As announced last week there are 12 different blogs who will each come up with questions for a different week of the season. Frank at UHND has assembled a beefy set for Purdue so let's get to it. If you want to see all the different responses from all the different blogs head to UHND for the links.

1. Name one offensive player and one defensive player you're most excited to see in the new systems and why.

Offense: Armando Allen…he’s really evolved over the past couple years and always seems to be one shoestring tackle away from breaking a big run. He runs hard and with far more confidence than when he started as a freshman and does a lot of the little things that go unappreciated—much like D-Walk used to (blocking, receiving, etc). While he may not have 4.3 speed, the guy has wheels and I think coming out of the backfield with more room to operate will lead to him finally realizing his potential.

Defense: Darius Fleming…Fleming is a freakish athlete who quietly posted very good numbers last season. I see him as Filer except with much better football instincts and this year he takes the leap in large part because Diaco instills the necessary confidence and focus.

2. What’s one reason you think Brian Kelly is the right coach this time. What’s one reason you think he might not be?

He has so much experience
for a relatively young guy. Ara Parseghian has told everyone that would ever listen that he needed every day of his coaching experience prior to Notre Dame in order to find success under the Golden Dome. The powers-that-be (see: the two most incompetent athletic directors ever, Wadsworth and White) chose to ignore Ara’s inference that experience is absolutely essential in two of the last three hires. Not this time, though.

Kelly has experienced success at every stop in his coaching career, exhibited that he stresses fundamentals and attention to detail, and plays in integral part in every aspect of the team (offense, defense, and special teams). Off the field he’s thrown himself headfirst into the Notre Dame Community and came out of the gate this recruiting cycle with an excellent haul this far. There’s a lot to like about this guy.

My reason that he may not be really comes down to not being in love with the spread offense. Is it a fad that’s on its way out? Is it here to stay? Will we become a finesse team? My preference is the more traditional pound it down your throat approach, but there’s no denying that the effectiveness of the spread as it’s evolved over the past decade. The fact that this is my greatest fear is probably a good thing.

3. A lot of people are labeling Purdue, Boston College, and Michigan State as toss up games. Considering Notre Dame beat all three of these teams during the disappointing 2009 season, do you consider these games toss-ups or games you expect Notre Dame to win?

Purdue is not a toss-up game
. We’re 10.5pt favorites at home—if there’s anyone who thinks that’s a toss-up game then they’re nuts. Is Purdue capable of pulling off the upset? Sure. Does that mean it’s a 50/50 proposition? Hell no.

College and Michigan State are two different stories though. These both are road games in hostile environments against teams we barely squeaked out victories against last season. Michigan State will be Crist’s first start on the road and the Irish offensive line’s first real test in a raucous road atmosphere.

This could be a lot like the ’08 campaign; Notre Dame is very capable of beating both teams, it’s just a matter of whether the youth we’re leaning on at key positions grows up. If I were a betting man—which I certainly am—I’d say the Irish split those two games. That being said, I’ll go into both thinking Notre Dame has a great opportunity to win.

4. What’s one reason you think Notre Dame could shock the world and pull of another 1964-type season? What’s one reason you’re concerned we might see more of a 1997-type season?

After talking about how Notre Dame has a creampuff schedule all offseason, the media seems to have done a 180. Kirk Herbstreit was actually on ESPN the other day saying that nobody has a harder opening six games than Notre Dame. I don’t see it. There are no doubt some tough contests and there isn’t an “easy” game to be found, but none of the first six teams are even close to being considered the elite in college football.

If this is meant to be a Parseghian-esque ascension to the top of the polls then this squad will perform well enough to bury the teams that shouldn’t beat us at home (Purdue, Michigan), expose the pretenders (Michigan State, Stanford), and gut out tough victories against worthy opponents (Boston College, Pitt). Looking at each game individually, ND should be favored in four
—perhaps even five—of these games and if they're an underdog the spread won't be more than 4.5-7.5pts. It's by no means a cakewalk, but it's very manageable and if this team is for real they'll exploit it.

The Irish have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. In some instances it’s a bit raw (especially on the defense), in some instances it lacks confidence (previous parentheses x10)...but it’s there. If Dayne Crist comes of age quicker than expected (while staying healthy), the offensive line gels, and a retooled and improved defense steps up then it can be done. It takes a couple leaps of faith, but not as big a leap of faith as it took to expect Demetrius Jones to successfully run Charlie Weis’s offense behind the worst offensive line in school history!

My biggest reason for fearing '97 is the fact that if one or two key guys go down there's a hole deeper than Marianna's Trench behind them on the depth chart. If Dayne goes down the ceiling for the season probably drops to seven wins. If the injury bug hits the defensive line it probably drops to eight. Notre Dame's potential is largely contingent on two or three guys staying healthy and the main one is less than a year from shredding his knee. That's something that has terrified me since last Halloween.

5. Which freshmen do you see contributing the most on the field this year (outside of TJ Jones – that’s too easy)?

Other than TJ there won't be a lot of major, high-profile contributors, but if I have to pick the next biggest impact it's Danny Spond. From everything you read he has been one of the most pleasant surprises from camp. He’s going to play a huge role on special teams and has already jumped into the two-deep behind Te’o at inside linebacker.

6. Other than Dayne Crist (too easy again) who is the one player Notre Dame can least afford to lose to injury for any significant period of time?

Take your pick of defensive ends Ethan Johnson or Kapron Lewis-Moore. The drop-off from the first string to second string is enormous. The defensive line has a chance to really surpass most people's expectations because Johnson and KLM are about to emerge as productive, disruptive playmakers. If they go down due to injury though the unit’s ceiling lowers drastically.

I haven’t seen or heard anything from Nwankwo, Newman, or Hafis Williams that leads me to believe they’re capable of filling in for any extended period of time. The Irish defense simply can’t afford either of them missing any time—they’re probably close to as crucial as Crist is to the offense.

7. Rapid Fire 2010 Season Predictions

* Notre Dame's Record: 10-3…couple slip-ups on the road, but finally we’ll see progress over the course of a season and not regression.
* Bowl game for Notre Dame with opponent: Champs Sports vs Florida State…fun matchup in the best bowl ND can go to that's not in the BCS.
* Final ranking: Between #11 & #15…not enough high-profile wins to rise higher, but a great opening campaign for Kelly to build upon.
* Opponent with the highest final ranking: Boston College
* Notre Dame Offensive & Defensive MVP: Floyd & Te' need to overthink things.
* Best opponent offensive & defensive player:
- Offensive Ballot: 1 - Jonathan Baldwin (Pitt)...2 - Andrew Luck (Stan)...3 - Ricky Dobbs (Navy)
- Defensive Ballot: 1 - Greg Jones (MSU)...2 - Shayne Skov (Stan)...3 - Mark Herzlich (BC)
* Best opposing coach: Kyle Whittingham
* Game you are most excited to watch:
Michigan…Last time RichRod's smug face will be in Notre Dame Stadium while wearing maize and blue. Also, I want Tate Forcier’s blood all over that field…I don’t care if he isn’t the starter. If John Ryan can tear his coach’s ACL while he’s out of the field of play then Danny Spond can do the same to Tate
* Game you wouldn't mind watching on DVR: None. Please, this is Notre Dame Football, not an episode of Jersey Shore. We only get 13 games per year and I won’t miss one of them.
* National Champion:
Ohio State…Pryor goes all Vince Young on everybody.
Heisman Winner: Terrelle Pryor…he’s going to make Big 10 defenses look dumb.
* Purdue game prediction: Going to have to wait until the end of the week...

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