Thursday, September 30, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Backing into Backup College

This week the IBG questions come from Domer Law. Head over there to check out his answers and a compilation of responses from the other IBG-ers at well.

Tough week to be an Irish fan...but no matter how tough it gets it'll always be better than being a BC fan. Let's get to it!

1. After 3 straight losses, there appear to be two camps of fans:

A. The sky is falling. Coach Kelly is not a good coach, not a good fit, probably won't ever win a game and should be fired today.
B. Coach Kelly is still totally awesome, and you had to expect some bumps and bruises as he builds the team - remember Holtz's first year?

Which camp do you fall into, and why?

For the record, people in Camp A wear helmets, headphones, and don't like it when people touch their ears. That being said, it's ok for fans to express some doubts as to whether Kelly is the right guy. In the first few weeks there have definitely been some coaching blunders that deserve critique and the flat, uninspired team that took the field Saturday certainly raised an eyebrow. Expressing doubt is reasonable; it's also totally different than already declaring Kelly is doomed for failure.

Personally, I still believe in Coach Kelly. He has almost two decades of head coaching experience, a winning pedigree, and an acute understanding and appreciation for the uniqueness of Notre Dame. I'm not ready to guarantee he's going to win national titles at Notre Dame, but I am more than willing to be patient and see what he can build.

Time and time again people rush to hand down long-term judgments despite the fact that there's little to no basis for them. The sports world we live in requires an over the top, immediate reaction to every win, loss, pass, rush, or facial expression. Some are ready to deem Kelly a failure based on three games. Simply put: they're morons. Give him some time and let's see what happens.

2. With the current state of the program, put yourself in a recruit's shoes. If you had offers from all 12 schools on our schedule and Notre Dame, which would you pick right now and why? Who would your top 3 be?

I'd pick Notre Dame because it's the greatest school on the planet. Now I'm incredibly biased, but my reasoning would be two-fold. Football-wise, there's a huge appeal in being a part of the resurrection of a sleeping giant. The Notre Dame fan base is more far reaching than any other in collegiate sports and it's desperate for a truly legitimate return to glory. A player who evolves into a key contributor in pulling the Irish off the mat and helping them ascend to the top of the college football world will forever be a legend--just ask Tony Rice, Rocket Ismail, and Michael Stonebreaker.

Outside of football, you graduate with one of the most respected degrees in the country and have an extensive, powerful, and accommodating network of alumni there to offer help and guidance for the rest of your life. The combination of that rolled in with the fantastic academic support system in place, the beauty of campus, and the deliciousness of CJ's Pub Burgers and consider me committed.

If I were a recruit and removed all my biases (because I'd never let any of my children attend Michigan or Southern Cal and I feel like it goes without saying that they wouldn't want to go to Purdue or Michigan State), the three most appealing schools (not including ND because there's no way to remove that bias) are Stanford, Michigan, and Pitt.

Stanford is an elite school academically, has a great coach (though who knows how long he'll stay), a team on the rise, and a gorgeous campus (paired with far better weather than South Bend). Michigan is a traditional power and a fan base that's truly passionate (something Stanford can't offer). Lastly, I chose Pitt because they play in a weaker conference that paves the way to the BCS and they've had some success sending guys to the League. I'd rather them than Southern Cal because the Trojans are on probation and coached by a smug douche bag.

No matter what my situation or biases though, BC would be my safety school.

3. What's the trajectory of this season? Is this going to spiral downward into a 2007-esque kind of year, or will the team rally and start winning some game against quality opponents?

It won't get as bad as 2007 simply because that was a collection of players totally devoid of developed talent or direction. I think this year's squad has both talent and direction, though if Nate Montana becomes our starting quarterback at any juncture it'll be time for everyone to head to the fallout shelter.

If you have faith in Brian Kelly then you have to believe this team is going to progress as opposed to go down the toilet like the previous two. One big thing we have going for us this year is that the schedule allows us to come up for air with some cupcakes (Western Michigan, Tulsa, Army) that should help build confidence. While the team took a step backwards last week against Stanford there was clear progress each of the first three games. Hopefully that was just a bump in the road and not something indicative of what the rest of the season will look like in terms of production and effort level.

There are plenty of young starters (namely the one heading the offense and the guys protecting him) that are going to experience growing pains but should get better as the season wears on. Some great coaches have had rough starts in their first seasons at major schools. Lou Holtz started 1-4 at Notre Dame (including a 28-10 whipping in ND Stadium at the hands of Alabama) while Nick Saban started 6-6 at Alabama (including a loss at home to Louisiana-Monroe).

One thing those disappointing seasons shared in common though was a strong finish that hinted at the success that would eventually come. Holtz's squad had an inspiring last second comeback victory over Southern Cal in the Colosseum while Saban and the Tide won their bowl game. If Brian Kelly is who we hope he is then we'll see that same sort of strong finish that gives us some momentum into the offseason.

4. Give me your top 5 reasons why you'd rather go to Notre Dame than Backup College.

5. ND has Notre Dame Stadium, The Grotto, The Dome, TD Jesus, The Basilica. BC has...the Mods?
4. They worship Doug Flutie and celebrate Music City Bowl berths. ND has Joe Montana, 7 Heismans, and 11 Titles.
3. Because Frank Leahy chose ND over BC and Frank Leahy is a smart man.
2. I've really tried and I can't think of a single reason why I'd rather go to BC than Notre Dame.
1. Only a moron would want to be Fredo Corleone when they could be Michael.

5. I'm depressed after our third straight loss. Do your best to cheer me up and convince me that I should still be excited about this weekend's game.

I love Notre Dame Football and whether we're 4-0 or 0-4 I'm going to be excited to watch the Irish play. If it happens to be a rough year then that means maybe I'll have to tailgate a little harder to convince myself that we're going to win that day...but if that's what it takes so be it.

There are 12 days out of every 365 that you're going to be able to watch Notre Dame play football. That's 3% of the days in a year. Come on man, you can't find a way to fire yourself up? You never know when something memorable will happen even in a tough year (like ND over SC in '86, ND over LSU in '97, ND over Tennessee in '04, and ND over SC in '10).

6. If you could ask Coach Kelly any one question, what would it be?

It's going to take awhile to set up the actual question so stay with me...

"You've been quoted as saying that the reason you chose to sling the ball around the yard so much at Cincinnati was you felt you were outmatched talent-wise most weeks and the best opportunity to win was "shoot and make as many 3's as possible." You went on to say that you'd much rather have a balanced, more traditional offense in terms of run-to-pass ratio.

Some people may look at the splits of your offenses at Cincy and Central Michigan and not believe you, but I went back further and looked at the statistics of your 2003 D-II championship team at Grand Valley State. The Lakers actually ran the ball 60% (!!!) of the snaps on offense, essentially averaged equal yards passing and rushing (223.7 passing, 215.9 rushing), and held the ball on average about five minutes longer than opponents (32:20 to 27:36).

My question to you is do you see the team evolving over the next few years into a style of play more reminiscent of your Grand Valley State teams, where there was a heavy commitment to the run in a much more balanced attack? Is it just a matter of getting the right type of players in place that fit your scheme better? Or has your offensive philosophy evolved a bit over the last seven years to the point where you think it's more beneficial to pass more than run?"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Below Minnesota, Just Above Hell

It's Iowa week. If there's one thing I know everything about, it's Iowa. One year later, we return to the truth vacuum. Hey girl.

A mysterious trend has risen in the college football world since the advent of the BCS: conference pride. People from all over the country are cheering on their in-conference foes against out-of-conference opponents. It's a unique phenomenon. I don't think it exists in pro sports, unless the northeastern conferences I follow are especially bloodthirsty and fans everywhere else are pulling for their hated rivals (possible).

I don't want to place the blame for this on the fans, the BCS' knighting of six "Big" conferences that would receive automatic bids to major bowl games united and divided fan bases in a way we've never seen before. There is no longer rooting for your team, there is a hierarchy: root for your team first and your conference second. You not only have to win, you have to get respect from the media for your wins.

Come bowl season the most common stat you will see on TV is the bowl record by conference. I understand that. It becomes a geographic thing, the south loves that they have the best football (they do). But all this comes at a cost. Two weeks ago I left my cubicle early on a Friday to embark on the trip to Tuscaloosa, and as I'm leaving the woman next to me who has Gator stickers all over her cube says, "Have fun! But you know I have to cheer for Alabama, with the SEC and all."

No. We have gotten away from our core values of cheering for a TEAM. Enough patchwork fanship. You can't fake this stuff. I've been talking about this with friends of mine recently and you just feel how you feel, you don't suddenly muster up appreciation for a program on any given Saturday because it's advantageous to your conference.

Heartbreak is the lifeblood of rivalries. The fact that we have a trophy game with Michigan State doesn't change the fact that they've never taken from us. The fact that Lloyd Carr begged a ref for - and was rewarded with - two seconds in 2005 makes me want to beat Michigan. The fact that my car was towed in Alabama makes me want to stomp the low tide in State College next year. And in a brief but virtuous return to my thesis of last year's post, the fact that Iowa is still a state makes me want to beat them this year. I would never cheer for these teams under any circumstances.

Iowa has disrupted the natural order of things in 7 of the last 8 meetings with Penn State. Ferentz is a very good coach, but has had trouble getting consistent play out of his team in the last two years. They may have even underachieved during that time! Fans of the Hawkeyes would not have you believe it though, they flood message boards like water floods Iowa with diagonal comparisons and selective memory like they have already sewn up last and next year's conference championship. Like the lovebugs that are swarming Florida at the moment, they are acidic and disgusting.

Agh, so gross. Who even moves to Iowa? How does the state maintain a population? If every family has two children, you have to figure one of them is thinking, "I'm getting the hell out of here" and does it, which would indicate a steady decline. Yet they seem to be hovering around 3 million people. Incredible! The internet and the travel channel have probably made it easier for Iowans to cope with their situation. Youtube videos of beaches are only a 20 minute 56k download away! Grab your sunscreen! When you all vacation, I hope it's in Canada. Thanks for the salmonella.

As you can tell I don't really feel like writing about football because we are probably going to lose this weekend, and it sucks. I don't have a more elegant way of putting it. I'll never forget where I was or how I felt after the last two Iowa losses and I'm not looking forward to it again. 2008 hurt the most because there was national title hopes at stake. 2009 was a complete meltdown, my reward for dropping hundreds of dollars to be in attendance for what I had hoped would be payback.

Despite my acknowledgement that this is a rebuilding year, I want this to be a must win on a personal level. I just want to beat this team, I don't care how. I would take a fluke loss to Indiana over an expected loss to the Hawkeyes. However I am a realist, so Just in case we don't win, here are ways that the state can make it up to me:

*Adrian Clayborn: Get drafted by the Giants and be a bust. And then get busted for cocaine.

*Ricky Stanzi: Admit that you have no idea what's going on in a football game.

*Kirk Ferentz: Suggest Ricky Stanzi watch tape of Jake Christensen.

*Matt Hayek (Mayor, Iowa City, IA): Give me the keys to the city.

*Adam Robinson: Day-drink before the game and puke on DJK in the 1st quarter.


The Pick:

Iowa 26
Penn State 13

We force punts on half of their possessions and limit them to below 30 points, but it is our offense that can't find it's rhythm until it's too late. Bolden only throws one pick this game but the running game offers little support as a veteran defensive line is crushes Royster in a big game. It's not going to matter that they only have one running back, we can't stop one running back. Kill me now.

Dark Days for the Irish Faithful

I've literally sat and stared at my computer screen for two hours and all there is to show for it is this sentence.

Every once in awhile I'll jot down a thought and try to piece together something on last Saturday's debacle against Stanford, but inevitably the white screen returns seconds later. It's a typed game of yo-yoa sentence flows for awhile before being snapped back to oblivion with an extended tap of the backspace key.

We're just 21 days into the 2010 campaign and the Kool-Aid well is bone dry. The brief sense of unified hope within the Irish Nation has evaporated, the divisive bickering has returned. Message board drama queens and divas are out in full force, using the anonymity the internet allows as a vehicle to express ignorant and irrational opinions with no conscience for how tactless, disrespectful, or outright stupid those opinions may be.

Nine months worth of optimism and hope for 2010 was officially wiped out as the Cardinal methodically dismantled the Irish beneath the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus. While the first two games exhibited signs of progress, this was clearly a huge step back in every regard. Normally after a loss I spend Sunday and Monday trying to pick out the positives, but Lassie wouldn't find a silver lining from this game if it was wrapped in bacon.

It's time for Irish fans to face reality: this is a far greater rebuilding project than many estimated.

I'll be the first to admit I was totally wrong. I truly and honestly believed that Brian Kelly walked into a situation that mirrored the ones Willingham and Weis inherited: underachieving teams that were stocked with very good talentespecially on one side of the balland primed to make an immediate (and nationally unexpected) splash. I wasn't thinking national championship, but I thought we'd see consistent progress and by the end of the year there would be clear signs that we were close to reemerging on the national scene.

The reality is we're not even close.

Now that there is a 240+ minute sample of "Notre Dame: The Brian Kelly Edition" to study and analyze, the magnitude of the rebuilding project has become much clearer. While a talent gap certainly exists between the Irish and the sport's elite, there is a far wider mental chasm that must be closed first. There is substantial work to be done on the field of play, but there's even more to be done on the six inch field between players' ears.

Stanford played a smashmouth brand of football that rattled Notre Dame early and broke their will late. The Irish did not answer like the tough, hard-nosed squad Kelly promised to deliver; they responded like a defeated group resigned to its fate and listlessly went through the motions until the clock mercifully hit zero.

Judging by Kelly's body language and tone from his press conferences the transformation into a passionate, decisive, aggressive team has not gone as quickly as he'd anticipated. Perhaps he underestimated the residual effect of three disastrous seasons on his players' psyches.

It's clear there's no short-term quick fix for tearing down the culture of losing that's infected the program and rebuilding a winning one. Coach Kelly has stated he has a plan, a blueprint for success that will provide the necessary renovations to the core of Notre Dame Football.

Unfortunately it won't be a five minute one like he thought it could be; it's more than likely to be a three year plan that will really take root in 2012. That's a depressing thought for Irish fans who have endured three (going on four) consecutive painful and hopeless seasons, one of the darkest stretches in Notre Dame history that's had few (if any) redeeming moments.

Think about it: for how bad the ten years directly following Lou were we still never had to go through more than two seasons without a nine win campaign and a New Year's Day bowl (and that was only once, the final two years of Ty). We're in the midst of a drought the likes we've only seen once since 1964 (the Faust Era).

Despite how bleak things seem it's not time to throw in the towel and wail about how Notre Dame will never bounce back. It will bounce back, unfortunately it's just not going to happen overnight like we all secretly hoped it would when Brian Kelly took the reins. I realize that the patience well is probably even drier than the well of optimism, but the time to accept reality is now.

People may bemoan the fact that Kelly has stumbled out of the gate, but that's far more common for elite coaches than the Ara Parseghian one-year miracle turnaround.

The 1964 season is regarded as a miracle for a reason.

By now you've heard the litany of names and the records they've posted in their first season: Holtz (5-6 at ND), Stoops (7-5 at Oklahoma), Saban (6-6 at Alabama), Carroll (6-6 at USC). Of course there's no guarantee that Brian Kelly is destined to join all those greats in winning a national championship shortly the initial mediocrity. We'll have to wait and see whether he can turn around the 1-3 start like Lou did or if he's doomed to flop like Bob Davie ultimately did after losing three of his first four games as head coach in 1997.

But I implore all Irish fans to be patient. Don't get hopes too high for this season and maybe even next season. Sit back and monitor the progress; watch this team grow. Allow Kelly adequate time to mold his current players and bring in ones that fit the schemes he's trying to implement. Kelly has brought years of experience and a winning pedigree to South Bend; one month is not going to shake his confidence and Irish fans shouldn't let it shake theirs in him either.

There will be bumps in the road as he gets comfortable on a stage that's grander than he could have ever imagined. People already have and will continue to question his every move, dissecting every mistake. But he's sticking to a tried and true plan that he believes will ultimately lead the Irish where they belong. The failures of the first four weeks are only going to spur him to adjust and work harder.

It's a tough time to be an Irish fan, but know that eventually this darkness shall just may be here a little longer than we would have liked.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dear Diary...Notre Dame - Stanford

Welcome to running diary 2.0 of 2010! Today the Irish are set to showdown with the Cardinal. Lots of interesting subplots litter this game: ND vs their losing streak against ranked teams, ND attempting to bounce back from the devastating loss to MSU, Brian Kelly vs Jim Harbaugh, TJ Jones vs the team he originally committed to, Matt vs this terribly sneaky hangover that set in around 11am this morning…Let’s get right to it.

3:37 Stanford emerges from the tunnel and the camera zooms in on Jim Harbaugh just in time to catch him spitting out a John Kruk-sized wad of dip. Lovely.

3:38 HD Gremlin, we meet again. It feels like the first time. You should be on radio and that’s that.

3:38 Maycock talks about how Stanford is going to be matching up man-to-man, leaving the corners isolated against the Irish receivers, and throwing a lot of blitzes Dayne Crist’s way. Brad immediately texts that Michael Floyd will have at least two touchdowns if they think they can stop him with single coverage. That’d work for me.

3:40 Tom Hammond says that Stanford kicker (and former ND walk-on) Nate Whitaker has a vendetta and wants to show the Irish what they’re missing. Guess what Nate: you’re a kicker, we couldn’t care less. And for the record, you couldn’t beat out Brandon Walker when you were here. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to burn two extra scholarships on Tausch and Ruffer if you would have been half-decent.

3:42 Riddick catches a pass for a first down on the second play of the game. The emergence of Theo Riddick as a proficient slot guy adds so much to this offense and should help soften up the middle of defenses. Defenses want to concentrate on Floyd and Rudolph? Go ahead, Riddick is more than capable of breaking off huge runs after the catch. Good start, boys…

3:43 Another catch by Riddick brings up 3rd and short, which Armando converts pretty easily. The Irish have come out of the gate strong the last three games with their opening drives.

3:44 Crist gets ROCKED as he lets go of a pass. Jeez almighty guys, we can’t allow that. Every time he gets touched I cringe. Every time he gets hit like that it triggers my gag reflex. He’s still developing, we don’t need him getting jittery in the pocket after a couple hits like that.

3:46 Theo drops a ball that would’ve easily gone for a first down and more. Have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Riddick as of right now…

3:46 First down Michael Floyd. Beautiful quick slant and run after the catch. Glad to see him get a piece of the action early. I appreciate the extra effort he’s giving in runs after the catch this year and I know he’s just trying to make something happen, but he’s not Golden Tate. Barrel ahead and get another couple yards, no need for all the dancing.

3:47 Shayne Skov comes busting through the line for a sack. That was either the best timed blitz in the history of football or he was offsides. He literally sacked Crist before the offensive line got out of their crouches. NBC shows a couple terrible angles that show nothing definitive.

3:50 NBC airs a commercial that advertises that Dr. Alex Flanagan is on Twitter!!!! I’ve never been so happy that we created an account.

3:51 Coming back from the commercial Crist is almost picked off on third down and Notre Dame is forced to punt. What a solid drive nuked by Shayne Skov.


3:53 The first Wildcat formation of the year for a first down…then Theo dances a little too much on the second one and gets stopped…I love his shiftiness but every once in awhile he just tries to juke a little too much.

3:54 Three wildcats in a row. Can’t say I’m thrilled. CLoss probably has buried his head in his hands for the past three minutes. 3rd and goal from the 5 coming up.

3:56 After a Stanford timeout Crist hits Rudolph but a good open-field tackle brings Beaglehands down well short of the goal line. Ruffer comes out and bangs a field goal through to put ND up 3-0. Can’t pass up opportunities like the one the Cardinal put on a silver platter for us there.

4:01 First offensive play of the game for Stanford is a 9 yard run right up the middle. Not a good start for the defense, tighten up boys.

4:02 Hayseed lights UP Owusu on the incompletion on second down. Welcome back from your injury, Chris. This would be a HUGE three and out.

4:03 CARLO WITH THE STUFF ON THIRD AND INCHES AND HE EMERGES WITH THE FULLBACK’S HELMET. God I love this guy. A TERRIBLE spot gives Stanford a first down. Kelly is having a conniption as he should. The replays pretty much confirm that Carlo stopped him short. Kelly is challenging the spot.

4:05 The call on the field stands. Absolute Bullshit.

4:08 Te’o tattoos Gaffney along the sideline. Gafney limps back over to the Stanford sideline—it’s going to be awhile before we see him again. We’re certainly not backing down on defense.

4:08 ND transfer Konrad Reuland burns us for 26 yards gain down the seam for a first down in Irish territory. That stings a bit.

4:09 Two great plays by the defense (a totally stuffed run followed with a great tackle by Walls on a short pass) sets up 3rd and 7. Big chance to get off the field and hold them to three.

4:10 Touchdown Stanford. Luck just threw a jump ball to the tight end and he had a pretty easy catch over Brian Smith, who never even turned around. The spread offense isn’t the main reason the time of possession battle is usually slanted so severely against us; it’s our inability to shut down teams on third down when we have the chance to halt drives. 7-3 Stanford.

4:16 Crist gets sacked by Skov on first down and fumbles, Stanford recovers. Cierre Wood just got run over on the blitz. So much for bouncing back quickly. Mike Maycock comments that “if you can’t make that block you can’t be a D-I running back.” That’s a perfect example of why Wood isn’t playing more.

4:19 Walls drops a sure interception in the endzone. WHY DO WE ALWAYS LET OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THAT SLIP THROUGH OUR FINGERS?!?!? Still, it’s a good hold there by the defense. Whitaker kicks a field goal just filled with spite and it’s 10-3.

4:22 NBC airs a clip of Jim Harbaugh gushing over Andrew Luck for awhile. We get it, he’s good and you like him—maybe even love him.

4:23 Another bad return, this time by Jonas Gray. Really? Jonas Gray? Irish ball at the 16.

4:26 Great throw to Floyd and great catch along the sideline. First down Irish at the 44. Let’s go boys, tie this game up.

4:30 First down Theo Riddick who does a little nifty spin move to get extra yardage. I can hear Reno’s heart skip a beat from miles away.

4:31 Two more completions to Floyd and Goodman for another first down. Crist now has completed eight straight passes. When he gets in rhythm you see exactly why he was so highly touted and you can’t help but get a little giddy about the fact that we’ve got 2+ more seasons with him at the helm.

4:33 Dayne sails a pass to the endzone out of bounds. These are the times you remember he’s still a first year starter. Come on, give Floyd a chance.

4:34 Brian Kelly does everything but castrate Braxston Cave with his clipboard on the field.

4:35 The drive stalls and Ruffer drills a field goal to make it 10-6. We plucked this guy out of an interhall field Nate and he’s better than you.

4:37 Steve Filer motors down the field and comes up with a good tackle. Disappointed—though not surprised—that he hasn’t been able to crack the lineup on defense this season but I’m happy to see him make an impact somewhere. The guy’s a freak athlete.

4:40 Notre Dame forces a third down but Luck picks it up with ease, finding an open receiver over the middle. Those are just so dam deflating, we just never seem to be able to get off the field.

4:42 Another third down conversion, this time on a sweep to the right. I really like Stanford’s offense. It’s just smart, aggressive, and smashmouth. They have a very confident way about them which is obviously derived directly from their head coach.

4:43 Darrin Walls blows a tackle on third down that would’ve stopped the drive and the receiver scampers for a first down. DAMMIT. Could it be that he was scared to go hard at the receiver because of his shoulder injury earlier in the week? Don’t know, don’t particularly care. You HAVE to come up with that play.

4:46 ANOTHER third down conversion, this time a 3rd and 11 is picked up with a 19 yard pass over the middle. Cardinal down to the 20.

4:48 Great tackle in the backfield by Gary Gray. No question in my mind that he’s the best cornerback we’ve had since Walton and probably the best tackling cornerback I’ve seen since Quentin Jammer was at Texas.

4:52 The Irish FINALLY hold on third down to force a field goal. They’re reviewing the play but this incompletion clearly will stand. He didn’t ever touch the field of play.

4:56 Whitaker field goal is good. 13-6.

4:57 Randomly get a bizarre text from Reno, leading to this exchange:

Reno: I have a time machine. Want to know the final score?

Me: Yes?

Me: PS—I hope your jobs don’t require drug testing.

Reno: That was meant for somebody else, sorry for the lack of context.

Reno: (PS—Me Too)

5:02 The Irish pick up one first down but are then forced to punt. Another punt for Ben Turk that fails to travel 40 yards. Am I being unreasonable when I expect Notre Dame to find a punter who can kick the ball 40 yards in the air with consistency, maybe a 50 yarder sprinkled in once in a while? It upsets me so much. I’m going to give a standing ovation to our next punter that unleashes a punt that flies 50 yards.

5:05 Stanford is rolling—a pair of first downs has them up near midfield with about two minutes left. A turnover would be huuuuuuuuge here but at this point I’d be satisfied with keeping them off the scoreboard.

5:06 Two great pass defenses on first and second down (by Blanton and then Te’o) brings up a third and long…annnnnd they convert with a 21 yard pass to the tight end. DAMMIT TO HELL.

5:08 INTERCEPTION JAMORIS SLAUGHTER OFF A TIP BY BLANTON INSIDE THE 5. GREAT PLAY, GREAT COVERAGE, WORTHY OF A BOB DAVIE DROP THE H “UUUUUUUGE” RIGHT THERE. Slaughter brings the return out to around the 30 but it’s coming back thanks to a clip. Stupid penalty, but I’m too thrilled about the pick to care that much.

5:11 Notre Dame looks like it’s going to run the clock out after handing it off on first down. Second down is a drop by Rudolph, third down is a short run and now Stanford is going to have a chance to put points on the board before the half. After completing eight in a row Crist has missed his last five throws. He runs so hot and cold, he needs to iron out those inconsistencies.

5:13 Another crappy punt by Turk. WHY THE HELL CAN’T WE FIND A DECENT PUNTER??!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!

5:14 Luck finds a receiver inside the 30 so they’re going to have a shot at a field goal. Of course he does. I am absolutely livid.

5:15 Whitaker splits the uprights and we’re going to go into the half down 10 instead of 7. Unfortunately the last 2 minutes have highlighted just how far away we are from being a really good football team. Sloppy, poor execution.

Kelly needs to make some serious adjustments; to say I’m disappointed with the lack of progress this week is a bit of an understatement. He talks with Dr. Flanagan about what’s going wrong and is wearing a look of disgust that mirrors my face at the moment. He never seems particularly happy on the sideline.

TOP is much more even this week (16:30 to 13:30). It would actually be titled way in our favor if we could’ve gotten some stops on third downs. We need to take a step forward in the second half—literally and figuratively. Come on boys, let’s make it happen.

5:39 Alright, Stanford takes the second half kickoff to the 36. COME ON BOYS, STEP UP HERE AND SWING THE MOMENTUM.

5:41 The Irish force a 3rd down but as per usual Stanford picks it up easily on the ground. Good tackle by Harrison Smith prevents a huge play.

5:42 Stanford is just streamrolling down the field. Big chunks of yardage on two straight plays had them inside the 20. Notre Dame’s defense is on the heels.

5:45 Two straight passes by Luck are almost intercepted—the second one on a really dangerous throw across his body—brings the drive to a screeching half. Nate Whitaker kicks another field goal and the count is 19-6. If we don’t put 7 on the board on this possession we could be in serious trouble. We need it for the scoreboard and we need it for the momentum—stadium sounds dead right now. Let’s see what BK did to adjust at halftime.

5:49 Great hard run by Armando on the first play from scrimmage. He fights through the mess and picks up 8 yards when it looks like it’d only be 2. How many times could you describe a play by him like that about him in his first couple years on campus? Once? Twice? He’s playing so well this season.

5:50 Armando picks up the first down on a swing pass but it’s coming back thanks to a hold on Rudolph. Our star players are the ones that are killing our momentum this year. You can’t win when that’s the case—we’re not nearly good enough to overcome mistakes from guys who are supposed to be leading the team. Thankfully Armando picks up the first down on a little screen pass on the next play.

5:51 Crist hits TJ Jones for a great chunk of yardage and another first down.

5:52 Scoreboard flashes on the bottom right and shows that Arkansas is up 10 on Bama at the half…PETRINO. SABAN. IT’S THE FALCONS VS THE DOLPH…errrrr, wait…

5:55 The drive hits a wall and we’re forced to punt. Crap.


6:00 INTERCEPTION DARRIN WALLS ON THE DEFLECTION! HUGE HUGE HUGE HUUUUUGE PLAY! That could be a game saver. He typically drops the ball in that situation—and upon review he was thisclose to letting it slip through his hands. Thank God he held on. We’ve got to be aggressive, hit up Floyd.

6:04 Two plays, two incompletions. Third down coming up…We just look clueless on offense.

6:05 Almost intercepted on third down. Another punt coming up. If Ben Turk values his life he’ll kick this at least 40 yards.

6:05 A good punt by Ben! See, threats are effective! Stanford takes over at the 10.

6:07 Huge run on second down up the middle…tack on another 15 for a facemask and they’re already out past the 35. This has to be the most relaxing game ever for a Stanford fan to watch. Even though it’s only a 13 point game they’re totally in control on both sides of the ball. I’ve seen nothing to suggest we can make any sort of push to win this game.

6:08 Te’o puts a huge hit on the running back on first down…unfortunately it’s after a 9 yard gain. They’re dominating our defensive line.

6:10 Darius Fleming gets into the backfield and takes down Taylor for a loss. An incompletion brings up another 3rd and long just over midfield. We need this stop so badly.

6:12 Te’o comes up with the stop on third down. He dominated on that drive; this is far and away his best game of the season. Big stop there by the Irish.

6:13 The Stanford punter pins our anemic offense inside the 5. Well shit.

6:15 Armando’s hurt on the first play, which goes for one yard. They show the replay and it does not look good—a defender rolled up the back of his left leg. He’ll limp to the sideline. We need a freaking miracle.

6:17 Crist delivers a dart to Floyd for a first down. Sideline interference by Stanford adds another five yards. Come on boys, we’ve got to punch one in the endzone on this drive.

6:18 Maycock comments that he doesn’t feel the same pace from ND or the sense of urgency that he saw the first three games. He also says it’s unbelievable how dead the stadium is.

6:18 Jonas Gray has his ankle rolled up on and he limps off. We’re dropping like flies. The third quarter comes to a close and things are looking pretty bleak.

6:22 First play of the fourth quarter is a 20 yard completion to Floyd over the middle. Great throw, great catch. Are we on the verge of finally finding some rhythm here?

6:23 Armando is back! He rips a 9 yard gain on second down setting up 3rd and less than a yard. Come on boys…

6:24 Crist forces a throw down the field to Rudolph and sails it out of bounds. He had Floyd wide open just past the sticks for an easy first down—have to see the field better. This fourth down is basically the ballgame. Kelly calls a timeout to draw up a play…make it good BK.

6:27 Entire offensive line is blown up and Jonas Gray is stuffed for a three yard loss. Stanford ball and the Irish are on life support.

6:30 Two good plays by the Irish defense brings up a 3rd and long. COME ON IRISH, GIVE US A CHANCE.

6:31 Of course Stanford converts the huge first down on a pass to the running back right over the middle of the field. Anthony McDonald got smoked. This is the ugliest, most depressing game I’ve watched in two years.

6:32 Another forced third down, another conversion—this time it’s a short run to the left. These third down conversions have shifted from deflating to demoralizing.

6:33 Gary Gray makes a touchdown saving tackle. Another stop on 2nd down brings up 3rd and inches on the 1 yard-line. Guess what? They convert. First down at the one foot line. Stanford just looks so decisive in everything they do.

6:37 Touchdown Stanford. This is just an absolute beatdown. Harbaugh’s going for two and they convert that as well. 27-6 Stanford with 7:58 to go. Gag me.

6:44 First play of the next possession is a pick six. Someone make it stop. The kid who picked it off for Stanford was the same one who scored for Stanford 13 seconds ago. Isn’t that special. 34-6 Stanford.

6:47 Maycock: “People are going to see the score and think Notre Dame got whipped today but I think the defense really held its own.” That’s a very astute observation. It was by no means an A+ performance by the defense (if only because they allowed Stanford to go like 13/14 on third downs or so it seems), but they really did a good job keeping Notre Dame alive in this game until this point, especially in the redzone. I never had a problem with Pat Haden—in fact I though he was usually pretty good—but I really like Maycock.

6:47 Long pass to Theo over the middle. Great catch and a good job holding on to it after the hit, but he gets up and barks a little afterwards which you have no right to do when you’re down 28 points.

6:49 Great deep ball down the right sideline to Floyd who goes up and gets it inside the five yard line. First and goal Irish.

6:50 Touchdown Theo Riddick on a little pass over the middle. Whipped cream on shit.

6:51 And we’re going for two because??? Pass interference is called against Stanford so we’ll bump it up a yard and a half. I don’t get it but whatever. Maybe Kelly has money on the Over.

6:52 Two point conversion is successful out of the Wildcat. 34-14 Cardinal. Woo hoo.

6:55 We do a weird, tricky but not very effective onside kick that Stanford recovers. Nick Tausch kicked it, which eliminates the chance of him redshirting. That’s pretty dumb—we know how difficult it is to find good kickers, why not preserve a year if he’s not going to be used???

6:58 Stanford scores buuuuuut it’s coming back! Take that!

7:02 Notre Dame holds and forces a field goal. Harbaugh is calling a timeout. Let’s see if he does something to chap Irish fans in the final two minutes. I think if he does a fake field goal the student body may rush the field and kill someone.

7:05 Field goal Whitaker. 37-14 Stanford.

7:08 Robert Hughes rumbles for a 37 yard game on a swing pass on the first play of the drive. Good to see him on the field.

7:11 Crist throws a touchdown to Riddick but it’s coming back due to a blatant hold on Chris Stewart.

7:12 Stanford calls timeout.

7:14 Kelly counters and calls a timeout. Suck one, Jim.

7:15 A jump ball to Goodman falls incomplete and the game mercifully comes to a close.

This is probably an even tougher game to swallow than the Michigan State heartbreak. We were outclassed on both sides of the ball and were it not for some effective redzone defense the score could’ve gotten really ugly. While you could see some progress last week this was just a giant step backward.

The only silver lining I’ll take away is the fact that Manti Te’o is taking huge steps forward. He had 21 tackles today, which has to be the most by an Irish player in a single game since probably Anthony Denman.

It’s going to take a day or two to digest this. In the meantime I’m going to avoid all ND message boards because the complete morons have to be out in full force calling for Kelly’s head. I hope other fan bases have as many irrational lunatics as we do…

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Not a lot of time. This is going to be a shootout and the Irish are going to look better on both sides of the ball...but unless they force a couple key turnovers (which they haven't done yet this season) then they're going to come up just a little short.

Stanford 38 Notre Dame 31

Prove me wrong Irish.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Two Dudes, One Post: What We Know Edition

1. You both had the chance to sit down and digest a full day of college football on television last weekend. There were some surprising blowouts (Nebraska) and some ridiculous finishes (ND-MSU, Arizona-Iowa). What was the thing that stuck out the most about last week's slate of games?

Mattare: Everything about the Nebraska-Washington game. First of all, wow Nebraska, welcome back to the upper echelon of college football! For all the dramatics about Notre Dame dropping off the map and Alabama going through a drought early in the decade there didn't seem to be much noise about the Cornhuskers Bill Callahan led descent. It's great to see the return of the Blackshirts and a brutally effective running game. They've got Texas at home in the middle of October and I think Bevo is in some serious trouble. Not as much trouble as the Big 10 is going to be when the Huskers arrive next year, but still some pretty substantial trouble.

The other thing we got to witness Jake Locker do an Andre Woodson-esque swan dive off the top of Mel Kiper's Big Board. A lot of players insure themselves for injuries when they return for their senior year...I hope he got some sort of insurance that will cover the negative financial impact last Saturday had on his life.

Bill: For me it had to be Iowa finally getting caught in their lies - sorry, super dramatic, comeback, movie-with-no-camera style wins. I'm not saying they aren't good--they are--but they caught breaks last year and I don't know if I could keep getting out of bed in the morning if it continued. My absolute favorite part of this: the excuses Iowa fans have been dishing out after this one. One attributed it to the two time zone difference! Penn State crosses time zones 4x a season and I've never heard a PSU fan whine about it once.

2. Take a look back at your preseason predictions--what's one thing you were right on the money about and one thing you couldn't have gotten more wrong.

Good Call:
My predictions for Dayne in the article I wrote for Bleacher Report have been pretty spot-on - "a handful of questionable decisions, some flashes of greatness, but on the whole enough evidence to lead fans to believe this team has a bright future with Dayne Crist at the helm."

Bad Call: My preseason sleeper pick of Shaq Evans...tough to emerge as a sleeper when you're enrolled at UCLA.

Right on the money: Secondary. They have not looked good. They offered up little resistance against the first two passing attacks they faced. They aided in shutting down Kent State but it was Kent State. They just aren't looking fast enough. They don't look instinctive enough. I still feel any competent passing attack will shred us. On a positive note the coaches played Andrew Dailey over Drew Astorino at SS during a few series last game!

Pretttty Wrong:
Defensive Line. Where is the push!? I've harped over and over about how we always reload along the defensive line, but this year's new guys aren't comparing to last year's new guys. Jack Crawford and Latimore have shown little improvement and Devon Still has been good but we were absolutely spoiled last year with Jared Odrick. Another positive note however, I saw Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley getting the start! They still split time though.

3. What's the most pleasant surprise and the biggest disappointment thus far in regards to your team's season?

There are a few pleasant surprises but none bigger than the play of the offensive line. I thought was a good amount of potential but I expected more growing pains. Through three games they've performed better than last year's veteran line--better push on the run, better pass protection, and (perhaps most importantly) no crippling penalties or untimely sacks allowed. Brian Kelly had raved about the offensive line and I thought he was just trying to boost their confidence. Can't tell you how happy I am that he was telling the truth; we're going to have a VERY good line for the next three years and beyond.

Disappointment: No question that it's Michael Floyd's performance. During the preseason he was considered a lock for the All-American squad and in the discussion of best receiver in the country--hell, Mark May named Floyd his darkhorse for the Heisman. Unfortunately the Michael Floyd we saw his first two seasons hasn't shown up yet. Dropped balls, sloppy routes, fumbles--who is this guy?
He has the ability to be dominant if he just focuses, it just doesn't seem like he's all there right now. If Notre Dame wants to turn it around it needs Floyd to step up and spearhead the resurgence.

Surprise: Devon Smith. He's getting tons of touches for a sophomore and he hasn't disappointed. He's the fastest guy on the team and we're effectively getting him the ball in space. Last year he was benched early for fumbling and then he couldn't stay healthy, but this year the play action drag to Devon Smith seems to be a Galen Hall favorite.

I have to say recruiting. Before the season we heard all about our lack of commitments because there was nothing else to talk about. We are in week 4 and we still only have 4 commits. I know this is a small class, but recruiting is all about momentum and we're building none. Furthermore, the week 2 dismantling at the hands of Alabama reconfirmed the reality that you need elite athletes to compete for a title.

4. Third-ranked Boise State is favored by 17.5 points over #24 Oregon State. What do you make of that spread? Does the fact that Vegas is showing the Broncos so much respect mean the haters should follow suit?

Mattare: Vegas is giving the Smurf Turf a boatload of love. Typically teams are given a 3-5 point boost for homefield advantage but history shows Boise deserves closer to ten. That being said I'm still surprised the spread is so large. Oregon State had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie TCU before their center snapped one over the quarterback's head John Sullivan Style, costing them a safety and ultimately the game. Mike Riley's boys are certainly good enough to hang close with the Broncos if not pull the upset.

It's been amazing watching Boise State transform from America's Darling Underdog to a vilified team who doesn't deserve a shot at the title should they run the table. What have they done wrong?!? Is it their fault that they've outgrown their conference? Is it their fault that no one wants to play them? All they do is quietly roll through their conference schedule, try to schedule some good out of conference games (something that's extremely difficult since 90% of major conference teams want no part of heading to Boise to play a road game), and win those games too.

I get it, Boise wouldn't stand a chance of even being a top 4 SEC if they were beaten up week in and week out by the likes of Alabama and Arkansas, but frankly neither would Ohio State, Iowa, or anyone in the pu pu platter of mediocrity in the ACC. Boise State head coach Chris Peterson does a great job of keeping his team's head down and focused despite the swell of negative sentiment crashing down on his squad.

Also, i
f there's one thing that we know it's that Vegas knows more than the general public. If Vegas is showing the Broncos so much respect then everyone should follow suit.

Well the haters don't set the lines. Soooo I say no. I think the line is fair because Boise looks really good so far. If by haters following suit you mean people buying into their "national championship hopes" I say no. With the bowl system being what it is, everyone always talks about the importance of the college football regular season, how there's nothing else like it in sports. Well, why should we reward them for winning 2-3 tough games a year with a shot at the national title when another team may have won 4-5 tough games but finished with 1 loss?

I understand they may truly be the 3rd best team in the country right now and the WAC is undoubtedly better than the Big East, but at this moment, the regular season is how we qualify teams as national contenders and I still think a 1 loss SEC or Big Ten team is more impressive than Boise beating VT (who has been exposed) and Oregon St.

5. Take a look at the undefeated teams to this point. Pick one you think is for real and one that is a total fraud.

Fraud: It's Michigan. Denard Robinson is an unbelievable talent that has single-handedly resurrected the Wolverines this year, but if anything happens to him the Skunkbears will be dead in the water. Their defense isn't any good and their offense would be dead in the water if Denard wasn't there. Denard is for real--his team is not. It's just a matter of time before it bites them and when it does it'll be interesting to see if Rich Rod can shake it off or whether things will snow ball the wrong direction like they did last season.

For Real: I know we touched on this in the first question but I need to reiterate that Nebraska is 100% for real. Their dismantling of Washington in one of the most hostile environments in college football was a shocking announcement to the college football world that the Huskers are back and ready to legitimately contend for a title. Their quarterback Tyler Martinez needs to improve his passing but his legs combined with Bo Pelini's defense should be enough to earn them a spot in the Big 12 title game.

Fraud: Has to be Michigan State right? If you deprived me of TV for all of September I would've predicted Michigan St to start 4-0 and finish 8-4. Like every other year. Their halfbacks look great this year, but for some reason they struggle with maintaining a high level of play all season.

For Real: Oregon.
I don't think Masoli was what made this team go last year, Darron Thomas looks just fine. They look like the top dawg of the PAC-10 now that USC found itself in trouble. As long as Chip Kelly is coaching the ducks I expect them to be explosive every year. LeMichael James is averaging 12 yards per carry and the team has 1200 yds rushing through 3 games! Two games were cupcakes but they did run through Tennessee. If the Ducks, Buckeyes, and Tide win out there could be trouble at the top of the BCS.


Mattare: What are your thoughts on the guy who became Ohio's mascot just so he could attack Brutus Buckeye at The Horseshoe? Hilarious, creepy, or somewhere in between?

Bill: Only hilarious. No one got hurt. I wouldn't mind if it happened every game instead of the lame pranks mascots pull on each other.

Bill: Ok, Donovan McNabb is of interest to both of us at this point--you as a Skins fan and me as a person wondering why we traded him if we weren't committed to Kolb. Where do you see the Skins ended up this year?

Mattare: The NFC East is shockingly mediocre this year which leaves the door open for a playoff run, but our offense is so inept that I have a hard time seeing it happen.

Mattare: I'm all that stands between Mooney's NC State Wolfpack and the national championship game in our NCAA Football 2011 Dynasty. You giving me and Wake any chance of pulling the upset? What needs to happen for my boys to play spoiler?

Bill: I'm setting the line on this game at 17. I think you have to win the turnover battle and slow the game down. Classic upset formula.

Bill: I heard JWoww got offered $500,000 to pose nude for Playboy. Who would've been your pick and for how much?

Mattare: JWoww is basically 80% naked in every article of clothing she wears out, why wouldn't she do Playboy? I'd pay Snooki 500k not to pose naked.

Mattare: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has limped out of the gate this season, but on Sunday KENNY POWERS IS BACK! On a scale of 1-10 how excited are you for the return of Eastbound and Down?

Bill: 8. He's my favorite tragic hero since Hamlet. Only reason for the low grade is his tweets have been disappointing. He's built for books on tape.

Bill: Single Ross is coming to Orlando next week. Issue a warning to the women of the O.

Mattare: If you thought Hurricane Andrew did damage to the Sunshine State just wait until Ross shows up. Prepare for a pimp game rooted in hyperbole.

Mattare: My sister found the nutritional facts for a Yocco's hot dog online. I told her if she ever told me what they were I'd kill her. Are you somewhat curious to know the truth about the dogs we used to down five at a time or are you like me, wishing to remain blissfully ignorant forever?

Bill: What are nutritional facts? Mail me a Doggie Pack next time you're home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Three weeks in and everyone is still pretty comfortably in the black. Three of the four gamblers went 2-2 last week, but all three hits one of their bets for $99 or more so it was winners all around. Meanwhile, Hinkle is not so quietly lighting the world on fire with his picks (9-1-2 overall through three weeks).

Let's take a quick look at the summary and get to the picks!

Week 3 Results

1. Chuck: +$127.28...Good week betting, bad week for his teams (ND/Clem).
2. Hinkle: +$95...Hinkle is on fire...and he won't let you forget it.
3. Mikey: +$87...Big Thursday night last week paid off.
4. Mattare: +$52.50...Winning money, losing ground...go figure.

Overall Standings thru Week 3

1. Hinkle: +$243.50...His audition to get on Brandon Lang's site is in full swing.
2. Chuck: +$176.16...Would be up $281.16 were it not for picking Duke twice.
3. Mikey: +$167...Still moving forward between mono-induced coma naps.
4. Mattare: +$87.60...Would be in 2nd place were it not for Lane Kiffin.

Week 4 Pick Summary

Mia > Pitt, NW > CM, Nev > BYU, CSU-Idaho > 51
Chuck: Pitt > Mia, OSU > BSU, VT > BC, Ore > ASU
Mikey: Kent (ML) > FL, Okla > Cinn, SC > Aub, Bama > Ark
Mattare: OSU > BSU, NC > Rut, BC-VT <> Colo

Gamblers Breakdown


Let's sum it up...I am 9-1-2 in the first 3 weeks and still on top of the leader boards. Stupid Pitt and Tenn for blowing games they should have covered. O well. Other highlights, ND found a way to almost blow +3.5 when they should have won outright. I should have guessed this though...same story every year for the Irish. The faithful calling for a BCS run and then fall flat on their face right out of the gate and I have to worry about Mattare inflicting harm on himself every Saturday night. Let's get some more winners (all lines unless noted).

Game #1: Miami (-3) over Pitt...$22 win $20 (Line: SBG Global)

Miami will look to build on its thrashing of Florida A&M where they put up 45 points and held them scoreless. The Hurricanes are already battle tested after facing the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe week 2. Miami will big its fast defensive front to the 'Burgh and look to force the ball into the hands of Tino Sunseri. He has 3TD and 2 INT vs the Utes and UNH. Pitt gets its first big test and will struggle to match the speed and intensity of THE U.

Game #2: Northwestern (-6.5) over Central Michigan...$44 win $40

Dan Persa is leading the NCAA in completion percentage (81.6%) and Interceptions (0). He is third in QB Rating and 5th in yards per attempts. He is a smart kid with the ability to run as well averaging 4 yards per carry. Directional Michigan teams are not good. Keeping the LVC proud. NW Rolls.

Game #3: Nevada (-4) over BYU...$132 win $120

Nevada is fresh off of their raping of Cal where they put up 52 points. Nevada is averaging 51 points per game while BYU is scoring 15 per game. Even though this line smells a bit fishy, I am taking the Wolfpack until BYU proves they can score and Nevada runs into some sort of wall offensively. LOVE this game.

Game #4: Colorado State vs. Idaho (OVER 51)...$12 win $10

Idaho scores a ton of points. CSU has doubled their points every week so far which puts them at 20 for this week. They have had 3 tough games to start the year. Look for the CSU offensive to gain some momentum here at home. Both QBs have combined for 13 INTS so a few TDs should be set up on a short field by both defenses. I will take the points in a game going well into the 60's.


Thou shalt never bet on Duke:

Game #1: Pittsburgh (+4) over Miami $44 to win $40

A Thursday night home game against a mistake-prone team is just what the Wannstache needs to get back on track. Hand the ball to Dion Lewis, let John Baldwin make some plays, and let Jacory Harris make mistakes. This sounds like a recipe for a Pitt victory.

Game #2: Oregon St. (+17.5) over Boise State $99 to win $90

With all of the disrespect that has been thrown Boise's way over the past two weeks following VT's loss to JMU, I would not be surprised if the Broncos came out focused and jumped to an early lead. Not many teams leave the blue turf with a victory, and I don't think the Beavers will. James and Jaquizz Rodgers will keep this game within the 17.5 points and the Beavers will cover.

Game #3: Virginia Tech (-4) over Boston College $33 to win $30

The Hokies jumped into the win column with a second half rally against ECU as their defense finally came to life. This is not good news for Dave Shinskie, who is easily one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the entire FBS. Montel Harris may keep the Eagles in the game early, but their ineptitude at the quarterback position will ultimately cost them. Chestnut Hill can be a surprisingly tough place to win at, but the Hokies have too much speed at every position.

Game #4: Oregon (-11.5) over Arizona State $22 to win $20

If I see the story about how strong the Duck is on SportsCenter again, I might vomit. Seriously though, nobody can deny that Oregon has been one of the most impressive teams in the country thus far. Arizona State hung tight with Wisconsin in Madison last weekend, but they will be overwhelmed by Oregon's team speed. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner form the most explosive backfield duo in the country and should contribute to an Oregon cover.


Southern Miss propelled me to a good week last week but I also deserved to get bit in the ass for picking against Temple (sorry Owls). Focusing almost exclusively on the SEC this week because it has alot of great games and I like smaller spreads, giggidy (all lines from

Game #1: Kentucky (+425) over Florida...$30 to win $127.50

Last Saturday was the first Florida game I watched this season and it seemed pretty obvious that they're missing Tim Tebow A LOT. The spread on this game is 2 touchdowns but it's time to make something happen so I'm taking the Cats straight up over a Gators team that is still figuring it out. Meow bitch.

Game #2: Oklahoma (-14) over Cincinnati...$55 to win $50

I'm pretty sure nobody's been able to gauge just how good Oklahoma is with their 1 great performance and 2 poor ones. They made Florida St. look like Appalachian St. (suck it Michigan) but also let Utah St. and Air Force hang around for 4 quarters to the extent that they almost pulled off incredible upsets in Norman. The have to be desperate to offer proof of their dominance and Cincinnati, although greatly down from last year, as a major conference opponent would be a nice addition to OU's out of conference resume. The Sooners step away from the pressure of their home crowd this weekend and relax on the road for a blowout win in Cincy.

Game #3: South Carolina (+3) over Auburn...$55 to win $50

"What I've been telling everyone that loves Carolina football is that we are going to put a team out there that, number one, is in good shape. We're going to be fit, we are going to be able to play the whole game and we're not going to poop out." -Steve Spurrier. The Cocks won't poop out this week, sorry Auburn.

Game #4: Alabama (-7) over Arkansas...$33 to win $30

I know Arkansas is a good team with a pro QB but have you seen Alabama play??? This is their first real road test (sorry Duke) and their first conference game so motivation isn't an issue for The Tide this week. Mallet's good and may keep Arkansas hanging around for a few quarters but Alabama's D, along with Ingram and Richardson running, will win out in the end and lead to a pull away victory.


The only thing I feel the need to recap from last week is the fact that Lane Kiffin is a colossal jackass. THREE TIMES he went for two-points after a touchdown for no reason other than the fact the he's a smug, arrogant, conniving douche bag. His defense allowed a touchdown in garbage time which meant the Trojans won by 11, giving Minnesota a sickening backdoor cover (spread was 11.5) and enacting an $84 swing to the negative for my wallet.

My dad chastised me for betting on Southern Cal and said I got what I deserved. I concede that point, but it was still a great bet if Kiffin wasn't such an idiot. As if I needed another reason to hate him...

On to the picks--all the lines come from

Game #1: Oregon State (+17.5) over Boise State...$44 to win $40

Raise your hand if you did a serious double-take when you saw this line. Vegas is showing no respect whatsoever for the Beavers but Mike Riley's squad deserves plenty. In the last two years they've covered 6 of the 7 games where they were road underdogs (4-0 last year), they took TCU to the wire in the opening week, and it's been two years since they've had more than a 10 point loss. Boise is tough at home and I think they get the W, but it's going to be along the lines of 31-21--not a blowout.

Game #2: North Carolina (-2) over Rutgers...$27.50 for $25

Let me let you in on a little secret: Rutgers isn't good. North Carolina has shown a lot of fight in their two games that they've played short-handed against tough opponents (Ga Tech and LSU). Butch Davis is going to make Tom Savage beat them and he's just not capable at this stage in his career. The Heels stomped the Scarlet Knights in Rutgers Stadium in '08 and it wouldn't surprise me if it happened again this weekend.

Game #3: Boston College-Va Tech (Under 48)...$27.50 for $25

Boston College has a great defense and an abomination of an offense. I think the Eagles can slow down the Hokies, but the David Shinskie Experience won't allow them to take advantage of the opportunity.

Game #4: Oklahoma (-14) over Cincinnati...$27.50 for $25

Nippert Stadium has been good to the Bearcats the past five years, but unfortunately for them this game will be played at Paul Brown Stadium. A 1-2 start has Cincinnati players and fans alike wondering whether they're doomed to once again descend to the depths of college football now that Brian Kelly has left town. Which Oklahoma team shows up: the one that thrashed Florida State or the one that eeked out wins over two team from non-qualifying conferences? The hunch here is that they'll remind the Bearcats who's at the top of the food chain this weekend.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Let's Get Rational Edition

This week's questions come from One Foot Down so head over there to check out Whiskey's responses and the other IBG-ers. The combination of this week's questions and the rampant negativity on ND websites has me fired up for all the wrong reasons. Time to dive head first into the mess...

1. After suffering through back to back heart breaking losses how have your expectations for this season changed? Has the rough start affected your expectations for the Brian Kelly era?

As a die-hard fan you enter each year holding out a glimmer of hope that this will be that magical year where against all odds your team will find itself in the thick of the national title race. Those hopes were put on life support when Dayne's Hail Mary sailed into the third row against Michigan and officially died when Charles Gantt crossed the goal line on the fake field goal that happened after the playclock expired.

The reasonable and objective college football fan in me knew "1964: The Remix" wasn't going to happen, but I still thought a nine win season was very attainable. Now sitting at 1-2 with three tough games on deck winning eight more games is a steep mountain to climb. Before the season I couldn't have imagined a scenario where anything less than eight wins was a success, but expectations have been altered if only for my own sanity.

My new expectation is that this team will improve in every regard over the course of the next nine games. Offense, defense, PUNTING--you name it. My hope is that when the season ends in December we won't have to search hard for silver linings, the progress made will speak for itself and set the stage for a huge step forward 2011.

I--along with I assume the entire rational section of Notre Dame's fan base--have not lost faith in Brian Kelly after just three games. Sure, he's made mistakes that are worthy of criticism and people who take the opportunity to express disappointment in those mistakes are certainly justified in doing so. But Kelly has done a lot of good things in a short period of time and there is no debating this is a better football squad than the one he inherited. We're far from a finished product, but you can see a foundation being laid for sustained success in the long-term.

I don't know why I'm so shocked that so many self-proclaimed Irish fans on message boards are already deeming the Kelly Era a failure. The last two weeks were big punches in the gut, no denying that...but be rational. Kelly has improved every situation he's walked into and the groundwork is there to do the same in South Bend. So he didn't burst on the scene like Ara did...neither did Lou.

If you read the articles written about Holtz in his first two seasons at Notre Dame they are strikingly similar to the ones about Kelly today. There were plenty of concerns that he was in over his head, but people close to the program day-in and day-out knew something special was in the works. When you listen to journalists like Tim Prister, Mike Frank, and Pete Sampson--guys who are as in tune with the pulse of Notre Dame Football as anyone who isn't on the sidelines--talk about how the culture is changing for the better it should give you hope. They're not blowing sunshine up anyone's butt; they are witnessing it firsthand unlike the battalion of message board Chicken Littles that seem to have stormed the internet since last Saturday night.

We have no way of knowing or guaranteeing that Brian Kelly will ultimately prove to be a success. It appears he's headed in the right direction, but who knows. What I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is we are so far away from making any sort of educated judgment that it's almost laughable. The people who are crying and moaning and gnashing their teeth about how we're doomed are the same people who were claiming Kelly couldn't recruit last June. Those criticisms have melted away with a few big victories on the recruiting trail. We're only three games into his coaching tenure. Give him some time to silence the critics with victories on the field as well.

2. Our defense has given up 28 points in both of our last two games. But our defense has also forced a few three and outs and has looked fairly stout out times. So on D, are we Jekyll or Hyde? Or are we just a work in progress?

I think most people would agree that we're a work in progress. Last year was probably the worst defensive unit in school history--fundamentally unsound, poorly coached, poorly positioned, the whole nine yards. Diaco has done a great job getting them to play with confidence, not an easy feat considering where their psyche had to be after playing the role of weekly punching bag (on the field and in the press) during the 2009 campaign.

The main issue we have that will stunt the defense's improvement is the lack of depth at everywhere but linebacker. The drop-off is especially steep from first to second string along the defensive line. The new spread attack Kelly is employing has little to no concern for winning the time of possession battle. While the offense seems close to hitting its stride, the lack of ball control is leading to our defense having to stay on the field for ten minutes longer than the opposing team's defense (though if you look at the stat sheet they're out there for the same number of plays...I think against MSU we actually ran two more plays than the Spartans, they just happen to be crunched into a much shorter time period).

The extended time on the field increases the need for substitutions along the defensive line and most of the big plays we surrender are when Sean Cwynar, Hafis Williams, or Emeka Nwankwo are giving the starters a blow (see: all of Denard Robinson's big runs and the Baker run in the MSU game). I don't know how Diaco and Kelly plan to fix that problem or if it's even fixable until reinforcements arrive in the form of Aaron Lynch, Stephen Tuitt, and Louis Nix. If you look at strictly the starters though the improvement is vast. There's still plenty of room for more progress, but Diaco definitely has the boys playing a better brand of football.

3. I've heard that Bill Walsh believed that if he saw a player make one great play, he and his staff could coach that player to consistently make great plays. The Irish offense clearly made some great plays against State. Our offense also unfortunately disappeared at critical times. Are we just witnessing the process of Kelly and his staff teaching the lads to consistently make great plays?

This is a young team with a young quarterback learning a brand new offense. Kelly said in the spring that the entire first year would be a scaled-back learning process and it wouldn't be until year two when things would really start to click and the playbook would open up. Honestly, we're progressing faster than I thought we would preseason. Crist has made his share of mistakes but in my eyes he's exceeded expectations and provided he stays healthy (pleasepleaseplease God let it be so) he could evolve into an all-time great.

There were bound to be growing pains and some inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball, I just expected the offensive line and Dayne to be the main culprits...not our potential All-American Michael Floyd. Kelly needs to do whatever necessary to get Floyd refocused from this point forward. If the Irish hope become more consistent and beat solid teams like Stanford they're going to need their superstar to be a rock they can rely on, not a liability--especially in the redzone, where he should be the ultimate weapon.

4. Where would you rank Stanford among the Irish opponents? Would a defeat of the Cardinal be the biggest win of the last six years?

They're #2 behind Southern Cal. Jim Harbaugh has them playing a great brand of football; they've totally reinvented themselves as a hard-nosed, punch-you-in-the-mouth team. Andrew Luck is the best quarterback Notre Dame will see all year and his offensive unit has been shredding opponents every week. They're a legitimate contender in the Pac-10 and will be a huge test for the Irish on both sides of the ball.

Biggest win of the last six years? No. The two opening wins of the Weis Era were bigger because they catapulted us up the standings and re-established us (if only for a brief moment) as legitimate players on the national scene. A win against Stanford would be huge and perhaps kick-start the season, but it'd be big more for internal reasons (the psyche of the players and fans alike) than external ones.

5. While many outsiders and a contingent of fans have cited ND's academic standards as a hindrance to football success, many Irish supporters consider Notre Dame's unique combination of strong academics and big-time football (and faith) as an advantageous niche in the college football world. With stricter admission standards and far-less football notoriety, Harbaugh's Cardinal have burst onto the national recruiting scene to again prove that plenty of really good football players welcome academic challenges as long as they come with a chance to compete at the highest level. Could you foresee sustained excellence by Stanford Football and would you perceive a perennially strong Cardinal program as any kind of a threat to Notre Dame's niche?

I can see Stanford sustaining success for as long as Jim Harbaugh is their coach. It's been phenomenal watching him transform that program and if he sticks around instead of bolting for the greener pastures of the NFL (or...gulp...Michigan) then I think they have the potential to become a force in the Pac-10.

Everyone overthinks why programs succeed and fail. The main reason always comes down to one thing: the head coach. If you have a great head coach then you're going to find success. If you put Nick Saban in Pao Alto I believe he'd succeed. If you put Buddy Teevens at Alabama I believe he'd fail. It's pretty simple. Stanford hit the jackpot with Harbaugh, I just don't think they'll be able to keep him.

And no, I don't even remotely see Stanford as a threat to our "niche" because I don't see us as a niche school. We may lose a recruit or two to Stanford because they can offer the same caliber of academics only in a beautiful California city as opposed to South Bend, IN, but when recruits fall in love with Notre Dame it's because of the total package. They get swept up in the aura and mystique of the place.

Stanford is a phenomenal school and can offer a lot of things, but one thing that it will never be able to offer is a gameday experience like Notre Dame. The pageantry, the tradition, and 80,000 rabid fans is the polar opposite of the laid back, barely even fair-weather fans in Pao Alto.That stark contrast will affect more recruits than some people may think.

6. Let’s talk statistics. Will they matter this weekend?

A. Coming into the game, Stanford has the #3 ranked Scoring Offense nationally (51.67 pts/gm) with the 14th ranked Rushing Offense (242.33 yds/gm). Notre Dame's Scoring Offense ranks 73rd (26.00 pts) with the 99th ranked Rushing Defense (197 yds/gm). Will the Irish be able to contain Stanford's rushing attack?

Notre Dame's rushing yards per game unfortunately is going to go up after playing the Cardinal. Harbaugh is going to make a point of just jamming the ball down the throat of the Irish until the defense breaks. Unless Kelly makes some serious adjustments on the offensive side of the ball to limit the time the defense spends on the field its going to be a tough day.

B. Notre Dame's Passing Offense is 8th nationally (318 yds/gm) and Stanford's Passing Efficiency Defense is 3rd nationally (74 yds/gm). Will Stanford be able to contain the Irish passing attack?

Stanford hasn't played a team with a passing attack that can even be considered mediocre so their passing defense statistics are misleading. Notre Dame will find success in the passing game against a Cardinal secondary that Clausen, Floyd, and Tate torched last season. Crist has improved each week and when he gets in rhythm the offense hums like the juggernaut it's capable of becoming.

The key will be Crist getting in rhythm earlier and maintaining it for longer stretches. That's part of the growing process. Expect Dayne to take another step forward this week and post another statistically strong outing. Whether he makes the big play or the big mistake in the fourth quarter is the real question.

c. Stanford gave up 170 yds rushing to UCLA and 265 yds rushing to Wake Forest. Notre Dame has averaged 133 yds/gm so far. Do you expect Kelly to utilize the Irish rushing attack more?

Another somewhat misleading statistic because UCLA and Wake had to run since they are borderline incapable of passing, but I hope the Irish lean on the run a little more this week. The ground game has been much more effective this year and Jonas Gray--not Cierre Wood--is poised to make a big impact if given adequate opportunity along side Armando Allen. I said this previously (perhaps in the running diary) but I can see Gray morphing into a Robert Farmer-type; he won't ever be the bell-cow week in and week out, but he can post very solid number in a complementary role.

Kelly needs to seek more balance and make an effort to control the ball more in an effort to save the defense--at least this year when our depth along the defensive line is razor thin. He's said he's comfortable adjusting his playcalling based on the circumstances and personnel available. This will be a good test to see if that's indeed the case.

d. Stanford is ranked 4th in Red Zone Defense (50%) while the Irish have the 65th ranked Red Zone Offense (82%). Stanford's Red Zone Offense is tied for 1st (100%) in conversions and the Irish Defense's Red Zone conversions allowed is 36th (75%). Will the Irish be able to stop Stanford's RZ conversions and improve theirs? How would you do that?

This is an area where I haven't seen nearly enough improvement from Notre Dame on the offensive side of the ball, but all analysis and every prediction as to whether we'll get better, what it takes to get better, and whether we can stop Stanford is going to be generic and obvious.

Our failures on offense have been due to a lack of focus and execution. Twice our best player fumbled and turned the ball over when a touchdown seemed imminent simply because he was careless. We need to eliminate that sort of mistake and we'll get better. On defense we need to do a good job stopping the run on first and second down to create some 3rd and long situations where we can unleash the hounds on Luck.

7. 1-2 is pretty tough to deal with for a football team still trying to find its identity. Meanwhile, Stanford is looking like a well-oiled machine thus far. Do you think this Irish squad can really bounce back from another heart-breaking loss against the Cardinal? What if it's not all that close?

I have a hard time dealing with all these negative hypotheticals that have been flying around since the weekend. Why start speculating on how the team is going to bounce back after losing this week? How about if they lose the next three and sit at 1-5? What if we go 3-9? What if we never win again!?! The mentality of assuming the worst is counter-productive and contributes to this terrible blanket of negativity that's already covering the program after three games.

Stanford is a very good team and there's a very realistic chance that they will travel to South Bend and leave with a victory. But there isn't a huge gap between the Irish and the Cardinal--in fact, in terms of talent level we're superior. Our visions and opinions are clouded at the moment by the heartbreaking nature in which the last two defeats occurred, but we're one or two breaks away from being 3-0 and the bandwagon overflowing.

We're far from a finished product and that'd be the case even if we'd found a way to beat Michigan and Michigan State. This transformation in culture that Kelly is trying to achieve is going to take time. The defense has improved and the offense is starting to click. If the Irish can take small steps forward in execution on both sides of the ball and eliminate some mental errors (I'm looking squarely at you Michael Floyd) then an upset is very possible.

Deal in reality. Notre Dame can absolutely win this game. If they end up losing then we can all speculate on whether the team will bounce back. Until then let's hope they turn a corner that's not far away and get things rolling in the right direction.