The loyal readers responded and here's what they had to say. Thanks to everyone who took the time to put answers together.
1. The Irish have posted back-to-back victories over teams that have given us fits the past decade to pull back to .500, but when you head to the message boards on ND Nation, Rivals, etc. all you see is unrelenting negativity. Some cry Kelly's in over his head and doomed to fail, others bitch and moan about the run-to-pass ratio, and many more say that even though we've won the last two there's no improvement over last year's team. What's your take on the negativity that's swirling around the program on the internet? What message would you like to convey to ND Nation?
From Bob (who answered all of the questions on his site): Honestly, I stopped reading the message boards soon after I wrote this column. They were a good way to stay connected to the team while I was abroad, but now that I can text and tweet and actually watch games at regular times with more than one Irish fan I don’t feel like I gain much from reading the constant negativity on the boards. Aside from mainstream media like ESPN, SI.com, and the occasional newspaper; I really get my Irish analysis from wenevergraduate.com. Seriously.
I think the message that should be conveyed to the people in negative-town is that despite the 3-3 record and inconsistency we have seen on both sides of the ball, our three losses have come against teams that are a combined 16-2 (with their only losses being against the #2 team in the nation and one of the others). As much as it pains me to write this, MSU could very well WIN the Big Ten, Denard Robinson IS the Heisman favorite, and Stanford could very well end up playing in a BCS game. Our teams the past three years were losing games against much more inferior opposition, so this is clearly an improvement even if it doesn’t always look like one on the field.
Also, it’s essential to remember that this is YEAR ONE (and hopefully a better Year One than that movie with Jack Black and Michael Cera). In theory, this should be a transition year. We were never going to win the national championship this year, and we are still in a great position to end up going to a quality bowl game. I think it’s highly likely we end the year 4-2 or 5-1, and that would be our best season since 2006.
From Sharky: The internet message boards always get the diehards, where every game and play is either the end of the world or the second coming of Christ. The best thing you can do as a fan is find the blogs and journalists out there that keep everything in perspective. ND Nation, I say to you, we are on the right track. Our defense is allowing less big plays, our special teams play is improving, and every game you see something more and more from Crist and the offense. I say we wait to see what Kelly does against Utah, USC, and the bowl game before we call this season a waste.
2. When Western Michigan and Tulsa were announced as 2010 opponents last fall there was a full-throttle meltdown among ND fans that was surpassed only byThe F-Word Incident in April in terms of sheer outrage. Well, if the opinions expressed then are the same now the apocalypse has finally arrived and a MAC squad is about to forever sully our field by stepping foot on it. Have your thoughts on the Western Michigan/Tulsa games changed since they were announced? Would you rather ND Stadium sell out and continue the streak that extends back almost 40 years or see the streak broken so that the powers-that-be know just how disrespected you feel by the audacity they showed in scheduling such inferior opponents?
3. Most people painted AD Jack Swarbrick as the villain when the Western Michigan/Tulsa games were made public. Since then he's made drastic moves in locking down opponents on future schedules, went through the process of firing Weis and hiring Kelly, and navigated ND through the murky waters of conference realignment. Has your personal opinion on Swarbrick been altered over the past year?
Reno and ND Geek both combined #2 and #3 for their responses.
From Reno: Count me among the furious when the Tulsa and WMU games were announced. Even though I'm one of the first people to criticize ND's lordly attitude and posture (whether real or imagined), I'm also an arrogant SOB myself, so I feel as though I suffer when the Dome's gives fuel to the naysayers' fire.
My disappointment in this scheduling announcement was tempered by a pre-existing fury over the ridiculousness of the 7-4-1 scheduling philosophy. So, when I try to be objective about the whole thing, how can I really blame JS for inheriting a shitty philosophy, and two home slots that had to be filled by teams that wouldn't demand a home-home series? He did what he could with the hand he was dealt, and maybe it's not so bad for us to have a couple of cupcakes in a season where we are still implementing a new scheme on both sides of the ball, and doing our best to play backups and youngins in an effort to breed some depth.
As to the idea of a stadium boycott, I think Swarbrick's record over the last 12 months in terms of scheduling better competition, and promising to ditch 7-4-1 obviates any need to express ire as a fanbase.
ND Geek: I'll answer these two questions together as one. First, Western Michigan/Tulsa are a direct result of Kevin White's ineptitude in scheduling. Borrowing from SNL here, I present you with "Really?!?!" I mean, really, Kevin White? 7-4-1? What self-respecting team is going to schedule into a setup like that? Really! You're not going to get very many SEC/Big 12 teams up here without a home-and-home, which leaves, REALLY, a bunch of MAC/WAC/C-USA teams willing to sell out their schedule for the greenbacks.
C'mon Kevin White, did you REALLY think The University of Notre Dame would get the respect it deserves with a 7-4-1 schedule? Really?! Which leads me into another segment called, "Oh my God, are you serious?" Kevin White hires a coach who has never set foot on a college football sideline in any authoritative capacity. Oh my God, are you serious? He then schedules "cake" teams Syracuse and UConn, who said coach loses to. Again, are you serious? Really?! We can't beat a then 2-8 team with a lame duck coach? or a Huskies team limping in at 4-5 after losing three straight? Oh my God, are you serious?! Duke can have you. I pity Coach K.
Jack Swarbrick was handed a back of shit on fire, and he did his best to put it out without making a horrible, horrible mess (I'll take W-Mich and Tulsa over Appalachian State, James Madison, etc. any day). The Fighting Irish deserve our loyalty and support. I'll be at the Western Michigan game cheering my heart out for a school I never even attended. While Notre Dame fans (er, very, um, vintage? alumni) often lack in the enthusiasm department while actually AT the games (c'mon guys, let's make some noise!), we really do have the best fans in the country. By skipping out on games just to make a point to an AD that already gets it, we're no better than our "friends" in Ann Arbor, West Lafayette, or Los Angeles. On top of that, if we really want our team to beat these teams down like we expect, they need support! It's really hard to play with any enthusiasm when your stadium is half-empty. We'd only be hurting our team...they deserve better than that if we want them to win.
4. We're at the halfway point so it's a perfect time to step back real quick and evaluate what's happened thus far. What have been your two biggest surprises at this juncture of the season? Choose one positive and one negative.
From Dip: I think the biggest positive surprise has been the kicking game. Ruffer has been perfect on FGs this year, which can't be understated. We have had such mediocre (Brandon Walker) to awful (Carl Gioia) kickers in the past few years, it is finally nice to be surprised if and when a field goal misses than when it actually goes in. We haven't given up ANY big plays on kickoff returns all year, and although Mattare rends his garments anytime Ben Turk unleashes anything less than a 60-yard, no return punt, Turk has consistently provided adequate to above-average punts that are never returned. Some fun with math: a 50-yard punt and a 15-yard return count the same as a 35-yard punt, 0-yard return. I will take the latter any day: take away any possibility of big plays on special teams and win one of the three phases of the game and you're in business.
The biggest negative surprise this season has been how inconsistent the offense, especially Michael Floyd, has played. I watched Cincinnati's offense run like a Ferrari last year no matter who was at QB, and I figured that we would see the same thing but on steroids this season with the offensive talent we had assembled. I know Crist is a first-year starter, but Zack Collaros was coming off the bench last year for the Bearcats and was still guiding a pretty unstoppable offense.
Michael Floyd has not been nearly as good this year as he was last year. With the exception of the Michigan State game in which he was injured last year, Floyd never had fewer than 85 receiving yards in a game and he caught 9 TDs on the year in 6.5 games. Through 6 games this year, he has eclipsed 85 yards only once and has just 3 TDs. I know the drop-off from Clausen to Crist accounts for some of that production drop, but he has also had a lot of brutal mistakes and drops so far this year.
5. Which player that hasn't contributed much to this point in the season do you see emerging as a contributor down the stretch?
From Reno: I'll give you a couple. On offense, I expect to see your preseason pick, Tyler Eiffert to make an impact. This is based on necessity, of course, but I don't see him as a major drop-off from a pass-catching perspective. He's not the overall player that Beaglehands is, but he'll help us move the chains.
On defense, I think Jamoris Slaughter and Prince Shembo will have their names called much more. Slaughter's development was slowed by the early injury, and I just have a feeling that he's getting to the point now where he should have enough game minutes undner his belt that he can really start to fly around the field based on his ability to react, rather than think.
BK has been saying all year that he's a big fan of Shembo, and now that he's starting to see the field a bit, I think I see why. I can see him getting the Justin Tuck/Darius Fleming treatment, where he comes in on passing downs with strict orders from Diaco to attack the pocket and tackle the quarterback. In the face. Maybe he'll move back to the inside next year, but that's not where his reps have been this season, and they won't be for the rest of this season either.
6. Scholarships are running thin and some tough decisions are going to have to be made this spring when it comes to offering 5th years to current seniors. If you're Coach Kelly who do you offer and who is left out in the cold to make room for the incoming freshman class? Here's a link to the 2011 scholarship chart for a list of potential 5th years.
No one stepped up to the plate on this one. Bummer.
7. *****BONUS***** You've been challenged to a Tailgate Olympiad by some chaunce from Southern Cal and you need to assemble a dream team of your fellow Irish fans to compete in the following events: Full Beer Flip Cup (four-man team), Beer Pong, Hamburger Eating Contest (two-man team), Cornhole/Bags/Whatever You Call It, Individual Case Race, and Thunderdome (one shotgun per minute until someone can't answer the bell). Your captaincy role on this team is Ryder Cup style so you'll be monitoring the proceedings rather than actually partaking. Throw some internet love out to your fellow tailgate All-Stars that have delivered through the years and let us know who you'd put in each slot to make sure Troy fell in the parking lot as well as on the field...and while you're at it, tell us what three songs you'd be blasting as you rolled to victory.
Below listed is the best answer or the most frequently selected people.
Full Beer Flip Cup: Chops, Brad, Panzer, Hogan
“How can you have a winning team without the granddaddy of FBFC, the man who practically invented it, or the very reason how the game came to take ND by storm? Chops is all of the above.” - Farva
Beer Pong: Sanders and Sharky
“Pretty much the only times I’ve ever looked like a serviceable beer pong player were when Sharky was standing next to me. Sanders is arguably the Most Valuable 4A Alum when it comes to beer pong.” - Bob
Hamburger Eating Contest: Dip and Tom Beef
“Tom Beef was banned from Nathan's hot dog eating contest after the inaugural year because after eating all his hotdogs, the other contestants hotdogs and all hotdogs in a 4 mile radius, he then decided to use the remainder of the time on the clock to try and eat the other contestants.
Tom Beef is like the Achilles of eating. It doesn't matter how big the other team's dude is, Tom will roast. The only difference between Achilles and Tom, is that Tom has no eating weakness. That, and Achilles is not a large doofus with no table manners.” –Kearney
Cornhole: CLoss & Carl
“I mean I enjoy drinking games and all…but I really don’t need to be on an all-star team.” –CLoss
Individual Case Race: Stu
“Game over man, game over! Anyone who knows Stu knows that it would take a blunderbuss to bring him down. The biggest lock of the competition.” –Dip
“I don't know if you've ever heard about the downfall of Bill's "No Puke Guarantee" freshman year, but Deacon's performance in destroying Bill's dignity suggests that he could make a run at Stu in Thunderdome. Plus, he hated USC like any ND student and legacy is supposed to: Passionately and profanely. That's my only pick in the drinking competition - Deacon's Ghost in Thunderdome.” –Reno