Thursday, April 28, 2011

Irish Blogger Gathering: Gettin' SPRUNG

Alright, we've seen a couple different sets of responses to this round of the IBG. Now it's time for the correct answers.

Let me show you how it's done.

1. The biggest story of the spring was the quarterback competition between Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, and to a lesser extent Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. Crist and Rees donned the red jerseys while the youngins were fed to the wolves with live contact. How would you rate each signal caller's performance in the scrimmage? Then put on the Swami hat and predict what we should expect from each of them this fall and in the long term.

I won't sugarcoat it: I was very disappointed with Dayne. I expected something along the lines of Brady Quinn's 2005 spring game, which essentially acted as a coming out party. Instead I saw a quarterback who still has miles to go before he's considered "elite." Yes, it was a crummy day in terms of weather, but I wanted to see more progress than I witnessed in the Blue & Gold Game. Crist's Grade: D+

Tommy Rees moved the ball a little better than Crist did, but he also threw an interception and should've been picked off on at least two other occasions. He did nothing to change my opinion that he's a great backup, but he lacks the necessary ceiling to be a top level quarterback at the collegiate level. Rees' Grade: C

Andrew Hendrix started out slowly, but got in rhythm as the game wore on despite the deteriorating conditions. On the ground he bulled his way to a pair of touchdowns and showed that he's more than capable of being an effective runner. The vast majority of people speculate that Golson and he are battling for touches in red zone packages. If that is indeed the truth then Hendrix put himself in a great position to win that job because of his surprisingly physical running style that would be perfect for grinding out an extra yard or two near the goal line. Hendrix Grade: A-

The early enrollee Everett Golson had a nice debut in Notre Dame Stadium. He showcased a surprisingly lively arm while flashing an ability to make defenses pay with his feet. There were plenty of mistakes made in coverages and overall technique, but he's got a bright future at Notre Dame. Golson: Grade: B

What I see happening is Dayne Crist winning the starting job and Tommy Rees being his primary backup. While I'd like to see Golson redshirt this fall because he clearly needs to bulk up a bit (and he's not someone who will leave to go pro early), I believe he'll earn the nod as the first man in for the change of pace packages that involve more running. Common logic says if that's the case that Hendrix will likely look elsewhere. Eventually I see the winner of the Hendrix-Golson battle passing Rees on the depth chart once he's clearly comfortable with the entire scope of the offense.

2. Freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch burst onto the scene with seven tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. You might as well have attached his hype and expectations to an Apollo rocket and launched them into orbit they're so high right now. Is he that good or should Notre Dame fans temper expectations like Brian Kelly keeps saying?

Aaron Lynch is that good. He's an elite talent unlike anything Notre Dame has seen in decades. I don't think that ten sacks in the first year is a reasonable expectation because he won't beat out upperclassmen. Ethan Johnson or Kapron-Lewis Moore for a starting spot.

Lynch still has a long way to go in figuring out what his roles and responsibilities are as a defensive end in coordinator Bob Diaco's defense. Right now he's relying strictly on pure, raw talent and ability to win battles at the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback. He just has so much of it that he's still able to be dominant despite the fact he still has a lot to learn.

The bar of expectations is set high for a reason: he's the best pass rushing presence to step foot on campus since Ross Browner. I realize that it's borderline blasphemy to mention anyone, let alone a freshman who has never played a down, in the same breath as Browner. But trust, me, there's a erason for the comparisions.

I'm not saying he's the second coming of Ross Browner, but mark my words this kid is bound for greatness at ND.

3. Pick two players that surprised you this spring--one pleasantly and the other unpleasantly--and explain yourself.

The pleasant surprise was the combination of Prince Shembo and Danny Spond. The DOG linebacker position was the only position where there wasn't a lot of experience returning this fall so I was a bit worried about who would fill the role. We still don't know who the starter will be, but what we have learned to this point is there are two more than capable replacements for the graduated pair of Kerry Neal and Brian Smith.

There was some fear that Shembo was a bit of a "one-trick pony." All he was asked to do last season was go after the quarterback. He shifted outside this spring and showed some surprisingly fluidity as a drop backer while still maintaining the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield when the situation called for it. Spond was probably an even bigger surprise than Prince because many hadn't paid much attention to him last season. He's a great athlete that's a capable pass rusher (though not quite as good Shembo) and very adept at dropping into coverage. No matter who wins this competition Notre Dame will be in a good shape. That's a pretty surprising conclusion considering how big a question mark the position was entering spring.

The unpleasant surprise was Jonas Gray. He had a colossal opportunity to step in and earn a serious chunk of carries, but he didn't do much to impress before or after the injury he sustained. He's an incredible specimen that's built like a brick house, but for how strong he appears his running style is relatively soft and indecisive. The Irish depth chart at running back is non-existent which meant Gray needed to step up not just for himself, but also for the good of the team. That didn't happen this spring and unfortunately I'll be surprised if it suddenly does this fall.

4. Over/Unders for 2011!

Cierre Wood Rushing Yards: 1000....UNDER...I don't buy that there will be enough devotion to the run game to get him up over 1000 yards. Expect more in the 850 range.

Jonas Gray Rushing Yards: 300....UNDER...My faith in Jonas Gray has just about bottomed out. There's nothing that I see (or have seen) that leads me to believe things are about to click either.

Games Michael Floyd Will Miss: 1.5....UNDER...Kelly will suspend him for the opener, but he'll be back for Michigan.

Dayne Crist Passing Touchdowns: 19.5....OVER...I do think he'll improve from last season and in 2010 he averaged 1.9 touchdowns per game. He'll be around 25 this year.

Games Started by Tommy Rees: 3.5....UNDER...This is if Dayne stays healthy, which is a monster, MONSTER if. I do not believe Crist will get the hook unless he's injured.

Combined Games Started by Golson/Hendrix: .5....UNDER...Their time will come, it's just not this year.

Aaron Lynch Sacks: 5.5....OVER...I've got him penciled in for 6

Victories in ND Stadium: 5.5....UNDER...They haven't finished a home slate undefeated since 1998. They should run the table at home, but frankly I need to see it to believe it.

5. This offseason athletic director Jack Swarbrick added two teams to future schedules: Temple and Northwestern. There's a chunk of people who are outraged about the Temple games, but the vast majority approve of Northwestern. What are your thoughts on each of these scheduling moves?

Personally I liked them both a lot. Temple isn't the most glamorous opponent by any stretch, but it's in a major metropolitan area where ND has a huge presence. It should be a nice cream puff game amidst some brutal upcoming schedules. Who knows, maybe Steve Addazio will pick up with Al Golden left off and the Owls may be a legitimately tough team by the time the Irish face them.

For as much as I like the Temple series, I love the Northwestern one for a couple reasons. First of all, it's nice to see a new Big 10 opponent on the schedule. We haven't faced off since that ill-fated upset in 1995 which catapulted the Wildcats to a Rose Bowl. More importantly though, it debunks another huge myth about how Notre Dame survival if major conference realignment occurred.

One of the biggest sources of leverage people thought the Big 10 had in trying to lure Notre Dame was the fact that the Irish were going to have a very tough time finding opponents moving forward, especially late in the season. I called that bluff last spring and it took just one year for a team from the Big 10 to cave and play Notre Dame in November.

Why would Northwestern stick he Irish on the schedule so late in the year despite being right in the thick of conference play (much to the chagrin of commissioner Jim Delany)? Because Notre Dame would sell out Northwestern's stadium, something that happens on average once every ten years. It's all about the Benjamins and whenever Notre Dame is involved there are plenty to go around.

6. Irish Illustrated senior editor Tim Prister, one of the most respected and longest tenured journalists in the Notre Dame community, had this to say in article following the Blue-Gold Game:

"How would's Keith Arnold know that "there's a different feeling around Notre Dame" when he's rarely at Notre Dame to report on its football program? Reporters have a feel for the program because they are immersed in it; bloggers take the feelings/opinions formed by those on the scene and make it their own."

You're an esteemed member of the Irish blogosphere. What are your thoughts on Prister's jab?

I've read Prister since my Dad started subscribing to Blue & Gold Illustrated in 1995 after our first trip to Notre Dame. He's probably one of the two most respected journalists in the ND community (along with Lou Somogyi) and certainly the most tenured. He knows his stuff and I've always enjoyed his insights.

I don't understand why he felt the need to take a shot and belittle bloggers, especially one like Keith who does such a great job at Inside ND. I feel like he is--or at least should be--above that.

My guess is he never has and never will read a blog. He discredits them as useless on the topic of Notre Dame (at least to him) because he's one of the utmost authorities on Irish Football. As he points out, he has "a feel for the program because (he's) immersed in it." Hell, it's his job to follow Notre Dame Football and report on it.

Because he discredits them, he completely dismisses the notion that some could actually be packed with worthwhile insights and quality writing. I bet he's never read one of Keith columns and I guarantee he's never read mine. He may be pleasantly surprised if he did, but there's also a chance he'd still completely blow them off.

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Tim or interacting with him via email because he's never responded to anything I've ever sent him. As a fellow alum that I admired growing up, I had hoped he would help steer me in a direction to help me pursue a similar career path to what he's done over the past 30+ years. While the rest of the ND journalistic community was incredibly responsive and willing to offer advice and opinions (Jake Brown, Pete Sampson, Lou Somogyi, etc.), Prister never gave me the time of day and most likely deleted my correspondence far before he reached the part where I thanked him for all his hard work and articles through the years.

In summation, I think the jab was unnecessary and classless. There's no need for someone who is so respected among the Notre Dame Football community to lower himself to that level.

*****BONUS TIME*****

Outline what your day will be like from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep on October 22nd, the day Notre Dame faces off against Southern Cal under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium.

My buddy Brad "They Call Me Mr. Balls" Blomstrom put it best in an email chain the day the game was announced. We'll both be following this schedule pretty much to a T:

The 8:01 shotgun. We do it every 8:01.

Full Beer Flip Cup against a group of SC fans that were giving us the stink eye at 8:01.

Salt all SC fans in range. None of us will enjoy this, but frankly it will need to be done.

Attempt to light grill. Forgot to buy matches.

Borrow lighter from old person tailgate two cars over after apologizing for hitting them with stray salt crystals.

Begin cooking delicious meats. Some asshole pours Natty Light on the grill saying it adds flavor. Everyone knows true tailgate chefs use keystone ice.

Jerry's Kids, Flip Cup, assorted yarding activities.

Party in the USA comes on. Put your hands up, they're playing your song.

This period intentionally left blank.

Wake up face down in Legends beer garden.

Put pants back on.

The 4:37 shotgun. We do it every 4:37.

NOS up to get back in the zone.

Visit a friend's parents' tailgate. Impress all fellow revelers with your kempt appearance, steady speech, and cogent thoughts on the university's academic direction.

Can of shame. Honestly, who throws salsa?

Trip in front of an usher. Pretend you are actually one of Jerry's Kids to avoid the drunk tank.

Band comes out. Mega-adrenaline rush begins.

Team comes out under the lights.

Karate chop my bench in half.

Sprint to Backer to celebrate victory.

Subway Domer Promises Sausage Burritos

Subway Domer has posted his responses to the IBG. While his answers were all good, his blow-by-blow of what October 22nd will be like (and depiction of what a perfect, functional marriage) is why you should read it.

Go over to SD and check it out. Now. Or else he'll find you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Her Loyal Sons: Serving You Since the Tulsa Game

The second blog out of the blocks is Her Loyal Sons. How dedicated to Notre Dame is Domer_mq? He's willing to spend the entire day of the Southern Cal game beating up on strangers' children so he doesn't jinx the Irish. Thank him by sending him a picture message every time you shotgun a beer that day.

Head over yonder to see his answers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

One Foot Down is One Step Ahead

Eric from the blog One Foot Down was first to put his pencil down and hand in his test.

Head over to OFD to read all the responses and for the love of God, HOOK HIM UP WITH A SOUTHERN CAL TICKET! He writes articles for you; the least you can do is make sure he's having a hard time making work the Monday after the game.

In an somewhat related story, if you have a Southern Cal ticket I will pay $1 more for it than Eric from the blog OneFootDown.

Irish Blogger Gathering: Gettin' SPRUNG

Subway Domer is busy preparing for war with the stork that's about to attack his house so I stepped in and delivered this edition of the IBG questions. I'll post links to each of the blog's responses as they come in. Then at the end of the week I'll blow your mind with all the right answers.

And now, zee questions.

1. The biggest story of the spring was the quarterback competition between Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, and to a lesser extent Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. Crist and Rees donned the red jerseys while the youngins were fed to the wolves with live contact. How would you rate each signal caller's performance in the scrimmage? Then put on the Swami hat and predict what we should expect from each of them this fall and in the long term.

2. Freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch burst onto the scene with seven tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. You might as well have attached his hype and expectations to an Apollo rocket and launched them into orbit they're so high right now. Is he that good or should Notre Dame fans temper expectations like Brian Kelly keeps saying?

3. Pick two players that surprised you this spring--one pleasantly and the other unpleasantly--and explain yourself.

4. Over/Unders for 2011!

Cierre Wood Rushing Yards: 1000
Jonas Gray Rushing Yards: 300
Games Michael Floyd Will Miss: 1.5
Dayne Crist Passing Touchdowns: 19.5
Games Started by Tommy Rees: 3.5
Combined Games Started by Golson/Hendrix: .5
Aaron Lynch Sacks: 5.5
Victories in ND Stadium: 5.5

5. This offseason athletic director Jack Swarbrick added two teams to future schedules: Temple and Northwestern. There's a chunk of people who are outraged about the Temple games, but the vast majority approve of Northwestern. What are your thoughts on each of these scheduling moves? 6. Irish Illustrated senior editor Tim Prister, one of the most respected and longest tenured journalists in the Notre Dame community, had this to say in article following the Blue-Gold Game:

"How would's Keith Arnold know that "there's a different feeling around Notre Dame" when he's rarely at Notre Dame to report on its football program? Reporters have a feel for the program because they are immersed in it; bloggers take the feelings/opinions formed by those on the scene and make it their own."

You're an esteemed member of the Irish blogosphere. What are your thoughts on Prister's jab?

*****BONUS TIME*****

Outline what your day will be like from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep on October 22nd, the day Notre Dame faces off against Southern Cal under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Lingering Questions from the Spring

Spring practice is done and we've got a shade over three months until we're thrown even so much as a practice report. That means we have 13 weeks to parse, dissect, and beat to death every conceivable question that still exists after the spring. Here's what I'm still mulling over after a full week to reflect upon the Blue-Gold Game.

Has Dayne Crist Really Made Significant Strides?

All spring practice reports that came out of the Loftus Center echoed the sentiment that Dayne Crist was much more comfortable with the offense. The logical result of that comfort level rising would of course be a noticeably more poised and confident Crist in the spring scrimmage.

Unfortunately, that's not what fans saw.

Many of the same problems that plagued him last fall (like bouncing balls short of open receivers) reappeared last Saturday. His final stat line was subpar (5-of-11 for 34 yards) and there was little that happened on the field that suggested significant progress had been achieved.

You can blame the weather and you can dismiss the poor performance as insignificant, but the fact remains until he shows a leap in consistency on the field there will be questions surrounding whether he can get the job done.

What Role Will Aaron Lynch Play?

A fun one to ponder! There's no question Aaron Lynch's stellar performance was the biggest story of the spring game. He blew by offensive linemen with a combination of speed, quickness and strength that Irish fans haven't seen in quite some time.

There is no doubt he will make an impact come fall, but the big question is how? The Irish have two multi-year starters (Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson) plugged in at the end positions of the 3-4 and the likelihood of Lynch displacing them on the lineup card seems slim. At the same time, Lynch is such a prodigious talent that it's going to be borderline impossible keeping him off the field.

Smart money says that on every clear passing down, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will unleash Lynch on the opposing offense. Will that be it though? Will he pick up his responsibilities and learn the nuances of the position quick enough that he'll push for playing time on every down? Could he do the seemingly unthinkable and just completely bump one of the upperclassmen from the starting lineup?

There are plenty of questions pertaining to Lynch this fall. Irish fans will certainly enjoy sitting back and watching them get answered by No. 19.

How Many Games Will Michael Floyd Miss?

The big question after the season was whether Notre Dame would get Michael Floyd back for his senior season. Entering spring practice it became whether or not Floyd would even get the chance to make good on his pledge to play another year for the Irish. Finally, we've arrived at the final question: when will he be allowed to return?

The Irish offense is a different animal with Floyd on the field. He's a gamebreaker that defenses must account and game-plan for on every snap. Without him there isn't a player on the Notre Dame roster that strikes fear in the opposition.

Notre Dame's disciplinary arm is not preventing Floyd from playing any games; if or when he returns is completely up to head coach Brian Kelly. Will the head coach hold him out for one game, multiple games or will he determine he's paid his dues and doesn't require any missed playing time?

That's a giant question that will hang over the team's head until the moment it's announced he's eligible again.

Who Will Win the Punting Job?

After a maddeningly inconsistent sophomore campaign (understatement), Ben Turk entered the spring with a bit of competition from freshly enrolled Kyle Brindza. Both kicked well in the spring game (Brindza averaged 42.7 per kick; Turk 40.0), but who will ultimately win this battle?

Turk has a bevy of experience and has gotten better and better at getting the ball away quickly, he just has tendency to mix in at least one god-awful punt each game amongst his good ones. Brindza has a booming leg but that's only half the battle—something to which former punter Geoff Price can attest.

Will Turk fulfill his promise and seize the job or will Kelly choose to turn over a new leaf at the position? This job is the incumbent's to lose, but it's definitely something worth monitoring moving forward.

Can Cierre Wood Handle the Load at Running Back?

Wood did a phenomenal job filling in at starting running back once Armando Allen was lost for the season. He tag-teamed with Robert Hughes to give the Irish an effective running game that had been lacking for years.

Now the starting position is all Wood's, but he doesn't have Robert Hughes as a battery mate. Jonas Gray moves into the backup role, supposed to play thunder to Wood's lightning, and behind them is only an incoming 3-star freshman. The Irish are extremely thin at the position and there are serious questions as to whether Jonas Gray can be an effective and consistent complement to the starter.

What this means is that Wood must shoulder the majority of the load. Will he be able to handle it physically? Can the Irish lean on him for 15-20 carries per game and not have to worry about him getting too banged up? Those are things Armando Allen was unable to do—whether Cierre is able to will be a huge question this fall.

Can Prince Shembo Hold Off Danny Spond at DOG Linebacker?

Prince Shembo burst onto the scene in the later stages of the 2010 season, registering 3.5 sacks once his role grew thanks to injury problems among the linebackers. He was employed primarily as a pass rusher, put in on obvious passing downs to attack the quarterback.

This year he's slated to start at the DOG outside linebacker position, but he's not going to hold onto it without a stellar effort. Fellow classmate Danny Spond is hot on Shembo's heels for the starting spot and after a stellar performance in the Blue-Gold game; it may be down to the bitter end before a decision is reached.

This is a perfect example of the benefits of accumulating depth. In years past, the Irish have been forced to put all their eggs in a single player's basket and hope he effectively filled a starting role. Now they have two viable options that have both done an outstanding job in their first shot at earning a job on the first unit.

Will Shembo be able to hold off the hard-charging Spond? It's a tough question, but chances are they'll both be seeing plenty of playing time regardless of who wins the label of "starter."

How Expansive a Role Will Hendrix and Golson Play?

There's a very high probability that the starting nod at quarterback will go to either Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees. However, Brian Kelly has been very explicit saying that one of his young, mobile quarterbacks will see time each game as a change of pace. The big question is how much time will it be?

Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix both present a different set of skills than Crist and Rees. While they're equipped with strong arms and are perfectly capable of slinging the ball around, Golson and Hendrix are running threats that add a completely new dimension to the Irish offense.

Finding a way to work them into games without disrupting the flow of the "normal" offense is going to be extremely tricky. Will they be used to kick-start the offense when it's struggling? Will Kelly only insert them in red-zone situations to keep the opposing defense unbalanced in the shadow of its own goalposts?

Many fans have the winner of the Golson-Hendrix battle pegged as the "future" of the ND quarterback position. It will be extremely interesting to monitor just how successful they are in their limited playing time and how quickly that future arrives if they find great success.

How Will Brian Kelly Use Theo Riddick?

After converting from running back to slot receiver the spring Brian Kelly arrived, Theo Riddick encountered some speed bumps at the beginning of the 2010 campaign. There were some drops in the Purdue and Michigan games, but for the most part he was a ghost and many speculated a move back to the backfield was imminent.

Then against Michigan State Riddick busted out. He snared a game-high 10 catches for 128 yards and exhibited just how dangerous a weapon he was capable of being out of the slot receiver position. Injuries derail the second half of his season, but he seemed poised to grow into his role as threat in Kelly's spread offense with another spring practice under his belt.

Then Armando Allen and Robert Hughes graduated. The Irish struck out in recruiting the highly touted Savon Huggins, Cameron Roberson was lost for the season and Jonas Gray was banged up. At one point in spring practice there was a single healthy scholarship running back on the entire roster (C. Wood).

Would Riddick be shifted back to running back due to the attrition? Brian Kelly certainly did his part to fuel the flames when he said in an interview this spring that the move was an option they were considering.

Ideally, Riddick has found his home at receiver, but will necessity send him back to his original position? Is an alternative a steady dose of jet sweeps from the slot? He's one of the most dangerous threats on the offensive side of the ball right now so it will be very interesting to watch exactly how Kelly chooses to utilize him come the fall.

How Balanced Will Brian Kelly's Playcalling Be?

Many of the Irish faithful were delighted to see Brian Kelly's shift in offensive philosophy down the stretch of last season. Once Tommy Rees took the reins in the Utah game, Notre Dame relied on a much steadier dose of running plays instead of the aerial assaults they'd launched in the first nine games of the season.

The reasoning behind Kelly's decision to adapt was a desire to relieve some of the pressure from the true freshman and put the onus more on the hogs up front. The offensive line responded and exceeded most fans' expectations, clearing the way for the most productive Notre Dame running game in what seemed like ages. In fact, it was the bruising ground attack that spurred the game-winning drive against Southern Cal when the Irish were completely unable to move the ball through the air.

Now that Dayne Crist is once again healthy and Tommy Rees has an entire year in the offense under his belt, will Kelly go back to the pass-first offensive persona or stick with the more balanced attack that was so effective in the final four games? There's a big chunk of Notre Dame nation crossing their fingers hoping for the latter, but Kelly's history seems to suggest he'll be much more interested in airing it out.

Which direction will he go? It's a question that can't be answered until we see with our own eyes on September 3.

Who Will Get the Starting Nod at Quarterback?

Here's the biggest question on every Irish fan's mind: who will take the field and be behind center the first offensive series of 2011? Both had mediocre-to-poor spring games, which helped maintain the status quo of a cloudy picture.

The arguments for both sides have been stated and restated, then rephrased and restated again. We're perfectly aware of the positives and negatives both bring to the table with a nice sample size to judge the accomplishments and shortcomings of each. Rehashing them here would be redundant.

Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees will answer this question on the practice field this August. Who will be more consistent day in and day out? Who will show more progress over the course of the next four-plus months?

While it may be frustrating to fans that they can't pinpoint the clear choice at this point in the game, it's reassuring to know that Brian Kelly gets to choose between two capable quarterbacks that have both proven they can effectively run the offense. This is a sharp contrast to the 2007 disaster where Charlie Weis was essentially forced to pick his poison between four quarterbacks who had never taken a meaningful snap.

The 2011 situation isn't necessarily an ideal one, but it certainly could be worse.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blue-Gold Game 2011: What Did We Learn?

The Blue-Gold Game is in the books. So what did we learn? Here are ten things I took away from the spring scrimmage.

#10: The Young Quarterbacks Will Make an Impact This Season

Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson are miles away from being polished enough to take over the team for good, but that doesn’t mean they will be riding the pine come fall.

Both quarterbacks exhibited the ability to be a threat running the ball from the quarterback position, a key aspect of the spread offense that is lacking when Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees is in the game. Golson gained a game high 62 yards while Hendrix punched in two touchdowns on quarterback reads.

Brian Kelly has been quite clear that one—if not both—of his young signal callers will see the field as a change of pace quarterback. Having those running threats in the game will force opponents to gameplan and prepare for another dangerous facet of the Irish attack. The experience Golson and Hendrix garner will also help them become more comfortable and prepare for when they eventually do get the keys to the car.

Expect at least a handful of series of each game to be led by Hendrix or Golson. And don’t be surprised if they’re so effective that fans start clamoring for one of them to start by the time the calendar turns to November.

#9: Notre Dame Is Stacked at Kicker

The spring game showcased the fact that Notre Dame has the best collection of kickers in the country.

Former starter and rising junior Nick Tausch connected on two field goals in the mucky conditions, including a 45-yarder that couldn’t have split the uprights more perfectly. Early enrollee freshman Kyle Brindza also converted a 32-yard first half field goal in his first public appearance for Notre Dame. Lou Groza Award finalist David Ruffer didn’t even play due to sickness. That trio stacks up against any in the country.

Unfortunately, being deep at kicker is the equivalent of being deep at goalie in lacrosse—only one is needed to be successful so the riches unfortunately will be wasted at least while all three are still in South Bend. But Irish fans remember it wasn’t long ago when the team had to lean on the likes of Carl Gioia, Ryan Burkhart, and Brandon Walker, making everything from extra points to 45-yard field goals an unpleasant adventure.

How nice it is to be on the other side of that coin.

#8: Jonas Gray Still Has a Long Way to Go

Perhaps it can be pinned on the fact he was banged up, but Jonas Gray looked slow and timid—two words you don’t want describing your power back.

Many people had high hopes for Gray, believing that he’d start to fulfill his potential now that more carries seem inevitable. Unfortunately, if Saturday was any indication those hopes will go unfulfilled.

Gray is built like a brick house and has been since the day he arrived on campus. He flashed some potential as a freshman in limited playing time, but to this point in his career he’s better known for his game-changing fumbles against Michigan and Navy.

Robert Hughes provided the thunder to Cierre Wood’s lightning down the stretch of last season and that’s exactly what the Irish need from Gray. One could argue that if Hughes could figure it out so late in his career then Jonas can as well. The difference between the two though is the fact Hughes had flashed that ability to be a bulldozer early in his career while Gray has not.

Notre Dame needs him to be a viable complement to Cierre Wood because there really isn’t another alternative. That means something needs to click between now and September that spurs Gray to start running decisively and with authority.

#7: Louis Nix Changes the Dynamic of the Entire Defense

Irish fans got their first glimpse of Big Lou in action on Saturday. The conclusion that can be drawn: he is simply immovable.

It didn’t matter whom he matched up against, a veteran or a backup, every single play he commanded a double team. He’s so strong and gets such a push up the heart of the offensive line that he completely eliminates the option of running the ball up the middle.

He has a long way to go until he gets his stamina and condition up to the level defensive coordinator wants, but he’s already done a good job working toward that goal. After tipping the scales at 370lbs when he arrived, Nix has already shed 30lbs with the goal of even more before August. He’s really bought into the staff’s workout and nutrition programs and that’s a huge battle won.

Big Lou will be an unsung hero on the majority of his snaps. His mere presence will effectively occupy blockers and space—the main objective of a 3-4 nose tackle—which will in turn free up the linebackers and ends to make the highlight plays.

But there will be times this fall where a team is dumb enough to think a single offensive lineman can contain Big Lou. When these situations arise, Nix will completely manhandle said lineman, toss him into the backfield, and cause either a quarterback sack or negative rushing play.

And it’s those plays that will cause his legend to grow.

#6: The Receiving Unit Desperately Needs Michael Floyd

Notre Dame fans have been spoiled for the most part since 2005. With the exception of 2007 (when the Irish trotted out the smurfs—Grimes and West—as starting receivers), wideout has been a position stocked with impact players and superstars. Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija in 2005. Samardzija and Rhema McKnight in 2006. Golden Tate and Michael Floyd in 2008 and 2009. Floyd again in 2010.

When you take away big #3 though, there isn’t another dynamic threat lying in waiting like there has been the past five years. Will heralded recruits George Atkinson III and Davaris Daniels be the future once they step on campus this summer? Perhaps, but the receivers Notre Dame fielded last Saturday were decidedly average.

Theo Riddick has enormous potential coming out of the slot position in the spread, but he’s still learning the position and will never be a true #1 receiver. TJ Jones could also evolve into a very productive receiver, but he’s still young and it’s unclear exactly what his ceiling is. Robby Toma, John Goodman, and Deion Walker are all good receivers, but not one strikes fear in a defense. Does the coaching staff feel confident that any of them can get open on that key play late in the game when the Irish need a first down?

Michael Floyd’s return instantly upgrades the receiving unit from average to very good. Floyd presence will make everyone else on the team better simply because defenses must be worried about him, whether it’s rolling coverages or assigning double teams.

#5: The DOG Linebacker Position Battle Will Be Close to the Very End

There aren’t many starting positions that are still to be determined, but one of them is the DOG linebacker. Prince Shembo and Danny Spond are in a heated battle to lock down the spot and both looked very good in their action on Saturday.

Shembo is more of a known commodity thanks to the impact he made last season as a pass rushing specialist, but the coaching staff has raved about Spond since he arrived last summer. The duo posted a combined 13 tackles in the spring game (Spond 7, Shembo 6) and both showed they could be very viable options come the fall.

The reality is that both will see significant time come this fall. This is a much different situation than last year when Calabrese and McDonald were in a competition because the staff gave some indications that Carlo would win that spot just by the general tone of their comments. It’s been equal praise heaped on Shembo and Spond since day one of spring camp and that’s a good thing for everyone.

#4: The Irish Have the Makings of an Elite Front Seven

Notre Dame lost only one player from the two-deep on the defensive line from last season (NT - Ian Williams) and replace him with 340lb Louis Nix, the prototype for the position. The linebacking unit is led by future first rounder Manti Te’o and three-year starter Darius Fleming. Superstar freshmen DE Aaron Lynch and LB Ishaq Williams are already on campus and making an impact, while an infusion of highly rated talent like five-star defensive end Stephon Tuitt is on the way this summer.

For the first time in ages, Notre Dame can stake the claim that they are loaded with elite talent on their front seven. The days of athletically and physically limited players like Chris Frome, Ronald Talley, and Justin Brown occupying spots are gone for the foreseeable future. This generation of the Irish defense is athletic, large, and relentless.

If the defense can even just maintain the level of play they showed in the final month of the season they’ll be one of the best in the country. Add in the contributions of Lynch, Tuiit, and Williams and you have a recipe for dominance.

If Notre Dame takes a step toward the upper echelon of college football this season it’ll be on the wings of this unit.

#3: Aaron Lynch is on the Fast Track to Superstardom

Coaches and fans alike knew snatching Aaron Lynch up in the 11th hour of the recruiting cycle was a huge coup. After seeing his first 60 minutes in blue and gold people are beginning to understand just how huge a coup it was.

From the first snap to the final gun, Lynch was a menace. Whether he was lined up outside or inside it didn’t matter. His lightning quick first step and strength made offensive linemen look like they were standing still.

Perhaps you could shrug off the success a bit if it came all day long against walk-ons and players never slated to see the field. That wasn’t the case though. Offensive tackle Christian Lombard was repeatedly victimized and veteran starting guard Trevor Robinson was completely blown away by Lynch’s speed and swim move on one play.

Lynch tied for a game high with seven tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. Not included in those stats were the multiple times he got into the backfield and leveled quarterback Andrew Hendrix. Each time PA announcer Michael Collins announced Lynch’s name over the Notre Dame Stadium loudspeaker the hype and expectations grew. Post-game the coaching staff set out immediately to temper them, continually stressing how Aaron still has a long way to go to becoming a complete player.

That’s very true. He still has plenty to learn and is far from a finished product. But Lynch has already shown a lot of gifts and skills that can’t be learned. He’ll have an impact right away in passing situations much like Justin Tuck did as a redshirt freshman, whether it’s actually getting sacks or drawing holding penalties. Six sacks on the year is not an unreasonable expectation.

Lynch is unlike anyone Notre Dame has seen along the defensive line since Tuck and frankly, his ceiling is probably even higher.

#2: Notre Dame Doesn't Appear to Have a National Title Caliber Quarterback

One of the biggest disappointments from the spring game was the fact that Dayne Crist didn’t look like he improved all that much from last fall. All spring practice reports and interviews suggested that things had slowed down for him and he was far more comfortable in the offense. That didn’t appear to be the case Saturday.

Tommy Rees on the other hand looked like he’d progressed, but he still possesses the same shortcomings as last season. First of all, physically he’s just unable to make all the throws that the other three quarterbacks can. But secondly—and more importantly—is the fact that Rees has a propensity to turn the ball over.

Many praise Rees for getting the ball out of his hand quickly, but some times that quick release follows a bad read and leads to costly turnovers. That tendency reared its head during the spring game when he threw a bad interception to Lo Wood. He was fortunate that was the only pick he threw because a couple other passes very easily could have gone the other direction.

What does their performance mean, if anything? The biggest takeaway is that the Irish lack a national title caliber quarterback right now. Look at the list of quarterbacks in the national title game the last five seasons:

2006: Chris Leak, Troy Smith
2007: Matt Flynn, Todd Boeckman
2008: Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford
2009: Greg McElroy, Colt McCoy
2010: Cam Newton, Darron Thomas

With the exception of the 2007 season, that’s a list of elite quarterbacks. Notre Dame lacks that level of signal caller right now. Could Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees evolve into it by the fall? Possibly, but it’s unlikely. In Kelly’s offense you need a triggerman capable of consistently moving—and protecting—the ball. Crist has yet to prove he can provide the necessary consistency, while Rees hasn’t shown he can protect the ball adequately.

Will Hendrix or Golson evolve into one in the coming years? That’s distinctly possible, but to expect them to arrive this season is unrealistic.

Brian Kelly has a way of working magic with quarterbacks and maximizing their potential (just look at Rees last year and Zach Collaros at Cincinnati). If there’s one position people should feel comfortable letting him evaluate and improve it’s the guy lined up behind center.

But based on what we saw last year and what we witnessed Saturday, the Irish don’t have a quarterback on the roster capable of taking them to the national title this fall. It’s a sobering fact, but unless something dramatic changes it’s the truth.

#1: Notre Dame is Capable of Crashing the BCS...Just Not the Title Game

Brian Kelly was tasked with returning Notre Dame to the top of the college football world. The Irish fan base isn't known as the most patient, but it will have to wait at least one year longer until its in the thick of a title hunt late in the season.

This fall Kelly will field a potentially elite defense. The big question is whether his vaunted offense will be consistent enough to win all the games on the schedule they're supposed to win and steal a game or two that perhaps they should not. Without a standout quarterback to run the show it'll be an uphill battle, but it's one Kelly has conquered before. Could he find a way to coax enough consistency out of Crist or Rees to run the table? It's a long shot.

More than likely Notre Dame will slip up one or two times in the first seven games. That doesn't mean all will be lost though. For a program that was 4-5 and had vultures circling after back-to-back losses against Navy and Tulsa just last October, the reversal from rock bottom to relevance has been dramatic--and make no mistake, Notre Dame will be relevant again starting this season.

They have some extraordinary talent on defense and an experienced offensive line to protect whoever emerges at quarterback. Combine that with a light schedule and you have a legitimate BCS contender.

The hunch here is the Irish will poke their head in the Top 10 at least once and wrap up the season with their best record since Charlie Weis' Sugar Bowl team of 2006. Notre Dame will win at least nine games and if things break right they'll get the 10th win that will sneak them back into the BCS as an at-large.

So be patient Irish fans. While a national title run is highly unlikely this season, there will be much more to play for than the Sun Bowl come November. Just another step on the way back to the ultimate goal of hoisting that championship trophy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ten Things to Expect from the Spring Game

Notre Dame's 15 spring practices will come to a close this Saturday with the Blue and Gold Game. For the first time ever the game will be televised in its entirety on Versus which means a record number of fans will get a sneak peek at the 2011 team.

This intrasquad scrimmage will be the Irish Faithful's last taste of football until the South Florida game. Today we examine ten things to expect from the contest ranging from Brian Kelly's vocabulary to Everett Golson's legs.

#10: A Subdued Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly has been known for having a lot to say to his player throughout the course of a game, specifically his quarterbacks. While the majority of time there's some vocabulary peppered in that has Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins yelling "EARMUFFS!" to the other Holy Cross Priests, that won't be the case this Saturday.

Why? Because Versus will have Kelly mic-ed up for the entire contest. Fans will get a glimpse of the hands-on instruction he's so adept at giving, it'll just be the PG version.

Asked if he'd be willing to wear a microphone for the Michigan or Southern Cal games, Kelly quickly responded, "absolutely not."

#9: A More Confident Dayne Crist

Every practice report that's trickled out from spring camp has reiterated the same thing over and over again: Dayne Crist looks infinitely more comfortable this spring. Interviews with the front runner for the starting quarterback job confirm it as well as praise heaped upon him by his head coach.

Crist talked about how last year during the season he was worried about ten different things as he approached the line of scrimmage and never felt like he had a good enough grasp of the offense to let it rip. Now with over a year of experience within the system and with a much deeper understanding of the offense he's poised to make huge strides.

Expect to see a much smoother and more confident Dayne Crist, but not for long since the head coach announced plans to limit both his and Tommy Rees' snaps.

#8: A Robby Toma Breakout

Want a breakout star to emerge from the spring game? Look no further than slot receiver Robby Toma. With the limited number of running backs available, it's reasonable to expect that Kelly will give the green light to air things out a bit. Toma is an underrated commodity at this point in his career and will provide a playmaking safety net for the pair of young quarterbacks that will get the majority of spring game reps.

Toma is extraordinarily quick and might have the best hands on the team. His ability to run precise routes and tendency to wiggle for the extra yard or two at the end of every run will make him a factor this fall. Saturday will provide many people's first extended glimpse of a potential sleeper for when the real games start.

#7: A Walk-on Running Back Bonanza

Notre Dame has exactly one scholarship running back on its roster right now that is not banged up: starter Cierre Wood. A thin group to begin with entering the spring, injuries to Cameron Roberson (torn ACL) and Jonas Gray (knee) have decimated the backfield. Gray returned to practice this week but one can't help but assume he'll be limited in a game that doesn't count.

Rather than risk Cierre Wood's health with extended time, expect walk-on tailbacks like Patrick Coughlin to see plenty of snaps. Kelly plans to run live whenever Golson and Hendrix are in the game because he wants to see them run his offense. In order to do that though, Kelly needs some bodies at running back.

Will any walk-on seize their ultimate Rudy moment and earn themselves a shot at legitimate PT in the fall? You never know...

#6: A Peek at the True Spread Option

Odds are almost 100% that either Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees will receive the starting nod to start the season this fall. Combined they've started for an entire season, seen a lot of game action, and have gotten the bulk of first and second team reps under center since Kelly took over last spring.

Unfortunately for Kelly though, neither is the type of running threat ideally fits his spread option offense. In order to maximize the potential of the spread the quarterback needs to be a legitimate threat to run on every play. The read option--a staple play of the spread where the quarterback makes a split decision after the snap to either hand the ball off to the running back or run it himself--is not nearly as effective when the defense is 99% certain the running back is getting the ball every time.

The two young quarterbacks sitting behind--Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson--Crist and Rees fit the mold of Kelly's prototype quarterback. Both are not only excellent passers (Hendrix has a howitzer for an arm), but are also athletic threats to take off and run. The dual threat they present is exactly what Kelly needs in the long-term.

Once things kickoff in the fall, expect a big chunk of the spread offense to stay in Kelly's back pocket. But this Saturday everyone will catch of glimpse of exactly what it will look like once the keys to the car are handed to a quarterback with wheels.

#5: An Aaron Lynch Sack

Mega-stud defensive line recruit Aaron Lynch has been on-campus since January and has already made a big impression on the coaching staff. His explosiveness off the snap is something Notre Dame hasn't seen since Justin Tuck was manning the defensive end position.

Lynch still has plenty to learn and is very raw, but expect him to find his way to the quarterback at least once this Saturday. When he does he'll only throw gasoline on the fire of hype that's surrounding him, something that probably doesn't bother him in the slightest.

#4: How Dominant the Front Can Be with Big Lou

Notre Dame returns four starters along an offensive line that improved by leaps and bounds over the course of last season.

Against Southern Cal and Miami, they dominated the line of scrimmage and allowed both the running game and passing game to thrive.

So why would I go and predict that they're going to be dominated? Because the defensive line returns all but one player in the two-deep and they replace the graduated Ian Williams with 340 pounds of Louis Nix.

Nix doesn't have the stamina necessary to make a prolonged impact, but he'll play enough that people understand how much he elevates the potential of the defense.

He's an immovable mountain of a man that commands a double team no matter who he's lining up against. The extra blockers he occupies will clog the middle of the offense while freeing the linebackers to make more plays in the lanes Nix creates.

He won't be out there very long because he's physically not able to last yet, but when he's in there expect the run game to hit a brick wall. Some people may be upset when the ground game isn't effective. They should be smiling instead, because Big Lou and friends could be something special.

#3: An Even Faster Paced Offense

When Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame, he said he wanted the Irish to play at a breakneck pace, one they were completely unaccustomed to under the previous regime.

He wanted faster practices, he wanted faster game speed, he wanted faster water breaks. It was all about efficiency and speed.

It took awhile for things to sink in, and Kelly even had to abandon his speed offense in favor of a more controlled tempo when Rees took over for Crist. The Irish averaged about 65 plays per game last season. This year, the head coach wants that number up between 80 and 85.

If that seems like a sizable jump, it is. What will make that transition easier, though, is the fact that the entire team is far more comfortable with the operation than they were last year. The learning curve has softened quite a bit and the hurried nature of practices and games now comes as second nature to most.

Expect Kelly to push his team to the limit in a scrimmage. He'll insist on them finding a gear they didn't think they had to test just how much they can handle.

#2: The Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson Show

While Crist and Rees are a clear notch above Hendrix and Golson in the race for starter, the latter two prospects will be wearing blue jerseys instead of red.

What does that mean?

They're going live in a way that would make Bill O'Reilly proud.

Kelly wants to see both of his rising freshmen quarterbacks run the offense they fit so well. In order to do that, they're going to have to take hits that the head coach simply won't risk on Crist or Rees.

So while fans won't get to see much of the top two on the depth chart, they'll get a nice, prolonged look at what the future holds with the ballyhooed backups. That dynamic will create a much more entertaining show for the fans since it will be real scrimmaging instead of touch football with the quarterbacks.

#1: A True Glimpse of What's to Come This Fall

Many people say that spring games mean nothing and fans shouldn't read too much into what they see, since it's still five months away from the opening game.

I'm here to tell you those people are wrong.

I have attended five spring games (every year from 2005-2009) and watched last year's online. Every single one of them provided a pretty accurate preview of what was to come the next fall.

Spring 2005: Brady Quinn spread lasers all over the field in a late-April blizzard. He transformed into a completely different quarterback than he was under Willingham and the offense looked like a juggernaut. I knew leaving that they'd be able to put points up on anybody. I just didn't know if our defense could stop anyone.

Right on the money.

Spring 2006: They looked good and the defense looked a little better, but things just weren't as in sync as the previous year for whatever reason. I left thinking they just didn't look quite as sharp as the previous year.

Once again, pretty spot on.

Spring 2007: We looked terrible. I just spent five minutes looking through a Thesaurus trying to find the highest form of terrible. We couldn't block, we couldn't run, we couldn't throw. The quarterbacks threw more touchdowns to the defense than the offense.

Other than that, everything looked great!

I left Notre Dame Stadium thinking there's no way we could be that bad...could we?

Yes. They were that bad.

Spring 2008: They looked better, but by no means were they a finished product. Jimmy Clausen had improved and it appeared that cracking the three-yards-per-carry mark was at least a possibility. Mediocrity was the name of the game and it signaled to me that plenty of growing pains would happen come fall.

Pretty accurate, though the growing pains were worse than I thought.

Spring 2009: Jimmy looked great and the offense looked like a well-oiled machine. We still couldn't run the ball, even on our Swiss-cheese defense, but who needed to run it when we had such a ridiculous aerial attack to fall back on?

Right on the money with the offense, though I never thought our defense could be so bad.

Spring 2010: Everyone on offense looked like they were thinking too much and somewhat overwhelmed by analysis paralysis. By no means was it ugly—in fact it was infinitely better than 2007 and much better than 2008—-but it was clear that a Parseghian-esque resurrection just wasn't in the cards.

Another pretty accurate forecast.

The biggest difference between Weis and Kelly is the fact that Kelly's squads improved over the course of the year. Weis' seemed to peak early and plateau if not completely fall off the map. Perhaps that's why his spring games were always such a clear indicator of what was to come.

Will Saturday's game provide a true glimpse of what's to come? I say it will.

The nice thing is that it'll be an indicator of what to expect in September, not necessarily in November like it was under Charlie.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Digesting the Floyd Saga

On Monday March 21, Notre Dame fans awoke to the news that Michael Floyd had been arrested for Driving Under the Influence just off-campus. The story broke about seven hours after the basketball team had been abruptly and unceremoniously dismissed from the NCAA Tournament so at the time it was like waking up from a bad dream and being in the midst of an even worse reality.

The general assumption was that since this was Floyd’s second run-in with that law in a little over a year, Notre Dame’s disciplinary arm (ResLife) would drop the hammer down on the superstar. After all, a couple years ago Will Yeatman was arrested for a second time and ResLife booted him despite the fact he had only a .02 BAC after a party was busted off-campus. Why would anyone expect anything different to Floyd, especially when the second offense was far worse than Yeatman’s?

Shockingly though, ResLife did not suspend the Irish standout for the fall semester. In fact, it didn’t even levy a punishment that would prevent him from playing in a single game. His sentence included a hefty amount of community service, but he was free to resume football activities as soon as head coach Brian Kelly deemed Floyd to be ready.

This announcement led to two major reactions. The first was one of relief and joy within the Irish fan base. For the second time since January 1, Notre Dame received the unexpected gift of Michael Floyd returning in 2011. He’s bar-none the best player on the offense (probably the entire team) and will likely go down as the greatest receiver in school history once he’s done rewriting the record books this fall. Adding him back into the mix instantly heightens the ceiling and potential of the 2011 campaign.

The second reaction was the predictable backlash from both the “ambulance chasers” of the journalistic community out to take a shot at Notre Dame whenever the opportunity presents itself and message board lunatics on places like Many bashed the decision to “let Floyd off the hook,” crying it was hypocritical and that Notre Dame needed to drop the “holier than thou” attitude because it was turning into Oklahoma, Florida, or Miami in terms of leniency under Brian Kelly.

I’ve thought about this situation way too much over the past three weeks. I’ve deliberated by myself and amongst fellow Irish fans as to what the best and worst case endgames were for this fiasco, what should and shouldn’t happen.

I’m very glad that ResLife appears to be changing its ways. The ways in which it traditionally dished out punishment to students—and especially its higher profile enrollees on athletic teams—was completely unreasonable and counterproductive.

One thing I must stress though is my sincere hope this is an across the board transformation. Notre Dame prides itself on not treating its athletes any differently than its regular student body. It truly does make it unique that you live down the hall from guys on the football team, work together on projects with basketball players in classes, and that every single member of every sports team graduates with a legitimate degree—unlike places like Michigan and Florida State.

After Charlie Weis was fired, he singled out ResLife as the major problem facing Notre Dame’s football program and stated it needed to change. What he failed to do was emphasize it wasn’t hurting just the football program, but the rest of the student body as well.

When a 20-year old football player is suspended for a semester because he blew a .02 after an off-campus party was busted that’s completely ridiculous. When a normal freshman student is given a hefty fine, hours of community service, and assigned to alcohol classes for being caught holding a beer by an undercover officer at a tailgate despite blowing a .00 (like a friend of mine did) that’s equally outrageous.

The purpose of ResLife should be to help students grow and learn from their mistakes, not ruin or severely setback futures of young adults. If this ruling represents a shift toward that philosophy then that’s a great thing for the entire school.

Back to Michael Floyd.

Floyd hasn’t been reinstated by head coach Brian Kelly and Kelly has said there’s no timeline for a return. So while critics point at Notre Dame for being hypocritical and countless hack journalists like David Haugh emerge from the clown car in which they all reside with pens in one hand and hatchets in the other, they leave out the major detail that no decision has been made on Floyd’s football future.

Brian Kelly insists that Floyd won’t be back on the team until his life is back in order and priorities rearranged. This ruling from ResLife is the ultimate second chance to earn a degree and while showcasing his talents for the next level in football. One more misstep—no matter how minor—and he’s gone.

Notre Dame Football needs him if it wants to be an elite team this year. He’s a game changer on the perimeter and one of the most prolific and dominant receivers in the country. The season opener against South Florida is no “gimme.” The Bulls are a well-coached group and present a much more dangerous challenge out of the gate than San Diego State, Nevada, and Purdue have the past three years. Michael Floyd splitting out wide and starting that game would be huge.

But he shouldn’t be able to do so.

It’s my hope that Brian Kelly permits Michael Floyd to begin working out with the team this summer. Over that time he must prove to both the coaching staff and his teammates that he’s changed, he’s dedicated to the cause, and ultimately committed to representing the University of Notre Dame in a way that makes the entire Irish Family proud.

If Michael does all the necessary things prove that then I’d like Coach Kelly to announce that he will be eligible to play starting in week two against Michigan.

DUI is a very, very serious matter. It can't, shouldn't, and won't be taken lightly. Yes, people make mistakes and people deserve second chances—which Floyd is receiving in multiple ways—but slip-ups like this also merit a penalty that will make a profound impact on the offender. Nothing makes an impact on an athlete like stripping him of his ability to compete.

As much as I want to see Floyd out on the field against USF, I think it’s only right he’s suspended for that contest. A spring suspension, stripping of the captaincy, a couple extra hard days spent at Longo Beach, and a game spent watching from the sideline is fair recompense for his crime. Brian Kelly appears to have a very solid grasp on the situation, but there's a mob of people waiting to pounce on him depending on what he decides. All Irish fans can do is sit back and trust he'll handle it properly.

Michael Floyd has been granted a huge opportunity to redeem himself. Let’s hope that he seizes this second chance both on and off the field.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ten Things to Expect from October 22nd

It warms my heart to know that a couple of my buddies bit on the April Fools joke last week. Thankfully, the cancellation of the 7:30pm kickoff was a farce and all systems are still go for what is sure to be one of the electrifying home games in years.

Let's celebrate the fact that it's only 198 days away by going down a list of ten things to expect from the first night game since Rick Mirer's first start.

#10: The Mother of All Tailgates

The Irish Faithful are known to tailgate. The range and scope of these tailgates varies greatly from the older, more mature alumni that put out phenomenal and elaborate spreads to the student tailgates where Keystone and Natural Light are frequently drank out of a hole in the side of the can. Full beer flip cup anyone?

No matter which route a fan decides to go on October 22, they'll have to be prepared for an extra four hours. That means not only having breakfast and lunch ready, but dinner as well. The number of brats, burgers and beers consumed will be off the charts.

There's no other way to spin it: It will be glorious.

#9: Higher Ratings

NBC has been carrying every Notre Dame home game since 1991. Over the course of that time frame, there have been exactly zero games hosted at night. The previous administration of Notre Dame, headed by Fr. Monk Malloy, was vehemently against the night game concept for a variety of reasons, so it put the kibosh on them, much to the chagrin of the network.

Recently, though, the network began pushing more for the night kickoff. Notre Dame moved toward it by granting NBC a primetime game each year at a neutral site. The excitement among fans that the night kickoff has generated is equaled by NBC, because a Notre Dame-Southern Cal 7:30 p.m. kickoff should be a ratings bonanza, especially if both teams have successful starts to the season.

The Irish are the only college football team NBC broadcasts, so there has always been a gaping hole on Saturday nights when competing with CBS, ABC and ESPN for viewership. On October 22, that won't be an issue.

#8: Grumpy Old Men

While the vast majority of the fans are extremely excited about the prospect of a night game at Notre Dame Stadium, there is a small percentage that is upset about moving kickoff back four hours. All of these detractors are in the "older alumni" demographic and are much more concerned with the fact that it may be a bit colder, and it will result in them getting back to their beds much later than normal.

It's not a good thing that these people exist, but it's reality. There is a silver lining within this fact, though, and it's reason numero seven.

#7: A Younger Crowd

The night kickoff is not up the alley of the aforementioned older alumni; in fact, they're not only unexcited about it, they're downright upset and many will pass on going to the game. On the other hand, you have young alumni who are so excited about the prospect of a night game that they're willing to barter their first born to get their hands on a ticket (my first two children if the seat is on the 50-yard line).

The combination is going to lead to a much younger and more enthusiastic crowd. This is something many people have craved for years and it should lead to an even more pronounced homefield advantage.

#6: Colder Temperatures

The arrangement that Notre Dame and Southern Cal have says that all games played at Notre Dame Stadium will be held in October instead of during the cold of November. Many Irish fans wish that wasn't the case so that the "pretty boys" from the West Coast had to deal with the elements.

The average high temperature in South Bend on October 22 is 62 degrees. The average low? 42.

The night kickoff means that it's far more likely that the Trojans will have to deal with the cold, something they typically never have to do. The last time it was bitterly cold and miserable was 1995, and the Irish smacked Keyshawn Johnson and top 10 ranked Southern Cal in the mouth 38-10 (Oh hey, meet Kinnon Tatum). It was apparent from early on that Southern Cal was completely thrown off by the weather, and the Irish seized the opportunity.

Could it happen again? Certainly a better chance of it under the lights than under the sun.

#5: The Return of the Pep Rally

In recent years, the pep rally has declined to the point where it's just about on life support. A night game at Notre Dame will create the necessary excitement to re-energize the rally.

Six years ago, over 55,000 fans packed Notre Dame Stadium before the epic showdown with Southern Cal. The craziness surrounding this edition of the rivalry will have the masses out in full force, and once again, Friday night will be rocking, whether it's in the JACC or the Stadium.

(I can dream, right?)

#4: Michael Floyd

Michael Floyd made a terrible mistake last month when he drove drunk and was arrested for DUI. He deserves to be punished and will be.

By all accounts, though, his football career at Notre Dame is not over. Whether the suspension is three, four or six games, he will still be back in time to face off against Southern Cal. He's only had that opportunity once since he missed the game due to injury his freshman and sophomore seasons.

He's going to say all the right things leading up to his reinstatement, and I hope for his sake he'll do all the right things as well. Once he gets on that field, he's going to be a terror, and the Trojans will be on the wrong side of his fury October 22.

#3: Green Jerseys

Love them or hate them, the green jerseys are going to be coming out. And you know what? People should embrace it.

The entrance for the 2005 game was absolutely electric, and it took the energy in the stadium up to another level. When the Irish pour out onto the field in green under the lights October 22, it will have the same effect.

#2: Amped Up Noise Level

The beginning of the Notre Dame-Southern Cal game this fall is going to be absolutely deafening. It will be the perfect storm of fans fueled by an extra four hours of tailgating combined with pure adrenaline and excitement.

In 1988, the crowd for a night showdown with Michigan was so rowdy and loud that the Irish were actually assessed a penalty. Will the student body and young alums be up for that sort of performance? Something tells me there's 21 years of pent up rage ready to explode on the Trojans when the team emerges from the tunnel at 7:26 p.m.

#1: An Irish Victory

Notre Dame has only played seven home games at night in their illustrious history. Their record in those games? 6-1. The only loss came under the watch of Gerry Faust, an era in which Notre Dame fans don't like to acknowledge actually existed.

The Irish conquered the giant that is Southern Cal last season for the first time since 2001. Armed with that confidence and fueled by what is sure to be an absolutely electric atmosphere in Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish will find a way to win this game.

A new era in this rivalry has dawned, and the scales are tipping in favor of the Irish. On October 22, the question will not be if Notre Dame is wins the game; it will be figuring out what the final margin of victory will ultimately be.

Friday, April 1, 2011

ND Stadium Night Game Plans Scratched?!?!?

ND has released a statement that the Southern Cal kickoff has been moved back to its normal 3:30pm time slot after originally being planned for 7:30pm.


School officials stated "strong input" from influential alumni as the reason for the change. I love Swarbrick, I think he's great...but caving to alumni pressure in this situation is a HUGE strike against him.

I'm sick to my stomach, I can't even think let alone write. The full story is over at Subway Domer, just go there.