The good folks of the Notre Dame blogosphere found it in their hearts to welcome me into their midst for the Irish Blogger Gathering. I noticed this nice community-building exercise last season and feel quite honored to be invited by the Subway Domer himself.
Nothing like putting your feet to the fire to get started with this weekly exercise. I’d like to go on record saying I’m not a huge fan of predicting national champions, Heisman winners, or Irish bowl games/final record, so I just aimed high or holstered my sidearm if I wasn’t quite sure as opposed to throwing at the dartboard blindfolded.
1. Name one offensive player and one defensive player you’re most excited to see in the new systems and why.
While my gut reaction was Cierre Wood, I’m going to go against the grain and say Kyle Rudolph on offense. What Brian Kelly does with his tight ends will be very interesting, and having a 6-6, 265-pound Ivan Drago-clone out on the edge like Rudolph makes me more than curious. While everybody predicts big things for Rudolph, he hasn’t done it yet in a Notre Dame uniform. We’ll know the true creativity of a Kelly offense when we see what he does with Kyle, and if he’s actually back in the Wildcat, look out.
Defensively, I’m looking forward to seeing Darius Fleming in the position he was born to play. This crew of outside linebackers took a big step back developmentally when the defense transitioned to Jon Tenuta’s 4-3 system, and I’m expecting Fleming to have a breakout season under the tutelage of Bob Diaco. I expect Fleming to rack up double-digit sacks.
2. What’s one reason you think Brian Kelly is the right coach this time. What’s one reason you think he might not be?
I could give you a dozen reasons why I think Kelly is the right guy at the right time, but I’ll defer to ESPN’s Bruce Feldman, who spoke candidly about Kelly’s near-perfect fit at Notre Dame.
On the flipside of the coin, looking back at what I was writing when Jack Swarbrick was conducting his search, I wasn’t overly convinced that Kelly was the right guy for Notre Dame. While my feelings have changed since last November, one thing I did worry about was the class of competition Kelly played. If we’ve learned anything in the last few years, not all wins on the football field are created equal. Winning at Grand Valley, Central Michigan, and in the Big East isn’t necessarily a great predictor for success at Notre Dame, and if you look at Kelly’s track record in the big games he’s played, it’s not as if he’s been a giant killer.
(Note: This is the only thing I could think of after twenty minutes of scratching my head and searching through the blog archives.)
3. A lot of people are labeling Purdue, Boston College, and
Michigan State as toss up games. Considering Notre Dame beat all three
of these teams during the disappointing 2009 season, do you consider
these games toss-ups or games you expect Notre Dame to win?
It’s not as if Notre Dame won any football games (other than Nevada and WSU) convincingly, so I’m not sure how you can use last year’s cardiac victories as a rationale for expected success. That said, maybe I’m crazy, but I put all the games, minus Utah, Michigan State and USC, in the ‘expect to win’ category. On paper, Notre Dame should be favored in every game except Southern Cal.
4. What’s one reason you think Notre Dame could shock the world
and pull of another 1964-type season? What’s one reason you’re
concerned we might see more of a 1997-type season?
I’ll give you two reasons for an Ara-like season: Charlie Weis & Brian Kelly. If the Irish do make a run this year, it’ll be because of the players Charlie Weis recruited to Notre Dame and the player Brian Kelly turned into contenders. To a lesser extent, it happened with Ty using Davie’s players, it happened with CW using Ty’s players, and it could happen with BK using CW’s players.
If you’re looking for a formula for why the Irish would take a step back like they did during Davie’s first year, I’d posit a formula like this:
(New Offensive System + New Offensive Tackles + New Starting Quarterback + Tough Opening Schedule) x Same Mediocre Defense = Disappointing Season
Not that I think that’s going to happen, but all the elements are there for it to potentially take place.
5. Which freshmen do you see contributing the most on the field this year (outside of TJ Jones – that’s too easy?
After Jones, there’ll be a pretty serious drop off, but if I had to guess it’ll be Collinsworth on offense, Lo Wood on defense, Danny Spond on special teams. The transfer of Shaq Evans likely moves Collinsworth up a spot on the depth chart and I’ve got a feeling he’ll be the kind of player that Kelly utilizes all over the field.
Defensively, it’s pretty clear that Lo Wood is going to play early and often, and if Chuck Martin can keep his head on straight, he’ll have the most weight to carry. As for Spond, I just wanted a reason to mention him. He might be my favorite prospect in the freshman class, just because of his athletic ability and below-the-radar arrival. A high school quarterback fighting his way into the two-deep at middle linebacker? That’s the stuff of legend, and the kind of athlete that was getting ignored by the previous coaching staff.
6. Other than Dayne Crist (too easy again) who is the one player
Notre Dame can least afford to lose to injury for any significant
period of time?
It’s not even close right now: It’s Manti Te’o. Right now the depth at middle linebacker is frightening. Steve Paskorz is out at least three weeks, Anthony McDonald is very questionable, David Posluszny is doubtful. No offense to Carlo Calabrese, but the depth chart is Te’o and then Uh’o. Runner-up to either defensive end, but to me, Te’o is irreplaceable.
7. 2010 Season Predictions:
- Record: Not comfortable naming a number, but I expect double-digits
- Bowl Game & Opponent: Rose Bowl vs. Wisconsin (Followed by Civil War between the Arnold brothers…)
- Final Ranking: 7th
- Opponent with highest final ranking: PITT
- Notre Dame Off MVP: Michael Floyd
- Notre Dame Def MVP: Darius Fleming
- Best Opponent Def. player: Greg Jones
- Best Opponent Off. player: Ricky Dobbs
- Best Opposing Coach: Kyle Whittingham
- Game I am most excited to watch: Michigan
- Game most likely to DVR: All of them. Like to record while I watch. Tape doesn’t lie.
- National Champion: No clue.
- Heisman: No clue.
- Purdue Prediction: 27-17, Irish victory.