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IBG: Thankful for another year of football

Nov 24, 2011, 12:27 PM EST

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

What a bizarre year of football. After months of anticipation, the season got off to its worst possible start, as the Irish stumbled out of the gate so badly that most casual football fans never even got a chance to hop on the Notre Dame bandwagon.

But of course, this website isn’t for the casual fan. We’re here — 365, 24:7, whatever term you prefer that means you’ve got something to read daily — and while two gut-punching losses took some wind out of our sails, we made it through another season, and for that, I’m immensely thankful. (Even if some of you like to write stupid comments during the live blog just to mess with my blood pressure.)

After being a passive participant all season, it’s my week to host the Irish Blogger Gathering, so if you don’t like the questions… well, it’s my fault. After eleven games, we’re running out of debate topics, but I feel like I’ve put together enough to make things interesting. I’ll continue to update this post with responses from other writers as they roll in, so be sure to check in and read everything by kickoff Saturday, if only to make fun of the poor prognostication of this group.

So loosen your belt, enjoy a lovely day of carb-loading, turkey, football and all the wonderful things that make the fourth Thursday in November one of the greatest days of the year.

Obviously, Saturday night’s game is massive. Win, and the Irish get to nine wins after starting 0-2, and you can make a really persuasive argument that they’re deserving of a BCS berth. Lose, and ND only makes incremental progress over last year’s 8-5 record. Three potential outcomes: Win, close loss, ten-point loss. How does your takeaway for the season change?

Saturday night’s game is definitely a tipping point in the Brian Kelly era. I don’t think there’s a way to understate the importance of the game. Win — and you’ll hear me bang the drum for a BCS bid, regardless of the three losses. Lose and it’ll give Irish fans a month to debate what exactly is wrong with another Irish head coach. Get blown out? Well, that’s one of those topics I’m not going down unless I’m forced to do it Saturday night.

Brian Kelly has spent over two decades as a head football coach. But this season probably added a few hundred grey hairs to his scalp, and for understandable reasons. Whether it was replacing his starting quarterback thirty minutes into the season, losing games because of defensive implosions or self-induced mistakes, it’s safe to say that the first two weeks of this season spun the year into such a weird place to start that in his wildest dreams, Kelly never saw this coming.

Still, give the team — and their head coach — credit for not packing it in. While the loss to USC was really disappointing, the Irish did exactly what everybody asked for: win a bunch of games and make the last Saturday of the year a compelling football game.

Right now the Irish have 15 prospects committed to the 2012 recruiting class. Let’s assume every starter with a year left is coming back (Cave, KLM, Cwynar and Slaughter) and the Irish end up signing 20 recruits. That’ll make 93 players technically available for the 85-man roster (With Mike Ragone potentially being No. 94). Assuming Te’o and Eifert are back next season, what reserves do you invite back for a fifth year? Why?

I don’t know why I do this to myself, as these are the kind of questions that make life really difficult. Notre Dame’s policy on fifth-year players is incredibly admirable, but it must make life hard for a head football coach.

If you’re in the business of coaching student-athletes and objectively deciding their ability to help your team, picking who stays around for a fifth year must add a lot of stress to your life. A football coach’s job is to believe in the students he brings to Notre Dame. It’s easy to decide that a wet-behind-the-ears freshman isn’t ready to play. It’s got to be a whole lot tougher to decide a mature, 22-year-old student isn’t deserving of one more opportunity for the light bulb to go off. It’s practically antithetical to your mission statement as a coach.

With that in mind, let’s get cold-blooded about an Irish roster that’s finally — this is a good thing — bursting at the seams.

Fifth-year candidates:

Dayne Crist — One of my favorite players on the team. I wish him well as he transfers and plays a final season to rebuild his NFL Draft stock.
John Goodman — One of the more difficult decisions on the roster. I’d cut bait with him depending on the wide receivers that came in during recruiting. Even though he’s the quintesential example of a “waiting for the lightbulb to turn on” kind of player, he just hasn’t been the athlete many thought he could be.
Deion Walker — Even though Walker was one of the most highly touted recruits in his class, he just hasn’t been able to work his way into the two-deep. This year is it for the other No. 1.
Mike Golic — Probably the toughest call in the group. I’d actually let Golic walk, and then spend all spring turning Bruce Heggie into the super-sub type player that can play center and guard. (That said, if he comes back, I’d completely agree with the decision.)
Lane Clelland — Let him walk. Clelland is one of those guys that just as easily could’ve turned into a first round pick. His pedigree is perfect: high school wrestler, big-bodied athletic lineman. The coaching staff thought he had a chance to make a difference at defensive end, but the experiment ended after spring ball, and injuries robbed Clelland of a final chance to contribute.
Hafis Williams — There are just too many youngsters that have jumped ahead of him in the depth chart.
Brandon Newman — Ditto. Although I will really miss his thoughtful personality, which is always on display in UND.com’s videos and Trick Shot Monday episodes.
Anthony McDonald — Another tough, but logical decision. McDonald got passed up by Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, not to mention youngsters like Kendall Moore. And he’s struggled with injuries.
David Posluszny — He’s not much smaller than his brother, but Poz just couldn’t work his way onto the field. Another guy that struggled with injuries.
Dan McCarthy — One of my favorite recruits when he signed on to play for the Irish, McCarthy battled a serious injury coming into Notre Dame and just never seemed to work his way onto the field. Even though his brother was a late-bloomer, Dan is far down the depth chart after four years. It’s a tough decision, but I’d let him go.
Mike Ragone (Sixth Year) — One guy I’d fight to bring back. He’ll help the running game just as much as the passing game, and he’s a perfect compliment to the offensive line, and an off the field leader for a team that could be in need of one.

If you ran the website NDNation, what would you do with it? It’s the most prominent Notre Dame hub on all of the internet, but it’s got a very vocal faction of readers/fans that seem to control the agenda — most often with a significantly negative point-of-view. What would you do if that was your website?

This is one question I have no answer for. Unfortunately, there are certain vocal curmudgeons that make navigating their website a difficult task. For thousands of Irish fans, NDNation.com is a daily stop. Yet it’s probably been abandoned by just as many, with people simply growing disenfranchised after years of reading.

While it’s easy to say you’d nuke it and start over, it’s much harder to actually do it. I’d probably find myself deleting a few key posters, and then spend a few hours every day just challenging people to be rational, hoping that eventually people realize everybody wants the same thing: a winning football team.

You’re Brian Kelly. You spent last recruiting class successfully upgrading the front seven of the defense. Over the next two recruiting classes, what position groups do you absolutely need to upgrade to get the Irish over the BCS hump?

I take dead aim at the wide receiver position. My adoration for Michael Floyd is well known, but outside of him, I’m unimpressed with the athleticism of just about everybody playing the position. Kelly showed that he can find and bring in really impressive athletes at other positions — especially along the defensive line, one of the hardest places to bring in talent at Notre Dame. I’d focus my energy on bringing in a better breed of athletes at wideout, and watch how quickly the offense would take shape.

On the flip side of the ball, we’ll know if Brian Kelly is a success based on his evaluation of defensive backs. He’s basically been tasked with completely rebuilding the secondary for 2012, and we’ll know in about ten months whether he did a good job. Kelly has to replace a really veteran group, and if they can do it next yer, the team has a chance at being really, really good.

I’ve seen dozens of analogies used to describe the current state of the quarterbacking position at Notre Dame. What’s your favorite, or the one you think is the most appropriate?

I’m going to lean on the great Stephen Stills, who absolutely nailed how I feel about the current conundrum at quarterback:

“Well there’s a rose in the fisted glove.
And eagle files with the dove.
And if you can’t be with the one you love
Love the one you’re with.
Don’t be angry, don’t be sad.
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had.
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do.

So many people are focused on what Tommy Rees can’t do. I always find myself going the other way. Let’s just enjoy the things that he can do, even if some Saturdays that feels awfully limited. I’ve said it a million times so once more won’t hurt: If Brian Kelly thought he had someone else that’d help the Irish win every Saturday, he’d play him.

Get out the crystal ball. Even after an unimpressive weekend, the Irish are right around a seven-point underdog to Stanford. Do the Irish leave Palo Alto victorious?

If I got paid to pick Irish wins, I’d be broke and living on a street corner. That said, we’re still waiting for this Notre Dame team to play their best football. Even without some key contributors, I really do feel like this Saturday can be the day.

If Notre Dame wins, it’ll be because they played well, not because Stanford played poorly. It’ll also be because the Irish defense did a good job with Andrew Luck, the best quarterback Notre Dame will see in quite some time. Lost in the offensive implosion of last year’s 37-14 loss was Bob Diaco’s very good day against Luck. Statistically, it was one of the three worst games Luck ever played, and if the Irish can force a few mistakes out of him, they’ll have a chance to win.

Gut feeling or deep-seeded hope I can’t be sure, but I’ve got a feeling that Notre Dame beats Stanford, putting this season’s trajectory right back on track.

UPDATING: THOUGHTS FROM PEOPLE LIKELY SMARTER THAN ME:

* Our friends over at Her Loyal Sons had a really thoughtful response to the NDNation question. But he also quoted Beautiful Girls, one of my favorite movies. So there.

* I actually really like Shamrock Head’s take on fifth-year players. Whether it works is a different story.

* Our friends at the Irish Round Table make a really interest point: You can be anti-Brian Kelly or anti-Tommy Rees. You can’t be both.

* Here’s a Tommy Rees comparison that I really like from One Foot Down, comparing the quarterbacking situation to the cast of Saturday Night Live. Is Tommy Rees Kristen Wiig? To some, she’s a one-note comedian worth a couple laughs. Then again, she’s the brain/star behind Bridesmaids, the biggest comedy of the year.

* The Subway Domer gives us the three different places the Irish will be depending on what happens Saturday night.

* Blog Davie (now moving to New Mexico!) and the Gameday 40 crew still think the Irish should concentrate on recruiting quarterbacks, something Brian Kelly agrees with as he takes dead aim at Gunner Kiel.

  1. nudeman - Nov 24, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    1. Minimal difference in a blowout loss vs. a close loss. ND has escaped with its life vs. 2 teams they should have smoked (BC and Pitt), and Kelly has lectured us about the importance of “winning”. So if they lose by 1 point, they haven’t learned to win; if they get blown out, then 1) they haven’t learned to win AND 2) probably aren’t as good as we thought/hoped. Both will suck.

    2. Keith, is there any final determination on Tuitt?

    3. Time for a signature win, and THIS IS THE TIME. I lived in Northern CA for years and Stanford Alums are at the top of the “Insufferably Arrogant” list. Saturday night I’d love to see see their season ruined and hear them bitch about how they got “screwed” (like 49er fans have for years) by the refs and bad breaks. Beautiful.

    4. For ND to win there are a few guys who have to step up their usual mediocre play: Calabrese, Harrison Smith, T’eo (on pass coverage) come immediately to mind. Maybe Motta too.

    5. I would normally put Rees into the above category as well, but I hold little hope for him doing anything different than completing a high % of short passes for a bunch of yards that look good on paper but haven’t resulted in wins against top teams.

    6. I stick with my pick:
    ND 28
    Stanford 25

    Go Irish.

    • dmac4real - Nov 24, 2011 at 3:11 PM

      4- Definitely Motta. Dude pulls Gary Gray’s on balls thrown in the air to him. Also, hes even worse at taking routes to the ball. Today, Im thankful for Jamoris Slaughter.

  2. papadec - Nov 24, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    OH GOOD GRIEF. I find myself agreeing with most of what the nudeman has to say. One, or both, of us is mellowing out. Actually, I think he has had some other posts, or at least parts of posts, I agreed with. Have a good day nude – I’m ready for another drink.

  3. dmac4real - Nov 24, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    1. Win and that wont be a problem….Just Please win. Im sick of losing.

    2. The only one i would consider bringing back is Golic. That all just depends on what our other backup center looks like. Only the coached know that, so i trust them.

    3. Dont go to that site.

    4. 1) D backfield..Which is alreayd happening- Tee and Darby. 2) Linebackers. Specifically inside LB.

    5) Still undecided on TR. I typically feel better about him then most, but i get frustrated like hell when our offense plays bad and its a lot of times on him.

    6) We lose by 8.

    • nudeman - Nov 24, 2011 at 4:13 PM

      papadec
      Glad I could be your inspiration for another cocktail. See? Im not that bad.

      Anyway, PLEASE, just win this game. Tired of moral victories.

      • papadec - Nov 24, 2011 at 9:11 PM

        Hmmmmmm – driving me to drink? Nah – just kickin’ back enjoying a full day of football, checking out this site & ISD (for recruiting updates) & sparing a turkey by having salmon for dinner. I don’t think I ever said you were bad – aggravating sometimes with the anti-Rees stuff. I actually gave you several “thumbs up” the last few days, on your posts. I think we’re in sync in wanting the Irish to win.

    • nudeman - Nov 24, 2011 at 4:27 PM

      1. Agree

      2. Don’t know most of these guys. Sad to see Crist’s ND career end so unsatisfactorily. And anyone who’s been passed up by Calabrese isn’t worth keeping around.

      3. Agree. There are enough clowns here and from what I understand ND Nation is much worse.

      4. Don’t disagree, except to add: When in doubt, go “D”; and if still in doubt go “OL/DL”.
      SEC teams actually win championships because of their ability to run the ball and play defense.

      5. Have made my feelings so well known on TR that there’s no use repeating it all. Simply: He isn’t the guy.

      6. Hope you’re wrong/Fear you’re right.

      Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  4. goirish64 - Nov 24, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    I for one am thankful for another of year of ND football, especially without the stuff that has happened at my alma mater(OSU), and at (PSU). Sorry for the alleged victims, that should never have happened.

    Anyway, like to see the Irish show the Killer Instinct this Saturday, sorry for Jonas Gray.

    GO IRISH Beat the TREE
    BK Release the Horsemen

  5. leftcoastirishfan - Nov 24, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    Isn’t Kap Lewis eligible for a 5year???

  6. louderyet - Nov 25, 2011 at 12:32 AM

    Just some belated Thanksgivings based on Keith’s very thoughtful discussion, esp.re: ther NDNation web site:
    (1) As a 4th generation Notre Dame ex-pat, based in France for sixteen years, first let me thank the NDNation guys for having built a web site that does an awful lot of work linking its users to the world of Notre Dame football. I am sure they’re not doing it for the money, and they have certainly provided a service… without which I would most likely never have discovered this web site! Which leads me to my next point:
    (2) Many many thanks to “Her Loyal Sons” for a well-researched, insightful, and informative web site. I completely concur with the positive comments about HLS expressed above. Whoever you guys are, my deepest thanks.
    (3) Same goes for “One Foot Down.” Nice job over there.
    (4) And especially, also to Keith Arnold on this NBC site. You provide suoerb coverage, Keith.
    As for the thrust of the above discussion – unfortunately, the inner core on “Rock’s House” have become a clique collectively dominated by overly negative and even virulent viewpoints. Sometimes negativism can happen in life – thank goodness neither our coaches or players or most of our fan base seem to have been overly infected by this regrettable tendency.
    So, here’s thanking all of you I mentioned above for everything you’ve done. Go Irish!
    And to our NDNation brethren – hoping you have a swift return from the Dark Side – “there’s good in you, I can feel it!”

  7. trbowman - Nov 25, 2011 at 12:57 AM

    Here’s an idea on how to improve NDNation.com – Cut the garbage out of it.

  8. trbowman - Nov 25, 2011 at 12:57 AM

    If I were Dayne Crist I’d already have my flight out of South Bend booked.

    Bring back Ragone!

  9. somebadhatharry - Nov 25, 2011 at 1:16 AM

    all this talk about ndnation got me interested….will never go back again. if nd isn’t playing for a natl championship, the season is a bust for most of those guys. thanks to everyone here for keeping the discussions rational and logical and at times humorous. and thanks to Keith for the good work you put in. Irish win 38-35 in ot

    • somebadhatharry - Nov 25, 2011 at 1:29 AM

      I should clarify: somewhat rational and logical..

    • ndgoldandblue - Nov 25, 2011 at 9:18 AM

      To be honest, I think that most of those guys would have something to complain about even if the Irish were in the national championship hunt. The preposterous posts that I have read over there lately are just getting comical. I have read claims on that board that basically allude to this year’s Notre Dame football team being an embarrassment to college football, Tommy Rees being the worst quarterback in Notre Dame history, and Coach Kelly being a clown that needs to be fired immediately. Again, if most of those posters actually wanted to be taken seriously, they wouldn’t spew out crap like that. Now, if this team was winless and losing each game by an astronomical amount, then their opinions, which seem to be worse than the malicious variety that come from non-Notre Dame supporters, might actually have some merit.

    • michigandomer1984 - Nov 25, 2011 at 7:03 PM

      Just nuke Rock’s House.

  10. 9irish - Nov 25, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    Never been to this NDNation thing…probably not a good idea. I don’t want to have to buy another monitor.
    I feel sorry for Crist….one wonders what would have been if Kelly had let him stick it thru that first game.

    I think this game is going to be one of those where you will be able to tell the outcome within the first 10-15 minutes of airtime. If they come out like the guy who is tired of being pushed around, they will do fine.

    Go Irish

  11. dmacirish - Nov 25, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    I think you hit it on the head there 9irish. I agree there are a lot of people that need to have a good game, but the most important point – as you said – is they need to come out as a team and not feel like being pushed around anymore. Think Navy – they wanted to show everyone they were a family, the stresses that caused the Friday night meeting most likely helped them play as well as they did on Saturday. They win as one and lose as one.

    • 9irish - Nov 25, 2011 at 10:14 AM

      Roger that! I still keep thinking of the USC game. Even though they had a legitimate chance to STILL win, there was something in the first few minutes that gave me a sense of impending doom.

      Go Irish

      • leftcoastirishfan - Nov 25, 2011 at 11:50 AM

        The feeling is the feeling of being out prepared. And it happen twice this year. Once against SC and then against wake. We made the right adjustments in both.

        Last year Kelly was ready for Stanford. It was a great game for three quarters. If dame could of taken advantage of at least one turn over.. No, Dane was content with taking a sack on third and short. Allen had a great game. Wood could have a great game Saturday. He goes over 100 and it’s party time for the domers in Palo alto. I don’t know if any of you Irish fans have seen a game at Stanford?? I hate that place. The band is a result of way too much KIND. The announcer will verbally smack down the Irish Nation to a point to where you want rip the c&$@ su$&@er out of the both. Nothing is sacred. I want dame to embarrass the cardinal. Take what ever hope luck has for a Heisman. I just hope the team is on the field when the Stanford announcer desecrates all Holy to the Irish.

        As for TR. He’s our guy. The only QB on the Irish with any chance to beat the cardinal. Stanford is vulnerable underneath and that’s where Rees shines.

        HS , JS steps up. We got these jokers.

      • dmacirish - Nov 25, 2011 at 11:59 AM

        absolutely, people talk about the USC game as though we got beat up and i probably will get some flack for this. its 17-10 at the end of the third quarter. nd scores and it is tied up, they creeped back from a 17-0 deficit – think to tell me that they couldnt have woken some echoes there. instead everything diminished and they lost any chance of feeling as though they were in it. point is that they did not come out as they should have, there was that sense of being beaten. they need to come into this with a feeling of victory. I like the underdog, the game being away, the pressure on Standford.

      • 9irish - Nov 25, 2011 at 12:12 PM

        well said and well said….I hate Stanford.

  12. 808raiderinparadise - Nov 25, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    I am already envisioning Kelly joggin in at halftime pulled aside to repsond to being down 24 to 6.

    • pwt3 - Nov 25, 2011 at 2:49 PM

      This is an NDNation post if there ever was one.

  13. alsatiannd - Nov 25, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Whenever tempted to be down on Rees, a game like the Texas-Texas A&M game comes along.

    • leftcoastirishfan - Nov 25, 2011 at 7:17 PM

      I know a guy with a big arm and great mobility. His name is Jacoby Harris..he just threw 4 ints in one half against BC. Be careful what you ask for!!

  14. gracehall1980 - Nov 25, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    Keith–

    Great job at stirring the pot a bit for the last football weekend until bowl season — at least for our favorite independent team.

    Go Irish! Beat the Trees!!

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