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Predictions: 2012 might not be all that bad

May 24, 2012, 8:14 PM EDT

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

It’s that time of year again.

Yep, that time of year where preseason predictions start trickling in, and Irish fans begin the process of forgetting the psychological beating they took the previous fall and begin to seek out the optimism that’ll skew their logic come autumn.

As the yearly slew of annual magazines start making their predictions, three of the better pundits out there have weighed in on the future of the 2012 Fighting Irish: Athlon Magazine, the legendary Phil Steele, and SBNation’s Bill Connelly, who might be my new favorite stat-based college football mind.

We already commented on Athlon’s preview of the Irish, who wisely ID’d the quarterbacking conundrum as the tipping point for this upcoming season. To save you some time, I thought I’d burn through both Steele and Connelly’s previews and point out some interesting tidbits.

PHIL STEELE: No. 21 NOTRE DAME

With Steele using shorthand and code to fit as many words as possible into his previews, here’s basically the gist of what he thinks about the Irish. (Download for free here.)

Steele has Andrew Hendrix winning the quarterbacking job, joining a group led by the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen with that prediction. In typical Steele fashion, he points out how in Brian Kelly‘s first season with the Irish, he was hesitant to call QB runs with Dayne Crist and no back-up options. Crist still managed to run for 4 TDs, the most by an Irish QB since Jarious Jackson.

Steele has Davaris Daniels, Robby Toma, and TJ Jones winning wide receiver jobs. Mike Golic wins the right guard battle, and Kyle Brindza the place kicking job. Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams will win outside linebacker jobs too, which maybe isn’t so crazy with Ben Councell and Danny Spond the only options at Troy Niklas‘ (and Shembo’s) departed dog linebacker position.

Steele is usually bullish on the Irish, and this year is no different. After breaking down the heartbreak of last season, he also makes the prediction that “despite their killer schedule, I will call for their most wins here since ’06.”

The Irish finished that season 10-3, with ugly losses to USC and LSU making you forget that the Irish had climbed into the top 5 of the AP poll.

I’ve got to believe most Irish fans would sign on for that season right now (minus an ugly loss to the Trojans).

BILL CONNELLY’S FIGHTING IRISH PREVIEW

Connelly looks at football teams through a different prism, and he’s chalked full of interesting thoughts through his preview. (Read the whole thing here.)

First for a painful reminder. Here’s Connelly’s assessment of the five Irish losses in 2011.

Notre Dame lost five games in 2011; in only one (Stanford 28, Notre Dame 14) were they beaten beyond the turnover points margin.

  • South Florida 23, Notre Dame 20. Turnover Points margin: minus-33.7 points. The Irish outgained South Florida by 254 yards but lost a staggering three turnovers inside the USF 10, one of which was returned 96 yards for a touchdown.
  • Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31. Turnover Points margin: minus-8.1 points. Notre Dame outgained Michigan by 61 yards and built a 24-7 lead in the third quarter, but they lost two more turnovers in the Michigan red zone, and eventually the Wolverines’ offense allowed them to catch up.
  • USC 31, Notre Dame 17. Turnover Points margin: minus-21.9 points. The Irish overcame an early 17-0 deficit to USC and were driving for the tying score, then gave up an 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
  • Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14. Turnover Points margin: minus-8.2 points. The Notre Dame defense held Florida State to 290 yards and even returned a fumble for a touchdown of their own, but they threw two interceptions inside the FSU 30 and lost.

Connelly speaks for most Irish faithful when he asks “how much can change in eight months? When do self-fulfilling prophecies stop fulfilling themselves?” Between that and a schedule that will be among the country’s most difficult on paper, it’s bizarre that he’s once again tabbing Notre Dame (with Texas and Florida) among the most underrated and overlooked teams in the country.

While properly ID’ing the lack of a No. 1 receiver, Connelly also points out the spoils the Irish have at running back and the strength of the offensive line. If only the Irish can figure out their quarterback situation, a dilemma that’ll likely determine whether or not Kelly goes back to being thought of as an offensive innovator or another offensive coach that defenses have caught up with:

Brian Kelly has led spectacular offenses nearly everywhere he has been. His final Cincinnati offense ranked second in Off. F/+, and his 2011 Irish improved from 42nd to 22nd. But fairly or unfairly, the turnovers and quarterback issues have created a bit of a stigma, and no matter who the quarterback is, the onus is on Kelly to begin figuring out how to prevent the glitches that cost them dearly last fall.

Defensively, the Irish took a step back last season, and if there’s one place things can quickly fix themselves it’s at forcing turnovers. For all the amazing things Manti Te’o has done, forcing turnovers wasn’t one of them. In fact, it’s an area that’ll likely keep this defense from going from good to great if it can’t improve.

Now, about those turnovers: Notre Dame somehow managed to force just eight fumbles a year ago. Only ten teams forced fewer; you almost accidentally force more than that in a given year. No defender forced more than one, and somehow in the course of 95.0 tackles, Te’o forced none. Notre Dame fumbled 10 more times than its opponents in 2011, and you are obviously going to lose the turnover battle when that is the case (especially when your quarterbacks throw nearly 20 interceptions to boot).

The good news: Of the 18 teams that forced eight or fewer fumbles in 2010, 15 improved their totals in 2011, and 10 forced at least 12.

The bad news: One of the teams that didn’t improve was Notre Dame, which also forced eight in 2010. Ouch. You can write off one iffy season in this regard, but two almost becomes a personality defect.

All in all, Connelly does a bit of bet hedging at the end of things, pointing to the stellar recruiting of the past few seasons as reasons the Irish could out-perform expectations while also looking at the schedule and key losses as reasons they’ll stay out of the BCS conversation.

Either way, it’s fun speculating as we just duck inside 100 days until the football season begins.

 

  1. 9irish - May 24, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    Talk about a nail on the head. They’ve beat themselves so many times it is scary. I’m not sure about Hendrix, but I am not in the know (I’m thinking Golson), but whoever they choose needs to be given the keys to the kingdom and stuck with. Crist being sent out of town on a rail while Rees repeatedly screwed the pooch still bugs me.

  2. bernhtp - May 24, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    Good article. I never thought about Manti’s weakness in not forcing turnovers. It’s very true, and has been very important. I trust he is working on stripping technique with the coaching staff.

  3. nudeman - May 24, 2012 at 10:48 PM

    I don’t care what any of these “experts” have to say.
    The people on this board are more in tune with ND than any of them.

    STRENGTHS: RB, OL, DL, MLB, Slot receivers
    WEAKNESSES/QUESTION MARKS: DB, WR
    QUESTION MARKS: QB, Coaching (turnover and penalty management)

    I don’t know what that all adds up to in terms of a record, but I see a 9-3 reg season

    Also, Hendrix is NOT a D-I BCS quality QB. In some ways he’s no better than TR.
    Drop, throw, fire to the first guy you see wearing an ND uniform, even if he’s covered by 8 guys.
    He needs to move to safety next year.
    Golson is scary because he apparently has no playbook aptitude, but better than TR even if blindfolded
    TR is scary for the 274 reasons already enumerated.

    GK … please man, DEVELOP, and develop FAST

    Peace out

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - May 24, 2012 at 10:56 PM

      Nude, do you think TR will factor into the equation at all this year, since he will prob have a criminal record by the time the season starts?

      • bernhtp - May 24, 2012 at 11:11 PM

        Prediction: Rees pleads guilty to minor consumption and one count of resisting arrest in a plea bargain. He is sentenced to community service and probation. Kelly suspends him for the first two games. He is put as third-string and only sees the field if Golson/Hendrix struggle badly.

      • nudeman - May 25, 2012 at 12:15 AM

        TR will not have a “criminal record”
        That’s reserved for guys who are convicted of felonies
        TR’s stuff has already been changed to misdemeanors

        Will TR factor in? That’s the $64K question of the ND offseason, right there

        ResLife has never suspended anyone for X number of games
        It’s all or nothing. And I’m not sure but that might be BK’s call

        I love to make predictions but I have no clue how this will unfold
        In the long run though, it’s a good thing if he’s suspended for the year
        It will force BK to ditch his security blanket and live with the growing pains of EG, AH (please, no) and GK

        I have zero confidence, as you can tell, in AH

    • jrct2450yahoo - May 25, 2012 at 10:36 AM

      Nude, if the Irish go 9 and 3 this year I will fly to where ever you live and buy you a drink. I know I’m repeating myself but best case is 7 and 5 and I won’t be surprised if it is even worse especially with a QB with “No playbook aptitude”.

      • nudeman - May 25, 2012 at 11:42 AM

        jrct
        Would you mind having that statement about buying me a drink typed up and notarized?

      • jrct2450yahoo - May 25, 2012 at 12:53 PM

        Nude, my pleasure…

    • joeschu - May 28, 2012 at 2:44 PM

      I wish there was some way to go back to the spring of ’93 and find out what people were saying about Kevin McDougal that spring/summer before he lit it up that fall with a stacked backfield, a good TE, so/so WR’s and a pretty good defense. I remember thinking if I should sell my FSU tickets because, “We’re not FSU good” when the season started.

      Things started clicking, Dr. Lou spun his magic, and if Bersich catches the damn ball or BC’s kicker doesn’t make his career long, we’re talking about the 93 national championship (even so, it should have been split).

      That team will always mean the world to me, based on the season they gave us. I just hope there’s a little bit of the “unexpected surprise” from that group that can find its way in to this year.

      • nudeman - May 28, 2012 at 4:12 PM

        That’s a great bunch of memories
        Kevin McDougal, totally unheralded and we’d never have heard of him if Powlus hadn’t been hurt at the end of camp. Lou has said he was gonna’ get the job.

        McDougal ended up having a GREAT year, and good for him because he’d ridden the pine all his career.

        BTW, I think it was Bolcar, not Bersich, who dropped the INT, wasn’t it?

      • 9irish - May 30, 2012 at 4:01 AM

        If not for that and that mysterious block in the back call on the return in Jan 91, old Lou would’ve won 3 national championships. And you’re right, how Florida State won the Nat’l Championship in 93 still confounds me. The number 2 team BEAT the final No. 1. Bizarre.

      • joeschu - Jun 7, 2012 at 9:44 AM

        The point isn’t simply reminiscing, there are parallels to this year’s team. If the right sort of leadership emerges, and they play hard and play smart, this could be a very interesting year. The previous year’s team went in with very high expectations, and the weight had kind of come off the ’93 team as a result. They played freely and behind a “just roll with me” kind of quiet leader in McDougal.

        The ’12 team is rolling off a rough year, and perhaps EG has that same kind of leadership. Back in ’93 you didn’t have all this media to tune in to, so McDougal was really unknown to the average fan. Do we “know too much” now? I know you can’t un-ring that bell, but I seriously hope that someone can “emerge” that way again (QB-style Linsanity).

      • joeschu - Jun 7, 2012 at 9:49 AM

        Not that Lesar is the definitive source, but:

        http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2011-12-05/news/30479614_1_kevin-mcdougal-bowl-coalition-lee-becton

  4. jerseyshorendfan1 - May 24, 2012 at 10:53 PM

    That’s an odd stat about Manti, especially because I think of him as such a hard hitter. But all those hits and no forced fumbles is just strange. With respect to the QB position, I could see Hendrix starting and being backed up by Golson. But I could just as easily see that the other way around. Either way, they better each know the playbook by Dublin because a mobile QB can get knocked out of the game in a split second and a competent backup is essential. As far as the 2012 record, I think the over under would be at 9 wins. Better than last year but still not where we want to be. Wait another year for the BCS discussion and just hope that this year doesn’t dash our collective hopes once again. I have heard people saying that 8 wins against the 2012 schedule would be a major accomplishment. I think we do better and with a “signature win” we go 10-2.

    • nudeman - May 25, 2012 at 3:30 PM

      Odd, yes. But it’s clear that no one on this defense has a takeaway mentality
      Some of that is the talent level, particularly with DBs.
      Most of them have just been too mediocre to get in position to intercept a pass or strip the ball.

      But why would Manti NOT be a ball stripping machine?
      Part of the answer is he hasn’t been coached that way, I’d have to believe.

  5. irishaggie - May 24, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    If Hendrix or Golson (which i hope Golson) play well here is my prediction:

    We will go undefeated at home for the first time since 1998.

    We will start the season 7-0

    We will finish 10-2 and go to the Fiesta Bowl to play Texas.

    If we have poor QB play here is my prediction.

    We start 2-2

    Kelly is on the hot seat (once again it seems he’s never off of it)

    We finish 7-5 and go to the Sun Bowl

    Lets all hope Notre Dame puts a good QB on the field and we go the direction we all know we should go.

  6. barneysbullet - May 24, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    We REALLY need the D-line to step up big-time this year to help that secondary out.

    My vote’s for EG at qb…but I’m confused about how you can go to Notre Dame but not be able to digest/whatever the playbook; can anyone help me understand that…?

    • yllibnosredna - May 25, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      Let me preface this by saying that I’m no longer in agreement with the pundits outside the ND program who insist that the loss of Lynch is catastrophic and will automatically guarantee certain losses as some CFB analysts, notably Mark Schlabach of ESPN, contend that Lynch’s transfer warrants a dismissal from the preseason top 25: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7938511/college-football-way-too-early-2012-top-25. Schlabach considered Lynch to be Notre Dame’s best player. I patently disagree as Teo and Eifert are “proven” and consistent All-American caliber players. Lynch was more of a wild card who trended toward being dominant but also showed a capacity for ignoring technique and missing assignments. But as far as talent and potential, Lynch probably had a higher ceiling than any player on the ND squad.

      It was easy to initially view the Lynch situation as horrendous, and I certainly was one who considered it catastrophic. With a little bit of time, I’ve become more convinced of the overall depth and talent on the DL and believe the recovery from Lynch’s departure can and will occur. That being said, I do not buy the contention that Notre Dame “will be fine” without him. In certain and even most games, I think his absence will not be felt that much as there is still a strong foundation along the D-Line and I can foresee really good cohesion with this unit with guys like Tuitt, Lewis Moore, Nix, Schwenke, and Day. I’m not sure where this optimism about Chase Hounshell comes from but hopefully he can be a contributor as well. I believe the afore-mentioned players will play very well together and create a stout unit up front for ND. But there is no denying that we are in serious trouble with our secondary. Although I think Slaughter will have a break-out year, it’s going to take time for B. Jackson to reach his potential, and I don’t think Lo Wood or Zeke Motta will prove to be anything but a liability against tremendous aerial offenses like Oklahoma and USC. It is against those two opponents that ND absolutely had to have Lynch to neutralize this glaring weakness. (Not saying we would win if we had Lynch but we’d create problems for their passing game that would off-set some of the damage) Of course he’s gone and I don’t see anyone else on the D-Line that commands a double team or creates a problem due to an amazing ability to rush the passer. I see some solid, fundamentally sound players who can collectively hold their own and dominate against the rush, but I don’t see anyone who–at this point–can shred an offensive coordinator’s playbook. If we had a stout secondary, it wouldn’t really be an issue, but we don’t, and it is or at least will be against elite passing offenses. This is why I think unfortunately, Oklahoma will man-handle us in Norman. I hope I am wrong, but unless both L. Jones and K. Stills are not on the field, I just don’t see any way in hell that we come close to stopping their aerial assault. I think we may fare better against USC as it’s the last game of the regular season, and our DB’s will have a whole year’s experience under their belt. In addition, I think USC’s depth problems may start to show up at this point in the season so maybe we luck out a bit like we did in 2010 when Barkley was hurt and victory was finally realized for the first time in nine years (I was at that game in the rain, and it had to be the most cathartic and liberating win I’ve ever witnessed). I think we’ll be either superior to or evenly matched with every other opponent on the schedule. But, I hate to say it, but without Lynch, there appears to be no way possible this D-Line steps up enough to mitigate his loss and bail out our secondary against a relatively healthy Oklahoma or USC.

      • bernhtp - May 26, 2012 at 5:27 PM

        I totally agree with your assessment. To beat OK we will need to see amazing progress on several fronts, especially QB and secondary. Lynch would have helped to mitigate the green defensive backfield, but it still would have been very bad. We will need to score lots of points because they will.

        We may be lucky with some injuries in USC’s short depth chart to help us there. Our inexperienced secondary would certainly get picked apart early in the season by Barkley-Wood.

        I was also out in the rain of USC and relished every second of it.

    • jrct2450yahoo - May 29, 2012 at 9:17 AM

      Yes, I have an answer to your question but if I give it I will be blasted and probably banned from this forum so I’ll leave it to your imagination.

  7. herringbonesports - May 25, 2012 at 12:15 AM

    It’s interesting how much more impressive a 2012 football blogger can be if he majored in computer engineering with a minor in math! I really enjoy Connelly but a couple of those links look like sales figures and quarterly projections.

    Safe to say the worst mathematician that roots for the blue & gold could tell you “Fewer turnovers in 2011 + causing a few more = BCS”.

    Thanks for the links Keith. Sounds like many out there have gotten a jump start on not quite declaring the 2012 schedule a death march and that’s a good thing.

  8. rrussellndfan - May 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM

    I think Golson is the man to beat if Hendrix starts I’ll be pissed. He throws into coverage and misses the wide open deep ball. Oh and trips over imaginary lines. I like the kid and I like TR too but Golson deserves a shot to be the number 1 at game time. And he gets the play book im sure maybe not as good as the others but you cant be taught how to be athletic and make things happen and to me I think he might bring those two qualities to the field.

  9. ndnut - May 25, 2012 at 1:26 AM

    Let’s all take a step back and asses this: when was the last time our pre-season prediction was absolutely horrid? I know we should be optimistic, but approach with caution. I don’t think it’ll be that great if it takes too much time to pick a starting QB and run. If any guy loses one game there will be calls for the next guy on the chart. We really should hand the keys to someone and go with it, h*ll or high water.

    • ndgoldandblue - May 25, 2012 at 7:46 AM

      Theoretically, if we hand the keys of the car to someone and go with it, wouldn’t that person be Gunner? With all of this debate surrounding the quarterbacks about who should start and who shouldn’t, I think we all know that Kiel is the future of this Notre Dame team. You don’t bring in the number one quarterback in the country without the clear intention of making him the man for a number of years. If that’s the case, then by your logic, he should be handed the keys immediately.

      If the Irish name Golson the starter (something I think they should do) and stick with him (something I think they should do for this year and maybe next year), then he has four years of eligibility to use as the starter. Then, where does that leave Kiel? Even if he redshirts, he would have only one year of eligibility left to be the starting quarterback after Golson leaves. Gunner would transfer before that happens, and that is something that we definitely don’t want. If I were the quarterbacks coach, this is what I would say to Coach Kelly: Make Everett the starter (because I don’t think Gunner will be ready by the beginning of fall camp) for this year and make no promises for next year. At least, let Kiel know that there are no assurances for 2013. Let him think that he has a genuine chance of winning the quarterback job because, if you don’t tell him that, he’s gone. He’s the future and Everett/Andrew are band-aids that we’ll use for the next year or two years until Gunner is ready.

      Simply put, if Kelly names Golson the starter with the full intention of keeping him in that position until he graduates, Kiel is gone. And unless Golson leads us to the promised land, aka National Championship or a BCS victory, Gunner should be the choice in the next year or two.

  10. ndnut - May 25, 2012 at 1:27 AM

    *assess

  11. don74 - May 25, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    I think the over/under is 9 wins. Summer and fall camps will tell us more. Nude hit it on the head, there’s enough talent in key places the cover weaknesses. The wild card, as it’s been for a while, is QB. Kelly’s choice will define the program for years to come. By the way, I taking the over.

    My prediction…..a LAX national championship this weekend in Foxboro. ND will take down #1 ranked Loyola and get revenge on Duke who will beat Maryland. Should be fun.

    • bernhtp - May 25, 2012 at 4:04 PM

      Given that we have 5 opponents ranked higher, I would think the over/under would be 7.

      A Lax championship would be great.

    • papadec - May 27, 2012 at 5:00 AM

      don74 – oooopppps, it’s an ALL State of Maryland Championship game on Monday. ND lost 7-5 in a very good game. I wouldn’t mind if the Irish football team were in the top four, at the end of the 2012 season. OR, any season for that matter.

    • nateprez4irish - May 30, 2012 at 6:21 PM

      God I hope the football season isn’t as backwards as this assessment of the LAX finals! Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

  12. gards81 - May 27, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    Hendrix is awful

    • nudeman - May 27, 2012 at 2:51 PM

      “Awful” might be overstating it a little
      In no way do I think he is a “Start every game for a BCS team” type QB
      He’s decent as a situational or change of pace guy
      Nothing more

      Great athlete though, and I seriously think you’ll see him as a safety in 2014

  13. 1historian - Jun 19, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    FSU won the National Championship in 1993 because the week after the 31-24 game they went into Florida’s backyard and beat them, and Florida at that time was ranked in the top 10.

    Whereas

    Notre Dame couldn’t defend its home turf against a team that they had thrashed the year before. I remember that morning hearing Lou saying on the radio that he hadn’t been able to get the team up for BC and he was really worried. I just shrugged it off but Lou was right. FSU won the NC because they EARNED it.

    Notre Dame has never recovered from that.

  14. 1historian - Jun 19, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    Hendrix is ok. He is just that – ok. He is NOT the kind of QB who lights up the stadium, and THAT is the kind of QB we all look for, and to whom we feel we are entitled.

    Golson – throw him out there and let him learn. Sure he’ll make mistakes, but if not now – when?

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