When I put Notre Dame at #8 in my preseason BlogPoll, I knew that wasn’t going to be a popular choice in the minds of others. Evidently, I have at least one person I’m on common ground with and that’s of course, Lou Holtz. (Notre Dame is at #23 in both the AP and Coaches’ preseason polls.)
So how crazy is Dr. Lou?? There’s no question he’s out of his mind most of the time and his history of picking Notre Dame in every game the past few seasons shouldn’t make you believe otherwise. However, he’s not as far off on this topic as some are making him to be and I can try to tell you why.
The other day Corn Nation brought up the question of whether Notre Dame should even be ranked to Irish blogger Rakes Of Mallow. I believe Rakes Of Mallow put it best by saying, “As an Irish fan, I’m trained not to be optimistic, but dammit, this team could be good. I’m also completely and totally prepared for the team to lose to Nevada, but you should have them ranked.”
I’m on Rakes’ side here.
Before you roll your eyes, let’s look at a few points regarding the Irish for the upcoming season that I probably should have explained before in my BlogPoll post.
First, Notre Dame has it all coming back. 15 starters return for a team that went 7-6 last season. And in that 2008 season, Notre Dame blew 3 double-digit leads – North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse – that could have put them at 10 wins depending on what bowl game opponent they might have faced.
Along with Qb Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame returns their entire backfield with Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, James Aldridge, and Jonas Gray (remember him, Husker fans?). Also back are WR’s Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Duval Kamara as well as TE’s Kyle Rudolph and Mike Ragone. That’s easily one of the best receiving groups in the country that Clausen has the luxury of throwing the ball to. And all but one of those aforementioned skill position players (only one senior in the group) were rated in the Top 13 for their positions out of high school – the only one who wasn’t was Golden Tate. Also returning on offense is what many consider by far their best O-line of the century that includes 8 of the top 10 on the depth chart from a year ago – including 4 starters. The offense should be great.
On the defensive side of the ball, 6 starters are back from a team that finished #39 in total defense a year ago. In the secondary, Notre Dame returns 3 of 4 starters including the team’s leading tackler in S Kyle McCarthy. Not included there is CB Darrin Walls, a former US Army All-American that sat out last season with injury. At LB, the Irish will have one of the top overall recruits out of high school from a year ago – Manti Te’O – as well as one of the top linebacker recruits from two years ago – Steve Filer. The defensive line will return only two starters, but will add Ethan Johnson (#2 DE in the 2008 recruiting class) into the lineup. This group will improve dramatically on their #45 rushing defense and their #50 ranking in sacks.
Consider the recruiting classes that are there right now.
- In 2006 – 8th ranked recruiting class.
- In 2007 – 8th ranked recruiting class.
- In 2008 – 2nd ranked recruiting class.
- In 2009 – 21st ranked recruiting class.
No fewer than 16 players from the very highly-touted 2007 and 2008 classes (juniors and sophomores) are projected to start this season. Remember that Notre Dame (for the most part) doesn’t redshirt players so these players have had only one and two years in the program before this season. This season will be their second and third years which will obviously make an enormous difference.
On paper, it’s all there.
Second and most importantly, you MUST consider this schedule.
Sept. 5 NEVADA
Sept. 12 at Michigan
Sept. 19 MICHIGAN STATE
Sept. 26 at Purdue
Oct. 3 WASHINGTON
Oct. 10 Open Date
Oct. 17 USC
Oct. 24 BOSTON COLLEGE
Oct. 31 vs. Washington State (at San Antonio, Texas)
Nov. 7 NAVY
Nov. 14 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 21 CONNECTICUT
Nov. 28 at Stanford
Go ahead and pick out one game other than USC where they wouldn’t be a favorite in Las Vegas right now. You can’t.
And before you’re quick to write off that October 17th USC game in South Bend, remember that the Trojans return only 3 starters on defense as well as they must replace Mark Sanchez with either Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley – neither of whom have ever thrown a pass in college. In the 2005 “Bush-Push” game where USC escaped with a 34-31 win, you saw a much better USC team than you’ll see this season.
The rest of the schedule has only 4 true road games. Furthermore, if you eliminate USC from that miserable group, the best team they’ll play is #28 and #30 ranked Pittsburgh – who is still coached by the ‘Stache.
So what has talent at Notre Dame done for Charlie Weis thus far? Absolutely nothing. In fact, Notre Dame’s 15 losses the past two seasons are the most in school history. Furthermore, Weis’ overall winning % in 4 seasons is lower than Ty Willingham’s and Bob Davie’s.
Why should we expect anything different from the Irish in 2009 as opposed to 2008? We shouldn’t. However, understand that this is without a doubt the most talented team Weis has had and they’re going to win at least 9 games this season based on the combination of experience and weaker opponents.
If Notre Dame would finish 11-1 would they deserve to be in the BCS title game? Probably not if there’s another one loss team, but there’s a good chance that they might play in it regardless. And guess what? If they do lose two games somewhere in that schedule, then they’ll still probably go to a BCS game. That’s the ‘rule’ with Notre Dame as they did so in 2005 and 2006.
Part of the preseason speculation involving this sport and the arguments that ensue from sometimes absurd predictions are what helps make this the best game in America. Sometimes you’re a genius and sometimes you’re an idiot. The bottom line is that you just never know.
I’ll get back to you in October.