Thursday, June 29, 2006

Video Update | by Pat

For those of you who usually ignore the recruiting circus, Rivals put up a free video of incoming QB Jimmy Clausen. Granted it's just a seven on seven passing tournament, but it does give some idea of why all of the Irish recruitniks can't wait until he gets on campus. Of course, it helps that he has some great receivers on the other end of his passes, including two -- Marshall Jones and Mark Tyler -- who are headed to Southern Cal.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking Class | by Pat

The rapidly dwindling junior class lost another member: backup quarterback David Wolke decided to transfer to another school in search of more playing time.

"Everyone from the student body, the school, head coach, coaching staff and football team have been great," Wolke said. "The best thing that ever happened to me was choosing Notre Dame. It's the best decision I've made. I've grown and I've learned. The only thing that's not going right is playing time.

"You've got to expect that playing behind the No. 1 athlete in America."
Of course being stuck behind Quinn isn't so much the issue; Wolke clearly was overtaken on the QB depth chart by sophomore Evan Sharpley. Charlie claimed that no decision was made in the spring as to who would be Quinn's 2006 backup, but the fact that Sharpley played so much more in the Blue-Gold game was a pretty big hint. An even more obvious hint was three weeks ago when, according to Wolke's dad, Weis suggested that Wolke move to tailback (!). Wolke never played tailback before in his life, and likely wouldn't see the field there either.

Wolke hasn't settled on a new destination yet, and I'm sure he'll take some time to look for a favorable depth chart. After sitting out his junior year, he will still have two seasons of eligibility left.

Wolke's departure means that the original 17-man junior class is now down to 9; I really can't remember there ever being such a small class before. Here's a rundown on the guys who signed with ND in February of '04, and where they are now:

QB
Darrin Bragg - backup wide receiver
David Wolke - transfer

RB
Darius Walker - returning two year starter at running back
Justin Hoskins - transfer

WR
Chris Vaughn - suspended from team and transfered to Louisville

OL
Chauncey Incarnato - transfered to Indiana
John Kadous - left team, still at ND

DL
Justin Brown - backup defensive end
Brandon Nicolas - transfered to Colorado
Ronald Talley - co-starter at defensive end

LB
Maurice Crum, Jr. - returning starter at linebacker
Anthony Vernaglia - backup linebacker
Abdel Banda - backup linebacker

CB/S
Terrail Lambert - backup cornerback
Leo Ferrine - backup cornerback
Tregg Duerson - left team, still at ND
Junior Jabbie - left team, still at ND

Notice that only two offensive players are left. And only two players started last year. It's possible that Talley and Vernaglia will start this year with Lambert and Ferrine contributing in the nickel and dime defense, but that seems about it. I'm sure we'll see lots of media commentary this coming season about the stellar senior class that Ty recruited -- I'll wager that more guys will be drafted out of the senior class than there are juniors on the team -- but I doubt too many writers will mention the depleted junior class that'll severely strain the team next year.

Consider that in 2007, there will be a maximum of 23 seniors and juniors on the roster -- as opposed to about 53 sophomores and freshman. Not that I need to remind you, but this recruiting dropoff is one of the major reasons why ND let Willingham go (Ty's first class was ranked #5 by Scout, the next two years: #30 and #27.) Unless the incoming freshman and current crop of recruits are ready to play early and often, 2007 is going to be pretty rough.

Shake it up! | by Michael

Last year around this time we began a long, leisurely stroll around the country to familiarize ourselves with the six new head coaches that the Irish would face in 2005. This year it's slightly different: there is not a single opponent on our schedule with a new head coach. That's not to say, however, that some of our opponents' fax machines didn't receive a lot of resumes. Let's check out the assistant coaching carousel and see which 2006 opponent's coaching staff had the most tumultuous off-seasons. On the scale from "placid serenity" to "hair on fire":

10. Air Force, Navy, Army
Nothing of consequence.

9. Penn State
Whether you define it as loyalty or rigor mortis, no one left Joe Paterno's staff.

8. Southern Cal
After a two-year stint as the head coach of Idaho, Nick Holt returns to USC as the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. He will replace Jethro Franklin, who coached the same unit last year after Ed Orgeron became a "Wild Boy" at Ole Miss. Franklin has taken a position with the NFL Buccaneers. Although he coached the linebackers during his first stint at Southern Cal, Holt has eight years of defensive line coaching experience (Idaho, Louisville) and also served as a defensive coordinator for four years (Idaho). It's doubtful, though, that Pete Carroll will be handing him the reins of the defensive playcalling just yet.

7. Georgia Tech
Chan Gailey didn't have any giant holes to fill, but his staff did have two changes. First, TE coach Tommie Robinson resigned to pursue other coaching opportunities. (Did he really resign or was he pushed out? Either way, someone wasn't happy in Atlanta.) Jeep Hunter moved over from Memphis to replace him. Hunter, the RB coach for Tommy West, couldn't have picked a better time to make the transition since his Memphis meal ticket, DeAngelo Williams, now suits up for the Carolina Panthers. Second, Charles Kelly was hired to coach special teams. He replaces David Wilson, who left college football entirely. This hire was a little bit of a head-scratcher. Kelly's experience comes primarily as a defensive coordinator in the 1AA ranks (Nicholls State, Jacksonville State, and Henderson State). Can he improve the special teams play for Gailey? Big question mark.

6. Michigan St.
When QB coach Jim McElwain left to coach the QBs for the Oakland Raiders, Smith found a replacement within the Big Ten. Blaine Bennett, who coached for Smith at Idaho years earlier, joined four other assistants in deserting the Purdue Boilermakers. Bennett will coach WRs and will serve as an assistant head coach. Dan Enos will replace Doug Nussmeier as the QB coach. Nussmeier left to coach QBs for the St. Louis Rams, and the opportunity allows former Spartan QB Enos to return home. Enos has experience coaching QBs for both Western Michigan and Cincinnati. Finally, Smith hired Derrick Jackson to replace NFL coaching veteran Lucious Selmon as defensive line coach. Jackson's previous stops include Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, and Army; it's unclear why Selmon left Michigan State.

5. North Carolina
The highlight of the Tarheels' off-season was the acquisition of Fresno State offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. Cignetti started as an NFL assistant before joining Pat Hill's staff in 2002. For the last two years, Fresno State has been in the top ten for scoring offense. Cignetti replaces Gary Tranquill, who retired after 44 seasons in coaching (and five with North Carolina). Joining Cignetti will be his OL coach from Fresno State, Mark Weber. Having coached at Oregon State, UCLA, and UNLV prior to his stint at Fresno State, the veteran OL coach has significant experience. He replaces Hal Hunter, who left to be an assistant OL coach for the San Diego Chargers.
Danny Pearman will be coaching the DEs in 2006. What makes this move interesting is that Pearman has some quality experience at Virginia Tech and Alabama. However, in both cases he coached the OTs and TEs. Was he forced out by Hokie coach Frank Beamer? This move is lateral at best.

Defensive-minded head coach John Bunting may have found the perfect complement on the offensive side of the ball. They still need to do a lot better in the ACC, however.

4. Michigan
Michigan lost only two coaches this offseason, but there was lots of internal shuffle. Any discussion should begin with the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Herrman. Getting rid of Herrman was a good move for Carr, who was then able to coax Ron English to stay at Michigan by promoting him to defensive coordinator. (English had initially accepted a position with the Chicago Bears). How this will work for the Wolverines remains to be seen. English has never before served as a defensive coordiantor; however, two other impressive defensive hires should make his job easier. He'll certainly have some input from new LB coach Steve Szabo, who joins Michigan with 12 years of NFL coaching experience with the Bills (2004-2005), Patriots (2003), and Jaguars (1994-2002). Szabo was also the Boston College defensive coordinator from 1991 to 1993. Meanwhile, Ron Lee jumped ship at Wisconsin to take the same position (coaching DBs) for Michigan. Prior to coaching DBs at Wisconsin, Lee was the defensive coordinator and DB coach for San Jose State (2001-2002) and the DB coach for Colorado State (1993-2000). On the offensive side of the ball, offensive coordinator Terry Malone left to join the New Orleans Saints, and Lloyd moved Mike DeBord back to offensive coordinator. When he did this, he also split up DeBord's special teams duties. Now Fred Jackson will coach kickoff return, Lee will take on punt return, Steve Stripling will handle kickoff, and DeBord will retain punt team coaching duties.

Is Ron English ready for prime time? Keep those resumes updated; this could be 3-Loss Lloyd's swan song.

3. Stanford
Walt Harris will return in 2006 with five new assistants. Four of those five are replacing coaches who took positions in the NFL. First, and most importantly, he hired Buzz Preston to coach RBs. Preston replaces Wayne Moses, who will coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2006. (It's great to have Preston back in college football.) One good move, though, was hiring AJ Christoff. Christoff was originally going to be on Harris's first staff (retained from Buddy Teevens' brain trust), but he took a defensive coordinator position with the San Francisco 49ers at the last minute. Now he replaces Tom Hayes, who has joined the New Orleans Saints. Tom Quinn has taken a position with the New York Giants coaching special teams, and in comes Jeff Hammerschmidt to coach OLBs and handle special teams duties. His primary experience comes from positions at St. Mary's College, Montana, and Cal Poly San Obispo. When John McDonnell left the staff to join Purdue, Harris hired Doug Sams to replace him. Sams has an extensive background as a head coach, with stops at Fairmont State College (1992-2001) and Northern Michigan (2002-2005). He also has some experience in the CFL. Finally, former grad assistant Nate Nelson was brought back as primarily a recruiting coordinator. Last year he was a defensive assistant with Princeton, and he'll replace Paul Hackett's son Nate, who performed the same duties last year and has joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a quality control coach. The hirings of Sams, Hammerschmidt, and Preston are very questionable because what exactly are their track records at a Division 1 school?

Is Walt Harris an unpopular guy? It seems like some guys were anxious to leave, or is that reading too much into it? With Stanford's CBs, it may not matter in 2006. At least Preston has some experience on a sinking ship.

2. Purdue
It wasn't just players who jumped off the SS Tiller this offseason: five coaches also walked the plank. Let's start with a look at the changes on the offensive side of the ball. Jim Chaney left Purdue to become the OL coach for the St. Louis Rams, and OL coach Bill Legg was promoted to replace him. When Blaine Bennett wasn't promoted to coordinator, he bolted for Michigan State. Then, to help Legg, Tiller hired former Irish assistant John McDonnell, who will coach TEs and OTs (he coached interior OL for Notre Dame). They also brought in Ed Zaunbrecher to serve as co-offensive coordinator and QB coach. Both Legg and Zaunbrecher coached together at Marshall in 2001; Zaunbrecher most recently worked for Ron Zook at Florida and Illinois. Brian Rock was hired away from Western Michigan, where he coached for 12 years, to replace Bob DeBesse, who left for a fatter deal with Texas A&M, which was also closer to home. At Western Michigan, Rock served as both the offensive coordinator and WR coach during his tenure. Finally, Joel Thomas will replace David Mitchell (fired/let go) as the RB coach. Thomas coached at Purdue as a graduate assistant in 2001 and 2002; since then he has served two tours of duty for Louisville (running backs) and Idaho (co-offensive coordinator, running backs). In other words, on offense Purdue is replacing everyone save Legg. On defense, there is much less movement. Terrel Williams will replace Tony Samuel as the defensive line coach. Williams is a young coach with stops at Akron, Youngstown State, and North Carolina A&T on his resume. Samuel left to become head coach at Southwest Missouri State. Purdue nudges out Stanford for runner-up since they had to replace practically their entire offensive staff.

It seems like they're starting over from scratch with the offense. Is that a good or bad thing? Is Tiller reaching the downslope of his Big Ten coaching career? I wouldn't count him out yet.

1. UCLA
Congrats to Karl Dorrell for finishing #1 in this war of attrition: he fired most of his defensive staff and lost a couple of coaches on offense as well. The two big losses to Dorrell's staff are obvious. Eric Bienemy left to join the Minnesota Vikings, and offensive coordinator Tom Cable left to coach the OL for the Atlanta Falcons. Both were instrumental in recruiting and developing a potent offense, respectively. Current WR coach Dino Babers will attempt to fill Bienemy's shoes in recruiting, and current QB coach Jim Svoboda will slide over to wear the offensive coordinator hat. Bruins' fans are hoping the inexperienced coordinator doesn't resemble the man Cable replaced, Steve Axman. Additionally, John Embree left to become the TE coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. The replacements are led by a familiar name to Irish fans: Jim Colleto was hired to coach the OL. DJ McCarthy, a WR coach from Central Florida was also added; this allowed Babers to shift to RB coach. Finally, Colorado's John Wristen was hired to replace Embree. On the other side of the footblal, the Bruins' run defense faced heavy criticism the last several years, and Dorrell addressed that deficit, too. First, he fired then-current defensive coordinator Larry Kerr. Then he brought in DeWayne Walker, an NFL assistant with the Washington Redskins. Walker had extensive experience coaching the secondary for the Redskins, Giants, and Patriots (under Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick). Next, Dorrell hired Jacksonville Jaguars' assistant Todd Howard to replace Thurmand Moore, who was also let go. Finally, Chuck Bullough was brought in as a LB coach, and it appears that former LB coach Brian Schneider may have been forced out. Bullough brought some NFL experience with him with the Bears, but he coached in 2005 for Western Michigan.

Dorrell deserves some credit; he did the right thing by rebuilding his defensive coaching staff. However, the losses of Cable and Bienemy could be crippling.

But I saw it on the internet... | by Pat

If the internet is good for one thing, it's spreading rumors. Message boards, blogs, and email make it easy for any hole-in-the-wall website or self-deluded internet poster to stir the flames of fan hysteria with some juicy tidbit about this coach or that recruit. And given the high-profile nature of Notre Dame and the rapid demonization of Coach Weis by opposing fans, there will always be an interest in any sort of muckraking rumor concerning the Fighting Irish.

The latest episode was an NFL-related website hinting that according to their "league sources", Brady Quinn and a few other seniors might have nullified their college eligibility by agreeing to terms with an agent...all at the behest of Coach Weis. It was a dumb rumor floated by a heretofore anonymous website that was most likely creatively extrapolated from this Dennis Dodd article. Yet, the rumor caught a foothold on various blogs and message boards as many fans of varying allegiances hoped and fretted that ND would be forced to lose many of its best players for the upcoming season.

It got to the point where Notre Dame felt the need to respond. It's sad that a stupid rumor got so much attention, but I do commend ND for being on top of things and providing this beauty of a rebuttal:

"Typical freaking Internet," the Notre Dame associate athletic director in charge of compliance offered. "It's a joke."
The quoted assistant AD, Mike Karwoski, then went on to explain that, contrary to the rumor's silly assertions, some people at Notre Dame actually are aware of one of the most obvious rules in the NCAA rulebook when it comes to dealing with an agent.
"They wanted to get rid of the riffraff [agents], find out who the legitimate people were," Karwoski said. "I told them there is nothing in the rules that prevents you from sitting down and talking to an agent. You can also call the ones you're not interested in and tell them that, that they're not going to be part of any further discussions.

"If there's a group of four, five, 10 that pique their interest, I don't have a problem with the player saying, 'We're going to revisit this at the end of the season when my eligibility is done.' The only thing I cautioned them about was don't tell somebody, 'You're the guy.' You are prevented by NCAA rules from making a written or verbal agreement."
Also quoted in the article is a member of Quinn's family, who also is well aware of how the NCAA works.
Dave Slates, Quinn's uncle and one of the four people advising the quarterback, takes it a step further.

"We don't even allow the family to have a Coke bought for them from one of these guys," he said. ... "The implication that Charlie would be unaware of the rules is just silly," Slates said. "Charlie is a very detail guy.
Of course, just because this baseless rumor was quickly put to rest doesn't mean there won't be more in the future. So here are a few handy tips the next time something like this shows up on your computer screen.

First and foremost, consider the source. If you've never heard of the website before and no one accuses you of being completely out of the loop for saying as much, take what you read with a grain of salt. Some sites like to take the squeaky wheel approach to web traffic. And even though this particular rumor made its way to Sports Illustrated's website, it was still linked under the SI on Campus "Truths and Rumors" section. Likewise, if the rumor is built on "a league source" or some other anonymous origin, and the writer isn't a well-respected journalist protecting their sources, take another few grains of salt.

Second, check out the biggest message board and/or team blog for your team. If it's a potentially damaging rumor and no one is in an uproar, it's likely the more respected members of the board have shot down the rumor and there is nothing to worry about. If no one else is worrying about it, neither should you. Of course, sometimes these types of rumors get started on said message board or blog. In that case, it's best to see how those running the site deal with the rumor. If they question it, so should you. There are examples of this on this blog alone over the past week.

If you're still not sure, the next step is to take things into your own hands and swing on over to Google (link provided) and spend a minute doing your own research. The inital rumor that led to the ND response quoted above mentioned only one agent by name, Don Yee. A quick google check shows that Don Yee, in addition to being a highly respected agent with clients like Tom Brady and Bryant Young, teaches a course at the University of Virginia Law School entitled "Introduction to Sports Law Theory and Practice". Does that sound like someone to you who would (a) be ignorant of NCAA laws or (b) knowingly skirt them in order to sign a client?

Some bad rumors will take longer to die than others, but for the most part, a false internet rumor is like the campfire moth that flies in everyone's face to get their attention, just before dive-bombing into the heart of the flames. Patience is the best approach to these inevitable rumors, but while they are still fluttering about, make sure to consult with google and the reactions of those you trust before getting too worked up.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Some Gameday Tees we'd like to see | by Jay

GT
"By Georgia, It's Tech! The Ramblin' Resume Wreck"
"In the Top Quartile of Football-Playing Technical Schools Over the Last 4.62 Years"

Penn State
"Nittany Lion Football Since Nineteen Dickety-Two"

Michigan
"8-3: Just Good Enough"

Michigan State
"Here's Your Flag Back. Where Should We Stick It?"

Purdue
"It's 49-21, Sweetheart"
"Toot! Bang! Boom! Whiz! Twirl! Flip! For Christ’s sake, what else?"

Stanford
"The NCAA- and University-Sanctioned Men’s Student-Athlete American Football Contest."

UCLA
"That's a Lovely Shade of Powder Blue"

Navy
"This Is Going to Hurt Us More Than It Hurts You. Well, No, It Isn’t."

North Carolina
"Yeehaw! It’s Just A Dang Ol’ Football Game Is All."

Air Force
"Scrap and Pluck and 45-10"

Army
"At Least You're Defending the Country, Which is More than Temple Can Say"

Southern Cal
"Any Of You 5-Star Bench Warmers Wanna Transfer?"

the Toll for Tech | by Jay

Pretty interesting article in the Atlanta J-C yesterday on how the money breaks down for the Georgia Tech game.

But fans are getting off a lot cheaper than Tech is. The contract for the Tech-Notre Dame game, signed in 1997 for one game in Atlanta and two in South Bend, Ind., includes a rare clause calling for extra revenue generated by a ticket increase to be split 50-50 by both schools. Typically, the home team gets to keep it all.

The average Tech football ticket goes for $38. The average Tech-Notre Dame ticket is $50.

Radakovich said "it might be another $250,000" paid by Tech to Notre Dame in addition to a $200,000 flat fee called for in the contract.

Why the ticket increase? Same reason the Fighting Irish got away with that clause. Interest in Notre Dame is always high, whether the Irish are playing at home or on the road. This year, it could be higher than usual, with Heisman Trophy candidate Brady Quinn back at quarterback for a team that was picked No. 1 in the preseason by Sporting News.

"I think Notre Dame understood their value," Radakovich said. "They understood that as they come into an area, because of who they were, there's a great likelihood that ticket sales would spike.

"They decided somewhere along the line that they would put this clause into the contract so that they can share some of that benefit."

Tech also has benefited nicely from the contract. When Notre Dame was in a rush to schedule a historic opening opponent in a renovated stadium in 1997, Tech filled in, drawing an unusually large paycheck of $800,000. The norm now might be $200,000 to $300,000.

"That $800,000, that was pretty darned good, especially back then," said Radakovich, whose program will receive $200,000 from Notre Dame after a visit to South Bend next season.

Stop the Presses! | by Pat

They must be stopped. They have been around for years, but lately have taken on a life of their own. Of course, I'm talking about the Notre Dame Gameday T-Shirts. Someone, somewhere needs to be taken to task for allowing nearly all of the designs on this year's crop to see the light of day.

I don't even know where to start. Normally, I'm all for the game day idea. There are a million and one different ND shirts in the bookstore and I have no problem with them selling one commemorating a particular game. But what used to be relatively plain shirt listing the date and the opponent is truly becoming an embarrassment. For some reason it was decided recently that each shirt needed some sort of pithy, snappy phrase or a jumble of fonts and colors. Why? The decision making process that led us to these abominations needs to be exposed and questioned.

Let's take a look at some of this year's shirts.


First of all, I'm not sure why exactly they felt the need to put the battle cry of our opponent on the shirt. I checked the Georgia Tech online bookstore and they don't have a shirt that says "Fightin' Irish!" But the true noodle scratcher on this shirt is the sub-headline "Two Teams to a Gridiron". Did anyone bother during the design process bother to say "you know, that's a pretty stupid thing to put on a shirt."
Update: It seems I read it wrong. It should read "Two Teams RAMBLIN' to a Gridiron WRECK!" That's not much better.

"Playin' for January"? It's especially puzzling since they made another gameday jersey for this game and left it plain save a small "Play Like A Champion Today" logo. This same inability to avoid adding unnecessary text also plagues the Purdue, UCLA, Air Force, and Stanford shirts. Especially the Stanford shirt.

Whoa. September Centerfold: Battle of Super Models? Are they serious? There are so many jokes here I don't really know where to start. Thankfully, I don't think I need to point out the obvious with this shirt as the Bookstore has already pulled it from distribution. You ebay junkies out there might just want to try and find this soon-to-be collector's item that compares the two winningest programs in college football to airbrushed eye candy. Hopefully the replacement design is a little more subdued.

What a minute. Where are the nonsensical sayings and silly fonts? Could it be a normal looking game day shirt? Huzzah! I'll overlook the fact that it is for an away game and the same color as the primary color found at said away game and say that is is the style that should be copied by all game day shirts. Clear, concise, and clutter free. A+. The North Carolina shirt is similar, but the big powder blue text and feeling that Notre Dame and UNC aren't on speaking terms knock it down to around a B-.

Nothing like calling the Army cowards. Apparently enough people already complained as this shirt has been pulled from the shelves. Hopefully if they come out with a new version they manage to avoid insulting anyone.

Like with the Army shirt, do we really need to rub the 42 game winning streak in Navy's nose? The gameday shirt last year did the same thing. It just highlights the big disconnect somewhere in the gameday design process. Last year, Weis brought the team over to sing alongside Navy after the game and we still print up a shirt putting them down? Thankfully, like the Michigan and Army shirts, this shirt has been pulled as well. But you really have to question why this was even approved in the first place.

Finally a decent-looking, low-key design. But look closer. Here's a copy of the text for your enjoyment:

Outlined against a blue, gray November sky of the midwestern plains, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame ride again. This time they head out west for a much anticipated gridiron battle versus the Trojans of Southern California.

Much snappier than the original Grantland Rice text, don't you think? I do have to give the Bookstore some credit though. Someone at least has a sense of humor. When I went to save the image of this shirt from the bookstore, this is the image's file name: 60320-ND06U$C.jpg. Nice.

Well wasn't that a fun little trip. And I didn't even mention the most illogical shirt in the latest Bookstore catalog. The Irish "Black Shirts" shirt. What are the Irish "Black Shirts"? Are we now copying Nebraska -- even if it was ND alum George Kelly who originated the Husker's Black Shirt tradition -- or is this a reference to Italian facist paramilitary groups? Perhaps it's a nod to the jerseys Mike Brey's Irish hoops squad wore last year. You never know, it's not like black ND uniforms aren't out there.

Wrapping things up, I would really hope that the fine folks at the Bookstore take some time to re-examine the whole concept of the Gamedayt-shirt. In the meantime I sincerely hope that people refrain from buying them. If you have to get another Notre Dame shirt, there are countless other options. But voting with your wallet on shirts like this will be far more effective to letters to the Bookstore or whiny blog posts.

UPDATE: One Irish message board poster received the following reply from the Bookstore. Sounds like they are taking care of the situation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Man on the Run | by Pat

The perception from last year is that Notre Dame's defense, specifically its pass defense, really had a hard time with mobile quarterbacks. Obviously the losses to Michigan State and Ohio State reinforce that perception. Team BGS hopes to dig a little deeper on the issue though and take a closer look at these so-called mobile quarterbacks and see just how they hurt ND. Was it their running? Passing? Combination of both?

The research isn't done yet; believe it or not, we like to spend the summer outside as much as anyone else. In the meantime, here's a quick, preliminary analysis aimed at seeing if, in fact, ND did have trouble overall with more mobile quarterbacks. Specifically, did quarterbacks with the ability to run have a better day passing against the Irish secondary than the more stationary quarterbacks?

• The first step was to rank the quarterbacks by mobility. I went for the quick and easy method and listed them by their total rushing yards gained from last year. I decided to exclude negative rushing yards so as to not count any sacks. Obviously this isn't the best measure of mobility, but it is quantifiable and like I said, quick and easy.

• The next step was then to list out how each QB did against the Irish both in terms of total passing yards and the more relevant yards per pass attempt. If a QB truly was having a good day against ND, he would have a higher yard per pass attempt average, as total yardage depends more on how many times a QB throws the ball.

• Finally, I added the season long average for yards per pass attempt for each QB and calculated the difference between their season average and the one from the ND game.

As a point of reference, Brady Quinn had a total of 245 positive rushing yards in 2005. I think all Irish fans would agree that Quinn can get a few yards on the ground when he needs to, but he is hardly what anyone would consider a "mobile" quarterback in the stereotypical sense of the word. So let's consider him, and any quarterback that rushed for equal or fewer yards to fall into the "non-mobile" grouping (read: Brandon Kirsch and below). Again, admittedly this is simplistic, but also quick and easy.

The results are predictable, yet still interesting. Of the seven quarterbacks with a season rushing total near or below Brady Quinn's total, only Matt Leinart and Erik Ainge managed to improve upon their season yards per pass attempt average. Every other quarterback had a worse day against the Irish pass defense.

On the flip side, every QB with notably better rushing numbers than Quinn, save Navy's Lamar Owens, had a better day statistically throwing the ball -- in many cases, much better.

Player
Team
Season
Rushing
Passing
(vs ND)
Yds per PA
(vs ND)
Yds per PA
(season)
Difference
(yards)
Lamar Owens
Navy
1,047
58
8.3
10.6
-2.3
Troy Smith
OSU
722
342
12.2
9.6
+2.6
Drew Stanton
MSU
520
327
12.1
8.7
+3.4
Isaiah Stanback
UW
515
353
10.4
8.1
+2.3
Trent Edwards
Stanford
356
150
7.5
7.2
+0.3
Brandon Kirsch
Purdue
246
274
6.2
6.7
-0.5
John Beck
BYU
242
317
7.0
7.2
-0.2
Perry Patterson
Syracuse
215
78
3.5
5.5
-2.0
Matt Leinart
USC
157
301
9.4
8.9
+0.5
Chad Henne
Michigan
144
223
5.1
6.6
-1.5
Tyler Palko
Pitt
129
220
6.3
7.0
-0.7
Erik Ainge
Tennessee
47
187
5.8
5.1
+0.7

In the near future we'll try to see just what it was that gave Smith, Stanton, Stanback, and Edwards a boost, and how that might affect the 2006 schedule.

Old Man Shakes Fist at Neighborhood Kids, Coaches Football | by Jay

Every time I think JoePa isn't really the caricature he's made out to be, a profile like this comes out.

Paterno, though, has delegated more responsibilities to his assistants, and may not be as intensely involved as in previous years.

He could delegate a little more to his assistants, but "I don't want to step back too far because then they when I look around, they won't let me in," he joked as he lounged on a hotel couch and took sips from a drink. "So every once in awhile, I'll stick my two cents in, and yell at some of the coaches something terrible because I don't know what's going on."


Paterno taps out a "text message"
on his "Blackberry"

But planning for the 2006 season has begun in earnest.

It's never too early to start scouting opponents, which Paterno does from the comfort of his modest State College home. Players have already been given computer discs with information to study up for the first game, against Akron on Sept. 2.

And Paterno is quick to point out Penn State's early season schedule, which includes visits to national title contenders Notre Dame and Ohio State.

"Every season, you hopefully want to go in with some sense of urgency. Last year, obviously, we were hanging in there," Paterno said.

He often said after the down 2004 campaign that his team was several broken plays or bad calls away from having a winning squad, and how he asked for patience from school administrators.

"It's not a question of 'I told you so,"' Paterno said. "They gave me a chance to keep my coaches and I appreciate that. It's not a finger pointing thing. I just think they had enough confidence that they understood where I was coming from. I kept telling people that we weren't that far off a few years ago."

He could save a little time by typing out e-mails. But Paterno is notorious for his dislike of e-mail, cell phones and other modern gadgets, so he says he'll sit down at a desk and write out messages to potential recruits and their families.

For now though, there's a beach vacation to look forward to.

Why do I get the feeling he's going to end up pulling a gun on Galen Hall this year, shouting "Take that, Malanga!"

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Catching up | by Pat

Catching up on some of the ND-centric stories that showed up on the internet over the past few weeks.

Cubby Bear. The South Bend Tribune notes that Jeff Samardzija officially signed with a five-year deal that includes a signing bonus worth up to $7.25 million. He will start out with the Boise Hawks summer before returning to ND in August for the start of football season. Meanwhile, Dusty Baker will figure out the best way to ruin his young arm.

It also seems that the contract has upset baseball commish Bug Selig.

Justin Upton, the No. 1 pick in 2005, received a $6.1 million bonus from Arizona, the record for a player signed by the team drafted him. Baseball America, citing unnamed sources, reported Commissioner Bud Selig was upset by the Samardzija bonus and became personally involved in the negotiations because the Cubs have upset the slotting structure for signing bonuses, giving out moneyno first-round pick has ever received to a player selected in the fifth round.
Back on Campus. The Tribune has a note that defensive end Travis Leitko has re-enrolled at Notre Dame and will begin his quest to rejoin the football team. No publicly announced timetable has been set, but I assume his status will be made known once practice starts in early August.

[Insert Ari Gold quote here]. It seems that Brady Quinn and his family spent some time looking for an NFL agent recently. While I'm sure many college football fans are hoping he actually signs with one this summer, all they were doing was narrowing down the list to cut down on distractions during the season.

Wake Up the Echoes. A new exhibit titled Rockne: Crossing the Last Chalk Line at the has opened at the Northern Indiana Center for History. Make sure to check it out when you are in town. In conjuction with the opening, the SBT has a nice collection of Rockne-related video clips to watch. Good stuff. Along those lines, make sure to check out this photo posted on ndnation by poster humbaba. It's a letter from a Ku Klux Klan member to the President of Notre Dame complaining about ND's ruffian students that is on display at the Center for History.

Truths and Rumors. Amid internet rumors of another fight in February, Tom Zbikowski's dad states that so far nothing has been related to the Zbikowski family on the matter and that furthermore, the time frame makes no sense. However, there is truth to the rumor that TZ will sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame at a Cubs game on July 18th. We'll see if he does as good a job as Weis did last week.

On a sad note. Cathy Mazurkiewicz, who's son Montana was the subject of the Pass Right story back in October, passed away last month of melanoma. Rockne, the youngest of her five other children, is now is living with guardians. The South Bend Tribune mentions a charity started by a high school freshman that will benefit Rockne and his new guardian family.

Rudy meets Rudy. Taking a break from hawking his new energy drink, Notre Dame's very own Rudy took time to meet Rudy Allen, the Georgia Tech quarterback who was sacked by Rudy in his now famous final play. The author of the story notes that his meeting will play a large part in the pre-game coverage of this fall's ND-Georgia Tech game, so I'd expect to see something on ABC come the fall. The only real reason I included this was because I thought this was pretty funny.
Rudy Allen was confused when he heard the cheering as he entered the football
game to "mop up". He couldn't undertand why the Notre Dame students were calling his name.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Panther Prescription | by Jay

Did you read the SBT link in the last post? Lots of interesting stuff from Charlie there. Including:

"Everyone knows we went down and spent time with the Carolina Panthers. I think that helped us on offense. It helped us on defense. It helped us on special teams, because some of the issues that we felt we were deficient at, we went and shared information with them, and we think it gave us some insight at handling some things that might be a better way than what we were doing.

"I'm going to try to do that each year with a different team, with a different NFL team. I think I have 11 years in me. I think I have 11 years' worth of places to go."

Why Carolina this first year?

"Why? Because there's some things that we wanted to do on defense that (Carolina coach) John (Fox) is really good with. There are some things that we wanted to do on defense that they already do and also Mike Trgovac and Rick (Minter) already worked together, so there was already a rapport there between the two defensive coordinators, so that made a lot of sense.
I confess I didn't know much about Carolina's defense under John Fox, so I did a little googling. Here's a couple of articles I found interesting: one from when Fox took over in '02, and one from earlier this year.

"Panthers Lose Leash", St. Pete Times, 11/15/02.

Del Rio's scheme has made a noticeable difference. It is an attacking style that puts a premium on getting to the quarterback, especially among its defensive linemen. Rucker and Peppers, who are speed rushers, are often turned loose on the outside, and blitzes can come from virtually anywhere.

It's little wonder that Carolina's linemen have accounted for 29 of the team's 33 sacks. Sunday against the Saints, the team's two sacks were registered by Peppers and Rucker.

"We're getting on the edge and hitting it instead of getting in front and two-gapping like we did in the past," Rucker said. "It plays to our advantage. I'm not a two-gapper. I'm a guy that gets on the edge and goes. Peppers is the same way. And that's what we're doing this year."

Perhaps the genius of the Panthers scheme is its many disguises. Few teams camouflage their blitzes as well as Carolina.

They do it by constantly moving and showing offenses an array of defensive fronts and formations. Just before the snap, they might shift their defensive line or slide their linebackers into different lanes, anything to try to confuse and disrupt blocking assignments.

"Fox Brings Fire to Panthers D", the NC News & Observer, 1/20/06

Under former coach George Seifert, the Panthers employed a two-gap defense. In that scheme, a defensive lineman had to engage his opposing offensive lineman and hold him up until the defender saw which way the play was going, then the defender could go after the ball carrier.

"It's going to make you a step behind a little bit," said Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker, who explained that Fox installed a more aggressive one-gap scheme which allows defenders to shoot through the offensive line almost immediately. "[Now], we don't wait around for them to do something. We go and we get it and we force our issue. That seems to work around here."

The new scheme and attention to details Fox imported from New York were immediately evident. In 2001, the Panthers generated 26 sacks and opponents averaged 371.4 yards of offense. The next season, under Fox, Carolina's sack total jumped to 52 and opponents' yards per game fell to 290.4.

I like that part of the defense with Julius Peppers. Can we put that in? Kidding aside, what parts of the Carolina scheme will Minter and Weis try to repurpose at ND?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lemonade on the Back Porch | by Jay

The SBT kicked up their feet with Charlie on this breezy summer day and passed the time with a pleasant, meandering Q&A. Take a load off and sit for a while.

Summer Kick-off | by Pat

First off, Happy Father's Day today to all the dads reading this blog. While you lounge around today putting off the housework you'll have to make up later in the week, we figured we might as well give you something to read.

So, we here at BGS are declaring this the unofficial kickoff of the 2006 season. Sure, the official kickoff is still 76 days away, but today the 28 man freshman class report to Notre Dame and start not only their college careers, but also meet their new teammates and begin the informal summer workout sessions that will lay the groundwork for the upcoming football season.

With most of the recent focus on the new crop of recruits and current team superstars, we figured today is as good a day as any to step back and take another look at the incoming group of new Fighting Irish football players.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hansen on the Irish | by Jay

A few weeks ago Eric Hansen of the South Bend Trib was on a sports show on WHPC out of Long Island, NY (co-hosted by ND grad Chris Muldoon) and chatted for about thirty-five minutes on all things Irish. He covered a lot of ground, and there were some new, interesting nuggets he divulged:

• There was a big buyout in Charlie's first contract, and a "Herculean" buyout in the new contract. That still doesn't mean an NFL team wouldn't swoop in and make a huge offer, but when you talk to Maura Weis, there is no chance Charlie will be jumping to the NFL anytime soon. They moved houses way too many times in recent years, and are very happy and settled in South Bend, especially with regards to Hannah. Charlie's got more time for family than he ever did in the pros. He's got time now when the guys are in class in the morning and early afternoon, where he didn't have that time in the NFL. The whole family enjoys the town and the lifestyle a lot more than the pros.

• Hansen happened to be in Charlie's office a few weeks ago when a recruit called him. He couldn't identify the recruit, because that would be an NCAA violation, but he watched how he talked to the kid, and he got a sense of how Charlie really genuinely loves ND. Charlie asks recruits that when they come to visit, if they don't feel something special when they walk on Notre Dame's campus then they should probably go somewhere else. He gives them a personalized tour of campus via golfcart, and he also asks kids to read up a little on ND before visiting, and will give them a "pop quiz" when they arrive.

• Guesses on which freshmen will get significant playing time: Ryan Burkhardt (would be surprised if he didn't handle kickoffs immediately, if not all placekicking duties); Konrad Reuland (knowing how much Charlie utilizes the TE, Reuland will play a lot); Sam Young (should be in the OL rotation immediately, if not win the starting RT job); Toryan Smith (has a chance to start at middle linebacker); and the two corners Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil (should see the field in the nickel set).

• Minter's defense: couldn't get as complex as they wanted to, and weren't as fast as they needed to be -- especially at linebacker and defensive end. (The secondary is plenty fast, but were often hung out to dry by the lack of a pass rush). Improved speed at linebacker and a better capacity to play both the run and the pass should help things, and that's the kind of player Minter and Weis are looking for at that position. (Remember, Mays came out on passing downs last year, and Hoyte was in that same boat the year before. So we had two guys at LB who really weren't all that great at playing the pass.) The question is which players fit that bill, and how soon it can get turned around. As for the secondary, speed was less an issue than inexperience; we're still starting four guys who were primarily offensive players in high school, but now that they're veterans another year in the system should yield better performance.

• According to Kevin White, we dumped an Alabama game from the schedule when KW first came on board because we wanted to move the game from the first or second weekend of the season to sometime in November (citing possible 100-degree heat in T-Town as the primary reason). Alabama wouldn't agree to that.

• ND is trying to work out a way to broadcast this year's Air Force game via the internet, since the only TV coverage is only available on CSTV. White said that going forward we will not schedule a game that does not include coverage on a mainstream television network. (BGS note: I suppose this means no more games at BYU, since the Mountain West now has an exclusive deal with CSTV).

• Regarding a report that we declined an offer to play Miami at one of our neutral-site matches, Hansen says the fact was that Miami wanted to play us at the Orange Bowl (which, while not being their home field anymore, is hardly a neutral site).

Editor's note: This part of the interview had me a bit confused. It sure seemed like Hansen was talking as if Miami considered the Orange Bowl a neutral site, and somehow my synapses got mixed up in the Orange Bowl game at Dolphin Stadium confusion. As it has been for quite a while, the physical Orange Bowl is still the home field for the Hurricanes. We apologize for the misunderstanding. However, that means that we rebuffed Miami not on a neutral-site pretext, but rather...why?

• Finally, Hansen related how it's really neat to see Charlie when he's around his family, because it's then that you get an appreciation for how much they mean to him. Charlie and Maura believe that Hannah was a gift that will help them help other kids with similar disabilities, and they're doing everything they can to make that happen.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

49 seconds | by Jay

Wow. Woody Hayes threw better punches than that guy.



Congrats to Knockout Jesus.

Update: The fight is now up on the ND Videos site. Check it out.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

"Irish" Tom | by Jay

Nice piece by Chris Dufresne in the LA Times on Zibby's pugilistic pursuits.

A boy boxer, under his father's tutelage, ducks in and out of every gym joint in Chicago. At 11, Tommy fights five bouts in one week. He remembers a Silver Gloves bout so savage it "could have been fought in a phone booth."

"Zibby" takes fights at the Robert Taylor Homes projects and at Stateway Gardens. Places where, Tommy says, "We'd run in and they'd padlock the door."

Places where punches — and sometimes bullets — flew. Places where you hit the bag and hit the deck.

Once, coming out of Stateway, Dad hit the gas as bullets sprayed around his car. "Don't know if they were aimed at us," Tommy says. "But they were gunshots and they were close."
Check out the whole thing if you have a minute.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Champ is Here | by Jay

You gotta love pre-fight hype. East Side Boxing quotes Zibby speed bag Robert Bell:

"I cannot stand Notre Dame, a fact I will impress on "Rudy" when we meet in the ring," said Bell. "Tommy, THIS Bell tolls for thee! Tommy Z will become Tommy Zzzzzzzzz when I land my powerful "Big Ten-Count" on his chin and put him to sleep."
Some more trash-talking here. Thiry to forty teammates of Zibby's are going to escort him into the ring tomorrow night.

By the way, Bell's fight name is "The Disciple", which reminded me that Zibby doesn't have a fight name yet. Fight Name For Zibby contest commences...now.


"I must break you" ... "Go for it"

Unseemly | by Jay

The flipside to the creepy glorification of high schoolers by those who follow recruiting is the even creepier need to trash high school kids for ulterior purposes. Take Rainer Sabin in the Northwest Arkansas Times this morning as an example.

Under the headline "Clausen Arrogance Knows No Bounds", the article is ostensibly about Jimmy Clausen and his commitment to Notre Dame. Let's slice it up:

He announced his decision to commit to Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame last April. He arrived there in a stretch limousine with a large entourage. When introducing himself to other high school players and Fighting Irish recruits, he makes sure he points out he is one of the top quarterbacks in California. Last week, he was profiled in the New York Times.
All true. This "entourage", however, was his parents, his brothers, his brothers' girlfriends, and Marc Tyler, who lives with the Clausens. I know; I was standing next to them. Not exactly a night on the town with the Snoop Dogg posse. They were followed by ESPN's cameras; more on this later.

Sabin doesn't waste any time getting to his point:
His name is Jimmy Clausen, and he has quickly emerged as one of the more unlikable characters in all of sports.

The problem is Clausen is only entering his senior season at Oaks Christian School at Westlake Village, Calif., where he has distinguished himself on the field and put up some gaudy numbers. Last year, Clausen threw for 2,778 yards and broke California’s high school record of 132 career touchdown passes. That’s great. But it doesn’t excuse the fact he is a prima donna at the age of 18.
Wow. Okay, I'm ready to hear the evidence for Clausen being an "unlikable prima donna". Hit me.
What’s even worse is that his family has aided and abetted this arrogance. They sent out press releases to the national media before Clausen announced his decision to pledge his services to Notre Dame. They helped make the kid a new target of angry prep linebackers and defensive ends who would like nothing but to drive his spike-haired head into the ground this coming season.
He's a prima donna for sending out a press release to announce his decision? Rainer, you don't follow recruiting much, do you? Press releases for top-ranked recruits are de rigueur in this day and age; when a kid commits, often on live TV (ESPN or otherwise), he's sitting in front of a bank of microphones at his high school, or at an ESPN Zone. How do you think the press got there to cover the event in the first place? If this is your standard for being a prima donna, why single out Clausen? I hope you've got more than this.
Clausen’s parents should have known better, especially after watching their two other sons play college football at big-name programs. Clausen’s brothers, Casey and Rick, both ended up at Tennessee.

Casey was the better of the two. In four seasons, he put together a decent career, throwing for 9,707 yards and 75 touchdown passes. Rick, on the other hand, landed in Knoxville only after transferring from LSU, where he couldn’t win the starting job. After leading the Volunteers to a Cotton Bowl win in 2004, Rick helped preside over one of the worst seasons the Volunteers have had in recent memory. Tennessee went 5-6 last fall and did not play in a bowl for the first time in 16 years. It’s safe to say the city of Knoxville is not about to name a road after him, like it did for one of Tennessee’s more celebrated quarterbacks, Tee Martin.

Brother Jimmy, on the other hand, apparently is already thinking about being enshrined. Why else would he pick the College Football Hall of Fame as the site of his coming-out party?
So let me get this straight: Clausen should keep a low profile because his brothers sucked. Plato (and perhaps Mike Maddux's brother Greg) would call this fallacy guilt by association, or more specifically, bullshit. We don't know how good Jimmy's going to be. What we do know is that unlike his brothers, Jimmy's the premier pick in this class of quarterbacks, and he had offers from all the top schools. Trashing him based on his brother's records is silly and unfair.

I'll grant Sabin this: using the HOF could be construed as precocious grandstanding. A few of my ND friends thought it was over-the-top as well. I thought it was pretty funny, actually, and felt like Clausen and his family were having fun with it; who knows, maybe being there in person gave me a different viewpoint. But consider:

• Sabin doesn't mention that Clausen was in town for the Notre Dame Blue-Gold game, later that day. He didn't make a special trip to South Bend just to use the HOF.
• Jimmy has been working hard to sway other recruits to the Irish (see the NY Times article); he no doubt wanted to make his announcement on the day of the Blue-Gold game, where there would be dozens of recruits in attendance, and where his announcement would make a greater impact.
• Use of any Notre Dame facility for his announcement would have been a recruiting violation by the school. I suppose he could have used St. Joe High, or maybe set something up at C.J.'s. But that really defeats the purpose of creating some heat, doesn't it?

Up to this point I was struggling to understand why a sportswriter for a small Arkansas paper would take the time to write a Clausen article. Then Sabin shows his cards:
But instead of proclaiming to the world how great he is, what Clausen really needs to do is take a few lessons from last year’s top quarterback prospect and fellow recruit of Notre Dame — Mitch Mustain.

Mustain, who would eventually sign with Arkansas, maintained a low profile last fall as he concentrated on leading the Springdale Bulldogs to a 14-0 record and a state championship. Mustain committed to the Razorbacks Aug. 15 at a press conference at his high school before re-opening his recruitment in December and sending Arkansas fans into an uproar.

At the time, he took a hard look at Notre Dame, which offered scholarships to three quarterbacks last fall. But he eventually decided to remain committed to the Razorbacks, and that decision perhaps had something to do with Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis’ aggressive pursuit of Clausen, who seems to love the attention he is getting as one of the nation’s top prep players.

Mustain, meanwhile, appeared to shy away from the hoopla. He refused to believe his own hype. He wasn’t cocky and he certainly didn’t act like he was already a professional athlete. He just went about his business like any other high school athlete does. It’s too bad Clausen can’t do the same, because when it comes down to it he is still living with his parents.
I get it: let's use the Clausen story to build up our own prospect, Mitch Mustain. And by trashing Clausen, we can highlight all the good traits of the guy who picked us. Slick.

I think criticism of Clausen boils down to three aspects of the story.

1) Use of a limo. Big deal.
2) Use of the College HOF. Might have been an issue, but seen in the context of the Blue-Gold game and Jimmy's self-proclaimed role as avalanche starter makes a little more sense. Still ballsy, though.
3) Coverage of the proceedings on ESPN. Unfortunately, this is the crux of the problem. Most people who caught the story in passing probably saw one of the short ESPN loops they ran ad nauseam that weekend: Jimmy steps out of the limo, Jimmy announces at the HOF, Jimmy flashes his state champ rings. If that's all you know about the kid - a three minute clip -- maybe you can jump to the conclusion that he's an "unlikable prima donna". But other recruits seem to love the guy (again, see the NY Times article), and with recruiting heating up that's all that really matters.

Rainer, if you want to write a positive story on Mitch Mustain, that's your prerogative. If you're strung out on Cush-lash and want to write something like "I'm sick of hearing about Jimmy Clausen", have at it. That's fair, too. But that's your problem, not his. We'll know soon enough if he's going to live up to his billing; in the meantime, quit trashing the kid for your own selfish reasons.

"One of the more unlikable characters in all of sports..." Geesh.

(By the way, don't bother emailing this guy, as that's what he wants you to do anyway.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hype, Refocused | by Jay

It is the offseason, isn't it? How many more articles are we going to see on Quinn, Samardzija, Zibby, Clausen, Charlie? It's been a deluge already, and it's only June. Along with the regular drumbeat of stories from the SBT and the Chicago papers, we've had articles in the New York Times, the Charlotte Observer, USA Today, ESPN, the Newark Star-Ledger, the New York Post, and the Indy Star -- and that's all in the last week.

Well, good news: the backlash is starting to boil. A few pundits and bloggers out there (many of the Wolverine variety) are claiming that ND is already overexposed, overrated, and most damningly, that our season last year was nothing special.

It's an apples and oranges discussion, of course. To other schools, ND is getting a disproportionate amount of media attention and whatever ranking it gets in the first preseason poll will be way too high. (Athlon already gave us the #2 spot, Lindy's put us at #1). After all, we didn't beat anybody special, and the only thing we can hang our hat on is a near-win, not an actual win.

We, on the other hand, think last year was "special" for other reasons: we saw discernible progress, and grew to know and love our new head coach, and we think we're in capable hands for the future. In that regard, the season was indeed special. The win total was secondary to establishing a new, winning attitude. In a straw poll of my friends around this time last year, we all agreed we'd have been happy with a Holtzian first season: mixed record, but real progress on the field. We got that, and a nice 9-win season to boot. To many of us, we're ahead of schedule.

Charlie, in his own way, agrees with the naysayers: it doesn't matter how shrill the accolades get, we've got everything yet to prove. But then again, he's the coach, and anything short of a national championship is disappointing.

How refreshing.

(From the monogram club banquet the other night)

"I've been thinking about where I was last year when I spoke to you and where I am now. I really like the fact that the bar has been raised. I really like that. The number one sin that can occur at this time is that people say that you are preseason ranked really high after last year no one even cared about you, and now your players are going to have big heads. Trust me - I will bring them down. Big heads are not going to be the problem. I will let them have big heads until about August 6 when they show up. Then those heads are going to be beaten on a regular basis. I'm not worried about the magazines. I'm not worried about the hype. I'm just worrying about winning one game at a time, because that is the mentality that I grew up in."

"I also grew up in the mentality of understanding what Notre Dame is all about. Tonight I talked [with Debbie Brown] and learned a lot more about the volleyball program, because I actually support the other sports here. I try to pop in to see just about every other team play. I try not to be a distraction, but I like to see what is going on. From somebody who went to school here and was not an athlete here, the one message or theme that I give to anyone who represents this university - especially as a coach, whether it is as a football coach, a volleyball coach, or a volleyball coach - I tell people that the one thing you have to understand about this place is that tradition never graduates. It doesn't make a difference who graduates. We are a special place. Tradition never graduates. I can already tell you that heading into next year, before we play one game, there will be a lot of cynics at the end of this coming season, saying, `Well, you lost Quinn, you lost Samardzija, you lost McKnight, you lost your offensive line, you lost Abiamiri and Landri, you lost guys from your secondary.' And I'm going to say, `So what?"

"I'm not happy with how the season went. I'm very disappointed, to be perfectly honest with you. I felt I blew the Michigan State game. I think the team came in flat. We rallied, which was nice, but the bottom line is that we lost, and that's not good. Against USC, we can talk about that play as long as you want, but the bottom line is we had an opportunity to win, and we didn't. That's just the way it is. Let's quit whining about it; they won, and we lost. That's just the way it goes. We had an opportunity to put them away, and we didn't. That's our fault, and I obviously will take that responsibility. Then we went to the bowl game, and we came out flat. I will take responsibility for that, too. Hopefully I learned a little bit about that long layoff. I'm used to a week or two weeks before a Super Bowl. I really hadn't experienced that long a time period. I think I learned some valuable lessons of how I will do it differently this year."

Samardzija Woo Woo | by Pat

Last summer, all of the focus on Notre Dame centered squarely on Coach Charlie Weis and what he was going to bring to the Irish program. The players were rarely featured outside of their hometown papers. This off-season however the focus has shifted to the players with the trio of Brady Quinn, Tom Zbikowski, and Jeff Samardzija getting the bulk of the attention. We've already seen the national stories on Quinn's upcoming Heisman run and Zibby's boxing career, and now Samardzija is commanding the headlines after the Chicago Cubs made him the 149th overall pick of the Major League Draft yesterday.

ND Coach Paul Mainieri offered his opinion that while Jeff is better known for his work on the gridiron, his future in baseball is just as bright as his one in football.

"One of the truly great players in Notre Dame history got selected today by the Chicago Cubs. You can throw his numbers out the window. I don't care what his ERA was or how many strikeouts he had. This guy is going to be a great Major League pitcher, if that's the route he chooses. He has all of the ability that it takes to be a Major League pitcher. He's got the body, he's got the arm strength. Every time he pitched, he got better and better and I think the work that [ND pitching coach] Terry Rooney did with him took him to another level as a pitcher. I've had some good pitchers around here - Brad Lidge and Aaron Heilman - but Jeff is as good as or better than those guys. He's going to pitch in the big leagues for a long time and at a very high level.
By being drafted, Samardzija will likely pitch this summer for the Cubs' Class A affiliate, the Boise Hawks. Then in August, Samardzija will come back to South Bend to start football practice and get ready for the 2006 season. After that though, which professional sport he pursues is unclear. For now it sounds like Samardzija is going to use the summer baseball sessions to really gauge where he's at as a pitcher.
"After being involved in both sports and playing both [professionally], then I'll have a better idea whether I can do both - and if I can't, then which way I'll want to go. It's hard to say right now. Maybe I'll get into it and say that I can do both and can do it for a good amount of time. The deeper you get into it, the more you know.

"It will be incredible because there will be no school and no football, it will be just baseball day-in and day-out, which will be amazing. Just to see the strides I made [this spring] just from missing a few football practices, I'm excited to see where it goes and it will give me a good idea of what I can do with my career."
There will be a number of talented wide receivers in college football this year who will likely be in the 2007 NFL Draft (Dwayne Jarrett, Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn) so Samardzija isn't exactly a lock for the top receiver spot in the draft but he shouldn't drop much below the middle of the 2nd round. If he does end up as one of the top NFL picks, he might be forced to go football full-time, but if he slides a bit and his pitching is strong this summer in the minors, you never know, he might try and continue his Bo Jackson imitation. It has to be harder for a pitcher than an outfielder to double up, but I'm sure there will be some teams willing to at least give him a shot to do both. In the meantime, Samardzija along with his classmates Brady and Zibby are quickly becoming larger than life Irish legends. It will be fun in a few years/decades to look back and see where they fit in on future discussions of Notre Dame greats.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Charlotte Sometimes | by Pat

Good news for those Irish fans who can't stop worrying about the ND defense. On the heels of a whirlwind May visiting recruits across the country, Weis and the assistants coaches headed to North Carolina to talk shop with Weis friend and Carolina Panther Head Coach John Fox and his staff.

It's nice to see the staff getting together with a respected defensive mind like Fox, as well as Panther defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, who was the defensive line coach at ND during Minter's first stint as DC. Who knows what exactly they talked about, but one can hope some of it involved how to get a better pass rush.

The minicamp pow-wow also highlights Weis' policy towards spending his time with pro coaches rather than other college coaches. It's not a common policy to refuse to swap ideas with other college coaches, but is hardly unique as Pete Carroll does the same thing. I guess former NFL guys are just that much more cautious than college guys.

"When you're coaching in college, you don't share with a college coach; and when you coach in the pros, you don't share with a pro coach," Weis said.

"This is an ideal situation. A lot of things we do and a lot of things they do are the same. ... It's a good marriage where we can try to solve some problems and share some information without passing it on to (another) NFL team or college team."
Hopefully some good ideas came out of the meeting, but I'm sure this won't be the last time Weis and Fox talk before the fall as the two coaches bring their families together for a vacation every off-season. I can just see them sitting out on a deck somewhere at night, beers in hand... "So John, this Drew Stanton kid is pretty good....what would you do to slow him down?"

Body Blow. Uppercut. | by Jay

From TSN:

Saturday night...ND strong safety Tom Zbikowski will fight at Madison Square Garden against heavyweight Robert Bell -- an Ohioan and a Buckeyes fan. Bell plans to wear an Ohio State jersey into the ring. "I consider that a personal affront to myself and my teammates," Zbikowski says, "and I'm going to look to punish him as much as possible before knocking him out."
That's the worst jersey idea since Ty broke out the greens against BC. Zibby's gonna kill him.

Other guys from Irish lore I wouldn't want to mess with:

Hornung (you just know he can handle himself in a bar fight)
Rocky Boiman (think Braveheart-style war whoops before disembowlment)
Lee Becton (shifty)
Mike Stonebreaker (would beat you up and then run you over with his car)
George Goeddeke (insane)
Dave Duerson (wouldn't exactly stick to the Queensbury Rules)
Moose Krause (broke his jaw on the second play of a college-NFL All-Star game; didn't miss a down)
Jeff Faine (always wanted to make his opponents "think this is the wrong sport for them")

Some guys I think I could take:

Reggie Ho (would need to disable kicking leg; after that it's over)
Tim Ruddy (nerd)
Aaron Taylor (yellow belly)
Rudy

I was talking to a former teammate of Zibby's not too long ago who once, after a long night out, challenged Zibby to "give him his best shot". This is when Zibby was a freshman. They both go outside, and Zibby punches him in the stomach, one shot. His senior teammate, doubling over in pain: "Done."

(As if football and boxing weren't enough, did you know TZ was also a fireman? No joke.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Trattou Time | by Jay

New Jersey: the gift that keeps on giving. On Friday, Ramsey, NJ defensive end Justin Trattou committed to ND. The 6-3, 250-pound Trattou will likely be the top-rated defensive lineman in the state next season, and he sifted through about 20 different offers to narrow his choice down to Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, and ND. Trattou seemed pretty excited to join the Irish.

"Notre Dame has the best tradition in college football, and I just want to be part of it," Trattou told The Record of Hackensack, N.J. "It's a great atmosphere. I got along with everyone really well, the players and the coaches. I really believe I'm in a great spot, the right spot for me to succeed."
Described as "all but unblockable" by the NJ Journal, Trattou had 95 tackles and 10.5 sacks last season -- even though he was usually sitting on the bench by halftime, since Don Bosco Prep, perenially one of the best high school teams in the nation, had so many lopsided victories. (Bosco went 11-1, losing in the state championship final in what was a huge upset). Even at such a great football school, Trattou was starting on the varsity by the time he was a sophomore. He was such a standout that he was mistakenly invited to the Army All-American combine that year, an event that targets juniors.

Trattou will add some much-needed depth to the defensive line ranks. He's really quick for a guy his size, posting a 4.7 time in the 40, and yet there's speculation that he might be asked to bulk up and move inside to DT once he gets here.

One sidelight to the Trattou verbal, and following on the heels of the Ragone and Kamara commitments, is the strong recruiting presence that ND has reestablished in the Garden State. Charlie's all but planted a flag on the New Jersey turnpike, claiming everything from Hackensack to Cape May as Irish country. We're getting three of the top four prospects from the state this year, and judging from some of the quotes from coaches in the Trattou articles, there's bound to be more to come:
For years, Lou Taglieri couldn't figure it out. Oh sure, every once in awhile during his 11 years as an assistant football coach in New Jersey, Notre Dame would swoop in and recruit a Jersey player.

But it wasn't often.

"It was frustrating because we sent a lot of kids to colleges all over the country, and Notre Dame was rarely around," said Taglieri, now entering his second season as head coach at Hoboken High School. "We were saying to ourselves, 'What are we doing wrong? Why aren't our kids getting there?' It seemed like they were elite and we couldn't get our kids there.

"It's changed. [Weis] comes in and he's basically taken over New Jersey."

----
"I don't think it's the Jersey ties, I think he's able to maximize all that Notre Dame has to offer," said Greg Toal, coach at the Ramsey school. "I think Charlie Weis made them understand that the days of living off being Notre Dame are over and they have to work their butts off. And they realized they had to open up their purse strings. They're paying $2 million to Weis and paying more to assistants, and that is allowing them to attract better assistants and better recruiters. Those guys are real good and they work real hard."
Anyway, here's a quick review of the defensive line situation going forward. After Frome, Landri and Abiamiri leave after this year, we've got:
'07 Defensive Line Roster
Elig. Left
Defensive Tackle
Defensive End
1
5Y - T. Laws

5Y - D. Stephenson
SR - J. Brown
SR - R. Talley
2
JR - P. Kuntz

3
JR - D. Hand
SO - P. Mullen
SO - J. Ryan
SO - K. Wade
4

FR - K. Neal
FR - J. Trattou

Let's hope Trevor Laws sticks around for his fifth year, huh?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

BGS Springtime Roundtable | by Teds

As the spring practice session closes and Charlie Weis and his troops begin to look forward to the 2006 football season, BGS sat down recently to tackle a few pertinent issues that face the ND football team.

Do you feel more confident today about the team's chances in 2006 than you did before spring practice?

MARK: More confident? No. I still feel the same as I did when spring practice started - this team has a mixture of talent, experience, and coaching that bodes very well. It also has depth problems that will have it living on the edge.

MICHAEL: The same. Not really sure that any questions were answered…were they? If anything, I'm not sure the FG kicking question loomed as much as it did prior to spring ball.

PAT: Yes. Hearing postive reviews attached to players like David Bruton, Ray Herring, and Terrail Lambert gives me a bit more comfort about the depth of the secondary. There are still concerns, especially at linebacker. But hearing good things about the defense, as well as the lack of major injuries, has me feeling better after spring ball.

PETE: More confident. Seeing us play arguably our worst game to end the season last year, and looking for the first time outmatched in terms of athleticism, it was nice to see the team come back from that extended hangover to pick up where we left off: playing sharp, productive, nasty football.

JEFF: Less. The FG kicking looked really bad. If it doesn’t improve, expect us to miss a few extra point tries next year. I’m glad we’ve shown such acumen at putting the ball in the end zone, since I’d hate for a game to come down to a last second field goal. I expected to see some crisp, march-down-the-field, 12-play TD drives, but really didn’t. In general, I got the feeling that many players were not playing at “normal” intensity, almost to the point that play seemed a bit lackadaisical at times. Perhaps that is the nature of BG games in general, but I hope the offense isn’t coasting through practices resting on their laurels from last season.

TEDS: A bit more, I guess. Mainly, this has to do with the fact that we avoided any major injuries in the spring session, unlike some of our 2006 opponents. Last year, the fortune of avoiding a serious injury to a key player was the difference between playing in a BCS bowl and suffering through a season much closer to .500. Even in the games we did lose, you could see the impact of playing without somewhat unheralded starters like Frome and Powers-Neal and how it had a hand in those defeats. Sidestepping injury to players like Quinn, Harris and essentially every starter on the DL will continue to be a major theme in the fall, though I suspect fears over lack of depth will begin to lessen as the year progresses and the huge incoming freshman class starts to fill some of the cracks in the depth chart.

Who stood out to you in the spring session that you believe can make an impact in the fall?

MARK: Mitchell Thomas. From everything I have read and been told, he has all the physical talent to be an effective MLB. It's up to him this summer to take the proverbial next step.

MICHAEL: Maybe Derrell Hand or Pat Kuntz. Both seemed to have good springs, and during the last few years we've rotated in a third DT to keep our line fresh. Hopefully one of these guys can do the same in the fall.

PAT: I only have one Blue-Gold game to go off of, but a stronger, faster Travis Thomas will let Walker take a few carries off each game to catch his breath. That will pay dividends as the season progresses. Geoff Price seems to have improved on his punting consistency, as well, and nothing will help out the defense more than the ability to pin opposing teams deep to start a drive.

PETE: Rhema McKnight. With Georgia Tech having a decimated secondary, Penn State having to replace seniors all over the field, Brady ready to rev up his Heisman campaign, and all the attention being placed on Samardizja, McKnight is primed to have a humongous start to the season as he may be able to slip under a lot of radars. It's important to remember that he was once believed to be the best receiver on the team by a decent margin.

JEFF: I was impressed with the play of the secondary, Travis Thomas, and the backup QBs. The QBs played well for both squads, and I never saw a big mistake from the secondary. I didn’t realize that Thomas had such good speed.

TEDS: Anyone Weis would mention by name is a good candidate here, but I think that Paul Duncan is someone who seemed to separate himself during the spring and stands to play an important role in 2006. Of course, he'll have another test in the fall, not only from other incumbent linemen but heralded OT recruit Sam Young, as well. Regardless, we'd been looking for some of the young players to stake their claim to the few starting roles available during camp, and Duncan appeared to be the one guy more than anyone else who did just that.

Any disappointments, whether it's individual players, units or aspects of the team's play?

MARK: The linebacking corps still being up in the air. Hard to be too upset since both Crum and Brockington were limited, but I had hoped one of the candidates would have really locked down a spot, which doesn't seem to be the case.

MICHAEL: FG kicking.

PAT: I was really hoping that one of the linebackers not named Maurice Crum would make it a no-brainer that they would be in the starting lineup in the fall. It still seems like no one knows who is going to join Crum out on the field in Atlanta.

PETE: The kicking game. It's hard to believe that relying on a walk-on for the past couple years that we could still have such a regression in reliability once we started using scholarship players again. The real danger with this area is that unless Burkhart can come in and immediately provide a stable kicking game, we're stuck with kicking troubles all season, which could prove to be a big problem in a game that goes down to the wire.

JEFF: FG kicking, as mentioned above. I also thought that Quinn was focusing too much on Samardzija, and Shark is also going to have to be much more careful about pushing off.

TEDS: I know it's popular to fret over our linebackers, but I don't think you can pass judgement on any unit in which two-thirds of the projected starters don't even participate. Weis and the staff still seemed to be harping on the safety play and biting on play-action in particular, and I believe that's one area in which we simply can't afford not to improve. A lot of good work from the entire unit can be undone if that last line of defense is not sound. Competition from both David Bruton and Ray Herring as well as the incoming safeties will hopefully engender better and more consistent play.

Regarding the impact of Clausen's commitment -- do you believe it will pay meaningful dividends with the rest of the recruiting class, or is the idea of that overblown?

MARK: Yes, it will. I doubt it will on the defensive side of the football but without question I believe elite WRs, TEs and RBs - not to mention OL - will pay attention and be influenced by this committment.

MICHAEL: Well, last year fans expected the same of Zach Frazer but it was James Aldridge who pulled in some prospects. Ultimately, I think the formula relies more on charisma and personality than number of recruiting stars and position. Time will tell on Clausen.

PAT: I do think it will pay dividends in this class, although it may not rope in all of the top guys on every recruitnik wish list. At the very least, his commitment will keep a large number of recruits curious about Notre Dame. It's up to Weis to turn potential interest into a signed Letter of Intent, though.

PETE: I don't think recruits are ready to drop to their knees and convert to Clausenism just yet, but even if Clausen never lives up to his potential (which I doubt), the sheer amount of visibility Notre Dame has received on the recruiting front from this is going to yield its own rewards. I'll welcome top wide receivers, running backs, and lineman, but I'm really hoping for a linebacker or cornerback recruit who is giddy over toying with the idea of playing against the Lebron of high school football on a daily basis.

JEFF: I think Clausen is getting way too much hype; I’m hearing echoes of Beano’s Heisman and NC predictions. However, I do think the impact of the Clausen commitment will be strong, and this should be the best Irish recruiting class in 15 years or so. Recruits are nothing but potential, but I’d much rather have players with highly regarded potential than a group of no-name guys who I hope will surprise.

TEDS: Yes, I think it will. Whether or not Clausen is as good as advertised is practically irrelevant to the matter. It's all about the buzz created, and his pledge seems to have made a stir unlike any other in recent memory. On top of that, it now becomes an issue of how active Clausen is in trying to play the role of pied piper, and early indications seem to be that he's a highly dedicated and goal-oriented kid. It remains to be seen how much of an impact he might have on defensive recruits, but I think that the momentum he's able to generate with top skill players around him will spill over with a handful of preferred targets on the other side of the ball, too. I'm not expecting the world but hopeful about the momentum working in our favor here.

Now that Clausen's in the fold, which uncommitted recruit do you want the most?

MARK: Its a tie between Ben Martin and Marvin Austin.

MICHAEL: Marvin Austin

PAT: Marvin Austin

PETE: Gotta go with Austin.

TEDS: Austin and Martin are 1 and 1A here, as both fill obvious needs and represent the type of players we've mostly gone without over the past decade. If I had to pick one, I'd go with Austin. Full-grown, blue-chip DTs like him are so rare.

If you could add one recruit we lost during the Willingham era to the team as currently constructed, who would it be?

MARK: Joe Thomas, the OL at Wisconsin.

MICHAEL: I'm cheating -- I'll take two. Offense: Joe Thomas. Defense: Dan Connor.

PAT: Aside from senior-to-be Reggie Bush? I'd probably agree with Michael and take Dan Connor, although I certainly wouldn't turn down Joe Thomas or Lawrence Wilson.

PETE: It's amazing to look back and see the players we obsessed over and died when they committed elsewhere, and then try and remember why we cared all that much. I'm specifically thinking of Brian Brohm, who, if we had got him, would only increase the logjam we're soon to have at quarterback. I know there's no such thing as too much talent at a position, but that scholarship could have (had a certain someone recruited correctly) gone someplace more useful. And it's tough to say "no" to Reggie Bush on your team, but putting him on our roster and taking him away from USC's may have tilted the scales just enough to keep Willingham here, and no one player is worth that. I'd have to go with a lineman, any lineman, even just an obese guy that fits into a helmet. That would the biggest help, right now.

TEDS: Have to go with Dan Connor, primarily because linebacker appears to be our most glaring hole in the returning lineup. However, I reserve the right to change my answer to DE Lawrence Wilson if he proves to be as disruptive this fall as is being speculated.

What's going to be the hottest individual position battle in August?

MARK: Right Tackle. Sam Young is going to be given every opportunity to earn the job, and with his recruiting hype and the examples of Winston Justice, Ryan Harris, Mike Rosenthal, Jon Runyan, etc. it's not out of the realm of possibility.

MICHAEL: Either MLB or RT. Money is on MLB.

PAT: Middle linebacker. I suspect they will settle early on a right tackle so that he can get a healthy number of reps with the first-team offense, but the starting middle linebacker job might stay open right up until kickoff. Mitchell Thomas not only has to fend off Scott Smith and incoming freshman Toryan Smith, but he also has to play well enough to give the coaches confidence to keep Maurice Crum on the outside. The outcome of this battle will determine the makeup of the rest of the linebacking corp.

PETE: Linebacker. From having that position accounted for during the past couple years, now it's blown wide open, and hopefully somebody is ready and willing to come in and fill the spots.

TEDS: Probably MLB, because you have not only the legitimate candidates to fill the position but also the potential of Crum sliding inside, something that I suspect many of us would prefer to avoid if possible.

From what you've seen of ND and know of other potential contenders, does this team deserve to be ranked in the preseason top 5?

MARK: Yes. ND has a substantial edge in terms of returning starters over other contenders like Ohio State, USC, etc. Only a handful of teams from last years Top 10 are returning their starting QB. I think it's interesting that people assume that Player X at a place like Ohio State or USC will be more effective as a new starter than guys like Tom Zbikowski, Trevor Laws, Victor Abiamiri, Ambrose Wooden, Rhema McKnight, etc. Based on our front line guys, our top thirty players or so, ND should be among the best. It's a question of how healthy those players remain and what kind of development can be coaxed from the next tier of players.

MICHAEL: Yes.

PAT: I think so. There doesn't seem, at least this year in the year, to be a dominant team or two out there. Every team has a few holes to fill. ND might not have to depth to carry them all season long, but at the outset I'd say this is definitely a Top 5 team.

PETE: I'd have to say yes. It's not so much that Notre Dame has gotten significantly better (though they do look improved), it's that so many other established teams seem to be regressing this year. Texas and USC have huge holes to fill, and remember: if a certain Zbikowski touchdown stands, Notre Dame plays a very close game with OSU, who is the team other than ND that looks to be as good as they were last year. The title is really up for grabs this year, and Notre Dame has got quite a few returning hands to reach for it.

JEFF: Absolutely, this team finished in the Top 10 last season, and is losing very little. There is no way that five other teams are better positioned than the Irish going into next season. Think about how far this team has come in one year. Hopping in the Wayback Machine, and looking at where we were in April of 2005:

- Weis had installed a fraction of his offense, perhaps 50% at best

- The players were still learning to execute the fundamentals

- Recruiting was on the road to recovery with good players like Prince and Frazier on board, but still not the Top 5 classes Holtz perennially produced

- Everyone expected a better team, but perhaps not a significant improvement in record due to a tough schedule

- I was still a little disappointed that we didn’t land Urban Meyer but thought that Weis would be a good long-term hire

Unless this team undergoes a significant “Sophomore Slump” there are plenty of indications that the 2006 Irish will be stronger than the 2005 Irish on both sides of the ball. We should be favored in every game this season, except possibly USC.

TEDS: I don't see why not. Peruse any early list of popular 2006 title contenders, and you'll find teams shoring up entire defenses (OSU), others replacing three-year, Heisman-caliber starters at quarterback (SC, Texas) and others whose biggest advantage appears to be the presumed weakness of their schedule (West Virginia). Meanwhile, Irish fans are wringing their hands over a top-ten team coming up with a couple of new starting linebackers, a right tackle and someone to handle kickoffs. In the larger scheme of things, I think we're in excellent shape to compete with anyone, assuming again that injuries don't unnecessarily expose those nagging depth issues.

Based on what you saw this spring, what incoming freshman do you think will have the most impact next fall?

PAT: Ryan Burkhart. In addition to Carl Goia's field goal adventures during the Blue and Gold game, ND needs a kicker with a leg capable of getting the kickoff into the endzone more times than not. If ND is going to make a championship run, they are going to need a strong legged kicker to help get them out of a few jams.

MARK: Without question, Burkhart. USC and Penn State both featured freshmen placekickers last season.

PETE: Burkhart. Please God, let Burkhart have an impact, otherwise it's likely that Notre Dame could lose one game and have it entirely attributed to kicking problems. This team has too much going for it to have such a specific, yet vital part of the game be a fatal flaw. Also, I don't want to see poor student managers be trampled when players return kicks that land on the 20 yard line.

TEDS: Given the cavalcade of players arriving, picking Burkhart is obvious and sensible but not much fun. I'm more inclined to consider someone like Raeshon McNeil, who proved his mettle against top-shelf WR prospects in the Army all-star game and could potentially shore up our nickel package or even shake up the status quo in the secondary sooner rather than later. Toryan Smith is another player I really like, someone who might not necessarily be starting against Georgia Tech but who I consider a possibility as a more active and valuable participant as the season progresses. I think he has "three-year starter" written all over him.

We hear a lot about ND being "back" or "on the way" back. What does "back" mean, and in your estimation,what benchmark would indicate to you that we're indeed "back"? Are we "back" already?

PAT: To me, "back" means that before the season the words "Notre Dame" and "championship contender" are being uttered seriously by various talking head media types. ND fans have been thrilled with what Weis has done in all facets of his job so far, but when the rest of the college football world starts to take notice and pencil ND in as contenders, that's when I think it's safe to say the program is "back". That doesn't mean the program is at the level it needs to be at, but it does mean that everyone admits that getting there is a likely outcome.

PETE: Notre Dame is "back" in a public sense, but I don't think they're "back" on the football field yet. I was a impressionable freshman during Willingham's first year, so I've learned the hard way to not view a single season as a definite sign of things to come. Of course, it's a dramatically different situation now, but there are a few things ND still has to accomplish on the field to be considered "back" in terms of actual accomplishments. #1 - Win a bowl game. That thing has turned from a monkey to an orangutan to a silverback gorilla on ND's back, and it needs to be exorcised ASAP. #2 - Win a game with some ND "magic." Be it green jerseys, dramatic weather changes, the supernatural forces of the football gods have to do their part in returning ND to college football lore. Even then, those two qualifications are relatively minor, if ND continues to perform this year like they did in 2005, I'd probably be ready to call them "back," as it shows that this is a positive trend that we can rely on to continue.