Time to wrap up the 2008 Opponent Position Preview. If you're looking for the individual position rankings, here you go: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End/Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, and Defensive Back.
Now for the fun part, adding up the numbers from all the position previews gives us the following so-called "talent rankings". This list doesn't really include any consideration of head coaching acumen, the location of the game, or what happened last year. It's all just my take on the relative talent and experience levels of the teams on the Irish 2008 schedule. Remember that I'm combining the WR and TE rankings into one combo ranking when determining the averages. In other words, use the rankings for QB, RB, WR/TE, OL, DL, LB, and DB to get the average I did.
| San Diego St.||12||10||9||10||9.5||12||12||8||10||10.5|
My immediate reaction is that while a few of the individual rankings now might look a bit silly after watching last week's games (UW as #2 OL?), overall the ranking of opponents passes the sniff test. Southern Cal is a pretty clear favorite. Pitt, MSU, and UNC are definite step below, but have a decent collection of talent. The next four teams -- UM, BC, Purdue, and Stanford -- are clustered fairly close together before the drop-off to #9 Washington. San Diego State has last place all to itself, although Syracuse is looming.
Once we factor in the competence of the head coaches, game location, and special teams (which I continue to ignore in these talent rankings because I always run out of time) you'd see a few teams move around I would think. Stanford might pop up a few spots, Pitt might drop a few, etc... But overall I think it's a decent rough gauge of where to rank ND's opponents in terms of ability.
One of my biggest regrets from last season was running out of time and not being able to compare ND's positions with the opponents. Honest to blog I did a quick back of the envelope calculation while waiting for the Georgia Tech kickoff and ND wound up either 4th or 5th worst on the list. That translated to a losing season. But I foolishly disregarded it, assuming that Charlie's superior coaching would make my previous day's official 9-3 prediction much more likely. Lesson learned.
This year, for better or worse, I'm going to stick with whatever shakes out from this list as my official prediction. For each position, rather than re-invent the wheel, I'm going to link to the Rakes of Mallow ND position previews as they did a bang-up job in addition to the same class/starter status/2007 stats list I did for the opponents. Ready? Let's Dive In.
Jimmy Clausen (#26). Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 138-245, 1254 yards, 7 TDs, 6 INTs.
Clausen had a rough first year, but definitely showed improvement. He's healthy and stronger now. Having an experienced and veteran backup in Evan Sharpley is a nice bonus. I think putting Clausen after Washington's Jake Locker and before MSU's Brian Hoyer is fair. Ranking: 3.5.
Armando Allen. Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: 86 carries, 348 yards, 0 TDs.
ND doesn't have the veteran starter that a few other teams have, but have a trio of backs (Allen, Hughes, Aldridge (#30 RB) )who all got over 50 carries last year. Add them together and you have 260 carries for 1,105 yards last season. Jonas Gray is physically ready to play as well, which adds to the depth. And while he's a popular whipping boy, Asaph Schwapp (#8 FB) has a lot of experience. Considering Purdue lost starter Jaycen Taylor for the year, I'm putting ND before Purdue and behind Michigan State. Ranking: 3.5
David Grimes. Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 27 receptions, 224 yards, 2 TDs.
Duval Kamara. (#64 WR) Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 32 receptions, 357 yards, 4 TDs.
Everyone is back from last year. Much is expected from Kamara as a returning starter. Grimes isn't a game breaker, but he's a solid veteran player. Tate should be able to run more than the go route this year and Michael Floyd has been getting rave reviews from the moment he stepped on campus. Throw in last year's leading receiver Robby Parris and George West and ND has a deep, while still somewhat young, receiving corp. I'm putting them after BC's group, but before Michigan's equally young group. Ranking: 4.5.
Kyle Rudolph. Freshman. New Starter.
2007 stats: N/A.
Losing Mike Ragone was a definite blow. Yeatman is solid and, frankly, Rudolph, has to be pretty good to beat him out already. Schmidt will finally see some passes thrown his way too in all likelihood. But inexperience is inexperience so I'm dropping ND down behind Purdue and before Washington. Ranking: 7.5.
LT - Mike Turkovich. (#46 G) Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Eric Olsen. (#44 G) Junior. Returning Starter.
C - Dan Wenger. (#32 C) RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
RG - Chris Stewart. (#57 G) RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Sam Young. (#6 T) Junior. Returning Starter.
A tough one to rank since they were so awful last year. And Turkovich at left tackle will be an interesting experiment. But the experience is there this year. Call me a foolish optimist, but I'm putting them a step behind Purdue and ahead of Stanford. Ranking: 7.5
DE - Justin Brown. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 30 tackles, 1.0 sack, 3.5 TFL.
NT - Ian Williams. (#58 DT) Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: 45 tackles, 1.5 TFL.
DE - Pat Kuntz. Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 42 tackles, 2.5 TFL.
Definitely a worry heading into the season. Are they big and deep enough to consistently stop the run.? Williams should be fine as a starter. Kuntz should be servicable at defensive end. Having Mo Richardson split time with Justin Brown will help things. I'm giving them the lowest ranking, behind Purdue and ahead of Navy. Ranking: 8.5
OLB - Harrison Smith. RS Freshman. New Starter.
2007 stats: N/A.
ILB - Maurice Crum, Jr. (#11 ILB) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 84 tackles, 1.0 sack, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 FR, 3 FF.
ILB - Brian Smith. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 25 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF.
OLB - Kerry Neal. (#49 ILB) Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 20 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2.0 TFL, 2 FR.
There is a world of promise with this unit, but they are still pretty inexperienced outside of Mo Crum. ND also has some decent depth with Ryan (#39 OLB), Smith, Smith, Quinn, and the freshmen. There aren't a lot of experienced linebacker units on the schedule either, so a spot right behind Michigan State and ahead of North Carolina sounds about right. Ranking: 5.5
CB - Terrail Lambert. (#36 CB) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 34 tackles, 1 INT.
CB - Raeshon McNeil. (#58 CB) Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 9 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1.0 TFL, 3 BrUp.
SS - Kyle McCarthy. Senior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 20 tackles, 1 INT, 1 BrUp.
FS - David Bruton. (#19 FS) Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 85 tackles, 1.0 sack, 4.5 TFL, 3 INT, 2 BrUp.
The best unit on the team, even with the loss of Darrin Walls (#15 CB) for the semester. Bruton should be a star this year. Lambert, like Crum at linebacker, is a solid player with a ton of experience. McNeil will have plenty of passes thrown his way early, but with Gary Gray and Robert Blanton waiting in the wings, there is actually competition and depth at the position. I'm putting ND's secondary behind Michigan's and ahead of Michigan State's. Ranking: 2.5
Adding everything up, we get the following:
If you buy my rankings at all, then ND's 5.3 average would place them a solid 5th on the above opponent table. That translates to an 8-4 record for 2008 and (spoiler alert!) that's going to be my prediction tomorrow.