Alright, the previews are done. It's time to tally everything this up and see where we're at.
For the full previews, click through for the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive lines, defensive lines, linebackers, and defensive backs. As with last year, we're 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 overall average.
| Washington St.||10||8||10||10||10||12||12||11||11||10.6|
What do you think? Nevada looks a bit high perhaps, but overall the talent rankings tend to match common sense. SC is the class of the opponents with Pitt and MSU close to each other for second hardest opponent. If you were to add in the very important factors that these ranking ignore like special teams, game location, and coaching acumen you might see a few teams swap spots, but there probably wouldn't be too much movement.
Now then, time to take a look at ND and see just how they fare when going through the same position preview treatment. I'll list the starters the same way as we do for the opponents, offer
some brief commentary, and where I would rank them compared to the above table.
Jimmy Clausen. (#10) Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 268 completions, 440 attempts, 3172 yards, 25 TDs, 17 INTs.
Jimmy still needs to cut down on the interceptions and improve his pocket presence, but he's still a pretty good college QB and could easily have a Quinn-like breakout junior season. Add in the experienced Evan Sharpley, the heavily recruited Dayne Crist, and the lack of many proven star quarterbacks on the schedule, I think ND belongs at the top of the list. Ranking: 1
Armando Allen. (#47) Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 134 carries, 585 yards, 3 TDs.
Outside of Southern Cal, are there any programs in the country that have five running backs on the depth chart that were Top 100 recruits coming out of high school? That's what ND has as they field one of the deepest and most talented group of runners in a long time, featuring Jonas Gray, Robert Hughes, James Aldridge (#54), Cierre Wood, and Theo Riddick . Still, the production hasn't been there yet with the same group of runners, so they don't belong near the very top of the list yet. After Stanford and the proven Toby Gerhart sounds about right for now. Ranking: 4
Golden Tate. (#6) Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 58 receptions, 1080 yards, 10 TDs.
Michael Floyd. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 48 receptions, 719 yards, 7 TDs.
There is no denying that ND has one of the top receiver tandems in the country. Golden Tate is a fantastic deep threat and Floyd is a star in the making. While that is enough for most teams, ND also has the experienced Duval Kamara (#22) and Robby Parris along with the promising John Goodman, Deion Walker, and Shaq Evans. Clausen has a collection of passing targets that are as good as any in the country. Ranking: 1
Kyle Rudolph. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 29 receptions, 340 yards, 2 TDs.
While the loss of Yeatman and Fauria hurts, ND is still in pretty good shape at tight end. Rudolph is going to be one of the best tight ends in the country this year. He alone should be enough to move ND to the top of the TE list. But while Mike Ragone (#19) is also extremely talented, he is coming off his second major knee injury and the other backups are either freshmen or a (talented) walk-on transfer. Right now I'm putting them barely behind MSU and the solid Spartan depth chart. Ranking: 2
LT: Paul Duncan. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG: Chris Stewart. (#13 OG) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
C: Eric Olsen. (#25 OG) Senior. Returning Starter.
RG: Trevor Robinson. Sophomore. New Starter.
RT: Sam Young. (#4 OT) Senior. Returning Starter.
I imagine this is the one that will generate the most debate. Where to put an OL that is one of the most veteran and experienced in the country, but also one of the most underperforming? Do we have faith that the Verducci-coached lot will live up to the positive fall press? ND's line is bigger than any other OL on the schedule, but is that a good thing? Perhaps giving them more benefit of a doubt than they deserve, I'm putting them behind a UConn line that was very productive last year but needs to find a few new starters and ahead of a tough MSU line that has to replace their two best linemen from last season. Ranking: 5
DE: Kerry Neal. Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 25 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4.0 TFL, 1 INT.
DT: Ian Williams. (#20 DT) Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 40 tackles, 2.0 TFL, stuff.
DT: Ethan Johnson. Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 18 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5.0 TFL.
DE: Kapron Lewis-Moore. RS Freshman New Starter.
2008 stats: N/A
Looking at the stats, not a lot of returning tackles. We're all excited about the potential Ethan Johnson started to show at the end of last season, but the true measure of the line might come down to how quickly Kapron Lewis-Moore adapts to being a starter. Few opponents have a starting nose tackle as big as Ian Williams. Hopefully he really is in as good a shape as the coaches claim. Due to the collective inexperience, I'm putting them behind MSU's revamped line, but ahead of a talented but very thin Michigan line. Ranking: 7
SLB: Darius Fleming. Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL.
MLB: Toryan Smith. (#53 ILB) Senior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 18 tackles, 1 FR.
WLB: Brian Smith. (#14 ILB) Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 54 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4.0 TFL, 2 FR, 1 FF.
There is a whole lot of speed at the linebacker position this year. But there is also a lot of inexperience. Brian Smith is really the only veteran on the line. However, Darius Fleming is a talent against the pass, Toryan Smith has the bulk to stop the run, and there's that guy named Manti Te'o waiting in the wings. There is just a ton of potential in this group. Will it show early in the season? Ranking: 7
CB: Robert Blanton. Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 33 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 3 breakups.
CB: Raeshon McNeil. (#47 CB) Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 41 tackles, 2 INTs, 11 breakups.
SS: Kyle McCarthy. (#21) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 11o tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 breakup, 1 FF.
FS: Harrison Smith. (#15) RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 57 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 7 breakups.
Even with the loss of David Bruton, this is a fantastic secondary. The corners are rock solid with Darrin Walls (#15) likely to push back into the starting lineup at some point. Then add in Gary Gray, Sergio Brown, and Jamoris Slaugther and ND is loaded at corner. There isn't too much depth at safety, but McCarthy is as steady as they come and won't miss many tackles. Count me in the group that thinks the transition back to safety will be an easy one for Harrison Smith. Ranking: 1
Let's throw the ND numbers into the same table and see what we get.
A 3.8 ranking puts ND right behind Southern Cal talent wise and ahead of Pitt and MSU. The big question is, can Charlie and his staff provide the coaching to match the talent and lead ND to an 11-1 record or better? Thankfully we only need to wait one more day before we start to find out.