Friday, July 28, 2006

the Annual Irish | by Jay

If you're looking for some quality preseason reading material, consider "Here Come the Irish", a collection of really cool essays and articles pulled together by '99 ND grad Jim Walsh. It's even got a few BGS submissions from Pat, Michael, and yours truly. Check it out.

2006 Opponent Preview - Wide Receivers | by Pat

Quarterbacks? Check. Running backs? Check. Now for the wonderful wideouts.


Calvin Johnson. 54 receptions, 888 yards, 6 TDs. Returning starter.
James Johnson. 14 receptions, 185 yards, 2 TDs. New starter.

The big name here is Calvin Johnson (right), perhaps the best wide receiver in college football. Johnson is big, strong, has fantastic hands, and he's particulary dangerous on long pass plays to the corner of the endzone. He has been nicked up a bit in the past, but should be healthy for the first game of the season. James Johnson was the team's third leading receiver last year and has the chance to benefit from all of the attention given to Calvin, but James missed the entire spring with injury. Depth: Xavier McGuire has plenty of size at 6-4, 215 pounds and senior Chris Dunlap has a chance to step up from being a special teams standout. Another one-time ND verbal commit, Martin Fierson, snagged three touchdown passes in the GT spring game so he just might be ready for a solid year as well.


Derrick Williams. 22 receptions, 289 yards, 1 TD. Returning starter.
Deon Butler. 37 receptions, 691 yards, 9 TDs. Returning starter.
Jordon Norwood. 32 receptions, 422 yards, 0 TDs. Returning starter.

The Nittany Lion receiving corp is led by a trio of sophomores who were all thrust into action last year. Derrick Williams (left), the consensus #1 recruit out of high school, was becoming more and more dangerous until he broke his arm and was forced to miss the rest of the season. This season he'll probably the be the #1 option on offense due to his playmaking abilities. Look for him to get a few carries out of the backfield too. Former walk-on defensive back Deon Butler helped replace Williams when he was hurt was and wound up leading the team in receptions. Butler isn't the biggest receiver at 5-10, 166 pounds but has good hands and his 18.7 yards per catch last season hints at deep threat potential. Jordon Norwood rounds out the sophomore trio; he was the team's leading receiver in the Orange Bowl and was very solid in the PSU spring game. Depth: Big-time recruit Justin King played some receiver last year, but will focus soley on cornerback this year. Still, he's an option if the team needs him. Junior Terrell Gordon adds a bit more experience while brief Notre Dame verbal commit James McDonald and incoming freshman and highly touted recruit Chris Bell add more size to the Nittany Lion receiving corp.


Steve Breaston. 26 receptions, 291 yards, 2 TDs. Returning starter.
Mario Manningham. 27 receptions, 433 yards, 6TDs. Returning starter.

Steve Breaston returns for his final year wearing the winged helmet and is poised for a solid senior campaign. Often hobbled by injuries, the star return man seems healthy and ready to be even more of a dangerous weapon in the open field. And as with the Notre Dame game last year, look for Breaston on a number of reverses this year. Mario Manningham (right) had a breakout freshman year and if he can improve his route-running should have a great sophomore year. His 16.0 yards per catch was tops on the team and he will probably be the deep threat weapon for the Wolverines this season. Depth: There are a number of names here familiar to recruitniks, but not much in the way of experience yet. The depth chart took a hit when Antonio Bass tore his ACL in the spring. He's likely out for the entire season and definitely shouldn't be back for the ND game. Adrian Arrington is the tall target in the Michigan arsenal and if he can shake his ankle issues should be a solid #3 WR for the Wolverines. Rounding out the group are a senior, Carl Tabb, and a redshirt freshman, LaTerryal Savoy, with a fair amount of potential.


Jerramy Scott. 49 receptions, 722 yards, 4 TDs. Returning starter.
Matt Trannon. 40 receptions, 573 yards, 4 TDs. Returning starter.
Terry Love. 28 receptions, 430 yards, 3 TDs. Returning starter.

The Spartan receiving unit doesn't have any All-American players, but it will be one of the most complete groups that the Irish will face. There is plenty of experience and a good mix of size and speed. Jerramy Scott led the team in receptions last year and has started 22 games in his MSU career. Matt Trannon (left), who co-stars on the Spartan basketball team, is a huge target at 6-6 and also has good speed to evade tacklers. ND fans might recall his 65-yard TD catch and run last year. He'll need to become more consistent as he had 6 games last year where he failed to top 36 yards. Terry Love is a quick receiver who can do damage on shorter routes if too much attention is paid to Scott and Trannon. Depth: Kerry Reed is a JUCO transfer who started slow last year, but came on strong later in the year. He also led the Spartans in TD receptions. Carl Grimes, brother of ND receiver David, is a speedy threat with good hands and Ryan Allison is a 6-3 sophomore who didn't see much action as a freshman, but has a bright future with the Spartans.


Dorien Bryant. 80 receptions, 960 yards, 4 TDs. Returning starter.
Kyle Ingraham. 41 receptions, 500 yards, 0 TDs. Returning starter.
Selwyn Lymon. academically ineligible. New starter.

Dorien Bryant (right) is a speed threat with good hands who will also see the ball as a kick returner and rusher. His 1,561 all-purpose yards and 8 all-purpose touchdowns in 2005 highlight his versatility. Quick in the open field and with enough speed to be a deep threat, Bryant will be the top target of Purdue QB Painter. Kyle Ingraham missed the spring due to academics, but if he's back on the team in the fall, the 6-9 receiver will pose problems for defensive backs all year. Selwyn Lymon is a 6-4 blue chip recruit who was ineligble last year but should show up in the fall and work right in with the first team. He's strong and fast, and if he can learn the offense, he'll be a threat. Depth: Greg Orton is another 6-4 receiver who could work his way into the starting rotation with a strong fall camp. Just a freshman last year, Orton has a bright future. Angelo Chattams is a dependable veteran reserve and will add experience and depth to the Purdue receivers. Purdue has a fast, tall, and deep receiving corp, but the high expectations be undone if a few key players like Ingraham and Lymon run into any complications returning to the team.


Mark Bradford. 37 receptions, 609 yards, 6 TDs. Returning starter.
Evan Moore. 1 reception, 22 yards, 1 TD. Returning starter.

Mark Bradford (left) has been a bright spot on the Stanford Cardinal the past few years and this year should be no different. A nice sized target at 6-2, Bradford will be a leader on offense for Stanford and a quality opponent for the Irish defenders. Evan Moore has power forward height at 6-7 but must recover fully from a hip injury that knocked him out for the season last year in the Cardinal opener. If he's back, he'll be another quality receiver and a very dangerous red zone weapon. Depth: There really isn't much depth on the team behind Bradford and Moore. Marcus McCutcheon is the only other receiver on the team with a collegiate reception and he only has 3 to his name. One-time running back Michael Miller and walk-ons Charlie Hazlehurt and Kelton Lynn will look to round out the depth chart. Freshman Richard Serman has size at 6-3 and a track background that could translate into early playing time if none of the other receivers step up in fall camp.


Joe Cowan. 35 receptions, 469 yards, 3 TDs. Returning stater.
Junior Taylor. 6 receptions, 109 yards, 2 TDs. Returning starter.

The Bruins return every single wideout from last year, but they lose tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Maurice Drew, who were their #1 and #3 receivers. Brother of backup QB Pat, Joe Cowan was their #2 receiver and he will be back. At 6-4, he will be a tough matchup on jump ball plays and with 34 games played under his belt, is not new to the field. Veteran Junior Taylor (right) returns from a knee injury that knocked him out early in his senior year (a la Rhema McKnight) and will add more leadership and experience to the Bruins receiving corp. Depth: Marcus Everett missed the first two games of 2005 with an injury, but was still the 4th leading receiver on the team. He'll be fighting Junior Taylor for a starting spot early in the season. Sophomore Gavin Ketchum played in every game last year and if he continues to develop, Gavin and his 6-4 frame could play a bigger role this season. Incoming freshman Terrance Austin was a one-time ND recruit and has plenty of speed and quickness.


Jason Tomlinson. 25 receptions, 445 yards, 1 TD. Returning starter.
Tyree Barnes. 6 receptions, 154 yards, 2 TDs. New starter.

I say that these previews are all about production, experience, and potential, but it is hardest to ignore coaching when looking at the Navy receivers. It's difficult to tell just how good they really are, since they're targeted so infrequently. Jason Tomlinson (left) is a veteran with plenty of speed and is a great blocker. He also has best hands on the team according to Coach Johnson. Tyree Barnes appears to be a leading candidate for co-starter alongside Tomlinson. Blocking skills tend to get receivers on the field early for Navy and has the size at 6-2 175 to be a competent one. Depth: O.J. Washington doesn't have the size of Tomlinson or Barnes, but is a speedster who could get behind the defense if the forget to worry about him. Kyle Kimbro is another big receiver who's best contributions so far have been his blocking skills.


Jesse Holley. 47 receptions, 670 yards, 1 TD. Returning starter.
Brooks Foster. 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs. New starter.

Jesse Holley(right) is the star of this outfit, but also the only receiver on the team who caught a pass last year. A durable All-ACC honorable mention, the 6-3 Holley was also a walk-on with the basketball team as a freshman. On the football field he was the team's leading receiver, yet he only caught one touchdown last year. The #2 spot opposite Holley looks like it's still up in the air with Brooks Foster the early leader. Foster is another basketball team walk-on and starred on special teams last year. Like Holley, Foster is 6-3 which gives the Tarheels a fairly tall starting receiver lineup. Depth: Brandon Tate was the team's best returner as a freshman last year and might find more passes thrown his way in his sophomore season. The biggest receiver on the team at 6-5, 225 pounds, Kenton Thompson has high expectations from UNC fans but first has to crack the rotation. Freshman Deunta Williams was a big recruit who will add more speed to the receiver depth chart.


Victor Thompson. 6 receptions, 59 yards, 1 TD. New starter.

Like Navy, the Falcon receivers are used more often for their blocking skills. Still, there are occasions when Air Force will throw the ball and Victor Thompson (left) is the best returning wide receiver on the team. The top two targets from last year are gone so Victor will need to step up his game in order to keep the threat of the pass alive. Depth: Mark Root is a bit taller than Victor, but hasn't caught a pass yet so his contributions in that area are still largely unknown. Sophomore Mike Moffett adds a bit more depth.


Jeremy Trimble. 42 receptions, 535 yards, 4 TDs. Returning starter.
Walter Hill. 34 receptions, 410 yards, 2 TDs. Returning starter.

Army returns its top two receivers and Jeremy Trimble (right) should be the go-to-guy in the Black Knight offense. He's quick and experienced and was named an all-CUSA Freshman in 2004, while leading the team in receptions in 2005. Senior Walter Hill has good hands, is solid over the middle, and has experience experience but is more of a possession type receiver than deep threat. Depth: Corey Anderson isn't very big at 5-8, but the speedster is one of the fastest players on the team and a good kick returner. Senior Mike Castelli and 6-4 sophomore Elliot Emmerich had solid springs but might not see many passes thrown their way initially.


Dwayne Jarrett. 91 receptions, 1274 yards, 16 TDs. Returning starter.
Steve Smith. 60 receptions, 957 yards, 5 TDs. Returning starter.

The best receiving corp that the Irish will face and probably the best receiving corp in the nation. Dwayne Jarrett (left) is the star of this ballyhooed group. One of the best receivers in the nation, the 6-5 Jarrett has size, speed, and with even more experience should have a stellar junior year. Joining him yet again will be the sure-handed Steve Smith who has over 100 career receptions for the Trojans. Depth: Patrick Turner looks to be the next big star receiver for the Trojans. Also 6-5, this should be his breakout year. Chris McFoy has never grabbed too many headlines, but started 16 games over the past three years and adds another veteran presence to the team. Ryan Ting shifted over from free safety but by November might be overtaken by one of talented receivers the Trojans brought in. David Ausberry is already big at 6-5, 215 pounds while 6-3 Vidal Hazelton was one of the most heavily recruited receivers in the nation. Jamere Holland and Travon Patterson add speed threats to a receiving corp heavy on tall receivers.

2006 Wide Receiver Analysis and Ranking

I hope the Irish secondary is ready and I hope tinkering with the pass rush pays off, because there are a number of impressive threats lining up at wideout against us this fall. If Samardzija doesn't win the Biletnikoff Award for best college receiver, it will probably go to one of two Irish opponents, Dwayne Jarrett or Calvin Johnson. And players like Dorien Bryant, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, Derrick Williams, and Mark Bradford are no slouches. Experience-wise, 8 of the 12 teams return two or more starting wide receivers, so there won't be a whole lot of wide-eyed newbies running routes against ND.

Honestly, I'm not too worried about teams with only one stud receiver (like Tech) but teams with two or more quality targets like USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Stanford, and Purdue will quickly reveal if the Irish pass defense has improved. Luckily, the Irish will face a talented receiving duo in practice everyday that I honestly think is as good as any in the nation, so hopefully that will help with the defensive preparation.

To be honest, I had a hard time ranking these units. After Southern Cal, who I think have the best receiver group in the nation, the #2 through #7 corps aren't all that far apart. Purdue is especially interesting. If Kyle Ingraham and Selmon Lymon are back with the team from day one, they'll combine with Dorien Bryant and Greg Orton to form a very talented wideout group that honestly could be the best in the Big Ten. Phil Steele's numbers (he ranked the top 66 wideouts) are included once again in parentheses.

1. USC - Jarrett (#2) and Smith (#7) are stars now. Turner (#57) and the freshman are potential stars.
2. Michigan State - No All-Americans, but Trannon (#48) and Co. are a deep and solid corp of receivers.
3. Michigan - Breaston (#35) and Manningham (#20) are a good 1-2 punch. Need someone else to step up.
4. Penn State - Williams (#14) , Butler (#49), and Norwood are a young, but talented trio.
5. Georgia Tech - Calvin Johnson (#1) by himself gives this unit a boost.
6. Purdue - If Ingraham (#34) and Lymon are back and ready to join Bryant (#18), #6 is probably too low.
7. Stanford - Bradford (#37), Moore, and not too much else.
8. UCLA - Cowan and Taylor aren't superstars, but have a decent amount of experience.
9. North Carolina - Holley (#52) will need someone else to make plays and help take attention off him.
10. Navy - Tomlinson will be a threat when Navy decides to throw and a great blocker when they don't.
11. Army - Experienced starters are back, but nothing that is especially worrisome.
12. Air Force - Not much in the way of returning experience or potential.

Next up: Tight Ends and Offensive Lines

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Time's up...pass your papers to the front. | by Pat

How'd you do on our quiz?

1. Since the inception of Sports Illustrated in 1954, there have been 11 Notre Dame quarterbacks pictured on the cover. Name them.

The list of ND quarterbacks on the cover of SI reads as follows:

Paul Hornung -'56
George Izo - '59
John Huarte - '64
Terry Hanratty - '66, '67
Joe Theismann - '70, '70
Tom Clements - '74
Rick Slager - '75
Tony Rice - '88, '88, '89, '89
Rick Mirer - '90
Ron Powlus - '96
Brady Quinn - '05

All told, there have been 40 different SI covers that reference Notre Dame in some way.

2. The very first college football game televised live in Hawaii was a Notre Dame regular season game. What was the year, and who was the opponent?

The year was 1966, and the game was the "Game of the Century" 10-10 tie with Michigan State. In addition to being the first game televised live to Hawaii, the game was also the first televised live to Vietnam. And in what also makes an excellent trivia question, the regular season matchup drew better TV ratings than that year's Super Bowl. (Of course, 1966 was the year of Super Bowl I, so it's a little lesser distinction.)

3. Frank Leahy was known as an excellent recruiter and judge of talent. Which of the following players was not recruited and offered a Notre Dame football scholarship by Leahy?

a. Jack Kerouac
b. Creighton Miller
c. Harry Agganis
d. Paul Hornung

The correct answer is b. Creighton Miller. Miller would star on Frank Leahy's teams in the early 40's, but Creighton came to campus just as Leahy arrived as the new head coach. In fact, no coach actually "recruited" Miller.
"Neither Tom nor I had a choice of colleges to attend," says Creighton with a smile, "My father simply told us what time the train left for South Bend. And he added, 'and you better be on it.' "
And once on campus and playing in the team, the wealthy Miller didn't even start out on a football scholarship, much to the exasperation of Coach Leahy.

Jack Kerouac, most commonly known for his voice of a generation with On the Road was recruited by Frank Leahy to play football at Notre Dame. Turning down ND, Kerouac accepted a football scholarship to Columbia University. He broke his leg playing during his freshman year, and didn't get along with his coach anyway, so he quit the sport.

Harry Agganis is a not a familiar name to many college football fans outside of Boston, but Leahy called the quarterback "the finest propsect he had ever seen". Agganis chose hometown Boston University over 75 other offers and became an All-American for the Terriers. He was then drafted into the NFL by Cleveland's Paul Brown to become his quarterback of the future. But Agganis decided to play first base for the Red Sox instead, where he notched a .316 average. Agganis was on the verge of becoming the first two-sport star after agreeing to be the quarterback of the Baltimore Colts in 1955, before suddenly dying of a pulmonary embolism at the young age of 26.

And of course, Paul Hornung played under Terry Brennan at ND, but it was Leahy who recruited and signed the talented prospect out of Louisville, Kentucky right before retiring from the Irish. Of course, Leahy had some help beating out rival recruiter Bear Bryant thanks to a well-timed nap.

4. Which Notre Dame football player was named the 2005 Offensive Lineman of the Year at the annual football banquet?

Three-year starter Dan Stevenson was named the winner of the Guardian of the Year Award at the annual post-season football banquet.

5. George Gipp's final play in a Notre Dame uniform resulted in a touchdown. True or False?

True. With the Fighting Irish playing Northwestern in 1920, Gipp was injured and wasn't even going to play. But the fans were clamoring for Gipp, so Rockne put him in for the final play with a giant pad on his shoulder. Gipp took the ball on the snap and heaved a pass downfield that was caught by All-America halfback Norm Barry, who ran the ball into the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown. Gipp came down with strep throat a few days later and never played again. You can read more about this final play at Irish Legends.

6. Notre Dame has played a football game in 8 different baseball stadiums. Name them. (question thanks to William P. Tunell, Jr.)

The eight stadiums are Comiskey Park (previously known as South Side Park), Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium (pictured right - squint to see the band spelling out "Irish" at midfield), Fenway Park, Briggs Stadium (later known as Tiger Stadium in Detriot), Shea Stadium, and Bank One Ballpark.

William was nice enough to provide a list of all of the Irish game played in these ball parks, and you can check that list out here. Out of 33 games, Notre Dame is 22-7-4 when playing in baseball park. Notice that the Irish have a winning record in all of these parks, save one: the Irish are 0-1 at Bank One Ballpark after losing the Bowl 38-21 to the Oregon State Beavers while under the direction of interim head coach Kent Baer.

And I still say that the Irish should play one last game in Yankee Stadium before it closes after the 2008 season. Currently, ND has two byes in October of 2008. I say get San Diego State off the schedule, replace them with Army, and pencil in a Notre Dame-Army game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, October 25th, after the Yankees season is over. Make it happen, ND.

7. Of all the great Notre Dame quarterbacks, one QB in particular led the Irish to an undefeated season in his junior year. But in his senior year he was moved to another position. Who was it? Why was he moved? (question thanks to Bob McConn)

The answer to this question is Harry Wright. In 1941, Wright was the quarterback of the Fighting Irish as they marched to an undefeated 8-0-1 record in Frank Leahy's first year as head coach. Still running the famed box formation installed by Knute Rockne, Wright's duties involved more blocking than running or passing, but he was still the team's quarterback.

In the off-season, Leahy decided to scrap the Rockne shift -- much to the utter dismay of many Irish fans -- and install a new offense built around the "T" formation. But this required a more accurate passer at quarterback, and Leahy had one in mind in halfback Angelo Bertelli. So the undefeated quarterback Harry Wright was moved to guard, where he earned All-America honors in 1942, and Bertelli was installed as the new quarterback, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1943.

8. What Big Ten Conference team has Notre Dame never defeated? (question thanks to John Lukacs)

In four games against the University of Chicago, one-time member of the Big Ten Conference, the Irish went 0-4. The first game was played in 1893 and the Irish lost 8-0 to a Chicago team that was led by quarterback Frank Hering. The 1896 Irish team (pictured left) and 1897 team, now coached by Hering, lost to Chicago 18-0 and 34-5. The final game between Notre Dame and the orignal Monsters of the Midway was a 23-6 victory for the University of Chicago in 1899.

It should be noted that while the University of Chicago was a charter member of the Big Ten, the conference did not come into existence until 1896, so the first matchup between ND and Chicago was a battle between two schools with no conference affliation.

9. Notre Dame has played a game out of the country twice. When and where were these games? (question thanks to Ryan Moran)

The two trips for the Fighting Irish outside of the country were to Japan and Ireland. On November 24th, 1979, Notre Dame beat the Miami Hurricanes 40-15 in the Mirage Bowl at National Olympic Stadium in Toyko, Japan. Seventeen years later in 1996, Notre Dame traveled to Dublin, Ireland and won a 54-27 contest against Navy at Croke Park. A third international matchup is scheduled with ND set to play a rematch game with Navy in Dublin in 2012.

10. Who wrote the following?
"I will stand for the fierce and continued spirit of Notre Dame teams. Spirit is the most vital of all football factors. They got this from the Fathers at Notre Dame and from Knute Rockne. It can't and should not be destroyed. During more than one period in Notre Dame's illustrious football history was this spirit in danger of destruction. But always, something or somebody would come along to revive it."
That fantastic quote was written by none other than Grantland Rice. I haven't been able to find when or where this quote first appeared, other than this reference on Irish Legends, so if anyone can help track that down, it would be greatly appreciated.

11. What year was Notre Dame's first homecoming game?

a. 1920
b. 1929
c. 1948
d. 1957

The answer is a. 1920. Knute Rockne had the idea to bring back notable football alumni from great Irish teams of the past for the November matchup against Purdue. Over 12,000 fans were on hand to watch ND beat the Boilermakers 28-0 and see former greats like ND's first All-American Louis "Red" Salmon paired up with current greats like George Gipp (both pictured right). Perhaps the best line about the event is this one from an Irish Legends description of the weekend.
Homecoming wasn't restricted to former athletes, because more than 600 alumni showed up for the three-day celebration. Most of them cheered when it was announced that the Oliver Hotel (reunion headquarters) had seceded from the United States for the weekend, effectively eliminating enforcement of the Volstead Act (Prohibition).

12. The running backs on the 1990 team were about as talented a collection as Notre Dame has ever had. The depth chart included Jerome Bettis, Ricky Watters, Rodney Culver, Tony Brooks, Reggie Brooks, and Dorsey Levens. Which one led the team in rushing? (question thanks to K. Mullaney)

The answer is Rodney Culver, who led all rushers with 710 yards rushing. Watters was second with 579 yards. Rocket Ismail actually came in third with 537 yards and Tony Brooks notched 451 yards. Freshman Jerome Bettis picked up 115 yards while the lightly used Dorsey Levens picked up 53 yards. Reggie Brooks was actually still a cornerback in 1990, and didn't shift to running back until his season year in 1992. All told, the Irish ran for 2,760 yards and 31 touchdowns that year.

13. How many Notre Dame national championships resulted from Lou Holtz bowl victories?

The correct answer is two. Every Irish fan remembers the 34-21 Fiesta Bowl win over the West Virginia Mountaineers to give the Irish the 1988 National Championship. But in 1977, the Holtz-led Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 31-6 in the Orange Bowl. This win allowed Dan Devine's Fighting Irish squad, who dispatched the Texas Longhorns 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl, to move up from 5th place to 1st place in the rankings and claim another national championship.

14. Who or what is "The Phantom" and what role did it play in ND football history?

"The Phantom" was the author of pre-game motivational letter that each Irish football player found in his locker in the days leading up to that week's game. The true identity of "The Phantom" was never revealed as far as I can determine. Some thought it was Parseghian himself, although it could have been an assistant coach.

Here's an excerpt from one of the letters, written to the players in 1966 after the 10-10 tie to Michigan State and right before the Irish traveled out to California to battle Southern Cal.
Irish! You are hurting...but unbowed and unbeaten. There are no sophmores on our squad. Having lived and fought your way back against Michigan State made all of you grow up...beyond any point of inexperience.

I remember 1964 in this same Coliseum, the Irish squad walking the long, empty walk from the field to the tunnel after our defeat. I remember their full-grown bodies -- shaking with sobs of dejection. I recall the fantastic turn of events that robbed us of a national championship. We never cried FOUL!

We're going back there. The odds are these: They are a good wound, quick football team on their home turf. We must travel there and play in warm weather. We must overcome their advantages. We are fighters-hurt tho we may be! We are aware of all the obstacles, all the memories. Go, Irish-become undefeated!!! The champions you are!

15. Who holds the NCAA record for most career touchdowns on interceptions, punt returns, and kickoff returns, with a total of 9? The player must have had at least one TD in each category. (question thanks to Joe Donovan)

The answer to this question is Allen Rossum(see page 9). Technically, the record he owns is "Most Touchdowns on Runbacks" with the caveat that said player must have at least one touchdown in at least three categories. Rossum finished with 3 touchdowns via interception return, 3 via punt return, and 3 via kickoff return. He had two TDs his sophomore year, four during his junior year, and three his senior year, with the record-breaking 9th touchdown coming in his last regular season game. On the first snap of the match with Hawaii, the Rainbow Warrior QB Josh Skinner dropped back and fired a pass that Rossum intercepted and returned for a TD.

16. How many Heisman winners faced Notre Dame during their Heisman winning year?

a. 13
b. 19
c. 24
d. 31

The answer is c. 24. Here is the list of the 24 that won the Heisman in the same year their team played Notre Dame. We lost every game unless otherwise noted.
1939 - Nile Kinnick (Iowa)
1945 - Doc Blanchard (Army)
1946 - Glenn Davis (Army) - T
1952 - Billy Vessels (Oklahoma) - W
1958 - Pete Dawkins (Army)
1960 - Joe Bellino (Navy)
1961 - Ernie Davis (Syracuse) - W
1963 - Roger Staubach (Navy)
1965 - Mike Garrett (USC) - W
1968 - O.J. Simpson (USC) - T
1972 - Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska)
1976 - Tony Dorsett (Pitt)
1977 - Earl Cambell (Texas) - W
1979 - Charles White (USC)
1981 - Marcus Allen (USC)
1991 - Desmond Howard (Michigan)
1993 - Charlie Ward (FSU) - W
1994 - Rashaan Salaam (Colorado)
1995 - Eddie George (Ohio State)
1997 - Charles Woodson (Michigan)
2001 - Eric Crouch (Nebraska)
2002 - Carson Palmer (USC)
2004 - Matt Leinart (USC)
2005 - Reggie Bush (USC)
So the overall record of Notre Dame against Heisman winners was a not-surprising 5-17-2. When you mix in the ND Heisman honorees, 44% of all the Heisman winners (31 of 71) played in a Notre Dame game in their Heisman-winning season.

17. The world premiere screening of Knute Rockne: All-American was held in South Bend on a Friday in the fall of 1940. The following day, the Irish played a game against a team whose head coach made a credited appearance in the movie. Who was the coach and what was his team?

The coach in question was Amos Alzono Stagg and his team was The College of the Pacific at the time. As part of a week-long world premiere that filled up downtown, Elmer Layden and the Irish faced off against Stagg and came away with a 25-7 win. In the movie, Stagg is one of the many famous coaches, including USC's Howard Jones, Glenn 'Pop' Warner, and William 'Bill' Spaulding, who all have cameo appearances backing up Rockne as he delivers an impassioned speech to NCAA reformers. On a related sidenote, Knute Rockne: All-American will finally be released on DVD this August.

18. Why did the late Dave Huffman wear red elbow pads while manning the center position for the Irish in the 1970's? (question thanks to Tom Hedrick)

The All-American center wore them so his mom could pick her son out of the pile while watching the game on TV. No kidding.

19. How many Heisman Trophy winners played in the 1946 scoreless tie between Notre Dame and Army? Who were they? (question thanks to Dick Meece)

The answer is four. John Lujack (1947 winner) and Leon Hart (1949 winner) played for the Irish while Army featured Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, also known as Doc Blanchard (1945 winner) and Glenn Davis (1946 winner).

20. Among Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Victor Abiamiri, and others, ND has a number of hopefuls for the NFL draft. Since 1967, the current record for most number of Fighting Irish football players drafted in a single NFL Draft is 11. In what year did this take place?

a. 1969
b. 1975
c. 1989
d. 1994

The answer is a. 1969. When the draft was still a marathon 17 rounds, 11 ND players were selected starting with George Kunz as the 2nd overall pick and ending with Tom Quinn in the 13rd round. 1994 saw 10 Irish players drafted, though it should be noted that all 10 went in the newly-shortened 7-round draft. 10 players were also selected in the 1975 draft while only 5 players were drafted in 1989.

You can check out every ND pick in the history of the NFL Draft starting in 1935 at this website. Scroll down to "Notre Dame" and enjoy. I'll point out here that the reason I picked 1967 as a starting point in the question is because that draft was the very first AFL-NFL combined draft.

And that's all she wrote for the 2006 edition of the BGS Trivia Challenge. Thanks to all those who sent in guesses and special congrats to those who nailed a few correctly. As you can guess, a lot of the history behind these questions and answers came from the Irish Legends website. I highly recommend all ND fans take some time to browse through the expansive collection of stories, pictures, and antcedotes about the good 'ol days of Fighting Irish football.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

the Whammy | by Jay

Lotto results care of the BGS informal poll. Good response; we had over 1,000 legitimate entries (I say 'legitimate' because some clown decided to enter six tickets won, none requested on about a hundred surveys. We sleuthed him out. Who does he think he's dealing with, a bunch of morans?)

Requested & Won are in numbers of tickets.

Regular Alum
Sorin Society
@ Georgia Tech
Penn State
@ Michigan State
@ Navy (Baltimore)
North Carolina
@ Air Force
@ Southern Cal

Moral of this story? Be sure to letter in a sport -- any sport -- when you go to Notre Dame.

I still have all the backup data, so if anyone thinks of another interesting way to slice it, let me know.

Pick Six Preseason Hype | by Jay

Check out what just arrived via FedEx:

Remember this? The Official Joe Paterno Drink Tray, circa 1977! It's also the prize to last year's Pick Six contest. Our reader "Al" won it but I wasn't able to get my hands on one until now. I tried to buy it on Ebay way back when, but was outbid by a zealous Nittany Lion fan (I thought nobody would go higher than $6.98, but apparently there are a lot of JoePa kitsch collectors out there who got into a bidding war). Anyway Al, I'll be sending it out as soon as I've enjoyed a few beverages on it. Nothing protects your lap from dangerous Dr. Pepper suds like JoePa's visage. (Enjoy a Coke on his Cokebottle glasses! Etc.)

Anyway, this hallowed prize reminds me that Pick Six will be coming up again soon, and we need a prize for this year. Something like this. Or this. Any ideas?

Full rules and entry forms for the Pick Six coming as soon as the AP unveils its preseason top 25. In the meantime, you can always use Orson's methodology to generate your own top 25. Here's what I came up with using the EDSBS crib sheet:

Number one. WHEW! Hard one here. Make things easier on yourself by just putting a.) last year’s champion here if they’ve got the same quarterback, or b.) Grab a team that won a BCS game last year and still has the same quarterback. You won’t look too crazy by doing either. If last year’s champ has lost their quarterback, move to slot 5 AUTOMATICALLY.
1. Ohio State

Another easy one! Remember number two at the end of the year last year? You got it: just slide ‘em in here and keep rolling, rockstar.
2. Southern Cal

Okay, tricky one at three, one that might require one or two GOOGLE SEARCHES. The team that won their big BCS bowl game last year by a shocker? Roll ‘em right in. SPECIAL NEW YORK TIMES PROVISION: this is where you put Michigan. Because you know a guy who went there, and he was pretty smart and cool and all that, and you didn’t really have a good football team where you went to school since lacrosse was really the thing there.
3. West Virginia

Another research one: take a team that’s a traditional power in the top ten. Did they go 8-4 last year? Or something like it? Okay, that’s your pick!
4. Penn State

5. Texas

A really easy one for the ol’ seis-spot: NOTRE DAME. They’re on television all the time and they had that movie with the kid from Goonies in it, plus they score like crazy these days. Even if they fall from the top ten you’re actually creating content for yourself, since you can then write one of your standard pairs of filler columns, the “wake up the echoes” preseason Notre Dame column/ “what the hell happened to the goddamn echoes” post-season Notre Dame column.
6. ND

Time to get bold here. Got a program that’s won a ton of games but never a big one? An offensive juggernaut whose almost beat significant opponents on a national stage but racks up fifty and sixty points on the midgets of the world? Seven is the place for them. It gives you BOLD pundit points and must be accompanied by a phrase of great certainty, like “This is the year they get it done.” If you hedge, just put Michigan in here and move on.
7. TCU

Find out who the SEC champion was last year. Go ahead and put them here.
8. Georgia

This is always a good place to put a Larry Coker-era Miami team. If not, have you considered putting Florida State here? They’re always a nice place holder, too.
9. Miami

Have you put all your Florida teams in the top ten? It’s essential to put them all in your to ten, if only to put them lower in your post-season poll, which then–thinking ahead!–gives you still more column filler in the form of “Sunshine State ain’t so sunny anymore” piece. If you hesitate to do this, again, just put Michigan here if you havent’ used them already.
10. Florida

11-25: A little secret of the trade….no one reads these. No one. The only people who will read them in total are basement-dwelling slobboids who will then write 13 page screeds in response to your critical underestimation of Clemson/Cal/Northwestern/Louisville/Tech/Florida/etc...In reality, you will simply take the next fifteen teams you can name off the top of your head and rattle them off on the page, just listing them in no particular order and tagging each one with the only thing you can remember about them at the time.

Okay, here goes...11. Virginia Tech, 12. Oregon, 13. Florida State, 14. Michigan, 15. Auburn, 16. Wisconsin, 17. Louisville, 18. Fresno State...uhh...19. Oklahoma, 20. Cal...let's see...21. Alabama...shit. 22 UCLA? 23. let's go with Clemson, then...crap, forgot LSU. They should be a lot higher, but oh well. 24. LSU and 25...Oklahoma. Wait, used them already...okay, 25. Nebraska. Done. Whew.

It seems silly, but I don't doubt a lot of "pundits" fill out their ballots that way...and not just in the preseason, but probably every damn week of the season, too.

the BGS wire | by Pat

A quick roundup of various ND-related items that came across the BGS wire in the past few weeks...

• Former fullback/defensive end Nate Schiccatano is transfering to Temple to finish off his final season of eligibilty. Nate is taking advantage of the new NCAA rule that allows players who have already graduated to transfer to another college and play football right away. Calling him a "transfer" is a bit odd since he did graduate and wasn't invited back for a 5th year, but the good news is he gets to play right away at Temple and I wish him all the best.

I suspect that in the coming years we'll see a few more ND players take this option. Will we ever see a player from another smaller school, a defensive tackle perhaps, transfer into ND for his final year of eligibility? I'm still not sold on this rule because I just don't trust many coaches to have their players' best interests in mind, but so far it seems to be going ok.

• Speaking of transfers, Notre Dame just picked one up in the form of Northwestern offensive lineman Thomas Bemenderfer. Thomas, who is from the South Bend area and had an older brother who was a walk-on, will have to sit out a year before suiting up for the football team. I imagine he'll be a walk-on initially, but with no offensive lineman in the junior and sophomore classes, every little bit of depth helps. The 6-5, 280-pound Bemenderfer didn't play last year as a freshman, so he should have three years of eligibility left after sitting out his transfer year.

• Renewed interest in the program is hitting all parts of South Bend, including the airport. Last year parking was tight at the airport for private planes in for the ND/USC game (those poor unfortunate souls) and with big expectations for the upcoming Penn State and Michigan games, the South Bend airport decided to expand the parking.

"We've already [received] a large number of requests for hotel reservations and rental cars from people who are our regular clients," Heiter told the South Bend Tribune for a story published Saturday. "We're expecting at least 225 airplanes this year for the opening game, but we're planning for 300."

Schalliol said the airport's expanded apron, expected to cost more than $715,000, will be 1,600 feet long and 200 feet wide and provide space for about 100 planes.

• Coach Weis recently joined previous ND coaches Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian for a Kickoff for Charity event that raised an estimated $1 million. Regis (who else?) emceed the $1000 a plate event that helped to raise money for the three pet charities of the three coaches; Hannah and Friends, The Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, and The Lou Holtz Foundation. Check out the first link for a video news story on the event.

• It was noted in the Boston Globe recently that Coach Weis is following in the grand tradition of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, and various other ND coaches and co-authoring a book.
Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis will coauthor a book, ``No Excuses," with writer Vic Carucci, according to Publishers Lunch, an industry electronic newsletter. The book will include stories of his days as a Patriots assistant under Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.
I'm sure Carucci did most of the heavy lifting on this so don't fret that Weis was pounding away at Microsoft Word rather than trying to figure out a better pass rush. The book is already listed on, but no release day yet.

• Finally, offered without comment.
[BC coach Tom] O'Brien said Boston College might struggle to develop a natural rival in the ACC because the school is located so much farther north than the rest of the teams in the league. "It's something we've always fought," he said. "Ever since Holy Cross dropped football, Boston College hasn't had a rival. Our school thinks it's Notre Dame, but they won't play us anymore."

Press Your Luck | by Jay

Hit the big whammy in the ticket lottery this year? Wondering how everyone else did? If you have a minute, let us know your results by filling out this quick but unscientific survey.

2006 Ticket Lottery Survery
If you sent in two applications, go ahead and fill out two forms. We'll publish the findings in a couple of days. Really curious on what those Penn State winning percentages were...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Four Plays, the Conclusion | by Jay

We've seen the Bomb, the Reverse, and the Play-Action. This brings us to the final nail in the coffin for the Fiesta Bowl: Antonio Pittman's 60-yard run off tackle for a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game. A punch in the stomach that expelled our last breath of hope, it iced the win for the Buckeyes and sent us home empty-handed (yet again) after a bowl game.

The thing that really kills you about this touchdown is that despite being outplayed all day by the Bucks, the Irish were still only down by seven, and were in a remarkably good position to get the ball back and maybe get a chance to take it to overtime. On this series we had bottled up Pittman on first down, then sacked Troy Smith for a three yard loss. So it's third and eleven on the OSU 25, and we get a great pass rush (sans blitz), and Talley has his hands on Smith, and it's gonna be a sack, and they're gonna have to punt -- and we're gonna get the ball back only down by seven with two minutes to go in the game! -- and Smith spins and squirts out of the pocket and somehow finds Anthony Gonzalez down the right line for fifteen yards. And a first down.

Now the ball's on the OSU 40, with 1:58 left and the score still 27-20:

OSU sets up with 2 backs in an I-formation, White (89) as the FB and Pittman (25) as the TB; and 2 WR, Ginn (7) split wide left and Holmes (4) in the slot left.

We've got our base 4-3 package in with all three linebackers. Our two corners are deep and Ndukwe (18) is playing up. Hoyte (39) is showing blitz.
Here's a closer pre-snap read with Hoyte creeping up. Talley (99) is the DE on this side.
At the snap Hoyte blitzes, as does Ndukwe from the safety position. With so little time left in the game, it's clear we're hellbent on making something happen. We're desperate to get the ball back so we blitz two men.
The play goes away from Hoyte, so he's negated. The FB White draws a bead on the blitzing Ndukwe.

Talley has crashed inside instead of engaging the LT Datish; was there some kind of defensive line stunt we were hoping to execute here?
White ties up Ndukwe. Here you can also see Talley, Landri and Laws all bunched up in the middle, while Datish (50) is free to move to the second level of the defense.
Datish picks up Crum while Ginn and Holmes will take out our corners. It's completely wide open on the left side: Ndukwe blitzed, Talley crashed inside, and Crum has been sealed off.
Mays is the only guy unblocked and he takes a nice angle, but he's coming from the middle and can't run down Pittman.

Holmes engages Richardson, hand-fighting as Richardson tries to shed the block.
Pittman outruns Mays while Crum and Richardson are held up.
And finally here's Ginn fighting off Wooden, while Holmes gets a last shove in on Richardson. Pittman pops through the hole.
Once he's past the corners, it's nothing but daylight for Pittman.
Touchdown Buckeyes.

And here's the video.

Unlike the other three touchdowns we've looked at, there is absolutely nothing fancy about this play call. Ohio State is playing ball control on offense at this point in the game and is simply trying to run down the clock, and what they call is a staple running play: hand the ball to Pittman and let him run left. Yet we're caught in a first-down blitz, and once again the Buckeyes prove adept at blocking downfield. A simple run that our defense would usually stop cold instead turns into a 60-yard romp, and the game is effectively over.

As for our defense, this is a tough play to analyze without knowing the details of how exactly it was drawn up. Was Talley supposed to make an inside move? And if so, was another DL or one of the linebackers supposed to fill the gap on that side? How about Ndukwe: is he supposed to engage the FB if they run right at his blitz, and let someone else fill the gap? Finally, are we sure everyone stuck to his assignment, or did desperation creep in in an effort to force a turnover?

There's no question that our backs were up against the wall, and there was still a sliver of a chance to tie (and possibly win) the game. We just needed the ball back, and much like pulling a goalie in hockey, we sold out, bet big on a double blitz and got burned. That happens. Sometimes you roll the dice, and sometimes you roll snake eyes.

As bad as they were, these four touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl were four of the six longest scoring plays we gave up all year. (The other two: MSU's 65-yard screen pass to Matt Trannon and Stanford's 87-yard kickoff return). After looking at these plays, a few themes begin to emerge:

Tressel's solid. His team came to play, they executed well and blocked really, really well. He identified our weaknesses and picked on 'em, and he pulled out the gadget play just when he needed it. You've got to hand it to the Sweatervest; he's pretty good at rock-paper-scissors.

Talent vs Talent. tOSU's creativity was enhanced by some terrific athletes, especially Smith, Holmes and Ginn. (Imagine what Weis would do with Teddy Ginn. Imagine what he'll do when he gets the next Teddy Ginn in an upcoming class. Which he will.) For our part, the Fiesta Bowl exposed some talent deficiencies on defense, none bigger than lack of a solid pass rush. While Talley made a couple of nice plays in the game, we really need a pass rusher opposite Abiamiri who can put consistent pressure on the QB.

The blitz is a fickle mistress. Live by it, die by it; you know all the cliches. For all of the chatter about how Minter needs to dial up the blitz more, keep in mind that on three of these four touchdown plays, the blitz was on.

Speed in the secondary is only part of the problem. In these four plays there is only one example of a guy truly getting beat in a footrace -- Holmes outrunning Ndukwe on the play-action. We didn't see much of Richardson in these plays; on the Ginn bomb, Wooden never tried running step-for-step with him, so that doesn't tell us much about our backfield wheels. Although he didn't make any tackles, Zibby showed great closing speed, and seemed at least as fast Holmes. Ndukwe is the only player you could point to as being a step slow, and right now he's shedding pounds like a wrestler trying to make his weight for the next match. Hopefully it'll pay off, and he'll be a few steps quicker this year.

Read and react. Apart from physical issues, we made some grievous mental mistakes: we blew the coverage on the bomb, we were suckered by the play-action, we didn't identify nor contain on the reverse, we didn't fill the gap on the Pittman run. Weis cited miscommunication on defense as a big problem last year, and it appeared there was plenty of confusion in the bowl game. Unfortunately this goes to coaching and preparation as much as anything else; it's a little disappointing to see this in the twelfth game of the season.

Heart of a champion. Still, even with the miscues, there's a huge difference between this game and our other recent bowl performances. After Ohio State went up by two touchdowns just before the half, it would have been easy (and frustratingly familiar) for ND to just collapse and mail it in for the rest of the game. But we kept battling, kept fighting. As in the Michigan State and Southern Cal losses, we never gave up. And despite the big plays given up and the huge discrepancy in yardage, we were still only seven points down with under two minutes left. Sure, this was probably the most convincing defeat of the year, but we can take solace in the fact that we had the opportunity to win despite these huge plays by Ohio State.

Finally, it's tempting to take these four plays and view them as representative of the entire season; seeing our problems laid bare like this is definitely depressing. But as we mentioned above, these four plays were also four of the six longest scoring plays of the year out of all the hundreds of plays we defended. Clearly, these are the outliers, the worst of the worst of our defensive breakdowns. The truth is, our defense also made a ton of terrific plays all year, and even some in the Fiesta Bowl. Sustained excellence should be the watchwords for '06, and if we hope to compete at the highest level this year we'll have to be more consistent.

Despite the crucible of going through these plays frame-by-frame, and seeing the flaws and mistakes up close, I think we can rest assured that our coaches have an even finer-toothed comb than we do. Improvement is not a guarantee, but you can bet Weis and Minter have diagnosed the issues more thoroughly than we could ever hope to do. Unlike some of our recent admirals, Charlie doesn't seem like a guy content to stay the course while the ship is taking on water. With a little different scheme, and a little quicker pass rush, and a little more recognition, and a little better communication, who knows? We might just get a little better.

You know damn well we're going to have an explosive offense again this year. And if we're even a little better on defense...

We had some great help putting this series together. Thanks to Matt for pulling the screenshots; to Nevin for compiling the video clips; thanks to Marc and Paul and Pete for offering their thoughts. And thanks to Keith at BuckeyeCommentary for indulging some questions from us and adding his valuable insight.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Riddle me this | by Pat

Once again, we give you the annual BGS Trivia contest. This year we solicited questions from our readers and got a slew of great submissions. Thanks to all who submitted a question, and congratulations to those whose question we selected.

So get ready to flex your ND Football knowledge. We made it difficult on purpose, so don't feel bad if you don't know many of the answers. And if you break down and use google (you weak, weak person, you) don't put the answers in the comments section. Give other people a chance to post their best guess.

Ready? Quiz

1. Since the inception of Sports Illustrated in 1954, there have been 11 Notre Dame quarterbacks pictured on the cover. Name them.

2. The very first college football game televised live in Hawaii was a Notre Dame regular season game. What was the year, and who was the opponent?

3. Frank Leahy was known as an excellent recruiter and judge of talent. Which of the following players was not recruited and offered a Notre Dame football scholarship by Leahy?

a. Jack Kerouac
b. Creighton Miller
c. Harry Agganis
d. Paul Hornung

4. Which Notre Dame football player was named the 2005 Offensive Lineman of the Year at the annual football banquet?

5. George Gipp's final play in a Notre Dame football uniform resulted in a touchdown. True or False?

6. Notre Dame has played a football game in 8 different baseball stadiums. Name them. (question thanks to William P. Tunell, Jr.)

7. Of all the great Notre Dame quarterbacks, one QB in particular led the Irish to an undefeated season in his junior year. But in his senior year he was moved to another position Who was it? Why was he moved? (question thanks to Bob McConn)

8. What Big Ten Conference team has Notre Dame never defeated? (question thanks to John Lukacs)

9. Notre Dame has played a game out of the country twice. When and where were these games? (question thanks to Ryan Moran)

10. Who wrote the following?
"I will stand for the fierce and continued spirit of Notre Dame teams. Spirit is the most vital of all football factors. They got this from the Fathers at Notre Dame and from Knute Rockne. It can't and should not be destroyed." During more than one period in Notre Dame's illustrious football history was this spirit in danger of destruction. But always, something or somebody would come along to revive it."
11. What year was Notre Dame's first homecoming game?

a. 1920
b. 1929
c. 1948
d. 1957

12. The running backs on the 1990 team were about as talented a collection as Notre Dame has ever had. The depth chart included Jerome Bettis, Ricky Watters, Rodney Culver, Tony Brooks, Reggie Brooks, and Dorsey Levens. Which one led the team in rushing? (question thanks to K. Mullaney)

13. How many Notre Dame national championships resulted from Lou Holtz bowl victories?

14. Who or what is "The Phantom" and what role did it play in ND football history?

15. Who holds the NCAA record for most career touchdowns on interceptions, punt returns, and kickoff returns, with a total of 9? The player must have had at least one TD in each category. (question thanks to Joe Donovan)

16. How many Heisman winners faced Notre Dame during their Heisman winning year?

a. 13
b. 19
c. 24
d. 31

17. The world premiere screening of Knute Rockne: All-American was held in South Bend on a Friday in the fall of 1940. The following day, the Irish played a game against a team whose head coach made a credited appearance in the movie. Who was the coach and what was his team?

18. Why did the late Dave Huffman wear red elbow pads while manning the center position for the Irish in the 1970's? (question thanks to Tom Hedrick)

19. How many Heisman Trophy winners played in the 1946 scoreless tie between Notre Dame and Army? Who were they? (question thanks to Dick Meece)

20. Among
Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Victor Abiamiri, and others, ND has a number of hopefuls for the NFL draft. Since 1967, the current record for most number of Fighting Irish football players drafted in a single NFL Draft is 11. In what year did this take place?

a. 1969
b. 1975
c. 1989
d. 1994

We'll put up the answers later in the week. In the meantime, feel free to take your best guesses. Good luck!

Friday, July 21, 2006

2006 Opponent Preview - Running Backs | by Pat

The 2006 opponent position preview marches on. With the quarterbacks done, now let's hit the running backs.

GEORGIA TECH - Tashard Choice. 2005 stats: 117 attempts, 513 yards, 6 TDs. New starter.

The transfer from Oklahoma, Tashard Choice was Tech's 2nd leading rusher last year and now gets the starting job to himself. He's a big back who is just as likely to try and run over a defender as around him. He also started against Miami last year, who at the time was the #1 defense in the country, and pounded out 84 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He'll be a solid first test for the new Irish linebackers. Depth: Complementing Choice's size is the speed of junior Rashuan Grant, who also can be dangerous receiving out of the backfield. A solid change of pace back with the more physical Choice. Loyall Gause and highly touted freshman Jamaal Evans round out the running back depth chart. Starting fullback Mike Cox didn't run the ball last year, but was a very solid blocker and a decent receiving target with 13 receptions for 72 yards.

PENN STATE - Tony Hunt. 2005 stats: 174 attempts, 1080 yards, 6 TDs. Returning starter.

Another tough, move-the-pile running back, Tony Hunt is the type of player who defines "workhorse". Big and strong at 230 pounds, Hunt will wear down a defense and his 6.0 yards per carry average from last year is very impressive. He also pulled in 20 receptions and was the team's leading receiver in 2004, so he has the hands to be a receiving threat. Depth: Austin Scott hasn't quite lived up to his billing, but is still a dependable running back and a solid backup for Hunt. Like Hunt, Scott is a tough runner who rushed for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns in last year's Orange Bowl when Hunt was injured. Rodney Kinlaw adds another experienced running back to the mix and is a bit quicker than both Hunt and Scott. Starting fullback Brandon Snow is one of the better fullbacks that the Irish will face and while he doesn't get to run the ball much, he's a fantastic blocker.

MICHIGAN - Michael Hart. 2005 stats: 150 carries, 682 yards, 4 TDs. Returning starter.

Michael Hart battled injuries all last year but if he's healthy when the Wolverines travel to South Bend, he's my pick as the top running back that the Irish will face. A starter since his freshman year, Hart has plenty of experience and has an innate ability to always get positive yards and turn something out of nothing. He also has one of the best traits you can hope for in a running back: he holds on to the ball. In 432 career carries, he has only lost one fumble. All that stands between him and a great junior year is his health. Depth: Kevin Grady did a solid job subbing for Hart last year, but didn't quite live up to the high expectations placed on the high school star. Now he's lost weight to get faster and should make an excellent 1-2 punch with Hart. Freshman speedster Carlos Brown enrolled early and did nothing but impress. The fullback position will be manned by one of three converted players. Obi Oluigbo switched from linebacker in 2003 and while he hasn't played much, might be the starting fullback in 2006. Converted defensive lineman Will Paul or converted linebacker Brian Thompson, both of whom started games at fullback last year, will fight Oluigbo for the spot.

MICHIGAN STATE - Javon Ringer. 2005 stats: 122 attempts, 873 yards, 5 TDs. Returning starter.

Javon Ringer took off as a freshman last year and led the Spartans in rushing, even though he wasn't even technically the starter. Lightning-quick, Ringer's 6.7 yards per rush average is testament to his ability to get by the first defender, and no opponent on the 2006 Irish schedule is a better threat to break off a long run. At 5'9" he's not the biggest back, and he'll have to prove he can handle the poundings that come with being the featured carrier, but an off-season in the weight room should help in that regard. Depth: The thunder to Ringer's lightning is junior Jehuu Caulcrick who at 245 pounds is one of the biggest backs the Irish will face. He's plenty experienced with over 200 career carries and his 5.4 career yards per carry average is impressive. AJ Jimmerson redshirted last year and will provide a quality third back.

PURDUE - Kory Sheets. 2005 stats: 104 attempts, 601 yards, 10 TDs. New starter.

Kory Sheets is a dangerous running back who excels at running outside the tackles. He had the advantage of having Jerod Void on the team last year to get the tough yards up the middle, so he'll have to prove he can take over that role. But when the play is to the sidelines, Sheets has more than enough speed to turn the corner and beat defenders to the endzone. An honorable mention Freshman All-American last year, Sheets is also a threat out of the backfield and should build on his 13 receptions last year. Depth: The only other running back on the roster who carried the ball last year, Anthony Heygood is more of a fullback and may see some of those between the tackle runs if the coaches don't want to put Sheets in that situation. Purdue brought in JUCO player Jaycen Taylor for the spring and he put up 84 yards on 13 carries in the Boilermaker spring game. He will probably be the backup running back to Sheets.

STANFORD - Anthony Kimble. 2005 stats: 66 carries, 244 yards, 2 TDs. Returning starter.

Anthony Kimble was moved from wide receiver to running back prior to the 2005 season and started the first 6 games of the season for the Cardinal. But then he was injured and lost his starting spot to J.R. Lemon. Kimble's 3.7 yards per carry average isn't very good, but it was good enough to be the best average out of all of Stanford's running backs. Kimble also added 14 receptions and 2 touchdowns catching the ball out of the backfield, which isn't a surprise given his former position at wide receiver. Depth: Jason Evans was Stanford's leading rusher last year, even though he only managed the same number of yards as Travis Thomas (248). The Cardinal were awful at running the ball and rotated carries between a number of running backs, which kept everyone's numbers low. Despite being the leading rusher, Evans never started a game and didn't get a carry in the Notre Dame game. Depth: Running back depth isn't really there, although freshman Toby Gerhart owns the California high school career rushing record. Starting fullback Nick Frank is back for another year and provides a decent short yardage runner when he is used. He also is able to flare out and catches passes, as he had 17 receptions last year. Behind him is all-everything high school recruit Emeka Nnoli.

UCLA - Chris Markey. 2005 stats: 110 attempts, 561 yards, 3 TDs. New starter.

Chris Markey didn't have much to do playing behind Maurice Drew last year, but he had a great bowl game where he ran for 161 yards (although Northwestern did have the one of the worst run defenses in the country). Of more importance might be the 1,223 all-purpose yards that Markey totaled last year (561 rushing, 231 receiving, 383 kick return, 48 punt return). That kind of versatility will help Markey make an impact all over the field. Depth: Helping Markey out will be Kahlil Bell, who put up 316 rushing yards on 52 carries last year as UCLA's 3rd string running back. Now the 1-B to Markey's 1-A, Bell should see the ball a lot more and join Markey to form a talented Bruin running back duo. Michael Pitre is the returning starting fullback and mainly is a blocker but he should see the ball in the occasional short yardage situation.

NAVY - Adam Ballard. 2005 stats: 109 attempts, 668 yards, 6 TDs. Returning starter.

Navy doesn't really have a feature back, as they had 6 running backs with 40 or more carries in Paul Johnson's spread option attack, but Adam Ballard is the big name player in the Midshipmen backfield. The fullback bulldozed his way for 6.0 yards per carry once he got the opportunity late in the season, and he put up 488 yards in his three starts. Depth: Joining Ballard are two fast returning slotbacks. Reggie Campbell averaged 9.0 yards per carry over the season and scored 5 rushing touchdowns in Navy's bowl win over Colorado State. At only 5'6", he isn't big enough to fight off tackles, but he is hard to catch. Trey Hines is the team's fastest player, but injuries have kept him from running the ball too much. Speedy Karlos Whittaker was dismissed from team, so Shun White and Georgia Tech transfer Zerb Singlton will be the backup slotbacks. Last but not least, Matt Hall was actually starting at fullback over Ballard before tearing his ACL against Notre Dame. If healthy, he'll add more depth to a stable full of talented backs.

NORTH CAROLINA - Ronnie McGill. 2005 stats: 130 attempts, 530 yards, 5 TDs. Returning starter.

Ronnie McGill missed the first five games for the Tarheels last year due to injury, but still ended up leading the team in rushing and touchdowns. He also led the Tarheels in rushing as a freshman. Still, with 337 career carries and 1,654 yards he is definitely a veteran running back. Now he just needs to show he can be the feature back and stay healthy. Depth: Barrington Edwards started the season when McGill was out and notched 455 yards and 2 touchdowns on 114 carries. The LSU transfer will give the Tarheels an experienced backup to McGill. Justin Warren, redshirt freshman Richie Rich, and four true freshman, including Anthony Elzy, give the Tarheels a very deep stable of running backs.

AIR FORCE - Jacobe Kendrick. 2005 stats: 166 attempts, 532 yards, 6 TDs. Returning starter.

The Air Force wishbone attack produces plenty of yards on the ground, yet no player, save QB Shaun Carney, produced more yards than fullback Jacobe Kendrick. At 6'0" 230 pounds, Kendrick has good size and quick feet, although injuries did keep him on the sidelines for a few games last year. If he can stay on the field, he's a very dependable fullback with the speed of a halfback. Depth: Also returning to join Kendrick in the Air Force backfield are Chad Hall and Justin Handely. Both are speedy, but both also check in around 5-8 180 pounds. Still, they both have plenty of experience and Hall is Air Force's leading returning receiver. Ryan Williams is the backup fullback to Kendrick and actually was third in the team in rushing attempts last year.


Army was hit hard by graduation and the "running back by committee" approach just might be the name of the game. (You know things are rough when you can't find a good action picture of any of the candidates on the internet). Ricky Lay, who has switched from quarterback to wide receiver to running back, has size at 6'4", but only got one carry in the Army spring game, which is never a good sign for a future starter. Depth: If Lay or converted linebacker Michael Herndon doesn't get the call first, it will probably fall to one of four sophomores. Jamal Robinson just might be the starter by the time the Black Knights play the Irish but there is a lot for the small (5'7" 178 lbs) sophomore to work on. He is quick and shifty, but Coach Ross suggested he really needs to work on his hands. Sophomores Wesley McMahand, Jerry Jones, and Tony Dace round out the completely green depth chart. Starting fullback Mike Viti returns and his 4 rushing attempts last year are the most of any running back on the roster.

USC - Chauncey Washington. 2005 stats: ineligible. New starter.

No team loses more at running back than the Trojans, who must make do without Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Replacing them is likely going to fall to Chauncey Washington, who has finally been cleared to play after being academically ineligible his first two years at Southern Cal. Washington is certainly a talent and was one of the most impressive players during the 2005 spring game, but will need to show to the staff that he's able to shake off the rust of sitting out the past year. Depth: Ryan Powdrell switched over from linebacker and had a solid spring. At 250 pounds he is more of a fullback than running back. Starting at actual fullback is Brandon Hancock. Built like a professional bodybuilder, Hancock is more than simply strong; he's got good hands and is a decent threat running the ball. Desmond Reed, who injured his knee against Notre Dame's long grass, is on the path back to being a threat that averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year. Michael Coleman is the only other running back besides Reed who got some carries last year, but hip surgery kept him out for the spring. Rounding out an extremely deep, though inexperienced, depth chart are the five highly-recruited running backs that signed with the Trojans. Stafon Johnson, Emmanuel Moody, C.J. Gable, Stanley Havili, and Kenny Ashley might not all still be at running back by the November showdown with the Irish, but odds are one of them will be making a significant impact at running back.

2006 Opponent Running Back Analysis and Ranking.

Before writing this up, I figured that the Irish were facing a decent crop of running backs but I didn't really realize how much talent and experience will be running at us this year. There are no superstar types, outside of Michael Hart who should get a decent amount of pre-season hype. Yet there are plenty of experienced running backs, a majority of which fall into the so-called "big back" camp, and eight of the starting eleven running backs on the 2006 schedule totaled over 500 yards rushing last year. With a slew of new linebackers on defense (including a smaller-than-normal middle linebacker in Mo Crum) these big backs may pose a challenge pounding on the D for 25+ carries per game.

Another benefit for the returning backs is experience in the finer points of the position, especially in pass-blocking. Some of these guys, like Tashard Choice, Ronnie McGill, Tony Hunt, and Jehuu Caulcrick aren't potential All-Americans, but they will be better at picking up the blitzing linebacker than a rookie. With all of the concerns about the ND defense generating a better pass rush, having experienced and strong running backs staying in to block is going to present a nice obstacle.

So, how do they all compare? Once again keeping in mind that I'm weighing production, experience, and overall team depth (as opposed to fuzzier things like coaching systems or potential), here's my take on the 2006 running back units. As we did with the QBs, Phil Steele's running back rankings are in parentheses (he ranked 63 running backs) .

1. Michigan - Experience, talent, and depth. A great group of running backs led by Hart (#6).
2. Penn State - Two solid runners in Hunt (#19) and Scott and an all-conference fullback.
3. Michigan State - Caulcrick (#58) has the size and Ringer (#37) the speed to keep defenses on their toes.
4. Navy - Have a better running back corp than USC for at least the first week of the season.
5. USC - Like at QB, tons of potential, but very little in the way of far.
6. UNC - McGill (#46) is a bruiser and the bench has experience (Edwards) and potential (freshmen).
7. UCLA - Two quality well-rounded replacements for Maurice Drew.
8. Purdue - Sheets (#54) is one of the fastest backs the Irish will face. Not much proven depth.
9. Georgia Tech - Choice is a tough runner and Grant adds some speed.
10. Air Force - Plenty of experience back. No real stars, but dependable veterans.
11. Stanford - No real threats. An average collection of college running backs.
12. Army - Looks like running back by committee to start the season.