Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Spring Checkup | by Pat

With informal summer practice sessions looming, here is a brief look at how ND's 2006 opponents fared this spring. Consider this not so much a preview of 2006 as a quick look at some of the major stories coming out of the various programs during their annual spring practices. In a day or two we'll follow up with a BGS roundtable look back at ND's spring practice.

Georgia Tech

The Tech secondary, already lacking in experience, took some sizable hits when projected starting strong safety Joe Gaston hurt his knee and was already knocked out of the 2006 season. With only one returning starter in the secondary in the form of one time ND recruit Kenny Scott, finding capable replacements was the biggest task of the spring. Luckily for Tech fans, the front seven look formidable and continued to work on their blitz happy ways under DC John Tenuta.

On offense, finding receivers to complement All-American Calvin Johnson was the goal along with working on a backup QB capable pushing starter Reggie Ball. The projected starting counterpart to Johnson, James Johnson, missed the spring game with a hamstring injury which allowed one time Notre Dame verbal commit Martin Fierson to showcase his abilities with three touchdown catches. With Reggie Ball sitting out most of the spring with an arm injury, the race for backup QB was more or less decided as Taylor Bennett threw for 5 touchdowns while completing 19 of 25 passes in the spring matchup.

Penn State

All eyes were on new starting quarterback Anthony Morelli and he didn't disappoint with a solid showing in the annual PSU spring game. Sophomore wideout Derrick Williams continued his return from a broken arm and looks to be the kind of multi-positional player Ted Ginn was as a sophomore when he would occasionly line up at quarterback. Williams took a few snaps out of the shotgun in the spring game and actually even attempted a few passes. With the skill positions on offense seemingly in good hands, the big test will come down to the play of the revamped offensive line which returns All-America candidate Levi Brown at left tackle, but has to replace four other OL starters from last year's team.

On defense Paul Posluszny worked more on his knee rehab and didn't suit up for the final scrimmage. Rice transfer Jim Shaw emerged at defensive end where the Nittany Lions need to replace Tamba Hali but Coach Paterno is still looking for a defensive tackle to man the position between Shaw and Jay Alford.

After losing a large number of seniors from last year's team, it will be interesting to see how Penn State rebounds. They have a lot of talent, especially in the sophomore class, but recent history shows that the Nittany Lions are a cyclical team. There is talent on this team, but a lot of it is young and inexperienced.


One of the big adjustments this spring for Michigan was the replacement of long time defensive coordinator Jim Hermann with Ron English. Completing the defensive makeover included Steve Szabo as new linebackers coach and Ron Lee as the new cornerbacks coach. Reports frequently mentioned more intense practices as the Wolverines worked on both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive alignments with the goal of fielding a more aggressive and physical defense.

Reports mention that quarterback Chad Henne had a very productive spring session, although the same can't be said for an offensive line still trying to find five starters and a talented but inconsistent receiving corp. The injury bug hit Ann Arbor when wide receiver/backup QB Antonio Bass went down with a knee injury that might knock him out of all next season. Running back Kevin Grady had a solid spring though and will form an extremely tough 1-2 punch with recuperating star Mike Hart.

Michigan seems eager to put the lackluster finish to last season behind them, but uncharacteristically there are questions at a number of positions, like offensive line, for the Wolverines. As always they will field a tough, competitive team, but at least now it seems things might not be quite up to the level of the past few years.

Michigan State

Comfortable with an offense led by their star QB, the Spartans focused their attention this spring on their defense and kicking game. Sound familiar? On offense, Drew Stanton had a predictably solid spring while sophomore running back Javon Ringer continued to look like a future star.

Defense, however, is the key to the Spartan season and at least one player stepped up. Hard hitting Juco transfer Nehemiah Warrick (left) took over the starting strong safety spot and brought an extremely physical game to a defense looking to replace 5 starters. The kicking game is still up in the air although walk-on Todd Boleski did hit three 40+ yard field goals in a row, including a 55 yarder, during the annual MSU spring game.

Coach John L. Smith clearly lost his team with the 1-6 finish to last season so it will be interesting to see if the team is able to regroup and come out focused early in the season. One late spring note was the transfer of backup QB Domenic Natale to Rutgers. This leaves the Spartans with little QB depth behind Stanton.


The Boilermaker team that showed up for football practice this spring was drastically different from the one that struggled to a 5-6 season last year. In addition to replacing 5 offensive starters and 7 defensive starters, Coach Tiller had to get used to working with the five new assistant coaches on his reconfigured staff.

The offense had a relatively quiet spring as there wasn't too much in the way of surprises, good or bad. Quarterback Curtis Painter had a solid spring and showed improvement as he enters his first season as the defacto starter. Painter also gives Purdue a better runner as the option attack appears to still be a part of the Boiler spread offense. The receiving corp was thin aside from stud Dorian Bryant, but Greg Orton gave the coaches some hope that the 6'4" sophomore can be counted on in the fall.

The main source of concern for Purdue during the spring was the play of the defense, specifically the secondary. To be blunt, their defensive backfield is a mess. The only returning starter was corner Zach Logan and he lost his starting gig this spring to a running back transfer from St. Francis College named Aaron Lane. The other three sophomore starters are either coming back from a season-ending injury or have been shifted over from other positions. Given how easily Lane worked himself into the starting lineup, many Purdue fans hope the incoming JUCO talent will bolter the Boiler pass defense. The front seven had a bit of a better time, but staying healthy proved difficult for key parts of the linebackers and the defensive line is busy trying to replace three multi-year starters.


Stanford had to work through injuries, suspensions, and depth chart shuffling this fall to arrive at a starting 22 for the final scrimmage. Two team leaders, starting tight end Matt Traverso and starting strong safety Brandon Harrison, were both suspended for the spring which opened up competition for their spots. One time ND recruit Erik Lorig fought back from an early injury to impress in one scrimmage at tight end only to get hit with the injury bug again and be sidelined again.

At quarterback, Trent Edwards had a solid spring and should be one of the best quarterbacks that ND will face next year. Edwards will also have two of the better receivers as well in targets Mark Bradford and 6'7" Evan Moore (right), who missed the Notre Dame game last year due to injury. The offensive line that allowed so many sacks last season is all back, but some underclassmen are making a move and displacing some of the 5th year seniors. Another name familiar to ND recruiting fans, Allen Smith, looks to have a lead on the starting left tackle spot, but Stanford coaches are still moving guys around trying to find a solid starting five.

On defense, Stanford is still running the 3-4, but will need to replace a lot of experience in it's front seven. Michael Okwo is a solid inside linebacker and the best player of the bunch while big redshirt freshman and prep All-American Ekom Udofia is the new man in the middle on the defensive line.


Like Purdue, UCLA had to get used to an influx of new coaches as the Bruins adapted to six new assistant coaches this spring. And the coach getting the most attention is new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who is in charge of reviving a rather sad defensive unit (2005 ranking: 113 out of 117). Reports from spring noted that the entire defense was practicing with more energy and a faster tempo than in year's past, but that doesn't always translate into production on the field. Various members of the defensive front seven missed practice time due to injury so the Bruin defense will largely still be a question mark until a game or two into the season. And while you can make the case that losing starters from a celler dwelling defense might not be the worst thing in the world, UCLA will certainly miss the production and leadership of graduated linebacker Spencer Havner.

Over on offense, at first lookUCLA is in for a rough year. Stars Drew Olson, Maurice Drew, and Marcedes Lewis have all moved on and took with them 100%, 62%, and 29% of UCLA's passing, running, and receiving touchdowns, respectively. However, one-time all-everything recruit Ben Olson is presumably ready to pick right up where Drew left off and has all of the so-called "tools" to be an outstanding college quarterback. How quickly he picks up the offense and establishes a good connnection with his receivers will determine just how good he does in the fall. As for the ground game, Drew was a talent, but Chris Markey and Kahlil Bell are both quality runners who should help to keep the pressure off Olson.


Things are looking bright for Navy as the current conventional wisdom is the 2006 Midshipmen will be the strongest Navy team Coach Paul Johnson has fielded while in Annapolis. During the spring practice sessions Coach Johnson got even better news when backup QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada subbed in for injured starter Brian Hampton in the rainy Blue-Gold game and rushed for 195 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hampton should remain the starter come the season, but from the looks of things, Navy will have to choose between the experienced senior Hampton and the extremely athletic freshman Kaheaku-Enhada. Surrounding the eventual starter will be a talented mix of speedy slotback Reggie Campbell (5 rushing touchdowns against Colorado State in last year's Poinsettia Bowl) and rough and tumble fullback Matt Ballard (192 rushing yards against Army last year on only 18 carries).

Defensively, Navy will feature one of the most productive linebackers that the Irish will face in the form of Rob Caldwell. Caldwell notched 140 tackles last year (48 tackles more than ND's leading tackler Brandon Hoyte) and returns along with eight other returning defensive starters.

As always, Navy will have trouble matching up with the size of teams like Notre Dame in the trenches, but this year's Navy team will have some talent and experience at nearly all of the other positions. Another item of note is that Navy will be using instant replay this coming season for all home games, which will be the case against ND.

North Carolina

The Tarheels coaching staff got a bit of a boost when they hired former Fresno State offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. A coach with a proven track record of offensive output and player development, Cignetti has his work cut out for him in North Carolina as the 2005 Tarheel offense was ranked 102nd out of 117 teams. The quarterback situation is still up in the air as Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey (left) and redshirt freshman Cam Sexton battle it out, but UNC has depth at running back with four or five guys who could see carries.

Another guy that should see the ball in his hands is walk-on Brandon Tate who came out of nowhere to be a great special teams kick returner last year with a 25.8 yards per kick return average. In 2006, it sounds like he will be used more on offense to help compliment returning All-ACC honorable mention wide receiver Jesse Holley.

Air Force

The big motivation for the Falcons is to end the most recent losing skid. Air Force has had back to back losing seasons for the first time since 1980-81. Offensively Air Force should be potent as nearly the entire backfield returns, including record setting quarterback Shaun Carney. The offensive line also returns three starters in addition to Caleb Morris, who was a part-time starter as freshman before sitting out all of last year due to injury. Running the triple-option will keep the Irish offense on their toes, but after facing Navy two weeks earlier, ND won't be a stranger to the pitch-happy ground attack.

On defense, the Falcons only return five starters, but they are spread out over all of the positions so there are no obvious weak spots. The secondary will help lead the defense early as three of the five returning starters play there. Still, after barely cracking the Top 100 in total defense last year, Air Force will need substaintial improvement to finally break the positive side of a .500 record.


It's likely that Army will be the worst team on the schedule next year, but Coach Bobby Ross is only in his third year at West Point and improvement is likely over last year's 4-7 campaign. Defense is clearly the strength of the team as it took two overtimes for either team to score in the annual Black/Gold game. After being ranked the worst defense in D-1 in 2004, the 2005 version jumped up to 37th best in the rankings. Strong safety Caleb Campbell led the Black Knights in tackles last year as a sophomore and could be one of the best safeties that the Irish face next year. However, the play of the defensive line will determine how effective the defense can be over the course of the season. Defensive end Cameron Craig is a skilled player, but lack depth and talent levels at defensive tackle could leave Army hurting late in the season.

The Army offense appears headed in a different direction from the defense. After a top 50 showing in 2004, it dropped down to 101st in the nation last season and has to replace a number of starters in 2006. New starter David Petevo is a big (6'5" 229 lb.) quarterback, but only has 12 pass attempts to his name while none of the candidates at running back have a single carry logged in the stat book. If Army is going to mount any challenge to the Irish, the offense will have to be much improved before the November 18th game at ND.


The big spring battle between John David Booty and Mark Sanchez(right) fizzled when back issues sidelined Booty. Sanchez had nearly the whole spring to work with the first team offense and looked solid, but Carroll still named Booty the #1 guy after the final spring practice. Recently Sanchez has been dealing with a sexual assualt charge that could affect his availability in the fall.

The other big spring news was the lack of scholarship running backs available for practice. A knee injury took Hershel Dennis out of the picture while Desmound Reed, Michael Coleman, and Chauncey Washington all sat out for injury and academic related reasons. The backfield was so empty that a linebacker turned fullback, Ryan Powdrell, had the most rushing yards in the annual Trojan Huddle spring game. Dennis and Reed are not expected back next season, but five incoming running back recruits will help the team depth. Recently it was announced that Chauncey Washington got the grades necessary to rejoin the team in the fall.

Sophomore wide receiver Patrick Turner had a bit of a coming out party with two touchdowns in the game. He's going to be a good one and between him, Dwayne Jarret, and Steve Smith, the Trojans will have the most talented WR corp in the nation this fall.

The defense will probably have to work harder this coming fall since the offense might take a few steps back, but the spring reports read like a who's who of former prep All-Americans. With Pete Carroll taking on a more active role with the offense, he hired Nick Holt to be USC's new defensive coordinator and help mold all the prep talent into a top defense.

Friday, May 26, 2006

An Honor and a Privilege | by Pat

The recruiting odometer hit six on Thursday when Pennsylvania running back/linebacker Steve Paskorz committed to Notre Dame. The offer was barely out of Charlie's mouth before Paskorz pulled the trigger:

"Notre Dame was the school I had No. 1 in my heart," Paskorz said. "Coach Weis was at our school last Friday, and I kind of got the feeling they were going to offer shortly. "When I got on the phone, coach Weis said they had been debating whether to offer a scholarship or not. Then he said, 'I realized I'm the head coach and I want to offer you.' Right there, I said it would be an honor and a privilege to play for him."
I had to chuckle at the description of Charlie's back-and-forth thought process; however, the hesitation to offer Paskorz so early in the year is somewhat understandable. On one hand, the 6-2, 215-pound Paskorz is a record-setting running back for his Hampton High team in the football-crazy section of western Pennsylvania. As a sophomore, Paskorz lead the area in rushing, which was the first time in 26 years that a sophomore had done that. On the other hand, Paskorz suffered torn ligaments in his ankle that marred his junior campaign. Moreover, it appears that ND is really looking at Paskorz as a linebacker instead of a running back. So not only was Weis offering a kid with an eye of shifting him from his most comfortable position, he was also going after someone coming off a March surgery who was still on crutches for the Blue-Gold game.

Still, even with those qualifiers, Paskorz is still one of the better recruits in the country. Rivals tabbed him as a Top 100 player in their "pre-evaluation" list. Scout has him as a 4-star running back/linebacker candidate. Paskorz chose ND over offers from a good mix of schools such as Michigan (who reportedly wanted him on offense), Virginia, Iowa, Pitt, Ole Miss, and West Virginia.

While he's initially slotted at linebacker, Paskorz insists that he might end up toting the pigskin yet.
"Right now they have me on the board as a linebacker," Paskorz said. "But coach Weis says he really likes me at running back. He said when I come up there they're going to try me at both positions."
As a former two-time national finalist in the NFL Punt, Pass, and Kick competition, who knows; maybe Paskorz will end up doing some special teams work as well. His coach, however, agrees with ND that outside linebacker is the future for the Hampton star.
"Steve is a kid you could probably put anywhere," Mihalik said. "But if I had to pick a position, he would probably be an outside linebacker-type of kid."
And he's got a perfect linebacker name to boot.

Let's take a step back for a second and look at the bigger recruiting picture. Charlie's just about done with his May evaluation trips across the country and so far recruiting is just about on track with the pace of last year. We've got six verbal commitments so far, while on May 27th of last year, Luke Schmidt became the 7th verbal committment of the Class of 2006.

And while last year was a great class, this one is on track to be even better. A quick comparison of last year's competition for our recruits to this year's:

RB Prince - Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State
WR Gallup - Wisconsin, Boston College, Syracuse
QB Frazer - Penn State, Purdue, Georgia Tech
TE/DT Mullen - Nebraska, LSU, Michigan State
DE Wade - Illinois, Duke, Boston College, Kentucky
RB Aldridge - Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue
RB Schmidt - Indiana, Louisville, Purdue

DE Neal - Miami, Florida, Alabama
LB Nagel - Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue
QB Clausen - Southern Cal, Tennessee, everyone else
TE Ragone - Southern Cal, Florida State, Ohio State, Penn State
WR Kamara - Southern Cal, Miami, Penn State
RB/LB Paskorz - Michigan, Virginia, Iowa, Pitt, West Virginia

Heavyweights, etc. | by Jay

One of the quotes that caught my eye from the Kevin White presser last week was this doozy that didn't get much play on the message boards:

"I can't tell you how my accessibility is viewed or how it's evolved," White said. "I can tell you life at Notre Dame is different. Being in a unilateral position with the rest of the intercollegiate landscape at times puts me in a position where I cannot talk as openly about issues as I thought I could in previous assignments. And that's just reality.

"There are a lot of issues that require measured responses at this place. Some of the reasons are cultural and philosophical and relate to Notre Dame and some of them relate to our position relative to the rest of the landscape, and that's just the reality over time.

"I don't know that the (football) coaching changes made me feel that way. I think it's more a matter of my realization of our very unique place within intercollegiate athletics."
He's right in that life at Notre Dame is "different", and I'm not saying that to be arrogant. Of course ND is unique relative to other AD jobs. You've got some practical hurdles and expectations with Notre Dame that you won't find anywhere else in college football: scheduling as an independent, negotiating unilaterally with the BCS, managing a television contract, and dealing with a media glare that shines a little more brightly in South Bend than in say, Tempe.

I find it a little troubling that our Athletic Director is just now -- after six years on the job -- coming to the "realization of [ND's] very unique place within intercollegiate athletics." But it does explain a few things: the BCS payout reduction, the scheduling gaffes, dalliances with conference membership, the hiring misfires, the incessant foot-in-mouth disease.

During Willingham's first year, White had a quote that stuck in my craw, and I was reminded of it reading his comments above. In talking about the post-Davie coaching search, White said this:
"It's very important here to love [Notre Dame]. This place has an insatiable desire to be loved."
What he describes is undoubtedly true. But in his phrasing, he sets himself apart from the institution he purports to represent.

Maybe it's too much to ask for a administrator who was reared on play-nice conference cooperation to chuck all that, and suddenly act like a maverick. However, that just underscores the importance of getting an AD for Notre Dame who already buys into ND's "unqiue place within college athletics", as White elegantly stated.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hell Hath No Fury like Wilford Brimley Scorned | by Jay

One other bit of rumor-mongering, this time from an unnamed source quoted in the Sporting News' college football preview.

Scouting the Fighting Irish - views from a pro scout or an opposing coach

"Charlie Weis is arrogant as hell. I couldn't even talk to him before the game last year. I tried to. It was a one-sided conversation. After asking him six different questions and getting little to no answer, I went to the other side of the field...

"They don't have a great team. They have a great quarterback. They'll be good again, but I'll be interested to see how Weis functions when he doesn't have Brady Quinn. I think if he had turned pro, he would have been the first quarterback picked...I think if Tyrone Willingham was their coach last year, they would have won eight games. They won nine games. But the nine games they won, only three of the schools they beat (Mich, BYU, Navy) finished with winning records. So, how good of a team was it? But it's Notre Dame, and everyone loves the new kid on the block. And everyone is in love with Weis...I think they'll be a little better on defense, and I think they'll be lights out on offense, again, although they have lost some guys on the line...

"They'll miss WR Maurice Stovall. He was a big, physical kid...RB Darius Walker is a solid guy, but he's not the back that the Michigan kid (Mike Hart) is... I don't see much changing on defense. They'll be a year older and a year better. They return most of those kids, so the experience will help them a lot...Losing LB Corey Mays will hurt them. I think their linebackers, you have to watch what's going on there. Maybe they have some good guys on campus... I can't verify whether Weis put in new wrinkles each week, like the NFL. He had an experienced quarterback. Who's to say if Weis had a different quarterback if he could have added anything new each week?"
Any guesses? When this was directed to our attention last week, the consensus seemed to be Tiller.

Spy Game | by Jay

A couple of fun behind-the-scenes reports I didn't want to see get swept away into the internet ether. First is an account from DomerJD over on NDN, who saw JoePa address a Penn State alumni function.

Before everyone kills me, I didn't pay for the ticket... The ball and chain mentioned to me a few weeks ago that Paterno was going to be in town giving a talk, so I agreed to go because I thought it might be interesting. I am sort of dumb and didn't realize what I was agreeing to.... I get there and there's a thousand people for "A Night With Joe Paterno" sponsored by the PSU Alumni Association.... I felt sort of unclean, and I fully expected that someone would be waiting outside after to revoke my ND alum status.

I don't have much to say about the talk itself, because he sort of rambled and I couldn't really make heads or tails of it.

At the end, he opened it up to questions. I think I was the first person with my hand in the air. I asked him about PSU's intentions of continuing the series against ND beyond 2007- if there had been any discussion at PSU about it, and if he wanted to continue to play ND. (When I was asking my question, he stopped me at one point and yelled at me for talking too fast). He said that he doesn't think the series will continue beyond 2007. His comment was that initially there was some discussion about a six-game series, but that ND has a lot of people who wants to play them and he doesn't think that PSU is going to fit into the schedule.

Then he started talking about how he thinks that the twelve-game season is a terrible idea, and started talking about money and how football has to finance "all fifteen of the women's sports" so if there is going to be an extra game it's going to be a home game. Then he started talking about how ND needs to upgrade their athletic facilities so they need additional home game revenue as well, and made some comment about how "we can't go ask the Church for money for athletic facilities like they can." So I guess the upshot is that from the PSU side it doesn't sound like we're going to be playing them after 2007. I know this is probably not news, but I thought it was interesting to get Paterno's comments on it.

Also, during his talk he made mention of the upcoming season and the first few games. Here's what he said:

Akron: "Don't count them out, they are a tough team and their QB threw for 3000 yards last season."

Notre Dame: "Notre Dame... aren't they a 1-AA school? (laugh from the crowd) No, seriously.... I shouldn't make fun of them, I knew them when they were Catholics. (more laughs from the crowd, as I attempt to shoot laser beams at him out of my eyeballs)"

Ohio State: "That will be a tough game."

I know he was playing to his audience, but I thought it was a bit foolish for a coach to deride a team that is probably going to hand his ass to him on the road as "I-AA." To be fair, he made some pretty unkind comments about some of his own people. And, at one point when two guys were confused about who he had called on to ask a question, he said "It doesn't matter who goes first- you're both ugly!"

Also a report from a Trojan alumni dinner from one of the USC boards, with Pete Carroll addressing the gold and cardinal faithful (thanks to Hobbs for pointing this out):

Attended the Trojan Alumni dinner in Simi last night and thought I share a few tidbits about the evening. First of all the Reagan library is a great venue, and all in attendance had a chance to take a tour and go through the Air Force One exhibit, if you have not seen it worth trip by itself, add PC to the evening and you have a good night.

Sold out house, around 500 people in my estimation, the excitement was tremendous, and Coach was joined by the 10 members of the band and a couple of song girls.

During dinner, PC made the rounds went to all the individual tables, took photos, signed autographs, and made a few comments to each table. It was like he was running for office.

When he arrived at our table I asked him if we were going to lose any of the new kids to grades, his response was, "we're looking real good on all but two or three, and we are just waiting to find out." He didn't name the 3. Someone asked about Sanchez and his statement later repeated during his speech to the entire crowd was that in a couple of weeks this will all be cleared up and I think all of you (meaning Trojan fans) will be proud of the way he reacted and how it was handled. I took that as good news. Of course this lead to a Reggie question and he said that all of that was about some people trying to take advantage of media presence around Reggie at the time of the draft. PC appeared very confident that SC was going to beat the rap(s) actually very comfortable with it, and later when addressing the crowd assured everybody that SC was going to come out of this ok.

PC did say that most of what his happening in the media around the program is due to the success and they are going to be even more diligent in trying to avoid any such allegations in the future. Mentioning that we have to make sure the kids on the team, and their parents, and Alumni and friends of the program are all aware of the rules. I am not sure how you do this, but that's the plan.

PC spoke of the NFL draft, as a point of pride that 17 playes will be in NFL Camps. PC said he and his staff had accuratley predicted where everybody was going to go in the draft. He used Justice as an example of someone who cost himself millions of dollars by not listening and playing one more year. At our table he told us that the staff had told Lendale to stay another year, because he would have been a featured back and they were sure he would have been a top 10 pick if not higher if he stayed. Hopefully Lendale's example will pay off for another kid in the future.

PC said he was extremely pleased with how recruiting is going. Stating that kids are so excited about the program now they want to commit right away. He said it's a trend that is occurring over the last two years and we will apparently be seeing more kids commit early to SC this year then in prior years. PC was confident that this class would be on par if not better then the last three classes. His quote, “trust me you will be happy, very happy with the next class.”

PC made all the same comments about the incoming class that I have read everywhere else on the net. Fastest class ever, they will contribute right away, and we expect all of them to compete to play right away.

During his speech the one surprise to me at least was when Carroll said that both Maiava, Maualuga had won starting linebacker spots in Spring. This was news to me, since Maiava has apparently beaten out Rivers. I new Sugar Rey was close to doing so but I thought he was still a dead heat. Apparently not anymore according to Carroll’s comments last night. PC loves Maiava and made it clear he is now the starter. I looked at the depth chart and it lists KM second behind Rivers, but the horses mouth says KM in the lead going inot the fall. Carroll did say that all the backers will play a lot and that Rivers will rush from the End this year on certain passing downs. But he was clear that KM won the spot. PC very high on CW coming back, said that CW will be large contributor. Expects the rushing yards to be picked up by CW and one of the new comers, mentioned Johnson Gable and the Texas kid and expecting one of them to step up and get carries. PC also said that for the first time he can say publicly that Desmond Reed maybe back and contribute next year. PC said that Nike has outfitted DR with a special brace that allows him to run and that DR is working out, running, with the plan to be ready for fall camp.

PC made some off handed remark about kid ND signed, saying they may be sorry about that one. Now I took it like he meant it as a critical comment about JC but my buddy took it that PC was joking on that line. Never mentioned JC's name, except to mockingly say, "oh I better be careful this is Clausen Country".

PC went through the season’s schedule gave all teams praise except for uctla, apparently does not think much of them (indicated this by not saying it), but did emphasize that’s real important that we get them this year. He said at our table, our streak needs to be longer then theirs so they know their place. I thought that was well said.

PC was a pro's pro speaking, with jokes (about opponents and staff and self) and a great game story about ND and of course the passion of a man who loves what he is doing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I subscribe for the All-American lists | by Pat

Playboy recently announced their 2006 All-American team and invited a bunch of the best players in the country out to Phoenix for a photo shoot (sans bunnies). Fun fact from the linked article: Playboy picked up the AA team tradition from Collier's Magazine, which had been publishing a college football All-America list since 1898 (!). Collier's was going out of business and Hef didn't want to let such a long-standing tradition die, so he brought Collier's sportswriter over to Playboy and had him continue it.

No Notre Dame players were named to the team; from what we've heard from our connections inside the Mansion, Quinn was invited but declined per ND policy. But ND didn't always have such a policy against appearing on Playboy's team. Check out these photos of ND players on previous teams. (As a disclaimer, all pictures in this post have been re-hosted on this site so don't worry about tripping any IT red flags.)

: Jim Kelly (also Ara Parseghian with Northwestern)
1966: Jim Lynch (#61), Tom Regner (#76), Nick Eddy (#47)
1967: Offense - Jim Seymour (#85); Defense - Kevin Hardy (#74)
1968: Offense - George Kunz (#79), Terry Hanratty (#5)
1969: Defense - Mike McCoy (#75)
1970: Offense - Larry DiNardo (#56); Defense - Clarence Ellis (#23)
1971: Offense - Tom Gatewood (#45), Coach Ara Parseghian (not pictured); Defense - Clarence Ellis (#23), Mike Kadish (#72), Walt Palutski (#85)
1972: Offense - Greg Marx (#75)
1973: Offense - Dave Casper (#86), Frank Pomarico (#56); Defense - Mike Townsend (#27)
1974: Offense - Tom Clements (#2); Defense - Greg Collins (#50)
1975: Defense - Steve Niehaus (#70)
1976: Defense - Ross Browner (#89)
1977: Offense - Ken MacAfee (#81); Defense - Ross Browner (#89)
1978: Offense - Dave Huffman (#56); Defense - Bob Golic (#55)
1979: Offense - Tim Foley (#73); Defense - Dave Waymer (#34)
1984: Offense - Larry Williams (#75), Mike Kelley (#63)
1985: Offense - Tim Scannell (#54)

With hindsight as a guide, perhaps it's for the best that Quinn wasn't named to the team. You never know how time will treat your fashion sense, or when your image will be in the hands of a photographer who is trying just a bit too hard to be creative.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Center of Attention | by Pat

As Heismanpundit notes, the 2006 Heisman campaign has officially kicked off with a round of national media articles on ND quarterback Brady Quinn. ESPN's Pat Forde and CBS Sportsline's Dennis Dodd sat down, along with other national media folk, for an interview with Brady Quinn that can really only be seen as the start of Brady's Heisman campaign.

The articles (here and here) are both good reads and cover such fun topics as avoiding autograph hounds, Quinn's dedication to staying in shape, and his transformation from average college quarterback to arguably the top player in the country. There are plenty of great quotes, including Brady's reasons he came back for his senior year.

"I thought about the things that really mattered to me most," Quinn said. "One, working with Coach another year is going to help me excel and improve. I'm not going to get that in the NFL -- I'm not going to get that coaching. Why would I go somewhere else when I have that right here?"

The second thing, I didn't prepare myself like I have this summer, with agents and physically."

And the last thing, that probably mattered to me most, I came here with dreams of winning a national championship. Based upon the talent we have coming into this year, why would I ever leave that? Why would I ever go somewhere else, when this is my last chance?"
Both writers clearly came away impressed with Quinn, and confident that he will be able to handle the media crush likely to follow the Heisman favorite throughout the season. The interesting thing to me won't be so much how Quinn handles the Heisman race, but how Notre Dame does.

As Dodd notes, it has been quite a Heisman dry spell at ND, relatively speaking. It's been 18 years since Tim Brown won the award, which is the second-longest break between Heisman trophies in ND history (the 23-year gap between Huarte ('64) and Brown ('87) was longer). And the last Heisman hopeful -- Rocket, who finished a close second to BYU's Ty Detmer -- well, that was 16 years ago.

In the last sixteen years since Rocket's run, schools have become much more aggressive with promoting their candidate for Heisman, especially when it comes utilizing the internet. Obviously Notre Dame is not lacking for media exposure, so ND will not have to resort to some of the giveaways and gimmicks seen at other schools. But even top programs like Southern Cal resorted to things like MattReggieTV.com, a subscription based video blog of the two high profile Trojans, to hype (and profit from) their candidacies. With this in mind, I'm curious as to what ND has planned for the "Quinn for Heisman" campaign.

Charlie no doubt will make sure that the race doesn't overshadow the rest of the season and, as his presence in the back of the room as Quinn was being interviewed attests, I'd expect him to keep a tight grip on whatever ND does regarding the campaign. After all, as long as ND keeps winning, Quinn will likely stay the front runner. An over-the-top promotional blitz might turn off voters who already will be bombarded with plenty of "Mighty Quinn" stories in the media.

Last year the official UND.com website put up a small page offering short highlights of Quinn, along with some of the other players up for post-season awards, so I would half-expect a little more developed version of the same for this year. With 11 of the 12 regular season games this season being broadcast on the major three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), it will be easy for voters to catch Quinn and the Irish on TV. Still, a site with video highlights and perhaps a running tally of his rewriting of the ND record books can't hurt. I'm reasonably certain that ND will keep a low profile and let Quinn win the award on his own merits, but given his front-runner status and the extreme popularity of guys like Samardzija and Zbikowski, I'm not so naive as to think that the school won't try something. It's just a question of how far the University will go to promote its first true pre-season Heisman contender in over a decade.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

On Becoming An Alum | by Pete

As I struggle to regain my senses through a Backer-infused haze, I am coming to the terrifying realization that I am graduating this Sunday. Yes, no more 8 AM Calculus Exams, no more Blazin’ Sea Nuggets in South Dining Hall (I’d try to eat in North, but I fear I’d get lost and starve to death in a terribly ironic scenario, since the place was apparently designed by M.C. Escher). However, this also means that there are no more first nice days on the quad where people bring out couches for no real discernible reason, no riotous Sunday morning breakfasts as we try to piece together the previous night, and no more football Saturdays unless the lottery deems me and my wallet worthy.

Well, I’m going to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, so I guess now’s the time to finally start figuring out what exactly I learned in four years under the Dome (kidding). Sure, I learned a lot inside classrooms, but we all know that the real education college gives us is everything that happens outside of it. As an impending Notre Dame graduate, I might as well figure them out now, before I turn into a true alum, which means I’ll come back for football games and ask students if they still go to bars that don’t exist anymore while visiting my old dorm room, now inhabited by a visibly uncomfortable yet tolerating freshman.

It’s odd, knowing that soon I won’t be looking at the shimmer of the Dome as a sign of hope for the future, but rather a nostalgic reminder of the past. Sure, graduation brings with it some feelings of sadness, knowing that a huge part of my life is now over and I can never go back, but at Notre Dame, I don’t think it ever really ends. Just like the home I moved from to go to this place, I’ll always be welcomed back, and will always recognize this place as an essential part of my life.

A lot has changed in my four years here. I began and ended my career with a football coach wildly exceeding expectations and bringing the national spotlight onto campus. Of course, this time around, in terms of the meat behind the product, it feels like there’s a bit more ribeye and less Spam. The basketball team had a Sweet 16 appearance my freshman year, but has been NIT-picked every one since. I’ve seen three national titles, two fencing and one women’s soccer.

As cliché as it is, I also realize that as much as things change, they still will remain the same. The flower-laden ND has been usurped by metal bars and stone pillars at the University’s entrance, but driving towards that circle, under the trees and looking on the Dome will always be a perfect sight to behold. People will always complain about Indiana weather, but I’d be hard pressed to find a more content time than sitting out on the quad during the first warm day of spring. That biting wind and pedestrian campus really makes you appreciate the good weather you do get.

The important things never change. The Fight Song’s and Alma Mater’s lyrics will never change, and that lump in my throat when I sing them will never go away. And I highly doubt that Chuck Lennon will ever be anything more than just good ol’ Chuck Lennon.

Yea, I’m going to miss Notre Dame, but I’ll be back. Whenever I cheer them on Saturdays now from my couch, I’ll be back. Whenever I catch the knowing look and I see that class ring, I’ll be back. I guess it’ll feel in some ways like I never left. I know my Dad, class of ’77, still feels attached to the campus. Granted, he’s had tuition checks, including four more years starting with a freshman sister in August to continue the death grip he shares with Notre Dame.

I’ve got a lot of emotions swirling around right now, as these rambling musings can attest, but let me try to form something coherent here. Notre Dame is a special place. Sometimes that can be overlooked in rabble about Vagina Monologues, coaching vacancies, and really lame tailgaters. But no matter what, the gold on the Dome still shines, and everyone who has loved Notre Dame continues to do so. I may be leaving this place, but I know that it will never leave me. Thanks for a great four years, I’m going to miss you.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Get in the ring | by Pat

A reminder that Tom Zbikowski's last amatuer bout will be tomorrow at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. With his pro debut just three weeks away, this will be his final tune-up fight. The whole event is designed to raise money for cystic-fibrosis research. Follow the link for times and ticket prices.

Following up on the boxing angle, Sports Illustrated put out a lengthy article today on the Irish safety and his boxing career. Starting with how Tommy got his start in the ring to his amatuer career to working with Weis to get the ok for his Madison Square Garden fight, it's a pretty comprehensive article. Check it out.

Doctor, doctor. Gimme the news. | by Pat

On Monday, Notre Dame athletic director director of athletics Dr. Kevin White sat down with assorted media members for an early morning informal press conference. Plenty of information came out of the talk, most of it very good news for Notre Dame fans.

Before I get any further, I want to make it clear that I'm only focusing on the actual information shared. Dr. White once again had a few statements that undoubtedly raised some Irish eyebrows and I promise we'll get to White's statements and our opinion on him, but for now I'm only worrying about the actual Notre Dame football news. Ok, let's dig in.

Perhaps the biggest overall theme to take away from the press conference was the continuing affirmation of Notre Dame as an independent in the college football world. Keep in mind that we're only two years removed from associate athletic director John Heisler penning an article for ND Magazine that seemed to almost be greasing the skids for a slide into a conference. White actually referenced this attitude before declaring ND's current stance against conference membership.

"I think that's really important. I think over time we'd really begun to behave like a conference wannabe member. And I think it's really important to go back to our roots and behave more like an independent."
Those roots that White is talking about are the barnstorming aspects of the early Notre Dame schedules under Knute Rockne. The barnstorming attitude isn't exactly new as ND was talking about such a thing over a year ago, but it's good to hear that they are still moving forward with it.

The primary locations are still the same -- Dallas, Orlando, Jacksonville, New Orleans -- but Heisler also mentioned that ND has contacted Houston and San Antonio. Dallas especially seems excited to bring ND to the Lone Star State.
"We've had four preliminary conversations with Notre Dame," Cotton Bowl executive director Rick Baker said Wednesday. "We'd be excited to help Notre Dame in any way that we could when it comes to putting on a Notre Dame home game in this area."
One item that still remains unresolved is who exactly Notre Dame would play in these games. Baker mentions that TCU or Baylor would be a good fit for the Dallas game. Baylor's AD, Ian McCaw, worked with White previously so there is already an exisiting relationship there and TCU certainly seems interested.

According to TCU athletic director Danny Morrison, associate athletic director Jack Hesselbrock has had "two or three conversations" with Notre Dame about scheduling.

"We have a lot of conversations with a lot of people about future schedules," Morrison said Wednesday. "I don't want to overplay the conversations with Notre Dame, but it is something that we're interested in pursuing."

Of course, Notre Dame probably has conversations with a lot of schools so I wouldn't pencil in a TCU matchup just yet. White did mention a desire to avoid "heavyweights" and that
"We need to schedule in a way to put us in position to win national championships. We could have a great football team and schedule ourselves out of a national championship. That last time I checked, the most important thing here is to win national championships."
Like I said earlier, we'll get to our take on this attitude a little later on.

The next big item for the media was to finally get White's reasonings for the quick re-up on Weis' contract. As you may recall, it was still October when Notre Dame tagged an extra five years on Weis' current contract and most likely gave him a sizable pay boost. It also bumped up the buyout should the NFL really come after Weis hard. Quoth White.
"When he came, we had a pretty big buyout. Now we have a Herculean buyout, so I think for somebody to move in and out of this contract is more challenging."
White went on to say that the reason for the extension was ND recognizing the momentum Weis was building both on and off the field and moving to fend off the already creeping NFL suitors. It's also worth noting that White explicitly stated that Weis' contract does not have an out clause for any team.
"None of our coaches enjoy a parachute out to a certain institution or professional franchise."
A few other areas that White covered included mention of more facilities updates. We'll cover the JACC renovations over on The Fieldhouse, but White also talked about a shift in the practice fields so that they will be moved closer to the Gug. This will let Weis lord over the practice fields from his private balcony. One of the new practice fields will also be artificial turf. Weis mentioned earlier this spring that he had wanted to get the team outside but the grass just wasn't ready for the wear and tear yet so I'm sure the turf field is in part a solution to this.

The BCS payout setup also was brought up as this is the year where Notre Dame's drastic reduction in bowl payout comes into effect. The feast or famine method is now gone and ND will get $4.5 million for years when they do play in a BCS bowl and a little over $1 million when they don't. According to White, there wasn't much ND could have done about it and in fact negotiated up from the initial $2.5 million payout proposal.
"There are 63 schools within the BCS conference structure, and I would have imagined there would have been a vote of 63-0 against Notre Dame receiving an opportunity to take a conference share. And I would suspect the vote wasn't real compelling for Notre Dame to receive (a $4.5 million) share, but that was a negotiated position and that again reflected our strong market position over a lot of years in college football."
That sounds a bit like spin to me and I'd like to think that ND could have fought harder against this. But putting aside conspiracy theories for the moment, I concede that it does seem likely that the other schools just decided to gang up and take advantage of the weakened state of Davieham-brand ND football.

On the whole, the press conference seemed to serve more as a clarification than announcement of anything new, but I think increased communication between the Notre Dame Athletic Department and the media is a good thing. Nature abhors a vaccuum and the message boards and attention-starved sports writers across the country are all more than willing to fill up any periods of silences with stories that alternately weave fact and fiction. Not that ND has to respond to everything that is out there or show all the cards in their hand, but regular communication can only help to benefit all involved.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Prime Time, Pard'ner | by Pat

ABC/ESPN released their newest broadcast plan with the announcement of ABC Saturday Night College Football. Once limited to a few night games a year, this fall ABC will feature a primetime game each and every week. The Fighting Irish figure prominently into this new lineup as ND will be featured on three such primetime broadcasts. The season opening Georgia Tech game, along with the games against Michigan State and USC will all be broadcast on ABC with kickoff scheduled for 8:00 pm E.T.

It seems that new Westwood One radio play-by-play man Don Criqui might get a larger audience than anticipated as ABC also announced that the broadcast tandem of Brent Musberger and Bob Davie will be calling all of the primetime games. Ack. If ESPN Gameday is in town, as it will be for the Georgia Tech game, then Kirk Herbstriet will join the Brent and Bob show up in the booth and hopefully get to add intelligent conversation to the mix. When the duo are up in the booth for the night game in East Lansing, I wonder if Brent will ask Bob how his last time under the Spartan Stadium lights went.

With this announcement, the 2006 schedule is nearly complete. All that remains is the kickoff for the game against Navy. For the first time since 1998, no ND game will appear on ESPN. In year's past the ND-Air Force game has been an ESPN game, but this year Air Force, as part of the Mountain West Conference, is in agreement with CSTV for home game broadcasts.

all times Eastern

Sat 09/02/06 Georgia Tech Atlanta, GA ABC8:00 PM
Sat 09/09/06 Penn State Notre Dame Stadium NBC3:30 PM
Sat 09/16/06 Michigan Notre Dame Stadium NBC3:30 PM
Sat 09/23/06 Michigan State East Lansing, MI ABC8:00 PM
Sat 09/30/06 Purdue Notre Dame Stadium NBC2:30 PM
Sat 10/07/06 Stanford Notre Dame Stadium NBC2:30 PM
Sat 10/21/06 UCLA Notre Dame Stadium NBC2:30 PM
Sat 10/28/06 Navy Baltimore, MD CBSTBA
Sat 11/04/06 North Carolina Notre Dame Stadium NBC2:30 PM
Sat 11/11/06 Air Force Colorado Springs, CO CSTV4:00 PM
Sat 11/18/06 Army Notre Dame Stadium NBC2:30 PM
Sat 11/25/06 USC Los Angeles, CA ABC8:00 PM

Monday, May 15, 2006

Risin' Up, Back on the Street | by Pat

A quick note for those in the Miami area looking for a good reason to take a long lunch break on Tuesday.

Notre Dame football star and team captain Tommy Zbikowski is in Florida and will shake out Tuesday, 11 am, on a raised ring at the Fontainbleau Resort in Miami Beach. Angelo Dundee, the Hall of Fame trainer, will be in the ring with Tommy Z. Bob Arum will be there and will outline details of Tommy Z's professional heavyweight debut on Top Rank's super-big Miguel Cotto v. Paulie Malignaggi Pay Per View June 10 at Madison Square Garden. Six bouts will be on the PPV.

"All of this is pretty big stuff for me," said Tommy Z. "On Tuesday I'll be in the ring in Miami with a legend in Angelo Dundee. On June 10 I will have my first professional fight at Madison Square Garden." George Foreman also had his first professional fight at Madison Square Garden. Big George stopped Don Waldheim in three rounds at MSG on June 23, 1969.

Fight fans are welcome to attend the Tommy Z workout.
I'm sure Tommy will welcome the warm weather after his grueling winter workouts in South Bend.

Roberts out? | by Jay

Per Teddy Greenstein in the Chicago Trib:

Hall of Fame radio play-by-play announcer Tony Roberts is out after calling Notre Dame games for 26 years.

"They fired me," Roberts said. "For no cause."

Roberts, who learned of the decision Monday from an executive at Westwood One Radio, said he would be replaced by veteran broadcaster and Notre Dame alumnus Don Criqui. Analyst Allen Pinkett, who had worked with Roberts since 2002, has been retained.

"It was a great run and I'm sorry it's over," Roberts said. "I always wanted to walk away from it under my terms."
Shocking news, and ironic, considering he just won an award last year from the College Hall of Fame. (Some classic clips in that link, by the way).

I'm sure we'll get more details soon.

Update: here's the press release from Westwood One. Lots on Criqui; not much on Roberts.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bitchin' Kamara | by Pat

Via a live announcement today on ESPN News, prep wide receiver Duval Kamara became the 5th recruit to commit to ND this year, and the second straight from New Jersey *.

Along with Mike Ragone and Jimmy Clausen, Kamara is also the third straight offensive skill position recruit; in addition, all three of them hung out together on the Notre Dame Stadium sidelines during the Blue & Gold game. And according to Kamara, that time at ND with his future teammates helped to seal the deal.

"I didn't plan on making an early decision," said the 6-foot-5, 209-pounder who is one of the nation's top players. "But I knew going into the process that Notre Dame was one of my favorites and after the spring game weekend, I knew it was the place for me."
Kamara is listed on the Rivals Junior Top 100 list (along with Clausen and Ragone), but even more impressive is his list of suitors. USC, Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Penn State, and a whole host of others offered Kamara a scholarship before the May evaluation period.

For those keeping track of such things, Kamara is the third straight Irish recruit that also had an offer from Southern Cal. The Trojans, of course, are still the benchmark for recruiting dominance, and usually they can pick and choose whom they want from the ranks of prep talent. That Notre Dame was able to gain a commitment from these three players -- each of whom was highly sought after by Southern Cal -- speaks to the burgeoning Irish mojo in recruiting. (Of course, it really shouldn't be that much of a shock that offensive skill players, especially those from New Jersey, want to come play under Charlie Weis. When we start beating out USC for the country's defensive players, we'll know we're fully back.)

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Kamara was 2nd Team All-State last year and totaled 983 yards and 12 touchdowns on 46 receptions as his team, Hoboken High, went undefeated and won the state title. To make a premature comparison, Kamara seems to be in the Maurice Stovall-mold of receiver: a big, strong, redzone threat who's also just a bit faster than you might think. ESPN's Tom Luginbill's take on Kamara mirrors my own:
"This is a very, very talented, yet raw, athlete. His best days are ahead of him. He has a wonderful blend of size, strength and deceptive speed. He is a serious red-zone threat, which is something all coaches are looking for these day."
I think just about any ND fan would take a Stovall clone. The best part is that Kamara -- unlike Stovall -- won't have to wait until his last year of eligibility to get quality coaching.

* In accordance with BGS bylaws, all posts dealing with the Garden State will refrain from lazy and cliched references to The Sopranos, ironic T-shirts, turnpikes, Bon Jovi, industrial waste, Kevin Smith movies, or mullets. We do reserve the right to make fun of those on njguido.com.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Leaps and Bounds | by Jay

The ND offense scored 36.67 points per game last year, an improvement of +12.58 ppg over the '04 squad. I was curious where that kind of improvement ranked historically for an ND team.

How's fourth-best, all-time:

SeasonCoachPointsGamesPer Game

Any common threads among these teams? The similarities are debatable, but every team seemed to feature either a new coach, a new offensive scheme, breakout performances by individual players, or some combination thereof.

'43 was Frank Leahy's first National Championship. That year the Irish were led by Heisman winner Angelo Bertelli and star halfback Creighton Miller, who had tried to enlist in the Army earlier that spring but was bounced due to hypertension. ND had also just changed offenses the year before from the single-wing to the T-formation, which Bertelli took to like a duck to water. The offensive explosion would have been even greater if Bertelli hadn't been drafted into the Marine Corps with four games to go. With Bertelli the Irish put up 43.5 ppg; without him, only 19.8 ppg.

'64 was Ara's first year as coach, and also featured a change of offensive philosophy and a breakout player in Heisman winner John Huarte. The Irish that year suffered only one loss and came within a hair's breadth of winning the national championship.

'53 was Leahy's final year, and featured another Heisman winner in Johnny Lattner and a terrific performance from quarterback Ralph Guglielmi. ND got some national championship consideration that year, but the API and UP votes went to Maryland.

'77 was Joe Montana's first year at quarterback, having been first redshirted and then injured the previous season. ND won a National Championship that year, Devine's third year coaching.

And '05, well, we all know what happened: a new coach, an entirely new offensive philosophy, and the emergence of several offensive superstars in Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pressure Drop | by Mike

One of the annually recurring memes in the college football universe is the notion that one day other universities will rise up and engage in a concerted boycott of Notre Dame unless Notre Dame descends from the lofty heights of independence and joins a conference. While the futility of such attempts to pressure Notre Dame into relinquishing its identity should be obvious, the stories never go away. Drew Sharp's take is a typical effort from the Big Ten crowd:

If the Big Ten wants to put a chokehold on Notre Dame, then it needs to tell Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue to quit playing the Irish. Boycott Notre Dame.

The argument that the Irish can find comparable opponents with a quick phone call loses credence in the changing climate of the national championship chase. A lot of top teams wouldn't want to risk a loss by playing Notre Dame. The Irish would find themselves dumbing down their schedule.
Sharp goes on to concede that Purdue and MSU need Notre Dame on their schedule to ensure a nationally televised game each year, but then goes on to conclude:
But there is a statute of limitations for gratitude. MSU and Purdue should understand that the interests of Big Ten football are best served with Notre Dame as its 12th team.
Despite Sharp's conclusory assertions, there is little empirical evidence to support the claim that Notre Dame would find it difficult to replace Purdue and MSU with opponents of comparable - or greater - visibility. For while fans of other teams often swear up and down that they don't care about Notre Dame, the market and the actions of other schools' athletic directors belie such contentions. In a column previewing Notre Dame's opener with Georgia Tech, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Terence Moore chronicles Notre Dame's ability to fill athletic department coffers when the Irish come to town.
Not coincidentally, those in charge of such things at the University of Texas stirred up their already wired faithful even more for The Notre Dame Game in 1996. They made that the afternoon in which they dedicated what was Memorial Stadium to former Longhorns coach Darrell Royal.

We’re talking Darrell Royal, as in Texas’ Knute Rockne.

Elsewhere, three of the past four times Notre Dame visited Tennessee it was either a record crowd at Neyland Stadium or No. 2 on the list. Notre Dame’s only trip to Clemson, in 1977, produced the largest gathering ever in Death Valley at the time when Gamecocks weren’t involved. That same year, Notre Dame played Ole Miss in Jackson, drawing the largest crowd to witness a sporting event in Mississippi when the Crimson Tide wasn’t involved.

Earlier this decade, The Notre Dame Game set attendance highs for the legendary stadiums at Nebraska and Texas A&M. Not only that, Florida State has faced more than a few dynamic foes at home through the decades. Still, nothing stuffed the Seminoles’ place more at the time than The Notre Dame Game four years ago.

So if you’re among those Tech honchos, searching for only your sixth sellout since the ridiculous expansion of Bobby Dodd Stadium to 55,000 seats in 2002, I guess this makes sense: You continue a craze that has become rampant in sports called variable pricing, and you make The Notre Dame Game cost $12 more than any other home game on the Yellow Jackets’ schedule. That’s $50 compared to $38 for Miami, Virginia, Maryland and Duke and $28 for Samford and Troy. In fact, the only way you can see The Notre Dame Game is to purchase a Tech season ticket or hope that individual seats remain later this summer. If so, you would have to pay that $50 for The Notre Dame Game and buy tickets to two other games.
The technique of making tickets to the Notre Dame game only available as part of a multi-game package is a tactic traveling Irish fans have become familiar with over the years. Other schools that have employed the device include Boston College, Purdue, and Pittsburgh. Which explains why so many Irish fans recently have gotten unwanted voicemails from the Wannstache reminding them to renew their season tickets.

The windfall Notre Dame is able to deliver to road opponents guarantees that Notre Dame will never lack for quality opponents, thereby ensuring the bootlessness of schemes to coerce Notre Dame into conference affiliation via boycott. When it comes to exciting opponents, the question for Notre Dame isn't availabilty. Unfortunately, the question has become the current athletic director's willingness to pursue such opponents.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Next Level | by Jay

I'm sure you've all seen the results of the NFL draft by now, and know that the Irish had three guys drafted: Fasano to the Cowboys in round 2, Stovall to the Bucs in round 3, and Stevenson to the Patriots in round 6.

In addition, six more undrafted players signed free agent contracts with NFL teams: DJ Fitzpatrick to the Jets, Brandon Hoyte to the Colts, Mark Levoir to the Bears, Corey Mays and Matt Shelton to the Patriots, and Rashon Powers-Neal to the Broncos.

Some of the profile pieces that have been popping up in teams' local papers this week...

Fasano Pick No Surprise to Cowboys. DallasCowboys.com.
Jones said the Cowboys also coveted Fasano because he played in a similar system under Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, a former assistant to Parcells with the Patriots and Jets.

"He's been in the scheme," Jones said of Fasano. "He actually uses the same terminology that we use. He's got quick feet, he has really good ability to see soft spots, get open, make catches, plus he's got a tough mentality that really sticks his head in there and does a good job of blocking."

Fasano, who will graduate in May with a marketing degree, also thought Dallas was a great fit for his skills.

"I don't think it's going to be an easy transition no matter where I was," Fasano said via conference call from his hometown in Verona, N.J. "But I think with this offensive scheme and this coaching staff I think it's probably the best situation I could've walked into."

Fasano also said he's looking forward to playing for Parcells, a fellow Jersey native.

"I think he's a Hall of Fame coach, and everyone around here that's a Giants fan respects him so much," Fasano said. "We looked at him as an icon in the coaching world."
Here's a video of Jones and Parcells calling Fasano to tell him the good news.

A whole bunch of Maurice Stovall articles. "One Son's Drama on a Long Draft Day", ESPN.com, is a great read on Maurice's tense day last Saturday waiting for some NFL team to call his name.

"Draft Day One", Buccaneers.com:
Even at receiver, Stovall shares a few traits with his fellow 2006 Buccaneer draftees: He’s big, he’s tough and he’s passionate about football. One Tampa Bay scout compared Stovall’s approach to the game to that of Michael Clayton, who won over the Bucs’ personnel department in 2004 with his willingness to do everything from block downfield to cover kicks. Stovall visited Buccaneer headquarters during the week’s leading up to the draft and made a very positive impression.

“I think we all clicked with him…[Wide Receivers Coach] Richard Mann, [Special Teams Coach] Rich Bisaccia,” said Gruden. “He’s going to be a big wideout who can cover kicks, block kicks, go out and make some tackles on special teams, and contribute as a wide receiver. To get a guy at that position that can make a contribution on special teams is very important to us. He’s a big mammoth target and a very productive one inside the 20. He had eleven or twelve touchdowns this past season and a lot of those catches were over the top of the defender in tight, congested areas. He’s just an outstanding leaper and a very physical football player. To put him in the huddle with Michael Clayton in a slot formation is something that excites me a little bit.”

Stovall surely knows that Gruden is adept at working big receivers into the flow of his offense. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Stovall fits the ball.

“Yes, I definitely feel that way,” he said. “I’m happy that he drafted me. I feel like I fit his criteria, obviously, for him to draft me, and I’m looking forward to playing for him.”
Also see "Worth the Wait: Stovall to the Bucs", Philadelphia Inquirer; "Better Late than Never", Philly Daily News; and "Stovall Looking Forward to Gruden", CSTV.com.

Dan Stevenson got drafted by the Patriots. "Time to Make a Mark", the Observer:
"When the Patriots called me, that phone call, it's definitely hands down the team I wanted to go to," he said. "I couldn't have been more excited."

Irish coach Charlie Weis is a former offensive coordinator for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a connection not lost on Stevenson.

"The offensive system will be very similar to what we ran at Notre Dame," he said. "I think it's a great situation for myself and hopefully I can go in there and help out the Patriots as best I can."
from Patriots.com:
Former Patriots offensive coordinator and current Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis compared Stevenson favorably to Joe Andruzzi. Andruzzi endeared himself to the coaching staff with his blue-collar work ethic and professionalism during his five years as a starter in New England before moving on to Cleveland as a free agent last season, so that’s pretty high praise for Stevenson.

Among the free agent signees, Brandon Hoyte is getting a shot with the Colts (from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette):
“The goods news starts with, it wasn’t a long drive down here (from South Bend),” Hoyte said, laughing. “It’s just cool. You sit and think about it and, wow, this is the NFL. Just to have the opportunity to come in here and compete and to try and make the team, that’s a blessing.”

“Every year playing football at Notre Dame, I just learned,” said Hoyte, who majored in business management and psychology. “Every year, there were different things that were posed against us. I really think playing at Notre Dame is sort of like playing for a pro team. One, because of the coaches we’ve had. Two, because of the exposure. I think being a part of that was huge for me.”

Hoyte believes he can contribute. While talking about it, he let the only bit of animosity of the day slip from his mouth.

“I was hungry initially but (not getting drafted) heightens it,” Hoyte said. “I think when you’re not drafted, to a certain extent, it means someone doubted you and I feed off that every day.”

Other odds and ends:

• Where would RPN have been drafted if not for the suspension? I seem to recall him being listed as a top 5 fullback at some point last year, and the lack of playing time and exposure had to hurt him (as well as any lingering "character" questions). But really, the Broncos are the best spot for him. If any team will find a way to use him, it's Denver and Shanahan.

• DJ Fitzpatrick. The Jets picked up placekicker Mike Nugent last year early in the draft, so Fitz might be signed with punter solely in mind.

• Here's a pretty good pre-draft article on Corey Mays. Some of the quotes in there bang Hoyte a little bit too, saying that Mays has more "NFL upside". I guess we'll see.

The article also has a couple of comments on the kind of impact a college coach, especially Charlie, can have on a players' chances at the next level. Sometimes a recommendation to a general managers can add a little extra endorsement; on the flip side, I found this quote interesting:
“It can’t be understated, [Charlie's] impact,” [NFL Draft Expert] Rob Rang said. “If a head coach doesn’t talk up a player, that is a statement in itself. That’s a statement to NFL scouts that he isn’t a hard worker. The fact that Charlie is as respected as he is, that makes (that) so much more.
How much of an impact can Charlie, or any college coach, have on the draft? Of course the in-house evaluations are going to trump all else, but a college coach can add background info on character and work ethic (see the Stevenson quote above). But while the really exceptional players are going to get drafted highly no matter what their college coach has to say, it's the free agent guys who can really benefit from an endosement. At the very least, a strong recommendation from Charlie can get them a tryout: Weis has multiple connections to the teams that signed his Irish players: New York Jets head coach Mangini was a defensive coach in New England with Charlie (Fitzpatrick); there's an obvious connection to the Colts with Polian (Hoyte); and of course there's the Patriots (Shelton & Mays).

And I think that's an important part of the sales pitch when you're recruiting kids to come to Notre Dame: it's not that everybody coming to play for Charlie is going to get drafted in the first round, but it's very credible to say that if you come in and work hard, you'll get a realistic shot at the next level. That's an important message not just for the Sam Youngs of the world, but also for the Barry Gallups.