Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fire up the Crystal Ball | by Jay

Over the weekend team BGS got our picks down on paper:

USC Navy
W W W W W W W L W W W W 11-1
W L W W W L L L W W W W 8-4
L W W W W L L L W W W W 8-4
W L W W W L W L W W W W 9-3
W W W W L W W W W 10-2
W L L W W W W L W W W W 9-3
W L L W W W W L W W W W 9-3
W W W W W L L W W W W W 10-2
W L W W W L W L W W W W 9-3

We also fired some questions around the table...

Which game will ND win that will surprise people? Which game will ND lose that will surprise people?

Michael - ND will surprise a lot of folks when they beat PSU on the road. Last year I really thought Weis owned their defensive coordinator, but I think we lacked the talent to overpower them with the running game. This year I believe the rushing offense will be better, and I really think Weis has Bradley figured out. Now they have DL injuries to deal with, which makes it worse. On the other side of the ball, the knock on Morelli has always been his ability to read defenses, and Corwin Brown comes from a coaching tree that emphasizes confusion and disguise. Meanwhile, their RB is Austin Scott, who has been on their team for like 4-5 years but lost his job to Tony Hunt. I think their rushing offense will take a step back. -- I'm not sure what game we'll lose that will surprise people since many already consider us underdogs to GaTech, PSU, UM, UCLA, and USC; meanwhile there's that whole MSU phobia that's carried over from the last ten years. Therefore, I'll pick Navy. Maybe this year's the year, and that would really surprise people.

Pete - I think the Penn State game will be a big surprise, considering it will be on the road in a harsh environment against a team that is generally believed to be elite even when they're not. And I think it'll be a surprise because we'll win fairly handily. There's no reason Notre Dame can't beat on this team like they did last year, and the biggest obstacle is not letting the young team get intimidated by a hostile environment. If we can avoid that, I think we can win fairly easily, and that will definitely grab some attention, like beating UM at the Big House in 2005.

As for a loss, I hate to say it, but maybe BC. When you have an experienced team that believes it has your number (think MSU a couple years ago and still to an extent today), and you sandwich them between two of the toughest games on the schedule, that's just begging for a letdown loss. I think ND fans are thirsty for revenge against this team and want to convince themselves it'll be an exorcism, but I can really see a flat Irish squad dropping one to these turds.

Mike - Surprise win - UCLA. I think everyone has high expectations for UCLA's defense, but I think the main factor in their defensive success last year was that both of their starting DEs were so good. When both DEs are that good, there's only so much a coach can do in terms of gameplan. At some point, you simply have to ask your tackles to win the one-on-one battles. With the loss of Justin Hickman, I think it will be much easier to give the tackle help against Bruce Davis or to roll the QB away from him. Also, I think this year's Irish OL will have more success running the ball up the middle against UCLA.

Surprise loss - I didn't predict a loss to BC, but I could see it happening. We're all frustrated with KW's sequencing of the schedule (e.g., this year we have eight solid games, then a bye week to prepare for the schools that compete with us academically but not athletically). BC's athletic directors are masters of sequencing. They always seem to play us a week removed from a game we care infinitely more about (see, e.g., the losses to BC after victories over FSU). With the BC game sandwiched between the UCLA and USC games, I could see ND coming out flat and BC playing as if the game is their Super Bowl.

Mark - Beat Michigan. The Wolverines, in my lowly opinion, are vastly overrated heading into the season. To be honest, they remind me a great deal of the 2006 Irish. Everyone talks about Henne, Hart, Long and Manningham. But the key to their season in 2006 was their defensive front seven. It was impossible to run on them. And that defense, for all it's accomplishments, burst open in a manner similar to what ND fans are familiar with over the last two games in 2006. Ohio State and USC destroyed the Michigan defense. And they lost a plethora ("Jefe, what is a plethora?") of talent - Leon Hall, Woodley, Branch, Harris, Burgess, etc. I don't expect Michigan to be better in 07 than they were in 06. Actually, I think they will take a step back.

As for a loss, I guess it would be UCLA. I don't think they are particularly talented, or well coached, but they game is towards the end of the opening 8 game gauntlet and I can't bring myself to pick BC over ND because I think my head will explode if we lose to those classless assholes, and their similarly classless fans, for a fifth straight time.

Pat - Win a bowl game. (Is that cheating?) Our long national nightmare will be over as Notre Dame will finally win a bowl game, ridding lazy journalists across the country of a gimmie snide remark. ND has started far enough down the rankings that they will likely still be ranked lower than many teams with similar records. Without doing all the bowl affiliation math, ND will likely wind up in a decent mid-level bowl and beat whatever mid-level team they face.

As for the loss, if ND has a strong showing against Georgia Tech, the hype machine will leap into action and replays of last year's pasting of Penn State will be everywhere. But playing on the road in front of a loud and supportive crowd is a dangerous place for a team with so many new starters.

Teds The Michigan win will surprise. In my opinion, UM is clearly overrated going into the season, and the road team in this series almost always puts up a hell of a fight. If ND isn't too ground down by the trip to Happy Valley the week prior, they stand a good shot of taking down Michigan. On the losing side, I would say UCLA. It's always dificult to travel that far in the middle of the season and pull out a win against a competitive opponent. particularly when the trip is surrounded by other legitimate challenges.

Dylan - Michigan. When we beat Georgia Tech and Penn State, it will be because they were overrated. When we beat Michigan, and beat them at their own game, people will realize that ND is better than 39th-best. Since I only predicted a loss to SC, I'll have to go with a hypothetical in order for a loss that qualifies as a surprise. If ND is undefeated heading into the UCLA game and loses, then that will be a surprise, especially if UCLA already has a loss.

Which class (senior, junior, soph, frosh) will make the biggest contribution this year?

Michael - It depends who wins the starting QB job. It'll either be the junior, soph, or freshman class. I'll go out on a limb and say junior class: Sharpley, Kuntz, Duncan, Turkovich, Grimes, Bruton, Schwapp. That group contains the QB (assuming he wins), the starting NG in a 3-4, the LT, the FS in what could be a lot of cover 1, and the likely leading pass-catcher.

Pete - Relative to their expectations, I think it could be the freshman class. With a couple strong running backs, a nose tackle that's got the build but just needs experience, and a couple potential linebackers, some of those guys who are unknown outside of in-house message boards could be household names by the end of the season. And if you throw in a golden-haired Wonder Boy at quarterback, it's no contest.

Mike - Sophomores - Young and Wenger on the right side of the line, Jones at QB, Yeatman or Reuland will be the second TE, it appears that West will be starting at WR, Toryan Smith at LB, Walls or McNeil as the nickelback.

Pat - I say the 5th year seniors. Sully is working with the three new starters on the OL. Travis is helping out a whole new group of young running backs. Zibby is there for new starter David Bruton. Laws undoubtedly will be the man with the answers on an inexperienced defensive line. Carlson will hopefully take the slack off the new receivers. There may be a few younger players who statistically have super years, but the leadership and guidance of the 5th year seniors, in addition to their stellar play, will be the biggest contribution to the team.

Teds - The sophomores. They are the biggest group in terms of raw numbers, and it's also the second-year players who are usually counted on to take a big leap forward and start to make an impression. Given the paucity of reliable players in the classes above, there is no limit to the opportunity afforded the sophomore class this season.

Dylan - I'll go with the sophomores. I think Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil (and Munir Prince?) will greatly improve the secondary, Sam Young will round into All-American form, Toryan Smith will become a monster, and Demetrius Jones will spend the year as the starting quarterback.

Jay - Juniors. The performances of Grimes at receiver, Duncan at left tackle, Turkovich at left guard, Kuntz at nose tackle, and Bruton as free safety -- all new starters, all at crucial positions -- will likely be the difference between a good season and a mediocre one. I think they're up to the task.

How much patience will ND fans have for the starting QB before calling for the backup?

Pete - Hopefully some, definitely not enough. With all Brady Quinn managed to prove over his first three years, he still had people calling for him to hit the bench after the first few games of the season. If he can't escape it, there's no way any of these guys can if they struggle. If the quarterback can run the offense, minimize mistakes, and put Notre Dame in the position to win games, he'll be OK. But as soon as a few errors are committed, look out, especially since we all know what potential talent will be standing on the sideline.

Mike - None. Same as it ever was.

Mark - Not enough. We're not a patient group by nature.

Teds - If patience were measured in integers, this one would be negative. Sadly, too many Irish fans will be taking their cues from ESPN and their ilk, and most of those guys are foaming at the mouth before the season has even started.

Dylan - More time than it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings, less time than it takes to do it twice.

Finally, what Notre Dame storyline will be overplayed in the media this year?

Pete - Gotta be the quarterback situation. I only hope whoever wins the starting job doesn't burst into flames from the intense heat under the media microscope. The mere fact that Weis announcing that he knows the starter but isn't telling is front page news on should tell you something about the attention this is getting. I'm afraid that if it's Jimmy Clausen, every imperfect play will be blown way out of proportion. And I'm more afraid that if it ISN'T Jimmy Clausen, everybody will be wondering why it isn't Jimmy, and when it will be Jimmy. I guarantee you that Notre Dame will have the highest percentage of American citizens who know the third-string quarterback's name by the end of the season, especially if it's a little bumpy.

Dylan - The quarterback "controversy." I think Clausen will spend the entire season on the bench, and every mistake Jones makes will be followed by a sideline shot of Clausen. These days, the coverage of sporting events is focused primarily on personality and drama, rather than the competition on the field. Throw in ND, and you've got the perfect vehicle for ESPN to draw in both fans and enemies. 1st Alternate - Charlie's inability to earn a "signature" win, despite beating top 5 Michigan at Michigan.

And how about a storyline that will be underplayed?

Pete - I think Corwin Brown has completely swept the Notre Dame crowd off their feet, but I don't know if he'll grab the attention we're expected on a national scale. A solid new defensive coordinator isn't nearly as sexy as the aforementioned quarterback "controversy" on the other side of the ball. Unless ND's defense immediately vaults into the top echelon, Corwin won't grab the headlines.

Mike - I don't think we'll see many comparisons between Willingham's third year and Weis's third year, but given their other achievements (or lack thereof) a single comparison would be too much. Meanwhile, reporters will continue to fail ask the tough questions about Kevin White's tenure, despite an enormous amount of data to peruse.

Mark - Underplayed - The overall youth of this Notre Dame team. There are significantly more freshmen and sophs in the two deep than there are seniors. Or at the very least seniors who are out of eligbility after this season. Whatever games the Irish will lose this year, people will get caught up in the short term and fail to keep in mind that this team, and program, are at a tipping point. Starting in 2009 this program will be an annual member of the top 5-10. The youth already on the team is only being supplemented by what is currently the unanimous choice as the #1 recruiting class in the country.

Dylan - I don't know if it can be considered "underplayed" since the depth of CFB coverage is so shallow, but you can bet that the disgraceful graduation rates of the pre-eminent programs will once again be glossed over. Journalists don't like shining a light on the subject because it reflects back on their own hypocrisy, and their glorification of crooked regimes like Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Teds - Corwin Brown. He'll get more of the focus as the season goes along, but this is the sort of young, dynamic, rising coach who the media outlets would otherwise be tapping if they didn't have the quarterback competition to obsess over. All in due time.