Monday, January 11, 2010

Wildcard! | by Pat

While Kelly has tweeted that the staff has been finalized and will be announced shortly, the big news of the weekend was Pete Carroll calling Wildcard and jumping for the NFL (where a game against Kansas City will feature its own subplot.) The news was shocking, coming the weekend before early enrollee candidates were scheduled to head to Southern Cal to start spring semester classes. There are theories why he left when he did and the threat of a looming NCAA crackdown does seem fairly likely.

So what is the impact for ND Football? Aside from the bummer that ND will never get a chance to beat a Pete Carroll led Southern Cal team, there should be a few short term and long term impacts for ND. First off is recruiting, as we're in the middle of the craziest recruiting month of the year. With the changes at the top at ND, FSU, and Southern Cal, the flip flopping going on at Florida, and the likely coordinator shuffling that may hit schools many other top programs, it's got to be a rough time for recruits who watch the coaches that built relationships with them bolt for other programs.

Kelly has hit the road pretty hard so far recruiting-wise, so if you are looking for insights into how he will fare as a recruiter at ND over the next few years, keep an eye on if he's able to swing any prospects ND's way that may have been leaning elsewhere a week or so ago. The true judge of his recruiting abilities will come in the next class when he has a full calendar year to attract recruits, but if he's going to be an excellent recruiter we should start to see some evidence of that in the next few weeks.

Taking a bit longer view, odds are good that Southern Cal won't be able to keep up the pace they have held for the past few years. They are still loaded with more talent than any team in the country not named Florida or Alabama, but the aura of dominance is gone. The time is now for Kelly to tilt the balance of the rivalry back in ND's favor after 8 painful years. The idea of moral victories like 2005, or to some extent 2009, need to be purged from the collective ND fanbase. I'm pretty sure that Kelly won't flinch from reminders of Lou's long successful run against the Trojans, so I don't feel bad in setting my expectations for future ND-Southern Cal games very high. Some might scoff at yet another internet ND fan expecting multiple victories against Southern Cal from his new coach months before he takes the field for the first time, but the biggest obstacle to the BCS has conviently been removed for Kelly. There is no shame or hubris in expecting him to take advantage.

Taking an even bigger step back, there is that other favorite off-season topic that should be considered: scheduling. As it should be, the Trojans will remain on the schedule indefinitely. But if the NCAA decides to actually do something for once and administers more than a slap on the wrist to our favorite west coast team, it's possible that the entire program could take a step backwards for a few years while they wrestle with reduced scholarships and/or post-season bans. That means one less boost to ND's strength of schedule in coming years. And if Michigan continues to stumble under Rodriquez the next few years or fails to replace him with a top notch coach, they also could experience a few more years of mediocrity. As ND continues to schedule within the framework of the 7-4-1 model, there needs to be a push to include top competition in future schedules. This isn't a cry for ND to play Top 10 teams on a weekly basis. It is just a recognition that assuming Southern Cal will be there to boost the strength of schedule might not be an option in the coming years and ND should schedule accordingly.