Wednesday, November 23, 2011

IBG: Stanford Week

This week's IBG hosted by Keith Arnold over at Inside the Irish. This is only my second IBG, and hoo boy--what a way to get started.

1. Obviously, Saturday night's game is massive. Win, and the Irish get to nine wins after starting 0-2, and you can make a really persuasive argument that they're deserving of a BCS berth. Lose, and ND only makes incremental progress over last year's 8-5 record. Three potential outcomes: Win, close loss, ten-point loss. How does your takeaway for the season change?

Hmm. You know, unless the the Irish knock the Cardinal completely colorblind, I'm not sure my opinion of the season's going to change much. This might sound kind of defeatist, but it's not. It's the last game of the season--we kind of know who our team is by now. ND's been good this season, but they're not great. They're probably better than a number of teams ranked above them, but they don't have enough control yet to be ranked among the elite. Against USF and Michigan they lost when it was in their power to win; against Wake Forest and BC it felt like they were just scraping by. Not that I'm knocking those wins, because I really appreciated Rees's quote after the BC game: "Winning's hard, and I don't think people give the guys enough credit when games are won late in the season."

Absolutely. And a couple years ago, I think a tough close game like Wake or BC might have been a game that we lost.

But overall, I think the problems that have plagued us from game one haven't really disappeared. If we play a perfect game on Saturday, perhaps my opinion will change. More likely, though, we're going to have to wait until next season to see whether our team's going to bump up into the category of the truly spectacular.

2. Right now the Irish have 15 prospects committed to the 2012 recruiting class. Let's assume every starter with a year left is coming back (Cave, KLM, Cwynar and Slaughter) and the Irish end up signing 20 recruits. That'll make 93 players technically available for the 85-man roster (With Mike Ragone potentially being No. 94). Assuming Te'o and Eifert are back next season, what reserves do you invite back for a fifth year? Why?

Fifth-year candidates:
Hafis Williams
Brandon Newman
Ragone* (Sixth Year)

All of them. Anyone who's busted his butt for the team this long and wants to come back should come back. I realize this is kind of negating the point of the question, but if these guys are dedicated and they exude the kind of character you want on and off the field, then it's worth it. Having that kind of experience and commitment around your program is invaluable. It's not just about the roster--it's about creating the team culture you want, too.

3. If you ran the website NDNation, what would you do with it? It's the most prominent Notre
Dame hub on all of the internet, but it's got a very vocal faction of readers/fans that seem to control the agenda -- most often with a significantly negative point-of-view. What would you do if that was your website?

Oh, man. So I have to confess that here NDNation kind of scares me--mostly for the reason you mentioned. Message boards do tend give voice to the passionate and pungent minority, but I'd like to think most fans actually prefer the kind of reasonable discourse championed by blogs like Blue-Gray Sky.

If NDNation's your place to rant and rave, then fine--but if I were brave enough to open this can of worms, I think I'd try to remind the angry message-board-posters (when they're talking about the team and not, for example, field turf) that these are 18-to-22-year-old kids you're talking about, and you're putting an awful lot of pressure on people who are working very hard to do exactly what you want them to do: win. If you can't manage to tear your myopic eyes away from all the things that have gone wrong and work in some respect for all the hard work these kids are putting in, then maybe don't say anything at all.

I know a lot of the heat gets lumped on the coaches, but based on the exponential increase of gray hairs on Brian Kelly's head in the past year, I'd say you need to lay off him a little bit, too. Not that I haven't done my fair share of ranting and raving over (for example) clock management this season--but it's only the coach's second year, and what he's managed to do with the defense alone in such a short time is remarkable. If we're not exactly hitting the BCS mark this season, we're still not that far off. As for any faux pas--I'd argue that Kelly knows how to be a head coach in college football, but there's still a bit of a learning curve when it comes to being the head coach at Notre Dame. And even when he's made a gaffe, I think he responds pretty well to the backlash.

I don't have any idea how I would change the website, but I beg--I plead--I implore you, NDNation, to consider that if you are the main hub of ND fans on the internet, then you are the heart from which the greater college football world takes its pulse of the ND fan base. And it has been my experience that the greater college football world thinks ND fans are delusional.

Why do you think that is, NDNation?

I appreciate a little tough love every now and again--but you gotta remember to include the love. That's the most important part of the alma mater, right? Love thee Notre Dame. Whether you're a graduate of the university or not, this should still hold true.

And whether you're completely satisfied with the season or not, let's just try not to give the coach any more gray hairs than necessary. Eh?

Clearly you've opened a little bit of a vein here, Keith--thanks for posing the question.

4. You're Brian Kelly. You spent last recruiting class successfully upgrading the front seven of the defense. Over the next two recruiting classes, what position groups do you absolutely need to upgrade to get the Irish over the BCS hump?

1. SPECIAL TEAMS. Okay, so maybe Kelly's not going to go out and recruit for special teams per se, but we need a good punt returner like a turkey needs basting. BC roasted us in the field position battle last week. We had six drives that started inside our own 15, and every single one resulted in a punt. There were other factors besides our poor return game, obviously (like who is BC's punter and how can we get Kyle Brindza to start kicking like that?!), but I can't see us winning a BCS game if we're getting bagged and cooked in the field position battle. Coach Kelly has already acknowledged the need for a punt returner, and basically indicated that the problem is being shelved until next season. I just hope one of the all-around athletes he's recruiting ends up being the next Devin Hester. Or whoever. Really any player who would rather punch people than fair catch the ball is all right with me.

2. Linemen. I'm cheating here and lumping defense and offense together, even though based on Kelly's recruiting so far it looks like D-line is getting pretty well covered. Admittedly I have not been keeping close tabs on this year's recruiting class (not that it matters much before national signing day anyway), but we're not very deep at the Center position at the moment, and personally I would rather see us focus on ensuring our line is stacked than worry about whether we've got the next Michael Floyd lined up at wideout. Also, I harbor a crazed dream that we will one day have the sickest two-deep at D-line in all of college football; a six-headed beast that will out-man the Hydra in a staring contest and shame Cerberus into life as a pink-collared lap dog.

5. I've seen dozens of analogies used to describe the current state of the quarterbacking position at Notre Dame. What's your favorite, or the one you think is the most appropriate?

This would be an excellent question if I'd seen any of these analogies myself. (Though having already expressed my fear of the NDN message boards, perhaps this pronouncement does not shock you.) Last week I compared Tommy to a peanut butter cup in my rant, but that doesn't seem very original, so let's rule that out. I think I'll leave this question to everyone else and try to read around the blogosphere a bit more so I'm not flummoxed the next time a question like this arises.

6. Get out the crystal ball. Even after an unimpressive weekend, the Irish are right around a seven-point underdog to Stanford. Do the Irish leave Palo Alto victorious?

I fail at making predictions. However, this is a team that beat Utah and USC last season after losing to Tulsa and having most of the fanbase declare them dead in the water, so I think we're capable of making a strong finish this season, too.

We're a good team. We're finding ways to win even when the performance seems lackluster, and our biggest enemy this season has been ourselves. I'd like to see us come out hot in Palo Alto, but I'd be all right watching a tough, slogging nail-biter so long as a couple lucky bounces come our way.

I think Stanford's beatable. So let's beat 'em.

Go Irish!