Monday, August 26, 2013

Notre Dame Preseason 2013: To Be or Not to Be edition

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, fellow Irish fans, than are dreamt of in our football seasons. But in six days, we blind ourselves to all that lies outside the House that Rockne built, and with our cheering thousands rise above the worms of doubt that seek to spoil our hope that we will rise up to the top again.

We have nothing but wondering to fill the preseason hours. Despite the obvious tragedy of our most recent game, there is no point in looking back and recounting the ills of prior seasons; that way leads to madness. But nor can we move forward with conviction until we have seen this year's players act the thing out.

To [win], or not to [win]: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler [on] the [field] to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To [win]: to [lose]
No more; and by a [win] to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That [fans are] heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.

Let the speculation now begin.

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

So guys. Everett Golson went and got himself suspended (from school and from the team) for violating the student Code of Conduct ("cheating on a final" seems to be the general consensus, but in the spirit of not spreading libel, I cannot say I know for sure), which leaves us in a pickle YET AGAIN when it comes to the quarterback position. We've also got a stable of virtually-untested running backs (GAIII notwithstanding), a bevy of wide receivers with no superstar among them, and a thicket of tight ends with no heir apparent to the line of players we've recently sent into the pros (Eifert, Rudolph, Carlson, and Fasano).

Which means no one knows what our offense is really going to look like this season. Similar to last season, sure, but with no obvious threats. This means everyone must be considered an equal threat, until our main villain-of-opposing-defenses is revealed. Which I'm kind of excited about. For one thing, the shroud of mystery upon our offense can only work to our advantage--and for another, I'm wicked excited to see who steps up.

Wide receiver/shark whisperer TJ Jones and offensive tackle Zack Martin have been named co-captains for the offense. Jones will probably be the top WR target this season (as well as our punt returner, apparently), but Sports Illustrated has DaVaris Daniels pegged as ND's offensive player to watch. Personally, I'm hoping to see more of senior Daniel Smith and super-fast sophomore Chris Brown hauling catches to the end zone (like you do), and I also really, really want to see George Atkinson (THE THIRD) have a breakout season. He'll most likely be trading touches with Cam McDaniel, but if USC transfer Amir Carlisle can manage to stay NOT INJURED, he'll probably have a breakout season, too. Personally, I'm hoping everyone steps up--then we'll get to watch new and dazzling plays unfold from our offense all season. It'll be like Christmas every Saturday until December! (Oh, wait--this is already how I feel about football season. In, uh, an entirely non-blasphemous way.)

The best news, of course, is that our entire coaching staff has carried over from last season, which means there has been no adjustment period for any of the players in terms of coaching communication--except for the freshmen, of course--but HEY GUESS WHAT GUYS? For the first time in years we have so much depth on the team that most of the freshmen WON'T PLAY. Not that they don't want to play, of course--but they WON'T HAVE TO. They will have time to learn and adjust and get stronger before they officially take the field as starters. Which--again--can only work to our advantage.

In other offensive news, if you're worried about the O-line, don't be. Sure, we graduated Center Braxston Cave, and we don't exactly have a specific unit etched in stone, but what we do have are returning starters Chris Watt, Christian Lombard, and Zack Martin, and--most importantly--a unit that acts like a UNIT. From BK's presser: "That group works so well together. Boy, they do everything together. They hang out together. There's a continuity in that group that exists in their DNA as offensive linemen. You know what I mean? That's probably one of the units that I'm less concerned about that group playing together because they do it as a way of life."

Last but not least (for the offense): senior QB Tommy Rees has been named the starter for the first game--but not the whole season. Given Brian Kelly's penchant for playing multiple quarterbacks, I would not be surprised to see senior Andrew Hendrix and freshman Malik Zaire appear at various points throughout the season. But unless Tommy starts throwing six picks (or pick-sixes) in every game, I wouldn't expect him to be completely ousted as the starter, either. Rees knows the offense verrrry well at this point, and you can count on him to make the right read. You just can't always count on him to make the best throw--especially not if the pocket starts collapsing like an undercooked souffle. However, if you're worried about Coach Kelly getting all fancy with the play-calling, don't be (well, mostly):  "Probably won't be running as much option with Tommy, but we'll do things that suit him." Good. Keep your promises, coach. (Point of interest: Coach Kelly's actually turning play-calling over to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin this year. We'll see how that goes.)

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love [Bob Diaco].

Yes, I know I'm defiling Shakespeare. But never mind that. Let's move on to the sterling unit that saved last season and sent us to the national championship. Oh, defense--shall I compare thee to a summer's day? How do I love the? Let me count the ways. Oh, frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! (This is no longer making sense, but hey, it rhymes. Um...let's move on.)

So: no more Manti Te'o. He's going to be playing on Sundays soon (just like Robby Toma said). Kapron Lewis-Moore is gone, too, along with Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter (all of whom got picked in the NFL Draft this year)--but never fear, you guys. Never. Fear. Bob Diaco's defense is still stacked deep with talent, featuring:
-Irish Chocolate aka Louis Nix aka guess-who's-on-all-the-preseason-watch-lists THIS year, punks?
-Newly-named defensive captain Bennett Jackson
-Stephon "I've-got-more-sacks-than-a-potato-factory" Tuitt
-sophomore standout KeiVarae Russell
-Kona Schwenke
-Justin Utupo
-Sheldon (I-hope-you're-not-eating too-many-honey-buns) Day
-Dan Fox
-Carlo (near-convict) Calabrese
-Austin Collinsworth (no longer injured!)
-Lo Wood (also no longer injured! we hope)
-Elijah Shumate
-Okay, I could go on, but then I'd just be listing the entire defense, wouldn't I?

Also worth noting:
-Danny Spond is no longer on the team. He decided to stop playing football, due to health concerns; he left early during training camp, which can't have been easy--but I can only commend him for making this decision. As much as I love football, I am but mad north-northwest; when the wind is southerly, I can tell a hawk from a handsaw. When it comes to health (obviously), the wind is southerly. So--way to go, Danny Spond. Way to make the tough decision. (Live long and prosper.)
-Jesse Biongovi is on the team now; anybody wanna lay odds on how many times the Notre Dame Band features Bon Jovi songs in its halftime shows this year?

Anyway--as we all know, the defense was the anchor of our team last year, and it's gonna be the anchor of our team this year. Nobody's expecting a repeat of last season. But that's all to the good. Last season, we got called lucky a lot. This season, I don't want us to be lucky. I want us to be GOOD.

I don't think anyone's expecting another perfect regular season. After all, we watched our perfect regular season get beaten by Alabama, didn't we? And now Manti's gone, and Golson's got himself chucked out for a semester, and our star tight end's off to the NFL, etc etc etc. We're #14 in the pre-season poll (not that this means anything). Yet in the Notre Dame locker room, they've hung this:

"Presumptuous," at least one blog has called us.

I call it AWESOME.

Do I think we're going to go 12-0 again? I HAVE NO IDEA. I mean, right now it seems kinda far-fetched that we will run the table and get back to the national championship again. It seems nearly as far-fetched as it would have if someone (besides Lou Holtz) had told me at the beginning of last season that we WERE going to go to the national championship. And you know what? That kinda makes me mad.

What a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties!

How full of ridiculous bias!

Okay, so I promised that if I wrote another rant, I would include a link to this article, and here's where it comes in:

Over the past 13 years, Notre Dame has been one of the most UNDER-RATED teams at the beginning of each football season. (Just look at the numbers; they'll tell you it's true.) Now, I'm sure there are people out there who would want to argue that this statistic is only true because Notre Dame is always OVER-rated by the end of the season--and they sort of have a point, considering we haven't won a bowl game against a ranked opponent since 1994...OUCH. Then again, some of these people are the same people who said Notre Dame had "the hardest schedule in the country" at the beginning of last season, and by the end of last season had proclaimed that Notre Dame's schedule was "easy," so I am not 100% sure we can trust their opinions.

Nevertheless, I think that we are, in fact, underrated this year. I'm not saying we should be #2 or anything; we did lose to Alabama, and as mentioned, most of our offense is a big fat question mark (etc etc etc).

So now we've got to go out there and prove ourselves. Again.

I suppose every team has to prove itself every season, but it just irks me to overhear people saying, "Notre Dame's not going to go undefeated this season." "Haha, yeah, no way."


YOU GUYS. The season hasn't even started yet. I DO NOT NEED TO HEAR THESE SENTIMENTS.

I am as aware as anyone what our situation is this year. But it is in no way outrageous for this team to claim they're going back to the national championship this season. It is, in fact, a way less outrageous statement coming from this team than it would have been coming from any of Notre Dame's teams for the last, oh, fifteen years or so, considering over 80% of the players on this team HAVE PLAYED IN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.

I am just saying.

Now, I know it's impossible to stir up the same kind of optimism and fervor that we would have had if we'd actually won the championship game (ahahaha--can you imagine?), but nevertheless, tickets for Notre Dame's regular season games this year are already re-selling for more money than tickets for any other college football program in the country (according to this article from Forbes) clearly SOMEONE out there is excited for our chances this season.

And the point that I am trying to make, beneath all this waffle, is that I think we're going to be much better this year than we're expected to be. Yes, we lost some superstars--but we also spent most of last season proving that we've figured out how to play like a team. And I think this year's team--especially the offense--is going to be slightly less flashy and slightly more consistent. Look, this even came up in coachspeak at Brian Kelly's latest presser:

Last year we had some bold personalities. You had a Manti Te'o that had a very bold personality. And sometimes we took on his personality as a team.

This one represents more of a group. So every single day this is a group that comes to work every single day with a consistency. So I think that's what I see more than anything else is that I know what I'm going to get from them every single day because it's it's a deeper group in the sense that there's not just one personality. It's across the board.

And that is super A-OK fine by me, because when you don't have superstars, that's exactly what you need to beat teams like Stanford. And USC. And Alabama. You need to be grounded in what you do, and not get all outta whack just because you're playing in a big game. If we prove nothing else this season, I hope we prove that we're consistent. (CONSTANT VIGILANCE!)

Words, words, words.

All of this is just babbling conjecture, of course. We won't know anything until we see the team get out there and play.   

It's after midnight now. You know what that means, guys? Only FIVE DAYS 'til Irish football. 

To be honest, I know very little about what we can expect from Temple on Saturday. Historically, Temple has been one of the, uh, weaker D-I programs--but these days, coaching for the Owls is apparently a good springboard for your career; Temple was pretty good for a couple years under Al Golden, who was subsequently hired by Miami-FL. After Golden left, Steve Addazio took over and led the Owls to their second-ever bowl game victory (the first was in 1979). Then Addazio (after a 4-7 season) left to coach at Backup College (good choice, BC), and Temple hired Matt Rhule, who had worked as an assistant at Temple for six years before spending the 2012 season as an assistant line coach for the New York Giants. Quarterback Connor Reilly was just named Temple's starter this week, as I learned from this article on

Unfortunately, that article was not very informative about Reilly's strengths, or Temple's team strengths (although it does mention Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, because clearly they're relevant). The Temple football blog I found was not very comprehensive, either (although this post helpfully lists several teams Temple's beaten in the last few years that Notre Dame lost to). Soooo I'm just going to have to go with my gut feeling on this one, guys: pretty sure we're gonna win. Might have to check with Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix on that one.

In the meantime, make sure you've got The Shirt clean and your tailgate playlist ready (and, you know, your rally beads and your face tattoos and your shamrock earrings and your blue-and-gold nail polish all set) for Saturday. It's officially game week. And I am ready to BRING IT.


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