The long off-season is almost over and in just a few short days we will get our first glimpse of the 2010 Fighting Irish and the Brian Kelly Era.
The start of the season also means the return of the Irish Blogger Gathering. We here at UHND are hosting this week’s so be sure to check out all of the other Notre Dame bloggers’ entries located at the end of the article.
1. Name one offensive player and one defensive player you’re most excited to see in the new systems and why.
Offensively, I am really interested to see Theo Riddick at wide receiver. By all accounts, the speedy sophomore has been a natural fit in the slot receiver position and despite learning a new position was quick to look down his starting spot. Riddick is shifty and has a great burst and should be a handful in the open field in this offense. Cierre Wood would be a close second since no one outside of the coaching staff really knows what to expect of him this season.
On the defensive side of the ball I’m most anxious to see what Manti Te’o can do in his second season after a full off-season working in Paul Longo’s weight training program. Te’o has legit superstar potential and will be playing a position that is designed to funnel plays directly to him. We got glimpses of his potential last year, but even by his own accounts, he was often lost as he learned the defense last year. With a full spring and fall camp under his belt in the new 3-4 defense, Te’o could be ready to shine this year.
2. What’s one reason you think Brian Kelly is the right coach this time. What’s one reason you think he might not be?
It’s very easy to come up with reasons why Kelly might be the right coach this time. Everything he’s done since taking over has shown that he knows exactly what he is doing and is ready for this job. I’ll use a simple, yet significant action as an example of why he might be the right coach for Notre Dame. Shortly after taking over Kelly gave the players diagrams as to how their lockers should be arranged. It might seem trivial, but it’s a prime example of Kelly paying attention to every little detail and knowing exactly how to instill discipline in his players while building a program.
If there’s one negative hanging over Kelly at this time, however, it’s his past teams performances in big games. In games when Cincinnati was over matched talent-wise, they often had a tough time putting up a fight. The one glaring omission from Kelly’s impressive resume at this time is the shocking upset win over a much more talented team. Lou Holtz had a few prior to coming to Notre Dame and Ara Parseghian did as well. Other than that, all signs are pointing to Kelly being a big success for the Irish.
3. A lot of people are labeling Purdue, Boston College, and Michigan State as toss up games. Considering Notre Dame beat all three of these teams during the disappointing 2009 season, do you consider these games toss-ups or games you expect Notre Dame to win?
Conventional wisdom says that if Notre Dame underachieved last year and beat the three teams listed above, then they should be able to do it again this year if they are indeed an improved team. Unfortunately there are more factors to consider here. Notre Dame won very close games against all three of these teams and could have easily lost all three. I expect Notre Dame to be improved this year, but I don’t expect them to win all three of these games. Right now I would put Purdue and Boston College in the “expect to win” column and Michigan State in the “toss-up” column.
4. What’s one reason you think Notre Dame could shock the world and pull of another 1964-type season? What’s one reason you’re concerned we might see more of a 1997-type season?
There are a lot of reasons to believe that Notre Dame could shock the world and pull off another 1964 type season but the biggest the man in charge. Notre Dame has talent and despite what Kirk Herbstreit says, Notre Dame is not totally lacking speed on defense. If you look up and down the Notre Dame two deep, it is littered with four and five star recruits with offers from the nation’s elite schools. The problem has been that the four and five star recruits for Notre Dame haven’t been playing like four and five star recruits. If Kelly is able to get the most out of the talent assembled in South Bend already, Notre Dame fans could be in for a real treat this year.
Despite all of the optimism, the one major area of concern should be the early season schedule. While Notre Dame will have more talent on paper than most of the teams it plays early on, games aren’t play on paper and and early season gauntlet of Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Boston College, and Pitt is tough – even if only two of them are ranked to start the season. The reason it’s so daunting is there isn’t any time for the Irish to let up early in the season. If this was year two of the Kelly Era and Notre Dame wasn’t working in a new offense and defense, the early season schedule wouldn’t be as much of an issue.
5. Which freshmen do you see contributing the most on the this year (outside of TJ Jones – that’s too easy?
On the defense, Lo Wood is going to get pushed into playing time early whether he is ready or not because of the numbers crunch at cornerback. Woodis on the two deep from day one and will likely see some time in nickel and dime packages to get some experience in case he is needed for a larger role at some point this season. Prince Shembo has gotten a lot of praise from Kelly throughout camp and at this point it would be surprising if he wasn’t on the field. On the first official depth chart for the season, Shembo passed Steve Filer for the backup OLB in the two deep. Fellow freshman Danny Spond cracked the two deep as well at inside linebacker behind Manti Te’o.
Offensively, it looks like Tommy Rees will have a of a vital role in the offense as the backup quarterback behind Dayne Crist. Austin Collinsworth received some praise from Kelly throughout camp and see the field early as well.
6. Other than Dayne Crist (too easy again) who is the one player Notre Dame can least afford to lose to injury for any significant period of time?
I think the easy answer here is Manti Te’o. Not only is Te’o one of the most talented players for the Irish, Notre Dame has very little depth behind him at ILB right now. A case could be made for Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph because of the impact they can make on games, but Notre Dame is better equipped to replace both of them. Te’o also has the most upside of any defender on his side of the ball. Notre Dame jut hasn’t had a linebacker with Te’o's skills in a long, long time and if he went down, the defense would really suffer.
7. 2010 Season Predictions:
- Notre Dame record: 10-3 (losses to Michigan State, USC, Pitt/Stanford)
- Bowl game for Notre Dame with opponent: Champs Sports vs. Miami (hat tip to We Never Graduate – I forgot the Gator Bowl switched to SEC/Big 10 this year)
- Final ranking: 10
- Opponent with highest final ranking:
- Notre Dame’s offensive & defensive MVP: Michael Floyd, Manti Te’o
- Best opponent offensive & defensive player: Dion Lewis (Pitt – RB); Greg Jones (MSU – MLB)
- Best opposing coach: Jim Harbugh
- Game you are most excited to watch: USC
- Game you wouldn’t mind watching on DVR: Tulsa
- National Champion: Texas
- Heisman Winner: Jake Locker – Washington (QB)
- Purdue game prediction: Notre Dame 34-20
IBG Responses (all IBG blog responses will be added as they are posted so check back to see the other responses)
- We Never Graduate – Matt makes a good point about Armando Allen. It will be interesting to see if working with Paul Longo this off-season will eliminate some of the shoe string tackles we’ve grown accustomed to.
- Subway Domer – SD think Harrison Smith is going to have a big year. I agree 100%.
- Irish Round Table – IRT thinks we’ll see a lot of Tommy Rees in mop up duty. Let’s all hope he is spot on.
- Rakes of Mallow – CW makes a good case for Ian Williams being the toughest player to replace for the Irish outside of Crist.
- Irish Creed - The crew at Irish Creed sees a lot of parallels between this season and the book Resurrection.
- Inside the Irish – Keith agrees that Manti Te’o is the most irreplaceable player on the Irish squad outside of Crist.
- One Foot Down – Threw a curve ball and listed Darrin Walls as the toughest player to replace. Given the depth at corner, its hard to argue.
- Charlie’s Nasties – Agrees that Jim Harbaugh is best opposing coach we’ll face this year.
- Brawling Hibernian – BH is looking forward to seeing Darrin Walls in the new defense.
- Domer Law Blog – DLB predicts a Fiesta Bowl in Notre Dame’s future.
- Her Loyal Sons – Domer MQ is excited to see Kerry Neal back at his natural OLB position, but is only predicting 7 wins for the Irish in 2010.
- OC Domer – OC Dommer predicts a Heisman for Pitt RB and future ND opponent Dion Lewis.